Raised by Homer: How can ‘Simpsons’ be in its 28th season?

Unlocking the Vault by T.J. Tranchell

My wife and I have been catching up on the latest season of “The Simpsons,” and I noticed something odd. A good portion of the show’s 28th season has been devoted to characters dealing with childhood traumas.

As someone who was a child when “The Simpsons” premiered, I find this striking, and, honestly, it makes me feel old.

I’ve had nine more seasons than Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have had, and I know people younger than the show. I was there when it started. I had a T-shirt showing Bart Simpson on a skateboard before I — and everyone else — realized the show is actually about Homer.

And that’s where we are now. Homer, who in real time should be in his sixties, is still a 35-to-42-year-old balding, overweight dad who can’t control his oldest child, doesn’t understand his middle child, and regularly forgets he has a third child. We seem to be OK with this. After all, “The Simpsons” is a living version of the nostalgia our culture thrives on.

How many times in the last six months have you seen a Facebook post proclaiming that “The Simpsons” predicted the future? If you believe the internet, the show predicted everything from the time the Seahawks beat the Broncos to the reality of President Trump.

So it is natural that we are now engaging with the pasts of some of these characters. Mr. Burns wants to recreate a childhood vaudeville show for a modern audience in order to exorcise his own stage fright in the season opener. That set the tone for Homer’s journey into his own troubled past.

Homer, while driving all night to escape the company of Patty and Selma, discovers a run-down caboose that has been turned into a chili dog stand. The meal sparks something inside Homer that he can’t place. The next day, Grandpa Simpson tells Homer that he used to drop his son off at the stand while he and his wife (who soon abandoned the family) went to marriage counseling.

By the end of the episode, we learn that the old-timer running the stand was more of a father figure to young Homer than his real father was and there is an awkward sentimentality to close out the 22 minutes.

I fear this is exactly how the series will end (in two years following season 30). We will learn things about the characters we never knew, because new writers just made them up, and it will end with a joke that aims to remind us how great “The Simpsons” was and how long they have been part of American households.

We will all feel a bit nostalgic, but we will also know that the time has come to let them go. Through syndication, streaming, home video and memory, the Simpson clan will never leave us.

Which is great, because then they won’t have to ever discuss a reunion show or a revival. Some things are better left alone. We can look back at the history of “The Simpsons” and wax poetic with Homer about chili dogs, but we need to remember that 742 Evergreen Terrance has been a full house for three decades.

Tranchell is a journalism adviser at the University of Idaho. He and his wife are awaiting the DVD release of seasons 18-19 and 21-28 of “The Simpsons” in order to complete their collection. Get on the ball, Fox! You can reach him to talk about “The Simpsons” or just about anything else at tj.tranchell@gmail.com

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