“The Simpsons” is now coming full-circle: Its first episode (shown here) was a Christmas tale; so is it’s 700th.
That’s on Fox, at 8 p.m. Sunday (March 21) – not your usual Christmas moment. But it’s a flashback story, with the usual “Simpsons” qualities: It’s fairly funny (in spurts) and always fresh and quirky.
Besides, the important thing is that number – 700 episodes.
One sourcs lists “The Magical World of Disney” with 736 episodes, but that’s only if you cobble together lots of different versions. Ignore that and “Simpsons” seems to have more episodes than any scripted, primetime show in American TV history.
“Gunsmoke” (635) and “Lassie” (591, via cobbling) come fairly close. Only 14 shows had half the episodes of “Simpsons”; among current ones, there’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (502) and “Grey’s Anatomy” (374).
The original idea was for “Simpsons” to make … well, one episode.
The Fox network was two years old then and taking chances. It had a Tracey Ullman variety show, produced by James L. Brooks, with the Simpsons characters (from Matt Groening’s weekly cartoon strip) for one-minute bursts. Now the Simpsons could have a Christmas special.
But Brooks and Groening insisted on going straight to series. “The Simpsos” aired its Christmas cartoon on Dec. 19, 1989 … returned a month later for the rest of the 13-episode season … and has continued, generally at 22 episodes a year, ever since.
Part of that reflects the steadiness of cartoon character. Homer is no older and certainly no wiser; even the kids never age.
And part is the format. The “Everybody Loves Raymond” producers, rooted in reality, claimed they had run out of ideas after a mere 210 episodes. “The Simpsons,” with wild flights of fancy, stays fresh.
More important, perhaps, is the consistency. Rob LaZebnik, who wrote No. 700, has been a co-executive producer for 328 episodes … and 31 people have been producers for longer, including Groening and Brooks. Mixed in are the young writers (Conan O’Brien, for instance), who do a few years; the result is a show that stays fresh, yet consistent.
And No. 700? Like most “Simpsons” episodes, it has its moments. It adds some clever opening animation from Bill Plympton, 74, the two-time Oscar-nominee. Then it has a flashback to Homer’s worst Christmas ever. Along the way, we learn about a secret room and a sorta-secret middle name.
It’s sometimes funny, often surprising, always entertaining. And put it in perspective:
“Breaking Bad,” a great drama, had 62 episodes … “The Good Place,” a great comedy, had 50 … “Turn-on,” a comedy, had 1. And at 700, “The Simpsons” is doing fine.