Homer's Where The Heart Is
by Richard Clune
If aliens were ever to stake their claim on Earth they would soon realise they had been beaten to the punch by a bunch of yellow strangers.

Fifteen years have passed since The Simpsons packed their bags and marched off the Tracey Ullman show, heading for prime-time television and subsequent world domination.

Today, The Simpsons appeals to people around the world, regardless of age, race or gender. Central to the show's universal appeal is the fact that it manages to realistically portray everyday life. From Homer's failures to Lisa's geekish excitement, The Simpsons always touches a nerve. You may laugh at the satire but beneath the cartoon characters is a reflection of our lives and societal moods.

"That is the beauty of the program," says Catharine Lumby, media commentator and head of Sydney University's school of media and communication. "It is such a beautifully constructed and sophisticated piece of satire."

The final episode in The Simpsons 15th season screens on Ten this week, a remarkable feat from a show that has managed to outlast fads. Lumby believes its survival is due to mixing satire with a contemporary and malleable narrative.

"It's fair to say The Simpsons has brought a post-modern narrative style to television, a style that is often overlooked," Lumby says. "By that I mean it's constantly quoting from other shows and itself in a playful manner. One of the best things it does is to be self-referential."

When it first began, The Simpsons was criticised for its portrayal of the modern family as a generally dysfunctional unit. On the surface such criticism seemed warranted - the household governed by a lazy father, Homer, seemingly more concerned with beer and doughnuts than his children's well-being.

But Lumby says that view fails to recognise that, despite their failings, The Simpsons are united.

"Ultimately this is a family that sticks together. They are human, which is ironic given that they are cartoon characters, but they try to do the right thing by others."

And creator Matt Groening has made this much loved cartoon a highly profitable business.

It is conservatively estimated that Fox has earned up to $1 billion from domestic syndication and worldwide broadcast rights, to say nothing of the huge spin-off business in merchandise.

To add to the spoils is an upcoming movie, which Groening recently told London's Guardian newspaper would provide an extra boost to the show in its 16th year.

"Everyone on the show this year seems really re-energised. We're starting to throw out ideas for the movie, and I think that will either kill the show or completely invigorate it," Groening says.

While many fans hope to watch The Simpsons for the rest of their lives, there is speculation it may end after its 20th season in 2009. This would give the smash-hit series even more longevity than Gunsmoke, the longest running show on TV.

Yeardley Smith, who voices Lisa Simpson, hopes the show is still rating when producers finally decide to end it. "I would hope the writers would pull the plug while we're still on top of our game so we can go out with a bang instead of a piffle in terms of quality and stuff," she says.

The new Simpsons series starts on Ten on Wednesday at 7:30pm


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Disclaimer: This article is from the November 7, 04 edition of tvguide from the Sunday Mail newspaper in Adelaide, South Australia. It has been posted here for general information purposes and no profit is being made from this article. Visit The Advertiser/Sunday Mail website here.


 

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