This book was launched around this time last year (wow, time flies eh?) and at the time was the result of a considerable amount of press exposure for the simple reason that nobody from FOX or The Simpsons themselves would comment on it. Of course the logical excuse offered up was that an ‘official’ history will come along at some point which will naturally contain all the official stories and anecdotes.
This book however, is the unofficial version, replete with warts-and-all tales from inside and outside the show. For a loyal stonecutter’s take on the book, I suggest hitting up the Dead Homer’s Society for their review, which is refreshingly realistic in its synopsis.
John Ortved should be commended for putting together a tome that combines more first hand accounts of the show than any I care to remember. In contrast to Planet Simpson, which I posted about last week, which was a much more existentialist view of the series and its characters, this book looks past all that for what was going on behind the TV screen.
The book very much follows the shows own timeline, from pre-conception to the present time (well, 2009) so sa you can expect, the climactic, exciting stuff is in the middle, not the end. Ortved lays out in some detail the conflicts and fall-outs that have been the reality behind the greatest TV show ever made. Although he rightfully points out money and egos as being the main ingredients, he does present the facts in a reasonably fair and balance way. In other words, he doesn’t take sides in the war.
I loved reading first-hand accounts from people involved in the show, from writers, to the voice-actors all the way up to Rupert Murdoch himself. Although I found the transcript form of the book weary at first, it became a much easier read in the end (more on that later). The sheer number of stories (both humourous and otherwise) from these folks are gold to a Simpsons fan such as myself.
The book is excellent overall but there are just one or two areas where I was disappointed. Firstly, Ortved’s own writing is quite lacking in the fact-checking department. The biggest one I found was getting Binky and Bongo from Life in Hell mixed up.
Besides the factual errors, the book seems to have this dark overtone. In more than one occasion I found footnotes that were gratuitously politicised. Personally I don’t really care, but please, I’m reading a book about a funny show, there’s no need to bring up your own politcal leanings for the sake of it.
Lastly, there is the discussion about certain folks on the show. While I have mentioned above that Ortved stays pretty impartial to the infighting, there is a substantial imbalance in how he meters out praise and scorn. For example, David Silverman gets one mention whereas Al Jean is single-handedly ridiculed for allowing the show to decline over the last decade. Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t, but I firmly believe that you should meter out praise much more than criticism.
Overall, this is a must-read for any Simpsons fan. It helps set the frame of the Simpsons as an institution of American culture and helped me to see the show in a new, more compassionate light.