As the longest-running sitcom in the history of television lurches towards another season, one thing is increasingly clear: friends don’t let friends make 27 seasons of The Simpsons. In recent years, the show’s become like that favourite 90s band that insists on releasing inferior new albums years after its heyday. In short, The Simpsons are the Smashing Pumpkins.
In 2015, still more episodes of The Simpsons is probably the second-last thing our civilisation needs, just behind that book of 352 Kim Kardashian selfies. There are already 574 episodes in the can, so many that you could watch non-stop for eight days and still not get through them all. Surely our appetite for even this most brilliant of series has been satiated?
Once I used to read those news stories about the latest ingenious developments brewed up in the writers’ room with great delight. But the latest batch of announcements was dismal. “Homer and Marge are to separate!” said one batch of articles, with Lena Dunham appearing as the Other Woman. Goodness me – marital strife between Marge and Homer – is that for the 324th or 325th time?
And come on – it’s a sitcom. Hence the subsequent obvious, clarification that it was only going to be for an episode or two.
What I’d like to hear producer Al Jean clarifying is why the series is continuing at all when his only other ‘teaser’ announcements about Series 27 were that Spider Pig is coming back, as though there’s any more juice to be squeezed from that one brief joke, and that Bart will die.
Yes, the death gimmick again, which only serves to remind us how great it was the first time. The ‘Who Shot Mr Burns?’ concept had the whole planet talking back in 1995. And Bart will be killed by Sideshow Bob, but only in a Halloween episode. Who cares, honestly?
22 more episodes this year, and another two seasons on order thereafter, are enough to depress even Ned Flanders. And all the more so since the man who voices Flanders and other inhabitants of Springfield has left the show. Harry Shearer is irreplaceable, as is inadvertently proven by this video of voice artist Brock Baker auditioning to take over his characters. If even the actors are over it, why continue?
The Simpsons arrived when I was in Year Seven, just two years older than Bart. He was a skateboard-riding rebel, just like I would have liked to be, and definitely was not. But it’s been with us so long that skateboarding went out of fashion when I hit my mid-teens, then came back in with double-ended boards, then went out again, and now I’m too old to know whether it’s in or out anymore. Yet throughout, Bart kept riding that same board in the opening titles, as though nothing had changed.
Bart can remain a ten-year-old boy forever, because animated series can look the same forever. But it still changes, because the creatives involved change, and because society changes. When it began, The Simpsons joined Married With Children on Fox as a brilliant satire of the American sitcom. It was razor-sharp in so many respects – the glibness of Reverend Lovejoy, the corruption of Mayor Quimby, the evil of Mr Burns and his nuclear power plant, the lack of respect for the aged and Grandpa in particular, the chain-smoking of Patty and Selma, the regular crushing of Lisa’s idealism, and the increasing sense that Marge found being a housewife limiting and frustrating. The show somehow managed to take aim at middle America and yet still deliver the genuine affection despite all their flaws that gives all good sitcoms heart.
There are so many unforgettable, brilliant episodes of the show – browse these 25 just for starters – that it’s heartbreaking to see it get so stale. Because nowadays, without refreshing the regular characters, the social satire has become toothless. The series should probably have finished once Family Guy (which falls somewhere on the spectrum between a homage and a clone) got funnier, and it definitely should have finished before they did that crossover episode together.
The show has done absolutely everything, even putting out a genuinely good big screen adaptation in 2007. There is nothing more to achieve, and nothing more to say, and now it’s time to let the Simpson family go, because despite living on Evergreen Terrace, they are not.
To make sure I wasn’t being unfair, I watched a random episode from series 26, ‘Waiting for Duffman’. There were a few half-decent gags, including a funny attack on cyclists, and it does an okay job of parodying event television – but overall, it just reminded me of another, better episode where Homer becomes a mascot, ‘Dancin’ Homer’. There’s a passable Game of Thrones title parody, but it wasn’t as good as the one they already did three years ago. And worst of all, most of the jokes were lame, and a few absolutely clanged.
It all smacked of repetition. They’ve already done multiple episodes about Duff Beer, of course – like the Duff Gardens one – and in fact there’s at least another one where Homer has to remain sober like he does in ‘Waiting for Duffman’. “I’m not sure how many times we can watch dad get chased by an angry mob without is causing psychological damage,” Lisa says at one point, neatly summing up the problem.
South Park once made an episode called ‘Simpsons Already Did It’ fuelled by their frustration at just how many ideas The Simpsons’ brilliant writers had come up with. That South Park episode aired way back in 2002. 13 years later, The Simpsons is the one that’s stuck doing things that The Simpsons already did.
Even Rupert Murdoch, who was so brilliantly parodied back in the day, is stepping down, and so should his network’s most outstanding creation. There’s no need for sorrow – the cast and crew are legends and millionaires, and with 574 episodes in the can, their work will be on our screens forever. (Although let’s face it, programmers are probably going to stick to the first 300 episodes or so.) Television’s greatest family will never leave us, but it’s time the family behind the scenes of the best show in the history of television shuffled off to the Retirement Castle before they’re remembered as the show that stuck around too long.
Okay, before they’re primarily remembered as the show that stuck around too long. After all, why watch a new rehash of an old Simpsons episode when you can just watch the old Simpsons episode?