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FXX Mega-Marathon: All 'Simpsons,' All the Time
August 20, 2014  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

With every episode of The Simpsons about to appear in a mega-marathon on FXX, I can’t help but think back to when the series launched on Fox. Neither can my now-grown kids…

The Simpsons began as animated shorts, created by Matt Groening, presented as interstitial treats between the comedy skits on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Ullman’s show was one of the fledgling series, and the first really good one, on the brand-new Fox TV network, launched by Rupert Murdoch to add a U.S. television network to his international multimedia empire.

I was hired that same year as TV critic for The New York Post, Murdoch’s flagship New York newspaper – and I was so worried about writing for that infamous tabloid, and for the even more infamous Murdoch in particular, that I demanded – and got – a contract explicitly stating that I could choose the subjects of my own stories and reviews, and that they could be edited only for length or to correct factual errors.

In other words, no editor could make me do a puff piece on a new Fox network show, or censor a negative review – which, for the first wave of Fox programs, was the only kind of review I could write.

And then came Tracey Ullman, and The Simpsons. I raved about them – not only in the Post, but on an NPR radio show that had launched nationally a few years before, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Today (Wednesday, Aug. 20) on Fresh Air, marking the occasion of tomorrow’s FXX marathon, the entire program is dedicated to The Simpsons. You can hear it this afternoon by going to the Fresh Air website.

It includes, among other things, two different Terry Gross interviews with Groening, interviews with Julie Kavner and Nancy Cartwright (who play, respectively, Marge and Bart Simpson) – and my own report on The Simpsons then and now. The “Then” part includes a snippet from my original Fresh Air review of The Simpsons series, back in 1990. I talked faster then, and may have been on helium – but so far as recognizing a TV Classic when I saw one, I was right on the money.

Other things I remember about the start of The Simpsons is how eagerly I exposed my then-young children to it – Kristin was 7, and Mark was 5, when the series premiered. I was able to show them an early preview VHS copy of the 1989 Christmas special that preceded the series – and which launches the FXX marathon Thursday at 10 a.m. ET – and they loved it as much as I did.

That holiday season, I tipped the colonially costumed carolers traveling table to table at Braddock’s Tavern in Medford, NJ, a swanky place serving period food in an 1880s building, to have them sing Bart Simpson’s version of “Jingle Bells”: the one that starts “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin lays an egg.” The kids still remember it – just as they remember me hauling a suitcase full of first-season Simpsons VHS tapes along on a dual-family skiing vacation at Montana’s Big Sky, so that the children would all shut up and watch TV after dinner, as kids are meant to do while their parents drink and recuperate.

My son also remembers, to this day, asking me, when The Simpsons premiered, whether the shows The Simpsons were watching on their TV sets were real. What a meta question.

And in season two, when Marge Simpson went on a local Springfield TV talk show to protest the violence in the “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoons her kids were watching on television, that question was addressed brilliantly – and hilariously.

You can see that episode of The Simpsons, one of my very favorites, during the FXX marathon, at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday night, Aug. 21. In fact, you can see every episode, plus The Simpsons Movie, starting tomorrow (Thursday) at 10 a.m. ET278 hours in all, 25 complete seasons, running all the way until 11:30 p.m. ET on September 1, when FXX replays the most recent episode, Episode 552, “The Yellow Badge of Cowridge.”

It’s the longest single-series marathon ever televised – and The Simpsons isn’t over yet. Season 26 begins on the Fox network on Sunday, Sept. 28 – followed by an episode of Family Guy with a Homer Simpson crossover. One thing’s for certain: Over the years, Homer’s creator, Matt Groening, has made an awful lot of “D’oh!”

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I made it through five minutes of one episode before I turned it off, because FXX botched the presentation of it.

Simpsons was in 4:3 until 2009. So why did FXX zoom in to fill the 16:9 screen, thus cutting off 15% or so of the picture from the top and bottom of the screen? It made the characters' close-ups look super gigantic and terribly disconcerting, not to mention their cutting off important information from some scenes.

That completely ruined it for me. If they end up doing the same thing to syndicated episodes airing on Fox stations--they do not currently--I may end up not watching the Simpsons ever again.
Sep 10, 2014   |  Reply
Melinda johnson
Love you commentary on npr. Thanks
Aug 20, 2014   |  Reply
Dona Canavan
Could you help me locate the text of your presentation on T.Gross. I am a psychologist who has sort of invented a notion "social energy". Your description of how you will watch this marathon, (b/c others similarly enthusiastic are watching), despite the fact you own it, and in preference to if netflix makes it available. It is a perfect description of the social energy. though you must recognize the phenomenon, oddly< I am now the only one studying it. Thanks dc
Aug 20, 2014   |  Reply
Linda Donovan
Hi Dona -- While there is no transcript for this particular 'Fresh Air' show, you can listen to it here: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/20/341884238/prepare-for-the-simpsons-marathon-with-interviews-from-the-fresh-air-archives Hopefully you can get the information you need on David's portion of the interview.
Aug 22, 2014
Shirley Maccabee
I also heard the Fresh Air show and just a few moments ago my ears perked up when I heard the mention of the special appeal of watching a show at the same time that everyone else is watching. I have often commented to friends, who record all their shows and watch whenever, that yet another layer of social connection is lost, from the days when we all anticipated, watched and the next day discussed the show of the moment. I'm so glad to know that someone is actually studying this! I do consider this one of the social losses on the other side of the coin of technoprogress.
Aug 20, 2014
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