Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History (Faber & Faber, 2009).

This is an interesting story, but I can't swear that I enjoy the way the author told it. It's an "oral history" of The Simpsons, in which many of the behind-the-scenes figures open up for a warts-and-all discussion of the series. Jon Ortved got several of the writers and producers to go on the record about the show. Others, notably Matt Groening and Jim Brooks, declined, and old interviews from other sources are used in their place. It's structured to let the sources do almost all of the talking, without much in the way of narrative interruption.

When Ortved does impose some authorial weight on the story, it didn't come across well at all. The tone in the book's earlier chapters is overly cloying, just lavishing praise on how allegedly important The Simpsons has been to comedy and to television. By the end, with far fewer comments from writers on the record, he is dismissing more than half of the series and devoting pages to praising the program's descendants, including the Fox-dominated Family Guy, which is sort of like buying a book about Monty Python and finding three or four pages towards the end about how that series they did without Cleese was a little disappointing, but isn't that Benny Hill Show funny? In the end, this was an interesting book, but not one that I can really recommend with enthusiasm.

Besides, surely everybody knows that the only really good Simpsons stories of the last six or eight years have been the ones that Evan Dorkin and Sergio Aragones have done for Bongo Comics. They're much better than Family Guy too. Much. Hmph.

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