The Simpsons - What Happened?

If you grew up in the nineties, you most likely grew up with “The Simpsons” in one form or another. Whether it was through the television series itself, comics, video games, or even the countless amount of merchandise, you knew who the Simpsons were. However, if you also grew up on the show in the nineties, you probably also found the show to lose something that made it special as the show hit its ten year mark. Or is that where the show collapsed? If you ask many fans of the show, they will tell you that the show lost what made it so great during its ninth season when Mike Scully become the series’ show runner. Some may tell you that while Mike Scully started the downfall of the show that led us into Homer being called a “jerkass” by many fans, it was actually Al Jean’s reign during Season 13 when many fans lost hope of it ever returning to its “golden age.” Others may say the show saw improvement when Al Jean too over compared to Mike Scully, but that is best left for your own decision.

For myself, while I started to find some episodes to not be as good as others, I never really noticed the decline in quality by watching them only as they aired. In fact, by the early 2000s, I never saw any episodes in reruns, as I only saw them the day they aired and that was it. As such, I started on a quest to watch all 508 episodes of the series back on June 27th. My inspiration and obsession actually came after watching the Nostalgia Critic’s review of his top eleven favorite episodes of the show because I started to remember how great the episodes he mentioned were, and I wanted to see if there truly was a point where you could just see the show deteriorate. It had also been a long time since I had watched many of the older episodes since I had only watched the DVDs to each season once during the week they came out. Therefore, I am here to give my opinions and thoughts of the entire series from beginning to end on a venture that started on June 27th and ended on August 1st.

Well, technically 508 now.

Like every series, the first season is always rough. The hardest part of a series is trying to capture the audience in a manner that will entice them to watch the series, while also trying to get the network the show airs on to give the series a full chance to find its market. “The Simpsons” had the benefit of starting out as shorts on the “The Tracy Ullman Show,” so when the first season came around, it already had an audience to watch the show. Another obstacle for a new animated program is its animation style, as the animators need to make sure it will work. If you were to watch the first season, you can see that it is very jittery with awkward character designs (Moe has black hair, Smithers is black, and Barney’s hair is the same color as his skin tone) and Homer’s voice is really deep from the seasons following the first. In some ways, Season One is considered to be one of the least favorites because of the animation, but I feel the show’s tone and execution are what helped it along. If you can get past the animation, the first season is full of some really well done episodes such as “The Telltale Head” and “Krusty Gets Busted.”

Nevertheless, once the series hit its second season, the animators seemed to know what they wanted the show to look like, the voice actors seemed to know how they wanted the characters to sound, and the show gave us some realistic situations in animated form. In fact, the second and third seasons are probably the most grounded episodes compared to the rest of the series, as a great deal of the episodes found in these seasons seem to be situations that can occur in life. “Bart Gets an F” is a really dramatic episode for it shows that not everyone can always succeed no matter how hard they try. Bart is told he may have to repeat the fourth grade if he fails the next test (22 seasons later, he is still in the fourth grade, so--). In response, he does everything he can to study for the upcoming test, even getting help from one of his classmates, and even spends a snow day that delayed his test by a day to study. Unfortunately for Bart, no matter what he tried, he still could not pass his test. Another episode that featured a real life situation was “Homer vs. Lisa vs. the Eighth Amendment.” This episode dealt with Homer stealing cable and Lisa trying to convince him that was morally wrong.

There are many great episodes to be had within these two years of the series, with a strong amount of characters introduced. The infamous mafia gangster Fat Toy is introduced in the third season, voiced by Joe Mantegna. We are also introduced to a country singer that has shown up a couple of times during the series named Laurleen Lumpkin, Krusty the Klown’s father, and of course, Homer’s brother Herbert Powell, who was voiced by Danny Veto. If there is one thing “The Simpsons” had thrived on, it was giving us a great batch of characters that may appear in one episode or many episodes and have some really top notch actors to voice them. Jon Lovitz has shown up repeatedly throughout the series, doing a multitude of characters from Marge’s prom date in high school, to a stage director, to even appear as a character from his own animated series called “The Critic.” Most of all, they had Kelsey Grammer play a recurring villain on the show as the infamous Sideshow Bob. Bob was always out for revenge for Bart discovering he framed Krusty back in the first season, and we were provided with some of the best episodes from this character. Sometimes actors would appear as themselves, sometimes they would just voice a character for the Simpsons world. Nevertheless, the show has always thrived on great talent, especially from its own main actors. Hank Azaria (Apu and Moe) and Dan Castellenta (Homer and Krusty) do an entire armada of characters alone that it would take hours to name them all.

One of these is not like the other.

Moving forward, the fourth season of the series got a little cartoony in its execution, but it was so well done that you did not mind it. From a personal standpoint, Season Four is my favorite season of the series, for I find nearly every episode to be outstanding. Whether it is Homer questioning his faith, Marge being in a play with a controversial “Sweeney Todd” opening, to Krusty being canceled by a ventriloquist and being forced into a stars induced comeback special, no episode goes without countless amounts of laughter. The writers even found a way to make a clip show be outstanding in its execution. This trend continued throughout the following four seasons, with some truly spectacular moments such as the two part “Who Shot Mr. Burns” arc that gave the fans a chance to partake in a variety of fun contests and promotions over summer 1995 as people tried to figure out who shot Mr. Burns at the end of first part.

