the core family dynamic, to show that this is a real family
September 24, 2014 11:29 AM   Subscribe

 
But it's not a myth. I know we can all play the AV Club gag of looking back at people who were bitching about season 3, but the show is objectively not as good as it was through season 8. It's gotten much more simplistic, the characters are more exaggerated, it's just not what it was.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2014 [20 favorites]


My daughter’s the same. Because we have the single DVDs, she watches them like she eats potato chips. And she doesn’t go, “Ooh season three, alright.”

Well, Al Jean, maybe your daughter is stupid.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:49 AM on September 24, 2014 [20 favorites]


There is no myth of the classic era. It's a fact that there was a classic era. The Simpsons after the year 2000 is a worse show than the show that aired before 2000. You can quibble over exactly which season marked the decline, but that is a fact.
posted by graymouser at 11:51 AM on September 24, 2014 [22 favorites]


Yeah, I just look at this and think that, in the end, it's not like they can convince me that I was laughing when I bailed on the show.

It's not that I was looking for an excuse to quit watching. It just stopped being worth my time.
posted by COBRA! at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have sinking suspicion that Al Jean is put-off by discussion of the classic era since those were precisely the years he wasn't really involved with the show.
posted by hwyengr at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


I reject the premise that it's a myth.

Jean: It’s going to be fan-driven. We read people wanted the ability to take the clip of “The bee bit my bottom, now my bottom’s big“ and send it to their friends. That’s what they said they wanted to be able to do.

Yeah, part of The Simpsons fading out of the culture the last few years has been the inability to reach for clips on YouTube when appropriate. There is one for every life situation. I'm glad they feel that way too.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:54 AM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also: if you want a really good analysis of what went wrong, there's Zombie Simpsons (previously on MetaFilter).
posted by graymouser at 11:54 AM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


The Simpsons after the year 2000 is a worse show than the show that aired before 2000. You can quibble over exactly which season marked the decline, but that is a fact.

I agree, but it does give me pause that I went to college in 2000 and the interview says everybody thinks it declined when they went to college.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Dental plan
posted by dng at 11:56 AM on September 24, 2014


And yet most of the individual episodes they are discussing are from the "non-existent" golden era.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2014 [14 favorites]


I don't even care that the Simpsons isn't as good as it was 20+ years ago. Most things aren't, and that claim is getting as tired and repetitive as people say the show is now. The show's provided me countless hours of entertainment, helped to shape my sense of humor, and the marathon was a lot of fun.
posted by girlmightlive at 11:58 AM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yeah, part of The Simpsons fading out of the culture the last few years has been the inability to reach for clips on YouTube when appropriate.

On the bright side, my upside-down videotaped Spanish-speaking skills have improved.
posted by gorbweaver at 11:59 AM on September 24, 2014 [15 favorites]


girlmightlive: "I don't even care that the Simpsons isn't as good as it was 20+ years ago. Most things aren't, and that claim is getting as tired and repetitive as people say the show is now. The show's provided me countless hours of entertainment, helped to shape my sense of humor, and the marathon was a lot of fun."

So, you're saying we should thank our lucky stars that they're still putting on a program of this caliber after so many years?
posted by Chrysostom at 12:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


I agree, but it does give me pause that I went to college in 2000 and the interview says everybody thinks it declined when they went to college.

That's why I like Zombie Simpsons. It actually delves into the writing and the changes in the staff that happened right around the time a good chunk of its original core audience went into college, and shows pretty definitively that the show significantly changed at that time. Homer changed, the writing changed, and the show changed, all in a way that was worse.
posted by graymouser at 12:01 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the bright side, my upside-down videotaped Spanish-speaking skills have improved.

Ironically, you can find the regular clips (as well as the full version of the never-released-on-home-video classic A Star is Burns) on YouTube's non-union Mexican equivalent UstedTubo.
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


the show is objectively not as good as it was

I'm not sure you understand how objectivity works.
posted by grubi at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


the interview says everybody thinks it declined when they went to college.

I was out of college before the show even began, and I still think it declined years ago (my personal opinion is around season 8 or so).
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:08 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


I miss the Tracy Ullman show.
posted by el io at 12:13 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


grubi: "I'm not sure you understand how objectivity works."

If you're taking the position that creative endeavors can only be judged by criteria that are totally subjective, okay. I don't think that's very realistic, but it's one approach to take. But if there are any objective criteria for art, then current Simpsons is simply not as good as "classic era" Simpsons. For reasons extensively laid out at the Zombie Simpsons link.

