To introduce again, this “Revisited” series will chronicle my rewatching of the show’s first 11 seasons nearly 10 years since starting this blog, consisting of off-the-cuff observations, notable quotes and other related remarks. I decided to do these in parts to keep these posts from being super long. Don’t expect any in-depth analysis, as I’m trying my best not to just repeat the same comments a decade later, but I’ll probably do some kind of summation of each season at the end of each one. Feel free to watch along!
1. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
- First laugh of the series: “Pardon my galoshes!” I don’t know why I love that line so much.
- Principal Skinner’s character quirk of mispronouncing words didn’t pop up much, but lasted quite a while (“Lisa’s Pony” is the last time I recall it happening). Probably for the best. I also don’t think I noticed that after correcting “medlies,” he gaffes again, introducing some holiday “flavorites.”
- Homer falling off the roof and the kids applauding him as he gets up is such a wonderful human moment.
- It’s honestly pretty adorable that Bart wants to get the “MOTHER” tattoo. After Marge firmly told him no, he genuinely believed that getting ink in tribute to her would soften her heart.
- Pitch perfect satire in Mr. Burns proudly announcing increased safety protocols at the plant has not affected upper management pay raises, but no Christmas bonuses for the other “semi-skilled” workers.
- Lisa is posed just like a Life in Hell rabbit. Season one is full of little design elements of artists attempting to mimic the Matt Groening style.
- “I get the feeling there’s something you haven’t told me, Homer.” “Huh? Oh, uhh… I love you, Marge.” “Homie, you tell me that all the time.” This first aired episode really solidly affirms Homer’s character: he’s a complete dolt, always dealt a bad hand in life, but he’ll never stop fighting tooth and nail for the love and respect of his wife and children. Homer is at his finest when he’s doing absolutely ridiculous and moronic things, but for completely earnest reasons, like nearly killing himself jumping Springfield Gorge. The biggest trait that “Jerkass” Homer lost was his sense of shame, which drives him through most of this first episode.
- The Santa instructor looks like such a hardass. The gag is that Santa school is serious business, but his formidable presence behind Homer judging him adds to it so well.
- One of the series’ greatest tricks is when it mocks cliche schmaltz while being authentically endearing, which is especially the case in this show, lampooning sickeningly sweet Xmas specials. Upon discovering his father’s mall Santa secret, Bart earnestly smiles, “You must really love us to sink so low!”
- It’s interesting that, upon first airing, Lisa’s thoughtful defending of her father to Patty and Selma could be viewed as a single “child talks like an adult” gag, rather than being true to her character. But it’s great either way.
- Sitcom convention is immediately bucked in that Homer loses big time up until the very end. His “win” in bringing home the new family dog is completely unintentional, as he only took pity on the mutt for being as big a failure as he is.
2. Bart the Genius
- Ah, the season 1 opening. Whatever happened to these guys? Did they ever catch that bus?!
Also, as far as chalkboard gags go, “I WILL NOT WASTE CHALK” is a pretty perfect one to be the first.
- A season 1 staple of the Simpson home was having portraits of characters all over the walls, but here, past two corridors, we see a picture frame of two more corridors. Pretty trippy stuff. Another artistic staple is all of the backgrounds having that weird, washed out gradient look. I don’t really know what they were going for, but I’m glad it was changed for season 2. They look awful.
- As I came upon this heavily memed shot of Skinner, I realized this re-watch is taking place after many recent years of non-stop Simpsons shitposting, so I’m sure I’ll spot many, many more familiar shots like these that have been re-appropriated a billion times.
- “What are you looking at, Bart? Are those naughty dogs back again?” One of many lines I’m surprised they got away with in 1990.
- “He’s a good boy now and he’s getting better, but sometimes even the best sheep stray from the flock and need to be hugged extra hard.” “That’s exactly the kind of crapola that’s lousing him up!” It’s funny how “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie” has Homer & Marge switch their good cop/bad cop parenting styles, and both still feel true to character.
- “What do we need a psychiatrist for? We know our kid is nuts.”
- “Pay attention, because if you do, one day, you may achieve what we Simpsons have dreamed about for generations: you may outsmart someone!” Another early example of a main theme of the series, the Simpsons’ hopeless desire to be looked upon favorably in an uncaring society.
- Everything at the gifted school is perfect: the teacher’s snobbery toward “low” art like comic books and cold apathy toward the lives of the class hamsters, and a group of ten-year-olds thoughtfully contemplating fate vs. free will, while next period they gleefully swindle the new kid out of his lunch like normal awful children. “Discover your desks, people!” sums up the enlightened, pompous new age bullshit perfectly. And if them being full of shit wasn’t clear enough, the episode doesn’t end with Bart being exposed as a fraud, but only when he admits it himself. The Enriched Learning Center for Gifted Children was duped just as easily as Springfield Elementary.
