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.

(yuck)

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.

(Phil Hartman, that magnificent bastard. In some ways, the show’s spirit died with him)

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!”

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on September 25, 2012.

80 Responses to “30 Day Television Challenge: Day Eleven”

  1. Reblogged this on Brittany's Documented Rambling's.

  2. never been a cartoon fan …cartoon just don’t attract me ..y so?

  3. Bah! I didn’t want to admit this to myself, but the proof is in the pudding (is that what people say?)

    I can still quote large chunks from the old episodes. When’s the last time I watched a new one though? Don’t remember. Why? Just not as funny any more.

    Solution: More re-runs! I’d be happy with that, hell, I’ve seen all the episodes over 10 times each anyway. Why stop?

  4. Or was it because of Futurama?

  5. I remember watching The Simpson’s as I grew up and curiously, I faded away around the 9th or 10th season as well. Great post, I totally agree that it’s not what it was. I haven’t watched it in years.

  6. I used to love The Simpsons but since Family Guy it just seems so tame in comparison. You mentioned South Park but would like to hear your thoughts on how Family Guy has effected The Simpsons overall?

    • I actually don’t like Family Guy. I find its humor often cruel, its politics smug, and its narratives schizophrenic to say the least. I find many shows trying to imitate its hyper-irreverent style, but that’s not a direction of which I’m fond. That’s not to say I haven’t laughed at Family Guy movements; I just find it distasteful on the whole. To me, it’s the poor man’s South Park, which is a much superior satire and polemic.

    • I think Family Guy is part of the new grotesque culture that is helping ruin The Simpsons. Because what people are watching has become more perverse, I think The Simpsons feels it has to adjust its show to meet that audience. What they’re doing instead is ruining what The Simpsons once was into simply a try-hard montage.

      South Park existed before Family Guy, of course, but it was more playing on a back audience, I think.

  7. Oh my God. This post is Heaven sent. You don’t realise how many arguments I’ve had with people that The Simpsons is terrible now, it’s like so many people haven’t noticed, they think it’s just as great as its always been.
    As a true Simpsons fan since childhood it’s actually traumatising to watch one of the new episodes. It’s like they’ve all got some mental disorder and don’t know the viewers anymore, just like I feel I don’t know them.

    Most people would think this is an overreaction but I honestly find it heart-breaking. When I switch it on, I can tell immediately whether it’s a new one, and I change channel. It never stops disappointing me.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed 🙂 x

    • As far as your friends arguing that it’s still as good as it’s always been, I think at least part of that is that they WANT it to be as good as it’s always been. I know it’s so for me, but the rational side of me realises it’s not.

      Addicted as I am to it, though, I’ll still watch the new ones. Although it’s not exactly comedy gold, it’s still The Simpsons, who I grew up with, and who I cannot completely stop loving.

      I know it’s not just me.

  8. brave !

    check out my blog , thanks a lot (: (:

  9. Family guy is much better in humor and the plots!

  10. I love The Simpsons and I have to agree that it isn’t as clever and there isn’t as much depth in the episodes as there once was. However I love that weirdo family so much that I can’t let go. I always watch The SImpsons on TV (that’s everyday) and it still makes me giggle. It’s like a teddy that I can’t let go off. I don’t know what I’d do without having The Simpsons in my life. Sad, but true!

  11. I wondered why I stopped liking the Simpsons and became a Family Guy lover. I thought I’d just grown up and needed more sophisticated comedy fare, but I guess it was the fault of Groening & Company.

  12. Brilliant! And a great analysis. But it’s Phil Hartman, not Tim. 🙂

  13. Frankly mate this is a brilliantly well-written, incisive piece about which i agree entirely. To paraphrase another favourite line from Rainer Wolfcastle (McBain) “The time for laughing is over”

    Always feels very weird seeing Tim Hartman in Jingle All The Way semi-straight acting alongside the ‘real’ McBain as the lecherous neighbour hitting on his wife hehe.

    Must check out the Iron Giant. Ratatouille is surely one of the finest, most hilarious yet tearjerking animated films of the last decade. Brad Bird, Peter O’Toole’s smokey baritone & Camille crooning away in the background – pure heaven

  14. Great post, it really echoes a lot of my feelings. Just a note though, I hate to be *that* person but it’s Phil Hartman, not Tim.

  15. I completely agree about Brad Bird. He knows how to construct a story, which is missing with the new breed of writers and the show runners. However I don’t think it needs to die off. They just need to someone to realise that they were better off as a family sitcom rather than an absurdist satire (which usually fails with its points).

  16. this article speaks volumes, I really has not noticed that I have progressively been watching less and less of my once favourite childhood programme! It really does show that everything, even The Simpsons, has a expiry date!

