On Aug. 21, FXX embarked on the unprecedented feat of airing every episode of The Simpsons — all 552 of them — over the course of a 12-day marathon. As someone who has been a fan of the series since before I understood what I was watching (I was 3 years old when The Simpsons premiered), I jumped at the opportunity to watch as many consecutive days of the marathon as possible.
I quickly realized that was insane, and that doing so would likely trigger a psychotic breakdown similar to Apu thinking he was a hummingbird, so instead I challenged myself to watch a full 24 hours, from the 10 a.m. premiere on Thursday to 10 a.m. the following day. How difficult could it really be? What I learned is that I'm woefully naive. As it turns out, even the biggest Simpsons fan needs sleep.
But along my (spoiler alert) failed journey, I took notes on what I was watching and how I was feeling. Here is my account of the first 24 hours (ish) of FXX's Simpsons marathon.
10 a.m.-11 a.m.: "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," "Bart the Genius"
And here we go! Immediately I'm wondering why I didn't jump in on a later, better season, but oh well. I feel a lot of nostalgia for these early episodes, even though I was a toddler when they first aired. It was less about jokes and gags, and more about story — these episodes truly feel like an animated sitcom. And it's amazing how much of the very early episodes we still reference. Unless I'm the only person who continues to use "kwyjibo" in daily conversation.
But this isn't The Simpsons we know and love, and as the shoddy animation begins to annoy me, and I notice a lack of continuity between shots, I realize that I have 23 fucking hours of uninterrupted television ahead of me. The slow pacing in "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" and "Bart the Genius" has already lost its charm. I feel like a big dumb idiot. I feel like a kwyjibo.
11 a.m.-12 p.m.: "Homer's Odyssey," "There's No Disgrace Like Home"
Look, it's Wendell, the kid who throws up on every bus ride! And there's our first glimpse of Blinky, the three-eyed fish! But essential character introductions aside, what's interesting about these episodes is the very different Homer they depict. Homer used to be a much more sympathetic character. If I were allowed one major complaint about the last 15 years of The Simpsons, it would be that Homer is now too much of an asshole to care about. But I digress. There is fun wackiness in "There's No Disgrace Like Home," namely Marge's drunken dance sequence and the electroshock therapy.
Meanwhile, the commercials are really starting to get to me. How did we watch TV before DVR? I don't even want to think about it. It doesn't help that FXX has approximately four commercials that they are airing on a loop, sometimes twice within the same commercial break. As for the episodes, there's a lot to enjoy, but the characterization is wildly off. Yes, it's nice to see Homer sympathetic, but the idea that Homer would pawn the TV after Marge got too drunk at a work function is mind-bogglingly backward. Also, at one point Homer contemplates suicide? Nope.
12 p.m.-1 p.m.: "Bart the General," "Moaning Lisa"
I could keep complaining about these early episode of The Simpsons, or I could note that watching the promo for The Simpsons-Family Guy crossover is making early Simpsons look that much better in comparison. Anyway, "Bart the General" includes the line, "You made me bleed my own blood," as well as some delightful animation sequences (Bart tumbling home in a trash can). And "Moaning Lisa" hits close to home. I say that as someone who is always too sad to play dodge ball.
Weirdly, there are a lot of cutaway gags here — what is this, Family Guy? — and the pacing is still off. I've realized that the problem is a surplus of plot and no B-story. Also, the background characters are underdeveloped, so there are a lot of randoms who show up to deliver one line and then disappear, never to be heard from again. It's hard to get attached, is what I'm saying. Much to no one's surprise, the repeated commercials aren't helping my boredom.
1 p.m.-2 p.m.: "The Call of the Simpsons," "The Telltale Head"
The first appearance of Albert Brooks made me jump with joy. (On the inside. I'm not getting off this couch.) But seriously, Cowboy Bob the RV salesman isn't exactly a memorable character, but Albert Brooks' voiceover talents are so essential to several episodes of The Simpsons. That aside, I'm remembering how forgettable so many Season 1 episodes are. Homer as Bigfoot is iconic, but that's about it.
I mean, honestly, the camping vignettes in "The Call of the Simpsons" just feel so cartoony. It's clear the show was still trying to find its voice, so we get episodes with a lot of over-the-top silliness, followed by episodes that are entirely too plot-heavy. Starting "The Telltale Head" in medias res is an interesting move in theory, but it doesn't really pan out. The writers must have been trying a bunch of different things, to varying degrees of success. Meanwhile I'm losing focus and once again questioning my life choices.
2 p.m.-3 p.m.: "Life on the Fast Lane," "Homer's Night Out"
Two episodes in a row about marital infidelity is a lot, you guys. But it's actually kind of refreshing to see Homer and Marge struggling with their marriage — it underlines the fact that The Simpsons isn't your standard cartoon. And in terms of temptations, it helps that Jacques is voiced, again, by the incomparable Albert Brooks, who ad-libbed the episode's funniest lines. I am less sold on Princess Kashmir. Maybe I'd feel differently if Albert Brooks voiced her.