It's telling that, as mentioned above, even the showrunners who defend the later seasons always mention classic era episodes as the best ones.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm taking the position that opinion is not objective.

And I also take the position that the current seasons are better than the "It was always better then!" crowd might think. It's not the same exact show. And that's okay.
posted by grubi at 12:20 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


the interview says everybody thinks it declined when they went to college.

I went to college in 1999, so I'll cop to that. I was Lisa/Bart-aged when the show debuted. That might be why they think that must be what the real problem is. It isn't.

Crucially, pre-1999 episodes are still just as funny as they ever were, while post-1999 episodes are WAY less funny, on a fundamental why-funny-things-are-funny level. When newer episodes try to be funny, it's inevitably over-explained, out of character, poorly timed, poorly acted, etc.; it just sounds tired, lazy, and complacent. Older episodes, by stark contrast, are impeccable.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:23 PM on September 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


the interview says everybody thinks it declined when they went to college.

I went to college in 1992. So.
posted by grubi at 12:25 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Older episodes, by stark contrast, are impeccable.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.
posted by grubi at 12:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


For those of us who grew up watching the Simpsons - in 4th grade I had a plastic Lisa Simpson wallet that was my prized possession - at some point you just naturally grow out of it. Like pretty much every other interest you have in childhood. What we need is to get those rare unicorn people who've never seen it, and have them rank each season as its own unit. Come to think of it, my GF has never seen the Simpsons....hmm...
posted by SassHat at 12:27 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Uh, not peccable? Duh?

Anyway: GRAPH
posted by Sys Rq at 12:30 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, my peak Simpsons-fan years were my college years (ca. 1995-1999). We actually scheduled our dinner times around when Simpsons repeats aired in the evening, and the new Sunday-night eps were always a big everybody-pile-into-one-room affair. I only trailed off when I started working a job that kept me at work on Sunday nights, and I never really came back from there.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:31 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


b-b-but IMDB ratings ARE NOT OBJECTIVE!

(Guys, seriously, we can do this for another couple dozen comments, or we can acknowledge the objective fact that people subjectively rate episodes seasons from 8-12ish on as far worse than episodes before that point.)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


/comes in, carrying pitchfork and unlit torch

So, would y'all mind if I start an off-topic, likely one-person riot about the British term showrunner? And that it makes me think the referenced person is a gofer (AKA "runner") and not a person in any sort of position of responsibility, such as an Executive Producer, which is what they are in US parlance?

/lifts pitchfork and waves it about listlessly, then collapses onto nearby chair

posted by Celsius1414 at 12:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the "went to college" factor is an optical illusion in the show's demographics. The Simpsons was absolutely huge for people who came of age in time to go to college between 1997 and 2001 – which was when the show went through a sharp decline. The show was a phenomenon in the 1989-1991 period, and managed to hang on roughly through the end of the decade. If you were in middle school in those years, you probably have a relationship to The Simpsons that people a few years younger than you simply don't have.
posted by graymouser at 12:34 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


grubi: "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

"Flawless, faultless"? I mean, it's pretty clear by context that "not capable of sin" wasn't the intended meaning.

Flawless strikes me as a pretty robust statement, but I bet Sys Rq knew what they were saying.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I bet when I come back to this thread in an hour there will be well over 200 comments.
posted by slogger at 12:38 PM on September 24, 2014


It's not that it's bad, it's just too mediocre.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:42 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


My first semester of college included living in close proximity to someone whose every other sentence was punctuated by a Simpsons quote or anecdote, so there's something to the experience of living or interacting with others who like the show that leads to a quick breakdown of interest.

For what it's worth, Futurama came out in fall of 1999 and The Simpsons seemed like the old, somewhat extraneous ancestor for a period once it hit its stride.
posted by mikeh at 12:45 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Drinky Die: "Yeah, part of The Simpsons fading out of the culture the last few years has been the inability to reach for clips on YouTube when appropriate. There is one for every life situation."

tbh there's only one clip I ever need for that.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I bet Sys Rq knew what they were saying.

Inconceivable!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:47 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


I agree that there actually is no "myth". My wife and I pretty much tested it since we bought the season dvds whenever they came out. There are decent episodes after season 8, but we have up to season 13, and the double digit seasons rarely get watched. I even like the early Al Jean years. We were pleasantly relieved that the movie was actually pretty good, since it was well into the lame period.

