Monday, December 3, 2007

The Simpson’s Vanishing Point

I used to love the Simpsons. I can quote large parts of dialogue and routinely defeat all comers at Simpsons trivia. But I must admit: I haven’t watched The Simpsons in several years, and what little I’ve seen has acted like methadone to keep me from needing a Simpsons fix any more.

Why is that? I’ll tell you why: because The Simpsons sucks now. Really, really sucks. It’s just not funny. Before you argue, I submit three pieces of evidence that the Simpsons sucks:

1) Celebrities voice themselves

It’s one thing to use a guest voice because you like its sound (Dustin Hoffman as Lisa’s substitute), or because it fits into the story (Michael Jackson as the voice for a fat mental patient who thinks he’s Michael Jackson ). It’s quite another to use a celebrity voice because you want to use a celebrity (The Who, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, et al).

Now it’s like a revolving door of getting famous ‘names’ and having them appear on the Simpsons as themselves, meaning that they have to come up with ever-more-elaborate reasons to have Homer and the gang meet a celebrity. And of course, the celebrities want to plunk for their favorite cause, so we have to suffer through interminable “message” shows. The Simpsons of the early 90’s would never have stooped so low; of the late aughts they can’t get enough of this tired premise.

When did the Flintstones start to suck? When they stuck “-rock” after every celebrities’ name and paraded them through Bedrock. When did The Beverly Hillbillies start to suck? When they started to parade celebrity after celebrity through the mansion.

It’s an old sign of the suckness disease, and the Simpsons have got a rash of it all over.

2) Ceaseless repetition of uninteresting characters

In early Simpsons, we had the main characters, and then a group of people around Springfiled who either showed up a lot (Lionel Hutz, Moe the Bartender, etc) or very rarely when their particular niche was called for (the sea captain, the judge, Fat Tony, etc). Their use was always funny, and rarely did the story absolutely hinge on them.

Now they’re shoving second-tier characters down our throats constantly as a makeup for the lack of clever gags and social commentary. And they’re terrible, one-shot, pathetic characters, like the stupid Krusty look-alike boy from the wharf, or loser Gil (funny once; after that a lot less funny), or Frank Grimes and his son Frank Grimes Jr, neither of whom should ever have appeared in a show of The Simpsons’ caliber.

Lionel Hutz wasn’t used because they needed to fill time, he was used because they needed a lawyer and he was their caricature of a lawyer. Gil is used because they need to fill thirty seconds at the car dealership, so they stick in a “loser” gag. And it’s not funny.

And please don’t get me started on Disco Stu, who should have been limited to his singular appearance at Homer’s yard sale (okay, two with Disco Stu’s disco record sales franchise).

3) Whole shows built around one gag

Lately it seems that at writer’s meetings (if the Simpsons still has writers), they sit around and when they think they have a good joke, they cobble an entire episode around it just to get to the gag. The joke is typically not funny, but they can’t tell anymore.

Best example? The incredibly poor “The Blunder Years” episode, where the entire poorly-carried-off and unfunny episode (a sort of parody of Stand By Me, only less funny than the original) is structured for the following joke:

Mr. Burns: I’m sorry I told you your father was killed by Amazon women. I hope it didn’t scar you for life.
Smithers: I’m sure it didn’t.

A-ha-ha. Nothing like a tortured joke about Smithers’ questionable sexuality to validate an otherwise poor episode!