The Sitcom Purgatory of Don Hertzfeldt’s ‘Simpsons’ Couch Gag
June 23, 2021
Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on Don Hertzfeldt’s trippy, heartbreaking couch gag on The Simpsons.
If the work of animator Don Hertzfeldt could scream, we’d like to think it would. Hertzfeldt’s films are pointedly interested in the kind of existential questions that burrow into the three-pound lump of jelly between our ears. Most pointedly, and repeatedly: “what would it mean to live forever if you couldn’t take your memories and experiences with you?”
This is the central question in Hertzfeldt’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy World of Tomorrow, which tells of a four-year-old girl named Emily (voiced by Hertzfeldt’s niece, Winona Mae) who is visited by an adult clone of herself from a far-flung future where the Earth is on the brink of collapse. What follows is a strange and melancholic vision of what happens when you can’t change but the world does.
As the video essay below notes, Hertzfeldt was likely working on World of Tomorrow around the same time he created the couch gag for the 553rd episode of The Simpsons, an animated sitcom that needs no introduction because we’re pretty sure it’s been on the air since the cathode ray was invented (don’t Google that). While the episode itself is pretty forgettable, Hertzfeldt’s couch gag is anything but: an unnerving and sad terror trip of time travel, memory, and tragic stasis.
In the gag, Homer accidentally catapults forward through time, showing us a glimpse of what The Simpsons will look like millennia from now. As the essay below describes, Hertzfeldt’s couch gag acts as an affecting thought experiment on the existential nightmare of The Simpsons itself. Sitcoms are a world of endless ends and resets; of a family unit that has achieved the long-sought dream of living indefinitely with purpose, forever themselves and forever together.
The gag asks: Okay, so now what? What does it mean to live forever? To be surrounded by the constant reminders of the ways you’ve changed and the ways you cannot? Scream now, if you must.
Watch “The Best Simpsons Intro Is About Losing Everything You Love“:
Who made this video essay on Don Hertzfeldt’s couch gag?
Today’s video is by Jacob Geller, whose content covers a wide swath of subjects, from video games to architecture to folklore. You can subscribe to Geller on YouTube here. And you can check out Geller on Twitter here.
More videos like this:
- Here’s another taste of Geller’s work: a video essay on how the video game Control figures into the anatomy and legacy of the haunted house.
- And here’s Geller on why the myth of the Golem is a Jewish superhero story
- The only thing more surreal than Hertzfeldt’s couch gag is the infamous “steamed hams” segment, a vignette about a lunch date gone wrong that captured the minds and hearts of the internet. In that spirit, here’s the masterpiece “Steamed Hams but There’s a Different Animator Every 13 Seconds.”