Anyway, I'm very tired even though it's only early afternoon, which is not a good sign. I appreciate the lessons about appreciating what you have and the importance of respecting women, but the lack of B-plots means we're spending an awful lot of time on single-episode characters. Not that I wouldn't watch an entire series about Jacques. I'm just saying.
3 p.m.-4 p.m.: "The Crepes of Wrath," "Krusty Gets Busted"
Good news, Season 1 is starting to feel more like The Simpsons with these two episodes. In "The Crepes of Wrath," we get to see the show take on another culture, before that became a common trope. The line "So basically I met one nice French person" is perfect. Then there's "Krusty Gets Busted," which introduces us to Sideshow Bob, brilliantly voiced by Kelsey Grammer, and has Bart and Lisa working together to solve a mystery. It's great.
But I'm starting to realize how hungry I am, and it's actually super distracting. It's easy to forget how many doughnuts are consumed on this show. Do you know how many doughnuts I have? Zero doughnuts. I have zero. And I'm thinking about how much I wish I were eating or taking a nap. At the end of "Krusty Gets Busted," Bart goes to sleep under his Krusty blanket, and I wish I had a Krusty blanket. Mostly I wish I could close my eyes, because they are very, very tired.
4 p.m.-5 p.m.: "Some Enchanted Evening," "Bart Gets an 'F'"
We're approaching the end of Season 1. Finally. As a season finale, "Some Enchanted Evening" has some great moments, including Penny Marshall's terrifying performance as Ms. Botz, and Homer being genuinely sweet to Marge instead of a total jackass. But the real thrill is seeing how much The Simpsons changed between seasons. The show is suddenly sharper and cleaner to look at. It's... so beautiful.
Still a lot of doughnuts, though, and now they're more accurately rendered. I ordered pizza, because apparently you can't order doughnuts. Apparently. Anyway, even the Season 2 animation needs some work. Barney as a blond looks especially jaundiced. (I know they're all yellow. He just looks extra yellow.) Also, FXX is still airing the same commercials. I have seen so many promos for The League that I never want to watch The League again. And I like The League! I've lost all sense of time and can't believe it's 5 p.m. Whatever. Pizza is here.
5 p.m.-6 p.m.: "Simpson and Delilah," "Treehouse of Horror"
Confession: I ate too much of the pizza. Now I'm going to be hungry later. This is not relevant to The Simpsons, but since you're taking this journey with me, you deserve to know. And what a journey it's turning out to be! "Simpson and Delilah" has Homer receiving his first same-sex kiss from Karl, played by Harvey Fierstein, naturally. The episode still feels a little unfair to bald people, but there's something truly special about seeing Homer with hair. His joy is infectious!
More importantly, we've arrived at the first "Treehouse of Horror" episode. It's pretty standard: a haunted house story (heavily inspired by The Amityville Horror) and an alien abduction story (featuring the first appearances of Kang and Kodos!). But you have to love the audacity of devoting an entire segment to "The Raven," with all the dialogue provided by Edgar Allan Poe. That is ballsy and cool. I've stopped worrying about the lack of pizza in my future.
6 p.m.-7 p.m.: "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish," "Dancin' Homer"
Iconic line alert: "I'm Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?" But onto the first episode of the hour, which is really the first political parody The Simpsons did. (The first of many, of course.) My one real complaint is that Homer whines about plain cake doughnuts at work, and honestly, I love plain cake doughnuts. I would kill for plain cake doughnuts. Holy shit, I have so many more hours to go. I love "Dancin' Homer," and I still want this to end.
I will say that one cool thing about "Dancin' Homer" is that it's another story told after the fact, but it works a lot better than "The Telltale Head." Also, it's nice to see Homer's drunken obnoxiousness being used to his advantage. Oh, and I'd be remiss to not mention the "Capital City" song, which reinvigorated me. Leave it to Tony Bennett to get me back into the spirit of this marathon. It's all going to be OK. Maybe I can even find someone to bring me doughnuts.
7 p.m.-8 p.m.: "Dead Putting Society," "Bart vs. Thanksgiving"
Literally just remembered that Maude Flanders is alive. What a pleasant surprise. Bittersweet, really. While it's odd how angry Ned gets in "Dead Putting Society," it's also kind of nice to see him humanized. He has flaws after all! (Flaws that will be erased in subsequent episodes. Just go with it.) I also really like mini-golf but find it intensely stressful, so I appreciate the competition at the heart of this episode.
