Oh, the joys of the Information Superhighway.
While surfing the other day, I found a reference to a little-known, never-seen, lost Simpsons Pilot. According to the site, the animated family we all know and love had a much different genesis than the one first viewed on the Tracey Ullman show.
For starters, the family was much smaller than the current version. There were Homer, Marge and Lisa; that was all. No Bart. No Maggie. No Snowball Number Two, although Santa’s Little Helper was present and accounted for. The neighborhood was different too. Rather than a population of quirky Springfield residents, the Simpsons were surround by an eclectic –yet totally normal- mix of families. Fathers, mothers, singles and children. No Flanders. No Wiggums. Not even a Milhouse (which makes sense since there wasn’t a Bart).
In the original version, the Simpsons were the anomaly, the twisted MacGuffins amidst a sea of the mundane. Perhaps, the creator’s intention was to paint a picture of the bizarre on a canvas of normalcy, hoping the surrealistic portraits would shock and awe the audience sufficiently to ensure his vision’s continuation.
Thankfully, this wasn’t what happened.
Homer was his recognizable lazy self, but the extent of his slovenliness was too unbelievable, even for test audiences. His life –beyond the sporadic responsibilities required by his position at the nuclear power plant- consisted of nothing but meat and pizza consumption, sitting on his ass and walking Santa’s Little Helper to the curb and back. Pathetic sure, but not the stuff of comedy legend. It’s no wonder this version of Homer was changed to include some –albeit minimum- redeeming qualities.
Marge’s ultimate characterization underwent a metamorphosis as well. Her first visual interpretation would be recognizable to any suburban witness: A generic, unremarkable middle-aged woman, one of the thousands of invisible housewives that inhabit small town America. Perhaps this was the reason for her transformation into the blue-haired, pearl-wearing, enabling, but ultimately sympathetic, cartoon icon instantly recognizable by even the most casual observer of pop culture. Because underneath this preliminary façade of the status quo, a sea of hormone-fueled paranoia, persecution and psychosis raged, and the dichotomy was too sad to please the American television viewer.
Note to future writers: Your protagonist must possess some positive qualities or your project will fail.
The Lisa Simpson of today is virtually unrecognizable compared to her progenitor. An only child became the middle of three, her foibles and peccadilloes distributed among three different characters to lessen their negative impact. Her intelligence remained her own, as did her lovable geekiness, but her anti-social proclivities were bequeathed to a younger brother or discarded altogether, lest the amalgamation of shortcomings overwhelm the sensibilities of fans everywhere.
So, three became five. A sad commentary on the American family became a hilarious parody of everyday life. What could have been a window into the miserable existence of three insular mouth breathers became a well-loved mirror in which we could all see reflections of ourselves.
I’d say we should consider ourselves lucky.
After all, who would tune into a weekly dose of dysfunction (except for the most hard-core reality junkies, and God knows there’s enough of that dreck available already)? Maybe someone whose television only received one channel, but even they would get cable access eventually.
Fortunately, the question is moot. Soon after I discovered this poorly crafted website, the URL returned a 404 error on a subsequent visit, so there’s no chance for further investigation. Even the mighty Google would not divulge a hint of this elusive information, and if Google doesn’t get it, then nobody will.
Perhaps I imagined the whole thing. Maybe I fell asleep at the keyboard one night and dreamed of a world where one of the longest-running sitcom families began their lives as a trio of piteous losers, unloved and unlovable. Maybe my memory has been infected by a nightmare and I’m having trouble clearing my subconscious.
And maybe I’m just having a little fun.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .