The guys over at the zombie Simpsons blog are going to love me for this one. Finally an episode of The Simpsons that we can all agree on: some good one-liners, a terrible, ill-conceived plot, and a goofy visual gag that outlasted its brief welcome by about 18 minutes.
Last night’s episode illustrates a notable aspect of many recent Simpsons episodes. A show that once made us think about issues like the arrival of shoddy mass transit in a small town (Marge vs. the Monorail) or the implications of cartoon violence (Itchy & Scratchy & Marge–I do love a good Marge episode!) has now become little more than slapstick window-dressing. The Simpsons still makes us laugh, but it rarely makes us think.
I know The Simpsons is an American cultural institution, but I’m starting to think it’s time for a finale. I thought Matt Groening would give it a rest when The Simpsons finally surpassed Gunsmoke as the longest-running primetime television show, but here we are, two years later, and I actually have to look up the narratives of my favorite episodes on Wikipedia since years of devoted childhood viewings of the first ten seasons have been replaced by the mediocre plotlines of later episodes. To quote Homer Simpson, “…every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.”
The Simpsons has had a good run, but episodes like the most recent one are detracting from the legacy of an excellent television show that, at its best, could cause us to laugh and ponder simultaneously. Every time I watch a mildly tolerable episode that lacks the innate introspection of a fantastic episode, I feel like I’m taking whatever happy drug Grandpa’s on. The more I watch, the more I’m concerned about my own ability to differentiate between the quality and the dreck. And if I’m easily lulled into viewing passivity by this television narcotic, then I won’t be surprised when my retinas detach either. Stay tuned!