Finding the Simpsons home in the sprawl of Las Vegas

A subdivision in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson features a home made to look like the Springfield home of The Simpsons:

SimpsonsHomeHendersonNV

Once upon a time, the house on Red Bark Lane wasn’t just another address in a sprawling suburban development: It was originally built as a nearly exact three-dimensional replica of 742 Evergreen Terrace, the Springfield residence of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson. Working on a short schedule, architects and builders de-fictionalized the home featured in The Simpsons for a 1997 giveaway that was intended to leave one lucky fan with the ultimate in cartoon memorabilia. No detail was spared, from a food dish for their cat, Snowball II, to Duff beer cans in the fridge.

But controversy soon erupted in this faux-Springfield mock-up. The homeowner’s association wasn’t keen on having a cartoon house that broke conformity requirements by being painted solar yellow. The sweepstakes winner rejected it outright. And the current owner had to learn to live with the property being a source of perpetual curiosity for fans of the show who brazenly turn her doorknobs and peer through her windows at all hours of the day and night. As it turns out, the reality of living in a fantasy can get a little complicated…

Once the project was approved, Woodley and Gonzalez pored over 100 episodes of the show and storyboards on loan from the production to try and discern a layout. “We took a floor plan we already had and did things that still had to meet building code but was reminiscent of The Simpsons,” Gonzalez says. “We never would have put in a rounded door or windows in the spots they were in.”

The team’s goal was to be 90 percent normal, with occasional lapses into cartoon continuity. Door frames were widened and lengthened to accommodate Marge’s hair and Homer’s girth. The stairs leading to the second floor were slightly steeper than normal. The downstairs floor was poured and painted concrete rather than hardwood or carpet, the better to mimic the show’s flat colors. Bart’s treehouse was erected in the backyard.

Like other homes on TV, the floor plan doesn’t exactly work. What makes this case interesting is that this is an animated show that does not have the same constraints as one with actors. With live actors, homes may not have walls or have rearranged features to allow cameras to have wide views. The proportions with live actors will also be different.

The interest from fans is understandable; TV shows offer few physical spaces where fans can connect to a show. Fans can go to studio backlot to see locations (I have toured a few and it is an interesting experience to see places that are on TV screens for seasons) or track down interior and exterior shots (for example, see a comprehensive list of locations on The Sopranos). But, many family shows revolve around the single-family home. The famous opening credits end with the family in front of the TV in the family room. The family regularly gathers in the kitchen for meals. The kids and parents talk in bedrooms upstairs. The garage, basement, and backyard are home to many scenes. The article asks why the contest winner did not accept the home and make money off tours; perhaps the better question is why someone has not recreated the house elsewhere and catered to Simpsons fans.

Finally, that the replica is located in Henderson, a fast-growing suburb in the desert outside Las Vegas is a fun contrast to the small town charm of Springfield. The show creators have famously kept Springfield’s location secret but it would difficult to imagine the home located in a neighborhood like that shown in the Google satellite image above.

14 times The Simpsons took on famous architecture

Curbed put together a short list of times The Simpsons has lampooned architecture:

Frank Gehry crumples up a piece of paper, tosses it to the ground, and suddenly becomes inspired to build a similar-looking concert hall for Springfield, hometown of The Simpsons. Rem Koolhaas, with his eyes closed, teaches nine local children about “Lego architecture” using a model of OMA’s CCTV tower in Beijing. Since The Simpsons began airing in 1989, there have been countless references to landmarks and architects, new Dwell-reading neighbors and postmodern malls filled with identical Starbucks stores…

Dialogue from an episode aired in 2003:
Lisa: I’m impressed that you drew up blueprints, but these are for a go-cart track.
Homer: Did Frank Lloyd Wright have to deal with people like you?
Lisa: Actually, Frank Lloyd Wright endured a lot of harsh criticism.
Homer: Look. I have no idea who Frank Lloyd Wright is.
Lisa: You said his name two seconds ago.
Homer: I was just putting words together.

Some fun moments here. In fact, I suspect there is an interesting dissertation or book to be written about how The Simpsons presents spaces, from homes to Springfield (which really is a zany community) to broader geographic and social contexts. What if a two-dimensional animated show ended up offering one of the most astute mass market analyses of our spatial lives?

College courses tackle The Simpsons

Continuing the trend of the media showing interest in college students getting credit for classes involving pop culture, here is a brief overview of college courses tackling The Simpsons:

He currently teaches a course about the Broadway theater and how “The Simpsons” have embraced various musicals and plays. Next semester, he shifts to an online literature course titled “The D’oh of Homer” that includes readings from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — all referenced in “Simpsons” episodes…

According to the SUNY Oswego website, “Sociology of ‘The Simpsons'” is still an accredited course at the Central New York school. Sociology professor Dr. Tim Delaney published a book in 2008, “Simpsonology: There’s a Little Bit of Springfield in All of Us.”…

Jean acknowledges a theme in many episodes is the comparison of the C. Montgomery Burns character — the miserly owner of Springfield’s nuclear power plant — to the lead character in the movie “Citizen Kane,” Charles Foster Kane…

“They need to reach students however they can. And using ‘The Simpsons’ to grab their attention, I think, is brilliant,” she says. “Fighting against pop culture isn’t going to do anyone any good.”

For those skeptical of such classes, here is my brief defense of using The Simpsons:

1. It is the longest-running American sitcom. That alone means it has a unique place among television shows. It has never been the most popular show but it clearly has staying power.

2. Television may seem irrelevant to the college classroom but given that the average American adult watches 5 or so hours a day (the figures do vary by age), it is a powerful force.

3. The Simpsons has a particular way of critiquing many aspects of American society. Perhaps it is the writers, perhaps it is the animated format that allows for a different kind of humor. I recently used the episode “Lisa the Skeptic” (Season 9 Episode 8) in class to illustrate the debate between religion and science. This episode lays out the two sides and then in the end skewers both by suggesting the real issue is rampant consumerism.

Vatican newspaper says Homer J. Simpson is a Catholic

The Vatican’s newspaper recently said that they consider Homer Simpson to be a Catholic:

But in an article headlined “Homer and Bart are Catholics”, the newspaper said: “The Simpsons are among the few TV programmes for children in which Christian faith, religion, and questions about God are recurrent themes.”

The family “recites prayers before meals and, in their own peculiar way, believes in the life thereafter”…

“Few people know it, and he does everything he can to hide it, but it is true: Homer J Simpson is a Catholic,” insists L’Osservatore Romano.

This must be a very loose definition of what a Catholic is or how one should act. In fact, it strikes me as a very American sort of idea: Homer’s Catholicism is a grab-bag of practices and beliefs of his own choosing. Is Homer’s approach to religion really much different than many Americans?

But one point the newspaper makes seems accurate: the Simpson’s portray “old-fashioned family values” in a way that few other shows do today.