Institutional Award: The Simpsons
On December 17, 1989, the clouds parted in the now-iconic Simpsons opening sequence for the first time, inviting the world into the town of Springfield for the first of almost 700 full episodes to date. Family Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie were well known to those who watched them in a series of animated shorts by Matt Groening that had run on The Tracey Ullman Show since 1987, but they would soon rocket to international fame. The Simpsons is now the longest-running scripted primetime series in American television history, and likely the most globally recognized television show in world history.
Following a decade of earnest family sitcoms, The Simpsons’ brash yellow splash onto television cleared the way for a more satiric-parodic, deeply ironic mode of comedy. From the outset, The Simpsons was eager to question and rib not just the television its viewers grew up on, but the beliefs upon which they were structured. Almost three decades later, one still sees the impact of its witty humor and endless willingness to question authority in the countless similarly important comedies that followed in Homer’s four-toed path.
The Simpsons has expanded notions of what the sitcom could be. It offered us a huge cast of characters, many voiced by the amazing team of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer, but also featuring a cavalcade of guest stars ranging eclectically from Buzz Aldrin to Elizabeth Taylor. It gifted us a wonderful family caught between the poles of father Homer’s delightful ignorance and daughter Lisa’s endearing brilliance, a family that would fumble, fight, and fail and yet who loved each other in spite of it all. It boldly and inventively ushered animation back into primetime. And it has found ways to remain funny, fresh, and insightful while always trusting and respecting its audience’s intelligence.
The Simpsons’ place in a shared cultural global lexicon can be measured as much by the bootleg Simpsons merchandise found in bazaars from Mexico to Malawi as by its gift of “D’oh!” to seemingly every world language. And just as it crossed the world, it has crossed media, into hit CDs, a film, video games, toys, chess sets, amusement park rides, apps, and pretty much anything else where Krusty the Clown would himself appear. The Simpsons has deftly stayed atop a crest of relevance for all its years and episodes, ever a reflection of its cultural moment, from the era of VHS and appointment television to our present day when its GIFs and memes serve as the internet’s lingua franca.
The Simpsons is one of television’s sharpest critics—as brilliant a child as the show’s conscience and mastermind Lisa. But it is also one of its medium’s funniest and most delightful offerings. In one episode, Homer thumps his television angrily, demanding that it be funnier. For answering Homer’s call for 30 years, we commend the writers, animators, and cast of The Simpsons with a Peabody Institutional Award.