The good news: As of Tuesday afternoon, every episode of The Simpsons is finally streaming online for free.*
The bad news: Thanks to hordes of rabid fans like you and me, the website and app aren’t working particularly well—think long load times, endless buffering, and frequent error messages. Sure, these bugs will undoubtedly get ironed out as the initial rush on Simpsons World subsides; as of today, things are already running a lot more smoothly than they were when the site officially launched yesterday. But for those who have been drooling in anticipation, Homer-style, since the site’s advent was announced over the summer, this totally expected development is still a little frustrating. At least the 404 messages are cute:
Oh, and that asterisk by “free”? It’s because Simpsons World, of course, isn’t really free—the full episodes are open only to “authenticated users” who already pay for a cable subscription (from one of a wide variety of providers), or cord-cutters who sign up for a temporary two-hour pass. (The site asks that those who take this route enter something called the Stream It and Dream It Sweepstakes, which doesn’t appear operational as of now. At least the blank page currently showing up at that address is a step up from the Go Daddy Parked Domain page that was showing up yesterday.)
However: If you’re a cable subscriber, and if you don’t mind navigating a glitchy interface, and if you’ve got a decent amount of time on your hands, Simpsons World is a remarkable resource for avowed superfans and casual viewers alike.
As promised, all 550-some episodes of Fox’s venerable animated sitcom are here and available for on-demand viewing—a feat in and of itself. (New episodes will appear on the site the day after they first air on Fox.) Even better, you can search episodes by character as well as season—placing all of, say, Sideshow Bob’s guest appearances in one handy list. There are also playlists organized around specific themes—every “Treehouse of Horror” special, say—and a neat popularity ticker running below the video window that tracks, in real time, how many views each season and episode have garnered. (The “Most Popular” feature, which exists on its own page, lists different episodes in the “most popular today,” “this month,” and “this year” sections—strange, since the site’s only been operational for a day.)
Like South Park Studios, Simpsons World’s closest analogue, the site also features an enormous, searchable library of embeddable clips, which are available even to those without cable subscriptions—a huge boon for anyone who’s ever looked in vain for specific Simpsons clips on YouTube (where they’re usually removed with remarkable speed) or Hulu (which has a decent if less than comprehensive archive). Now if you want to react to something on the internet by, oh, pointing to Homer’s inability to understand that the Witness Protection Program has given him and his family new names, it’s as easy as one, two… d’oh! Well, theoretically, at least; when I tried to embed the clip I just mentioned into this post, I was rewarded with a “File Not Found” message. (You can watch it here.)
In-app or on the site, it’s simple to jump from a clip to the full episode the clip’s been taken from, in this case the all-time classic “Cape Feare.” Yes, episodes are peppered with commercials—annoyingly, a 30-second ad shows up before the episode starts playing, and another 75-second block appears right after the opening title sequence ends—but that’s fairly par for the course, unless you’re watching TV via Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The one major downside here: Before launch, FX promised users the ability to create their own clips of Simpsons episodes. That feature apparently wasn’t ready before the site went live, meaning that if you (like me) are shocked and appalled to find that the five clips associated with “Cape Feare” don’t include Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes, you’ll have to wait an undisclosed amount of time to make that clip happen on your own.
Speaking of features in the works, a “Coming Soon” page promises tantalizing additions including a “script view” that’ll place screenplays and episodes side by side (and make scripts searchable as well), in-depth character pages complete with detailed bios, and an interactive map of Springfield that will lead to location-specific clips. Hopefully as time goes by, the site will also fill out its intriguing “rarities” section, which so far contains behind-the-scenes material like clips of staffers discussing their favorite Simpsons moments and a guide to how Robot Chicken‘s creators helped to create a stop-motion couch gag in season 24. Farther down the line, maybe Simpsons World will even host commentary tracks from the show’s writers and creators, the sort of thing that as of yet is available only to those who own seasons on DVD.
Cool as those coming attractions sound, though, they’re more lily-gilders than anything else. The show’s the thing that really makes Simpsons World sing—as long as the site itself works.