The Simpsons turns 20 today


Twenty years ago today, the first full-length episode of The Simpsons -- known as The "Christmas Special" -- aired on television. This episode was originally intended to be show number 8, but ended up being first after a series of production glitches and switches. You can find streamable copies around the internets.

I've been traveling in rural, indigenous communities in Central America this week. I was reminded of the awesome happy-power and transcultural reach of the Simpsons in a conversation last night with an 8-year-old K'iche Maya kid. He lives in a highland village. His family is too poor to own a TV, but we got to talking, and he volunteered out of the blue his love for the show. He knows exactly who his favorite character is, too: "Omero" (Homer). He's a shy, quiet, serious boy, but lights right up when he's talking about the Simpsons. Pretty cool to think that a show could delight so many around the world, for so many years.

A special holiday shout-out to David Silverman, a personal friend who also happens to have been the director of that very first episode (and, of course, many others, and that movie). David, I hope you're having a more relaxed December than you did in 1989.


  1. I remember watching them for the first time on the Tracy Ulman show when I was still in elementary school. I can also remember saving up my allowance for ages for my Bart Simpson flip watch. Happy Birthday Simpsons! Glad I could grow up with you!

  2. I remember growing up we had the paperback book that was pretty much the Christmas special in book form. Read it every Christmas.

  3. While definitely past its prime, I still watch every episode.

    I remember being ambivalent when I heard the show was in production; I was a big fan of Groening’s “Life in Hell” books and The Simpsons seemed like a cheap knock-off.

  4. I thought the last couple seasons were pretty good.

    But then I rented the first 5 seasons on DVD and watched all the old episodes again. And you know what? The show was MUCH better then.

    I think what’s lost in the newer episodes is the subtly of the characters. They’ve all become caricatures of themselves over time. The obvious example: before there were hints at who might be gay — now it’s overt, and therefore less funny.

    Analyzing cartoon characters is probably idiotic, but go rent those DVDs and see for yourself how things have changed.

  5. The Simpsons first came out when I was around 7-8 years old. I watched every episode. The Simpsons has influenced my life is so many ways, it’s actually a bit scary to think of that.

  6. If Maggie aged in real time…she’d be in college now. I just turned 37…and now my daughter is almost Lisa’s age. She’s already started her indoctrination :) God save the Simpsons!

  7. So, really, the Simpsons are older than 20, but nobody bothered to do the homework necessary to figure out when the first short appeared in the Tracy Ullman show.

  8. It would be difficult to overstate the cultural impact of the Simpsons. It played a large role in the sense of humor and general worldview of so many of us, and its a common denominator among a ridiculous number of people, apparently including indigenous 8-year-old Central Americans. And you know what? I’m confident that when that kid grows up, he can’t possibly be all bad.

  9. So much complaining!

    So what if the Simpsons started as a short on the Tracy Ullman show? It’s still the 20th anniversary of the Simpsons as a full length stand alone prime time cartoon.

    I was 8 when the Simpsons started, and as it aired past my bedtime, my father taped the Christmas episode for my brothers and I to watch. Shortly thereafter we got a special bedtime extension for the night it was on.

    I stopped watching it a few years ago, and have even given up on The Family Guy recently. (I do still enjoy the occasional new episode of South Park, though.) However, rather than whining about how lame the shows are now, instead I’ll stick with the happy nostalgic mood.

  10. I’d like to think that whenever someone posts an article about the continuing relevance or irrelevance of The Simpsons, or whenever someone writes a 3,000-word screed on Amazon about why season X sucks and season N, with N < X, was the last “good season” and they won’t buy the DVDs–before the DVDs are even out–somewhere out there, Comic Book Guy smiles at his proteges.

  11. @Xenu #5: I couldn’t agree more with you. However, the last episode seems more like the earlier Simpsons in that way. More introspective and subtle, less two-story-arc-let’s-all-go-crazy type.

  12. I was born the day the Simpsons first aired, so this was a big day for me as well. I watched it regularly until a few years ago (and then was pleasantly surprised to recently discover that the new episodes weren’t as godawful as I’d imagined). As a kid who also got a healthy dose of Twilight Zone growing up, I was CONVINCED that the day the Simpsons finally got cancelled, I would get hit by a car and die. I’ve been waiting for the day my childhood fear would finally become unfounded, but it hasn’t happened yet!

    At least at the rate it’s going, I’m gonna live a nice full life before I finally croak.

  13. I used to be a huge fan. I recorded the shows on VHS before they became regulars in reruns and released on DVD. I haven’t bought past season 10 though. I don’t even bother watching new episodes on Sundays. I know this sounds ridiculous but the show became a cartoon. I can no longer relate to the characters anymore, they lack any emotional depth now. The show has become dependent on current events and celebrity appearances. They have simply run out of interesting plots.

    The humor has also become very vanilla and mild. Generally the few times I catch an episode made in the last few years I only laugh at about 5% of the material.

  14. Your Central America comment reminded me of the time I visited a Simpsons-themed restaurant, Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia (deep in Siberia). I was serving in the Peace Corps and my friend Maxim was a huge Simpsons fan.

  15. I grew up in a very small town and our cable provider didn’t carry a network airing The Simpsons until I was in my mid-teens. For five years, The Christmas Episode was my only exposure to The Simpsons because it was the only episode available on VHS at the vid store. Damn, I feel old writing this. Despite this being well before the internet, I still somehow knew all about The Simpsons and even had a fair bit of merch. I think the show lost its original spark over the years, but it’s still good enough for me to never want it to end.

  16. I’m reminded of the South Park episode where Butters kept trying to come up with something original, only to be met with the refrain of “(The) Simpson’s Did It”…

    …reaching the point of exasperation, Kyle gives Butters a reality check…”Dude, they’re freakin’ OLD, they’ve been on TV forever, of course they’ve done everything. So what?”

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