The Simpsons has always had queer characters, but it’s fair to say that it didn’t always treat its LGBTQ characters in the best way–to say the least. They were either mocked by other characters for being queer or had their sexual orientation treated ambiguously. Lest we forget, it took a whopping sixteen seasons for Patty to officially come out. But now we can see how much the show actually changed its approach on queer characters throughout its three-decade run. Drew Mackie, who hosts the podcast Gayest Episode Ever on LGBTQ-focused episodes of classic sitcoms, made a video documenting every single LGBTQ joke across 31 seasons of the animated series.
The 2-hour long video begins showing the very first Smithers gay joke and goes on to chronicle the bad (lots of awful trans jokes) before finally getting to the good. But it takes nearly 20 seasons for the jokes to stop framing gayness as a joke in and of itself and begin presenting queer relationships just as they would any other character’s. One episode that Mackie added commentary to on the video and has discussed on Gayest Episode Ever is “Livin’ La Pura Vida” from season 31. Patty and her new girlfriend Evelyn (voiced by Fortune Feimster) join Homer and Marge on vacation, but the trip makes Patty realize that Evelyn is a Homer.
Here’s what Mackie wrote about what he found through making this supercut:
The show has had different eras in which LGBT humor functions differently. Again, that might seem obvious, but to me it was interesting to see how the show tracked societal attitudes toward LGBT people: from occasional references in early seasons because gay content was still taboo on broadcast TV to sometimes the majority of a given season having at least one LGBT joke per episode. As of the posting of this video, it’s rarer for an episode to make a one-off LGBT joke, either because it’s become more normalized for the people who make the show or because gay jokes are just told less often, generally speaking. It is worth pointing out, however, that the two most recent seasons of the show contain four separate episodes that a viewer might consider queer episodes: “Mad About the Toy,” “Werking Mom,” “Marge the Lumberjill” and “Livin’ La Pura Vida.” That’s a lot, and the LGBT humor featured in these episodes is more central to the plot—they’re tied to an LGBT character who’s part of the story.
He also points out that, as the video shows, The Simpsons has made some progress with its gay characters as of late—particularly in Smithers and Patty’s storylines—but there’s still a lot of improvement to be made in its portrayal of trans characters.
Regarding the T in LGBT, there’s a lot more that can be improved. The show may have progressed with how it uses gay and lesbian characters—Smithers and Patty in particular—but it hasn’t done much to represent transgender characters. Gayest Episode Ever looks forward to bringing more guests in for future episodes to discuss how successful the show’s attempts at trans jokes have been.
But one thing definitely hasn’t changed in 31 seasons: Smithers absolutely deserves better than Burns.
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