Also, the show started when I was in high school, and I don't think it started getting worse until after college, and I was in college without a tv for most of the "classic" years.
posted by LionIndex at 12:49 PM on September 24, 2014


Part of it is that the show's just been going on for so long, it can't possibly keep up a stellar level of always-spot-on. But I think another big part of it is that shows like Bob's Burgers and Archer are doing writing at a whole new level, and the Simpsons-on-autopilot is looking more boring than it probably really is, by comparison.
posted by jbickers at 12:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Gump Roast is the episode that marks the break between Classic Era and Sucks Ever After, because canon.
posted by notyou at 12:57 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I DVR'd a bunch of early episodes during the marathon and it only reinforced my belief it fell off a cliff around . . . well, my senior year of college with the execrable "Homer's Enemy" which has turned out to be a pretty good litmus test of whether you believe the drop in quality is a myth or not.

the core family dynamic, to show that this is a real family

Season 2-[pick your endpoint] feature just that, a real family. In re-watching, what I was struck by was how human they were. Bart's a pain in the ass and Homer's a dope, but they both mean well and care about others— specifically Lisa. The later seasons feature a bunch of one-note caricatures: Homer is an unthinking boob, Bart is a wise-cracking Poochy and Lisa is a shrill environmentalist/ liberal. I've always suspected the change came when the show started to make money and the original writers and runners passed it onto the next generation and we started to get shows where celebrities didn't show up as characters but as themselves and plots that revolved around how tough it is working in Hollywood.
posted by yerfatma at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Celsius1414, I like the term showrunner because there can be a ton of producers, including multiple 'executive producers', and 'showrunner' tells you who is, in fact, running the show on a day to day basis. James Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon are all listed as executive producers of The Simpsons. They are not running the show. And it would take a fairly dim person to be confused for long, given that language has context.

In other words, the English language does its job again, this time American nabbing from a sister variant.
posted by tavella at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2014


I was too young for college when the show started declining. I was barely in high school. But I just looked up the episode when I finally gave up watching and it aired fall 2000 (I was mostly watching out of inertia by then, but that's when when I couldn't be bothered anymore). It's not the age you were when you watched it most. It's that the show got obviously worse.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2014


I watched maybe 25% of the FXX marathon. It's illuminating to follow along with the snpp.com episode guides, because they have episode reviews that were (likely) sourced from USENET at the time the original episode was aired. The reviews are fairly mixed, and there is no canonical agreement -- I mean, some people actually liked the N-Sync episode!

(It's also quite hilarious to read the reviews of "The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show" where it's pretty obvious that Comic Book Guy is posting on alt.tv.simpsons when he is "registering his disgust throughout the world")

In retrospect, there were some real snoozers in the so-called classic era, although the 1st season wasn't nearly as bad as I remember. But I do remember being sorely disappointed after watching the Season 9 premiere. I've got to think that the creators leaving for Futurama had an effect on show quality.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


My daughter’s the same. Because we have the single DVDs, she watches them like she eats potato chips. And she doesn’t go, “Ooh season three, alright.”

Well, Al Jean, maybe your daughter is stupid.


Yeah, but did you ever consider that stupid babies need the most attention?
posted by Parasite Unseen at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2014 [13 favorites]


The Simpsons is still the gold standard, as far as I'm concerned, for the "clearinghouse of free-floating memes" theory of comedy. And even the worst episodes are better than the best of something like Family Guy, if only by participating in the greater Simpsons mythos. Which is why it's so depressing how much Family Guy has ended up displacing The Simpsons as a kind of massively accessed repertoire of jokes and touchstones. I can't help feeling there's some kind of moral failure in the culture to do with that... :(
posted by batfish at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


Anyway: GRAPH

That graph is pretty weird. Obviously IMDb ratings are weird and often done by weirdos, but does anyone actually think that the three worst non-clip-show episodes of the first 8 seasons are "Homer at the Bat", "Marge vs. the Monorail", and the Hank Scorpio one? I mean, seriously, those are better than even odds to make top 10 lists anywhere I've seen Simpsons episodes ranked.
posted by Copronymus at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


OK, for those who claim that the show hadn't declined, and is as good as it ever was; let's see your top fifty list. Or heck, let's make it a top 20 list. Let's see what you consider the best of the show, and from when.
posted by happyroach at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2014


the three worst non-clip-show episodes

"The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" is better than a lot of non-clip-show episodes. Even the outtakes from the classic era are better than most of what passes for The Simpsons today.
posted by graymouser at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


everybody thinks it declined when they went to college

If that were true, then I would believe that the show's peak was the Tracey Ullman Show shorts, and that the entire series proper is a decline from that.

