The Simpsons broke the mold when it came to audience expectations for how prime-time cartoons were supposed to be presented. When it first hit the airwaves in the holiday season just prior to the turn of the 1990 New Year, no one could have predicted how much this sitcom focused on a yellow-tinged family of misfits would come to influence the country’s pop-culture throughout the entire decade.
Each show opened with the family’s son writing out lines on the blackboard at
school as punishment for some humorous misdeed. From the beginning, all eyes were on Bart, the smart-mouthed juvenile delinquent who was constantly spouting catchphrases like don’t have a cow, man’ and ‘ay caramba.’ Named as one of the most influential people of the century by Time magazine, Bart’s growth as a cultural icon would be eclipsed in later seasons of The Simpsons by the low-brow antics of his father, Homer. Equipped with possibly the most popular line of dialogue of his own – ‘DOH!’ – Homer would bumble into the hearts of viewers through his extreme stupidity and general inability to make a good decision. The family was rounded out by worrying mother Marge, hyper-intelligent sister Lisa and baby Maggie
Of course, it wasn’t just the title characters that kept people coming back for more week after week. The evil plotting of local nuclear power magnate (and Homer’s boss), Mr. Burns and his loving but subservient butler Smithers were wildly popular, as were the crazy ramblings of Scottish groundskeeper Willy and depressing barkeep Mo. In fact, The Simpsons boasted a huge supporting cast, with enough familiar faces to be cycled through year after year without audiences getting tired of the same mannerisms and personalities.
All in all, there were just so many things that worked for The Simpsons – the cultural references in the writing, the blisteringly quick humor, the constantly changing couch scene during the opening, and the Halloween specials – that the show became an unstoppable juggernaut that is still going strong today. Other animated shows have tried to capture some of the same lightning in a bottle displayed by the program, but none have been able to come close to the broad appeal of the most famous dysfunctional family in television history.