"Bart vs. Thanksgiving," on the other hand, is almost unbearable. Not because it's a bad episode, but because I get seriously upset every time Bart destroys Lisa's gorgeous feminist cornucopia. And Bart is such a remorseless dick about it! Bonus points for Lisa's poem, which references "Howl" because Simpsons fans love Ginsberg. I don't know, guys. I'm feeling both overly invested emotionally and completely numb. I'm not even halfway through my self-imposed 24 hours, and I don't understand how that's possible.
8 p.m.-9 p.m.: "Bart the Daredevil," "Itchy and Scratchy and Marge"
Another iconic line: "Oh, cruel fate, why do you mock me?" Think about all of the Simpsons lines you quote without even realizing they come from The Simpsons. (That's what I'm thinking about, to avoid eating the rest of the pizza in the fridge.) "Bart the Daredevil" isn't my favorite episode, but Homer's fall down the Springfield Gorge is actually genius. I laugh every time he falls for the second time. It's so cartoonish — but then he ends up all broken and bloody, so, hey, realism!
Speaking of cartoons, I'm not really sure what point the show was trying to make about cartoon violence in "Itchy and Scratchy and Marge," except maybe that all censorship is bad? Which feels a little reductive. On a completely unrelated note, is Mr. Largo supposed to be gay? Because if so, that stereotypical "gay voice" is kind of offensive. And if not, I guess I'm a homophobe. Fuck it, I'm finishing the pizza.
9 p.m.-10 p.m.: "Bart Gets Hit by a Car," "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish"
Two episodes in a row with members of the Simpson family in mortal peril! Eh, Bart is basically fine. But there's something truly upsetting about the latter episode, in which I become convinced Homer is actually going to die every time I watch the episode. I don't know what it is! I just get so stressed out he's not going to finish crossing everything off his bucket list (note: he never calls it that, because this was a pre-bucket list time) and it makes me very anxious. But the "So You're Going to Die" pamphlet is hilarious.
My anxiety could also have something to do with the fact that we're nearing the halfway point and I feel like I've never watched this much TV in my life, even though I know that's not true. I'm still having a lot of trouble focusing, but I perk up whenever an important character is introduced (the late, great Phil Hartman as Lionel Hutz!) or another classic line is uttered ("Ow, quit it"). But seriously, what if Homer had died. WHAT IF.
10 p.m.-11 p.m.: "The Way We Was," "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment"
I am so tired and over this, but damned if "The Way We Was" didn't make my heart swell. The Simpsons is one of the rare sitcoms that does flashback episodes right. (Maybe it helps that it's animated, so we don't have to see 40-year-olds playing high school students.) But seriously, everything about this episode is amazing, from Marge's hair (is it bad that I like it more down?) to the use of "Close to You" to Jon Lovitz as Artie Ziff. I'm so thankful for an episode I love this much because otherwise I might be calling the marathon quits. I'm honestly feeling sad that my prom theme wasn't "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
Still riding high, I approached "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" with a lot of optimism. It's not nearly as good as the episode preceding it. I guess what bothers me the most is that Lisa's moral crusade is sparked by an obsession with Hell, which feels really out of character. I am all about Lisa and Marge taking various stands, but doing so in the name of religion is, frankly, annoying. And the whole thing is just heavy-handed. See, now I'm sleepy and hungry again. I found an ancient popsicle in the freezer. It's not a doughnut.
11 p.m.-12 a.m.: "Principal Charming," "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"
I'm reluctant to admit this, but I keep dozing off. Just for a few seconds at a time, but I may have to prop my eyes open Clockwork Orange-style if this continues. Luckily, "Principal Charming" is a lot of fun and includes one of my favorite lines: "Isn't it nice we hate the same things?" Of course, because I'm so sleepy, I'm starting to feel maudlin, and I'm overrelating to Selma's pain more than I'd like to admit. She just wants to be loved, OK? Also, would Skinner have been able to tell the difference if they'd switched the twins? I doubt it.
I'm also very sympathetic toward Homer in "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Like, yes, his car is tremendously stupid, but it's not his fault that Herb was dumb enough to put him in charge. And he tried! I would drive your awful car, Homer. I like ugly, useless things. Maybe it's the late hour and the fact that I've been watching The Simpsons all day, but I basically see Herb as a villain here. Not even the voice talents of Danny DeVito can redeem him for me.
12 a.m.-1 a.m.: "Bart's Dog Gets an 'F'," "Old Money"
Oh, God. It's now Friday. I literally spent my entire Thursday watching The Simpsons. I suddenly feel very depressed. And yet, I must soldier on. I'm not a big fan of Santa's Little Helper-centric episodes, though. I love dogs, but he's really pretty useless. (Sorry, buddy.) And that's followed by a Grandpa-centric episode, which, again, no thanks. I will say that I love the character design for Bea. Her lazy eye is a truly inspired touch.
