The family that broke taboos

„The Simpsons“ first aired as a stand-alone show in 1989 and is the longest-running animated sitcom of all time. There are more than 760 episodes, with more to come in 2024 and 2025. The yellow family of five are part of a multi-billion dollar franchise that has inspired generations of humorists and animated series.  

In this Learning Nugget, learn how „The Simpsons“ got started and some of the strangest and most interesting differences in different countries‘ adaptations of it. 

A winning idea from a show that failed 

In 1987, producers working on a U.S. sketch comedy program called The Tracey Ullman Show asked an up-and-coming comic strip writer named Matt Groening if he’d create short animations for the program. 

They wanted Groening to adapt a popular strip he was publishing at the time called „Life in Hell.“ But when Groening realized he’d have to give up the intellectual property rights to his characters and stories, he opted to create new characters instead. 

He came up with a family that was the opposite of most others on TV at that time. The brother and sister, Bart and Lisa, fought constantly and ignored or teased their baby sister, Maggie. The dad, Homer, was bumbling and quickly irritated. The mother, Marge, tried to make everyone behave like a perfect TV family but failed at each attempt

While The Tracey Ullman Show didn’t do well, Groening’s cartoon shorts were among its most popular segments. The FOX network that Ullman’s show aired on gave „The Simpsons“ a chance to fill a 30-minute time slot, and the show’s dark humor, satire, and willingness to push boundaries quickly found a huge audience.  


International differences 

The popularity of „The Simpsons“ in the U.S.A. – over 13 million households watched it during its first season – quickly intrigued other markets. It has appeared on TV channels in over 70 countries, and these are some of the most interesting international differences:  


„The Simpsons“ in Dortmund 

If you’re interested in „The Simpsons“ and not too far from Dortmund, the art and and creativity center Dortmunder U has an exhibition on them that will run until October 27, 2024. It includes original sketches, scripts, storyboards, and much more.  



break taboos – Tabus brechen

air sth. – senden, ausstrahlen

animated sitcom – Zeichentrick Comedyserie

stand-alone show – eigentständige Show

family of five – fünfköpfige Familie

strange – seltsam, merkwürdig

fail – scheitern zu

up-and-coming comic strip writer – Nachwuchsschriftsteller für Comics

strip – Streifen

intellectual property rights –  Recht des geistigen Eigentums

opt – optieren

opposite of – Gegenteil von

fight – kämpfen

tease – necken, ärgern

bumbling – unbeholfen, tollpatschig

quickly irritated – schnell verärgert

at each attempt – bei jedem Versuch

push boundaries – Grenzen verschieben, überwinden

huge audience – riesiges Publikum

intrigue – faszinieren

dough – Teig

crap – Mist

tied closely to Islam – eng an den Islam geknüpft sein

forbid – verbieten

delete – streichen

though – obwohl

mosque – Moschee

Dortmunder U has an exhibition on them – Die Dortmunder U stellt die Simpsons gerade aus

sketches – Zeichnungen

script – Drehbuch

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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