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  • Ryan Goldberg

The "D'OHnfall" of The Simpsons

The Simpsons is a show that dominated 90s TV. In a time when sitcoms were blowing up, The Simpsons was there to put that staged laughter to rest. It was a show that really resonated with the common American family. In a way, the cartoon was more real than the live action families on TV. But all that changed at the turn of the millennium. The yellow family everyone once loved became weak and cliché. Continuing to air The Simpsons is like beating a dead horse, and here’s why.

The first episode of The Simpsons, The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, aired December 17th, 1989. Overall, the episode worked. It did a great job introducing the family to the world. This was also where the Simpsons got their beloved dog, Santa’s Little Helper – and that plot line was one of the reasons the early episodes worked so well. The dog lasted for the rest of the series. It was a canon moment in a non-canon TV show. These moments, which were inserted into certain episodes, turned the show into more of a story. You could still choose any episode to watch and understand it, but if you really wanted to get the best experience, you had to have watched past episodes. The show had a few of these canon moments such as Lisa becoming a vegetarian, Aunt Patty being homosexual, and all the times Sideshow Bob tried to kill Bart. These moments all had episodes dedicated to them, and made for something the viewer had to keep up with to be a true fan. The success of this gag, however, ended in season 11 when they killed off Maude Flanders, a big character who the audience knew well. The canon gimmick was too much. A shirt from a shirt-cannon knocked her off a high bleacher, and just like that, she was gone. It was a dishonorable death for such a memorable character. In the later seasons, the writers ended canon gimmicks altogether and the show became less appealing to watch. One could choose any episode and there was no larger context.

Matt Groening wrote The Simpsons with counter-culture at its core. He grew up in a time of American humiliation. The president had resigned from office for corruption, the U.S. was spending billions on a lost-cause war halfway across the world, and Jim Crow laws were destroying the south. The Simpsons was designed to challenge many American values, such as politics, family, religion, and labor.. For example, season 7 episode 13, Two Bad Neighbors, painted former president George H.W. Bush as a weak, unpleasant, and incompetent man. Season 5 episode 5, Treehouse of Horror IV, saw Homer outsmart the devil through his love for donuts.

Nothing captured the Simpsons counter-culture more, however, than season 8 episode 23, Homer’s Enemy. It ultimately illustrated how the “American dream” is a lie. The episode highlights how Homer eased his way into becoming a nuclear technician where he constantly slacks off, yet he is still able to keep his job, live in a nice house, and has a loving family. It contrasts him with the “anti Homer,” Frank Grimes. Grimes is a man who grew up with nothing, had to use his free time to study chemistry, and was finally able to get a job at the nuclear plant. However, it does not go well for him. Despite all the effort he puts in, he still goes nights without sleeping, and eventually gets his salary cut by the boss, Mr. Burns, for swatting away a bottle of acid Homer was about to drink, creating a hole in the wall. Homer’s lackluster performance and high reward ends up driving Grimes crazy and he grabs an exposed wire, fatally electrocuting himself. Though his appearance was short lived, Frank Grimes taught us something: America is broken. A family can get everything they want by doing virtually nothing while hard-working people live paycheck to paycheck. Grimes even says to Homer, “You’re what's wrong with America.” The Simpsons took a popular ideal, the American Dream, and challenged it to its core. Homer’s Enemy was possibly the best example of the show’s anti-establishment writing. Once the newer episodes were released, the counter-culture themes started to fade. Political critiques became dull and overt, random celebrities constantly made appearances, and the show became over-commercialized. The main writers had left the show, and the new stuff just wasn’t working. The beloved cartoon that used to challenge the mainstream, eventually became the mainstream, and the new writing directly correlated with the show’s demise.

The final attribute that exhibits The Simpsons’ downfall is the animation. The Simpsons didn’t have a “definite shape” in the first seasons. At certain times, Lisa’s hair was bigger than usual, Homer’s head was drawn differently, Marge’s hair was fluid, and Bart's mouth moved to the side then he talked. This was all complemented by the grainy resolution of the show. The fact that it wasn’t perfect jibed with how the Simpsons were an imperfect family; they were just the Simpsons. That feeling felt lost once computers and animation advanced. The high definition Simpsons does not seem right. Something that goes unnoticed in the newer animation is the lack of motion detail. Their now subtle movements are more choppy. There is less vibrance in their character. For example, in newer seasons when Marge turns her head, her hair is stiff, as if it's solid. Only mouths move when they speak whereas it used to be that the character’s head moved around as well. The nostalgia of The Simpsons is lost in high definition.

With a show that has been on prime-time TV for over 30 years, it is unrealistic to think that it could have lasted forever. The Simpsons had to end at some point, and although episodes are still being released, it feels like the show ended 25 years ago when these experiments started being implemented. With its best days behind it, I think it is time for The Simpsons to call it quits.

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