But ugh, this was a rough hour. Lisa with mumps basically looks the way I feel. I'm finding myself complaining about everything, like how contrived it is that the Simpsons keep procuring expensive and priceless items for Santa's Little Helper to destroy, or the fact that Bea dies of a broken heart. (I looked it up, and that almost never happens.) Oh, and I can't believe Dr. Marvin Monroe is still a character. His voice is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. (It's possible I'm exaggerating, but that's how I feel right now.)
1 a.m.-2 a.m.: "Brush With Greatness," "Lisa's Substitute"
We are fast approaching one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons ever, and all I can think about is my bed. The things I do for my art. Anyway, before that is "Brush With Greatness," which I enjoy mostly for the Ringo cameo. Fact: For a long time, Ringo was my favorite Beatle just because of this episode of The Simpsons. Also I was a child with only a vague conception of who the Beatles were. This episode also gives us more Jon Lovitz and a reference to Mr. Burns' tiny penis. It's a lot.
But let's talk about what we're really all here for, "Lisa's Substitute." Mr. Bergstrom is the single greatest one-off character The Simpsons has ever given us. This episode always tugs at my heartstrings, and I'm kind of perpetually on the verge of tears right now because it's past my bedtime and I never got a doughnut. (I don't normally talk about doughnuts this much! Something is broken inside me.) Anyway, the episode does not disappoint. I thought my eyes had stopped working, but they hadn't. As soon as Mr. Bergstrom hands Lisa the note that says "You are Lisa Simpson," I manage to eke out a couple tears. The salty water hits my tongue and makes me crave soup. (I'm so sorry.)
2 a.m.-3 a.m.: "The War of the Simpsons," "Three Men and a Comic Book"
I'd kind of forgotten all about "The War of the Simpsons," which features Homer at his absolute worst. It's kind of weird that with all the talk of him making an ass of himself, no one ever mentions the fact that he's clearly a serious alcoholic. I guess that's just kind of understood? I'll admit that I zoned out for much of "Three Men and a Comic Book," but I have a newfound appreciation for Mrs. Glick, who is so much weirder than I remember. I mean, she's totally Miss Havisham, right?
Seriously, though, I don't know how much longer I can go on. I feel less coherent than drunk Homer dancing in a lampshade, and my notes reflect that. Everything is fuzzy, to the extent that watching another seven hours of this feels like a physical impossibility. We'll see, though. These episodes are especially scattered, so maybe that's why my frazzled mind is having such a hard time processing what's going on.
3 a.m.-4 a.m.: "Blood Feud," "Stark Raving Dad"
Guys, I'm feeling reinvigorated! Maybe it's the fact that we're entering Season 3, maybe it's Michael Jackson appearing as not-Michael Jackson, but I'm suddenly excited about finishing out this marathon. It's going to happen. I'm going to get through it. "Blood Feud" isn't terribly memorable — I can definitely relate to Homer chewing on his pillow, because hungry — but "Stark Raving Dad" is a classic. I forgot that we got to hear "Ben." And how can you not love "Happy Birthday, Lisa"? (Trick question. You cannot.)
We'll see how long this good mood lasts. My brain is barely functioning at this point. Also, "Stark Raving Dad" is, I believe, the first appearance of the pink-frosted doughnut, and I am dangerously tempted to run over to 7-11 to buy several of them. But that would be cheating. Oh, at one point, the Emergency Alert System started screeching, and when The Simpsons came back, it was Marvin Monroe talking, and I missed the screeching. Really.
4 a.m.-5 a.m.: "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington," "When Flanders Failed"
Continuity error: Marge flies in this episode without any problem, but we later learn she has an intense fear of flying. That's as much as I wrote in my notes before I passed out.
Yes, I fell asleep. I opened my eyes long enough to see a good 30 seconds of "When Flanders Failed," though. You're welcome.
5 a.m.-6 a.m.: "Bart the Murderer," "Homer Defined"
I fully woke up during "Bart the Murderer," in time to see Neil Patrick Harris as Bart in the TV movie within the episode. I also got a snippet of Joe Mantegna's brilliant performance as Fat Tony. And then I fell asleep again. I didn't even try to fight it this time. But I did leave the TV on so I could absorb the rest of the marathon via osmosis. I realize that doesn't make a lot of sense, but you try thinking logically after watching 20 hours of The Simpsons.
Here are my final thoughts before I embark on a long-awaited nap: The Simpsons is smart and wonderful in a way that no other show can match. I can't think of any other series I could watch for this long and not get sick of. That's right — as thoroughly as the marathon destroyed me, I still plan on watching it (with breaks!) all weekend. It's just that good. Even the lesser episodes are worth revisiting. Just make sure you're well rested beforehand. And, for God's sake, have at least a dozen doughnuts on hand.
An earlier version of this post misstated the total number of episodes of The Simpsons. There are 552, not 522.