'The Simpsons' Timeline Has Never Made Sense (And That's Okay)
It's no exaggeration to say that The Simpsons has influenced every writer you've ever read on this site (or any other comedy site). So this week, Cracked is taking a closer look at the town of Springfield and all of our favorite residents …
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The longer it's on the air, the more The Simpsons resembles a superhero comic. Ageless characters with strange bodily proportions? Check. Increasingly implausible plots? Check. A timeline that will make brain matter shoot out of your nose if you try to make sense of it? Mega check. The Simpsons is in a weird place because, unlike other cartoons, it's not totally atemporal -- those tear-jerking flashback episodes are a big part of why we give a crap about these characters, but each new one comes with a set of temporal glitches. Homer graduated from high school in 1974, yet at some point, he was also a hip-hop-loving millennial teen.
Dr. Hibbert had an afro right before delivering Bart and a Mr. T look when he handed the baby to Homer. Jesus, how long was that poor woman giving birth?!
As of the current season, Grandpa Simpson is still supposed to be a World War II veteran, which means he's about 100 years old and had Homer in his 60s -- making his marriage to Homer's 20-something mom creepier and creepier by the year.
Every time a new flashback episode comes out and messes with the Simpsons' history, fans act like it's their childhood that's being destroyed. But here's the thing: the timeline was already a mess during the show's golden era. The Simpsons had three different Christmas episodes in the first 10 seasons, and yet the kids were still in the same grades (which is realistic for Bart, but not so much for Lisa). Are there three Christmases a year in this universe? Do they have three Jesuses?
The show's early flashback episodes are classics, and anything that alters them is considered sacrilege. Still, the first major retcon of that timeline wasn't, say, that episode where Homer has a grunge band -- no, it happened during the golden era itself. The acclaimed "Lisa's Sax" from season 9 is explicitly set back in 1990 and includes many "It's 1990!" jokes:
It also shows Lisa at age 2 in that year, even though "Lisa's First Word" from season 4 had established she was born in 1983, with the requisite "It's 1983!" jokes. What, are we to believe that this is some sort of magical slow-aging baby or something?
Even the season seven episode where Homer meets his mom contradicts earlier ones where she's much older and, you know, deader. We can't get too mad at the show for retconning this story last year because it was already a retcon to begin with.
These glitches are inevitable when you're dealing with a long-running series where the characters don't age. The only alternative would be having the Simpsons fight a cosmic villain who reboots their entire universe every five to 10 years as DC Comics does, but no one wants that (especially because DC's timeline is still a mess). Instead, The Simpsons approach has been something closer to Marvel's method, which is basically: $#&% happens. So Tony Stark was in the Vietnam War? Well, now he wasn't, deal with it. Marvel uses a "sliding timescale" where all the events in their history always take place within the last 15 years or so because ... that's just how it is. If there's a confirmed in-universe explanation for this phenomenon, we assure you 96% of Marvel writers don't know/care about it.
Alternatively, The Simpsons could have left the show perpetually stuck in 1989, but then how would they justify having Homer meet Lady Gaga or Bad Bunny or ... Okay, this solution doesn't sound so bad anymore. But then again, there are now almost twice as many episodes of The Simpsons as there were days in 1989, so that would have been a pretty crowded year. And let's face it, they would have ended up contradicting something anyway.
So please, fans, don't hate the grunge episode because it messes up the continuity -- there was never a serious continuity. No, hate it because it's terrible.
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Top image: 20th Television