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'The Simpsons': Better than you think

It's one of the funniest TV shows ever. And it's good for kids.

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When "The Simpsons" debuted, many observers thought it would bring on the-end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it.

For elementary and middle-school teachers, especially, Dec. 17, 1989, was a dark day. Before long, class clowns recited rude remarks attributed to the show's fourth-grade star: "Don't have a cow, man," "Eat my shorts," "I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?"

Worse still, T-shirts emblazoned with Bart's life philosophy – "Underachiever and proud of it!" – undermined the very mission of the schools in which they were worn. By 1992, the president of the United States himself was framing domestic policy in terms of this dangerous TV cartoon. In January, he promised to help American families become "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons."

George H.W. Bush lost his bid for re-election later that year, and the threat to public health and morals ascribed to "The Simpsons" didn't pan out any more than it had with jazz or comic books.

Instead, something extraordinary happened. "The Simpsons" hit its stride, and the writers figured out that Homer, not Bart, was the narrative fulcrum of the show. Noble Homer would suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in every episode, but, with the promise of nothing more than a doughnut, would always rise to fight another day.

By the third or fourth season, thinking adults started to see a masterpiece in the making. In 1998, when America's poet laureate(!) paid tribute to "The Simpsons" in The New York Times Magazine(!), it was clear that whoever still thought the show was nothing but toxic tomfoolery simply wasn't watching it.


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