Still TV’S most fa­mous fam­ily

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - Th­es­imp­sons

The car­toon nu­clear fam­ily, headed by arm­chair philoso­pher Homer Simp­son, notched up its 500th episode re­cently, and shows no sign of chang­ing the for­mula.

FOR 23 years, Homer Simp­son and his happy brood have lived at 742, Ev­er­green Ter­race, Springfield, a town faith­ful to its found­ing dec­la­ra­tion of: “First toil, then the grave.” Un­for­tu­nately, the hap­pi­ness has not al­ways been shared by the fam­ily’s up­stand­ing fel­low cit­i­zens and, in the re­cent 500th episode of the tele­vi­sion car­toon show, the Simp­sons get thrown out of town.

What ex­actly have they done? “I’m not giv­ing it all away,” Al Jean, the pro­gramme’s long-serv­ing ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, said prior to the mile­stone episode’s air­ing in the United States on Feb 19, “but folks feel they have had enough of the Simp­sons.”

Could there be in this, an un­com­fort­able, per­haps know­ing, nod to the no­tion that the sharpest, smartest show of mod­ern tele­vi­sion is fi­nally run­ning out of steam? Among those who have fol­lowed The Simp­sons from the start, it is a near ar­ti­cle of faith that the gags aren’t quite as funny as be­fore. But how could they be?

“Maybe, just once,” says Homer, “some­one will call me ‘Sir’ with­out adding: ‘ You’re mak­ing a scene.’”

“Well, it’s 1am, bet­ter go home and spend some qual­ity time with the kids.”

When the show made its de­but in 1989, the in­tended star was Homer’s son, Bart – a 10-year-old from brat cen­tral whose cen­tral phi­los­o­phy of life, “Un­der­achiever and proud of it”, was du­ti­fully em­braced by a tar­get au­di­ence of ado­les­cents. Only later, as The Simp­sons took off, did Bart’s uber-slob fa­ther, Homer – a beer-and-dough­nut-ad­dicted, bone idle, one-time uranium rod han­dler, al­co­holic drink de­vel­oper and trav­el­ling cir­cus can­non­ball-catcher – be­come the core char­ac­ter. Homer is only truly happy slumped at Moe’s Bar or in front of the tele­vi­sion where his wife, Marge, is obliged to feed him junk food so that he can keep both hands on his video game con­sole. “Come on,” he tells her when she balks at the task: “You’re al­ways telling me we should do things as a cou­ple.”

Land­ing Marge was the one no­table achieve­ment of Homer’s life. They were teenage sweet­hearts who met in de­ten­tion at Springfield High School and, when Marge be­came preg­nant, fled across the state line to marry at Shot­gun Pete’s Wed­ding Chapel. No one would call it a per­fect union. Marge DRAMA and art classes may be some­thing that chil­dren en­joy tremen­dously but, un­for­tu­nately, they are not high on par­ents’ pri­or­ity list.

While most par­ents would agree that speech and drama greatly en­hances their chil­dren’s learn­ing amidst the stan­dard “nofrills” lessons in gov­ern­ment schools, they are hin­dered by the seem­ingly high fees.

If cost is an in­hibitive fac­tor, here’s mu­sic to your ears.

Datuk Fari­dah Mer­i­can and her hus­band Joe Hasham, co-founders of The Ac­tors Stu­dio, one of the coun­try’s lead­ing theatre out­fits, take their ad­vo­cacy of arts ed­u­ca­tion for all a step fur­ther by mak­ing it an ac­ces­si­ble plat­form for stu­dents through its academy.

“The Ac­tors Stu­dio Academy @ KLPAC is the only per­form­ing arts venue that of­fers classes for your child at an af­ford­able fee. An av­er­age speech and drama course for a 13-year-old is only RM360 for 10 weeks, this works out to only RM36 per class,” says is thrifty, de­cent and high-minded, Homer greedy, op­por­tunis­tic and fi­nan­cially delin­quent. When she threat­ens to leave him, he pleads that the one thing he can of­fer her, more than any other man, is his “com­plete and ut­ter de­pen­dence”.

For all this, the Simp­sons, and their two other chil­dren, pre­co­cious eight-year-old Lisa and baby Mag­gie, have stuck things out in Springfield. Un­til now. Driven from their home, they as­sume things can get no worse – only to find them­selves quar­tered next door to the sin­is­ter Aus­tralian cy­ber-ac­tivist Ju­lian As­sange.

Cur­rently un­der house ar­rest in Bri­tain, where he is fight­ing ex­tra­di­tion to Swe­den on sex­ual as­sault charges, As­sange recorded his con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­gramme by tele­phone. The episode will be shown in Bri­tain in May. “It’s hard, when you’ve done 500 shows,” said Jean, “to do some­thing that you haven’t done be­fore.”

Yet he and the pro­gramme’s cre­ator, Matt Groen­ing, bat away sug­ges­tions that the world’s most pop­u­lar car­toon com­edy may be near­ing its end. “We could go on for­ever,” he said. “As long as the world stays nuts, we’ll have new ma­te­rial.”

Im­por­tant as it is to loyal fans, the ques­tion of the show’s dura­bil­ity is sec­ondary to the one of how it be­came so suc­cess­ful in the first place. Much schol­arly en­ergy con­tin­ues to be de­voted to what might be called “the mean­ing” of The Simp­sons, the na­ture of its en­dur­ing ap­peal and its place in pop­u­lar cul­ture. From the be­gin­ning, it has di­vided opin­ion sharply, with lib­er­als tend­ing to find more to ob­ject to than con­ser­va­tives.

Be­yond the loop­i­ness and sub­ver­sion, The Simp­sons pos­sesses an in­trigu­ingly al­le­gor­i­cal qual­ity, the threads of which lead, un­fail­ingly, back to the themes of fam­ily val­ues, love and to­geth­er­ness. It is lit­tle won­der that Dr Rowan Wil­liams, the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, is a fan, say­ing: “In the huge ma­jor­ity of Simp­sons episodes, good­ness is taken se­ri­ously. Not in a solemn or moral­is­ing way, but the val­ues of hon­esty, gen­eros­ity and for­give­ness are quite clearly the ones that the pro­gramme en­dorses.”

The Simp­sons, in their dys­func­tional way, are a metaphor of re­demp­tion. The more Homer mis­be­haves, the more he comes to un­der­stand his need for Marge, and his weak­nesses serve to bring out the strength and grace of his wife. Homer’s delu­sions may run deep (“I think Smithers picked me for my mo­ti­va­tional skills ... ev­ery­one says they have to work a lot harder when I’m around”), but they don’t ex­tend to imag­in­ing that he could last long with­out Marge and the chil­dren.

Groen­ing, 56, based the char­ac­ters loosely on his own fam­ily back­ground as one of five chil­dren raised in Port­land, Ore­gon, by Homer and Mar­garet Groen­ing, re­spec­tively of Ger­man and Nor­we­gian an­ces­try. At the age of 23 he moved to Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, tak­ing what he has de­scribed as “end­less lousy jobs”, in­clud­ing stints at a sewage farm and as a res­tau­rant hand.

He be­gan draw­ing car­toons for al­ter­na­tive news­pa­pers, and in 1987 was in­vited to work on a short, an­i­mated car­toon that would run as part of the new Fox net­work’s The Tracey Ull­man Show. The host­ess’ ef­forts failed to hit the spot, but au­di­ences liked The Simp­sons, and in De­cem­ber 1989 the car­toon moved to a full half-hour slot, quickly be­com­ing first an Amer­i­can then a global TV phe­nom­e­non.

Is it still funny? John Ortved, au­thor of The Simp­sons: An Un­cen­sored, Unau­tho­rised His­tory, ar­gues that its suc­cess un­der­mined its spe­cial­ness, rob­bing the show of its edge and top­i­cal­ity, and that “af­ter it hit the 10year mark, it dropped off and has never re­ally come back”. Oth­ers counter that the show has moved rel­a­tively well with the times, and that to re­work it – as some crit­ics have sug­gested – would be a mis­take.

Or, as Homer would say: “If some­thing’s hard to do, it’s not worth do­ing.” – The Daily Tele­graph UK n For more in­for­ma­tion and reg­is­tra­tion (by March 3), call 03-4047 9060 or 016-464 5413. A one-time reg­is­tra­tion fee of RM50 ap­plies for both cour­ses. KLPAC is lo­cated at Sen­tul Park, Jalan Stra­chan (off Jalan Ipoh), Kuala Lumpur. n Sea­son 23 of The Simp­sons (which fea­tures Episode 500) is ten­ta­tively sched­uled to run on Fox (Astro Chan­nel 710) early May. fi­dence, but also in their learn­ing skills in other ar­eas and sub­jects. Plus, drama classes are al­ways fun!” she says.

What are you wait­ing for, The Ac­tors Stu­dio Academy’s speech and drama pro­gramme for 2012 is in ses­sion at KLPAC. The sched­ule is as fol­lows: > Preschool Drama Pro­gramme Age group: 3-6 years Day & time: Satur­day or Sun­day, 10am­noon Fee: RM250 (for 10 weeks) > Speech & Drama Be­gin­ners’ Level Age groups: 7-9, 10-12, and 13-15 years Day & time: Satur­day or Sun­day, 10am­noon

Fee: RM360 (for 10 weeks)

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