The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on July 29, 2011

I try to avoid watching newer episodes of The Simpsons. It’s not simply that I don’t find them funny anymore, although they aren’t. I have a much stronger reaction to them than I should, really. They are more mediocre than outright offensively terrible. But this is The Simpsons, and The Simpsons means a lot to me. So to see something under the name of one of my dearest pieces of entertainment, featuring characters who have provided with me so much over the years, spout out easy jokes and go for whiz-bang technical stuff and overly complicated plotting over any real heart or humour…it’s like the uncanny valley. It makes me feel ill.

I think a couple months ago, I saw most of two episodes. One of them had Werner Herzog as the guest star, which should be right up my alley, but it just didn’t click. For one, Herzog wasn’t really playing a character (although he is one of the few celebrity guests nowadays who wasn’t playing himself), but rather a vehicle for Wernzer Herzog to say things on The Simpsons. That isn’t terrible in itself, but it shows a real lack of thought behind the whole thing. Aside from that, there was a plot about Lisa inventing some sort of medication that made things placid, and giving it to all the established elderly characters on the show so they’d be less grumpy. Then their eyeballs pop out of their sockets, and we get some speech about how being grumpy is a natural and good and etc. Nothing about any of this is inherently funny or insightful or whatever. It just sort of…happens. I’d say the premise is too outlandish for the show, but I since some of my favourite episodes feature outlandish plots (“Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”, for example”), I really can’t use that as a major negative. The difference is that where in episodes like “Deep Space Homer”, the ridiculousness of the plot was a major vehicle for jokes and character moments, something like this episode doesn’t really have much of either. I guess the writers just thought it was a funny visual? It isn’t, but that’s the best explanation I can think of for it.

Now, none of what I saw in that episode was truly awful, and considering the obnoxious stupidity of some of the show’s brethren on Fox Sunday nights (The Cleveland Show, for the love of god), it’s almost a palate cleanser. But it’s still incredibly middle-of-the-road material, only slightly more sophisticated than the average syndicated sitcom. And really, that’s the level I put The Simpsons and Family Guy (a show that, while never to everyone’s tastes, could have at least been considered inventive some years ago, before falling into a predictable and sometimes smug routine), basically animated counterparts to King of Queens and the like. The only reason I care about this at all is because, at one point, I liked these shows. In the case of The Simpsons, I loved it, internalized it, and still watch the good episodes whenever I get a chance, and still laugh at them. It could be an easily ignored program if it didn’t seem like a mediocre puppeteer controlling the corpse of something once great. So I avoid it not just because it’s no good, but because it’s no good and it was once the greatest and that makes me cringe.

Part of what helps ease the pain of the loss of The Simpsons (and really, can you consider getting 8 years of some of the funniest material ever that can be rewatched infinitely a loss? Most good shows can only dream of having that level of consistency for that long) is that since the show went south, others have picked up the ball and ran with it. Comedy both animated and live action have been influenced by the show as much as I have, and they not only aspire to reach the levels it did at its peak, but to do it in their own way. Considering the level of impact The Simpson had, you could probably connect it to all modern comedies in some way, but the best of the disciples are the ones who are so good, the influence is subtle.

To use some of my current favourites as examples, the whip-smart dialog of The Venture Brothers can be attributed to the Simpsons influence, but it’s also a show with its own ideas, a real desire to create characters, and not just shapes with names that jokes are attributed to. Not to mention the action and real dark satire of how the promise of the future in the boys adventure fiction the show skewers has been fucked up royally; stuff that the more sitcom-y Simpsons wouldn’t dream of doing. Even something like Adventure Time, which is part of a wave of childrens’ cartoons that aim to bring back the animator-driven format of old that the writer-driven model represented by The Simpsons seemed to antagonize, has taken the show’s cue when it comes to its dialog-based jokes and attention to detail (both AT and the earlier Simpsons seasons understand the sheer comic potential of facial exaggeration, for example). Even if I hadn’t heard Pen Ward explain how much he looks up to The Simpsons, I can still tell that Finn and Jake fighting Why-Wolves and George Takei Heart wouldn’t be possible in a world without Flaming Moe’s and GABBO GABBO GABBO.

So yeah, seeing The Simpsons flail about is sad, I don’t mourn it. Because even when the show no longer worth watching, I know that it’s existence made it possible for many shows that are worth watching to enter the game, and then try to one-up the senile master. That’s what creating entertainment should be about, shouldn’t it? Showing how much we, the creators, have loved something by trying to surpass it, to DESTROY it. What better way to know you have been a major part of someone’s life, than seeing a bunch of upstart punks beat you at the game you invented.


2 Responses to “”

  1. […] The Alabaster Sock – Smooth Charlie’s Click of the Week is this excellently anguished Simpsons rant that wouldn’t be out of place on our very own homepage.  I particularly like this: It could be an easily ignored program if it didn’t seem like a mediocre puppeteer controlling the corpse of something once great. So I avoid it not just because it’s no good, but because it’s no good and it was once the greatest and that makes me cringe. […]

  2. Itchybarney said

    I’m sorry but if you think Adventure time has ever been good at expression you need to get your eyes check. Beady-eyed stick figures awkwardly shimmying around does not a good cartoon make.

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