What makes "The Simpsons" tick.
March 8, 2002 10:49 AM   Subscribe

What makes "The Simpsons" tick. Long Live The Simpsons!
posted by Rastafari (43 comments total)
Hey, in England, they're more popular than the Royal Family! How's that for the power of tv.
posted by Rastafari at 10:50 AM on March 8, 2002

Wow. I might actually watch 20/20 tonight.
posted by andnbsp at 10:59 AM on March 8, 2002

Well, let's not get crazy now, andnbsp...
posted by donkeymon at 11:08 AM on March 8, 2002

Blech.. is this what "newsmagazines" are up to these days..
posted by PrinceValium at 11:12 AM on March 8, 2002

Actually, princevalium, this is far better than what the newsmagazines are up to these days. Most of the time you'd be seeing some "hidden camera" investigation of some schmo chiropractor or grocery store, or a big expose on some lurid Condit-esque scandal.

Back to the thread. What makes The Simpsons tick? It's the writing, stupid.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:22 AM on March 8, 2002

Definately the writing, as well as the show's uncanny ability (as mentioned in the article) to get celebrities to make fun of themselves.

Jasper Johns as vicious klepto, stealing everything in sight? U2 with buttcracks hanging off barstools? Whotta riot! That being said, the Who's appearence in that one eppy with the area codes was atrocious.
posted by andnbsp at 11:31 AM on March 8, 2002

Hey, in England, they're more popular than the Royal Family! How's that for the power of tv.

Cancer's more popular that the royal family though. I'm not a great Simpson's watcher but hasn't it *gasp* jumped the shark recently? I've seen a couple of newer episodes and it seems to have lost it a bit. But, as I said, I haven't seen that much of it.
posted by Summer at 11:39 AM on March 8, 2002

pardonyou, i agree - better Simpsons than Condit. But still - if you want to show people entertainment, call it entertainment, if you want to show news, call it news.

Back to the topic - I'm happy the Simpsons have recovered from near extinction a few years ago when the writing was sloppy. In the transition between then and now there was some existentialist nonsense which didn't pass for comedy. That and the celebrity cameos are tiresome, as well as the Homer-bordering-on-mental-retardation plotlines.

But this season they are clicking REAL well. If Futurama and Family Guy captured what the Simpsons did so well in their early years, the Simpsons are now reclaiming some of that wit from these latecomers. I hope it persists for many years to come. I don't know if I agree with it being the best TV show of the 20th century, but it does have to be discussed with All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Cosby, etc. as revolutionary, industry-shaping TV shows which also happened to be of extremely high quality.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:43 AM on March 8, 2002

I'm not a great Simpson's watcher but hasn't it *gasp* jumped the shark recently?

Hasn't "jumped the shark" jumped the shark yet?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:08 PM on March 8, 2002

on the contrary summer, they're still hiting social satire quite hard. for example, McBain's hummer is 2 lanes wide, and gets gas mileage of "zero city, one highway..."
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2002

i know its trendy to say that they arent as good as the old days, but The Simpsons still amazes me, it still pushes the envelope, it still has it, but most importantly: it's still funny as hell.
posted by tsarfan at 12:12 PM on March 8, 2002

Anybody out there with young kids? You let 'em watch? We keep a pretty tight lid on TV, but I use Simpsons as kind of a master class of comedy writing for my 9 year-old. The Tivo remote gets a workout, as much has to be explained. But she loves it what parts she does get.

"OK, now you understand that what Homer is doing is wrong..."
posted by luser at 12:19 PM on March 8, 2002

Ooookay, it only took 20-20 thirteen seasons to notice that The Simpsons is brilliant, hilarious and irreverent.

Now that's hard-hitting journalism. Not that one expects hard-hitting journalism from 20-20. (These are the same people who give us John Stossel, after all.)

That said, I may still watch the segment (because I assume it will be, um, hilarious and irreverent).
posted by gohlkus at 12:32 PM on March 8, 2002

Oops, I meant 20/20. [20-20=0.]
posted by gohlkus at 12:34 PM on March 8, 2002

If you're speaking in terms of quality, 20/20 most certainly does = 0
posted by andnbsp at 12:36 PM on March 8, 2002

I saw an episode earlier this season that gave me hope. Homer "rents" Marge to Artie Ziff (a la "Indecent Proposal"). As they're taking off in his private chopper, the M*A*S*H theme song plays, and we see that Homer has spelled out "Keep You Clothes On" with rocks in the front yard -- a riff on the final episode of another celebrated, long-running series.

