One of the most beloved and successful shows in the history of television, The Simpsons has evolved from a controversial reflection of our lives to a mainstream source of pop culture. John Ortved reveals the events behind the scenes, taking an unflinching look at the betrayal, ambition, and comedy that marked the show's history. Narrators John Allen Nelson and the award-winning Justine Eyre perform the anecdotes from sources such as former Simpsons writer Conan O'Brien, actor Hank Azaria, and media magnate Rupert Murdoch with gusto and believability. Eyre and Nelson capture the nostalgic tone of the oral histories, their vocal stresses and hesitations hinting at both good and bad memories.
The Simpsons is one of the most successful shows in the history of television. From its first moment on air, the series' rich characters, subversive themes, and layered humor have resounded deeply with audiences, both young and old, who wanted more from their entertainment than what was being meted out at the time by the likes of Full House, Growing Pains, and Family Matters.
Spawned as an animated short on The Tracy Ullman Show - mere filler on the way to commercial breaks - the series grew from a controversial cult favorite to a mainstream powerhouse, and after 19 years, the residents of Springfield no longer simply hold up a mirror to our way of life; they have ingrained themselves into it.
John Ortved's oral history is the first-ever look behind the scenes at the creation and day-to-day running of The Simpsons, as told by many of the people who make it, including writers, animators, producers, and network executives. It's an intriguing yet hilarious tale, full of betrayal, ambition, and love. Like the family it depicts, the show's creative forces have been riven by dysfunction from the get-go - outsize egos clashing with studio executives and one another over credit for and control of a pop-culture institution.
Contrary to popular belief, The Simpsons did not spring from one man's brain, fully formed, like a hilarious Athena. Its inception was a process, with many parents, and this book tells the story.
©2009 Tantor; ©2009 John Ortved
"You have to admire all the work that went into this unauthorized history. It's the labor of a disenchanted fan, but a smart, loving fan nonetheless." (Entertainment Weekly)
"As tasty as a pink-glazed donut with sprinkles, as refreshing as a Duff beer and as piquant as a curry slushy from Kwik-E Mart." (The Washington Post)
I stopped listening at the 30 minute mark because the reader is so monotone and monotonous I couldn't take it anymore. Be sure to listen to the sound sample several times in a row to see if you can handle it.
That said, the content is great. I just couldn't get past the narration.
First and foremost this is a thoroughly researched, well written, very detailed account of the how The Simpsons came to be on TV. Beyond that Ortveld clearly has a deep seated belief that:
1) The Simpsons is the greatest show ever seen on TV
2) For the first 9 years
3) And terrible since then
Of course it's the "why" that makes the book enjoyable to listen to. The author's own ruminations on what makes the show so important to pop culture borders on religious fervor at times. In between those thoughts we get detailed accounts of all the back stabbings, broken promises, out of control egos, strikes, walk-outs, epic temper tantrums and sheer creative nutiness that happened behind the scenes. Honestly, some of it was really quite fascinating. Just to hear Conan O'Brian recount jumping around the writer's room like a "trained monkey" shouting "Jub, jub, jub, jub!" was worth the cost alone.
In the end it'd be hard to see how this book would appeal to anyone beyond the show's fans. But if you are a fan, lapsed or otherwise, jump in. I think you'll like it.
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