I’m done with the Simpsons.
A few years ago when I acquired TiVo, I went on my frenzy of picking shows to record. TiVo users end up watching more TV simply because all of those shows they missed before because they didn’t make them appointment viewing now become anytime shows. The Simpsons, for me, was one of those. I still had a residual attachment but I didn’t remember to tune in. In short order, I caught all the episodes again, just like I did in the show’s incredible first years.
Of course, the show isn’t the same as it was then. Many times it was brilliant. But the misses would grate on me. I was disappointed after South Park’s own fantastic homage to the Simpsons, that the Simpsons would attempt to return the favor and completely miss the mark, lazily dismissing South Park as just fart jokes and bizarre celebrity cameos. Pinpoint satire is still a Simpsons trademark, which made the times that jokes failed to land stand out even more. Even with jokes falling flat on occasion, the show is still good. It’s not the same show as it was before, but it still beats almost all other TV for intelligence and laughs.
Matt Groening points out the key the Simpsons’ longevity is surprise. He’s right. I’m sure there are surprises to be had still, even with 16 years on the air. But with the characters and world so defined, all the surprises will take place inside permutations of Homer’s stupidity, Bart’s brattiness and Lisa’s self-consciousness. How many times can you watch Homer’s marriage be threatened and have it raise the stakes enough to create comedic tension?
One of my theories of why you can’t have a national humor magazine with a hey-day (or lifespan, for that matter) longer than ten years is that eventually, even if quality is maintained, the surprise goes away. It’s a rule that applies to all comedy I think. An audience gets used to the rhythms of the humor, the style. The comedy get co-opted into everything else. The only exception to this rule is Mad Magazine, which has, if they’re not all playing video games or surfing for web porn, a renewable audience… tweens and young teens… getting their first whiff of sarcasm and skepticism about the consumer culture that surrounds them. The Simpson might aspire to a similar life, with young audiences continuing to embrace it as something that gives them the first sense that Thing Aren’t Quite Right.
But I’m done with it. Even with the shows still being enjoyable, watching them accumulate on my DVR has made viewing the Simpsons more of a chore. It’s a little strange to delete a season pass to something that I treasure and use to measure against almost anything funny. But 350 is enough of anything. I’ll be back to check out the episode scripted by Ricky Gervais or a Simpsons movie. I hope the Simpsons keeps on, but this is where I get off.