Why 'The Simpsons' Canon Makes Zero Sense
In this year’s season premiere of The Simpsons, Marge takes center stage -- or rather, as The Star of the Backstage. The episode begins at the funeral of Marge’s beloved high school drama teacher, where a videotape plays of Marge’s high school musical, Y2K: The Millenium Bug.
So Marge was in high school in 1999? 2000?
But, but …
In Season 4’s Lisa’s First Word, we flashback to 1983, when Homer and Marge were young parents to toddler Bart on Springfield’s Lower East Side, a time when “a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.” That would put Homer and Marge in high school in 1980 or so.
Oh well, thirty-three is a lot of seasons. We’ll let it go and return to Star of the Backstage.
Watching the video, Lisa wonders: Where was Marge? Right over here, she says, pointing to a spot just right of the screen. “I was over in the wings, calling all the shots as the stage manager.”
“Of course, I would have loved to have been in the show,” laments Marge, “except I’m not much of a singer. But in my imagination, I have the voice of a Disney princess.” With her limited singing talent, “stage manager” represented Marge’s best bet to be part of a musical.
But, but …
Again in Season 4, in the classic A Streetcar Named Marge, Marge lands the lead role of Blanche Dubois in a musical version of the classic play. And by all accounts, she does a fine job of it. “Everyone was cheering for you!”
We’re not even two minutes into the episode and … are we just supposed to forget that that ever happened? Clearly, Lisa and Bart did.
This article wouldn’t be the first time Simpsons creators have heard the criticism. In response to fan outcry over Season 32’s Do Pizza Bots Dream of Electric Guitars episode (which depicted Homer as a teen in the early 1990s), producer Matt Selman took to Twitter:
The Simpsons is a 32-year-old series where the characters do not age, so the 'canon' must be elastic/contradictory/silly. This does not mean other beloved classic @TheSimpsons flashback shows didn't happen. None of this happened. It's all made up. Every episode is its own Groundhog Day that only has to make sense for that story (if that). There is no @TheSimpsons 'canon' or ‘non-canon.’
Selman basically is giving us a line out of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme song:
“Repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”
Not surprisingly, The Simpsons is pulling a page out of the Marvel and DC Comics reboot strategy, where every three to five years, the huge continuity toilet is flushed so all the characters can have a fresh start. For the reasons Selmon mentions above, it sort of makes sense -- if Bart really was a toddler in the early 80s, he’d be pushing his mid-forties by now. And Batman would be about 102?
But it’s not that easy. How do we invest in characters if what happens this week is magically erased ten episodes later? Poor Moe is bankrupt … until next week when he turns the tavern into an axe-throwing joint? The nuclear plant is now a solar farm … until it’s a nuclear plant again? Grandpa is dead … until he’s wooing a foxy senior? If nothing really happens, does anything really matter?
Maybe there’s a middle way. Sure, the characters shouldn’t be expected to age in real time, and there’s no need to coddle continuity nerds who nitpick every little detail. But character consistency, like Marge being the kind of gal who wouldn’t be afraid to step on stage? That doesn’t seem too much to ask for.
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Top image: Gracie Films