marathon was one of the best pieces of news all summer. Finally, starting tomorrow, Aug. 21 at 10:00 am EST, you can watch in 12 days what took me 25 years and innumerable 3-packs of VHS tapes to watch — although you’ll probably need gallon upon gallon of Buzz Cola and some Clockwork Orange eyelid prongs to make it across the finish line on Labor Day at midnight.
Now, unless you’ve been living off the grid with Herman Hermann, Cletus Spuckler, and Mona Simpson all these years, you should already have a sense of what’s to come, but just in case, here’s your guide to binging Every. Simpsons. Ever.
What’s the premise? A middle-class every-family takes on adventures, big and small, in their hometown of Springfield.
What’s it like? If you’ve never really watched The Simpsons, you might mistake it for a kids’ show, or think it’s merely an animated version of other family-focused sitcoms like The Cosby Show or The Brady Bunch. When it first spun off from The Tracey Ullman Show as its own primetime series on Fox in 1989, The Simpsons presented itself as the anti-Father Knows Best, with the family’s dysfunction centering around the tension between Bart (an anagram for “brat”) and Homer. The sitcom parody became an instant phenomenon, but found its stride when the point of view zoomed out enough to develop members of the Simpson family more fully, and include the sprawling cast of Springfield’s many residents. After 25 years, it’s hard to say what other show compares to The Simpsons. You could certainly find dozens of TV series that owe a debt to the show, ranging from Roseanne to King of the Hill to Family Guy to South Park to Conan. But there’s no other sitcom with the scope of The Simpsons; it has evolved into a universe of its own.
Where can I see it? Starting Thursday, Aug. 20, you can watch every episode of The Simpsons in back-to-back order on the FXX network for 12 straight days. If you actually need to do things like show up for work or sleep, you can see select episodes of last season on Hulu and Fox; seasons one through three, and 20 through 25 on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes; seasons two, three, 20,and 22 through 25 on Vudu; seasons one through sixteen, and 20 on DVD; and seasons 13 through 16 and 20 on Blu-Ray. In other words, the FXX binge is the only place to see them all. In October, however, Fox will launch Simpsons World, a comprehensive on-demand portal to every Simpsons episode.
How long will it take? The broadcast binge is 12 days of continuous watching. Realistically, to consume all 522 episodes of The Simpsons, watching four a day would take you 130 days, or just over four months. If you want to confine your binge to the most critically acclaimed era of The Simpsons, you could limit yourself to watching seasons four through eight, which is still 119 episodes, or approximately 44 hours.
What do the critics think? In 1990, John J. O’Connor of the New York Times wrote, “There is, admittedly, a fine line between being hilariously perceptive and just plain, even objectionably, silly. While habitually teetering on that line, The Simpsons has shown a remarkable ability to come down on the right side most of the time.” Most critics agree that the golden age of The Simpsons was the five-year period from 1992 to 1997. In his review of season eight, Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly said, “This is one of the sharpest, most purely pleasurable television series ever.” Reviews have dropped off over the years, which is understandable after 25 seasons. In 2011, Matt Zoller Seitz, then the TV critic for Salon.com, wrote a piece in the Washington Post on why The Simpsons should hang it up. A year later, Zoller Seitz, after binging seasons 15 through 23, took back his statement with an article on New York Magazine’s Vulture.com. “I must formally withdraw my ‘should’ve packed it in’ verdict,” Zoller Seitz wrote. “The post-2000 seasons are uneven, often weak, but there are flashes of greatness.” He called out season 23 as the strongest in years. “I’d stack it up against season 11, maybe 10.”
Why should I watch this? The Simpsons is the ultimate highbrow/lowbrow television experience and can be enjoyed at any age, for any number of reasons. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie will go down in history as icons of American culture, while the vast and colorful bullpen of supporting characters is a wealth of laughs. In 2012, IGN published a list of the top 25 peripheral characters and it didn’t even include Mr. Burns, Milhouse, Moe, Krusty, Apu, or Principal Skinner. If you could actually find a way to watch every episode of The Simpsons, you will have consumed 25 years’ worth of modern-day life in only a few months. If you can identify most of the references within, consider yourself highly culturally literate.
What’s my next step? Simpsons creator Matt Groening is also behind the sci-fi cartoon Futurama which has become a cultural phenomenon in its own right, and you should also check out The Simpsons Movie from 2007, which is Certified Fresh at 90 percent. For self-referential TV shows, Community, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and Family Guy are a great place to start. You might also try Scrubs and Frasier. And if you can get your hands on The Critic, a short-lived Fox animation about film critic Jay Sherman voiced by Jon Lovitz, definitely add that one to your post-Simpsons queue.