I love the Simpsons.
My personal Simpsons experience involved tuning in religiously every night for the 5:30PM or 6:00PM slot on Fox31 preceded by the evening news and followed by King of the Hill and dinner. I think The Simpsons was the single largest contributor to my sense of humor growing up. It taught me a style of humor where nothing is sacred, where the whole world is just a gag away from becoming a self parody. That’s where The Simpsons shined the brightest. When it held a mirror up to American culture and Clockwork-Orange-style forced upon us self reflection. Institutions of religion, politics, media and family were all just veils to hide a system that was vaguely held together with duct tape and yarn. Where authority figures were inept and flying by the seat of their pants. Where the Chief Wiggums, Mayor Quimbys and SuperNintendo Chalmers of the world are just barely holding things together by sheer happenstance, while the Principal Skinners and Mrs. Krabbappels are deeply flawed individuals unfit to oversee much of anything.
Family life is depicted as necessary but complicated. Heartwarming, but sometimes tragic. And while family provides a moral backbone for society it is never depicted as boring and certainly doesn’t advocate for staying within the ordinary. While the Full Houses and the Rosannes of the world may offer a more vapid existence, The Simpsons offers a different trajectory while still remaining within the confines of a family unit. Whether that trajectory is Lisa’s vegetarianism or Homer’s dissonance created by leading the existentially dreadful 9-5 and his buffoonish ability to get himself into remarkable situations. The Simpsons taught me that not only is an ordinary life not worth living, but rather that an ordinary life is... well… not ordinary.
And obviously all of that is retrospective. The main draw as that The Simpsons was funny! Episodes from the late 90s and early 00s are great! There’s Simpsons quotes that cover practically every topic. I know, I use them all the time. Friendships were birthed in the primordial elementary school yard around Simpsons quotes (and Spongebob quotes).
I think everyone who’s a fan of the Simpsons has a similar take, it’s a 90s/early 00s classic with relevant allusions for practically any situation. A salt of the earth pre/mid/post dinner stalwart of broadcast television. When I allude to Simpsons references I find a similar popularity and an almost parallel “Simpsons experience” with people ranging from Brits to Argentinians to South Africans. And regardless of any individual idea of when the quote unquote Simpsons Golden Age was, it still leaves a deep impression on each person.
But there’s another part of what most Simpsons fans agree on: The Simpsons has long overstayed its welcome. As The Simpsons reached its peak popularity and proved that adult animation could be successful, imitators came out of the woodwork. Shows like Family Guy and South Park were built on the foundation that The Simpsons laid. But these shows had a more short sighted format that was fundamentally different than the Simpsons. They referenced current events.
This style is way easier to create, as half the joke is already written by the real world. Every joke feels really fresh to the viewer, it tickles what’s at the forefront of people’s minds. The new format led to a surge in popularity for both Family Guy and South Park. But the downside is that many of the jokes don’t age well. Take any South Park episode ragging on Paris Hilton or any other C-List, 15 seconds of fame celebrity. The Golden Age of The Simpsons is timeless, it doesn’t age in tandem with 90s pop culture. The jokes stand on their own, they represent novel ideas. There’s a reason, “The Simpsons already did it” proves to be a well used idiom.
The Simpsons wasn’t immune to the stylistic evolution in animation. In the internet age, the flaws in this type of format are compounded. Pop culture moves really fast. Even big events get deconstructed, parodied and replaced in the same time frame that it would take The Simpsons to make an episode. An example, it was announced that the next Treehouse of Horror would be parodying Stranger Things and The Shape of Water. The Stranger Things parody would be welcome if it were to come in the next 3-4 weeks but they’re talking about October or November. Ancient by internet standards. The Shape of Water came out in 2017. That’s too slow for either parody, it’s the worst of both worlds. It’s not quick enough to feel relevant and it’s not a novel idea. Not to mention that at this point The Simpsons is practically a cultural institution and that’s a problem when it is trying to poke fun at pop culture. It’s simply too ingrained in the zeitgeist to feel prescient. Any criticism of American culture would practically be self-parody.
In my mind the legacy of The Simpsons remains untarnished. I can forgive the missteps in the present and so I preserve the early-mid part of the show in my memory as a classic. A classic that I don’t even need to put on the rose-tinted glasses to reminisce about its quality and quote ad nauseum. A classic that I grew up with, that shaped my humor, my morals and my outlooks. Thanks The Simpsons.