It wouldn’t be going far to say that most of us grew up with The Simpsons.
They have been on the air for 15 of my 23 years, and I can match up many of the key moments of my life to which episode was on that week. (For the record, losing my virginity: the week Bart worked at a burlesque house. When I finally moved away from home: the week Homer joined the Movementarians.) That’s why it hurts so much to say The Simpsons needs to be cancelled.
Fifteen years is a staggering amount of time for any television show to be on the air. After so long, it is fair to say a show has become a cultural icon. The Simpsons are in the company of the network news and perpetually running game shows like Jeopardy and the Price is Right. Even if the bomb were to drop tomorrow and Western civilization eroded away in some B-movie scenario, The Simpsons would still be around.
Simply put, The Simpsons is Fox’s cash cow. The years have seen Murdoch and company merchandise the show in every way possible: Simpsons’ CDs, video games, thongs and of course the “Don’t Have a Cow” T-shirts of the early 1990s. No matter how tired the jokes have become, how convoluted the plots are or how badly suited the current batch of writers are, The Simpsons will always be around.
It is a shame. For years and years, The Simpsons challenged the boundaries of what a television show could be and rewarded its viewers for it. A rare show that didn’t question the intelligence of people watching it, The Simpsons might have been the only place possible to hear a joke involving philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and eating mustard packets in the back seat of a car. Or, “Planet of the Apes: The Musical” and even America’s first Indian television character in Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
The infamous Halloween “Treehouse of Horror” episodes could name-check The Omega Man, A Clockwork Orange or The Devil and Daniel Webster, all while getting away with forbidden doughnut jokes. But now there’s nothing but nonsensical plots and meta-humor that might just make The Simpsons the first post-modern television show if you’re feeling particularly academic.
A friend of mine compares The Simpsons current state to a loved one dying of Alzheimer’s Disease: The person is still there, but in a reduced state. You remember them when they were better and can’t bear to view them now. But every once in a while, when you least expect it, there’s a flash of the old brilliance. But that’s all it is, a flash.
Matt Groening managed to create a television show that captured the zeitgeist of America for a whole decade. Simultaneously paying homage to the best in this country and relentlessly mocking the worst of it, The Simpsons managed to come up with creations from the Good Morning Burger (with rich creamery butter) to Springfield’s Russian District, complete with dancing bears.
All that is gone, however, in favor of a show that’s a shell of its former self, existing merely to sell dodgy Grand Theft Auto rip-off video games and attract viewers to the intellectual smorgasbord that is Fox.
I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is. Some institutions deserve better than that, and this is one of them. Let The Simpsons go off the air with its dignity intact.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at N_Terminal@yahoo.com.