Simpsons into the future

Fox has ordered two more seasons of The Simpsons, which will complete its 19th season.

I remember when the show broke out with its first full-length episode, the Christmas special. I mentioned it to folks after the first time it had aired (Fox had already planned a second airing), and my boss watched it and demanded I tell him why I hadn’t alerted him to this before its first airing. Fox added more showings of this special to the schedule… I think they showed it four times that first year, and then they showed all the episode of the first season, and then there was a lag – animation has a long lead time, and they weren’t counting on this spin-off of The Tracy Ullman Show being a hit.

It was seen as a rebel comedy then. Now? The kids graduating college these days have seen this as a staple for as long as they’ve really been aware of prime time TV. It’s hard to be more establishment than that. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes less so, but it no longer has the advantage of being a surprise the way it once was. It’s no longer the surprise bucket-of-water in our face, it’s the stream that runs through our lives. It’s the central cultural reference of our times – the show has gone after so many aspects of life with such precision that it’s a rare event where some Simpsons quote is not applicable (and there is a legion of folks out there with such a quote ready whenever the opportunity presents.) It’s earned its accolades (“First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence”) and its success, and will likely be visible in our cutlure for a long time to come.

Published in: on March 22, 2006 at 10:23 am  Comments (5)  

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  1. I stopped watching 3 or 4 seasons ago. Somehow seeing the syndicated reruns at the time and comparing to the new episodes it just seemed very different.

    The best episodes always seemed to have some sort of coherent basic storyline. Whereas the last several seasons (before I even stopped watching) it seemed to me like the plot would veer so suddenly and often that if I just tuned in the first 5 minutes and the last 5 minutes I’d have to wonder how they got from A to B in the intervening 10. And even if I [i]watched[/i] the whole episode I still usually had to wonder.

    It just appeared to became a disjointed collection of random gags with less and less point. I guess it’s still a ratings winner, but personally I would have cancelled it a while ago (and I guess I did personally).

    Oh well. To each his own, but that’s my view.

    Maybe one of these sunday nights I’ll give it another try and see if it’s reverted in any way back to form at all. I suppose new writers could have been brought in to good effect. But once I choose to stop watching something I usually don’t go back.

  2. …And do you really think they’ll stop at 19 when 20 is just such a nice round Homer-like figure?

  3. I’m going to disagree with you on one point. The first few minutes of the Simpsons episode having nothing to do with what comes later? That’s not the sign of a weak Simpsons episode – it’s a characteristic of the best episodes. Some large bit of story exists merely to create one situation or establish one fact. That line in my post about the Montgomery Burns Award? That’s from an episode that starts with the fact that working at the nuclear plant has left Homer impotent, and ends up being a story about Homer’s half-brother living with them while working on n invention. The power plant is disposing of nuclear waste in inappropriate ways? That’s the monorail episode. And probably the all-time classic sequence – Homer pulls a practical joke at Moe’s that others feel is over the top, and gets him kicked out. This leads to a string of classic moments – Homer in Cheers, “this lesbian bar has no fire exit”, “my name is Guy Incognito”, “that man looks just like me! That dog as a puffy tail!”, “and I said ‘You fly boys crack me up.'” All that to establish that Marge needs treatment for fear of flying. Great stuff.

  4. I agree that it’s part of the show’s formula, but some of the recent seasons (this one has been better than previous ones) seemed to have mistaken the unpredictable plotting with minimal plotting to tie the gags together (probably, as some have noted, a bad influence from Family Guy).

    My main dissatisfaction with the show is that it feels less sharp. I’m trying to figure out if this is just a case of rose-tinted nostalgia, but I swear the show’s humor had a level of insight that I don’t see anymore. Maybe my sense of humor is dulling with age, but a lot of the jokes are much less funny if I think about them — I swear it used to be the opposite.

  5. Well, basically, what Lyle said…

    I think we’re talking about a matter of degree. Of course, I understand certain episodes (particularly Halloween ones e.g.) are supposed to be non-plot-driven by their nature so I’m not talking about those.

    And I understand that in any episode of anything it boils down to “stuff happens, things change.” But what I’m talking about are severe twists in plot and perspective so rapid-fire that at the end of the episode I’d often be asking myself “Now what was the main plot or point of that?” Plus the gags just weren’t striking me as all that funny anymore. Yes, it seemed like they’d just have a bunch of unrelated gags and find extremely loose ways to get from one to the next.

    To be honest it’s been a few years since I’ve even watched the syndicated reruns, but I seem to recall watching episodes and being able to recognize that the humor all hovered around one basic plot point or character, such as Lisa dealing with the death of “sax man” (I forget his “real” name) or Lisa wanting and getting a pony, or Bart cheating and being mistaken for a genius (a very early episode). They may not be the best examples, but they’re what come to mind.

    The plot twists and any tangential gags were not nearly as twisty-turny nor as frequent. Whatever was happening at the beginning, middle, or end, all had something to do with the main plot point. I guess it was more “Mary Tyler Moore-ish” story driven and less “Police Squad-y” gag-driven. (And I liked “Police Squad” a lot, but I wouldn’t have wanted 19 seasons of it.) Each episode just seemed more cohesive and natural, but with that sly Simpsons take on things.

    Just as regular long-running sitcoms often have their characters turn into caricatures, I think the same has happened to the Simpsons, especially Homer.

    Understand, I’m not trying to say I’m right, you’re wrong, or to defend my opinion (since that’s all it is), just simply trying to see if I can explain it better.

    Maybe I’ll try to go back to watching some of the new episodes again just to see if maybe it’s “gotten better.” Could just be as much me as anything—maybe I just got tired of the show after 15 years or so. It happens.

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