It seems like the new executive producer has gone out of the way to re-remphasize the family relationships. Homer and Marge seems to be having sex a lot more often, too.
posted by oddovid at 12:43 PM on March 8, 2002

Hasn't "jumped the shark" jumped the shark yet?

Not for me. I only learnt that phrase a couple of weeks ago.
posted by Summer at 12:55 PM on March 8, 2002

Hasn't "jumped the shark" jumped the shark yet?

Not for me. I only learnt that phrase a couple of weeks ago.
posted by Summer at 12:56 PM on March 8, 2002

I just knew that was going to happen.
posted by Summer at 12:57 PM on March 8, 2002

Professor Frink is great. Bwa-hey.
posted by mrmanley at 12:58 PM on March 8, 2002

There have been some grumbles from long time fans that the humour on the Simpsons has gone too far and become "crude" instead of "risque".

There have been at least two different episodes this year with blatant penis jokes ("...lifting paint cans..." and "...the professor said not to let the mummy get a boner...[rip!]"), lots more sex ("...do you think the children heard us?") and some plain and simple "shock value" laughs. It may be because it was trying to compete with the (now defunct) "Family Guy" for laughs, or just the producer/directors trying to stretch the boundaries some more.

However, I'm still finding myself laughing more often than not at every Simpsons episode, and as soon as they release the remaining 12 years on DVD (hint hint FOX!), I'll be there to scoop them up.

What am I really glad about? No spinoffs (though they have parodied that idea), no movies (albeit they have threatened to do one for a while) and no more timeslot jumping (it is the rock of FOX Sunday Nights now and they don't dare mess with it, but I remember it being up against "The Cosby Show" on Thursday nights).
posted by grum@work at 1:05 PM on March 8, 2002

The phrase jump the shark will never jump the shark.

Time Magazine exagerrates calling The Simpsons the best program of the 20th century. I doubt The Simpsons would even make the top ten. Maybe the top 100. I agree with Prince Valium that All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore and Cosby would be nominations for that title sooner than The Simpsons would. I would add to that list:

The Fugitive (63-67 version)
Happy Days (before Fonzie jumped the shark; 1st season was its best)
Johnny Carson's reign on the Tonight Show
MASH (jumped the shark when Radar grew up)
Barney Miller
The Honeymooners
Roddenberry's reign on Star Trek (Berman killed it)
I Love Lucy
Sesame Street
King of the Hill
Crime Scene Investigation
The West Wing
Monty Python
Red Dwarf
Saturday Night Live
Kids In The Hall
South Park
Dr. Katz
Third Rock From The Sun
Get Smart
Black Adder
Police Squad!
Absolutely Fabulous
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Designing Women
The Bob Newhart Show
The Prisoner (w/Patrick McGoohan)
Mary Hartman Mary Hartman (barely)

Examples of shows that are definitely worse than The Simpsons but still deserve at least a footnote in tv history:

Dukes of Hazzard
Greatest American Hero
Starsky & Hutch
Knight Rider
Beverly Hills 90210
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp
Max Headroom
The Gong Show
Mad About You
Herman's Head
I Spy
I Dream of Jeannie
Hawaii Five-O
E. R.
Perry Mason
It's Garry Shandling's / Larry Sanders Show
Love Boat, Love American Style, & Fantasy Island
Melrose Place, Dallas, Dynasty, Knotts Landing, etc.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:40 PM on March 8, 2002

That was a brilliant list. Thank you Zachsmind.
posted by goneill at 1:44 PM on March 8, 2002

I've seen a couple of newer episodes and it seems to have lost it a bit.

A bit? Man, I happened to catch an episode a couple of weeks ago (the first time in several years), and was amazed at how awful it was. The pacing was all off, the gags fell flat, and most of the voice talent seemed to be on Quaaludes. It looked pretty damn amateur, to tell the truth.
posted by kindall at 1:57 PM on March 8, 2002

King of the Hill is not at all a better show than the Simpsons. Never. I watch them both. I disagree with some of your others, as well, but not enough to call them out by name.

