Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How I Drifted Away From THE SIMPSONS

For those of you thinking, "What is he writing a blog on THE SIMPSONS for?? This is a movie blog!"--hey, it's my blog, and I can do whatever I want. Besides, there was a Simpsons movie, which I'll get to.

Anyway, there has been a lot of Simpsons news lately, starting with the revelation that Harry Shearer, who did many of the show's voices, will no longer be part of the program. Yesterday came internet news that for the show's 27th season, Bart Simpson will get killed by his nemesis Sideshow Bob in the annual Halloween episode, and Marge and Homer will split up.

Anyone who personally knows me can tell you how much I loved watching the Simpsons. I watched it obsessively--I would never miss a new episode on Sunday night, even if there was a major sporting event going on. I had plenty of Simpsons memorabilia, I would buy the season DVD sets the day they came out, and I would still always watch the reruns in the afternoon.

Now I have to admit I haven't even seen a new episode in the last two or three years. I just drifted away from it--it wasn't an overnight decision, it wasn't something I decided to do at a certain moment. It got to the point where I would miss an episode here and there....and eventually I just stopped watching it....and I probably didn't even realize I wasn't watching it anymore.

Fact is, THE SIMPSONS has been running on fumes for years. I don't care how good the writing or acting on any television show may be--after 27 years, there's going to be a decline in quality. The unique nature of THE SIMPSONS makes it even more susceptible to a downfall.

Do any of these plotlines sound familiar to you?

Homer and Lisa try to bond together
Bart goes too far, and realizes the consequences of his actions
Principal Skinner/Mrs. Krabbapple/Moe tries to find true love

I could name plenty others, but THE SIMPSONS has used variations of those plotlines over and over and over again. So much so that after awhile I could watch a new episode for about a couple minutes and figure out what plotline they were going to use.

The big problem I started to have with the show is that the supporting characters were allowed to change (Skinner and Krabbapple having an affair, Barney quitting drinking, etc.) yet the Simpsons themselves stayed the same. The kids never aged. I know that's supposed to be one of the big in-jokes of the show, but think about this: what if--every three or five seasons, for example--the Simpson kids had aged one year? Just think about all the new plotlines and stories that could develop from that. This is where the fact that the Simpsons is animated hurts the show in a way. The family not changing at all for ten or twelve years? Okay, you might get away with it...but after 25 years, it just doesn't work. That's why the idea of having Marge and Homer separate--in the series' 27th year--appears to be nothing more than grasping at straws.

Another reason THE SIMPSONS just isn't what it used to be anymore is that it is supposed to be a "cutting edge" show. Trying to be cutting edge for any amount of time, especially in the world of today, is a hard chore (just ask the makers of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or David Letterman). In reality, when THE SIMPSONS was at the top of its game, the show was never as subversive as its critics thought it was. At its best THE SIMPSONS was a brilliantly funny observation of American culture--but it also had heart. You cared about and liked the characters. This is what makes THE SIMPSONS different from FAMILY GUY. If you watch two minutes of FAMILY GUY, yeah, you'll laugh--but you don't really care what happens to the FAMILY GUY characters, and I just don't think that show has the resonance that the best of THE SIMPSONS has.

When I started losing interest in THE SIMPSONS, it seemed to me to be trying to be like FAMILY GUY by going down the every-single-second-a-politically-incorrect-joke route. The problem with trying to shock people is that eventually they won't be shocked anymore as society changes. If you watch some of the classic Simpsons episodes from the 1990s, it looks and feels almost like a completely different show than the Simpsons of the 21st Century.

What the makers of THE SIMPSONS should have done was to stop the show and concentrate on making Simpsons movies. Or...maybe they just should have taken a break altogether. Everything now is being re-done, re-booted, remade, or re-worked....but you can't do that with THE SIMPSONS, because they've been around the whole time. Could you imagine how the internet would react if THE SIMPSONS had been off the air for a number of years....and it was announced that the show was coming back? Social media would go absolutely crazy.

There's another reason, a very important one, that I think explains why I don't get into THE SIMPSONS any more, and it has a lot to do with geek culture.

When you watch a television show nowadays, you don't just watch immerse yourself in it. You read books and articles about it, you learn all the facts and trivia about the show, you go online and obsess over nuance and detail of every episode. I believe the main reason why people watch shows like GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD is because they want to be a part of what everybody else is talking about on the internet.

When I was a kid, viewers watched television in a totally different way. There wasn't any multi-episode story arcs, or continuing threads. If, say, on an episode of CHIPS, Ponch or Jon fell in love, you could bet that one of three outcomes was going to happen. The woman was going to turn out to be criminal, or die by the end of the episode, or have to move away to Madagascar or someplace like that....and by next week's episode, that woman was absolutely forgotten.

Now, watching a popular TV show is something of a chore...there's just so much stuff you have to deal with and remember if you want to be a fan of a certain show. After 25 years, THE SIMPSONS has accumulated a lot of stuff....and I think my Simpsons memory hard drive just reached its limit. I have a lot of interests, a lot of things I get into....and as I get older, more and more I have to pick and choose how much time (and money) I devote to certain things. THE SIMPSONS just went off to the side of the road for me. I still consider it one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and just about every day a certain situation comes up in my life, and I think of a line from THE SIMPSONS that fits that situation. But no, I can't watch it like I used to.


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