Morgan Spurlock is turned loose upon “The Simpsons,” and indeed the world, in a far-reaching, scattershot special that follows the animated goliath’s 450th episode. An hour is either too little or too much to do the series justice, and while Spurlock comes back from such far-flung locales as Brazil and Scotland with amusing tidbits, it’s at best a once-over-lightly exploration of the pop-culture phenomenon that somehow misses the most obvious point: That the show has run more than two decades because animation allowed the characters (especially the kids) to remain conveniently ageless.
To his credit, Spurlock seeks out critics of the series (such as the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue) along with many of its writers (Conan O’Brien among them), cast and series creator Matt Groening. He then fans out rather arbitrarily to the fringes — from Sting to Moby, Brian Williams to Dan Rather, etc.
The most interesting comments actually come from other animators, perhaps foremost “King of the Hill’s” Mike Judge, who recalls being stunned seeing a series with such wit and edge “rise out of the manure pile that was animation” circa 1989.
Frankly, sticking with just the writers and other producers — augmented by the actors and the spec’s excursion to Comic-Con — might have yielded a more thoughtful and provocative hour, but that would have deprived Spurlock the first-person experience of donning a thong and walking around the beaches of Rio.
In the final analysis, “The Simpsons” has come to be defined as much by its staggering longevity as its quality, with those who were kids when the show premiered now parents themselves. There are tasty crumbs here, to be sure, but Spurlock’s anniversary tribute hasn’t done much to expand appreciation of the show, except perhaps in registering the point that two decades removed from its birthing on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” it’s difficult to remember a time when it wasn’t there.