This has been a good season. The Artie Ziff episode was hilarious (I am watching, you through a camera!) and the Halloween was one of the best ever. Matthew Perry saying "Could I be any more of a house?" is a perfect example of why its still such a funny show.

Funniest on television, still, Scrubs notwithstanding.
posted by whoshotwho at 2:36 PM on March 8, 2002

Homer "rents" Marge to Artie Ziff (a la "Indecent Proposal")

Indecent Proposal was released in 1993; parodying an 8-year-old movie isn't exactly cutting-edge comedy.

The recent episodes suck slightly less than the ones from a couple of seasons ago, but they're still pretty bad. Last I saw a recent episode where they had a sight gag that looked like Cheif Wiggum was peeing his name in the snow, and Principal Skinner asked somebody to help him with his ball sack (he was trapped in a bag they store dodge balls in). I don't really object to the crassness of the humor, but those are cheap, easy, lowest-common-denominator laughs for a show that used to aim high and hit consistently.

Also, what happened to Snowball II and Santa's Little Helper?
posted by kirkaracha at 3:16 PM on March 8, 2002

see, the simpsons is in syndication twice a day here, and i totally throw a fit if i don't get to see it both times. it's my favorite show ever, and even i agree it's kind of falling off lately.

but i still won't miss a single episode. :)
posted by sugarfish at 3:53 PM on March 8, 2002


Time Magazine has an opinion, and apparently so do you, it doesn't mean either you or Time is right or wrong.

Simpsons is a great show, IMO....but you're confusing me, I don't see Welcome Back Kotter anywhere on the list, have you no taste? Think of the Sweathogs
posted by patrickje at 4:29 PM on March 8, 2002

I live in Texas. Trust me. King of the Hill is biting satire with a deliciously sardonic wit. It's able to do much that Simpsons does with less suspension of disbelief. It's not as flashy, obvious and absurd, but just as funny.

I understand where you're coming from, Patrickje. However, the difference between me and Time Magazine, is that Time Magazine's opinion is supposed to be reputable - mine is irrelevant. There are some people who don't want to think for themselves so they read magazines that have been around for a long time and are supposed to be good substitutes for grey matter. So my opinion should not be better than Time Magazine's opinion. But my opinion is better than Time Magazine, and this is outrageous. Isn't that one of those signs of the apocalypse things?

Actually I would have lumped Welcome Back Kotter in with another list of TV shows that would include The Jeffersons, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, Baywatch, Webster, Car 54 Where Are You, A-Team, Full House, Fridays, F-Troop and Jerry Springer. i.e., unremarkable, tasteless crap but that's just my opinion.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:46 PM on March 8, 2002

ZachsMind, please tell me you were just trolling, and that you don't actually believe Police Squad was better than the Simpsons. And what the hell is "Crime Scene Investigation"? You're high.
posted by jpoulos at 9:03 PM on March 8, 2002

I live in Texas. Trust me.

And that's just plain arrogant.
posted by jpoulos at 9:05 PM on March 8, 2002

Is it arrogant, jpoulos, or is it just his way of saying "I have experience with exactly the kind of people who are being skewered on King of the Hill, and believe me, it's right on"?

I'm guessing it's the latter. I'll take ZachsMind's word for it on that score.

As far as his long list of shows go, well, I assume he meant they were all roughly on par with the Simpsons, but not necessarily better. (If he was saying they're better, well, that's just not true. Not for many of them, anyway.)

Personally, I think the only ones on that list that are roughly as good as The Simpsons are Python, Red Dwarf, Black Adder, Buffy, and The Bob Newhart Show. Maybe MASH and Carson for quality. And as far as originality goes, throw in Saturday Night Live and possibly Kids in the Hall. But that's just my personal taste.
posted by gohlkus at 9:44 PM on March 8, 2002

No I wasn't trolling, but yes I believe the rare six episodes of Police Squad! were better even at the height of The Simpsons' game. Jpoulous, Police Squad! was a live-action cartoon, ahead of its time, and was dissed by a network run by idiots. It was a great program killed before it had a chance to really shine. However, Police Squad! didn't beat The Simpsons from a standpoint of respectable artistry - but from a standpoint of zaniness and crazy fun. Leslie Nielsen was more animated than Homer Simpson - and Homer's literally animated!

