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Our TV Family

by on February 15, 2011
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The Simpson clan of Springfield is the definitive American family. Despite their yellow skin and eight fingers, they resemble us more closely than any other family currently on television.

Since its 1989 debut, “The Simpsons” has provided commentary on the archetypes of modern families — the doting mother, the distant father, the resentful yet ultimately forgiving children. However, rather than simply shining a satirical light on these characters (like “Family Guy”), “The Simpsons” embraces them with affection.

I’ve been watching nothing but old episodes of “The Simpsons” lately and I couldn’t help notice how … well…episodic they are. Breezy, laid back, free-flowing. As in a Quentin Tarantino flick (yes, I said it), much time is spent simply hanging out with the characters. Like flies on the wall, we witness their mundane day-to-day activities at home, school and the workplace. That’s what was missing from “The Simpsons Movie.” There were no scenes of Homer lounging around Moe’s Tavern or goofing off at the nuclear power plant, nor did we see Bart slurping slushies outside the Kwik-e-Mart or pushing Principal Skinner’s buttons at school.

The TV show has just the right amount of surrealism mixed in with the banality to represent life in the suburbs. The film, on the other hand, is all surrealism — a high-concept adventure. While the show barely revealed the world outside of Springfield, the film actually explores it. It also literalizes Springfield’s self-containment by trapping the town under a dome.

I suppose it was unfair of me to expect a naturalistic, Altman-esque work from an event film like “The Simpsons Movie.” TV writers have the luxury to explore the mundane, hang out with their characters and develop them gradually over time (unless their show is canceled, of course). That creative luxury is especially evident now in the wake of AMC TV (“Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Rubicon”).

So, I didn’t get the “hang-out” scenes I wanted from “The Simpsons Movie,” but I can still hang out with them on television. This show (now the longest running in American primetime history) is not going anywhere. So, don’t forget to tune in to Fox (Sundays at 8/7 central) to see America’s favorite dysfunctional family. You’ll find they are not unlike your own.