Oh wait, I do believe that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Simpsons didn't peak until I was out of college, but I do have a good story.

I hadn't really watched it when I was at home in 89, and it wasn't huge on my college campus (no TV in our dorm room). So I had only seen a few episodes. I mentioned this to a coworker at my job, and he got this Look in his eyes, a fanatical gleam. The next day he came in with 4 or 5 videotapes, the entire series up to that year (this would have been about 1995, I think? Maybe early 96. Anyway, it was a lot of episodes, and as my roommate worked nights, I spent the next few evenings watching all of them and laughing my ass off. Thereafter, I would try to watch, though my work schedule often got in the way. But I managed to catch most of them in reruns, and always made time for the Halloween episodes. My husband and I traded quotes (still do) especially Ralph Wiggum quotes.

At some point, it may have been about 9 years ago, I was home in time to catch a new episode, and it was just...flat. Better than most sitcoms, but playing on tired old riffs that had already been covered. I tried a few more times, and had the same experience. The magic was just wrung out of it.

We saw the movie and were also relieved it didn't stink. But we don't even try to watch anymore, because it makes us too sad, and often, just bored. These characters have done all they could do. It's time to let them retire.
posted by emjaybee at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


That the show doesn't have the energy or creativity it used to have is, I think, a fairly non-controversial observation. And I personally haven't watched the show regularly for many, many years. But I find the level of anger raised by some fans at the perceived decline in the show mystifying, particularly those who demand that it be canceled in order to 'preserve its integrity' or something. New episodes, even if they are terrible, don't actually change the quality of old episodes just by virtue of their existence. Similarly with the idea that 'whatever this show is, it isn't The Simpsons' -- I mean, of course it is. That's the name of the show, it focuses on the same characters, etc. Is it a very different beast than it was? Yes undoubtedly, but it is still The Simpsons. To assert otherwise based on some vague notion of what the show's 'essence' should be just seems... presumptuous, and a bit silly.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:38 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


"The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular" is better than a lot of non-clip-show episodes. Even the outtakes from the classic era are better than most of what passes for The Simpsons today.

Actually, the 138th Episode Spectacular ends up with a 7.4, which is pretty well the floor through the first 10 seasons with the 3 exceptions I gave. It's the other clip shows that are rated much lower. I'm mostly just flabbergasted by how goddamn weird those ratings are. As another example, the top-rated episode of all time is "Homer the Smithers".
posted by Copronymus at 1:38 PM on September 24, 2014


But I think another big part of it is that shows like Bob's Burgers and Archer are doing writing at a whole new level, and the Simpsons-on-autopilot is looking more boring than it probably really is, by comparison.

I got bored with The Simpsons LONG before either of those shows came to be. In fact, I've noticed while watching them that I'm laughing like I did once upon a time for The Simpsons.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


Much the same could be said for South Park, which debuted in 1997.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


the execrable "Homer's Enemy" which has turned out to be a pretty good litmus test of whether you believe the drop in quality is a myth or not.

I place the decline at season 8 with a few good episodes from season 9, and I love "Homer's Enemy". It's 22 minutes of the Simpsons creators calling bullshit on themselves and it's hilarious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2014 [11 favorites]


Talk about how The Simpsons should have ended after x seasons all you want, but in that reality, you are taking money away from Julie Kavner, and if you can live with that, then we're probably not going to agree on much else.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've noticed while watching them that I'm laughing like I did once upon a time for The Simpsons.

This is true for me with Bob's Burgers especially. One of the things that I loved about The Simpsons back in the day was how relatable the characters were to the quirks and foibles of my own family. I don't really get that from Simpsons anymore, but I get it like crazy with the Belchers.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:05 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hm. Can we find a way to retroactively cancel the Simpsons around Season 9-10, but still give Julie Kavner money?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:11 PM on September 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


What we need is to get those rare unicorn people who've never seen it, and have them rank each season as its own unit.
I'm one of those unicorns. How much are you paying for this research job?
posted by Wolfdog at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2014


I have sinking suspicion that Al Jean is put-off by discussion of the classic era since those were precisely the years he wasn't really involved with the show.