- Episode two and we’re already seeing how thoughtful these scripts are. Act three opens with Bart reading the Radioactive Man comic he swiped from class (“What’re you reading there? Comic books? Guess you don’t want to overheat the old noggin, eh?”) Later, we see Bart’s crude graffiti, once subject of outrage by Skinner, is now behind velvet rope as a landmark to Bart’s supposed brilliance. Both of these small callbacks not only make the story feel more complete, but play into the themes and character motivations as well. Especially the latter point, of course Skinner would try to shamelessly advertise that a genius student attended his school for his benefit.
- The acting is so subtle, but upon reading Bart’s confession, you can just see the soul leaving Dr. Pryor’s body as he realizes he’s been had (“You know, you misspelled ‘confession.’”)
- Homer and Bart tenderly bond through the entire episode, but at the very end when Bart comes clean while admitting how much he cherishes his newly strengthened bond with his dad, Homer is still blinded with rage and chases his naked son through the house. How bizarre this must have seemed at the time playing next to “Full House” and “The Cosby Show.”
3. Homer’s Odyssey
- In his very first appearance, Otto arrives late to pick up the kids for their field trip, openly admitting he was hung over. He proudly shows off his fruits of his blackened out state to Bart: a new tattoo, and closes out by offering him some sage advice (“Cool! I want one!” “Not until you’re 14, my little friend.”) As I recall, so many of these classic characters showed up almost fully formed in these early seasons.
- I love that Mrs. Krabappel threatens Bart with the humiliating punishment of singing in front of the whole class, but as big a ham as he is, it backfires when Bart actually enjoys it.
- The show’s very first fake filmstrip (Nuclear Energy: Our Misunderstood Friend) is perfect, with its chipper presenter Smilin’ Joe Fission literally sweeping all criticism under the rug in this propaganda film. I also love the serious opening with the nuclear blast eliciting uproarious cheering from the children.
- Now why didn’t the “MUST BE 21!” sign sick around? Man, season 1 backgrounds were weird.”
- The Homer-Moe relationship is also firmly established in this episode. Moe bluntly tells Homer he won’t spot him for a beer because he doesn’t think he’ll ever get another job to pay him back, but as Homer solemnly leaves, he calls out with a smile, “Don’t worry, we’re still friends!”
- I love the continuous action of Homer signing the report card and his arm starting to fall, continuing in the next shot as the kids quickly make their exit. Just the way the arm just flops down as Homer just lies there motionless, like writing his signature took his last ounce of strength. That drawing of him on the couch is just so pathetic it’s hysterical. Also, yet another bizarre double-painting of Marge and her hair.
- “LoafTime, the cable network for the unemployed, will be back with more tips on how to win the lottery, right after this!” Hey wait, the family didn’t get cable until Homer stole it next season! What a plot hole! This also leads right into the first appearance of Duff, and it’s a doozy (“Unemployed? Out of work? Sober? You’ve sat around the couch all day! Now, it’s Duff time! Duff: the beer that makes the days fly by!”) Just brilliant.
- Not just any series would be brave enough to have its main character try to commit suicide in their third episode, but dammit, this show not only has the balls to, but is even able to make writing a suicide note funny. Not only does Homer scribe it on “Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today” stationary, but the message itself is dripping with irony (“I can only leave you with the words my father gave me: stand tall, have courage and never give up.”) Homer’s inner turmoil is played completely straight, even while dragging a giant boulder through town to toss off a bridge like out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s incredible how the two tones don’t clash.
- I never noticed the drunk passed out in front of city hall before. What a cynical touch.
- The third act still doesn’t quite work for me. Homer’s righteous crusade for safety and his adoring fan base that follows feels too rushed to feel completely earned, but I like that there’s an episodic origin to our favorite lovable oaf being hired as safety inspector.
- Lastly, I present the greatest crowd shot of season 1. Just look at this. I can’t decide who I like best, the weirdo in the red mask, the dummy above him with the gigantic smile, or those strange fellows on the right who appear to be conjoined at the head.
4. There’s No Disgrace Like Home
- Even with this being the strangest season 1 episode in terms of characterization, the theme of the Simpsons being mystified by “normal” people still holds true. Also, coming directly after Homer being driven for safety, it kinda makes sense for him to try and apply that kind of passion to having a model family. In any case, it’s worth it to see Homer chasing after his children like a wild man screaming, “Be normal! Be normal!!”
