cover image The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

John Ortved. Faber & Faber, $27 (332pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-988-3

Freelance writer Ortved tells the story of a cartoon about a dysfunctional family living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant that became the longest-running prime time series in American television history. The Simpsons first appeared as a series of shorts on The Tracy Ullman Show in 1987 and debuted as a full-length series in 1989. Almost immediately it became an international phenomenon, helping to establish the then-upstart Fox network. Since then, The Simpsons has featured dozens of celebrity guests, from Michael Jackson to Tom Wolf, and has become a major influence on the development of television comedy and on a generation of Americans. Ortved has done dozens of in-depth interviews, and they make the book. His oral history approach is particularly compelling through the first 200 pages, where the disagreements over who deserves credit for The Simpsons take on a Rashomon-like complexity. Ortved seems evenhanded in his assessments of principals like Matt Groening and James Brooks-few of whom come through unscathed. As the book progresses, it loses focus, and Ortved inserts more of his own opinions and analyses, which are generally less interesting than the interviews (hating Everybody Loves Raymond isn't exactly a radical stance). Nevertheless, Ortved has done a remarkable job of bringing to light the creators of our beloved four-fingered creatures with the bright yellow skin.