I sometimes feel that my closest friends and family don’t understand the language that I speak. I blame this almost solely on The Simpsons.
So frequently something happens in my life where, almost immediately, I have a Simpsons quote perfectly at the ready to share. When I do share, I watch as most of the people around me look incredibly confused and almost irritated at my unusual, but still very relevant, non-sequitur. Those that crack a smile or bust out in uproarious laughter quickly become my closest friends and a prolonged discussion about the show soon follows. You see, I, Jeremy Weiks, am a Simpsons addict.
The Simpsons intro circa 1990.
I grew up with the show and most of my earliest memories are punctuated with watching the show, quoting the show, buying their merchandise, or generally obsessing over my favorite cartoon family. In short, I credit The Simpsons for my sense of humor, interest in unusual things, and my life long obsession with television shows and cartoons. It was the first show I dropped everything I was doing and made sure I watched every new episode as it aired and often remember the rest of my family huddling around the television during its early seasons. Like most die-hard Simpsons fans, I stopped watching it religiously around its 15th season and complain about the later seasons lacking originality even though I haven’t seen very many episodes for the last ten years. In reality, I was going off to college, not having time to dedicate every Sunday night to watching the new episodes, and finally having a wealth of other cartoons I was watching thanks to the birth of Adult Swim that eventually separated me from my favorite television show ever. Whenever time allows it, Aly has suggested that we start watching The Simpsons from the beginning so that she can, for the first time, finally understand some of the insane things I say during those moments that I often feel so awkward for saying them. Hopefully we stick with it so I can finally see some of what I’ve only heard are the mediocre later seasons and give my inner bitter nerd a little more fuel for the fire.
So imagine my surprise and excitement when I caught wind of a podcast, brought to you the amazingly talented geeks over at the Laser Time podcast network, that would go through the entire show chronologically for the next 50 years until it is completed. Okay, fifty years is just a guess on how much time it would take to do this but, let’s be honest, it might be pretty close to taking that long if The Simpsons continue to release new episodes.
So let’s talk Simpsons!
Talking Simpsons is a weekly short-form podcast that aims to chronologically analyze every episode of The Simpsons.
The guys over at Laser Time Podcast Network, who host the show, are a great bunch of dudes who know how to make quality podcasts that run the full gamut of all of my nerdy interests. Their podcasts range from the the very excellent long-form video game podcast, Retronauts (recommended to me by a reader and among my favorite podcasts right now), to classic and current pro-wrestling deep analysis, Cheap POPcast, to comic book news and discussion, Cape Crisis. Most of them are video game writers or English majors or pop culture enthusiasts that have a wealth of knowledge in all areas of their interests. In short, these guys are my type of nerds and I would totally hang out with them if I had the chance.
Talking Simpsons is something I have desperately needed in my life and I’m so glad to finally have it. The show’s premise, which I’ve quoted from their website, is simple:
“Join your friends at the Laser Time Podcast Network for a chronological and cromulent exploration of the greatest show ever made! Each podcast tackles a different episode of The Simpsons, breaking down every 22 minutes of animated entertainment into an embiggening discussion about Our Favorite Family.”
Each show begins with the episode’s title, a brief discussion of what was happening in the world at the time the episode was released (“Simpsons News”), a segment where the hosts share their favorite line of the episode (“That’s The Joke”), and its all wrapped up in a wandering, almost chaotic thirty to forty minute chronological discussion of the plot of the episode. These guys are uber-fans of the show that aren’t afraid to completely geek out over seemingly trivial details such as 90s baseball stars, Citizen Kane, episode continuity, obscure historical references, and crappy animation. Its kind of sick how quickly they can go from briefly discussing an obscure baseball star that Mr. Burns references to how much of an emotional impact it has to watch these episodes after almost thirty years after they were aired. If you’re a fan of the show, these guys will only make you a bigger fan and have you desperately wanting to carve out the time to start the process of watching the episodes again right along with the hosts.
The origin of the “That’s the joke” quote featured in Talking Simpsons.
For the sake of simplicity, this review is only for the first five episodes of the second season and does not include anything that isn’t available for free out on the web-o-sphere. The show is technically on its second season, which coincides with the first episode of the second season of The Simpsons. Its first season is locked behind a paywall for backers of the podcast network and is comprised of the first thirteen episodes of the first season of the show. If you like what you hear, I highly encourage you to donate $5 a month in order to unlock access to the show’s first season as well as a few other goodies such as monthly movie audio commentaries delivered by the hosts and stickers (who doesn’t like stickers?). Before I wrote this podcast review and after five very solid episodes from the second season, I contributed the $5 so that I could have access to the first thirteen episodes. The way I look at it, I’ll buy one less beer during the month or not stop for coffee five times during Dunkin Donuts $1 coffee specials. Seriously, if I can afford it, so can you!
WHERE TO FIND THIS SHOW?
WHERE TO START?
