August 19, 2007

"The Simpsons Movie:"

The Man Called Thursday argues that the show's peak was the second through fourth seasons way back in the early 1990s, which was when Matt Groening lost interest and control shifted to the Harvard Mafia (as my former neighbor, a screenwriter on the meat and potatoes sit-com "Married With Children," called them with fear and loathing in her voice). I can't disagree, although the show's consistency held up well through the end up the decade. Were the Simpsons' 1990s the greatest decade any television show ever enjoyed? I'd say so, but lots of people would vote for more recent hour long drama on cable, such as The Sopranos. The funny thing is that drama doesn't hold up as well as comedy. Stations paid a lot of money in the late 1980s for the hour long dramas thirtysomething and Miami Vice, and never got their money back. Meanwhile, "I Love Lucy" is still playing somewhere right now.

The Simpsons Movie concentrated too hard on telling what we already knew -- the Simpsons may be dysfunctional, but when they pull together, they can triumph. I would have like to learn knew things. For example, we get to meet Nelson "Ha-Ha!" Muntz's mom. Why couldn't the backstory of other characters be covered?


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

29 comments:

Alex said...

That's accurate; it kept up well through the nineties but it's reputation was justified entirely in its first few years. I'm aways glad to hear people acknowledge this since the ratings and the dumfoundingly obtuse TV critics still seem to support the wreck it's become.

It's spent the last decade seemingly trying to drive home the point that when you run out of stories you should be done. Putting aside that it's 95% not funny, no matter how much nerdy cultural tweaking or aching grinding irony they still pack in, the shows are nearly unwatchable now because they're so thin and pointless storywise. I mean, I haven't actually watched them in a while for just that reason, but that was the case in the early '00s and every time I check in to make sure I'm still right.

Anonymous said...

I agree it got funny when the Harvard Mafia took over but I thought this lasted more than a few years...I always thought it was hilarious until about 2000- when seemingly it became way too liberal and not surprisingly, much less funny.

Thursday said...

The link to my piece is:
http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com/2007/08/neglected-art-random-thoughts-on.html

Anonymous said...

Nelson's mom already appeared on the TV show, when Marge decided to let Nelson stay at the Simpson house for several days.

SKT said...

Because it's the Simpsons movie, not the Hans Moleman movie.

michael farris said...

"not the Hans Moleman movie"

I for one, desperately want to see a Hans Moleman movie, preferably starring William Hurt (as Hans) and directed by Michael Bay (without special effects or chase or fight scenes, just 90 minutes of human relationship drama directed by Michael Bay). That would be the greatest thing ever.

michael farris said...

I recently spent some time catching up on years of Simpsons episodes I'd missed living outside the US.

I'd say the first seven seasons are the best with winners far outnumbering the stinkers and then the quality starts declining, slowly at first and then at ever increasing speed.

They can still churn out some decent jokes and moments of greatness but there's hardly any whole episode in the last three or four seasons worth watching.

Mark said...

I don't pay much attention to "The Simpsons" anymore. What I can't understand is why "Scrubs" doesn't get the credit and attention it deserves. Seasons 1-4 were some of the sharpest comedy I've seen ever.

Peter said...

One mistake was shifting the focus of most episodes from Bart to Homer. Bart is interesting and almost always funny. Homer is neither. He's just another Doofus Dad, one of way too many on TV.

Anonymous said...

It’s hard to separate my preferences from objective quality. But I would say seasons 5-7 are more or less as good as 2-4. Season 8 is watchable, while the show takes a complete nosedive at seasons 9. Unwatchable.

The Simpsons season 2-7 probably is the best show ever made, due both to the high ratio of jokes/minute and to the sophistication of the humor. They manage to be both smart and funny for children, which is impressive.
Regarding politics they were always liberal, I didn’t mind when they were also funny. Sideshow Bob Roberts (season 6 attack of Rush Limbaugh) and Much Apu about nothing (season 7 attack on those who want to limit illegal immigration) were both funny, with high quality jokes.

Now it’s dumbed down, mostly slapstick and of course political non-jokes. It really isn’t the same show, even though it’s about the same characters.

Ps.
I may be alone about this, but Married with Children also had a quality life cycle. Started to get good around season 2, season 4-6 were excellent, everything else later crap.

Anonymous said...

