Summing up the longest-running comedy series in the history of prime-time TV and a global pop-culture phenomenon in 42-plus minutes is not an easy task. But that was the task given to Morgan Spurlock when he was asked to direct “The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice.”
And he does a pretty good job with it — in part because he’s a huge “Simpsons” fan, and has been since the days when Homer, Marge, Lisa Bart and Maggie were just crudely animated interstitial characters on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”
When the series debuted 20 years ago, on Jan. 14, 1990, “It was like the first time for me that I remember in my adult life … that we literally had appointment television. Me and my friends, all my roommates, like literally every night we were there in front of the television watching this show,” Spurlock says. “It was so smart. It was so different, and I think for me it was like the first show that I’d ever seen in America that felt like a British show. It felt like something that was incredibly smart. It didn’t treat the audience like you were stupid. It really kind of gave you a little bit more than a lot of shows, and I was blown away by it from the beginning.”
That love comes through in the special, which airs after “The Simpsons'” 450th episode on Sunday (Jan. 10). Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me” and “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?,” travels across the country and to places like Scotland and Argentina to interview fans and collectors, which are interspersed with segments the show’s cast, writers, producers and famous fans ranging from Sting to Jerry Springer.
One thing Spurlock doesn’t do, though, is have himself animated.
“They asked me,” he says. “They said if you want to be animated in the special, you need to tell us now so we can start planning for that, and I feel like you can’t ask to be animated. I think you have to be asked by ‘The Simpsons,’ so I wouldn’t go there. Because it’s a gift. That’s a gift I would want to be given to me rather than say I want that gift, so I wouldn’t do it.”
A couple more observations from Spurlock on the special:
Celebrity fans: “One of my favorite things … in the show is Moby, who is an incredible musician, is a huge, huge ‘Simpsons’ fan, and in Moby’s spare time when he’s out on the road and just is kicking it around, he does ‘Mr. Plow’ remixes. Moby is a huge ‘Mr. Plow’ fan, loves the ‘Mr. Plow’ episode, thinks that that little haiku of a theme song to Mr. Plow is brilliant, and so he has literally made seven different versions … from a punk-rock version to an old-school hip-hop to a psychedelic version. It’s phenomenal what he’s done, but he is the perfect example of the superfan who just kind of lets that show embrace his own creative spirit to go off and do other things.”
Enter the Collector: Spurlock visited a man in England who has what’s purported to be the largest collection of “Simpsons” memorabilia in the world. “It’s like you’re walking into some crazy — like some super playroom. It’s not just toys. It’s lava lamps. It’s lunchboxes. The one thing, he didn’t get clothes. He stopped buying clothes in the beginning because he said you just can’t keep up with the T-shirts. But he’s got ceramics, collectibles. He had them in his garden, but he moved them into his living room. You know the big plastic ‘Simpsons’ characters that they had on the couch in the movie theaters when the film came out? He basically had those in his living room. It’s remarkable. You walk in, and you feel like that literally this guy’s life is ‘The Simpsons,’ he just became so obsessed with them. His wife is a saint, a complete saint, for putting up with it.”
Living up to the special’s title: “There may be a little 3-D, and there may be some ice involved. You’ll have to stay tuned to see, but I think that the climax could fulfill some of the title.”
“The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice” airs at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
Photo credit: FOX