It is a truth universally acknowledged that America’s beloved yellow family hasn’t been looking it’s best these past couple of years. With 26 seasons, 574 broadcasted episodes, and a movie, one begins to wonder, has this ingenious animated show that has sparked so many laughs, finally run its course?
When I first set out to write this article, I wasn’t quite sure if I was the right person for the job. The Simpsons is six years older than me. I grew up with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as household names (even though I wasn’t allowed to watch the show until I was almost twelve, because my mother deemed it inappropriate. Proof that animation isn’t just for kids!).
So I wasn’t there for those first seasons, watching them occur. By the time I had begun to watch the show, it had already established itself as being perhaps one of the best television shows ever. This was the mentality I had when I first watched an episode, and it is a mentality that has held through each and every episode I have seen subsequently. So am I perhaps a little biased with my love of The Simpsons? Perhaps.
However, this high, golden opinion I held of the show has become slightly tarnished over time. Yes, I still love The Simpsons. I will love it until the end. But over time, I have begun to wonder: should the end come sooner rather than later?
Recently, Harry Shearer, the man behind the voices of Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, and Principal Skinner among others, announced that he would be leaving the show after 26 years of voice work. While the voice work will be replaced by others (rather than killing the characters off) one has to wonder if this is a sign of the show reaching its end as one of the main six voice actors leaves. (On this point, I would just like to add that this is a slightly messy story. He said he left to pursue other ventures, there are rumors that the $14 million Fox offered him just wasn’t enticing enough for Shearer to remain. Alas, we will never know what happened exactly.)
The Simpsons almost saw its end at season 24, when contract disputes were occurring, but it has managed to pull through, another two seasons already green lighted for the future.
The Simpsons has always been a testament to our time. It has often displayed important events occurring around the world, and the characters change acutely when the times change. They have often displayed powerful messages about politics, philosophy, the environment, and other deep-seated topics that are at the forefront of the days problems. This is not just a family of yellow characters. The jokes are often much deeper than one would expect, and the messages are equally powerful. There have been episodes that make the viewer laugh and cry in equal measure, and this family has most certainly changed television and culture for the better.
Maybe I have become jaded over time. Maybe too much time scrolling through comments reviewing the latest episode to air has affected my viewership of the last few seasons. (Ah, to be young again, entering Springfield fresh faced and without the knowledge of Internet message boards to single-handedly destroy everything that you hold so dear. Those were better days.) The last few seasons have just felt off. Not bad, just off. It took me a while to put my finger on it, and after much contemplation, I think that I have begun to understand why the latest episodes haven’t struck the same chord with viewers as earlier ones.
Some of the very best episodes are the ones in which the characters are interacting with one another in a way that is ridiculous, but loving. Sure, Homer is strangling Bart–but with love, that might meld into a hug. Lisa’s quest for knowledge may have taken her down a dangerous path (perhaps right next to an erupting volcano), but Marge will always be there to save her daughter. The characters go out of their way for one another. They are imperfect, but usually at the cusp of becoming better people, or at least, a little kinder to one another. No matter how ridiculous the situation, the characters are somehow always relatable.
But lately, the characters have become more distant from one another. Homer has become a caricature of himself, going from a loving oaf to, well, just an oaf. Bart’s pranks still go one step too far, but rarely are the stakes high or is the family involved in a way that will allow Bart grow as a character.
This isn’t necessarily the end of The Simpsons. Many TV shows fall prone to allowing their characters become spoofs of themselves, taking what had once been great about characters and emphasizing beloved traits so much that the characters became unrelatable or annoying. It happens. But this is nothing that The Simpsons can’t come back from.
Maybe the recent ebbs have been more of a testament to the time we live in. The first nine seasons were endlessly praised, rough, ragged animation and all. Today’s crisp and clean animation seems to need equally crisp and clean technology and actors. Rather than letting the already existing characters to grow and develop, the plot seems perfectly content with allowing guest stars completely derail an episode, or perhaps thinking that Chief Wiggum flying around on a jetpack will be considered good enough for viewers. The show has begun to move towards cheap tricks and obnoxious plots. Somehow, the show has always been able to walk the fine line between ridiculous yet touching situations, without crossing the border to obnoxious antics. Of late, they have stumbled and have been leaning more towards the obnoxious. The circumstances could possibly work, but the jokes are all focused on ridiculous technology or ridiculous voice actor, with little ground for the preexisting characters to expand.
That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been good episodes of late. “Brick Like Me”, “The Kids are All Fight”, and “Bart’s New Friend” immediately come to mind as great episodes. Yes, they feature technology, branding, and guest stars, but they allow the characters to grow and interact with each other in a sweet and amusing way. This is what we love about The Simpsons.
So where do we draw the line? The Simpsons, for better or worse, has to end eventually, like all great things. Yes, it must be hard 26 years later for the writers to keep coming up with new and innovative storylines. And yes, I would like my beloved show continue forever, but I also really want it to end on a high note. It’s difficult because no one wants their favorite shows to end. But it can be almost worse if the show is drawn out to a point where what was once great is ruined (I think we all try to pretend that the last season of Scrubs didn’t happen, for example).
For now, I am trying to stay optimistic. Am I clinging to a sinking ship? Perhaps. Personally, I don’t think that the last few seasons of The Simpsons have been terrible–just not as good as they once were. (Even a faltering Simpsons is better than a majority of what is on television now.) The subpar plots can be used as a roadmap to avoid pitfalls for the future. No matter where The Simpsons go next, there are still two more seasons that are certain. I know that these two seasons can be great, as long as they start to go back to what used to make them great. We need more Bart and Lisa, kid detectives, no more episodes that are essentially a twenty-two minute long Lady Gaga commercial.
Do I want The Simpsons to end? Of course not. I want them to make the next two seasons great. I want them to prove that The Simpsons deserves to continue running for as long as possible. At the very least, I want The Simpsons to be good, good enough where, at the very least, we would be able to say goodbye to our beloved family on a happy, if not immensely bittersweet, moment.
What do you think? Do you think that ‘The Simpsons’ has run its course, or that it should continue going until the end of time? How have you felt about the latest seasons?
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