“I hope this book feels like a Simpsons episode: fast-paced, full of quick scenes, and stuffed with hundreds of jokes, some of them funny. I’ve even structured it like a Simpsons script, which has four acts: setup, complication, resolution and coda.”
-Mike Reiss (from Springfield Confidential, page 7)
In the mid-2000’s I was employed as a telephone customer service agent for a credit card company. I worked the evening shift (it paid more) with an assorted group that ran from middle-aged single moms to college students to artists and musicians, and even included two former professional athletes. With the younger set I had a reputation for being loquacious and avuncular.
One night as I was leaving the building after 11 pm on an autumn weeknight I heard my name called from down the street. It was Emily, one of the aforementioned college kids. She was a nineteen year-old from London (the one in Ontario, not the cool one) who was new to Montreal and uncomfortable with a big city at night. We took the same bus home and she asked if she could walk with me. We ended up doing that every night we finished at the same time. During our treks to the 80 bus stop at Complex Desjardins we would try to engage in conversation but she was a Millennial and I, born in 1970, was and remain the epitome of a Generation X’er, so we had little in common and the talks were anything but sparkling. Until the time we were hit with a sudden rainstorm. Neither of us had an umbrellated rain deflection device (or umbrella, if you must), so we got soaked. She expressed her displeasure by saying: “Oh, boo-urns! Boo-urns!” as we were pelted with cold rain.
My point is, The Simpsons is a force that can unite us all; the world’s greatest common denominator. The thirty-year history and ultimate legacy of the show about an animated family of misfits is the subject of the new book Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies From a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons by one of its long-time writer/producers Mike Reiss (with Mathew Klickstein).
I first heard of the yellow-skinned Springfieldians as a teenager while watching Entertainment Tonight; then a semi-legitimate show business news program, quite unlike its current incarnation as a dumping ground for talentless reality TV stars and other quasi-celebrities. The first time I watched a broadcast episode of The Simpsons I had the presence of mind to record it (on VHS, if you can remember that ancient format) and was so enamoured with it I went out of my way to play the tape to all my friends, (both of them). Today the show is so ubiquitous that if I ever have to explain a complicated notion or concept to someone who will have none of that, I try to cite a Simpsons episode to better illustrate my point. You would be surprised at how well it works.
Mike Reiss’ book is semi-autobiographical as well as an anecdotal history of The Simpsons, crafted with the series fanatic in mind. As promised in the early pages (see the above quote) it is structured like an episode. Jokes are fired at us faster than a Tommy Gun on full auto; at first I found it annoying, but after around 20 pages I started to settle in and enjoyed the ride. At the end of most chapters is a section called “Burning Question” (which cleverly references the town of Springfield’s perpetual tire yard fire) that is especially fan-oriented.
Reiss writes with what is best described as a fourth-wall self-awareness that brings us into the action and makes the reader feel welcome, like an old friend. He even includes quotes from others involved with the show like Al Jean and Dan Castellaneta.
Think you know it all? I did. Now I know better. The book is filled with captivating facts and fun insider stories, which are brief but informative. It even explains why the Simpsons are yellow! Reiss, much like the show itself, has attitude and does not pull his punches, fearlessly letting the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Dane Cook and Tim Allen as well as network executives have it with both barrels (am I using too many firearm metaphors?).
Years ago I grew tired of The Simpsons, feeling that its best days, the ‘90’s when John Swartzwelder wrote almost sixty episodes, were over. Now I think the time has arrived for me to connect with them again. Reading Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies From a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons reminded me of how much the show was a part of my life.