As I watch TV and movies, I’m often frustrated at how they treat the subject of religion. Pop Culture either ignores it (wouldn’t want to offend anyone) or degrades it as much as possible (just about every episode of Family Guy). Very few shows or movies take religion at face value and address it in all of it’s glory and absurdity.
This is why the Simpsons are still one of my all time favorite TV shows. As much as church groups protested the show back in the early 90’s, the fact remains that the Simpsons always went to church.
In the episode, Homer the Heretic, Homer goes to church with his family. True, he is listening to the football game during the service, but hey, he is still there.
Plus, the show doesn’t just address Christianity. Apu is a committed Hindu. Krusty’s dad is an Orthodox Rabbi. Their faith is taken seriously even as their beliefs provide comic fodder. The beauty is, the Simpsons’ writers never went for the “cheap joke” (again, Family Guy). All of their jokes rose out of the characters struggle to reconcile their beliefs with the reality of their lives.
As the show is about to start it’s 26th Season this Sunday with the death of another character (Clown in the Dumps is the title of the episode, hint, maybe?) I got a chance to a question about religion and the upcoming character’s death (along with other reporters) to Al Jean, the Executive Producer of the Simpsons.
The Rogue: It seems to me that the Simpsons use religion in a lot of episodes and integrates it into people’s lives. How’s that going to play out in the next season? I know you don’t want to talk about the premiere episode, but does religion play a part in the death of the character?
Al: Yes, it will. I can’t say more than that, as I don’t want to give any spoilers. You know, one of the things about The Simpsons was that it was one of the few shows when it aired that would show a family going to church, even though Homer was listening to his Walkman at the time. We’ve gotten a lot of subject matter out of religion, and different religions, not just Christianity.
In terms of what’s off limits, what’s funny is that certain things that weren’t off limits – like Maude did an abortion episode – are now more off limits than they were. It’s a funny sort of dynamic in terms of what television wants to see and what it allows. I also happen to be running the show after 9/11 and people then said well, you can never make fun of the president anymore, that’s just going to be the end of that, and I was just like, really? George W. Bush is never going to do anything funny? And, of course, that was insane.
So it’s hard to ever say oh, X will never be done, because so much of – you know, Jim Brooks, who runs the show and did Mary Tyler Moore, his career was taking something that had never been done and doing it.”
(The Simpsons 26th Season starts on FOX this Sunday following the football game. Check your local listings)