It is and isn't hard to believe the first episode of The Simpsons aired on December 17, 1989. While it's flabbergasting to think the show has been on the air for more than a quarter of a century, The Simpsons is such an American institution that it feels timeless. In returning to old episodes, you might find some jokes that make you grimace - there are plenty of offensive jokes on The Simpsons the show couldn't get away with in 2020.
Old episodes feature plenty of jokes you couldn't get away with today, and what many would consider outdated Simpsons jokes. There are also blatant sexual references, political jabs, and a blurring of the lines between adult and children's content that wouldn't fly in an increasingly divided programming system. Read on to see the Simpsons jokes that wouldn't work today.
Episode: "The Simpsons Guy" (Season 13, episode 1 of Family Guy, September 28, 2014)
The Joke: "The Simpsons Guy" is a Family Guy/The Simpsons crossover that aired as a Family Guy season premiere. During the episode, Bart shows Stewie the prank phone call routine he does with Moe's Tavern. Stewie tries it himself and says to Moe, “Your sister is being raped.”
Why It Wouldn't Fly: The joke caused quite a furor when the episode debuted in 2014, coming as it did on the heels of the Steubenville High School rape case and tremendous national dialogue about rape and rape culture. Years later, after the Brock Turner controversy and other high profile cases, it's hard to imagine the network even trying to get away with this joke.
Episode:"Homer vs. Dignity" (Season 12, episode 5, November 26, 2000)
The Joke: Homer dresses up as a panda at the Springfield Zoo and a real panda rapes him.
Why It Wouldn't Fly: The episode makes light of rape and bestiality.
Episode: "Blame It on Lisa" (Season 13, episode 15, March 31, 2002)
The Joke: The Simpson family goes to Brazil to search for soccer legend Ronaldo. The show portrays Brazil as a crime-ridden hell hole, rife with kidnappings, muggings, fiendish predators, rampaging monkeys, rat infestations, and grotesque slums.
In response to the episode, the Rio de Janeiro tourism board nearly sued Fox for damaging the city's image.
Why It Wouldn't Fly: It is hard to believe that these kinds of jokes, which rely heavily upon negative racial and cultural stereotypes, would be acceptable in 2020.
Episode: "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" (Season 10, episode 12, January 31, 1999)
The Joke: The Catholic Church runs a Super Bowl ad featuring scantily clad women at a gas station cleaning a man's car and seductively penetrating the gas tank with the pump handle, while crucifix pendants dangle between their breasts. The voiceover says, "The Catholic Church: We've made a few changes."
Why It Wouldn't Fly: You could say it's due to an increased sensitivity toward religion or a feeling that the joke is misogynistic. Some commentators might also argue that it's actually because audiences and networks no longer understand, and therefore don't permit, intelligent satire. According to Ted Gioia of the Daily Beast, this fake commercial could be interpreted as an incisive parody of advertising.