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The Simpsons Turns Twenty

This Sunday is the twentieth anniversary of the Simpsons, a mind-boggling tenure. Of course, the show has been on the decline now far longer than it was good. But oh, how good it was in its heyday.

My favorite episode is "Mr. Plow," from 1992. The plot revolves around Homer opening a snowplow business as "Mr. Plow," only to see his friend Barney open a competing operation as the "Plow King." It has a lot of terrific little details, such as Mayor Quimby, who had always had a Kennedy-esque inflection, declaring, "The torch has been passed to a new generation of, uh, snow plow people."

The best single bit is a commercial produced by Barney attacking Homer. First Barney comes on camera and demolishes a cardboard cutout of Homer. Then Linda Ronstadt walks on camera, leading to this wonderful dada exchange:

Moe: Linda Ronstadt? How'd you get her?

Barney: Well, we've been looking for a project to do together for a while.

Then Barney and Linda Ronstadt launch a duet touting the Plow King and assailing Homer: "Mr. Plow is a loser, [cups hand to mouth] and I think he is a boozer." The line captures what is, or was, so terrific about the show: Its relentlessly low estimation of the human condition. In the world of the Simpsons, people are capable of bottomless cruelty, greed, and hypocrisy -- indeed, these traits are so widely shared that they go unremarked upon. In this case, Barney is not only launching a competitor to his best friend's livelihood, he's savaging his character on television. And he's attacking him in terms that not only apply more to Barney himself, but utterly define his character -- the only things Barney ever does are be a loser and a boozer.

The show doesn't make a joke about, or even highlight, this violent hypocrisy. It's just accepted. That's how people are. That's why it was such a deadly satire.

You can watch "Mr. Plow" here (Barney's commerical starts at 11:50):
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