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The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special

Morgan Spurlock Documentary


Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images
"Please note: the special is neither in 3-D nor on ice."

That line appeared at the bottom of the Fox press release announcing The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice. Though the special will not be 3-D or on ice, it won't be a typical collection of episode clips.

Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) is set to produce and direct the special, which will air Thursday, January 10, 2010 on Fox. The documentary special will be the conclusion to the year-long global celebration of The Simpsons that launched in January 2009. It will examine the cultural phenomenon of The Simpsons in Spurlock's distinctive and innovative style, documenting how the world sees The Simpsons.

Now the longest-running comedy in television history, The Simpsons immediately struck a chord with viewers across the country as it poked fun at itself and everything in its wake. With its subversive humor and delightful wit, the series has made an indelible imprint on American pop culture, and the family members have become television icons.

In July, Morgan Spurlock chatted with the media about his vision for The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special. It became clear during the interview that Spurlock has as much fan cred to create this special as anyone.

He has long been a fan of The Simpsons. "When it first came on, I remember when I was in college and it was literally an obsession. It was something that me and all my friends would literally at 8:00 we were there sitting there on the couch watching this show, and it was something that we all did together."

"But I think it's a show that really affected me," Spurlockcontinued, "and it was smart and biting satire and dealt with such big issues in ways that I think made it really accessible to the masses, much like in the way that I try to do things with my work, in making things palatable to people, making people see the humor in things that if you don't laugh, you'll cry, for how depressing things can be sometimes. I think The Simpsons did a great job of getting people talking, and for me I hope that we can highlight some of that."

Morgan Spurlock is more than a fan; he's a proven director, which is why Matt Groening, Al Jean and James Brooks wanted him to create something different for this special. "The reason they called me was because they'd seen Super Size Me and watched 30 Days, but then they were watching Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, and it was literally when they saw the opening animation fight sequence, where we did this video game where I was fighting Osama bin Laden in the game, that's when Al Jean looked at Matt Groening and said, 'We have to call this guy to do the special.' It was one of the greatest phone calls I ever got in my life."

So how does a documentary director film a 20th annivesary special for The Simpsons, an animated TV show? Spurlock said, "Well, for me I think that the special will entail kind of us talking about the history of this show. I think the reason that they called me to begin with was to not have a show that would kind of be a glad-hand, pat everyone on the back special. We really want to dive in and find the interesting people, the interesting stories, the things that are a little more than just like a typical kind of 'look how great we are' kind of special."

"And so for me, that's why really trying to root it in the fans and the people who really kept this show on the air for the last 20 years I think is important and kind of hearing how people have been affected by this. You know, there's so many interesting and unique things that we continue to find, and I think that as we continue to shoot that will end up making it into the show."

Spurlock went on to explain what kinds of fans he wanted to film and interview. "I hope we find some of the most incredible, super fans that the world has ever seen," he said very excitedly. "Maybe there will be people who want to dress up like characters in The Simpsons. Maybe there are people who want to tell stories about how it changed their lives, and maybe saved the day one day in their childhood. Who knows? But we hope we get great people who have great stories to tell."

Morgan Spurlock and his team have already met some die-hard fans. "We’ve met multiple people who literally have turned their bodies into Simpsons billboards. We found a husband and wife who had a Simpsons wedding."

Though the success of The Simpsons admittedly is partly thanks to the fans, it's the show itself that keeps generation after generation entertained. Morgan Spurlock attributes its success to many things, beginning with The Simpsons maverick approach to social issues right from the beginning. "It’s hard to remember that [the show was controversial] because it’s one of the things that you forget, especially with everything that’s on the air now. It was a show that shocked people."

"I think it’s become a staple," Spurlock continues. "This is a show that’s been on longer than any show in the history of American television. It’s now surpassed Gunsmoke. It’s become this consistently solid show that you know you can turn to, that will always be funny, that you’ll get a laugh out of, or it might make you think."

Some fans, myself included, don't feel that The Simpsons has remained true to its original heartwarming, storytelling format. But Spurlock says, "I’ve had this exact same conversation with somebody else, that now when you have South Park and Family Guy, and shows that are even edgier, and so push the envelope, that it’s hard to really think back to when The Simpsons first came on and people were blown away by this father who choked his son, who had a violent temper and would get angry and scream, but still loved his family. They talked about what a terrible role model he was, and Bart was, and how it was a terrible thing for kids, and when you look at what’s on TV now, you’re like, really? That’s what we were upset about back then? It was this animated show?"

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