In the case of must-watch Simpsons materials, hardly ever do the unique shorts from The Tracey Ullman Present come to thoughts. For the unaware, The Simpsons, presently getting into its 467th season on Fox, began as a collection of shorts on the sketch comedy collection that ran from 1987 to 1989. The shorts often lasted between 60 and 90 seconds and, at the least of their first yr or so, have been break up up by particular person gags all through an Ullman Present episode. However even these with a passing information of the shorts could not know that 48(!) of them have been produced earlier than The Simpsons began their run because the longest scripted primetime present in tv historical past.
Maybe much more stunning is that not one of the shorts — other than 12 included on a collection VHS tapes in 1997 and some random clips in a handful of episodes — have ever been formally launched. Though Matt Groening introduced in 2006 that they'd lastly see the sunshine of day, nothing got here of it. He doesn’t appear to carry them in that top of regard both, stating that the standard of the then comparatively new cellular video format was “crummy sufficient to do these primitive episodes the justice they deserve.”
So, if even The Simpsons creator doesn’t look after them, are any of the Tracey Ullman Present shorts any good?
Traditionally talking, completely. The very fact is, when watching them, you’re witnessing The Simpsons in its complete infancy. There have been no guidelines, no writing workers (other than Groening himself) and a handful of animators and voice actors attempting to carry Groening’s world to life. Folks examine the shorts to what the present is now and react very similar to Troy McClure did when seeing one on “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular.”
Nevertheless it’s necessary to notice that there was nothing like them on primetime tv in 1987, and that it took a number of years for the present to succeed in the heights it was destined for. All of which is to say, should you don’t have the time (or fortitude) to make it via all 48 shorts — which, completely comprehensible — listed below are the 5 that you just completely ought to try…
First Aired: April 19, 1987
This was the primary quick to air. As Homer places Bart to mattress, Bart asks, “Dad, what's the thoughts? Is it only a system of impulses, or is it one thing tangible?” (I at all times thought it fascinating that Bart’s first line ever displays a way more clever character than he’d grow to be.) Homer responds with a dad joke, “Calm down. What's thoughts? Irrespective of. What's matter? Nevermind.”
In the meantime, Marge inadvertently crops nightmarish ideas of bedbugs and a crib free-falling from a treetop in Lisa’s and Maggie’s heads when tucking them in. This results in the children collectively working to sleep of their mother and father’ mattress. General, it’s an enthralling piece of enterprise, and a candy debut for the household.
Animation for “Good Evening” started on March 23, 1987, lower than a month earlier than it ran. Veteran animation director David Silverman, who helped animate all of the Tracey Ullman shorts and nonetheless works on the present to at the present time, recalled on Twitter, “We thought we have been making a deadline, not historical past.”
As for the remainder of the primary season, the shorts are hit-or-miss, primarily as a result of Groening and the animation workers have been pumping out materials as rapidly as attainable to hit these aforementioned deadlines. Wes Archer, the legendary animation director who labored on the shorts early in his profession, advised VICE in 2022, “We had one week to animate it. Very low price range. There was no artwork director. A whole lot of it was simply form of drawing out stuff and seeing what sticks.”
First Aired: October 4, 1987
9 episodes in, this quick was the viewers’s first foray outdoors of the Simpson dwelling — seeing the household attend the funeral of Previous Uncle Hubert Simpson. True to character, Bart is worked up to see a lifeless physique however promptly faints when recognizing the corpse within the open casket. He then causes a scene when he tries to hurry the slow-moving pallbearers alongside. Though Bart is the one youngster we witness appearing poorly, Homer and Marge declare, “That is completely the final funeral we ever take you youngsters to.”
“The Funeral” options the primary bounce in animation high quality. As Archer defined to VICE, “As (Groening’s) drawings acquired sloppier and sloppier, he saved saying, ‘You guys draw higher than me. Draw the way in which, you realize, you need it to look.’” Although nonetheless tough and off-model, the characters are at the least a step nearer to resembling their extra recognizable selves. In the meantime, the household lastly leaving the home and fascinating with outsiders is a breath of recent air, particularly because it’s topped off with the darkish humor of a funeral setting.
First Aired: February 14, 1988
The Simpsons are on their technique to church, however the youngsters proclaim that they’re pagans to get out of going. Homer will get a flat tire, and the children run off, totally committing to their concept of a pagan life-style by scantily cladding themselves in leaves. After Homer offers chase, they sarcastically discover sanctuary on the church.
This one is a blast and left me eager to see extra of the children’ pagan adventures. There are a number of important steps ahead right here, too — each in animation and total character improvement. It options the primary Archer tornado mouth, a favourite of Simpsons followers. Bart additionally calls Homer by his first identify (as a substitute of “dad”), whereas Homer unleashes, “Why these little!” for the primary time when the children reveal their pagan selves. It debuts Homer’s animation run-cycle as effectively, which might be modeled and re-used usually within the collection.
“Through the second yr, we form of arrived at a extra constant look,” Archer advised VICE. When discussing the second season, manufacturing assistant Joe Russo II added, “I keep in mind listening to folks calling Fox to search out out at what level throughout The Tracey Ullman Present the Simpsons (have been) going to be on so they might tune in throughout that point solely. And that’s once I assume folks began to understand there’s one thing occurring right here that’s larger than possibly we perceive.”
First Aired: March 19, 1989
The plot is straightforward sufficient: Homer forces Bart to take a shower, resulting in him fantasizing about being an oceanographer and flooding the lavatory. Most followers have in all probability seen this quick, because it was one of many 5 featured prominently within the aforementioned “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular.”
The characters are actually on mannequin right here and will simply move as animation from the collection’ first season. Silverman even revealed on Twitter that they “began engaged on the collection the next month” after this aired. The story flows effectively, and it’s exceptional that it was produced by the identical two animators who labored on the primary quick, showcasing how a lot Silverman and Archer grew as animators over simply a few years.
‘Maggie in Peril: Chapter One’ and ‘Maggie in Peril: The Thrilling Conclusion’
First Aired: April 30, 1989 and Could 7, 1989
This two-parter was basically a remake of the fourth quick, “Babysitting Maggie,” the place Bart and Lisa ignore their sister whereas babysitting, resulting in her stepping into mischief. Nonetheless, as a substitute of falling down the steps and getting electrocuted round the home, this time the youngest Simpson units off for a day in town.
Though this isn’t the primary Maggie-centered episode, it's her first full-fledged journey. Due to the shortage of dialogue, Groening doubtless wrote it as a single quick, nevertheless it turned so concerned that Archer and Silverman needed to break up it into two installments airing over consecutive weeks. Which, in hindsight, coincidentally displays how the shorts have been actually changing into too massive for The Tracey Ullman Present to include.