These are some of the episodes from Al Jean's first two-season stint as showrunner:

Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington
Bart the Murderer
Lisa's Pony
Flaming Moe's
Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk
Radio Bart
Homer at the Bat
Black Widower
Kamp Krusty
A Streetcar Named Marge
Homer the Heretic
Lisa the Beauty Queen
Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie
Mr. Plow
Lisa's First Word
Marge vs. the Monorail
Last Exit to Springfield
The Front
Whacking Day
Krusty Gets Cancelled
Plus Halloween episodes featuring The Monkey's Paw, Clown Without Pity, and King Homer

In other words, I think you can safely put your suspicion to rest.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Are you up for it, wolfdog? We'll have to alter your vision so you can't use animation style as a chronological clue. And we'll have to wipe a lot of your memory so that cultural references don't tip you off.

But on the plus side, we'll have to convince you that Phil Hartman lives!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


does anyone actually think that the three worst non-clip-show episodes of the first 8 seasons are "Homer at the Bat", "Marge vs. the Monorail", and the Hank Scorpio one?

These three episodes all have far more reviews than most; in particular they have lots more 1-star reviews. I'd be curious to see how the graph looks with all 1-star reviews thrown out, just for comparison.

Perhaps Marge vs. the Monorail IMDB ratings became a battleground for supporters and opponents of the 1990s Seattle Monorail Project.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:46 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Are you up for it, wolfdog? We'll have to alter your vision so you can't use animation style as a chronological clue. And we'll have to wipe a lot of your memory so that cultural references don't tip you off.

Sounds fine, I could even point to some choice memory chunks I don't really want, as long as you're wiping things.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:48 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I watched the show almost entirely in syndication, and on different channels (because it was always on somewhere on my cable dial). Because I watched them out of order, I have no idea what season an episode came from so have no idea if the show declined over time. If I had to list my favorite episodes, however, they'd probably be clustered in the season 4 through 7 region.
But I haven't seen most of the later seasons. I didn't stop watching it because of the declining quality. I stopped watching because I cancelled cable, so any episodes that hit syndication after that time are completely unknown to me. Maybe I should watch a few and report back.
(Graduated college 2 years before the show premiered, for what it's worth)
posted by rocket88 at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2014


I think the Hank Scorpio episode is easily my best favourite episode.

I still remember how butthurt pretty much all of Australia got about the Simpsons "Down Under" episode. The thought of the reaction makes me laugh more than the actual episode did, but the episode itself was still pretty funny.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:51 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


These are some of the episodes from Al Jean's first two-season stint as showrunner:

[cough]co-showrunner[/cough]
posted by hwyengr at 3:04 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


For a while I would defend the Simpsons on the grounds that, hey, it still made me laugh (this was something like three years ago now) and then, at some point, I stopped watching it because Hulu wouldn't let me watch it on my Apple TV, and I realized shortly thereafter that... I simply didn't miss it.

Futurama, though, was pure gold straight through to the end.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Futurama, though, was pure gold straight through to the end.

Ehhhh... There was some zombification after the renewal. Not Simpsons-level zombification, mind you, but enough that it's easily detectable with consumer-grade zombometers.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:35 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


[cough]co-showrunner[/cough]

Yes, but your initial statement was that he "wasn't really involved with the show" during the classic years, which is obviously belied by the fact that he was one of the two individuals in charge of overall production during a good run of those classic episodes.

(And now I'm starting to sound like Comic Book Guy, so I'll pipe down.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:46 PM on September 24, 2014


Okay, fine, non-topical Futurama was still largely great, though, and didn't have nearly the same gulf of watchability as there is between topical and non-topical South Park
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:52 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I once tried to bring up Burns verkaufen der kraftwerk with the CEO of the largest German power utility in the context of a mediocre investment in a us company they had made. He did not share my sense of humor.
posted by JPD at 3:56 PM on September 24, 2014 [9 favorites]


Yeah I was only going to chime in to say that I thought the Al Jean and Mike Reiss era was the classic era.
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:21 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


(I'm also willing to attribute that almost entirely to having the most Swartzwelder episodes during this time)
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is true for me with Bob's Burgers especially. One of the things that I loved about The Simpsons back in the day was how relatable the characters were to the quirks and foibles of my own family.