CSLI: Crime Scene Investigation is in my not so humble opinion the best show on CBS's present schedule, and definitely one of the best series ever broadcast anywhere, with excellent acting by an incomparable ensemble cast, intricate writing in the crime/drama genre that's been stagnant since before the days of Quincy with detailed characters who feel alive driven by motivations that are neither obvious nor unrealistic, and an overall look and feel to the show which is unparalleled. Oh, and Helgenberger is a major babe with legs that won't quit. In the wasteland that is television, CSI breathes new hope into broadcast network programming. If only every show in prime time could be this good.

I'm the first to admit that I'm always arrogant, but Gohlkus is correct in his assumption. I used to live in Burleson Texas which could be renamed Arlen Texas and no one would notice the difference. King of the Hill gets the impression of a rural/surburban American family down pat better than The Simpsons' much more distorted, drug-induced visualization. Springfield could be Anytown USA which is far too vague. King of the Hill creates its own fictitious reality, based enough on actual reality to allow a suspension of disbelief among the viewer. The Simpsons is so far out there it can't possibly be; however, King of the Hill could be and that's what makes it better.

The Simpsons is a glorious cartoon with some great moments of cultural satire, but ultimately it's just an exagerrated cartoon with flat characterization and punchline-driven writing. It's fun but it has no meat. King of the Hill is a cartoon that better respects its subject matter (after a fashion), and therefore creates a more realistic impression of what it parodies.

I do admit that each and every one of us in this thread would have their own list and we can go on and on about how my list pales in comparison to yours. I also insist that the majority of us would not put Simpsons on the top of that list. I'd probably fit it in my personal top 100 somewhere. It is that good in my opinion. Maybe for you it would make the top ten, but to say The Simpsons is the best television show of the 20th century is like saying a 2002 winter Olympic contender who showed up for the opening ceremony and gave his all but only made 20th place in the standings should have been given the gold medal anyway.

The Simpsons is good, but it don't deserve the gold, is all I'm saying. If Time's editors believe otherwise, they really need to change the channel on their TV more often. There's a lot of crap but if you look hard enough, there's a lot of diamonds out there too.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:22 PM on March 8, 2002

and pacifer-sucking baby Maggie.

Damn. ABC can't afford a spell-checker?

And ZachsMind: Agree with your assessment of CSI; it's an amazing show. Noteworthy also for it's intro song: The Who's "Who Are You?" Great stuff.
posted by davidmsc at 2:52 AM on March 9, 2002

Here’s the Time article, where the author defends it as his choice. If it has jumped the shark, it’s doing so more gracefully than most other long-running shows. I just hope the inevitable post-cancellation spin-off show features Ralph Wiggum in some way.
posted by Gary at 3:37 AM on March 9, 2002

Nice list ZachsMind...I think it's worth mentioning that Sesame Street started to go downhill with that whiny red muppet (I must be blocking out his name...Emo?), and solidified its decline when Henson died. They're revamping it now, and I feel certain the new format will we just awful.
posted by bingo at 7:45 AM on March 9, 2002

Agreed Bingo. Sesame Street has jumped the shark, but that doesn't change the fact that the show gave parents a trusted place on tv for their children which would entertain and enlighten them in relative safety while the rest of the tv dial opted to convince children to buy crap like He-Man action figures. Sesame Street staked its respected place in the annals of tv history, and deserves more recognition than The Simpsons, which basically just reminded us that juvenile delinquency exists.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:19 PM on March 9, 2002

I agree that some of Zach's list should be there, but...

The Fugitive: Posthumously overrated, mediocre show made legendary by the publicity stunt of its final episode.

Roddenberry's reign on Star Trek: This show was always crap, from the git-go. I wish I could get people to believe me on this.

I Love Lucy: AIIIEEE. Agreed, a historic show, but AIIIEEE. I Hate Lucy.

Monty Python
Red Dwarf
Saturday Night Live
Kids In The Hall
Black Adder

All great, but not really comparable to the standard American prime-time series show, IMO, and with the exception of SNL, almost without impact on American TV.

Designing Women: AIIEEE. No qualifying remark here.

Fame: Zach, this is as close as I've ever come to just saying "Zach, you're a moron." Fame? Please note I didn't say "Zach, you're a moron."

The Prisoner (w/Patrick McGoohan): Another show that has been overrated by posterity because of the brilliant (if asinine) last show.
posted by rodii at 12:49 PM on March 10, 2002

…exagerrated cartoon with flat characterization and punchline-driven writing.

