At the time of this writing, the Simpsons has been on the air for over 30 years, with 654 episodes (and climbing). It’s amazing that any show can be on the air for this long, and while the viewership (and some would say the quality) of the series has gone down since it’s heyday; there’s no denying that there’s a lot of information that can be mined from that series.
I’ve tried to come up with a few different ways of looking at the series that will hopefully give you and understanding of who was in the series and maybe what that says about our society at the time. From a processing standpoint, I decided to scan multiple wiki sites about each episide to see which characters diehard fans noticed.
Now the first season consisted of a scant 13 episodes, but it also laid the groundwork for the entire series and introduced most of the major players of the Simpsons-verse. As time goes by, I’ll continue to add more seasons and we can see how the series changes over time.
The first way I thought about visualizing this series is by seeing how the most prominent characters interacted. To be included, I decided that each character needed to have at least 5% of the character mentions in an episode and they had to meet that threshold for at least 2 episodes. I then compared characters who met that threshold and appeared in the same episode. In the following NetworkX diagram, the size of the circle represents the total number of episodes that the character appeared in (with that 5% mention threshold). Meanwhile, the “stronger” the line is between two characters represents a larger number of episodes that the two characters appeared in.
So, you’ll see the two largest circles, with the most/strongest amount of connections are Homer and Bart. Next, come Lisa and Marge. Finally, come Maggie, Mr. Burns and Principal Skinner. Curiously enough, when Skinner was prominently featured, Lisa wasn’t. As time goes on and we see more and more episodes, this diagram should become more complicated and more informative.
The second way that I’d like to look at the season is to look at the demographics of the series. I’m going to first look at the Gender of the characters portrayed/mentioned. First, let’s look at Gender. As you can see in the graph below, despite making up half of humanity, women were portrayed, on average, only slightly more than 25% of the time; with a median value (middle value) of a lower 19.52%. The Lisa-featured “Moaning Lisa” (Episode 6) and the Marge-centric “Life on the Fast Lane” (Episode 9) were the most female friendly, with representations over 50%; while the Bart-centered “The Telltale Head” (Episode 8) only had a piddling 4.86%.
The other way of looking at the series is based upon the racial ethnicity of the characters being portrayed. Sure, the main family is Caucasian; but some of the series memorable characters are African-American (Carl, Dr. Hibbert, Lou) with some Asians (Apu, Akira) and Hispanics (Dr. Nick Rivera and Bumblebee Man) do appear. I was therefore shocked, to find that minority characters were all but invisible during the first season, with an average of .29% of character mentions being associated with minority characters and a median (middle) value of 0. Truth be told, 11 of the 13 episodes had virtually no minority characters do anything that warranted a mention in a wiki.
Now, let’s do a deeper dive into who was mentioned. The chart below shows character mentions, as based upon a percentage of the total character mentions for that episode. The chart is also color coded from purple (less than 1% of a mention in an episode), blue (between 1% and 5%), green (5% to 10%), gold (10% to 20%), orange (20% to 30%) and red (more than 30%). The actual percentage (rounded down to the nearest number) is placed in the block for that episode with the total percentage (rounded down to the nearest number again) in the total columns. It’s this rounding down, that is responsible for the episode-based numbers not equaling the total number (so Martin was in 7.62% of Episode 2 and 2.38% of Episode 10 – which totals 10%). If a character has a total of 10 points or more, they appear in this chart:
So, you can see that Bart and Homer are shown/discussed the most followed by the rest of the Simpsons family. You’ll then see reoccurring characters such as Krusty, Skinner, Nelson, Burns and Moe. Then there’s Jacques, the romantic bowler who tried to woo Marge away from Homer. He only appeared in a single episode, but he was fairly prominent in that episode. Rounding out the list are Milhouse and Martin and the kid’s table; with the distinction of Milhouse appearing in slivers of 5 episodes, while Martin appeared in only two, but was fairly prominent in one of them.
The last thing that I’ll discuss is the overall Ranking of characters. To do this, I considered 6 different factors:
(1) How many times the character was the titular character of an episode
(2) The number of times the character was the most prominent character in that episode
(3) The number of times that a character reached the 25% threshold
(4) The number of times that a character reached the 10% threshold
(5) The number of times a character was mentioned in an episode summary
(6) The total number of mentions (from the grid above)
I then divided the characters value by the maximum value and multiplied it by a 100, which would mean whoever did “best” in that category would get 100 points (yellow columns). Sum of those six different point totals and you get a total value between 0 and 600 (blue column).
Looking at these metrics, Bart and Homer are in a near tie: each having 2 titular rows, each being the most prominent character and crossing the 25% threshold in 5 episodes; each having hit the 10% threshold in 12 episodes and appearing in all 13 episodes. The sole difference is that Bart was mentioned 376 times (see the description in the GRID section above) while Homer was slightly lower with 350 mentions; so, Bart “wins” with 600 points, while Homer finishes up with just over 593.
After that, it’s a long way down before we get to #3 Marge (224 points) and #4 Lisa (216 points). It’s then another leap down to Krusty with 116 points. Krusty appeared in only one episode (#12 – Krusty Gets Busted) but he was the titular/most prominent character in that episode which boosts his rating.
We then see Maggie (80 points total) followed by Moe, who never hit the 10% threshold in any episode but did appear in 6 different episodes. Founding out the list are Skinner and Burns (each hitting 10% in one episode and appearing in 4; although Skinner had more mentions that Burns and thus beat out the power plant owner). Finally, we get Milhouse, who appeared in 5 separate episodes, but had a relatively low (11) number of mentions.
So, that’s a breakdown of Season 1 for you. Stay tuned for the next time when I tackle Season 2.
Written by David Curewitz