Agreed (I'm a charter member of the Tina Belcher Fan Club). My mother used to always say she loved The Simpsons because Homer reminded her of her father, which I never understood while she was still alive, but watching the early part of the marathon, I got it: he's a good person, he's just almost totally unable to see anyone else's perspective so he tends to roll over people. I thought for years she meant her dad was an idiot, but now I see what she related to. The fact those episodes could connect me to my mom who's been gone for almost a decade and my grandfather who's been gone for three . . . that's not something the slick shitshow that's about to do a crossover with Family Guy is going to manage.

Hey, the crossover with The Critic had Football In The Groin! Plus Lovitz was a regular voice anywho.
posted by yerfatma at 4:42 PM on September 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


That the show doesn't have the energy or creativity it used to have is, I think, a fairly non-controversial observation. And I personally haven't watched the show regularly for many, many years. But I find the level of anger raised by some fans at the perceived decline in the show mystifying, particularly those who demand that it be canceled in order to 'preserve its integrity' or something. New episodes, even if they are terrible, don't actually change the quality of old episodes just by virtue of their existence.

I used to think the same thing, but as the years have gone on and the show's kept churning out sub-Mad-Magazine garbage, I've actually come around on anger.

In the early years of The Simpsons, the show had the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why was it so popular? Because the show was consistently the very best television had to offer. It was a hilarious, subversive, emotional and gorgeous program, week-in and week-out. And thanks to high creative turnover, and the difficulty of telling new stories after a decade on the air, that era came to an end.

Some people say the show's still good, and nobody agrees on exactly when it went bad. I'd say seasons 1 and 2 are engaging curiosities, 3-8 are unimpeachable, 9 has its moments, 10 and 11 are worth watching but not buying the DVDs, and everything from season 12 on is dreadful.

Even by that fairly generous metric, there are now more bad seasons of The Simpsons than good ones. What was once the best show on television is now >50% pretty crappy.

Imagine if Breaking Bad turned into Dexter overnight -- by which I mean the abandonment of all realism, stakes, creativity or imagination -- and then just kept going for another eight or nine years. Now imagine that the showrunner presiding over the whole mess tells fans at every opportunity that the show is as good as it's always been.

My daughter’s the same. Because we have the single DVDs, she watches them like she eats potato chips. And she doesn’t go, “Ooh season three, alright.”

The Simpsons didn't used to be a snack food. The Simpsons used to have an opinion and a point-of-view about what it meant for Homer to sit on the couch and scarf down Pork Rinds. But if Al Jean wants to reduce the show to that symbol, I will oblige him:

There's a certain brand of chip that was my favourite for nearly a decade. I wish I could still recommend it to people. But these days, ask them to reach into the bag for a random chip and more than half of them will be stale, or green, or completely rotten. It was still worth having them pick out the good ones for a while, but at this point I just feel like throwing out the whole bag.
posted by EmGeeJay at 4:42 PM on September 24, 2014 [12 favorites]


a point-of-view about what it meant for Homer to sit on the couch and scarf down Pork Rinds

Especially if God was in the room with him.
posted by yerfatma at 4:44 PM on September 24, 2014


By the way, to those who think the existence of the new episodes doesn't taint the classics: please watch this.
posted by EmGeeJay at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2014


Everyone knows the show started to suck when B.J. Honnicut grew that stupid moustache.

Wait... What are we talking about again?
posted by spilon at 5:00 PM on September 24, 2014 [6 favorites]


I DVR'd a bunch of early episodes during the marathon and it only reinforced my belief it fell off a cliff around . . . well, my senior year of college with the execrable "Homer's Enemy" which has turned out to be a pretty good litmus test of whether you believe the drop in quality is a myth or not.

I think the show's gone downhill, but I like Homer's Enemy, so go figure.
posted by JHarris at 5:19 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


everything from season 12 on is dreadful

Skinner's Sense of Snow and HOMR are good ones.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 5:47 PM on September 24, 2014


Huge surprise that Al Jean, the guy that has been show-runner for the last 12 or so years, thinks the last 12 or so years are as good as any.

All I really know of Al Jean is listening to the DVD commentary tracks for the first 7-8 seasons, which were vapid and uninsightful (compared to Conan O'Brien's, which was hilarious, but to be fair, i think he only did one). He must have done some great work if he was one of the first writers, but writers, especially comedians, often follow up a period of brilliance with extended mediocrity.

