In defense of recent seasons of ‘The Simpsons’
There’s a belief among fans of “The Simpsons” that the show has declined drastically in quality since its “golden age” (around seasons 2-10). Check out fan forums and you’ll see mostly negative reviews of recent seasons, with some fans arguing that the show should have ended years ago. The points that tend to be made are that the show overuses guest stars, repeats storylines and that it just isn’t funny anymore. FXX recently announced that they will be making every episode of “The Simpsons” available online for streaming in August. It’s the kind of thing fans have been dreaming about. I’ll likely spend most of my time watching classic episodes, but there are plenty of more recent episodes I’ll be watching, too.
I’ll admit that “The Simpsons” overuses its guest stars. Celebrities often come on the show as a ratings grab, say a few lines and leave. But there are exceptions, like Fred Armisen, Patton Oswalt and Carrie Brownstein’s cameos as a hip, and Portland family in season 24’s “The Day the Earth Stood Cool.” The episode was essentially “’The Simpsons’ meets ‘Portlandia,’” but the gap between “traditional” and “hip” families made it funny, especially Marge’s aversion to breastfeeding. Albert Brooks makes any role his own, such as his appearances as a fat camp counselor in season 16 and as Russ Cargill in “The Simpsons Movie.”
Recent seasons have also seen more ambitious couch gag sequences. In the past few years, guest artists have been brought in to direct the coach gags, such as artist Bill Plympton, the team from Robot Chicken, Banksy and Guillermo del Toro. Banksy’s vision of an overseas animating sweatshop is both darkly ironic and quite funny. Another recent sequence features a charming “Breaking Bad” parody, including Walt and Jesse. These guest artists have brought a fresh perspective to the show and the couch gags work great as re-watchable online clips.
In response to the “repeating storylines” argument, let’s remember that “The Simpsons” has aired 548 episodes. That’s more than any other American sitcom. Some ideas are going to overlap every now and then. The current writers have the daunting challenge of competing with their predecessors, and they’ve still come up with some great new stories, like Homer as Safety Salamander running for mayor, Bart’s comic Angry Dad and Lisa competing in a crossword tournament.
Whether or not “The Simpsons” is still funny is more a matter of personal opinion, but I’d argue that there have been plenty of great bits in recent years. I recently watched the 2007 episode “24 Minutes” and found myself laughing throughout. There’s also the “Spider Pig” song from “The Simpsons Movie,” which changed all our lives for the better.
Sure, recent episodes are not as perfect as “Marge vs. the Monorail” or “Mr. Plow,” but they’re far better than most of the sitcoms the major networks premiere and then cancel every fall. Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but there’s something that keeps pulling me back to this show week after week.