  17. This must have been hard for you to write as you seem to have been a loyal fan for a long time. I agree with you. It’s past time to retire the show.

  18. I agree with you. I LOVE the Simpsons, but I don’t care for the new episodes anymore–in fact, the reruns get me more excited. It is sad to see the show lose it’s popularity over the years, but perhaps (like Seinfeld and Friends etc), they should have ended the show while they were still at the highest point.

  19. am completely agreeing with you and really enjoyed your article…

    awesome 😀

  20. Nicely written. Yep, the old ones are the best. Agree that they should have thrown in the towel a while ago.

  21. I generally have a tough time with the Simpsons…I think I could appreciate an adult cartoon, but it’s just too silly! Thanks for the read 🙂

    Cheers,
    Courtney Hosny

  22. Oh yes. The Simpsons, along with Seinfeld, was one of the defining shows of my youth, and I can still quote handily from multiple episodes after not having seen any of those classic episodes for years. Yet now, I find it simply painful to watch. I hung on to the 12 th season watching regularly… but mostly just out of loyalty. Now, I dont watch at all, and I haven’t even seen the movie, despite the fact that someone got it on DVD for me as a gift years ago. In the current episodes, the characters are charicatures of themselves, the humor is all too obvious with none of the former wit or subtlety… and those celebrity appearances….enough already. Now it just annoys me in a way that it never would have had it started mediocre, because of the marked contrast with how awesome it used to be.

    One slight disagreement I have with you though is that I quite liked a good deal of season nine. Trash of the titans was good, as was Homer vs New York. I will concede that season nine had a different “feel” to it than the seasons preceding though, and for me the decline was well marked by season ten.

    We now have a situation where The Simpsons has been bad far longer than it was ever good – a real shame. At least Seinfeld had the decency to cancel his show after only a few seasons after it jumped the shark (with the departure of Larry David).

    • There are definitely some great moments in the ninth season of The Simpsons. I point to it, and “Trash of the Titans” in particular, because that’s where I feel the direction of the show changed and began its fall from grace.

  23. You have eloquently summarised a feeling I share, also. I frequently swap quotes/clips with a friend and it’s definitely only 90s Simpsons that we reference. The millennium was the death of classic, or retro, Simpsons. The Scorpio episode is probably one of the last ones I reference regularly.

    • Hank Scorpio is a classic character. “You Only Move Twice” is great example of the old Simpsons‘ brilliance. It was over the top without being ridiculous.

  24. I actually thought that the show started to go downhill after season 10, not sure what my benchmark is for that but I just felt that after that season the good episodes became few and far between.

    I credit Family Guy with the Simpsons going from tired to outright awful. When Family Guy came in with it’s over the top antics and it’s incredibly stupid patriarch the ratings soared, and I felt like that is when Homer started devolving into ridiculous levels of stupidity. The Simpsons tried to revitalize by becoming irreverent like Family Guy, but it really wasn’t their territory and they failed. In the meantime, South Park, a show that started out as crude shock humour, took its place as the best satire show around. The Simpsons kind of got stuck in the middle, and what was left was just really awkward to watch.

  25. I discovered the Simpsons alongside my son and cannot tally the hours we have shared laughing or discussing cultural references woven ingeniously into story lines. Fortunately we have not yet encountered the disappointment that accompanies the new Simpsons.

    Love your nod to Hartman.

  26. I haven’t seen it recently, but the old one’s were hilarious. I loved Iron Giant and was surprised it didn’t get any recognition.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  27. I like the Simpsons but even too much of a good thing can make it tiresome.

  28. Such a great post. I used to watch the Simpsons all the time and I reference it often. I haven’t seen a new episode in years, and it saddens me to hear of its decline. I suppose there’s nothing left to do but PRAY FOR MOJO.

    http://rantandrollallnight.wordpress.com/

  29. I have never known what the Simpsons hype was all about? Thanks for sharing. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  30. Amen! I can remember with some zest when the show started producing episodes which were less than stellar. The first one I recall was the Itchy and Scratchy Land episode, which kind of flopped for me on first viewing. However, it seemed to get funnier as time went on, either the result of comparison or the fact that I just didn’t appreciate the jokes at the time. But these days, I don’t even watch, save for a few minutes at a time.

    I can remember tuning in on three occasions in the past few years and thinking, “Ah, crap!” The first time, they did an opening sequence where Kesha’s song “Tick Tock” was featured, and was horribly unimpressed. Second and third time, the story was a completely generic, Marge and Homer are fighting again, scenario. I sometimes wonder, if everyone agrees that the Simpsons are over, why the continued presence? Is there a “silent majority” still watching?

