I watched the 20th anniversary special that Morgan Spurlock made, which aired in early 2010. I had made the decision the previous fall to finally stop watching the series, so seeing this special was kind of bittersweet to me, celebrating 20 years and the future of this show that I had just decided to give up on. The special was not so much about the show itself, but the global phenomenon it spawned, and how it affected all of us as people, a society… hell, the entire world. We got to see the Simpsons-inspired donuts of Portland, Oregon, a pretty damn good Homer impersonator at San Diego Comic Con, an English fan with over 30,000 pieces of Simpsons stuff over every inch of his cramped house, blowhard Bill Donahue continue to make a public fool of himself, Dr. Ruth discussing Homer and Marge’s sex life, and Conan O’Brien hypothesizing a wonderfully grim end to the series that I almost wish would actually happen (“Marge is going to take a good long look at Homer, and say, he’s so stupid, and he’s screwed us over so many times. It’ll be humorless, it won’t be funny, it’ll just be her looking at Homer, and saying, you are such a stupid son-of-a-bitch, you’re endangering my children, you’ve destroyed the town six hundred thousand times, you’re a threat to mankind. I’m leaving you forever.”) The show’s “alleged” decline in quality is touched upon very briefly, with two writers dismissing any and all criticism, but hey, the special is neither the time nor place to bring up this topic. After I watched it the first time… I dunno, I enjoyed it, but I certainly remained steadfast with my decision. And watching it again, I pretty much feel the same way.
So here’s the million dollar question: what caused one of the greatest, if not the greatest, television show ever to slowly but surely become one of the worst? Well, surely, if you ask that off the bat, you haven’t been paying attention to this blog at all. There’s so many answers and contributing factors to this inquiry, but there’s one point I want to elaborate on as what will probably be my final statement. Episodic TV comedies are really hard to keep going. What I’ve noticed is very, very few of them get past five seasons and remain as good as ever, so the fact that we got eight untarnished seasons of The Simpsons is miraculous enough. But over time, things happen; situations get crazier, characters more exaggerated, the show starts becoming ridiculous, and starts losing its humanity. But there’s no reason a show with such a strong foundation as The Simpsons couldn’t still be great today. With so many characters and locations established in the great, wide world of Springfield, the stories that could be told are endless. But the show, for whatever reason, seemed to stop trying. I think with a long-running comedy, you need to shake things up and try new things, explore new places and new avenues for your characters to go down. But this show seemed to do the opposite; rather than have the cast grow, they retracted, becoming more one-note props than actual people. I feel if I continue elaborating, I’ll just be repeating points I’ve made through this whole blog, but I feel the biggest disservice of the show is its degradation of its characters, and the town as a whole. What once seemed so full of life was now just going through the motions, spit out the catchphrases, do the same old schtick, cash your paychecks and move on to next Sunday.
Many fans cry about how the last decade or so of the show will tarnish the legacy of the series. Well, The Simpsons will certainly be remembered for running long past its luster, and every article written on it will surely include some sort of asterisk, but just take a look at the special. Every clip, every reference, everyone interviewed, everything that is shown or mentioned comes from the classic era. It’s a special celebrating twenty years, yet 95% of all the material shown comes from the first half. The fact of the matter is that the latter episodes are just incredibly unmemorable, and this just further emphasizes it. Frank Grimes, Mr. Plow, the Land of Chocolate, Mother Simpson, Whacking Day, the Babysitter Bandit, all of these classic moments, and so many, many more will be remembered and cherished forever. But what’s a noteworthy bit from the last decade that you can honestly say will stay with you… and in a favorable way? Even episodes that pissed you off will eventually fade away, and in time, only those sweet sweet golden years will remain. The systematic tarnishing of The Simpsons used to bother me, but now it really doesn’t matter anymore, even after having just suffered through hundreds of sub-par episodes. We can remember and honor the show in whatever way we choose, and nothing the show does now or into the future can taint my fond, fond memories of our favorite yellow family.
So there’s the retrospective. Wednesday, one last post. Probably.