How Long Has It Been Since This Show Invented a Character?

Ghost Mutt

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user JS North.  (It was the first CC search result for “Ghost Mutt”.)

“How ’bout . . . Ghost Mutt?” – Marge Simpson

One of the things that set The Simpsons apart from everything else on television, and has since been imitated innumerable times, was the breadth of its supporting cast.  Right from the very first episode, when it introduced characters like Barney, Moe, and Flanders, the show went out of its way to take the family sitcom template out of the living room.  The depth and distinctiveness of the characters – and the basically unlimited vocal versatility of the cast – meant that it was easy to have a secondary character pop up in an episode for a single scene without worrying whether or not the audience remembered them (or having to pay market rates for another actor with a name and a face).  Whether we’re talking about the staff of the school, the other workers at the nuclear plant, or just the general denizens of the town, it was very common for someone to show up just to utter a joke or two related to the main plot.

Of course, most of the characters that are so iconic today were introduced in the first two seasons.  That’s only natural.  But even years after the basic template of the show had been established, The Simpsons was still churning out characters that have since become a regular part of the cast.  Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia has a list of all of these recurring characters, from Agnes and Akira to Snake and the Squeaky Voiced Teen. 

Characters Introduced By Season

(Note that these are minor recurring characters, so characters like Dr. Hibbert and Rev. Lovejoy aren’t here, but their wives are.  Scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia link to see how the other characters are categorized.  Had most of the major ones been included, all it would’ve done is swell the Season 1 and Season 2 numbers.  Where the Wikipedia article didn’t include a first appearance reference, I went with the Wiki Simpsons character page.) 

These numbers don’t tell us a whole lot more than we already knew: the show went off the cliff around Seasons 9/10, then became mega-zany and has been in a comfortable and uncreative rut ever since.  There are sixty-eight characters on this list, of whom only six (8.9%) originated in double digit seasons, not a one after Season 14.  And those later ones aren’t exactly setting the world on fire with their famous renown.  Observe:

  • Frankie the Squealer & Johnny Tightlips – These are, for lack of a better word, legit.  They came from the same episode, but who cares?  The two of them were one of the few bright points of that thing.
  • Gloria – When I saw this entry, my first thought was, “That woman at the marriage retreat in Season 2?”.  Turns out this is a different woman who showed up in Season 13 and is listed on Wikipedia as Snake’s girlfriend.  I guess he broke up with Shoshanna. 
  • Grady & Julio – This is the gay couple so flat, stereotypical and unfunny that Harvey Fierstein – Springfield Hero – refused to have anything to do with them
  • Judge Constance Harm – Much like “Gloria”, I first thought she was from an earlier season.  In this case, I got her confused with the family court judge from “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”.  Nope.  Turns out she’s a Judge Judy clone, too bad no one cares about Judge Judy anymore.
  • Mrs. Muntz – For the sake of consistency I counted this one on Season 10, but she’d been referred to numerous times earlier even though she hadn’t shown up.  Apparently she didn’t get her first speaking engagement until Season 15. 
  • Yes Guy – Nice of them to do a tribute to Frank Nelson, but when you’re nakedly recycling gags from the 1950s it doesn’t speak well of your ingenuity. 

The above listed characters aren’t exactly comedy genius, and yet even those are apparently better than anything from the last seven years of the show.  The official line is “Good as it ever was!”, but they’ve never seen fit to bring back any of their creations from Season 14 or later.  That’s some 150 episodes that nothing they’ve come up with has been worthy, even by their low standards, of a return engagement.  That’s pretty damning. 

7 Responses to “How Long Has It Been Since This Show Invented a Character?”

  1. 1 Derp
    12 August 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Hey, you’ve overlooked “Sassy Black Woman” with such sterling lines as:
    – Lady, you don’t know Dylan!
    (The Devil Wears Nada)
    – Marge, girl, I just heard your pants ain’t hiring because your butt won’t quit.
    (Chief of Hearts)

    I’m not sure if she appeared before season 21 but clearly it looks like they might turn it around! I can’t wait for all the deep, interesting characters they must have planned for season 23!

  2. 2 Celia
    16 August 2010 at 1:12 pm

    The Yes guy is a classic example of the show finding a character that raised a laugh once and thinking “it will surely be funny many more times”. Alas, some jokes only have one use in them.

    Gloria had a thing with Mr. Burns and then got back together with Snake at the end of the episode for no good reason. Mr. Burns was most out-of-character in that one, as you might expect.

  3. 3 Mourning Glory
    18 May 2012 at 6:29 am

    Mrs. Muntz “he didn’t get her first speaking engagement until Season 15”? Clearly you’ve forgotten the exchange when Nelson casually leaves the house to see The Bloodening with the other kids and says “Breakin’ curfew, mom!” and she replies “We’re out of Skoal!” Hang your heads in shame.

    Besides, why would you even WANT Zombie Simpsons to create new characters? They’d be less funny than Poochy.

  4. 4 Mourning Glory
    18 May 2012 at 6:30 am

    Whoops, “she” not he, and that should have been left out of the quote. That’s a typo and it should also hang its head in shame.

  5. 21 May 2012 at 3:21 am

    If you try to introduce a recurring character 23 seasons in, they’ll probably end up dying out by season 25 or so. Also, fans might be thinking “Where the hell have they been for the past 22 seasons?” It only worked for earlier seasons as we hadn’t seen all the characters back then, so fans would be used to new ones popping up.

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