A Brief History
On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on American television with their first episode, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Not only does The Simpsons rank as probably the greatest animated television show of all time, it is also the longest running scripted primetime television series in TV history. Today we take a look at what we consider the 5 greatest animated television series of all time. As always, feel free to disagree with those that we have chosen and tell us which shows we should not have picked and what shows we have overlooked. (Sorry, Looney Tunes, we are talking about television shows here, and much of the best of Looney Tunes came before they appeared on TV. We are also not considering holiday specials and the like. Some serious contenders for inclusion on such a list: Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bugs Bunny, SpongeBob SquarePants, Futurama, Rick & Morty, The Jetsons, and too many others to list.)
Note: We easily could have included The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (also known by other titles), which ran from 1959 to 1964, with reruns for many years. The show featured more than just the main characters and their television “universe,” as it had other segments such as Dudley Do-right, Fractured Fairy Tales, and Peabody’s Improbable History. Not only did Rocky and Bullwinkle get their own feature length film, so did Dudley Do-right and Mr. Peabody. Our excuse for not including this incredibly entertaining cartoon show is that we decided to go with shows that were more focused on the main story line.
The Simpsons, 1989-Present.
The incredible longevity of this cartoon family stretching over 30 seasons and almost 700 episodes is totally without precedent, making the show an icon of Americana. The show captures all that is funny about American life, in a typical family but also including all those various other characters that represent everyone outside a conventional nuclear family. It is hard, very hard, to imagine any future cartoon show having the impact on American television audiences that The Simpsons has had. A quick internet search will show you numerous articles about the profound impact of this television masterpiece.
South Park, 1997-Present.
These “potty mouthed” elementary schoolers take on celebrities and the most divisive of social issues without hesitation, almost remarkably so. Although the show has itself become iconic, its creators have seen fit to honor The Simpsons with a nod to the ground breaking and cultural impact nature of that show by having their own episode titled, “The Simpsons Already Did It” (Episode 7, Season 6). It is exactly their equal opportunity irreverence toward all races, creeds, colors, nationalities, political parties, and every other aspect of human nature that makes this show so great. The author’s favorite episode? “I Should Never Have Gone Ziplining.” Making a character out of a turd (Mr. Hanky, the Christmas Poo) and a towel (Towlie) is testament to the ability of Trey Parker and Matt Stone to do virtually anything and make it seem normal.
Family Guy, 1999-Present.
Peter Griffin (the main character) and his family have become part of the American family just as the Flintstones, The Simpsons, and the Cosby Show families became. (Throw in Ozzie and Harriet and others from a previous era.) Using the familiar comedy vehicle of the patriarch of the family being a kind of blustering buffoon (Flintstones, The Simpsons, Honeymooners, All in the Family, etc) may not seem all that original, but television (and now movie) genius Seth McFarlane makes it work and then some. Any 20 year Prime Time success is darn well worthy of note and bound to have made a profound impact on the American psyche. Like South Park, Family Guy goes into controversial territory unafraid and unapologetic. To be able to take a sexual predator and make him a loveable main character and to feature a relentless pedophile without getting banned or boycotted it television genius, for sure. The fact that McFarlane provides the voices for so many of the main characters is likewise remarkable. If we had only one animated television show to pick, this would be the one.
The Flintstones, 1960-1966.
Of course, Creationists tell us that people and dinosaurs co-existed, so this show may be considered a documentary or historical fiction by some. For the rest of us, it is a direct rip off from the Honeymooners live action sit com, but that is ok. Oh, and they did stuff like sell cigarettes in commercials featuring Fred and Barney, but that was then (know what I mean?). Also, another reflection of the times (the early 1960’s, not the prehistoric times) was the notable absence of people of color. In spite of its glaring deficits, The Flintstones was the first ever animated Prime Time television show and was touted as being for adults. Adults loved it, but so did kids. This cartoon also spawned a live action feature film The Flintstones (1994) and a prequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000). The Flintstones makes the list for paving the way for those other iconic Prime Time cartoons we have been watching now for decades.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force, 2001-2015.
If you are unfamiliar with this animated series, get with the 21st Century and start binge watching reruns. The show is incredibly and deliciously different and features 2 separate sets of anti-hero aliens for our heroes to contend with. To think that a portion of French-fried potatoes, a milkshake and a wad of meat could be so darn funny is an amazing thing. The show also features one of the greatest all-time theme songs that actually has words. Kind of hard to describe here, so please watch it and give it time to grow on you. Click this link to take a look at a listing of the episodes to get an idea of the wacky nature of the show. If nothing else, the episode that features “The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future,” featuring the line, “Thousands of years ago, before the dawn of man as we knew him, there was Sir Santa of Claus: an ape-like creature making crude and pointless toys out of dino-bones and his own waste, hurling them at chimp-like creatures with crinkled hands regardless of how they behaved the previous year. These so-called “toys” were buried as witches, and defecated upon, and hurled at predators who were awoken by the searing grunts of the children. It wasn’t a holly jolly Christmas that year; for many were killed!”–The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past. If this passage does not sell you on the show, you are beyond redemption!
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your pick for the greatest television animated series? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Beck, Jerry. The Flintstones: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic. Running Press, 2011.
Groening, Matt. Simpsons Comics Colossal Compendium Volume 1. Harper Design, 2013.
Price, Roger and Leonard Stern. Family Guy Mad Libs. Mad Libs, 2007.
Weinstock, Jeffrey. Taking South Park Seriously. SUNY Press, 2008.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Rastrojo (D•ES) of The Simpsons star in Hollywood Walk of Fame, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.