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This undated frame from the Fox series "The Simpsons," shows the popular cartoon family posing in front of their home, from left, Lisa, Marge, Maggie, Homer and Bart Simpson. (AP File Photo/Fox Broacasting Co.)

Sunday will be the 700th episode of "The Simpsons."

Wow, 700 — and counting, since Fox picked up the contract for two more years.

It's already the longest-running scripted prime time show in American TV history, and the reasoning is simple.

Family-based sitcoms reach an apex of popularity and then the kids age, whether they are the Bradys, the Keatons, the Connors or the Cleavers.

Cartoon characters don't age, otherwise fourth-grader Bart would be about 42 years old these days.

But while cartoon characters remain the same, the times around their programs certainly have changed.

Non-white characters no longer are voiced by white actors. As creator Matt Groening told USA Today this week to mark the celebrated 700th episode, "It was not my idea, but I'm fine with it. Who can be against diversity?"

And he's right, who's not for diversity? Different perspectives and voices only add to the narrative and increase understanding.

But in some ways the social awareness of "The Simpsons" actually points to the division, because at the show's summit, it fearlessly made fun of everything.

Homer is a punchline. The kids and relatives/in-laws are walking stereotypes. The side characters — from Bible-beating Ned Flanders to corrupt politicians and the various folks in and around Springfield — were mockeries.

Yes, the 2018 hubbub about Apu, the Indian immigrant character who happens to own the town's convenience store, prompted the self-evaluation of the show that was proud of being the opposite of self-important.

It made fun of everyone, so in a lot of ways, the jokes were unifying and the most inclusive part of the entire production.

So as it rounds 700 episodes this weekend, I wonder what Homer would have said way back in 1989 when the show started.

What would he say about the predictions — like the 2001 episode referencing a future in which there was a President Trump or Lady Gaga performing at halftime of the Super Bowl — the show nailed through the years? Or the satire that became stereotypical that moved the show toward the cancel culture line?

"I have to word this carefully," Groening said. "I think audiences are smarter than the posse gives them credit for, and people can handle nuance, except for the ones who can't handle nuance. And then there's that phrase, [something] them if they can't take a joke."

The fact that the man who fired barbs across all races, religions, genders and occupations is wording anything carefully is a testament to these times.

Because that invisible line that divides comedy and cancellation is always moving, and that fact, in some ways, makes the historic run of "The Simpsons" even more amazing.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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Jay Greeson
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