Still, I don't care how long the show goes on, the first 8 or so years will always exist, and they're great.
posted by skewed at 6:04 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Zombie Simpsons considers "Homer's Enemy" to be the turning point where Homer goes from a bumbling but well-meaning idiot to an invincible jerkass. It's not like the episodes didn't keep being funny after that, but it was the moment when the foundation of the show changed and the basis for the later, less funny Simpsons was developed.
posted by graymouser at 6:18 PM on September 24, 2014 [9 favorites]


But I find the level of anger raised by some fans at the perceived decline in the show mystifying, particularly those who demand that it be canceled in order to 'preserve its integrity' or something. New episodes, even if they are terrible, don't actually change the quality of old episodes just by virtue of their existence.

A counter-example: I used to date a woman who was the biggest Black Crowes fan the world has ever known, but refused to listen to Exile on Main Street when I recommended it to her because of the reputation the Stones had for all the garbage they'd put out since then. Hell, I was skeptical about the Stones actually ever being good (beyond a single here and there) before they released the remastered albums in the mid-90s. So, I think anger about the current quality of the Simpsons is probably a bit much, but a long run of shlock can definitely sully the overall reputation.
posted by LionIndex at 6:23 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


gulf of watchability ... between topical and non-topical South Park

Oh god, yes. Now, I'm not sure which way you meant that, but IMHO, topical South Park is fucking PAINFUL to watch. It's like Parker & Stone read some reviews praising them for their "skewed take on modern society" and believed it. When they try to tackle "current events," their juvenile libertarianism shines through.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:33 PM on September 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that's pretty much exactly what I'd meant. South Park is amazing when it's something unrelated to current events, because that means that it can be character-driven, have more than a week put into it, and not be based around a point of view that boils down to essentially "not touching you not touching you not touching you"
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:53 PM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Re the college thing: The Simpsons started when I was 13. I started uni in 1995 and my household's peak appointment TV during that time was new Simpsons, (the Nanny) then the X-Files. It was absolutely appointment TV because most episodes were bloody brilliant, and those from that period still are. Plus, we had the internet. We could talk about the episodes (although we talked about the X-Files more). I think that generation of people (late gen x-ers) are now most visible on the internet, and that's what we hold dear. It was a huge cultural zeitgeist in an age in which we had a medium to discuss it, in great depth and thoroughly, and so we're still discussing it now.

the execrable "Homer's Enemy"

Execrable, no. Not funny, yes - this is an amazing 22 minutes of nihilism, and one of the bleakest things I've ever seen on TV. It is in no way a bad episode of the Simpsons, just really fucking bleak.
posted by goo at 8:14 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Zombie Simpsons considers "Homer's Enemy" to be the turning point where Homer goes from a bumbling but well-meaning idiot to an invincible jerkass. It's not like the episodes didn't keep being funny after that, but it was the moment when the foundation of the show changed and the basis for the later, less funny Simpsons was developed.

That linked essay makes a lot of sense to me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:24 PM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I still remember how butthurt pretty much all of Australia got about the Simpsons "Down Under" episode

Yeah, now that was a bad episode, and the first episode I really did not like. Maybe it's my cultural blinkers, but there is very little that is redeeming about that episode. It was just stupid.
posted by goo at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2014


I dunno, guys, I really, really liked "Brick Like Me" and that's from this past season.
posted by ShawnStruck at 8:47 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I watched a new episode recently on youtube or somewhere. And while I forgot everything that happened in the episode I remember being incredibly weirded out by it. It seemed like some sort of uncanny valley version of the Simpsons. Homer came off as oddly mean and aggressive in a way that creeped me out.

I actually checked several times to make sure it wasn't a subtle parody, but, no, it was a real episode. I wish I could recall the plot points so I could pin down the episode. Just gave me a really visceral negative reaction. Probably because I haven't watched the show in years (except re-watching old episodes) and all the small changes hit me at once.
posted by pugg at 11:03 PM on September 24, 2014


I think I would identify "Bart Vs. Australia" as the first bad episode.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:49 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


By the way, to those who think the existence of the new episodes doesn't taint the classics: please watch this.

That Ralph clip is not just unfunny, it is simply offensive and utterly bleak. They could have canned the whole show on the basis of it.

The same is true of some of Homer's asshole behaviour in later seasons. These moments do violence to the characters and the audience. Unforgivable.
posted by colie at 12:11 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Huh, I love Bart Vs. Australia.

