A new YouGov Omnibus survey examines attitudes towards the show and its star characters
Arguably, there are few TV shows that have had as big a cultural impact as The Simpsons. A whole generation of Brits will be familiar with slogging through after-school TV before the glorious moment at 6pm when the name of the show would emerge triumphantly through cartoon clouds.
Now a new YouGov Omnibus survey examines Britain’s attitudes towards the show and its star characters.
The Simpsons was better in the past
A common criticism of the show is that it is long past its the golden era. A famous internet essay describes the current show as “The Zombie Simpsons” – continuing to lurch on after the heyday of the initial nine or ten seasons, the last of which aired almost 20 years ago.
The results show that Brits are more likely to believe that the Simpsons used to be better. Over a quarter (27%) say they still like it but it used to be better, while another 16% say they used to like it but no longer do. By contrast, only 10% say they still like it and think it is better than it was. Among Brits who either used to like the show or still do, four in five (81%) believe it was better in the past.
A further 13% of the general public never liked the show, 24% have never watched it, and 9% don’t know.
Nevertheless, it seems The Simpsons still rules the cartoon roost. When compared to five other animated shows, The Simpsons consistently comes out on top. Its closest competition comes from Family Guy, where 35% of those who have watched both shows consider the Griffon’s antics to be more entertaining than those of the Simpsons. However, even here Springfield’s most famous family are still more popular (49%).
None of the other shows come even remotely close. When compared to Matt Groening’s other work – Futurama – The Simpsons wins comfortably (67% to 19%) and it is a similar story with South Park (65% to 22%), and relative newcomer Rick and Morty (69% to 14%). Meanwhile The Simpsons trounces King of the Hill (78% to 8%).
Homer is the nation’s favourite Simpsons character
Homer is clearly the star of the show, with 33% of people who like or used to like The Simpsons saying that he is their favourite character. Lisa is second (on 15%) while Bart comes close behind in third (on 13%). Marge and Maggie come further back on 7% and 4% respectively.
Despite the show’s famously extensive supporting cast, and our question allowing respondents to name any character they liked, fully 72% of respondents named one of the five Simpsons family members. Of the supporting cast, Apu and Mr Burns are the most popular but garner only 3% of the vote each.
Frank Grimes will be turning in his grave – most Brits see Homer Simpson as a good person
In an article in the New Statesman last year, Anna Leszkiewicz made a compelling case that Homer is a terrible husband and pinpointed the exact episode where Marge should have dumped him – in season nine, when Homer buys a gun.
Nevertheless, only 11% of people who like or used to like the show reach the same conclusion as Leszkiewicz and say that Marge should ditch Homer, with women slightly more likely to say so than men (14% vs 8%).
Leszkiewicz’s criticism poses a more fundamental question: are the Simpsons even good people? After all, as a result of the family’s antics former president George Bush Sr famously once stressed the need for American families to be “more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons”.
When asked, the majority (52%) of past and present Simpsons fans consider Homer – a man who, among other things, frequently strangles his son, has framed Marge for drink-driving, has committed bigamy, has caused his father’s kidneys to fail, has worked for a terrorist organisation, and is frequently asleep or absent in his role of overseeing safety at a nuclear power plant – to be a good person. Only 12% actively see him as a bad person.
By contrast Bart, whose escapades are far more childlike and consequence-light, is almost twice as likely to be seen as a bad person at 22%, yet Maggie – who shot Mr Burns – is only seen as a bad person by 4%.
Apu is not seen as racist
Recently, Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabulu argued that the show’s depiction of Kwik-E Mart proprietor Apu is racist. The criticism sparked debate in the US, with Hank Azaria – the white actor who provides the voice for Apu – saying he would be willing to step aside from the role.
However, Kondabulu’s concerns are clearly not shared by British viewers, as almost three quarters (74%) of current and former Simpsons fans say that the show does not depict Apu in a racist way. Only 10% believe that it does.