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300: A perfect game



The world I know is not black and white, but several shades of yellow.

The Simpsons are now in their 13 th season, and are on television about five times a day through syndication. And I still can't get enough of this family, its friends, and the pudgy, paranoid, and "never give up and never think things through" town of Springfield, U.S.A.

Last Sunday the show celebrated its 300 th episode. Previous Simpsons landmarks were observed with a clip show and a variety show, but this is the big one because 300 is also a perfect game in bowling, which is the greatest achievement in the frustrated life of Homer Simpson.

Naturally, expectations were high for what turned out to be just another episode - as Seinfeld learned, too much hype can work against a sitcom. Still, ratings were through the roof. Indeed, The Simpsons rating have continually led the pack since it premiered in 1990, a daring spin-off from the Tracey Ullman show.

Those ratings, and the fact that cartoon characters never age and never take off to Hollywood in search of movie contracts, has prompted the Fox Network to extend the contracts of writers and actors portraying the voices of the characters through 2005, surpassing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest-running sitcom of all time.

It's hard to explain the appeal of a show like The Simpsons. The humour is over the top, the animation is frequently brilliant, and the plots are never predictable. Still, it's the vein of truth that underlies the show that makes it so hilarious - the characters, the town, the country and the world that the Simpsons family lives in may be fictional, but only barely.

It's an astute and cynical reflection of our modern consumer culture reflected back at us with only a slight magnification. Our worst qualities, such as intolerance, self-absorption, egotism, nationalism, greed, cheapness, laziness, and our eagerness to conform, are pumped up to the next level to show how ridiculous society has become.

The show has never shied away from tackling the issues, either. The Simpsons has had a crack at everything from medicinal marijuana, to doctor's prescribing behaviour modifying drugs for children, to the growing discrepancy between the treatment of wealthy and poor in America.

If this sounds like an overly-academic appraisal of what is essentially a cartoon for grown-ups, consider the fact that The Simpsons are one of the most watched programs of all time, and have already become a topic of academic discussions.

Almost all of the writers are Ivy League graduates, including Harvard graduate and late night talk show host Conan O'Brian. While many of the jokes involve a simple splitting of the pants or other easy gags, some of the humour makes references to classic movies, literature, art and philosophy.

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