John Ortved: The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History (Faber and Faber) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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John Ortved

The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History

Published by Faber and Faber

Dec 16, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

By now The Simpsons is among the most predictable institutions in America. Not in the sense that the show is boring or unsurprisingthough many will argue that it isbut predictable in that, after two decades, it’s still on the air every with new episodes Sunday night at eight o’clock. Like baseball or The Ramones, The Simpsons has come to be synonymous with America.

That wasn’t always the case, obviously, and when the series began it’s success was anything but assured. That hectic period is at the heart of The Simpsons: An Unauthorized, Uncensored History, a 300-plus page oral history that began two years ago as a Vanity Fair piece. Drawing from extensive interviews with cast members, current and former writers (including Conan O’Brien, Wallace Wolodarsky, George Meyer, and others) and loveable Aussie billionaire Rupert Murdoch, the book was also done without the participation of principals such as Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Sam Simon, forcing Ortved to rely on outside sources (primarily quotes from print and broadcast interviews) and the word of the dozens of others interviewed for the project.

While several other books have catalogued the show’s impact on television, culture and American life (as well as multiple other topics), the focus here is almost entirely historical. Ortved goes to great pains investigating the relationship between Brooks, Groening, and Simon and how that led to Simon’s departure from the show after Season Four. Also of note are the extended sections detailing the differing dynamics of the show as run by Simon, Al Jean, and others.

This being a history, however, readers should note that the material is infinitely more detailed on the early seasons, with the last decade barely glanced at in comparison. (The Simpsons Movie gets a moderate amount of ink, but less so than one might expect for a project that took more than 15 years to make it to the screen). As Ortved says at the outset, if you’re looking to learn about what happened behind the scenes during Season 16, you’ll be better served by DVD commentaries.

The book loses much of its steam in the second half but, to be fair, an upstart show on a fledgling network that’s successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams is an inherently more interesting topic than an established commodity. Even so, Ortved’s account is remarkably thorough, witty, and stands as likely the best Simpsons volume we’ll see for some time to come. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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