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"The Simpsons" Season 1: Was It That Bad?

Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.

Was Season 1 of The Simpsons actually underrated?

Was Season 1 of The Simpsons actually underrated?

Even after overstaying its welcome, The Simpsons is still one of the most beloved shows. It’s easy to see why when the golden era of the show cranked out classic episode after classic episode. But the show may not have gotten there without what’s considered the black sheep of that era: Season 1.

Is The Simpsons Season 1 Underrated?

While some people will talk about Season 1 of The Simpsons with affection, there’s still this attitude that the first season of the show is bad and best forgotten about. But is it really that bad? In this day and age, it’s easy to forget a lot of shows had rocky first seasons: Star Trek: The Next Generation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia, among others.

Nowadays, TV (and more realistically streaming) is considered a much more serious art form. Many shows feel like a cross between Oscar-bait movies and big-budget blockbusters. Like blockbusters, it's normal for the creators to use their A-material in the first iteration, resulting in declining returns. So, in the age of sophomore slumps, it’s easy to forget there was a time when the first season of a show was often the bad one.

Legit Animation Issues

The first season of The Simpsons is often criticized for weird animation, not being that funny, and general awkwardness. Some of these critiques are valid. The animation quality of the first season is a little off. Lots of rubbery movements, characters with dead eyes or googly eyes, and bizarre animation gaffes.

"Homer’s Odyssey" has an absolutely hideous crowd scene (one guy has a misshapen head and one guy is dressed like Raphael the Ninja Turtle). My favorite may be the Christmas special when towards the end, the background is upside down. Also, the animators had a weird habit of having the characters look flush at the camera—yeah, there’s a reason you don’t see that a lot in any medium.

Quality control for Season 1 of The Simpsons wasn't the best.

Quality control for Season 1 of The Simpsons wasn't the best.

A Slower-Paced Simpsons

Season 1 feels like it exists on an island. Plots feel more like sitcom episodes and are frequently slower-paced. Honestly, that’s not always a bad thing. Even if the majority of the episodes aren’t laugh-a-minute funny, they feel relaxed and easy-going. An episode like "Moaning Lisa" could pretty much only exist in Season 1. The slower pace and lack of jokes both sell Lisa’s somberness. Not to mention, the scenes with Bleeding Gums Murphy ooze atmosphere.

Humor With Pathos

On that note, Season 1 actually has pathos. Season 2 builds on this, but blending humor with heart begins here. In "The Crepes of Wrath," Bart is stranded with cruel masters in France and it feels genuinely dangerous. "Life in the Fast Lane" features Homer feeling sad about Marge possibly cheating on him—we feel for him even if he was a jerk.

And if this season isn’t that funny, it has its moments. The B-plot in "Crepes" is about the Albanian boy being a spy and Homer being too dim to notice (mostly because he’s happy to have a well-behaved son). "Fast Lane" also has some funny scenes, like Homer’s explanation for the bowling ball gift. Plus, Albert Brooks as Jacques has to rank up there with Frank Grimes as one of the best one-episode wonders. And who could forget the electric chair scene?

Simpsons 1.0

Another somewhat valid criticism is that the family’s personality wasn’t completely fleshed out yet. In broad sweeps, you can see their personalities. Bart is probably the most recognizable, being the rebellious brat. Homer is a dope, but he’s not the total buffoon he’d become.

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Weirdly, Homer is far more principled in Season 1, sometimes ironically (like in "Bart the General"), but he frequently delivers morals (like in "Homer’s Night Out"). Also, Dan Castellaneta ping pongs between the Walter Matthau voice and the Homer we know and love.

Lisa as Female Bart

People tend to remember Lisa being “female Bart” in Season 1. That isn’t entirely accurate as we see the bright, misunderstood Lisa in this season. Honestly, I like this Lisa. She's smart but not sanctimonious, and enough of a kid that she still enjoys being silly. For example, she joins Bart in heckling the opera. Granted, the show didn't need another Bart.

Although considered one of the classics of the season, “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” may be the biggest outlier. Not only does it have bratty Lisa, but Homer and Marge feel like they swap roles. Marge gets drunk at a party? And Homer sells the TV?!?!

Random, One-Off Characters

Season 1 also feels isolated from the rest of the series because Springfield is filled with random characters we’d never see again. Instead of Kent Brockman, some nameless reporter reports on Sasquatch. A nameless pin monkey tells Marge how to bowl instead of the squeaky-voiced teen. If "Krusty Gets Busted" had been made one season later, we’d see Lionel Hutz and the blue-haired lawyer instead of the two nameless randos.

Some of these one-off characters are entertaining, like the kid obsessed with photographers in "Homer’s Night Out," and the arcade kid from "Life in the Fast Lane." Season 1 is also littered with a gaggle of characters who were MEANT to be big deals, but never materialized, like Herman (the guy with one arm), the Winfields, and especially, Dr. Marvin Monroe.

The late, mostly forgotten Dr. Marvin Monroe

The late, mostly forgotten Dr. Marvin Monroe

Highlights and Lowlights

Season 1 has its share of highlights: Besides the episodes already mentioned, "Krusty Gets Busted" and "Bart the General" are well-liked for introducing iconic characters. It’s hard to imagine Christmas without "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." Honestly, most episodes are pretty good.

To me, the biggest lowlights of the season are “Homer’s Odyssey” and “Homer’s Night Out.” “Homer’s Odyssey” practically represents everything wrong with Season 1: awkward jokes, clumsy storytelling, and some of the worst animation in the series. “Homer’s Night Out” starts okay with Bart’s spy camera and the bachelor party. But the marriage crisis is unconvincing, and it’s hard to believe anyone outside of Bart’s friends would care that Homer was dancing with a stripper (gasp!). Also, there’s a ham-fisted moral at the end.

A Weird Moral Streak

That is one of the other artifacts of Season 1: Before it became the rebel spirit that openly bit the hand that fed, The Simpsons had to cram in morals. The most famous may be Bart outright talking to the camera about war. “Bart the General” is one of the funnier Season 1 episodes, but the need to have this mini-PSA at the end of the episode is so ham-fisted that it might actually circle back to charming. And it’s not some self-aware parody like we’d see in later seasons. It’s surprisingly earnest.

The first season of the Simpsons is hit-and-miss, but it is entertaining. If you have Disney Plus, rewatch these old episodes. Even the so-so episodes are worth watching because they demonstrate how far the show would eventually go.

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© 2022 Alex deCourville

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