'The Simpsons' Episodes Sam Simon Wrote Helped Build Springfield Into The Rich City We Know & Love
This past August, America was taken captive by an incomparably strong pop culture fixation: a full-series, 552-episode, 12-day-long marathon of The Simpsons. All throughout this cavalcade of Springfieldian misadventure — or at least during broadcast of the first ten seasons — social media exhibited the viewing public’s impassioned celebration of the animated staple: very likely the most important and influential TV show of the past few decades. Sadly, just over six months after this delighted embrace of the show that forged such a great deal of pop culture’s comedic sensibilities, we mourn the passing of one of the most important figures behind The Simpsons’ development: Sam Simon, co-creator, producer, and writer on the show.
We hardly needed the marathon to refresh our appreciation of The Simpsons, but the small screen event — and the subsequent availing of every Simpsons episode to stream via the FXX network’s official website — certainly didn’t hurt. It reminded us of the sharp wit, riveting imagination, and zeitgeist-altering quotes and characters brought forth by episodes we may not have caught in syndication in quite some time.
Simon, who helped Matt Groening translate his Simpsons shorts to sitcom form, did not stick with the show for very long. He remained onboard only until the conclusion of Season 4, writing (or co-writing) only eight episodes during his tenure. But Simon’s contribution to The Simpsons was remarkable.
Overseeing the creative staff, he played a big role in setting the tone, building the world, and instituting the comedic drive that we’d come to recognize as inseparable from the long-running series. As decorated Simpsons writer John Vitti told The New York Times, “[Simon] was the guy we wrote for.”
And as a writer himself, Simon churned out some of the most important early episodes of the program, giving us characters, constructs, and stories that cast a shadow over the years of Simpsons yet to come.
“The Telltale Head”
Simon’s first writing credit, the eighth episode of the first season, is a canonical kingpin. “The Telltale Head” presents a plot that would lay the groundwork for Bart’s career in-series, and icon beyond, as a ne’er-do-well.
On top of this, the episode introduces some of the show’s most formidable supporting characters: Krusty the Clown makes his first appearance as host of his eponymous children’s program (next to a nearly unrecognizable Sideshow Bob), as does Apu as the proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart.
Perhaps most significant about “The Telltale Head”: it incepts establishment of Springfield as a living, pulsating, and wholly colorful place. Building a premise around the town’s personal lore (that of Jebediah Springfield), and self-sustaining value system, helped to make Springfield itself one of the most vivid characters on the series.
“The Crepes of Wrath”
The series’ eleventh episode is a somewhat less memorable outing, though still responsible for a few traits yet to come: the Simpsons’ propensity for globetrotting (Bart is sent to France in a student exchange program) and for welcoming a wide variety of houseguests (in return, the family plays host to an Albanian child), as well as Mr. Burns’ catchphrase, “Excellent!” Principal Seymour Skinner’s domineering mother Agnes also makes her first appearance in this episode.
“Some Enchanted Evening”
The Season 1 finale instituted two concepts that’d become staples of the series: Homer’s propensity for falling victim to the judgment of the local media (he is made infamous as the village idiot after inadvertently setting a known criminal free), and Homer and Marge’s efforts to enliven the romance in their relationship, which would take form with varying degrees of gravity.
“Treehouse of Horror”
Co-writing the very first “Treehouse of Horror” episode is impressive enough, but Simon is responsible for one of the more famous “Treehouse” segments to date: Lisa’s recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” with Homer as the long-suffering victim of a ravenized Bart’s menace.
“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”
Just as Simon used “The Telltale Head” to develop a Springfield that’d ring true as a lifelike character, he does the same with the Nuclear Power Plant in the Season 2 episode “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish.” The episode tampers with political satire in a big way for the first time, instituting Springfield as a flawed town under the spell of the diabolical Mr. Burns (in his first true role of villainy).
“The Way We Was”
And just as he could be biting, Simon could also be sweet. The Simpsons has enjoyed many flashback episodes, kicking off with the Season 2 venture “The Way We Was.” Taking a trip back to Homer and Marge’s high school days — the earliest chapter of their romance together — the episode helps to transform what viewers initially saw as a comically contentious odd coupling into a bona fide love story.
“Treehouse of Horror II” and “III”
After “The Way We Was,” Simon would only contribute as a writer to the next two “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, which display his patented affection for horror stories (e.g., “The Monkey Paw” by W. W. Jacobs).
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