Then how did South Park make your list? They jumped the shark with the movie and have all but disappeared since. They’re basically what the Simpsons were in the first two seasons, a cutting edge cartoon that got parents angry and t-shirts banned. But their writing isn’t good enough to get them past the merchandising stage. The Simpsons put out their best stuff after all the media craze stopped.
posted by Gary at 12:10 AM on March 11, 2002

Gary: "Then how did South Park make your list?"

I never said I'd take The Simpsons off the list of nominations. I would be willing to admit that it is one of the better shows of the 20th century - just not THE best. And if you're going to put Simpsons on the list, you gotta include South Park. Arguably, South Park is The Simpsons with more "F - *beep!*s" in it. It's more daring than The Simpsons, but lacks the tact and that famous Mary Poppins line about how sweet stuff helps the medicine go down. Turning Barbra Streisand into Godzilla was about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but South Park does have its moments of wisdom and clarity amidst the delinquent humor.

Rodii I respect your opinion. For each of your statements I could respond equally well, and we'd start sounding like Jane Curtain & Dan Ackroyd during their point/counterpoint routine on the SNL News: "Jane you ignorant slut!" So I'll just call it a draw.

Though The Simpsons exceeds some programs on my list in some areas, it pales in other areas, and if one is to throw around the phrase "best of the century" with wanton abandon, they need to be tethered to the ground a bit and made to acknowledge that The Simpsons is in powerful competition for such a claim to fame. Comparatively to cinema, in recent years I've found myself personally contemplating a boycott if anywhere in the movie's advertising/publicity someone chimes out "best of the year" or other such nonsense. I don't see how any movie can be classified best of the year until after the year is over, and even then it's all opinion. At the very least I give any critic who is known for using such blanket statements a bit more scrutiny, and more easily dismiss him/her. One of the reasons why I like Roger Ebert is that he doesn't do that much.

In defense of FAME, I really enjoyed that show! It was a lot of fun! Although it jumped the shark when people like Janet Jackson and that Osmond kid joined the cast. The first two seasons were really cool, and allowed me some vicarious fantasy - back when the series came out I wanted to someday go to that school. Reality set in of course, but it was a fun escape.

Thank you for not calling me a moron just because my taste differs from yours. It is appreciated. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 4:59 AM on March 11, 2002

For each of your statements I could respond equally well, and we'd start sounding like Jane Curtain & Dan Ackroyd during their point/counterpoint routine on the SNL News: "Jane you ignorant slut!"

I actually thought about saying that! Thanks for understanding the approach I was taking--vehement, but all in fun, disagreement.
posted by rodii at 7:10 AM on March 11, 2002

Cue the yelling!

It is my firm opinion that when The Simpsons was in its prime (roughly season 3 - season 7), it was the best television comedy ever. End of (Skot's) story. Because of some weird blind spot that we have for animation, it got away with more than we would have allowed in a comedy with "live" actors.

That said, it should be killed. It isn't as bad now as it was a couple years ago, but it's still lost it big time.

And that said, it still hasn't taken the monumentally awful slide that South Park has enthusiastically ridden. Jesus Christ. In their haste to be "shocking," they seem to have forgotten that it is also helpful to be funny. The Afghanistan episode was about as hilarious as crib death, and the AIDS/aides episode was premised on a pun with all the mileage of a Humvee.
posted by Skot at 8:06 AM on March 11, 2002

rodii: I actually thought about saying that! Thanks for understanding the approach I was taking-- vehement, but all in fun, disagreement.

Ditto. It is, after all, a discussion about TV shows. I was trying not to pick on your list, but the South Park one was nagging at me. With that in mind…

skot: That said, it should be killed. It isn't as bad now as it was a couple years ago, but it's still lost it big time.

I don’t understand this thinking at all. It’s still better than most shows on TV, so why not keep it around? Sure we have to suffer through some bad episodes (like last night), but they still deliver some top-quality ones. I’m thinking of the episode this year where Mr. Burns bought the church, or the VH1 special two years ago. They aren’t as good as they used to be, but I doubt anything fox would replace it with would be better.
posted by Gary at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2002

« Older Pringles now with more crisp signals.   |   Microsoft must include Java with XP and IE. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments