Lessons learned from trying to watch #EverySimpsonsEver

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It is an unfortunate coincidence that fledgling cable startup FXX decided to begin its unprecedented marathon of unarguably the most popular television show of all time on Thursday, Aug. 21, the first day of the fall semester. Airing for 12 consecutive days with only a typical amount of commercial interruption, this is the first chance anyone has ever had to binge watch all 522 episodes of “The Simpsons.”

While something of this magnitude has never been done before on television with this level of anticipation and fanfare, it is a throwback to a simpler time when decades of television history were not one click away. Many of these episodes have not been available on home video and have not aired for several years in off-network syndication, reducing them to mere memories in the minds of devoted fans. The rush of nostalgia, a feeling that often seems cheap in this age of reboots and recycled childhood whimsy, is undeniably touching almost immediately. Not only for “The Simpsons,” whose earlier seasons resonate even more with adults who watched them as kids, but for the format of a traditional marathon itself.

The nature of binge watching via streaming services like Netflix and Hulu has stripped away the camaraderie of watching the same programming as your peers and reveling in the shared experience. This benefit of watching “The Simpsons” marathon the old-fashioned way, as embarrassing as it is to call it that, is amplified by social media. The connection shared between viewers through Twitter since the marathon started has been a gleeful example of what it is like to share memories with people a room, a town or a state away. FX Networks has done an impeccable job ginning up enthusiasm with maintaining the excellent @EverySimpsons account as well as the #EverySimpsonsEver hashtag, where viewers are tweeting their favorite quotes and screenshots from episodes airing in real time.

More important than the team spirit forming online among people who unequivocally root for and relate to Milhouse Van Houten, it is easy to forget just how good this show actually is, or for the more cynical, used to be. Praise for the show’s first eight seasons has been impossibly high for years as the show has evolved into being inconsequential at its worst. The first few days of this marathon have made it abundantly clear that “The Simpsons” never became a bad show. Instead, there was simply no way it could live up to such astronomical highs for so long.

 

“The Simpsons” is remembered for its bright yellow characters, its opening “couch gags” and its family patriarch drinking Duff beer and screaming “D’oh!” While those iconic features of the program play a role in the show’s quarter century of being a cultural touchstone, they are not what keeps the show so important to so many.

 

The primary lesson to take away from this marathon is how real the feelings that drive these animated doodles are. “The Simpsons” is a profoundly emotional show that humanizes even the most minor characters of its ensemble, lending motivation and relatability to every toot of Lisa’s saxophone and every smack of Maggie’s pacifier.

 

This marathon is not just the cable premiere of #EverySimpsonsEver. It’s the holding up of a mirror, showing everyone where they came from, where they are and where they are going. Sentimental, I know. Try watching 65 episodes of your favorite show without being sentimental.

 

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on twitter @zachheltzel