Dear Al Jean, Matt Groening, Jebus, and anyone else who might be listening:
It’s time for The Simpsons to end.
Year after year, I watch the venerable cultural monolith that helped shape me as a person wither and twist in the wind – and I wish that it hadn’t come to this.
A show that was once defined by unparalleled writing, topical humour and brilliant voice acting has been reduced to a gimmicky, one-note shadow of itself that exists more as a merchandising vessel than as the greatest sitcom of our time.
Case in point: showrunner Al Jean told Variety last week that next season, Homer and Marge legally separate, and Homer falls in love with his pharmacist, who’s voiced by Lena Dunham.
My reaction to this news was something akin to this:
Couple that kind of brutal, obvious gimmick with the news that multiple-character maven Harry Shearer is leaving the show, and it becomes difficult to deny that we’ve been watching The Simpsons jump the shark over and over for at least a decade.
Please stop, Fox. That shark is already dead.
I’m not going to solely sit here and yearn for the show’s glory days, but it’s difficult to deny that seasons one through 12 (ish) were really something special. Episodes like “Monorail” and “Deep Space Homer” absolutely destroy anything the show has done in the last decade.
In many ways, I feel bad for kids who are growing up watching The Simpsons today. Where is their Hank Scorpio, or their Troy McClure? Where is their “meh” or “yoink” – words that the show created/popularized that have since seeped into our lexicon? Where is the wit that made The Simpsons such a joy in the first place?
My god, won’t somebody please think of the children?
Instead, today’s audiences get cheap, headline-grabbing stunts like Homer and Marge breaking up, crossovers with Family Guy and well-worn “this character is going to die” warnings (and we miss you, Rabbi Krustofsky).
That’s not good writing – and it doesn’t drive audiences.
In reality, the show’s longevity is its own worst enemy. That South Park actually has an episode called “Simpsons Already Did It” speaks to just how badly the show has painted itself into a corner. To keep rolling, writers have been forced to crank out increasingly zany plots that feel more lurid and lack the charm that made a generation fall in love with the show.
An audience is still there, so it continues – though as a shadow of its former self. Last year, The Simpsons fell to its lowest rating ever for a regular episode at 3.4 million viewers and a 1.5 rating among adults 18-49. That puts it above Bob’s Burgers but below Family Guy, when measured against its cartoon compatriots.
Overall, ratings were down just over 4 per cent last season compared to the season before – yet it’s still one of Fox’s highest-rated shows. Last year’s Simpsons marathon on FXX also set records for the fledgling broadcaster, proving that the love for the show is still smoldering.
But for each year the show limps on with off-kilter plots and recast voices (boy, I can’t wait to hear someone other than Harry Shearer voice Mr. Burns), its legacy is tainted. The Simpsons’ place in history is already long assured – but it deserved to go out strong, and on its own terms.
As Bart famously once said to Homer: “It’s just hard not to listen to TV: it’s spent so much more time raising us than you have.” For many of us, The Simpsons did just that — it was our after-school education, our window to popular culture, our “teacher, mother and secret lover.”
It was the best thing on TV for so long.
Please don’t let it go out as something we’re all better off ignoring.