Arts Campus News Society & Culture

UGA panel to dissect The Simpsons

‘Don’t have a cow, man!’

Athens, Ga. – Just in time for the airing of the 500th episode of The Simpsons, the University of Georgia’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and the Peabody Awards will host a television roundtable dedicated to the animated comedy on Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. in room 150 of the Miller Learning Center.

The Simpsons is the most enduring scripted entertainment series of all time, having eclipsed the legendary Gunsmoke and outlasted Law & Order, its only contemporary rival, according to Noel Holston, Peabody Awards public relations coordinator and former chief television critic at Newsday. The series is currently in its 23rd season on the Fox network and will broadcast its milestone 500th episode on Sunday, Feb. 19.

But is The Simpsons still funny? That’s a proposition the UGA panel will entertain.

And “don’t have a cow, man.” The question is not being posed for irreverence’s sake.

“Long-running TV shows invariably run afoul of some of their early fans. Nostalgia for better days, real or imagined, sets in quickly,” said Holston. “Saturday Night Live has been written off by some its viewers as humor-challenged, if not dead, pretty much every season since it debuted 37 years ago. One of the longest sections of Wikipedia’s entry on The Simpsons is devoted to ‘criticism of declining quality.’ ”

To hear some one-time Simpsons addicts describe it, the show peaked about the time Conan O’Brien left the writing staff. That was in 1993, three years before the series won its Peabody, noted Holston, a longtime Simpsons fan.

“It could be said that The Simpsons has been victimized by its own success,” he said. “It’s been the object of unprecedented merchandizing-games, candy bars, dolls, gumball machines-you name it. Syndicated reruns of its earlier episodes have been ubiquitous for years.”

In addition to competing with its older self, it’s also the template for a type of dysfunctional-family sitcom-starting with the live-action Married with Children and continuing with various animated shows such as Family Guy-that Fox has made one of its signatures. Other networks have gotten the message as well. It’s hard to imagine ABC’s Modern Family or The Middle without The Simpsons.

Then, too, the topicalities of cultural and political satire that The Simpsons once had almost exclusively to itself in primetime has been diluted by shows that are less inhibited and that have shorter production turnarounds, said Holston. Think The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Think The Colbert Report. Think South Park.

These and other lines of thinking about The Simpsons will be batted about by panelists that will include Cameron Bogue, a Flagpole cartoonist and animator of Cartoon Network’s Archer series; Jim Biddle, Grady College senior lecturer of mass media arts; Reginald McKnight, Hamilton Holmes professor of English; and student Bobby O’Neill, a mass media arts major and aspiring sitcom writer. Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards, will moderate.

The event will be free and open to the public. It will be preceded by the screening of a few clips of The Simpsons, both recent and from yesteryear.