NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

“Homer Simpson” by REMEMBRANDT


If you’ve ever been a fan of The Simpsons, here’s your chance to see all 552 episodes of the show in the longest single-series marathon in TV history. They’ll be shown back to back, in sequential order over 12 days and nights on the FXX cable network beginning Thursday.The Simpsons holds the record as the longest-running scripted entertainment series in TV history. In 1987, cartoonist Matt Groening’s yellow-skinned Simpsons family — father Homer, mother Marge and the kids, brainy Lisa, bratty Bart and baby Maggie — began on TV as interstitial segments on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show. The Simpsons got their own Christmas special in 1989, and their own prime-time series a month later, to kick off 1990 in very sassy style. But in the beginning, the writers had a hard time finding a groove to perfect that style, Groening told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in a 1989 interview. “It’s been a real struggle to keep a certain roughness and abruptness and jerkiness,” Groening said. “Working on this show, our animators … all bring their own attitude and aesthetic philosophy to the project, and it’s been a real struggle to make sure that everybody gets in line and has the same vision, at least looking in the same direction.” The Simpsons sparked a renaissance in TV animation that led to South Park and Family Guy. One writer, Conan O’Brien, found fame as a talk-show host. Celebrities providing guest voices on The Simpsons included most major movie stars — and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Its Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials have become one of TV’s most inventive annual traditions. And along the way, year after year, The Simpsons has served up occasional flashes of comic genius, according to TV critic David Bianculli. There was the Season 4 episode that presents a Springfield community-theater musical production of A Streetcar Named Desire — and the Season 2 episode that has Marge Simpson, voiced by Julie Kavner, so upset about the violence in the Itchy & Scratchy cat-and-mouse TV cartoons her kids watch that she goes on TV herself, on a Nightline-type talk show, in protest. So why would people be interested in the marathon? “There’s something about the sense of watching at the same time as other people that makes it special,” says Bianculli. “That certainly goes for a marathon — and that’s why I predict this 25-season Simpsons marathon will indeed steer people towards FXX. It’s a great show, a great idea and a TV viewing event of unprecedented scale.” Since The Simpsons began, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross has interviewed many people who have had a hand in creating the show — from Matt Groening in 1989 and 2003 to two of the writers, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, in 1992. Gross also talked with actors who do the voices, including Nancy Cartwright, who plays Bart, in 2007; Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge in 1994; Hank Azaria, the voice of Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum and others in 2004. We listen back to these interviews in Fresh Air’s appreciation of The Simpsons. MORE