Okay, how crazy is it that the Simpsons movie, the aptly named The Simpsons Movie (and available only in theaters), would gross $72 million on a hot summer weekend? Think about it: the world has been watching The Simpsons weekly for nearly twenty years, yet people still did the whole trek to the theater to see what sort of craziness the gang might encounter when released in large screen format.
It’s enough to inspire and bemuse.
There are many theories about why The Simpsons endures after all these years. Mine is that the show just keeps getting weirder — no mean feat for a show that started in the realm of pretty strange. Perhaps, unlike Second Life, The Simpsons is a true manifestation of what would happen if the laws of gravity and physics and probably even inertia were ignored.
Like many of my peers, I’ve been watching the show for so long that sometimes when I see an episode in reruns, I can’t immediately recall it (until that “oh, this is the episode where Homer…” moment). I’ve given up on trying remember if I’ve seen this installment or that from the helpful description. Heck, I’ve even forgotten the name of Flanders’ deceased wife, though I vaguely recall the petit-scandal that lead to what was, I believe, the first death of a non-anime cartoon character in the history of the world.
My world, anyway.
Prognosticators were smugly estimating domestic box office in the range of $50 million for opening weekend. That’s a respectable, solid, even brag-worthy opening. Considering the competition — in addition to what looks like a perfectly awful Adam Sandler movie (not necessarily an oxymoron), there was sun, surf, beer, Barry Bonds watching, and a whole range of distractions — if the studio had hit somewhere in the ballpark of that estimate, all would be good.
That it exceeded $70 million is amazing. Here’s why:
An even-more offbeat, but perhaps more telling factoid: If every current viewer of the ultra-long-running Fox comedy (it averaged 8.9 million devotees last season) bought a movie ticket this weekend (at, say, 2006’s average price of $6.55), The Simpsons Movie “only” would have grossed $58.3 million.
That’s right kids: the paid version of the show gained viewership over the free version. Now I’m not going to read too much into these numbers. A more accurate analysis would require comparing ticket sales against each and every viewer ever (impossible, and that’s the easy estimate). Bottom line is that people trusted the creative minds behind the show enough to hand over their hard-earned cash, despite the fact that the show airs daily, almost non-stop around the nation. Most programs would have cashed in their popularity long ago; some programs (X-Files anyone?) have waited too long in the other direction.
I was thinking about the show while I listened to an interview with Al Jean on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air. While the discussion did not follow my train of thought (or was it the other way around?), I considered the fact that, unlike most sitcoms, The Simpsons is constantly evolving. Jean noted that as the writers have grown older, their focus is shifting from Bart’s antics to Homer’s — you know, more grown-up issues.
I was thinking that, unlike shows like Diff’rent Strokes, the writers merrily abandoned schtick as quickly as they adopted it. Bart’s “eat my shorts” is rarely invoked these days (heck, this past decade), where somewhere, someone thought that the national audience would wither away if Gary Coleman failed to utter “”Wha’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” in every episode.
It went from funny to pathetic.
And that this fatal flaw of most television programming.
Another key feature that keeps this show fresh after all these years is the consistency of the world. I mean, wouldn’t it be notable if a new team of aliens were to be observing Springfield? If one day, Kang and Kodos were replaced without explanation? Or with a lame explanation such as boarding school?
20th Century Fox is surely elated with this weekend’s numbers (it certainly bodes well for the eventual DVD/downloadable whatever as well as television income). The creators of the show, from Matt Groening to Al Jean’s amazing team, must be over the moon. The voice actors, who have proven that you don’t need to spend your life on the cover of tabloids, must be overjoyed.
And the fans? Well, count me among those who are hoping it won’t take another 20 years to release the sequel.