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The 10 Biggest Simpsons Retcons, Explained


The 10 Biggest Simpsons Retcons, Explained


Summary

  • The Simpsons
    frequently retcons character backstories, changing family histories and even appearances without explanation.
  • Fans often debate retcons, with ample evidence contradicting several established timelines.
  • Characters like Carl, Moe, Nelson’s father, Apu’s nephew, and even Homer’s mother have inconsistent storylines.

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The Simpsons has been around for decades, so it was only a matter of time before stories concerning characters and their backstories became inconsistent, often changing what was previously established without explanation. Key events in a character’s family or even what they look like can change just like that. Sometimes, this might have just been an accident on the writers’ part. Other times, this is done intentionally, possibly to reflect the passage of time or even to add to or change an established story.

The Simpsons poster showing the whole family

The Simpsons

Release Date
December 17, 1989

Seasons
35

Studio
Fox

When something gets retconned on a show as long-running as The Simpsons, fans often debate which story was better. Some will even find ways to justify both having some truth to it. Other times, they’ll take it in good humor, either blaming it on a wizard or just making a crack about someone getting fired over the blunder. In fact, The Simpsons has occasionally been known to retcon their own retcons. It’s not even unheard of for the series itself to go back and forth on what’s canon and what isn’t. Here are just a few examples of the many retcons found throughout The Simpsons.

10 Carl’s Family History

Homer’s friend and co-worker Carl Carlson’s family tree can often come off as a series of contradictions in the series. One recurring storyline is that Carl was adopted by an Icelandic family, who are prominently featured in “The Saga of Carl.”

Carl & Lenny Might Even Be Brothers

However, Carl is also shown to be in close contact with his biological sister. While it’s possible they met later in life, she is surprisingly absent in stories involving Carl’s past, such as in “Carl Carlson Rides Again,” which features Carl’s biological father, or stories involving his adoptive family. The two are implied to have known each other for years, as it’s once shown that Lenny and Carl have an annual tradition of going out with the other’s sister.

Similarly, “The Seemingly Never-Ending Story” portrays Carl’s father as looking quite similar to him and is shown to have discovered caverns. When he appears in “Carl Carlson Rides Again,” he is given a different appearance and is shown to be a cowboy.

There are still more complicated branches on Carl’s family tree. A few episodes portray Carl as having a wife, though Carl is also shown having other love-interests. Interestingly, Carl and Lenny are also implied to be maternal half-brothers in the episode “Little Big Girl.”

9 Moe’s Conflicting Backstories

Moe Szyslak, the namesake owner of Moe’s Tavern, might seem like a simple man, but he has a complicated and often contradictory backstory. “Much Apu About Nothing” claims he illegally immigrated to the United States, “Day of the Jackanapes” claims he was born in Indiana, and “Bart-Mangled Banner” has him claim to be in the U.S. on a permanent visa, having originally come from the Netherlands.

Moe May or May Not Be Part-Yeti

There is even some debate about whether Moe is even human. “Lisa Goes Gaga” implies Moe has some monster ancestry, with “Moe Goes from Rags to Riches” revealing Moe was the son of a yeti. “King Leer,” however, has Moe reunite with his human father, as well as introducing his brother and sister.

Even Moe’s appearance has different backstories. One episode showed Moe looking similar to the way he does in the present while appearing in “The Little Rascals.” Other episodes reveal his face became the way it was either due to his boxing career, as explained in “The Homer They Fall,” or being crushed by an elephant in “Them, Robot.”

8 What Happened to Nelson’s Father?

Nelson’s father, Eddie Muntz, has effectively been two different characters on the show. “Brother from the Same Planet” showed that Eddie was Bart’s soccer coach, and he was shown to give favoritism to Nelson, selecting him for a free week at Pele’s Soccer and Acting Camp. Some episodes imply he’s a single father, such as in “Marge in Chains,” where it’s said that Nelson’s mother is in jail.

Eddie Muntz Has Even Aged Backwards

However, later episodes would make it a running joke that Nelson’s father walked out on the family, though the exact circumstances varied by the episode. Sometimes, he was portrayed as having willingly left, while “Sleeping with the Enemy” revealed him to be held captive in a circus by an unscrupulous ringleader.

As the series went on, the show has tried to marry the two different versions of the character, with Eddie often alternating between his different designs. This has the interesting effect of making the character look younger than he did before. Similarly, while “Sleeping with the Enemy” suggested Eddie never willingly abandoned Nelson, other episodes would have him leave the family all over again. Often, the show has poked fun at how stretched the storyline has become. “From Russia Without Love,” for example, has Nelson find his father working on Mars, only for him to abandon him yet again.

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7 Maude Being Alive for Lisa’s Wedding

“Lisa’s Wedding” is a flash-forward episode that takes a look into a possible future for Lisa Simpson, as told by a fortune-teller. While in college, she falls in love with the proper British gentleman, Hugh Parkfield (Mandy Patinkin), nearly marrying him. However, when Hugh snubs a pair of pig-themed cufflinks given to him by Homer, Lisa realizes he’s not the man for her.

That Fortune-Teller Might Not Have Been up to Snuff

That said, some things seen in the future would be contradicted in the show. Maude and Ned Flanders were notably shown to have grown old together, which would not happen thanks to Maude’s death in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” Another issue is the series’ floating timeline. The flash-forward explicitly takes place in 2010, despite the year coming and going in The Simpsons universe without anyone aging, as seen with the family attending the 2010 Winter Vancouver Olympics in “Boy Meets Curl.”

Of course, there is always the excuse that the fortune-teller wasn’t up to snuff. That said, some details, like Lisa becoming a vegetarian or even the running joke of her possibly ending up with Milhouse, actually did become recurring parts of the show after being predicted in this episode.

