30 Day Television Challenge: Day Eleven
A show that disappointed you: The Simpsons
There are few works – literature, music, film, television, etc. – that have influenced me in the way The Simpsons has. Not only did I inherit my sense of humor from The Simpsons, my entire stance towards the world was sharpened on its whetstone.
The first 8 seasons of The Simpsons are unimpeachable. They are the pinnacle of comedy and television. See that episode of South Park where Butters struggles to find a way to destroy the town but can’t imagine something that The Simpsons haven’t done? Well Trey Parker and Matt Stone were right. There is nothing that escapes the long shadow of Springfield. It doesn’t matter that they took it from somewhere else; the zeitgeist credits The Simpsons. The modern Shakespeare, The Simpsons is the de facto genetic pool of contemporary idioms.
Yet, since the dawn of the new century, The Simpsons has managed to descend into mediocrity. It is no longer at the vanguard of television comedy, let alone animated comedy. What has become of the once mighty empire of Springfield? The creative potential of the show has dried up and now the creators are merely perpetuating a brand. It has simply limped on far longer than it ought to have.
What made The Simpsons so brilliant was its marriage of high and low brow. Aside from the subtle pop-culture references and political allegories, The Simpsons was also irreverent without being grotesque. It was like joking with your professor after a few pints. Now what we have is slapstick comedy, pretentious self-referencing, and gratuitous celebrity cameos.
But where do we mark the beginning of the decline and fall of The Simpsons? Many fans point to 9.22 “Trash of the Titans”, the episode where Homer becomes sanitation commissioner, as the watershed episode separating Old Simpsons and New Simpsons. This is where The Simpsons jumped the shark.
But what marked this transformation? What larger trend was percolating under the surface to encourage this new divide?
I would point towards the departure of Brad Bird.
Everyone knows that Matt Groening created The Simpsons and that James L. Brooks helped bring it to life, however Brad Bird is its unsung hero. The creative consultant from its inception until the 9th season, Bird’s tenure represents the golden age of The Simpsons.
Bird has had success just about everywhere he goes. Once he left The Simpsons he first made The Iron Giant, a brilliant and criminally overlooked old-school animated film. Then, he went on the help form Pixar. He himself has directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille. He has now left animation and is doing live-action. Last year, he revived the tired Mission Impossible series with a funny, energetic fourth installment, the best since the first.
Once Bird left, the show’s quality has an slow but immediately visible drop off.
I think what bothers me most about the new Simpsons is the creators’ pretension. There’s a self-indulgence not just with the orgy of celebrities, but with the laziness of the writing. The once archetypal cast of characters have been reduced to self-parody. Homer is endlessly stupid, Bart’s rebelliousness is a tired plot-device, Lisa rams down whatever didactic message the bourgeois writers are hocking, and Marge nags.
I just wish they would throw in the towel and stop beating its legacy into the dirt. To quote of my favorite Simpsons‘ moments, “Stop! Stop! He’s already dead!”