A lot of fans of The Simpsons are excited about the streaming opportunities the brand new Disney+ now presents. For about half the price of a Netflix subscription, you can access the House of Mouse's deep, deep collection of animated classics, Pixar's modern feats of computerized filmmaking, most of the MCU (with more being added once their current streaming deals expire elsewhere), and all the Star Wars movies in glorious 4K HD.
That kind of value is hard to resist. However, a small but vocal contingent of day-one Disney+ optimists—myself included—were most excited about the seminal, long-running sitcom The Simpsons finally being available, ad-free, on a streaming service. What starry-eyed fools we were.
The Simpsons began its current, historic run in 1989. During its first 20 years, it was broadcast in standard definition 480i with a 4:3 aspect ratio, before switching to a widescreen 16:9 HD broadcast halfway through its 19th season.
Today, Disney+ has 30 full seasons of The Simpsons available to stream, yes, but those first 19 are presented in a zoomed-in, stretched-out widescreen aspect ratio, cutting off key visual jokes in just about every episode, and generally making the whole thing look kind of... weird.
This isn't the first time The Simpsons fans have been through this exact problem. When FX secured broadcast rights to the early seasons of the show in 2013, the classic seasons were clumsily stretched for widescreen there, too. This changed in 2015, when FX introduced its Simpsons World website, which allowed for the option to stream in either 16:9 or the original 4:3, alongside other special features. Even so, it was still quite clunky, and the ad experience was annoying. Disney+ offered, on launch, the first time for Simpsons fans to enjoy a seamless, modern streaming experience. Of note: Simpsons World is now defunct, and simply invites you to sign up for a Disney+ account.
As it stands, it appears the only legitimate way to watch classic episodes of The Simpsons as they were designed to be seen is to buy the DVD box sets—which is not a particularly great solution for people on a budget, nor is it good for anyone who, quite justifiably, no longer owns a DVD player. As a test, I bought one of my favorite episodes, "Marge vs. the Monorail" on Google Play, in standard definition. It, too, is presented in widescreen.
Wondering if I was blowing this all out of proportion, I contacted a bonafide expert: Music journalist Dan Ozzi, who, for six years, co-hosted a still-running, infamously difficult Simpsons trivia night every month in Brooklyn regularly attended by hundreds of hardcore fans. (Full disclosure: I have participated in dozens of these trivia nights and even won a couple of times because I am so S-M-R-T). I asked Ozzi about Disney+'s foreseeable mistake, and how it impacts The Simpsons viewing experience, and the lifelong fan had this to say:
"Aside from sight gags potentially getting cut off, The Simpsons was just meant to be watched on box televisions. When the family all gathers around their broken down square TV set with the rabbit ear antenna in the opening credits, that’s how the writers assumed we were all watching the show. Changing that is an affront to the intent of the creators who wanted us to see these episodes on our genuine Panaphonics and Sorny TVs."
If you don’t get that last part, I can tell you where Season Seven, Episode 14 is currently available online. Well, most of it.
Disney+ and Apple TV+ are both playing an entirely new ball game.
Originally Appeared on GQ