“The Simpsons…” you hear the family’s name, the iconic theme kicks in and you’re taken on a quick tour around Springfield as the titular family races to get home and on the sofa in front of the TV.
Looking back, The Simpsons‘ opening sequence remains one of the most iconic in all of popular culture. Since the show’s premiere in 1989, it’s undergone quite an evolution, but the classic opening is one that most fans will rarely find themselves skipping.
One of the reasons it has become so legendary is the chalkboard moment. Each episode of the animated sitcom, Bart is seen writing something different as part of his punishment, usually a great gag. However, the true staple of the opening has to be the couch gag.
When Homer and the family rush into the living room, you never know what they’re going to be met with.
The first ever couch gag featured in the second episode, Bart the Genius, showed them hurtling into the room and Bart being squeezed off and into the air, shown landing in front of the TV when it cuts to it.
Since then, we’ve obviously seen so many, whether it’s riffing on classic movies or the more recognizable circus couch gag.
While fans may think that it’s the jokes themselves that are of the most importance, it’s actually the lengths of the gags themselves that were of supreme importance for many years.
Essentially, if an episode was under the desired running time to fill a programming block, an extended couch gag presented a way to make sure the quota was hit without having to interfere with the episode itself. A shorter story? No bother, let’s devise a longer joke so we can bulk it up.
The earliest example of this came with the classic season 4 episode Lisa’s First Word, where they had a bunch of other performers join the family as part of a glamorous production with elephants and so forth.
Although as the years went by, help with ad breaks meant that there wasn’t quite so much pressure to hit the running time and pad it out with a longer gag. And yet that being said, in more recent years there have been some incredibly imaginative and inventive couch gags.
Speaking with GQ, showrunner Matt Selman explained that separate writers would be tasked with coming up with the gags, the work kept separate from the main episodes. Producers even bring in outsiders to help work on them:
“I feel like it’s really important to embrace people that love the show and love to reinterpret it in their own personal style. We had a young gentleman who lives in Venezuela who used his designs of the teenage version of The Simpsons for a couch gag on an episode.”
He added: “I think it connects us to a new generation of The Simpsons fans in a really special way.”
It’s definitely a way of keeping things fresh, and after all of these years, fans will still agree that The Simpsons’ opening sequence remains fresh and a thing of beauty.