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In 2010 Entertainment Weekly named Homer Simpson, "the greatest character of the last 20 years," upping him into the echelon of iconic fictional fathers. It's easy to see why Homer's achieved such a strong status — there's really something for Homer in everyone. Homer can be silly, but also heartfelt; dumb, but also capable of forming a barbershop quartet; and his daily wants may ebb and flow, but his moral compass remains constant, much like the show itself.
If you're reading this book, you probably know the basics of who Homer Jay Simpson is, but given the show's decades-spanning run, how well do you know the man behind a "No Fat Chicks" T-shirt?
Let's start with the softballs and amp up to the incredibly deep cuts. Homer works as a safety inspector at the nuclear power plant in Springfield. He'll stop traffic for a pink sprinkled donut, a cold beer at Moe's, or a line of baby ducks walking across the street. He's the husband to Marge Simpson, whose love for him — despite his dopey behavior — redeems his otherwise ridiculous qualities. He's the father of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson. Despite his shortcomings and selfishness, his tenderness has always been untouchable. Over the years he's played father to a lobster named Pinchy, a pet pig named Spider-Pig, and a giant submarine sandwich he didn't have the heart to throw out despite its graying and moldy state.
He attends church, though often snoozes through sermons, and migrates to Moe's Tavern in such a predictable pattern that he takes doctor calls from its dusty landline. He's the American standard of a typical male in his 30s: he loves sports (one of his all-time dreams is to own the Dallas Cowboys, not the Denver Broncos — as he's later gifted in "You Only Move Twice"), dislikes ballet (once he discovers it doesn't include bears), and treats television with a tenderness he often withholds from most humans.
Homer's inner circle are his power plant co-workers — mainly Lenny and Carl, though a running a joke has been made on how he can't tell them apart. (He writes down "Lenny = white; Carl = black.") His best friend is Barney Gumble, who he's known since childhood and may or may not have coerced him into becoming a fall-down drunk.
Homer was named after Simpsons creator Matt Groening's father, Homer Groening, who himself had been named after the ancient Greek poet. "Homer originated with my goal to both amuse my real father and just annoy him a little bit," Groening said. "The only thing he had in common with Homer was a love of donuts." Homer's voiced by Dan Castellaneta and has undergone three significant design changes since his original debut in the short "Good Night" on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987.
At the beginning of The Simpsons inception, Homer was a stern voice of reason, as Castellaneta's style was vaguely based on the actor Walter Matthau. As the show evolved, so too did the family's patriarch. Fans often dissect Homer's evolution within the show's run itself, relegating early seasons (Season 1–2) with Homer being a fatherly voice of reason. The following seasons (3-6) fixated on his foibles, and the seasons after that (7–10) transformed him into a man whose id is firmly behind the wheel, crashing into whatever chaos will provide the most pleasure.CHAPTER 2
Read "Life in Hell"
Long ago, in a time before the sacred word "boo-urns" had meaning, a young, brooding artist by the name of — you guessed it — Matt Groening left behind his humble Portland, Oregon, beginnings to pursue a career in the magical land of La La Land's backdrop: Hollywood, California. Like most people trying to make it in showbiz, the young Groening tried his best, failed miserably, and fell into obscurity forever. We hope you have enjoyed our book.
Well, we were possibly a little hasty earlier and would like to reaffirm our allegiance to this chapter and its human subject, Matt Groening. It may not be perfect, but it's still the best chapter on Matt Groening we have ... for now. Although Groening obviously went on to create the most successful (and objectively hilarious) animated show in history, his early days weren't all sunshine and glory. The 23-year-old Groening found himself in a self-described series of "lousy jobs," ranging from dishwashing at a nursing home to clerking at the now-defunct punk record store chain, Hollywood Licorice Pizza. While working there (most likely alongside a team of squeaky voiced teens), Groening channeled his angst and disdain into his self-published comic strip Life in Hell, which starred the nihilistic but relatable one eared rabbit, Binky, who makes many small cameos in backdrops and short films of The Simpsons. Life in Hell broached topics of sex, angst, and rebellion and entertainingly mirrored Groening's contempt for authority and frustrations with everyday life. Although the comic would famously land him the opportunity to pitch his earliest version of The Simpsons to James L. Brooks, it should be celebrated independently from what doors it opened for Groening and immediately find its way onto your bookshelf.
So how do you do that? Well, if it was 1977 and you had $2, you could have bought the photocopied version outside Licorice Pizza from Groening himself. Had you purchased the first issue, you would have found Binky on the cover in a cloud of smoke saying, "What you see is what you breathe." Too true, Binky. Too true. Inside you would have found comic strips featuring not only Binky, Binky's estranged girlfriend Sheba, or Binky's illegitimate son Bongo — but the always funny yet sometimes painfully relatable Akbar and Jeff. Groening describes them as being "brothers or lovers ... and possibly both."
The two characters were added to the strip when Groening's then-girlfriend accused him of always making the female character in an argument come across as worse. By making both characters male, it was no longer charged by gender and he got off scot-free. (Well, sorta. The couple isn't still together.) If these two Charlie Brown-looking characters look familiar to you, you may remember their cameo in the form of finger puppets aka tiny aorta fairies in "Homer's Triple Bypass." If this seems like a stretch to you, take it up with Al Jean, who explained this on the Season 4 DVD commentary.
If you're looking for a place to find Life in Hell in the modern era, consider starting with the compendium Big Book of Hell, which features a decade's worth of Groening's best work. From 1986 to 2007, there have been 14 books of hell, including Love is Hell, School is Hell, Box Full of Hell, and How to Go to Hell. That's a lotta hell! Yet inside each book are commentaries so insightful, you'd think you are in ... heaven? (Sorry.) In a 1992 chapter of Binky's Guide to Love, we observe "The Weird World of Ambivalence," in which Binky and Sheba share the simple exchange, "I'll call you" "Whatever" surrounded by a page of thought bubbles full of both doubt and desire: "Ambivalence is that brain-in-taffy-pulling-machine sensation you get when seized by simultaneous and contradictory feelings [such as attraction and repulsion] toward a person [who is probably gripped by the same desire to say or do two opposite things]. It's part of the fun of being human, and if you're really lucky, you can find someone to share your mutual ambivalence with for the rest of your life."
Boy, it wasn't enough for the guy to create The Simpsons, he had to be a poet, too? It's no surprise that someone who could come up with one brilliant thing could have come up with something brilliant before it — and after it. (Looking at you, Futurama.) Across all Groening's work are similarities that make them a cohesive collection — not the least of which is his almost poetic love for bad characters, the Eddie Haskells of the world. As a child who was disappointed yet deeply enthralled by the bland family-oriented television he grew up on, Groening fantasized. In the BBC documentary, My Wasted Life, he explained, "that's what The Simpsons is. Bart Simpson is the son of Eddie Haskell!" Although this may be true, in many ways Bart is more the human son of Binky. That same rebellious charm that lives in Bart runs deep in Life in Hell, which we hope will be a part of your life, too.CHAPTER 3
"The Tracey Ullman Show"
On April 19, 1987, the Simpson family made their national television debut with a one-minute episode titled "Good Night." Long before White Walkers, the Kardashians, and fake news, variety shows were the kings of the TV landscape. Returning from movies and back to television with his brave tail between his heroic legs, executive producer James L. Brooks took triple-threat Tracey Ullman (actor/dancer/singer) under his wing and created the longest-running scripted show of all time. Technically, that last sentence is correct since The Simpsons is a spin-off of The Tracey Ullman Show.
Upon arrival, Brooks immediately hired a young Matt Groening to write a series of animated shorts about a dysfunctional American family, which were animated by Klasky Csupo. The shorts would serve as bumpers between sketches and commercial breaks in Seasons 1 and 2 and were subsequently expanded to full segments for Season 3. What resulted were 48 mini-episodes that quickly became the most popular segment on The Tracey Ullman Show. (The rest, as they say, is history, but we're still supposed to write another 500 words for this chapter.)
Groening was in luck when he arrived with the talents of cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner at his immediate disposal. Castellaneta initially based his voice for Homer on Walter Matthau, which carried all the way into the first season of the full half-hour series. As the character of Homer Simpson evolved from classic sitcom father to king of the morons, so did the voice. After initially being brought in to audition for Lisa, Nancy Cartwright was hired on the spot when she decided to audition for Bart. Yeardley Smith, a 22-year-old B-movie actress at the time, was then hired to voice Lisa. Early recordings were reportedly done with a tape deck in the bleachers on The Tracey Ullman Show set. The lesson, as always: no matter what, take the audition.
Most Simpsons fans only know the shorts that were featured in "The Simpsons 138 Episode Spectacular," the Season 7 episode where Troy McClure takes us on a self-deprecating stroll down memory lane. The shorts showcased were "Good Night," "Space Patrol," "World War III," "The Perfect Crime," and "Bathtime." The stories were simplistic and the characters relatively shallow, but they gradually became the lovable family we know and love today. If only our families had such a positive trajectory (author notes while sobbing).
Much like the television series that followed, The Simpsons had a distinct evolution of animation style as the shorts progressed. Initially, the animators would simply trace over Groening's storyboards like a lazy college student copying answers off the student next to him. But as the series developed so did the designs, layouts, and animation quality of the characters like a hardworking college student who pays good money for those answers.
Tracey Ullman would eventually sue FOX for restitution, claiming that her show was the source of The Simpsons' success in what we dub "The Most Sadly Predictable Lawsuit in United States History." FOX would go on to win in what we dub "The Most Sadly Predictable Lawsuit Result in United States History."
