Have you ever had a dog that grew old? At the dog’s peak, it was your best friend. There are no other creatures on earth capable of giving so much unquestioned devotion. And you love it back for that very reason. They’re marvelous animals. And then one day, it begins to grow old. You ignore it at first. After all, your dog is your pal. It’s man’s best friend. You just want the good times to continue in whatever way they can. But time marches on, and the dog’s physical afflictions pile up. Things get serious. You begin to think things like “Ol’ Blue won’t be around much longer so I have to enjoy the time I have left with him.” And yet, you’d never dream of giving up on the mutt. They wouldn’t give up on you, would they? You’re going to see it through no matter what happens. Finally, a day arrives where you realize that the dog is suffering merely by being alive. That is precisely how I feel about The Simpsons these days.
It’s important to note that the peak of the show–the first eleven or twelve seasons–was as good as the peak of any other show in TV history. It was magic. Sunday nights were appointment television because of Homer and his family’s antics. The show was dripping with phenomenal humor written by comedy writing titans. But friends, Springfieldians, noble countrymen, lend me your yellow ears; I come to bury Homer, not to praise him.
I couldn’t tell you the exact moment or season that the show began to decline. I would venture that it was sometime around the year 2000. Episodes became formulaic. The same handful of plotlines were on constant shuffle. Homer is an awful father; Marge feels neglected; Lisa takes a political stance; Bart’s misbehavior goes too far; Homer is an awful employee. The guest voices were no longer a bonus. They were an often-forced necessity. The show grew slightly more vulgar, which nobody would mind if it was humorous. Probably the biggest series of events in the decline were the untimely passing of Phil Hartman, followed by the decision of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein to step away from the show. That trio was the glue that took the show from hilarious to sublime.
Despite all of this, I still watch the show. At least a few times a year, it will flex the comedic muscle that made me fall in love with the show when I was a 13 year old watching it debut in December 1989. For a few years, I practiced a little bit of cognitive dissonance, reassuring myself that it was “still better than a lot of other things on TV”. But it’s gone beyond that stage. Now I fear that the show is hurting what should be a monumental legacy. It saddens me to think that teenagers out there now who watch The Simpsons have only experienced this strange, mediocre product without ever seeing the sheer brilliance of the first decade. Everything I’ve said here, I’ve said only because I want the show to be remembered properly as the ingenious show that it was for so very long. I can not stress that point enough lest I be painted as a Worst-Show-Ever-ing Comic Book Guy.
More often than not now, I’m left disappointed, left to clean up the mess that the show has made on my mental carpet. And just like that sad dog owner, I’m now left with a conundrum. Why don’t I put it out of its misery by turning off the TV? I wrestle with this every Sunday. I’d feel horrible giving up on it after it brought me so many laughs through the years. At some point, you’re doing the dog a favor. I wish I could determine when that will occur.