Homer: Hey! Are you like one of those English guards who can't laugh
or smile or anything? [makes noises and faces at him]
[gets punched in the face] Ow!
Marine: No, Sir! US Marine Corps, Sir!

posted by Drinky Die at 1:03 AM on September 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm one of those unicorns. How much are you paying for this research job?

We pay 8 dollars for the night and you can take 2 popsicles outta the freezer.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 7:36 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hmmm. I want to say eponysterical, but I don't think it's all *that* obscure.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:16 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I dunno, guys, I really, really liked "Brick Like Me" and that's from this past season.

So we can conclude that out of the 325 episodes since fall of 1999, at least one has been good.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:48 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


The first time I remember watching a new Simpsons episode and just not liking it at all was S11E14, Alone Again, Natura-diddily. (I was midway through college at the time.) Yes, I know they were trying something different in this episode, and that's fine. I just don't think they did it very well. I was already so-so on recent seasons by that point, and after this episode I realized I just didn't care about the series anymore. I stopped watching not long after, and I don't think I've seen anything past S12 or so.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:55 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think I would identify "Bart Vs. Australia" as the first bad episode.

Really? I still reference it all the time, mainly after stultifying conference calls: "I know all those words but that sentence makes no sense to me."

And "You've played Knifey Spoony before." "I'd have called it a chazwallah." And saluting when flushing the toilet.
posted by yerfatma at 9:07 AM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


As someone said above, it's not that the new ones are necessarily bad, it's the golden era was so good that the new stuff seems like shit in comparison.

It's the "Godfather 3 Effect". Godfather 3 on its own would just be a mediocre-to-decent mob drama. But since it followed Godfathers 1 and 2, widely cited as two of the best American movies ever made and which even often make world best-ever lists, it gets a ton of shit.

A candle is going to look pretty dim next to the Sun.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:15 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bart vs. Australia was packed with memorable lines, absolutely. But it was a major step away from the somewhat reality-based nature of the series towards the full on "all wacky hijinks all the time" show it became.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:19 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of the Simpsons changing tone was due to the Harvard Writers leaving the show and the Sit-Com Writers coming in. While we can't blame one individual for the show's decline, I'm thinking specifically of Ian Maxtone-Graham. His episodes have memorable moments and a few laughs (especially 'Burns, Baby Burns') but the tone of those episodes never felt quite right.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:07 AM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


From Ian Maxtone-Graham's Wikipedia article:
The son of noted maritime historian John Maxtone-Graham, Ian attended Trinity School and Brown University.
Hmm.
Skinner: Lisa, the president of Harvard would like to see you.
President of Harvard: Nasty business, that zero. Naturally, Harvard's doors are now closed to you, but I'll pass your file along to ... Brown.
Skinner: Mmmm, Brown. Heckuva school. Weren't you at Brown, Otto?
Otto: Yup. Almost got tenure, too.
Lisa: [gasps in horror] No, not Brown, Brown..
-end dream-
Lisa: ...Brown, Brown..
Miss Hoover: Lisa, you're saying Brown an awful lot, are you okay?
posted by rollick at 10:47 AM on September 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Zombie Simpsons considers "Homer's Enemy" to be the turning point where Homer goes from a bumbling but well-meaning idiot to an invincible jerkass. It's not like the episodes didn't keep being funny after that, but it was the moment when the foundation of the show changed and the basis for the later, less funny Simpsons was developed.

Yes, this seems pretty accurate to me, but I'm pretty shocked to learn that not only was that only Season 8 but it was also a Swartzwelder episode (what can I say, I'm generally a big fan of his episodes but I really didn't care for this one)
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:07 AM on September 25, 2014


The Australia episode went a little overboard but it did bring us some gems, such as the "Yahoo Serious Festival" ("I know those words, but that sign makes no sense") and "I can see you've played Knifey-Spooney before", which has become a running joke between my Aussie friend and me. (I think he was more offended by the Outback Steakhouse he once visited than the Simpsons episode, honestly.)
posted by Spatch at 12:52 PM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was also the brilliant giant beer gag, most recently referenced by me when they announced the new iPhones.
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:06 PM on September 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking specifically of Ian Maxtone-Graham.

We should start a No Ians club.
posted by yerfatma at 1:07 PM on September 25, 2014


I frequently use "I'm taking this all the way to the Prime Minister!" when confronted with some piddly outrage.


We should start a No Ians club.

Yeah, but then we'd have to admit *one*.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:37 PM on September 25, 2014


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