The comedy may be dated, but if you truly want to call yourself a fan, we highly recommend watching all 48 shorts on a loop until they're as committed to memory as the monorail song.CHAPTER 4
Watch "The Simpsons"
Okay, so this seems obvious. Maybe even a little insulting. You bought this book about The Simpsons, and the first thing we're doing is telling you to watch The Simpsons. Duh. But there are very good reasons why we're saying this. Bottom line: no information or amusement you derive from this book will ever compare to the enriching experience of watching an episode of the show. I mean, still read this thing but remember that it is merely a companion piece to the show itself!
It is possible that you, the person reading this, have never seen an episode of The Simpsons. Unlikely, for sure, but maybe you're using this book as a primer of sorts to get into the show. That's great. We're happy to start you off on your journey by recommending some episodes to watch. Unlike many sitcoms that have come out in the past decade or so, you don't need to start from the beginning. In fact, we suggest that you don't. The show has no serialized elements, and by the end of each episode, everything is resolved and back to normal. For the most part, each episode mostly exists in a vacuum unaware of the events of previous episodes. Although the format is not en vogue anymore, the DVD sets are a great way to watch the show and overall a great purchase. We'll get more into those in another chapter. However you wish to watch the show (DVD, simpsonsworld.com, illegal downloading), we'd recommend starting with an episode produced somewhere between the fourth season and the eighth season. Generally speaking, this is what fans will dub "the classic era," when the show was firing on all cylinders. The stories were compelling, the jokes were hilarious, and the series was past its growing pains but not yet tired. Any episode you pick will be a good choice. Although if you choose a "Treehouse of Horror" episode, just know these are non-canonical anthology stories created specifically for Halloween.
The episodes are so densely layered with so many jokes and references and moments that re-watching is an extremely rewarding experience. Maybe there's an episode you haven't seen in a while. You'll be surprised by how much you don't remember. Even if you're a mega-fan who's seen the episodes over and over, you should consider this: were you watching them in syndicated reruns? If you were, those episodes were chopped up to fit in more commercials. There are likely jokes in the full versions that you've never seen. What are you waiting for? Watch those babies again!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "100 Things the Simpsons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die"
Copyright © 2018 Allie Goertz and Julia Prescott.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein,
1. Homer Simpson,
2. Read "Life in Hell",
3. "The Tracey Ullman Show",
4. Watch "The Simpsons",
5. Family Tree,
6. Marge Simpson,
7. Homer and Marge: "The Way They Was",
8. The Voices,
9. Bart Simpson,
10. Make a Prank Phone Call,
12. Couch Gags,
13. Sam Simon: Unsung Hero,
14. Impact on Television,
15. Go to Simpsons Trivia,
16. 50 Trivia Nuggets,
17. Chalkboard Gags,
18. First Episode: "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire",
19. Lisa Simpson,
20. Mr. Burns,
21. Pop Culture References,
22. Simpsons Words and How to Use Them,
23. Simpsons Quotes for Every Day,
24. Itchy and Scratchy,
25. Treehouse of Horror,
27. Maggie Simpson,
28. Writers You Must Know,
29. Future Timelines,
30. How a Script Becomes an Episode,
31. Make a Costume,
32. The Thursday Time Slot,
33. Homer's Jobs,
34. Network Notes,
35. Internet Message Boards,
36. "Deep Space Homer" Controversy,
37. Write a Song,
38. Watch Other Shows Created by "The Simpsons" Writers,
40. Accomplishments and Awards,
41. Ned Flanders,
42. Make Simpsons Food,
43. Springfield Elementary,
45. Principal Skinner,
46. The Controversy Over Armin Tamzarian,
47. Milhouse Van Houten,
48. Sign Gags,
50. Get a Tattoo,
51. Ralph Wiggum,
53. Visit Knoxville's World's Fair,
54. Learn "Classical Gas",
55. Who Shot Mr. Burns?,
56. The Economic Value of "The Simpsons",
58. "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play",
59. The Fox Studios Lot,
60. "The Simpsons" House,
61. Krusty the Clown,
62. Sideshow Bob,
63. Predicting the Future,
64. The Golden Years,
65. Start a Lisa Simpson Book Club,
66. Troy McClure,
67. Springfield's Entertainers,
68. The Legend of John Swartzwelder,
70. Mix Simpsons Drinks,
72. Make Art from "The Simpsons",
73. The Town of Springfield,
74. Celebrity Cameos,
75. Watch "The Problem with Apu",
76. The Doctors of Springfield,
77. Play Simpsons Games,
78. Bad Guys,
79. Frank Grimes' Death,
80. Love Affairs,
81. Go to Simpson Land at Universal Studios,
82. Visit All the Springfields,
85. Nameless Characters,
86. Lenny and Carl,
87. Animation Evolution,
88. One-Time Characters,
89. The Many Loves of Selma Bouvier,
90. Simpsons Pets,
91. Directors and What They Do,
92. "The Simpsons Movie",
93. Musical Guests,
94. Crossover Episodes,
95. Meme'd Hams,
96. Controversial Moments,
97. Product Tie-Ins,
98. Explore the DVDs,
100. Follow the Writers on Twitter,