Monday, September 29, 2008

Ten Years Too Many?

I've been meaning to do my "decline of the Simpsons" post for a long time now- Actually, it's something I've been thinking about for years now, going back way before I even started blogging. But the Simpsons was just so good in it's heyday, to chronicle the show's demise would be an epic task, one worthy of a book, not a blog post.

And while I never got around to putting what's been kicking around in my head into words, I haven't stopped trying to figure out what the hell happened. This summer, for the first time ever, I finally spent time watching the "classic" Simpsons episodes on DVD and in order. One thing I'm sure of, is that the classic Simpsons are still great. Seasons three through seven probably add up to five years of some of the best television ever made. What's left today is really a pale imitation of the show's former self. I bring up the Simpsons because I actually bothered to watch last night's 20th season premier and it was horrible. Rather than delving into a long, ranting discussion, I figured I'd just leave a short list of what made last night's entrant to the Simpsons family so craptacular.

# In the classic Simpsons episodes, any schemes or semi-legitimate employment opportunities Homer has are doomed to failure, as Marge never would hesitate to point out. It reflected Homer's character perfectly and provided the show with a neat bit of continuity. Last night's episode, Sex, Pies, and Idiot Scrapes, threw characterization and continuity out the window. In the episodes "A" story, Homer and Flanders became bounty hunters, successfully nabbing Snake and Fat Tony among other bail jumpers. If your initial response is "that doesn't make any sense," you're right. It doesn't. The episode ends with Homer thrown in jail for missing his own trial.

# I mentioned continuity in my last little bit and just need to point out that the classic episodes had a lot of fun with continuity. The Simpsons own house is constantly changing, as is the neighborhood and all sorts of other locales about town. But generally, these changes are meant to be jokes (particularly in the Simpson house), or more often, are added because they comprise an important part of the plot. Last night's episode featured a visual gag in which Homer and Flanders chased Fat Tony onto the Springfield monorail. The problem is, the only monorail we know about was a disaster and was presumably dismantled, seeing as it hasn't been seen since season 4. The monorail was supposed to be a callback joke, but it's brief presence last night only amounts to a cheap visual gag that doesn't add to our appreciation of Springfield (like the town's numerous ethnic neighborhoods do), it just cheapens it.

# Last night's episode featured a side plot with Marge working in an erotic bakery that was completely underdeveloped. Basically, that subplot gave us exactly what a couple of high school kids could have come up with- the lame and the obvious.

# The episode opened with an over-the-top brawl at a St. Patrick's Day parade, complete with Catholics, Protestants, and plenty of stereotypes. Classic Simpsons tended to have consistent plots. This episode, like a lot of the new Simpsons, uses one ridiculous plot to propel the characters into another, very different outrageous situation. While classic Simpsons walked a fine line between realism and cartoonishness, last night's episode obliterated that line.

# The writing is just plain bad. I didn't laugh once. The dialog sounds more like witty sitcom banter than it does anything actually funny- as if the writers are writing to showcase the supposed laughs rather than actually bothering to be funny and creative.


Blogger McMc said...

A few other SIMPSONS complaints from over the years...

"The episode opened with an over-the-top brawl at a St. Patrick's Day parade, complete with Catholics, Protestants, and plenty of stereotypes."

You know what's sad? THEY DID THIS BEFORE. The beer baron episode started because Bart got drunk on St. Patrick's day during the parade. A brawl was about to ensue when someone pointed out a child was drunk.

- The Simpsons family became very aware of their crazy lives back around season 8-9-10...somewhere in there. They started to point out that Homer had tons of jobs and that they visited a lot of locales (in fact, "The Simpsons are going to..." was said so much is was essentially a catch phrase). They became in on the joke 10 years ago. Imagine if someone you knew just kept using the same, lame joke for 10 straight years, not only that though, but they pointed out how lame the joke was every time. Maybe it's cute and maybe it'll get a cheap laugh from time to time, but it's just so lame.

- Springfield was charming early on, and it was great. But as time moved on, Springfield became a bit too conveniant. I could live with a lot of the stuff that went on and stores changing locations and this and that...but then Springfield got a giant mountain, it bordered the ocean and in one episode, Lenny and Homer or something like that go to work on an oil rig in West Springfield, an area so large it was bigger than Texas. The idea of Springfield having it all got used to it's fullest, and abused in it's fullest. As you said, the city has lost it's charm.

- I remember when they switched to computer/digital animation or whatever they call it. It happened in 2003 as I was entering college. This was essentially when I gave up on even trying. I mention the switch though, because I honestly think things looked worse afterward. The color scheme seemed a little different and everything just got, I don't know, weird. Too much shadowing and detail, I think. Either way, that too helped take the charm out.

4:04 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

"Lenny and Homer or something like that go to work on an oil rig in West Springfield, an area so large it was bigger than Texas."

Exactly- a concept that doesn't just have some fun with the notion of perfect continuity, but one that smashes any and all notions of realism.

And the St. Patrick's day brawl- this one had red and green leprechauns fighting each other along with what I believe was the Thing fighting the Incredible Hulk.

4:26 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

This is actually pretty fun to gripe about...

I watched an episode a year or two ago and surprise! It sucked. In the episode, Bart makes s crucial error in Little League that loses the big game for Springfield. Not a bad start, right? Well, Bart is heartbroken and ridiculed by the entire town to the extent that everyone starts to feel bad. To help lift Bart's spirits, the opposing team and the Springfield team agree to restage the entire game and give Bart one more chance to make the play. It's a giant act, and they insist on replaying the game the exact same way. The entire town of Springfield even shows up to show their support. In the end, Bart screws up again, but they keep making the same batter hit to Bart until he gets it right.

Now that's bad writing.

4:01 AM  

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