The Great Debates: Are the Simpsons still good?

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image: Huffington Post

image: Huffington Post

Participants: Kyle Leitch Production [PRO] and Allan Hall [CONTRA]


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PRO

Kyle Leitch – Production Manager 

Ah, the Simpsons. What started as a crappy time-filler on the Tracey Ullman Show has since become the longest-running scripted sitcom in television history, with an astounding twenty-five seasons and counting. The average Simpsons episode still draws in an average of seven million viewers. What’s made the show so endearing to generations of couch potatoes is its seemingly boundless ability to adapt to its viewers.

When the Simpsons first premiered in 1989, the show was widely praised for its believable characters that related real family problems in ways that no one thought a cartoon show was capable of. By its third season, the Simpsons had become one of the funniest and most easily recognizable forces in pop culture. There were endorsement deals, CDs, video games, merchandising—the works.

However, those accolades mostly came in the ‘90s. Since the early seasons, the voices of the critics have been growing stronger in numbers. The show has become old and tired; it’s given up character-driven plots in favour of madcap antics and popular references. If I may summarize the general consensus in one thought, it may be this: the Simpsons has become “bad” because it became the very thing it parodied.

I might stop these people here to ask them about their favourite Simpsons moment. I get the standard answers: Principal Tamzarian; Super Nintendo Chalmers; Hank Scorpio, and et cetera. Know what some of my favourite Simpsons moments are? Homer getting life lessons from the ghost of Oscar Wilde. Sideshow Bob re-enacting the plot of Face/Off. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties of the United States of America supporting Ralph Wiggum’s presidency.

Don’t recognize those moments? Of course you don’t, you elitists. They’re all from the later, so-called “bad” episodes of the Simpsons. I will agree that, compared to the episodes that I grew up with, the new seasons of the show are different, and yes, I might even think they’re of lower quality, but they are light-years ahead of almost everything else on TV, and even now, I wouldn’t dare call the Simpsons bad.

What makes viewers so quick to condemn new Simpsons is a combination of nostalgic memory and fear of change. I’m guilty of it myself. Watching new episodes, I find myself longing for the days in which Homer and Marge would ride a bicycle into the sunset, rather than Homer taking Marge out with an elephant tranquilizer. But, I guarantee that a generation from now, when I’m even further out of touch with reality, a generation of twenty-somethings will pine for the days of tranquilizers and pop-culture references in favour of whatever the Simpsons of the future will be offering.

In short, the Simpsons isn’t bad—it’s a TV show that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of new demographics of TV viewers every day. In an age where Netflix and online streaming has all but killed the television, it’s comforting to know that, even though it’s changed, the Simpsons are still standing, damn it. Do yourself a favour, Bubba: watch a new episode or two. Do it with an open mind, and I guarantee you’ll get at least a chuckle or two. The Simpsons never asked more than that, so why should you?

CONTRA

Allan Hall – Distribution Manager

While writing this piece about the Simpsons, I decided that I was going to watch the season 24 finale episode “Dangers on a Train” to refresh myself on the series. The premise of the story was that Marge, while trying to buy Homer a snack cake for their anniversary, inadvertently joins an adult dating website for married couples and meets a man named Ben (voiced by Seth Macfarlane of all people). Marge begins to have a flirtatious relationship with Ben, who seems like a kindred spirit to Marge, digitally and her relationship with Homer is tested.

While watching this I couldn’t help but compare this with “The Last Temptation of Homer,” an episode that originally aired in 1993. It shares a similar framework; Homer’s fidelity to Marge is tested when he meets a beautiful new co-worker named Mindy that has Homer-eque features. I personally consider this to be one of my favourite episodes of the series because it managed to tackle the theme of infidelity with a strange mix of humor, warmth and thoughtfulness. It made me sadly yearn for something wonderful in my past like Mr. Burns yearned for Bobo the bear.

Thinking about that episode made watching “Dangers on a Train” even more painful. The season 24 finale just simply wasn’t that particularly good. For me, it seemed like the goal of the episode was more focused on the celebrity stunt casting of Seth Macfarlane than it was about the emotional relationship of Homer and Marge. The jokes were flat, and the script was mundane. To me this was a textbook example showing why the Simpsons just isn’t good anymore.

I find that the writing staff for the Simpsons now is as effective as Sideshow Bob running through a field of rakes. The shows decline in overall quality can be easily seen during the second half of the series. The show’s increasing on reliance of random celebrity guest commonly overshadows the central plot of the episode, which hurts the show’s ability to tell a story effectively. It attempts to have provocative punch lines that for the most part fall flat. The show’s emphasis on having a zany adventure of the week rather than character-driven plots feels tiring as a viewer.

With that being said, it’s somewhat understandable that the overall quality of the writing has diminished. There’s only so much that the writers can do after 500+ episodes with a set of characters that, for the most part, have remained static for the show’s 25-year run.

My other criticism of the Simpsons over the past decade is that the series has lost its heart. The show has done a poor job over the years of creating emotionally touching moments and showing emotional warmth. When they do attempt to show heart, it’s just poorly executed. I can’t think of a scene in recent years that still resonate with me like the “Lisa, it’s your birthday! Happy birthday, Lisa!” song in the episode, “Stark Raving Dad”.

This is an unprecedented time in terms of quality for television as a medium of entertainment. Show runners and writers have been given an increasingly greater amount of freedom to craft great television. While I have a genuine love for the Simpsons, when compared to other television options that I have available, the series now feels like a tired and mundane antiquity of the past.

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