FXX’s Simpsons World, which launched yesterday to much fanfare, allows you to watch #EverySimpsonsEver — though not, as has been promised since the network aired the show’s first 19 seasons cropped and stretched to fit widescreen TVs, in their original aspect ratio. (Showrunner Al Jean says the feature is “very important to us” and “will be coming when the site fills out.) But how should we watch them? With some 200 hours of programming available — assuming you have cable, and your provider is on the proper terms with Fox — Simpsons world is the equivalent of a 10-pound steak, and you don’t want to fill up on bread.
For weeks, sites have been prepping lists of the best episodes to stream, but there’s another way to go about it, which is to dive in and let Simpsons World be your guide. As Allen Orr, whose agency Huge designed the site, told Fast Company, “Because ‘The Simpsons’ doesn’t have to be watched in order, this allowed us the flexibility to create an experience that can be viewed in multiple ways, not just linearly.” There are playlists aplenty, including a seasonally appropriate collection of every “Treehouse of Horror” episode, and copious “Something Random” buttons that will throw up an episode or clip. But perhaps the best way is to use the site’s tags to pull up, say, every appearance of the inanimate carbon rod, or see what’s most popular at any given moment.
As Time’s James Poniewozik writes, Simpsons World opens up a fascinating range of approaches beyond the now-traditional binge-watch, which favors twist-driven serial dramas over more self-contained sitcoms.
If a serial drama creates its effects by driving forward along a track, like a train, something like ‘The Simpsons’ expands outward, like a cloud, or maybe a spiral galaxy extending from a center. You can live inside it, jumping from point to point, discovering new corners or echoing themes, skipping from season 2 to season 23 as if through a space-time wormhole.
The Simpsons World site is still incomplete; it went live Tuesday but has yet to add features like allowing people to find and share customized clips. (You’ll know when that feature is added, because they will be everywhere on the damn Internet.) Yet you can already see that this kind of format has the potential to do for this kind of TV show what binge-watching did for serials.
It’s an approach that’s especially apt for ‘The Simpsons,’ which has consistently played with the infinite reset of TV sitcoms, ending episodes on apocalyptic cliffhangers, or conversely turned one-joke characters like Disco Stu into recurring supporting players. Although ‘The Simpsons’ has never lacked for acknowledgement, episodic comedies lag far behind serial dramas in terms of critical appreciation and analysis, in part because they work though accretion rather than linear development. If you could instantly look up, say, every joke “30 Rock” made about race, it would be clear how much sophistication can be packed into a show that doesn’t wear its seriousness on its sleeve.