Steve-

Seasons 2-4? No way, more like seasons 2-8. For those years the show produced more great half hours of tv than any other comedy in history.

Anonymous said...

Sideshow Bob and HMS Pinafore. Does television get any better?



And Steve is wrong in not recognizing that the great HBO shows transcend the medium. The Sopranos (at its best) and The Wire (always) compare with the best works of narrative art America has produced (from Melville to Miller to Kubrick).

fwood1 said...

I only occasionally watched the show, and haven't seen any episodes in years, but I thought The Simpsons Movie was funny. Funnier than Knocked Up.

Steve Sailer said...

"And Steve is wrong in not recognizing that the great HBO shows transcend the medium."

Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell.

I can't afford cable, so I've only seen four episodes of The Sopranos. The two in 2000 and the one in 2007 were very good. The 2004 episode with Steve Buscemi was outstanding.

But, TV dramas are notoriously easy to overrate at time they are airing. Maybe the latest generation of dramas have finally turned the corner, but I felt the same way back in the 1980s about shows nobody watches in reruns today.

You would think that sit-coms would age faster than dramas, since humor is partly based on surprise, but sit-coms make the most money in syndicated reruns. I Love Lucy still makes money after 55 years!

Zach said...

I think syndication is less compatible with dramas than comedies, or rather more compatible with stand-alone shows than shows with story arcs. Most people miss a show here or there or dip into a syndicated show after a few months. Further, sometime shows aren't even shown in the original order. This works for comedies because their motto generally is "No Learning", that is there is little or no character development. This was true for Lucy, who was just as wacky at the end as at the beginning. And Seinfeld where each episode could be watched on its own with little confusion.
This is especially true of the Simpsons because cartoon characters don't age and because they don't worry too much about continuity. A causual watcher probably couldn't tell the difference between a 3rd season show or a 13th season show because there aren't new major characters and the old characters haven't really changed in obvious ways (I know, they have but I am talking about casual watchers, not those who own all the episodes on DVD).
That's why cliffhanger shows (like early serials) don't work well. And I hate watching 2 part syndicated episodes because I never know when the second part will air.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the HBO stuff is IMHO overrated. South Park parodied that on "Cop Drama" where the F-bomb was dropped a lot.

That seems to be the main attraction with the Sopranos, the Wire, the Shield, Nip/Tuck, the Shield, Rome, and Deadwood. "Shock the bourgeoisie" which has been a dated cliche since about 1830 or so.

I agree that TV is a writer's medium, that can produce a lot of self-indulgent crap and bad story telling in dramas. Comedies requiring more rigid adherence to structure avoids a lot of that.

South Park hasn't been funny for a while, and might be having the same issue with creative burnout/lack of good jokes, but they have an advantage in that they make fun of Hollywood the most and there's always a wealth of self-indulgent material there.

Interesting the switch from Bart to Homer. Probably as the writing team got older they were more interested in Homer than Bart.

michael farris said...

I'd say in conception and execution the show was always more about Homer than Bart.
But there was a media-popculture frenzy about Bart for a time in the beginning that may have made the show look more like it was about Bart than it really was, call it the Maynard G. Krebs effect.

Anonymous said...

Swedish pirates respond to threat of legal action by Dreamworks. Hilarious.
http://static.thepiratebay.org/dreamworks_response.txt

Anonymous said...

Couple of things- The show was supposed to be about Bart but Homer was just much funnier wasn't he?? So they made the switch much like Family Ties was supposed to focus on Meredith Baxter-Birney, but switched to MJ FOx. BTW as good as The Simpsons was, the first two seasons of Arrested Development are the greatest pieces of art ever produced...better than the sistine Chapel. Dan Redmond

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, The Simpsons jumped the shark around 1997, and went rapidly downhill after that. One bellwether for me was how they treated Flanders. Up to a point, the writers treated Flanders with a certain respect; they made him goofy, repressed, and annoying, but loveable in a strange way. Then they turned and "deconstructed" him, making him into a stand-in for all blue America's creepy paranoid fantasies about evangelical Christian white men, and killed his wife to boot.

Eventually, there came all the lame sexual innuendoes, unimaginative use of celebrity guests, and gimmicky "Simpsons go to BLANK" plotlines. By the time they started doing hacky leftish political "satire," I had long tuned out.

Ian Lewis said...

I always thought that the reason why (good) comedies last longer than dramas is because of the timing.

