The Simpsons on Reflection Part III: Season 1

To recap, my boyfriend and I are currently rewatching The Simpsons from day 1. We finished the first series a couple of weeks ago, and intend to watch the show till the end… of course, that will involve many torturous episodes once we’re passed the halfway mark. After seeing the shitfest that is the Season 22 opening, I’m inclined to reflect on the show when it was actually above average… so far past the average, that the line wasn’t even visible anymore.

I know that opinions are very much divided over Season 1. Many people find these episodes unwatchable, owing to the quality of the animation and Homer’s voice being wrong, amongst other things. As a result, some of my friends say that they prefer newer episodes of The Simpsons. Obviously, this is normal, verbal conversation and not the Internet. I therefore have to repress my Geek Rage, and try to explain in as few words as possible that they are most likely referring to Season 1 (possibly 2), and that what they think are new episodes may still be very old. At least I hope so. I want to respect my pals.

Season 1, therefore, may very well be detrimental to the reputation of classic Simpsons and the casual viewers’ perception of the series. It does leave something to be desired; when I first went back to these episodes after getting to season 3/4 stage, I was very put off at the time. Their mouth movements just don’t seem to synchronise with what they’re saying, and it can often be difficult to see past the superficial differences by comparison to the series a few years down the line. There are also frequent colouring mistakes within the episodes (Marge’s necklace has a habit of turning white on a frequent basis).

That’s not to mention that the family acts very much out of character at times (at least, by comparison to the more ‘established’ Simpsons). In “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” Homer is extremely concerned about his family’s reputation, to the extent that he willingly pawns the TV in order to acquire money for therapy. The rest of the family try to stop him… Including Marge, who suggests that they pawn her engagement ring as an alternative. Lisa is frequently as rude and uncouth as Bart is. In fact, Bart is quite likely the only member of the family that remains in character, though the focus on his mischief is very high compared to later years; it’s easy to see why Bart’s example ticked off a lot of parents.

I feel that I approached this series from the right angle this time. By comparison to the shorts, the animation in series 1 is positively gorgeous. Moreover, as much as the style can be irritating, one could say that it’s much more cartoon-like, and it ‘suits’ the ridiculous design of the characters that we’ve habituated to over the years (just what the hell is Lisa, anyway?). It’s also much more creative – something that is not absent from series immediately following, but is certainly one of the many things that Zombie Simpsons lacks.

Overall, I utterly enjoyed watching this run of episodes. If you take series 1 as a blank slate, or compare it to Zombie Simpsons, it feels extremely fresh. Many of the storylines are simple, but are carried with great structure. I would say “The Telltale Head” was one of the standouts. The family didn’t just go to Church at the beginning of the episode to kill time, as would be the case in later episodes (for the plot to then unwind in the most chaotic and moronic way) – it sewed the seeds of the moral dilemma Bart faces in the story, demonstrated how readily Bart mimics Homer’s bad examples, and simply contains many classic moments. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this episode before and couldn’t even estimate, but I’m still noticing and appreciating new things. The tagline for “Space Mutants IV,” for example, reads “The Trilogy Continues.” Like other brief sight gags of the early series [1] [2], this is not on screen for more than a few seconds, and it hadn’t registered with me previously.

Watching the series unwind is also quite fascinating in itself, as more and more permanent members of the cast are introduced. The fact that these characters are all still there 21 years later, played by the same voice actors, is very impressive (though for the sake of this feat, it’s still not worth the show still being on the air).

In conclusion, whilst Season 1 may require an open mind, it’s still a remarkable collection of episodes, and it’s easy to see where the show’s success came from.

EDIT (08/10/10): I feel honoured that DHS actually responded to these commentaries – it covers a lot of the context stuff that I missed out on (what with being 3 at the time the first series aired… and too busy having tea and crumpets with the Queen!).


2 Responses to “The Simpsons on Reflection Part III: Season 1”

  1. […] Part 3, Kokairu talks about Season 1, and I agree with quite a lot of it, especially this: I feel that I […]

  2. […] characters are far more established. Humour-wise, it follows on nicely, but as I pointed out in my last Simpsons entry, the jokes in the first series are remarkably good (you just have to put certain things aside), so […]

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