I promise that I will have at least one of these podcast reviews where I don’t recommend the first episode. In fact, this one technically is it. I started with the first episode of season two and not the first episode of season one simply because I didn’t know about the first season being behind a paywall. However, I feel strongly about starting on the first episode (season one or two) in order to catch some of the natural in-jokes that occur through the show and also to keep with the theme of the podcast talking about each episode in chronological order. You won’t be missing much by jumping in at your favorite episode of The Simpsons since the team does a really great job at presenting the show with only the expectation that you have seen the episode that the podcast is discussing. Even then, they do such a great job about chronologically talking about the plot as it unfolds that you will almost feel as though you’ve watched the episode right along with them. If you want the most out of the podcast, my recommendation would be to watch the television show before you listen to the podcast and also consider listening to the audio commentary on the DVDs as a second watch before or after you listen to the podcast. The hosts occasionally make reference to the audio commentaries and, if you are a Simpsons fan, you absolutely must do this with or without the podcasts. Seriously, they are so great.
EPISODE 1: Bart Gets an “F”
If you haven’t seen the episode, I’ll provide you a quick summary. Bart’s teacher, Mrs. Krabappel, is tired of his poor performance after he fails a history exam and fakes his way through a book report. She gives him an ultimatum where he has to either pass his next test or repeat the fourth grade. The night before the test, Bart prays for a miracle and is given one when there is a freak snowstorm that closes the school. He has one more day to study before the test or is doomed to repeat the fourth grade.
The best book report ever.
The podcast episode begins with my favorite segment of the show called “Simpsons News”. This is a recurring segment where the hosts provide what was in the news when the episode premiered (Bart Gets an “F” premiered on 10/11/1990). On this particular day, Polaroid successfully sued Kodak over a patent on instant film to the tune of one million dollars, The Cosby Show was the number one comedy show in America, and Fox’s ratings were so bad that they were forced to cancel their fourth quarter ads. Its great to hear these historical sidenotes since it does provide great social commentary on how far The Cosby Show has plummeted in light of all of the controversy that surrounds him 25 years later and also provides one of the reasons why The Simpsons were moved from their original lineup slot on Sunday nights to Thursday. To address the latter, the move caused the popularity of the show to plummet from #1 to #50 and really affected the show’s popularity. Shaky Ground (which includes a very young Jennifer Love Hewitt), Drexel’s Class, and Major Dad (which actually aired on CBS) are also discussed as Fox television shows that tried to carry the network but failed tremendously. Its these quick sidebars that make me love the show since, as soon as I got home, I had to search for these shows to figure out what they were talking about. They then spend some time talking about the t-shirt controversy and how, this controversy, forced the episode to be moved up in the production run since Fox saw him as a marketing tool to help them sell merchandise.
Original news report about the Bart Simpson t-shirt controversy.
The great majority of the episode has the hosts spending a lot of time fondly remembering watching this episode as they were around the age of Bart when it first premiered and how, now that they are closer to the age of Homer, they are watching it with a completely different insight that hits a little harder than it did when it first aired. Specifically, they used to identify as Bart when they were younger but now realize that maybe they shared more than just a few similarities with the character that they are only seeing now and couldn’t see then. They dive deep into the possibility that this was one of the first television shows that may have suggested that Bart had ADHD, an ailment that at least one of the hosts is diagnosed as having, and this episode provides a textbook of symptoms that fit perfectly with the diagnosis. They also talk about Bart’s admission of being dumb is incredibly moving, even today, and how much it resonated with them when they were younger whenever they would get poor grades.
Can you spot all the holiday references in this clip?
When the discussion wasn’t about their change in perspective, they discuss how it was The Simpsons that was really one of the first shows that made it okay for kids to talk about how much school sucked and how testing was mostly rooted in rote memorization. In this respect, looking at the show 25 years later, its hard not recognize that its innocent social commentary is now a major discussion point in America where, just recently, our method of standardized testing has come under scrutiny.
The show doesn’t always take the high road as my commentary, thus far, suggests. In fact, there is a long segment about how they didn’t really understand a joke about John Hancock peeing his name into the snow until having watched it years later. They also spend a brief aside talking about cool bus driver names, Martin’s formula for being less nerdy and more cool, being a bad kid in their youth, prayer being “the last refuge of the scoundrel”, the song “Winter Wonderland” being misrepresented as being only a Christmas song, and Moby Dick quotes. It is their sense of humor and their attention to detail that make this podcast such a gem and a standout. It has this uncanny ability to be completely serious and, in this episode, almost depressing. As soon as it sticks around on an uncomfortable emotional note, they become aware and turn it to something smartly silly that helps the impact of the original thought.
Talking Simpsons has quickly rose the ranks of my favorite podcasts and is one of the few that I download and listen to on the same day that it is released. Its hosts are incredibly relatable and well versed in all things nerdy. They pull from a wide variety of influences and pepper each episode with a wealth of information about The Simpsons and just about everything else. They clearly are huge fans of the show that border on the obsessive and people I would love to meet at a party. Even if it just to share an obscure Simpsons quote when something out of the ordinary reminds me of my favorite cartoon family.
Are you a huge Simpsons fan and want to be my friend? Do you have a podcast that is centered around your favorite show? Let us know in the comments.