On Tuesday afternoon, after logging in to Simpsons World, the newly launched website that contains 552 episodes of of my favorite television show of all time, I felt, in the words of Homer at the Candy Convention, “like a kid in some kind of a store.”
Accessible online at simpsonsworld.com and on mobile devices via the FXNOW app, the database is a gift from Jeebus. In addition to featuring 25 years worth of programming, the site is filled with an almost destructive amount of extras. Case in point: I nearly missed deadline because I decided to watch a featurette about the stop-motion Simpsons couch gag dreamt up by the makers of Robot Chicken. Longtime Simpsons producer Al Jean wasn’t joking when he said, “Hello ‘Simpsons World,’ goodbye free time! Seriously.”
(Here it should be noted that only cable subscribers can watch full-length episodes. Also: DirecTV, Dish, and Verizon do not support the FXNOW app. Highly dubious!)
Simpsons World is both exhaustive and easily navigable; it’s the ultimate pop culture repository. In a statement, FX described it as “a unique experience for both casual and super fans.” I suppose this is true. A casual fan in need of a quick Simpsons fix can visit the site and pick a random episode from the homepage’s scrolling timeline of seasons. There are also pre-curated playlists of episodes and clips that make it easy for anyone to dig in without much effort.
However, it’s clear that the site was built with super fans in mind. Since the days of Star Trek, people have been obsessed with their favorite TV shows. But unlike most series, The Simpsons has lasted more than a quarter century. There’s virtually an endless mound of minutiae through which to dig. Managing to neatly organize it all in one place is an impressive feat.
For visitors of Simpsons World, picking through the giant heap for slivers of comedy is surprisingly easy. The site’s search function (accessed by clicking on the pink doughnut icon in the top left corner of the screen) is a work in progress—FX says that in 2015 fans will be able to search every word of dialogue in the show’s history—but you can already use it to, say, figure out the episode from which your Simpsons-addled brain has just pulled some random, obscure reference. For example, entering “Second Base Mobile,” the waterbed- and strobe light-equipped van a couple of bros at Homer’s high school drove in the ’70s, into the search bar correctly brought up “Homerpalooza.” (For hardcore fans, attempting to stump the search function is a fun game. Typing in “Lee Carvallo,” “Kwyjibo,” “Ariaga,” and “Disgruntled Goat” each yielded the episode in which it actually appeared.)
And if you’re an aficionado who’s seen “Last Exit to Springfield” 75 times, don’t fret. There’s a Rarities section containing videos that you may not have come across. I haven’t had time yet, but I’m planning to watch all eight interviews with Simpsons writers discussing their favorite show moments. There’s trivia—“Before Kelsey Grammer took the role, Sideshow Bob was originally going to be voiced by James Earl Jones”—and even stuff culled from social media—like this photo of Hank Azaria as Duffman:
Simpsons World is not quite perfect. As the writer Sam Adams pointed out on Twitter, episodes still aren’t available in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. For now, we’ll have to settle for the versions cropped to accommodate today’s wide screen TVs. But this is a minor quibble. Hell, even the site’s 404 screen made me smile: “Itchy and Scratchy just mutilated your request with a chainsaw,” it read. “Please try again.”
At this point, the appeal of Simpsons World may seem obvious, but none other than legendary Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks was skeptical of the idea. “I’m always a little nervous about ubiquity,” he recently told Variety’s Cynthia Littleton, who explained, “Brooks was initially hesitant out of concern for diluting the show’s value over the long term.”
In reality, the site likely will do the exact opposite. Simpsons World allows the most hardcore obsessives to embrace the show even more than they already do. Instead of relying on dusty DVDs and VHS recordings of old episodes (my friend Paul still has Simpsons tapes, which to him, are the equivalent of dog-eared paperbacks), they’ll be flocking to a single, all-encompassing hub.
And besides, the show achieved ubiquity long ago. For its biggest fans, The Simpsons has always been a religion. The only surprising thing is that it’s taken this long for someone to build it a proper shrine.