25 January 2004 | liquidcelluloid-1
Blind loyalty and network greed has ruined what used to be an animated masterpiece
Network: Fox; Genre: Animated Comedy, Parody, Satire; Content Rating: TV-PG (language, adult contend and animated nudity); Available: DVD and syndication everywhere; Perspective: Classic (star range: 1 - 5);
Seasons Reviewed: Season 12+
If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be bored by 'The Simpsons', I would have called them crazy. But here we are and while 'The Simpsons' has become the longest running show on TV at the cost of its core integrity. "Simpsons" in its prime was the best things to grace the small screen. A funny, ground-breaking animated comedy with lightening-quick wit, insightful social and brilliantly integrated parody. It created its own universe with an entire town of original characters. Most importantly, it actually helped shape the sense of humor of an entire generation. That generation which has now grown up and is now creating animated shows in direct competition.
"Simpsons" is a pale shadow of its former greatness. It gradually slipping this way for several years, but it wasn't until the 2002 and 2003 seasons that the show really smashed up against the rocks for good. I used to delight in each new episode of "Simpsons". But now the show clunks along each week in what appears to be filling time. The free-wheeling gags it used to deliver with such ease are now weighted down by an unnecessary over importance on story. The show at its best may get off a funny, sharp one-liner every now and then. It's biggest asset currently is it's willingness and given latitude to slam its own network. I do delight in their "Joe Millionaire" on-air promo parodies or a recent episode where Homer calls to give the network an idea and the recording says something like "If you know of another network's reality show we can rip off, press 2..."
So what happened? There really is no one thing that can easily be pointed out to all the late-commers and say "this is what happened" - you have to have traced the history. The 'jump the shark' moment could have come as early as the infamous Frank Grimes episode where our vision of The Simpson family was suddenly turned into something to aspire to instead of parody. It could be the legion of big name celebrities forced into every episode. To bring down a show as great as this, it was a slow convergence of several things.
Watching it, 3 differences are evident on-screen at any given time: First, the stripping down most of the characters to 1-note cartoons. Notably, British favorite Homer Simpson going from child-like, hard-luck father to a rag-doll for wild animals to rip apart as each episode closes. I'm particularly appalled at its attempts to use Homer as a political mouthpiece. Did you know that a guy who once lit a Q-tip so he could see inside his brain has an active concern for global politics? Yeah, I didn't either.
Secondly, the classic Baby Boomer voice of the series has evaporated and was replaced with contemporary generation X and Y jokes. Now, it's the internet and Tony Hawke. The voice of the series used to be one of creator Matt Groening's, seen through the eyes of Homer and Marge. That voice has been lost as the show has turned into an assembly line institution, repackaged and been homogenized for the masses and a new generation of writers lead by Ian Maxton-Graham has come in to "keep it fresh".
Thirdly, it has run out of creative juice. Anyone who has stuck with the show long enough can see it literally re-telling jokes and recycle previous story lines. When the recycling becomes too obvious or the episode makes no sense, they merely double back and declare it all a big self-parody. Not even Al Jean (architect of the show in its prime and the Larry David of "The Simpsons") can save it now.
Since the talented voice cast has remained the same low these many years, I put all the blame on this squarely with the Fox network who refused to let this show go out gracefully when Groening siphoned off his role to work on his dream project, the now far superior 'Futurama'. In Fox's race to claim this endurance record they have turned a once edgy and visionary show into an institution with an assembly line production and revolving door of writers to match any of the other lame shows on TV. Behind the scenes, maybe the condescending we-can-do-no-wrong attitude of Maxton-Graham has dealt the show its biggest death blow, while producer Mike Scully sat back and ineptly let Maxton-Graham run it into the ground.
In the end, the biggest blame may actually land with the "die-hard fans" that embolden the show by letting it get away with this junk. Yes, "The Simpsons" was ground-breaking and every adult animation in the future owns it a bit of gratitude, but blind loyalty to a show only for how it performed in the past isn't healthy.
Since it has hit long-running status the critical bandwagon jumping has begun and "Simpsons" is more popular than ever amongst critics that want to be on the inside of history. We've now reached a point where the bad episodes and bad entire seasons outweigh the good and that, I'm afraid, is going to be the sad legacy of "Simpsons" . A train-wreck of crass, childish humor, grainy animation, oddly misplaced satire and forced parodies of only the most obvious pop culture targets.
10 years ago I didn't know what I would do without "The Simpsons" but now, particularly with the emergence of satisfying new adult animated shows ('Futurama', 'Family Guy' and 'South Park'), living without it might be pretty good.
* * / 5