Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Storytelling and The Simpsons

Right now I’m enjoying watching the Every Simpsons Ever cable TV ultra-marathon that will include all 552 episode which have appeared over the last 25 years. NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend has an article about it. There are three things can we learn about storytelling from The Simpsons

Say something new

For the opening of each episode Bart writes something different on the blackboard in the schoolroom, and the couch gag (where the whole family gathers in the living room) is new.

In Homer Defined he averts meltdowns at two nuclear plants just by dumb luck and gets his name in the dictionary.

In Lisa the Iconoclast two brand new words appeared, embiggen and cromulent. Sprinfield’s town motto is Jebediah Springfield’s statement that:

"A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

Don’t be afraid to tell stories on more than one level

In A Streetcar Named Marge there is a subplot where Maggie is sent to a strict day care center whose director confiscates all the pacifiers, and puts here alone in a play pen. Maggie retrieves the pacifiers from a locker in a sequence that can be enjoyed just as an elaborate sight gag. But, her solitary confinement quotes from Steve McQueen’s role in the World War II prisoner of war film The Great Escape (including the theme music).

One couch gag has the family in cowboy hats, and then the couch drops below the floor revealing they are above the clouds. Then it falls toward the ground. That’s funny as is, but also is a movie reference to the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the pilot, Major Kong, rides a hydrogen bomb like a bucking bronco.  

What should we avoid?

Don’t try to cram in too much information. Every 22-minute episode contains way more material than is in an 18-minute TED talk.

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