- The mom circle at the company picnic is so perfect, with the one mom humble bragging on which of her super talented children she should love more (“Usually, I use their grades as a tie-breaker, but they both got straight A’s this term, so what’s a mother to do?”) An already tipsy Marge doesn’t have that strong a rejoinder regarding her own family (“If it’s not true greatness we have, we’re at least average.”)
- Between “Cease the infernal tootling!” and him threatening to release the hounds on his invited guests within ten minutes, Mr. Burns is truly born.
- The end of act one lays it on so thick with the picture perfect family, but it’s just so over-the-top that I still love it.
- “Sometimes I think we’re the worst family in town.” “Maybe we should move to a larger community.”
- Bart’s right, “these people are obviously freaks.”
- At his lowest point, I love Homer’s “I want to be alone with my thought.” Singular.
- Not only is Homer’s pathetic excuse for attracting the police dog’s attention funny (“I got some wieners in my pocket…”), but even better is how Lou and Eddie buy it immediately.
- A rare snippy line from Lisa when her father turns off the television (“Why can’t we have a family meeting when you’re watching TV?”)
- Such a pivotal touch that we see the happy family from the company picnic, the ultimate ideal that Homer has been trying to hold his own family to, are grumpily sitting in Dr. Monroe’s waiting room. As screwed up as the Simpsons think they may be, they’re not the only ones. There’s some kind of lesson in that. Also, the waffle cone walls always make me hungry.
- “There go my young girl dreams of Vasser…”
- Like the gifted school before him, Dr. Marvin Monroe is a total sham. From his empty affarisms to his patented aggression therapy mallets, his quickie therapy is clearly a means to line his pockets as fast as possible. While most families are probably easy sheep to his bullshit, the Simpsons prove to be so dysfunctional that his previously bulletproof “family bliss or double your money back” guarantee prove to be his undoing, and the Simpsons’ gain to their much earned happy ending.
- The shock therapy scene is another moment that must have been so odd to see in 1990. Where last episode saw a beloved sitcom character attempt suicide, now we have several children, including an infant, get electro shocked repeatedly. What a wonderful show.
5. Bart the General
- “Bart! You’re saying ‘buttkisser’ like it’s a bad thing!”
- The bus scene with Bart and Lisa is truly excellent. The first two scene further cement her character as a good, model student, but also a kid who is more than happy to mess with her brother, “forcing” him to say sweet nothings about her before finally giving him his most coveted cupcake… after it falls to the dirty bus floor.
- God, I love Bart’s dream funeral so much. It’s even funnier remembering the scene is all in Bart’s mind, where Skinner openly admits in retrospective all that schoolwork was a big waste of time, and Homer psyched that his son’s funeral got him a day off of work. And we end on punching a child’s corpse, as all great scenes should end on.
- I love how deformed Bart’s entire head gets in the POV shot of him getting pummeled. Bart is pretty beat up through most of this episode, but it sits at just the right level of his anguish being believable, but not too much that you’re disturbed by it.
- Homer’s Code of the Schoolyard is an undeniably classic bit, and ties in perfectly with his behavior in the previous episode of wanting more than anything else to be viewed as “normal” (“Don’t tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you’re sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.”) I like how Homer grumbles at Marge’s attempts to suggest a pacifistic approach, and even here, there are still great, character-building jokes thrown in for good measure (“I’ll bet he doesn’t do well in his studies, either.” “No, he’s pretty dumb. He’s in all the same special classes I am.”)
- Grampa Simpson is another fully formed first appearance, as is the Retirement Castle itself (the attendant guiding Bart, “Second floor, third dank room on your left” is just excellent). His ornery letter to the editor in defense of the elderly being “bitter, resentful individuals who remember the good old days” really says it all.
- Despite only having a handful of appearances, Herman is such a great character. The absolute glee in his voice when he’s crafting the declaration of war is so funny and genuinely disturbing (“That way, everything you do will be niiiiiccee and legal.”) Herman made a random reappearance on the show a season or two ago, but in 2020 America, he would most definitely be a Qanon supporter.
- I don’t think many sitcoms in 1990 did extended sequences parodying war films like Patton. Or have children directly quote from the Nuremburg trials. In case you needed to be reminded, The Simpsons truly was one of a kind, even more so back then.
- Abe’s got two hall-of-fame speeches here, with his admonishing Bart for slapping one of his soldiers, and his tearful ode to past horrors (“I thought my time had passed. I thought I’d never hear the screams of pain, or see the look of terror in a man’s eyes. Thank heaven for children!”)
- “Article Four: Nelson is never again to raise his fists in anger. Article Five: Nelson recognizes Bart’s right to exist. Article Six: Although Nelson shall have no official power, he shall remain a figurehead of menace in the neighborhood.”
6. Moaning Lisa
- I love how this show goes from a goofy school bully story akin to a school age kid’s cartoon (featuring parodies of graphic war movies) to a quiet and honest look at the existential ennui of a little girl. This series showed off its immense range right from the start.
- It’s great how in this shot is just a freeze frame where they just moved the pupils, but for some reason it makes it even funnier, Bart content to just stand there and watch as he sends his father on a wild goose chase for his missing keys. I also love in the next shot the loud squeaking of his shoes as he walks across the kitchen floor.
- This is the first time I’m registering how woefully inept Springfield Elementary is that rather than help Lisa’s emotional state in any way, they send her home with a reprimanding note to her parents that “she is sad.” Never mind that four episodes ago we met the school’s on-site psychiatrist, but they serve only to commend or punish, not to actually help in any way.
- After failing to help one child, Homer reaffirms his parenting abilities by forcing Bart to do chores (“Hey, man! I didn’t do anything wrong!” “In times of trouble you’ve got to go with what you know. Now hop to it, boy!”)
- I love how much tenderness there is in season 1. The scene where Homer confronts Lisa somberly playing her sax always gets to me. His impulsive anger at the noise dissolves immediately upon hearing the pain in his daughter’s voice. He knows he’s too dim to understand what’s wrong with her, but he’s truly doing what he can.
- Marge’s dream of her childhood is so perfectly succinct, with her mother instructing her to “put our happy face on, because people know how good a mommy you have by the size of your smile.” That subliminal conditioning completely explains Marge’s impulse to put a positive, unquestioning spin on everything, which is a perfect set-up for the ending with her and Lisa.
- The goofy video game boxing subplot feels like it should clash tonally with the Lisa A-story, but it really doesn’t. They even cross paths when Homer and Marge both discuss their problems in bed, where the silly side story is even given an element of emotional weight in Homer feeling threatened by his son outshining him (“Getting old is a terrible thing. I think the saddest day of my life was when I realized I could beat my Dad at most things, and Bart experienced that at the age of four.”) And nothing beats seeing a grown man crumpled on the floor sobbing uncontrollably over an unplugged game system.
- The ending with Marge and Lisa is so incredibly beautiful. The happy ending doesn’t have Lisa just “get over” her emotions like every other sitcom would have, but rather finds comfort in her mother affirming that she has a caring support system that will be with her always. One of the, if not the best, scene of season 1.
- I love Lisa sheepishly waving to Bleeding Gums on stage at the Jazz Hole. This ending is so damn sweet; even at this early stage, the show has mastered executing comedy and genuine emotion without even switching gears.
12 thoughts on “Season One Revisited (Part One)”
Excellent start with a lot of great comments as always. Been going back through the early Simpsons myself on Disney + and reminding myself of how much i still love them and how well they hold up. The show was truly not afraid back in the day to tackle subjects that many shows often didn’t do or often spin it round to put nothing but a positive spin, Aesop etc.
Like you noted in many episodes above like Homer attempting suicide, Lisa dealing with her feelings. Bart being bullied and so on. Of hinting to how Marge came to be the way she is from her flashback with her mother and how its used by Marge with Lisa later on in the episode.
The subtly of the first two seasons and the humor in them is something that sometimes i wish the show had kept.
Which helped to truly make the Simpsons unique at the time and helped usher in the shows that followed it.
Don’t get me wrong, the later seasons of the classic years are a downright a riot in many places and still had many touching moments and tackling complex subjects etc. and which the show runners for those seasons made work at the time.
But the way the first two seasons often had layers of humor, of observations, characterization details and letting the audience spot them and not going over the top about it. Is what drew me to the show the most as a kid in the uk during the early 90’s.
I think one of the many reasons later seasons slipped in quality (outside of the show going on after it had run out of stream and had Family Guy, South Park, King of the Hill etc come along and offer alternatives to it). Was that the later season writers often felt like they were trying to outdo the comedy and wackiness that had been done in season five and six and forgot for the most part of the more subtler elements of the Simpsons that are there in the early seasons.
Looking forward to part two and your revisits of the seasons that came after season one.
Well it depends. The thing that made the early years great is the show seemed to reboot itself every two years by doing something different. However, 9-12 seemed to think they needed to just redo what 7 and 8 had done, but worse, and then 13+ wanted to be 11 and 12, only they failed at it too. It’s like the phone game. The more it goes on, the more the original message changes and at some point becomes unrecognizable to what it started out as.
This is a great way to kill time while we await what is I hope to God the final season of Zombie Simpsons. Season 1 is so underrated and really helped define 90s television and cartoons. I’m sure The Simpsons even paved way for Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons and Cartoon Network’s Cartoon Cartoons.
The Simpsons definitely helped change things around for television animation, but it still wasn’t creator-driven like the Nicktoons and Cartoon Cartoons.
I’d credit Bakshi’s 80s Mighty Mouse for introducing the concept, Doug, Rugrats, and Ren & Stimpy for fully realizing it, and the latter for making it mainstream.
Apples and oranges, but The Simpsons was still incredibly helpful for reshaping mainstream animation into validation.
I’m curious, how come you think The Simpsons wasn’t creator-driven?
Re: I’m curious, how come you think The Simpsons wasn’t creator-driven?
I say this because first-and-foremost The Simpsons is (and always has been) a network sitcom. A sitcom that the creator had not many input into overall and where the writers ruled supreme and not the artists (at least not primarily).
The writing staff for Doug, Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy especially, etc. consisted of primarily artists or were already associated with animation, so the creators had more say of what did or didn’t go into their shows. Matt Groening didn’t do a whole lot to the show honestly, he mainly did designs and a couple of scripts overall.
However, The Simpsons was still a key component in successfully restoring mainstream attention to the animated arts, something more than Saturday morning kiddie crap, something the Nicktoons and Cartoon Cartoons embraced. The proof? Homer attempting suicide at episode 3.
It’s not the final season. The show was previously renewed through 33.
I always thought “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” felt more in-tune with the Tracey Ullman shorts, like the characters were still in transition as their spin-off series started.
Bart and Lisa are basically the same character, Marge is the more loose parent, and Homer being the one trying to keep the family intact.
It’s fascinating due to that early characterization bleeding through, but compared to the rest of the golden age (or even season 1) it does feel out of place.
I’m glad I found this blog. I love classic Simps and I don’t feel most blogs acknowledge just how far the series has fallen. Look at Way of the Dog which no homers loved, but is exactly the kind of shmultzy crap Simpsons Roasting poked fun at.
Season 1 is so undervalued. In fact, I actually prefer Seasons 1 & 2, on the whole, to nearly everything that came after (with the bizarre exception of Season 8). I’m sure personal nostalgia is a factor, but there are ways in which those early episodes connect with me a whole lot better as an adult than as a kid. They have a greater trust in understatement, and in and honest character observation than the series could ever have dreamed of once Jean and Reiss had slapped their hyperactive fingerprints all over it. And the animation, while crude, has character.
The scene between Lisa and Marge in “Moaning Lisa” still gets my vote for one of the most emotionally profound moments of all the series. What strikes me as particularly poignant is Marge’s line, “Let me do the smiling for both of us”. No small feat, given that it was just made painfully clear that Marge herself has a whole lot of grief and rage she’s conditioned herself out of expressing. She’s got problems of her own that she doesn’t have the answers to, let alone Lisa’s, but her first priority is to ensure her daughter knows that she’s got her back and will weather the naysayers on her behalf.
It’s interesting that this episode wound up being the first to suggest that Marge is privately unhappy with her lot, which wouldn’t have been the case had things gone to plan with “Some Enchanted Evening”. Here, it was introduced subtly, as part of the milieu to another character’s story, before becoming the focal point three episodes later. In the Ullman shorts, Marge probably received the least exploration as a character (people make a big thing about Lisa being defined exclusively as the “middle child”, but in three seasons of TUS we never even learned Marge’s name). In Season 1, she’s still used predominantly as a supporting character, with “Life on The Fast Lane” being her only real starring episode (although it was a short season), but I think her arc was always the most interesting and affecting of all the family – because it’s the most understated.
Such a fantastic show, especially back in 1990, when it was truly unlike anything else out there at the time. Right out of the gate, it had so much going on, and it’s amazing to me how they are able to make a scene hilarious/ridiculous and simultaneously sincere, heartfelt, or moving. The Homer suicide episode is a great example of that.
The backgrounds in the early seasons were great, in my opinion. There’s just so many bizarre or subtle little things going on. We’re not yet at the point where the Simpson household portraits are set, nor where sign gags and opening shots contain a half-dozen jokes in a two-second shot, but the show is, from the start, one that rewards people for pay attention to every detail.
“Principal Skinner’s character quirk of mispronouncing words didn’t pop up much, but lasted quite a while (“Lisa’s Pony” is the last time I recall it happening).”
The latest I remember was “Lisa’s Sax.” “Hello, I’m principal Sinner, er, Skinner!”