The Peabody Awards, originally established in the 1930s to recognize excellence in broadcasting as a counterpart to print media’s Pulitzer Prizes, announced its winners today for the “Best Stories of 2019.” Among them, Fleabag on Amazon Prime Video, Ramy on Hulu, and a special recognition for The Simpsons on FOX.
Here are the individual citations, via the Peabody Awards…
Fleabag (Prime Video)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy Fleabag has been referred to as profane, profound, shambolic, and one of the most distinctive productions of Peak TV. All descriptions work for this superb BBC and Amazon Studios co-production, which stars Waller-Bridge and is based on her stage show of the same name. Telling the story of a woman struggling with the loss of both her mother and her best friend, the second season sees its protagonist, known only as Fleabag, continue to act out in self-destructive ways, while also gaining small traction and fleeting moments of hard-won success. Through continually breaking the fourth wall, chatting with the audience about dating, sex, feminism, religion and whatever else happens to pop into Fleabag’s delightfully messy head, the show offers a proximity and intimate engagement with its character’s struggles. Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, and “hot priest” Andrew Scott round out the cast, all of whom pushed the show’s creative bar to new heights in its second season. For maintaining its near-unmatched ability to be playful and devastating, hilarious and poignant, at the same time, the stellar and enchanting Fleabag receives a Peabody Award.
2019 | Hulu, A24 Television
Described as the first Muslim American sitcom, Ramy broke barriers and taboos on television—and in the mosque—when the half-hour comedy series debuted on Hulu. The semi-autobiographical show starring comedian Ramy Youssef follows an Arab American millennial in suburban New Jersey as he grapples with how to be a good Muslim in the Tinder era. When he isn’t busy hooking up with women he meets at parties or at the Islamic center, the 28-year-old is trying to forge his own identity as the first-generation offspring of Egyptian immigrants. If only he could get out of bed before noon. The groundbreaking first season, which traces its origins to Youssef’s stand-up routine, also stars Hiam Abbass, Amr Waked, Laith Nakli, Mo Amer, and May Calamawy. For its masterful weaponization of the tension between faith and secularism, East and West, and men and women, Ramy is honored with a Peabody.
Institutional Award: The Simpsons
On December 17, 1989, the clouds parted in the now-iconic Simpsons opening sequence for the first time, inviting the world into the town of Springfield for the first of almost 700 full episodes to date. Family Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie were well known to those who watched them in a series of animated shorts by Matt Groening that had run on The Tracey Ullman Show since 1987, but they would soon rocket to international fame. The Simpsons is now the longest-running scripted primetime series in American television history, and likely the most globally recognized television show in world history.
Following a decade of earnest family sitcoms, The Simpsons’ brash yellow splash onto television cleared the way for a more satiric-parodic, deeply ironic mode of comedy. From the outset, The Simpsons was eager to question and rib not just the television its viewers grew up on, but the beliefs upon which they were structured. Almost three decades later, one still sees the impact of its witty humor and endless willingness to question authority in the countless similarly important comedies that followed in Homer’s four-toed path.
The Simpsons has expanded notions of what the sitcom could be. It offered us a huge cast of characters, many voiced by the amazing team of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer, but also featuring a cavalcade of guest stars ranging eclectically from Buzz Aldrin to Elizabeth Taylor. It gifted us a wonderful family caught between the poles of father Homer’s delightful ignorance and daughter Lisa’s endearing brilliance, a family that would fumble, fight, and fail and yet who loved each other in spite of it all. It boldly and inventively ushered animation back into primetime. And it has found ways to remain funny, fresh, and insightful while always trusting and respecting its audience’s intelligence.
The Simpsons’ place in a shared cultural global lexicon can be measured as much by the bootleg Simpsons merchandise found in bazaars from Mexico to Malawi as by its gift of “D’oh!” to seemingly every world language. And just as it crossed the world, it has crossed media, into hit CDs, a film, video games, toys, chess sets, amusement park rides, apps, and pretty much anything else where Krusty the Clown would himself appear. The Simpsons has deftly stayed atop a crest of relevance for all its years and episodes, ever a reflection of its cultural moment, from the era of VHS and appointment television to our present day when its GIFs and memes serve as the internet’s lingua franca.
The Simpsons is one of television’s sharpest critics—as brilliant a child as the show’s conscience and mastermind Lisa. But it is also one of its medium’s funniest and most delightful offerings. In one episode, Homer thumps his television angrily, demanding that it be funnier. For answering Homer’s call for 30 years, we commend the writers, animators, and cast of The Simpsons with a Peabody Institutional Award.