The Simpsons have been around since the late 80’s when the Tracy Ullman Show presented them as bumpers (shorts). The shorts became so popular, they gave them a half an hour Christmas episode which then led to a full blown season and television history. Over the years, the Simpsons have introduced a cadre of colorful (pun intended) characters. Here is a list of the characters that have gone through some changes over the years.
1. Milhouse Van Houten
Millhouse came from a time when the Simpsons was really beginning its, ‘let’s pimp out our likeness on any and everything we can lay eyes on.” I mean, if it CAN have the Simpson’s likeness on it, it SHOULD have the Simpson’s likeness on it. It was the very first Butter Finger commercial, and they needed another kid to be envious of the almighty, “Butterfinger” food group.
As the show progressed they realized they needed Bart to have a sidekick (he was Bartman after all), so rather than go through the hassle of creating a new character, Matt Groening and company went back to the well, resurrected this little nose miner, slapped the middle name of a former president on him and the rest is nerd history. They even got the same actress to voice him. That’s right, actress. Behind every famous child cartoon character is a great woman trying to get a real acting job. Then again, a casting call for “Bart Simpson’s Bitch” may be a sought after roll.
2. Waylon Smithers
Waylon Smithers has gone through the entirety of the Simpson’s relatively unscathed. With the exception of an origin story telling us how he came to be under Mr. Burns thumb…ahem…employ, his status quo generally stays unfucked with-unless you count the time that he was black. Yes it’s true, in Smithers’ initial appearance, there was a mess up during the animation process and they used the wrong color for the character. Fearing racial backlash, producers quickly had him changed to the ‘correct’ color from then on.
Now, here’s my take on it. There is a massive debate currently going on in the comic/movie universes that basically goes along the lines of, whatever race they are in the comics is the race they should be represented in the movies. I fall on the side of keeping race originality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for better roles for black actors and actresses (and all races really) but I’m not sure that giving them, ‘white man’s sloppy seconds’ is the way to go. At any rate, it seems to me that changing Smithers back to a white character is more racist than changing him back. After all, Smithers is high on the corporate ladder, he’s competent, organized and resourceful. Does he fuck up? Of course he does, it’s the Simpsons, but Smithers is hardly the only person who has an asshole boss.
3. Gil Gunderson
Gil is one of my favorite characters as he is a reference to one of my favorite actors from my favorite movies. He was based on Jack Lemmon’s role from ‘Glengarry Glen Ross. The down on his luck salesman, Gil is always trying to make ends meet by doing any job that will have him. He stayed in the real estate game for a couple of decades by selling himself his own house repeatedly which worked out fine until the house was destroyed. Having no leads to see, Gil was fired and started a domino effect, propelling Gil down the path of random sales jobs and into everyone’s hearts.
I added Gil to this list as he is one of the few parody characters to have sustained such longevity in the show being a parody. Sure characters like Bumblebee man and Fat Tony who are stereotypical characters have lasted the test of time, but old’ Gil is based on a specific character. He has taken his one note and turned it into a series of one notes for years. And for that he is to be saluted. He may always be at the bottom in the show, but Gil, to me…you’ll always be tops.
Duffman has an interesting origin in the Simpson as he is actually played by different ‘People’. He is a parody of corporate mascots such as Ronald Mcdonald who have maintained the same persona over the years but have been played by different actors. They even reference a few of them dying, hell, one of them died in a balloon but we are assured, ‘there were several Duffmen working that day.
One of my favorite Duffmen was the corporate lackey to Howard K. Duff VIII (no really). He also owned the Springfield Isotopes and was planning to move the team to Albuquerque. Apparently he had watched Major League over the weekend. At any rate, Duffman turns on his corporate overlord ala Darth Vader and throws him into the crowd in the stadium. It was the first shot at actual character development and it worked.