From its humble beginnings four years ago as interstitial segs on the “Tracey Ullman Show” to its reign today as primetime’s top animated series, “The Simpsons” has lost none of its wit and cynicism.
Thursday’s 100th episode was a fitting reminder that, while many series quickly lose steam, the cartoon menagerie of underachievers and mean-spirited malcontents continues to attract an audience as it gets seared into the American consciousness.
Such recognition and acceptance should indicate a syndication gold mine for Fox.
And by placing the series’ first outing after the groundbreaker, the network wisely gave viewers the opportunity to see how the series has evolved since its debut in January 1990.
Centennial program has Bart (Nancy Cartwright), unable to locate a suitable object for show-and-tell, selecting the family pet instead. Scriptors Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley ably mix Bart’s penchant for trouble with his underlying need for approval — his dog is the highlight of the class session — and his desire to do the right thing.
When the mangy mutt gets loose in the school’s ventilation ducts, and the chaos is witnessed by the school superintendent, Bart’s longtime wish of getting principal Skinner (Harry Shearer) fired becomes a reality.
As expected, Bart gets a conscience and schemes to get Skinner — who has reupped in the Army — his old job back. In the interim, mega-nerd Ned Flanders (Shearer) takes the school reins, serving up lethal doses of his cornpone chatter and rose-colored world view.
Using subtlety as a plot device, the writers often use testy one-liners and background visuals to add to the story.
Viewers paying heed will witness a timely swipe at the industry registering significance of the 100th episode. The familiar opening frames of Bart writing on the chalkboard has him penning “I Will Not Celebrate Meaningless Milestones,” perhaps signaling it’s business as usual, despite the hype.
Top-drawer animation buffers the believable characters created by Matt Groening and his crew, resulting in a particularly fast-paced episode.
The ending, with all wrongs righted — and life, such as it is in Springfield , back to normal — is trademark “Simpsons” and should give viewers a warm and fuzzy feeling about America’s dysfunctional First Family.