One of the biggest Social Media hits in the Simpsons fan community this past year has been the pair of “Best Episode” elimination competitions run by Simpsons Brackets. If you’ve ever heard of NCAA basketball’s March Madness, it’s like that but with Simpsons episodes and on twitter. The episode selections are well thought out, and they generate thoughtful fun debates among fans. I’ve found it very interesting to learn how other people see The Simpsons differently than I.
Having just concluded their contest for the Best Lisa Episode we thought it would be a good time to get to know the mysterious force behind this fervent fan phenomenon.
FLIM Springfield: “Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?” …Tell us who you are, and what your Simpsons Project is about?
Simpsons Brackets: I run a Twitter account called @SimpsonsBracket that runs bracket-based tournaments in which fans vote on favorite Simpsons episodes 3 or 4 times a year. I got the idea in 2017 when some Twitter friends and I were quoting the Simpsons back and forth at each other (as we often do) and debating the relative merits of various episodes. It occurred to me that it would be fun to do a huge March Madness-style tournament to decide which was the Greatest Simpsons Episode of All Time.
So in March 2018 I launched the account and hosted the first #MargeMadness tournament on Twitter. (“Marge vs the Monorail” was the big winner, with “Last Exit to Springfield” the runner up.) Some friends helped me choose the 64 episodes and determine the seeding.
It was successful beyond my expectations—we got over 700 followers in just a couple of weeks, and the final match-up got over 900 votes. So I decided to keep it going. In July 2018 I launched our second tournament, called #LisaNeedsBrackets, to determine the greatest episode about Lisa.
This time I had followers help me to nominate their favorite episodes, and I came up with a semi-scientific way to do the seeding. It’s fun to see people share their favorite quotes and moments, and to argue over why one episode is better than another. Simpsons fans are a fun (and funny) bunch, with a huge diversity of backgrounds and opinions. (For example, I had no idea how popular the Simpsons are in Australia!)
FS: “It happened at the beginning of that turbulent decade known as the 80s” …When did you first watch The Simpsons? What early episode/joke do you remember, is there a moment that got you hooked?
SB: I was familiar with the Simpsons from The Tracy Ullman Show, although I didn’t watch it much. I remember when they were spun-off into their own show (I was a sophomore in high school) and I remember seeing bootleg Simpsons merchandise and t-shirts while on a high school band trip in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in May 1990. But the animation and humor was pretty crude back then, and didn’t take an interest in the show until about 1993 or 1994 when some college friends got me hooked. We started watching syndicated episodes every day, which continued through the 90s. I stopped watching new episodes regularly around season 12 or 13, but The Simpsons is still a big part of my heart and soul.
I think the first episode that I truly fell in love with was “Whacking Day”, which has a lot of classic moments: Evil Homer dancing on Good Homer’s grave, Grandpa’s story about posing as a German cabaret singer in WWII (and one of my all-time favorite lines “Das ist not eine booby!”), the field trip to Olde Springfield Towne, Barry White (“I love the sexy slither of a lady snake”), and another favorite line from Mayor Quimby: “You’re nothing but a pack of fickle mush-heads!” Plus I have an inexplicable love for all the episodes that reference Jebediah Springfield, like “Whacking Day”, “Lemon of Troy”, “Lisa the Iconoclast”, and even “The Telltale Head”.
FS: “Gee, I never realized TV was such a dangerous influence” …How has The Simpsons been an influence in your life or creativity?
SB: I suspect that The Simpsons has informed my sense of humor in ways I’m not even aware of. Like many fans, I quote the Simpsons all the time, especially with my brother and my wife… and now with my kids (we are slowly working our way through the first 10 seasons).
FS: “$18 bucks for this? What a rip-off!” …Do you or have you ever owned any Simpsons tchotchkes? Shirts, trading cards, DVDs, action figures, ‘hand-drawn animation cells guaranteed to increase in value’, etc… what’s your favorite legit or bootleg stuff?
SB: I don’t have a lot. I have the first 10 seasons on DVD, and a t-shirt and Bort keychain I got at Universal Studios a couple of years ago.
SF: “We should thank our lucky stars they’re still putting on a program of this caliber after so many years” … Do you have a favorite season or episode, what makes it especially memorable for you?
SB: It’s hard to pin down a single episode as being my favorite, but one that I come back to again and again is “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”. I’m a big Beatles fan, and I love the many, many subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to Beatles history in that episode. And I’m still finding new jokes to appreciate. I’ve seen that episode a few dozen times, but just this year I noticed that on the cover of the Be Sharps’ album Bigger Than Jesus (which parodies the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover) they are WALKING ON WATER. Genius!
There are about 4 layers of jokes going on simultaneously, and the writers/producers didn’t belabor them or call attention to them. You have to pay close attention to “get” all the jokes in The Simpsons!
FS: “There were script problems from day one” …Do you ever watch Simpsons with commentary on, or read interviews/news about the show? What’s the neatest thing you’ve learned about the ‘behind the scenes scene’…
SB: I enjoy learning about pop culture and historical references that I wouldn’t know otherwise. I’d say I pick up on about 85% of them, but there are some deep cuts that I wouldn’t recognize if they hadn’t been explained to me (like Grandpa’s line about being spanked by Grover Cleveland on two non-consecutive occasions.) Even when I don’t have any real connection to (or fondness for) the source material, understanding the references makes the whole episode richer and more interesting. For instance, I’m a huge Disney fan, and I love the episodes that parody Disney history through the history of Itchy & Scratchy.
FS: “Cartoons have the power to make us laugh and to make us cry” … Hypothetical Situation: Society is collapsing! You have to preserve the culture by rocketing 5 episodes of The Simpsons into space, what would they be? How would you make your decisions? Do the episodes have anything in common?
SB: Hard question! The Simpsons are so rooted in the time and culture that produced them that I’m not sure how any foreign civilization would remotely understand it. My kids don’t get a lot of the jokes from the classic 90s episodes… and not even the jokes about 90s pop culture! That said, if I wanted to preserve 5 episodes for posterity, I would probably start with:
– Homer’s Barbershop Quartet
– Summer of 4 Ft. 2
– King-Size Homer
– Treehouse of Horror V
– Marge vs. the Monorail . . . Plus several dozen runners up.
FS: “Well, that’s the end of me” …You’re going to write the last Simpsons episode. What happens, how does it end?
SB: I hope that when the series ends they will announce it as the final season and bring back old writers/actors to be involved over the course of the season. Maybe construct a multi-episode story arc that brings everything to a close. Something like “Who Shot Mr Burns” but writ large across 5 or 6 episodes.
It could also be fun for the last episode to parody of a bunch of the most famous “series finales” in TV history: M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere, Newhart, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Lost, etc. (Yes, it could foul up the continuity they’ve established in episodes that “flash forward” to give us glimpses of the future. But since when does The Simpsons really worry about continuity?)
The worst ending I can imagine would be for the show to simply peter out and finally be unceremoniously cancelled with no “send off”.
FS: Thank you Simpsons Brackets for spending time with us. Be sure to follow their twitter account for announcements and lively discussion. We’re looking forward to your next tournament this October! I wonder what it could be?