Homer Simpson, 38
September 3, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

How many birthdays/Christmases/summers have occured on The Simpsons? I know Bart and Lisa would be in their twenties now in real time, but how old 'should' they be in show time?

I know with Family Guy there's been some time development - Stewie going to nursery and Meg and Chris aging - but in ten years of watching The Simpsons, the characters have been in suspended animation no matter what other things are updated.
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: NB there are some types of episodes I don't like - most Silent Bob, most Treehouse of Horror, and almost all the ones where they go to a different country - and terrestrial here repeats old episodes, so there will be people better poised to answer this than I.
posted by mippy at 2:27 PM on September 3, 2010

A lot of cartoons reset the time every season so they can reuse story lines if need be.

For instance, in the comic strip Fox Trot, every year the oldest boy is always a junior, the sister is always starting 9th grade, and the youngest boy is always a 5th grader. They have birthdays during the year and finish school at the end of it, but every summer the timeline silently turns back.

I have always assumed this is what goes on in The Simpsons; that no matter how many birthdays they celebrate, by the next season it's like it never happened. At least, that's the case most of the time. I'm really interested to see now if anyone can pick out specific examples where they've broken this rule.
posted by phunniemee at 2:29 PM on September 3, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, see, we don't really get The Simpsons as 'seasons' over here - they just show episodes as they get the rights and old ones get mixed in - but that makes sense. Unlike live-people sitcoms where the actors visibly age, making it difficult to ignore (The Cosby Show, iirc, turned this to their advantage)
posted by mippy at 2:37 PM on September 3, 2010

Well, one thing I'd point out is that despite a static sense of age or season, there ARE some characters who have actually died on the show (Marvin Monroe, who has a gravestone and a Memorial Hospital named after him, as well as Maude Flanders), as opposed to simply going away (like Lionel Hutz or Troy McClure, both characters of the late Phil Hartman).
posted by Madamina at 2:51 PM on September 3, 2010

Arguably you could count the Christmas episodes. Or the Halloween episodes. But to your point they might not be considered canon.
posted by carlh at 2:56 PM on September 3, 2010

As I recall, Frank Grimes rattles off a list of the various crazy things that have happened to Homer in prior seasons. Then Homer mentions some, as well.

Sure, there are plenty of things like that (like when Lisa became a vegetarian, for instance), where they reference things that happen in past seasons, but no one ever ages (as far as I know). There was that time Lisa was promoted a grade and Bart was held back (so they were both in 3rd), but again, that lasted only one episode.
posted by phunniemee at 3:00 PM on September 3, 2010

Bart and Lisa would actually be in their 30s if the characters aged in real time.

I believe there are Halloween episodes every year, but the show is intentionally vague about time and dates, similar to how it is intentionally vague about the location of Springfield.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:11 PM on September 3, 2010

There's this wikipedia article that states they never age using a "floating timeline" but gives no attribution. I seem to recall an interview with Matt Groening where he states that this is his intention for the series. I will pop back in if I find it.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 4:08 PM on September 3, 2010

there ARE some characters who have actually died on the show

"Bleeding Gums" Murphy, too.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:25 PM on September 3, 2010

Homer: 54 (b. March 1956)
Marge: 53 (b. October 1956)
Bart: 31 (b. April 1979)
Lisa: 28 (b. September 1981)
Maggie: 23 (b. November 1986)
posted by sourwookie at 4:48 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The floating timeline makes sense, although I wish it didn't. Since the show has run so long, the flashbacks have even switched time periods. Early on, Homer and Marge's high school memories took place in the mid 70s, but the most recent one I heard of had them in high school in the early 90s, when Homer invented grunge. *shudder*
posted by yellowbinder at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A notable example I saw recently online was how the episode "Lisa's Wedding" explicitly set the date for 23-year-old Lisa's marriage for August 1, 2010. You can see the same kind of thing at work in the Simpsons' cousin show, Futurama, which recently sent it's non-aged cast to "Comic-Con 3010" despite clearly premiering on New Year's Eve 2999.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:49 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Of course, how can we apply our Julian calendar to a universe where the month of Smarch is present?
posted by Sallyfur at 7:26 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

So, the question is what is the maximum number of times have the Simpsons experienced a unique chronological event? That is, events that happen only once (or a known maximum number of times) a year: a character's birthday, start/end of the school year, Christmas, summer vacation, holidays, etc.? For example, if we've seen five birthday parties for Bart over 20 years of episodes, we can figure that a minimum of five years should have passed in-universe; by finding the unique incident with the highest number of occurrences we could deduce the 'age' of the Simpsons universe. Of course, the (somewhat horrific) mutability of the Simpsons timeline ensures that this approach would is nothing more than an academic exercise; if Bart has five different 10th birthday parties time works very differently in that universe.

In episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a magic xylophone or something?
posted by theclaw at 8:09 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lisa: Mom, these are at least two sizes two big!
Marge: Perfect, you'll grow into them!
Bart: When?
Marge: Ooh, you're both way overdue for a spurt.

-5F10, "The Last Temptation of Krust"
posted by mosk at 11:09 PM on September 3, 2010

I stopped watching back in the eleventh season, but as far as I can remember, every member of the family's had one birthday except Homer, and they all happened fairly early in the show's run.

-- Homer buys Marge a bowling ball with his name on it for her birthday in season one's "Life on the Fast Lane"
-- Homer's return from the mental institution with "Michael Jackson" in tow overshadows Lisa's birthday in the third season premiere, "Stark Raving Dad"
-- Homer gives Bart the "Superstar Celebrity Microphone" for his birthday later that season in "Radio Bart"
-- Homer eats the extra letters on Maggie's birthday cake in the fifth season's "Lady Bouvier's Lover"

The pattern is clear: Homer hasn't had a birthday episode because it wouldn't be funny to see him ruin his own party. Only everyone else's.

It occurs to me now that I know more about a fictional cartoon family than my own.
posted by EmGeeJay at 1:14 AM on September 4, 2010

I'm really interested to see now if anyone can pick out specific examples where they've broken this rule.

Maggie says her first word, but then goes back to not speaking.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:31 AM on September 4, 2010

Response by poster: I thought of this yesterday as I was watching season 20 last week - there was a Mardi Gras party and Marge spoke about it getting bigger every year, but I don't remember it happening in the show before. Most of the episodes are set at no particular time but there are odd ones that are more seasonal - I'm sure there's been at least one Valentine episode other than the one where Lisa gets a card from Ralph (I am TERRIBLE at remembering episode names, sorry...)
posted by mippy at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2010

There's a guide to all birthdays on the Simpsons (not just the family's) here.
posted by chihiro at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2010

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