The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

As a Simpsons acolyte, I knew there was no way I was not going to read a gloriously windy oral history crammed with behind-the-scenes squabbles and power grabs. And so I completely devoured The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, even if I felt a little bad afterward for the central players who got sucker punched. The early details, as show creator Matt Groening goes from obscure alt-weekly cartoonist to megamogul via talent and chance, remain a well-known showbiz tale. John Ortved’s sources (including artist Art Spiegelman) tell it in a fresh, vivid way. The subsequent testimony about the empire Groening created is contentious and mesmerizing. It’s also conflicting and compromised, since some of the biggest fishies of all did not talk to Ortved: Groening himself, founding producer James L. Brooks, and legendary writer and setter-of-Simpsons-tone George Meyer. They’re quoted here from other interview sources, from EW to Playboy to The Believer. The reader should be wary when sources assert that Groening is little more than an affable frontman for the show or that Brooks sometimes wielded his power imperiously: The guys aren’t there to defend themselves. In most cases, though, Ortved amasses quotes from many sources to establish such points, so the negative stuff doesn’t seem gratuitous. However, there are exceptions. The whiny producer who begrudges Dan Castellaneta and the other voice actors their salaries for ”an hour [or two] of work a week”? That’s preposterous. On the other hand, Ortved did get Fox boss Rupert Murdoch and key players such as Hank Azaria to talk frankly about the show, and organized his interviews to tell a pretty seamless story. Toward the end, Ortved spends too much time explaining why he thinks the past few seasons have been weak. (His complaints aren’t original or illuminating.) But you have to admire all the work that went into this unauthorized history. It’s the labor of a disenchanted fan, but a smart, loving fan nonetheless. B+

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History
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