6 Abe & Mr. Burns Forgetting They Know Each Other

“Gorgeous Grampa” revealed that Abe Simpson used to be a “Gorgeous George”-style wrestler known as Gorgeous Godfrey. When donning his old wig once again, he is recognized by Mr. Burns, who reveals himself to be a fan of Grampa’s alter-ego and even convinces him to return to the ring.

Granted, Neither One Has the Best Memory

While it’s implied that Mr. Burns simply never realized Abe Simpson and his wrestling hero were one and the same, it’s a bit surprising that, once he gets involved in the story, Burns’ previously-established animosity towards the Simpson patriarch is forgotten about. “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'” established that Burns and Abe have been arch-enemies since World War II, with Burns going so far to attempt to kill Abe and Bart in the story.

Later in the season, “To Cur, with Love” once again portrayed Abe and Burns as old enemies, with Burns having blackmailed a younger Abe after he refused to have Homer’s beloved dog, Bongo, put down. Of course, one possible explanation for this is both Burns and Abe having poor memories in their old age.

5 Skinner’s Past As Armin Tamzarian

“The Principal and the Pauper” infamously revealed that the Principal Seymour Skinner fans have known for years was really an impostor, being an orphan named Armin Tamzarian who stole the real Skinner’s identity. At the end of the episode, the town decides it’s best to pretend nothing has changed. Interestingly enough, the show might have decided to do the same.

Will the Real Armin Tamzarian Please Stand Up?

While episodes have occasionally referenced the story as a joke, such as Lisa referring to Skinner by his old name in “I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot,” other episodes have featured Skinner living with his mother Agnes as a child and young man, despite “The Principal and the Pauper” revealing he never met her until after serving in the Vietnam War. “Boy Meets Curl” even shows Agnes pregnant with Skinner.

Interestingly, the story already had issues with continuity, as “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish,'” Skinner was shown to resemble his father, Sheldon Skinner, who even appears in later episodes as Seymour’s father and Agnes’ husband. Similarly, Seymour also resembles his cousin, Peter, in “The Very Hungry Caterpillars.”

4 The Simpsons Gene

“Lisa the Simpson” reveals that there is a Simpsons gene that affects the men in the family, causing them to become less intelligent, or at least less academically gifted, as they get older. The women are immune, meaning Lisa is in no danger of losing her intellect as she gets older.

Bart, Herb, & Even Homer Himself Have Shown Potential

However, a few episodes contradict this idea, or at least show the possible gene to be more complicated than described. “HOMR,” famously offered another explanation for Homer’s intelligence: a crayon lodged in his brain. Once it’s removed, Homer is shown to be quite intelligent, even giving the impression Lisa might take after him. In the end, however, Homer realizes he’s not happy with his new intellect and lodges another crayon into his cranium.

Adding to this, some episodes show that Bart would be quite successful if he only applied himself, with a few stories showing he could even grow up to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. This was most apparent in a brief flash-forward found in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie.” Homer’s own siblings also refute the idea of the “Simpsons gene.” Homer’s half-brother Herb Powell seemed relatively intelligent, although he was naive enough to trust Homer with his business ideas. Likewise, Homer’s half-sister Abbey didn’t seem that different from Homer.

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3 Characters Sometimes Change Ages

Although time stands still in the world of The Simpsons, characters can still somehow age. Mr. Burns, for example, is said to be 81 in “Simpson and Delilah,” but is aged up in later stories, such as being 123 in “Fraudcast News.” Of course, despite the passage of time, Burns’ appearance has more or less remained the same.

Apu’s Nephew Had a Growth Spurt

That said, some characters actually do visibly age on the show. Jay Nahasapeemapetilon was a little boy in Season 4’s “Homer the Heretic,” but became a young adult in Season 27’s “Much Apu About Something.” On a less extreme note, baby characters like Apu’s children or Selma’s adoptive daughter Ling have occasionally progressed into toddlers. Despite it all, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie have stayed the same age through it all.

2 Homer Believing His Mother Was Dead

A retcon can sometimes be seen, at least initially, as an improvement on the original storyline. This proved true for fans of The Simpsons when it comes to Homer’s mother, Mona (Glenn Close). “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” portrayed her in a less-than-sympathetic light, having told her son he was a disappointment. This was dropped in “Mother Simpson,” where she’s shown to have been a loving mother who abandoned him to protect him while being on the run from the law.

Mona May Have Seen Baby Bart

On the other hand, “Mothers and Other Strangers” would retcon the idea that Homer believed his mother had died over the years. It’s shown that Homer had tried to search for her as a teenager. It’s also revealed that Mona secretly visited him while disguised as a doctor when Bart was born.

1 The Floating Timeline

One infamous issue concerning The Simpsons is that it exists within a floating timeline. Years go by, people celebrate birthdays and holidays, and contemporary pop culture defines a good chunk of the show. However, despite this, most characters do not age. This is especially notable in flashbacks. “The Way We Was” famously portrays Homer and Marge as teenagers in the 1970s, and this is often referenced on the show, but other stories go different routes.

Homer Was a Teen in Both the ”70s & the 90s

“That ’90s Show” infamously portrayed Homer and Marge as college-aged in the 1990s. A later episode went even further by portraying Homer as a young teenager in the 1990s in “Do Pizza Bots Dream of Electric Guitars?” “Marge the Meanie” also implies Marge was in grade school during the 1980s.

Of course, time can still be tricky in The Simpsons universe in general. “That ’90s Show” even points out that the previously established story of Homer and Marge having had Bart shortly after high school doesn’t add up when they’re thirty-somethings with a ten-year-old son.

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