  31. You are so right on the money! I started watching The Simpsons when I was about 11 or 12, now I’m 34 and I still enjoy those old episodes but I can’t figure out the newer ones.
    Here in Mexico the debacle was even greater. A bit later than the 9th or 10th season, when the show started its decline, the dubbing artists who were associated with the characters were replaced. Thus not only the Simpsons stopped looking right but they also stopped sounding right! Try to imagine for a second that all of a sudden Dan Castalaneta is no longer voicing Homer in the English version; that would make the show stink even more than it does now, right?
    I don’t even care if they put an end to the show soon, when it comes to me they already did.

    Congratulations on a great post and on being FP!

  32. great post I absolutely love the Simpsons but your right its definitely been on its last legs for a while…still thats a pretty good run, but make way for the new stuff…

  33. this is amazing i watch the Simpsons a lot but now i have started getting into futurerama

  34. Thanks for this post. I had never heard of Brad Bird, and often it’s the people behind the scenes that put the spirit and life into the production. For example, I don’t care much for Phil Collins’ solo work, although I really like Genesis (even with Phil Collins as vocalist). I can’t explain exactly why, maybe because one of the other band members or producers or mixers just puts the right amount of something into the music that gives it a soul of it’s own…?

  35. A very well done post…I agree that the Simpsons did peak a long time ago but to me the show is like an Uncle that you love and admire, but he is getting old and is stinky most of the time you visit him. Comforting that he is still around, but will prolly die soon…:P

  36. […] 30 Day Television Challenge: Day Eleven – And finally, I get to end the way I like to, with someone who not only agrees with us, but really gets into the decline and fall of the show.  The whole thing is recommended: 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. […]

  37. I’m not so sure simpsons got worse.. I believe peoples tastes changed and as we went into a more un-pc age the simpsons failed to evolve to keep up with that and then shows like family guy came along and filled that new void leaving the simpsons behind.

  38. Right in the childhood!!
    http://memegenerator.net/instance/15411153

  39. Brad Bird’s leaving the show weakened the cinematography.
    http://www.luisescobarblog.com/a-lesson-indirectly-learned-from-brad-bird/#comments

  40. You make a lot of good points and I feel largely the same way. I never watch the new episodes anymore because I usually find myself disappointed, and I just don’t want to feel that way about the Simpsons. I’ll take a rainy afternoon of old episodes any day though!

  41. Disappointing huh! => Brad Bird, I didn’t know that! To celebrate the “old” Simpsons, I have kept its episodes close by. I can’t wait to watch it with the kids, but I’m still in the process of honing their minds to be critical enough to “enjoy” the ironic cartoon series. => Happy weekend!

  42. Yes. Yes. Goddamn it, YES! You are absolutely spot on about this. Thank you for articulating so well what I’ve just been drunkenly yelling at people in bars for years. Thank you.

  43. Sometimes shows just need to end; especially good shows.

  44. I really love the first ten seasons of the Simpsons but after that they started going down hill. Thank god for DVD’s of the early days xo

  45. Reblogged this on Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

  46. I think you stated what has been creeping around in the back of my mind for some time. I have literally been watching Simpsons my entire life, from kindergarten through adulthood, so it is nearly unimpeachable to me. But there was this vague sense over the last couple of years that it just wasn’t as good as I remembered it. But perhaps I wrote that off to nostalgia. until now, as you make several valid points.

    For the record, I didn’t switch over to Family Guy. I can barely stand 99% of Family Guy. Their gag jokes go on far too long, and they are too vulgar and inane. (I couldn’t even begin to like American Dad.) I think there may be hope with Bob’s Burgers.

    If anything, it was Futurama that attracted me more, and subsequently made Simpsons pale in comparison. Futurama was wittier, more interesting – and they have much more leeway with sci-fi.

    Every once in a while, the Simpsons turns out a good episode still. and their couch gag openings are classic. But they are lacking. Lisa just seems bratty and launching into the latest protest du jour. Homer seems belligerently stupid. and they just keep pouring in pop references. What about more nuanced humor and less, as you put it, less propping up the brand?

    That being said, I don’t want Simpsons to go off the air. They haven’t exhausted themselves to the point where I don’t want to catch a new episode. and since this show has been on my whole life, it’s a staple. I couldn’t imagine TV without the Simpsons.

  47. Absolutely right about Phil Hartman. Strangely, I didn’t even know he’d died until years later on wikipedia, but yeah, terrible loss.

    However, I don’t entirely think it ended with him, or indeed even Trash of the Titans. I adore Trash of the Titans, and I still at least find it memorable. Certainly singable, at least. “The garbage man can…”

    I would think the division would’ve arisen by the double digits seasons. I definitely think it would’ve arrived into the new era by the time they were starting an episode with “The Simpsons are going to Delaware!” — which was first featured in a showcase/behind the scenes episode from the old era, as an example one of the last things they’d do.

    I still even liked season 20 though…

  48. I grew up along with The Simpsons and its a shame that it has gone to where it has. It is hard to let go of an icon such as The Simpsons but I think it would be a wise move on part of the show. I find the newer seasons unmemorable. Luckily I will always have the memories of the older seasons. In the words of Jerry from Seinfeld, “When you hit that high note, say goodnight and walk off.”
    Good post!

  49. Reblogged this on adventuresofregina.

  50. This is so weird because I just posted a clip on my blog of the simpsons talking about this. Bart and Homer were watching the last episode of the cosby show and listen to what he said about what he would do if he had his own TV show: http://dullbeginningsbrightfuture.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/why-has-the-simpsons-been-on-air-for-so-long/

  51. I have to admit, I am one of the lucky ones I guess. I stopped watching it once my son was born in 2001. Something sinister came over me..some mommy hormones that would not let my newborn get exposed to Bart. Instead I started watching Antiques Road SHow (not a good thing since it encourages you to collect crap). I dont know what the hell happened, but I didnt know the Simpsons went on a steady decline. Im still wondering why they ruined Looney Tunes.

    Recently Ive been paying more attention to Sponge Bob’s show credits to see who is directing and writing behind the scenes. Some of their episodes are genius. We will see how that show progresses or not in the years to come.
    FUn POST.

  52. When the Simpsons started out I was nearly Bart’s age and now I am nearly Homer’s. I wonder if it will be around when (gulp) I’m Abe’s age.

  53. I used to like this programme, but it became quite repetitive and boring after a while. Even so, their influence is just huge, ummissable.

  54. “Stop! Stop! He’s already dead!” says it best. A hilarious Simpsons moment and the perfect way to end this blog post. Excellently written. Having been born in the 90s, The Simpsons were an important family friend, teacher, and right of passage. To see them belittled to their current state is truly a shame. I recently started going on YouTube to find compilations of hysterical characters like Ralph Wiggum and Hans Moleman. I kid you not that I was laughing so hard that I was crying on my keyboard. It was amazing to get such a rapid reminder of how great and untouchable that show used to be. Sadly, no longer.

    Well done and thank you for a deserving post to our favorite animated comedy.

  55. Shows always drop off, in the end. I liked the Simpsons; I like Futurama better – same humour, same social satire, but usually sharper.

  56. This is oh so very true. What a genuinely smart and creative man Brad Bird is… as you say, the unsung hero and one that is truly missed in the Simpsons now.

  57. I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t understand how it keeps getting renewed for more seasons! I watched an episode from season 23 where Bart pulls a prank on his teacher and I’m sat there thinking, “I’m sure this has been done before.” With the release of new animated shows such as American Dad, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and so on, The Simpsons have lost their place in being the funniest animated TV show, so why keep prolonging the agony? I wish they’d cancel it now before it gets worse.

  58. I think they’re doing a great disservice by having the show overstay its welcome. I’d want it to end while its still good rather than have it be irritating for sticking around. But its too late for that now. its more popular than average, so that’s why they’re keeping it on.

  59. I bow down to the greatness of this post. It seriously went downhill a long time ago. I miss the old episodes and hate how TV shows newer reruns. Who cares?

  60. You’re totally right!
    Last summer I was reading a book about Simpsons and the science and I realized (again) how brilliant, smart and damn’ fun the old series are.
    Everytime I find a newer episode I switch channel, I can’t stand see Simpsons’ decline 😦

  61. You’ve beaten me to putting into words what I’ve always felt. I grew up with The Simpsons and have long lamented the path the show has been going in. Might even use your post for later inspiration!

    Completely agree with you on the Brad Bird front and the death of Phil Hartman. You’ve also got to consider the writing partnership of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. Began in 1992 and the two were executive producers and showrunners for season 7 and 8. Those two created Frank Grimes, penned ‘Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy’ and also the two-parter ‘Who Shot Mr Burns?’. It’s impossible not to be utterly in love with them both.

    I also sincerely hope you check this site as much as I do, even if just to get a daily dosage of laughter into your system. It’s my cleanser for whenever I accidentally flick onto one of the new episodes.

    http://eyeonspringfield.tumblr.com/

  62. I totally agree with you 😉

  63. The Simpson’s IS BEST

  64. YES. i couldn’t agree more. i’m a die hard simpsons fan and i could never put my finger on what had changed or why it all of a sudden just wasn’t funny anymore. this was a really interesting read, thanks so much for sharing! x

  65. RIP Simpsons, someone please put down the zombie that is currently wandering around.

  66. All this time I thought I was the only one who felt this way. Great Post!

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