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'The Simpsons' turn the big 2-D'oh!

Many people reading this don’t know life without “The Simpsons.”

Who would have surmised in 1987 that those strange, poorly animated and not very funny shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” would change TV and essentially life as we know it.

Now Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are a remarkable 20 years old as Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the airing of “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” the first full-length episode of Matt Groening’s animated sitcom.

“’The Simpsons’ is the reality of how families are and what humans are,” said Carlos Viola, 21, of Elmhurst.

Now spanning 449 episodes, the show’s audience has dwindled and many argue its best days ended in the late ’90s.

Its influence, however, is hard to deny. From making prime time more edgy to causing people to reflexively yell “doh!” when something bad happens.

“It changed TV, by making it smarter,” said John Ortved, author of “The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History.”

Back then, more wholesome primetime comedies ruled such as “The Cosby Show,” “Growing Pains” and “Full House.”

With its sharp satire and wit, Groening’s vision of a dysfunctional American family seemed a lot more realistic than those white-bread fake families, despite being a cartoon.

“When ‘The Simpsons’ came out it was a nuclear bomb on TV,” Ortved said.

Steven Keslowitz, author of "The World According to The Simpsons,” agreed. “The show was irreverent and questioned authority figures. At its core, it shows us that we need to think critically about our own society.”

The show has evolved and devolved over time, focusing initially on troublemaker Bart and then switching to the clueless Homer.

“’Bartmania’” helped catapult the thing, because when parents saw [that there kids were into the show] and they started watching it a little bit, they realized it wasn’t just for kids,” Ortved said.

It was the first major cartoon to deal with real-life issues that middle class families could relate to, from union strife to the perils of waking up early on Sunday to go to church.

Now in it’s 21st season, making it the longest running prime-time show (not including news programs) in history, “The Simpsons” averages 6.7 million viewers, about half the amount of its first season.

It’s safe to say there would be no “Daily Show,” “Family Guy,” “South Park” or maybe even Conan O’Brien on late-night TV without the “Simpsons.”

“You can’t imagine television in the last 20 years without “The Simpsons,” there would be a major hole,” said Ron Simon of The Paley Center for Media. “It has a language. It links several generations and there aren’t many shows like that.”

Fox will commemorate the anniversary with the show’s 450th episode followed by an hour long special "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: in 3-D! on Ice" on Jan. 10.

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