In Comedy, like music, if you are off by a mere half-second, it goes from hilarious to being stupid. And their is something about that "perfect" timing that we connect to. Just like when you unconsciously tap your foot to a great song.

However, Drama does not seem to have the same thing. Even with something like Shakespeare, it was the "exact" wording that we connect to. Some of the stories that he made famous had been around for a LONG time.

Anonymous said...

I used to watch the Simpsons through 1999 and they were hillarious (I was living in Scotland at the time and groundskeeper Willie is 10 times funnier there than in the US). Since then I've only watched the newer episodes sporadically and they have generally been terrible. (And personally I found the cameo by Stephen J. Gould particularly revolting!)

I actually find South Park far funnier than the Simpsons. I generally don't go in for crude and vulgar toilet humor, but I actually think that South Park is far more insightful than any other contemporary comedy and am therefore able to overlook its vulgarity. It is the only show that will examine contemporary social, political, and cultural (including religious) phenomena and call "bullshit!" when appropriate. (Perhaps it is only the excessive vulgarity that allows Parker and Stone to get away with this, given that their message is essentially a secular libertarian/conservative one and as such anathema to most of the entertainment industry.) The only other comedy that makes me laugh as hard is Jeeves and Wooster.

Philly Guy

RobertHume said...

Perhaps I am missing something, but I am extremely unimpressed every time I turn on "American" television, be it the Sopranos, the Wire, the Simpsons ... I can barely stand watching them for a minute. The speech is so far from anything I have ever personally experienced. It does not hold a mirror up to life.

Whereas, on PBS, I very much enjoy almost everything on "Mystery", and most things on "Masterpiece Theatre".

Will someone please tell me I am not an effete snob?

fwood1 said...

The surreal situations and humor of Malcolm in the Middle is what a live action Simpsons might be like.

The reference to Maynard G. Krebs in a previous post makes me wish that some channnel would carry Dobie Gillis reruns. Ah, classic television...

James Kabala said...

Philly Guy: For me, on the few occasions I have watched South Park, the vulgarity has overwhelmed the insight. I saw an episode in which time travelers from the future were used to satirize the immigration debate, hilariously critiquing both sides -and then halfway through, with no warning, it turned into a massive gay orgy (!) and all subtlety went out the window. I will give them credit for the guts to take on Christopher Reeve, however.

James Kabala said...

I don't think The Simpsons really became overtly liberal until around the time of the Iraq War (not unlike The Daily Show, which, believe it or not, was also once relatively even-handed). The aesthetic decline began before that, and in fact I think there has been a slight uptick in recent years.
Also, I think that (with the exception of a few stray moments here and there), Flanders still is treated with respect. His superiority to Homer as a husband, father, and human being is still alluded to frequently and is a major subplot of the movie.

David said...

Flanders and Homer both are presented as ridiculous; both are the butts of "the joke" about fathers and adults generally. Flanders is, however, clearly acknowledged as the better person of the two.

Nevertheless, we're expected to empathize more with Homer, the "lovable slob."

The heroes of "The Simpsons" of course are the children - Bart and Lisa.

Lisa is a tamer mirror image of Flanders but on the Left, and hipper, while Bart is a tamer mirror image of Homer, and smarter.

Hans Moleman represents the categorical imperative in the following three ways: ... oh hell, I have to get back to work now.

James Kabala said...

"Flanders and Homer both are presented as ridiculous; both are the butts of 'the joke' about fathers and adults generally. Flanders is, however, clearly acknowledged as the better person of the two.

Nevertheless, we're expected to empathize more with Homer, the 'lovable slob.'"

I'll agree with all of that, except to add that somewhere along the line Homer passed from "lovable slob" to "outright jerk," and it's his metamorphosis, not that of Flanders or any other supporting character, that marks when the show began to go downhill. It still has funny one-liners, but the plots no longer hold together well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting contrast between drama's and sitcoms.

I've had the time to go back revisit the drama's and sitcoms of my youth, now out on DVD.

Without fail, the best of the sitcoms holdup and are still enjoyable.

The drama's are a different story. Its amazing how many drama's like "I Spy" "Mission Impossible"; "Naked City" "Rockford files" etc. come off as dull, padded, predictable, or just plain preachy. Some episodes are pure gold, but most are now simply unwatchable.