The Simpsons is one of the longest running shows of all time, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it's the greatest television show ever made period. (If you disagree, I hate you...) Ironically, this might be due to the fact that the show's original showrunner, Sam Simon, didn't think that the show would make it past season one. When in the writer's room, Simon was said to tell his employees that their fledgling show would be "13 and out," meaning that the show probably wouldn't return after its initial order. Though this way of thinking annoyed series creator Matt Groening, who view Simon as being a defeatist, Simon claims that he was actually just trying to make the best show he could. By making the writers believe the show had no future, it allowed them to focus on the sole goal of making 13 great episodes of television that they would be truly proud of. This arguably contributed to the show's quality which, in turn, contributed to the show's unfathomable popularity. Apparently, focusing on quality is a good way to make something that's actually good. Who woulda thunk it?
Matt Groening is responsible for some of the greatest television ever created. It's weird therefore that his instincts about his own properties are often....odd. Take for example the story behind Marge's iconic hairdo. It's pretty well known at this point, but it's worth noting because MATT GROENING ORIGINALLY WANTED TO REVEAL THAT MARGE WAS A FUCKING BUNNY RABBIT! Matt Groening came to prominence with the comic strip Life In Hell and it seems to have taken him a while to realize that once The Simpsons came along, nobody could give less of a shit about his stupid comic. As such, Groening wanted to reference the strip (which prominently featured rabbits) by having Marge take down her beehive and reveal a pair of bunny ears underneath. Sam Simon quickly shot down the idea because, well, he wasn't a psychopath, but there's an alternate universe where the greatest show in history was ruined by the stupidest reveal conceivable.
The Simpsons writers can cram so many jokes into a single frame that it would be impossible for a mere mortal to catch them all. This was the case with the episode Much Apu About Nothing. In it, Apu gives the story about how he came to be an illegal alien living in America. One of the thing he mentions is the fact that he studied at Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. It's a small moment, and one that you're probably not likely to take a second glance at...at least that was the case with censors who didn't notice that the initials for Apu's university spell out "SHIT." Is this the most clever thing The Simpsons has ever done? Not by a long shot. But it's always fun to see just how deep the show's humor can get.
Speaking of Much Apu About Nothing, there's another fun easter egg in there. The episode predicted more than just America's rise towards jingoistic nationalism: It actually gave us our first glimpse at Majula two seasons before her proper debut. When Apu is telling his story about leaving India, he includes a part where he bids goodbye to a young girl and apologizes for not being able to marry her. To people watching the show at the time, it seems like a small, mildly racist joke, but two seasons later the little girl returns as Apu's now adult, arranged wife, Manjula. Majula then goes on to be a fairly major character on the show, with several episodes revolving around her and Apu's relationship....none of those episodes are particularly good and she's arguably the most banal character in the entire series, but it's still a fun easter egg nonetheless.
Millhouse is an unfortunate little guy and as such, the writers wanted to give him "the most unfortunate name" they could think of. They settled on Millhouse after Richard Nixon's middle name. You may think that things couldn't get worse than being named after history's jowliest president but you'd be very wrong. The other parts of the character's name come from much darker people. For starters, his last name, Van Houten, comes from Leslie Van Houten. If you don't know, Leslie Van Houten was a murderer from the infamous Manson Family, and was the youngest woman to ever be sentenced to death in California. As if that weren't bad enough, later on in the show's run, it was revealed that Milhouse's middle name was "Mussolini." This is, of course, a reference to Benito Mussolini, who if you don't know who that is....well, let's just say he did some very bad things as well. This is all to say, poor Millhouse.
One of the most iconic parts of The Simpsons is their couch gags which are different every episode...You know, except when they aren't. Fans of the earlier episodes might notice that there's one couch gag that's reused more than all others. It features the family in a circus setting and is noticeably longer than most other openers. Why is this the one that gets recycled, you ask? Well, let's just say that when you're creating something as jam packed and ingenious as The Simpsons it can be hard to reach the minimum required runtime. As such, they would often use the nebulous nature of the couch gag to pad out an episode, piping in elongated ones like the one at the circus as they needed. Basically, even the filler on The Simpsons is better than most other things on TV.
One of the greatest guest stars in the history of The Simpsons was Dustin Hoffman in the season 2 episode, "Lisa's Substitute." Strangely, despite it arguably being his most important role ever, Hoffman only agreed to do the episode if he was credited using a pseudonym. This being The Simpsons, they obviously used this as an opportunity for a joke, choosing to credit one of the greatest actors in history as "Sam Etic." If you don't get the joke, say it out loud. This name is an obvious reference to Hoffman's Jewish heritage, and possibly even his "Semitic good looks," that Lisa talks about during the classic episode.
Moe is one of the greatest characters in a show full of great characters. He's popular enough that most of you would probably know the answer if I asked you to say his last name. What you may not know is that he didn't get that last name until season 6 for the sole purpose of throwing off the audience. In the epic two parter, "Who Shot Mr. Burns?", the major clue as to the identity of the shooter revolved around the fact, after being shot, Mr. Burns passed out with his arms pointing to the W and the S of the town sundial.
To create multiple viable suspects, the writers played up the possible involvement of anyone whose name might involve those initials. As such, to throw Moe into the mix, they showed his liquor license revealing for the first time that his last name was Syzlack. This gave him initials that lined up with the clue from the sundial and made some internet nerd probably lose his shit thinking he'd cracked the code of who shot Mr. Burns, before ultimately punching a hole in his computer screen when he found out it was Maggie.
One of the fun parts about The Simpsons is that the family's exploits can grow so large that they actually make national news within the world of the show. This can be seen in the fact that both Homer AND Bart have been the subjects of two unrelated, made for TV movies. The first of these focused on Bart after he was accused of murdering Principal Skinner. The film was aptly called Blood on the Blackboard and it starred a young child actor named Neil Patrick Harris as Bart.
Three seasons later, Homer got the TV movie treatment himself when he was accused of sexual harassment. His film was called Homer S: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber and it starred Dennis Franz as the title role. So, if you're ever curious what the writers think a real world Homer would look like, it's this:
The season 11 episode, Behind The Laughter, was an off the wall, meta-masterpiece that also probably should have served as the show's series finale. Unfortunately, it did not and the show returned season after season to diminishing returns. In a humorous nod to the show's apparent decline in quality, one of the last scenes episode, we see Homer in an editing room watching a cut of an episode in which Lisa excitedly declares, "The Simpsons are going to Delaware!" It's funny because no show would actually base an episode on the family winning a trip to the most boring state in the union...except, they totally do!
Exactly one season later, The Simpsons do, in fact, win a trip to Delaware! The show reuses the audio that was presented as an example of the show's lack of ideas and work it into an actual episode. Granted, it's clearly done ironically and the majority the episode is an anthology about tall tales, but the instance is still fun to think about. Not only is it a fun callback to an earlier episode, but it also seems to serve as infuriating evidence that even the writers knew that the show was beginning to lose its luster.
The Simpsons is so jam packed with references that watching it can you're reading a Where's Waldo book....Sometimes, literally! The classic children's character has shown up as a sight gag on at least two unrelated occasions.
The first of these occurs in the episode "Bart's Comet" when the entire town of Springfield is crammed into a tiny bomb shelter. See if you can spot him:
The bestriped traveler appears again a few seasons later in the episode "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder." Homer plays looks at a Where's Waldo? book and fails to find him, only to have the actual character walk around behind him outside the kitchen window:
So, is the show trying to tell us that Waldo exists in the world of The Simpsons and is, in fact, a resident of Springfield? No of course not. These are clearly just two unrelated sight gags...A guy can dream, though.