‘You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain’ – Harvey Dent. The Simpsons, unfortunately, proves this statement to be true.
This is not a revolutionary claim. It is widely acknowledged that The Simpsons has been on a steady downward slope for most of its run and there have been several essays and videos in which fans attempt to explain why. The answer is fairly simple; it went on for too long.
There is a good reason why the term for a character becoming defined by their quirks is known as ‘Flanderization’. While Ned Flanders is the namesake for this term, almost every character has been reduced to a caricature. As the seasons go on, formerly minor details meant to give the characters depth and individuality overwhelm their personalities.
The issue here is that the glue that held The Simpsons together amid all the ridiculous plots was that the family genuinely loved one another. With the characters now defined by their foibles, the show lost its heart.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when The Simpsons lost its magic. Many people cite season nine as the end of the ‘golden years’ of the show but there are definitely some stand out episodes in the next couple of seasons. If there were to put a definitive date on when the show went bad, it could perhaps be the turn of the millennium. Almost every great episode came out sometime in the 90s and frankly, nothing past this point has really seemed like The Simpsons as it was before.
Perhaps the funniest part of this is that the writers seem aware that the show’s best years are behind them. There are constant callbacks to their wonder years. Every now and again a reference to ‘Homer’s Enemy’ or ‘Kamp Krusty’ or another one of their most popular episodes will make its way into the show. Both of these episodes, in fact, have had lacklustre sequels in the later seasons. When you are actively ripping off your own show, perhaps it is time to end it.
The ultimate sadness though is that no matter when or how The Simpsons ends, no matter if it produced the finest finale in television history, at this point that just wouldn’t be enough. While The Simpsons should always be acknowledged as a groundbreaking show that paved the way for future adult animation. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that for around two decades now, The Simpsons has been sub-par television.
What started as something unique and special became just another mindless sitcom relying on cheap gimmicks, easy pop culture references, and pointless celebrity cameos being pushed down our throats by network execs to make money. Think Family Guy without the crudity.
There is a bitter sense of irony to be found in this situation. What was once an exceptional series is now an example of everything wrong with network television.
Image: daniel.chodusov @ Flickr