“Well, good night, son.”
They’re certainly not the four funniest words ever said on The Simpsons — make way for “I was saying Boo-urns” or “God bless those pagans” or “Stupider like a fox” or “mmm… crumbled-up cookie things” — but they are extremely important, notable for being the first words ever uttered by Homer Simpson. Exactly 30 years ago to the day, on April 19, 1987, the seeds of a comedy revolution were planted, as Fox sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show aired an animated short about the Simpson family by Life In Hell cartoonist Matt Groening. Forty-seven more shorts would air over the next two years, and in December 1989, The Simpsons would truly take root as its own thing with the Christmas special “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.”
Flash forward three decades later, and The Simpsons is considered to be one of the greatest TV comedies of all time, boasting 32 Emmys on its shelf. Currently in its 28th season and renewed through season 30, it’s also the longest-running scripted primetime entertainment series of all time, having eclipsed the 600-episode mark last fall. And it’s an unproven fact that you and the person sitting next to you will quote a line from Homer or Lisa or Mr. Burns or Barney or Moe or Comic Book Guy or Ralph Wiggum or Troy McClure or dozens of other Springfield characters any second now.
You can marvel at how time flies and see how it all started by (re)watching the first short, “Good Night.” Clocking in at just under two minutes long, “Good Night” details the family’s bedtime ritual as Homer and Marge tuck in Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, and somewhat resembles the show we know today. The animation is much cruder (Groening quickly sketched out the characters before a meeting with Tracey Ullman co-creator James L. Brooks, and the animators traced over his drawings), Homer sounds different (Dan Castellaneta would ultimately change the way he voiced the grand patriarch of stupidity), and Bart asks Homer something more likely to come out Lisa’s mouth these days: “What is the mind? Is it just a system of impulses or… is it something tangible?” With the kids rattled after their good-nights with their parents — even baby Maggie is freaked out by “Rock-a-bye Baby” — they come knocking on Homer and Marge’s door, and everyone winds up in bed together. Thirty years later, the lights are still on.