"I didn't do it..."

Other episodes during these years that stand out include, “Homer the Great,” “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” “Mr. Plow,” “22 Short Films about Springfield,” “Homer’s Enemy,” (which is probably the darkest episode of them all), “Cape Feare,” “El Viaje de Nuestro Jomer,” and a really great James Bond parody called “You Only Move Twice.”

"Who takes in all of your money? We do, we do."

Unfortunately, it was not long before the show did indeed start to decline. As I watched the ninth season of the show, I started to find myself noticing some slight differences in the personalities of the characters. Homer started going from an idiot who would do whatever was necessary to help his family to wanting to do whatever he wanted to do. This was only small portion of Season Nine, but it became really prevalent in Season Ten. There is an episode from the tenth season when Abe Simpson Homer’s dad) has to go to the bathroom, but Homer does not want to stop to let him go to the point that his kidneys explode. As such, Abe needs a new kidney immediately, but Homer says, “this is everyone’s fault but mine,” and decides to flee the hospital seconds before undergoing the operation. He is considered an outcast by a group of people on a boat for his actions, they throw him off, and Homer goes back to the hospital for the operation. However, once again, Homer decides not to go through with it and runs away again, leaving Abe to die, and it is only because he is hit by a car that he is unconscious that they can perform the surgery. This episode is a big contrast from Season Four’s “Last Exit to Springfield” episode, which had Mr. Burns wanting to eliminate his employees’ dental plan by offering them a beer as compensation, and Homer started a revolt on this decision and becomes the new union leader because Lisa was in need of braces. These actions of Homer in the tenth season are why many fans started referring to him as “Jerkass Homer.” What is even more appalling is there are even episodes in the later seasons where Homer references this and even has a book with that name imprinted on it. Not only that, but Homer also started to have some type of new job every few episodes. Homer is not the only character affected though, as other characters like Mr. Burns are changed. Mr. Burns goes from being Springfield’s main villain to just a grumpy old man. Bart seems to lose screen time at this point unless it deals with him having a new girlfriend every season voiced by a big star. By the time Season 23 hit, he had gone through Anne Hathaway, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Natalie Portman, Sarah Silverman, and Zooey Deschanel in just a couple years’ time. The show should have changed its name from “The Simpsons” to “Homer and His Crazy Schemes.”

Gotta love breaking the fourth wall.

Another issue of the “Mike Scully Era” of the show is that many episodes have a first act that has no relation to the story of the episode, and the very end of the episode will have some random event occur. For example, in the episode “The Great Money Caper,” Bart and Homer are arrested for pulling a scam to make money. In the end, it turns out the entire trial was a hoax to teach them a lesson (which makes little sense as it is). Just as Lisa is about to tell them how the town pulled it off, Otto comes running into the courtroom with a surfboard, screams, and a giant montage of surfing scenes appears for no reason whatsoever. It had nothing to do with the plot, and it just ruined the entire episode. There is another episode that starts out with the family watching a gay pride parade, and then they are suddenly at a movie theater to see a movie without ever stating they were going to do such. The gay parade is never mentioned or heard about ever again making you wonder what the point of it even was.

"Why won't this show die?!"

Season 11 is one of the worst seasons of the show, and it is also the season where Maude Flanders was killed in one of the dumbest ways possible. It felt more like an insult to the character and an easy cop out because Fox had some disagreements with the voice actress for Maude (Maggie Roswell), and instead of working it out, they just killed off her main character. On the positive side, the twelfth season gave us what I find to be one of the best episodes in the entire series, and the only one that saves that season from being as bad as 11. That episode is called “Trilogy of Error.” The main plotline is Homer cutting off his thumb and having to get to the hospital so it can be sewed back on, but the brilliance of the episode is in its execution. Each act is set up on the viewpoint of a Simpson of what is occurring at that time. It starts out with Homer trying to get to the hospital, going through obstacles to achieve his goal, the second act repeats the day through Lisa, and the third act repeats it through Bart, and concludes the story with everyone together at the end. It is ingenious and feels as if you are watching a Tarantino movie.

The thirteenth season sees the show taken over by Al Jean, who was a previous show runner (during the series’ third and fourth seasons with Mike Reiss), so he taking over the show should have been a blessing. Once again that was not to be. In fact, many people find Al Jean’s run to be horrible because it was when episodes just became flat out boring and repeated previous episode plots. Sadly I must agree with this. Season thirteen’s only memorable episode comes from a total “screw you” to the audience named “Frying Game.” The episode featured Homer and Marge being framed for murder and given the death penalty. Throughout their time in prison, Homer just jokes around with it, knowing that he is the star of the show and is not going to die, however, the worst portion comes from that the entire frame-up was done as a reality TV show, which is revealed in the show’s last minute. It is like the writer’s did not know what to do with it, so they just came up with the most half assed idea ever. It is especially insulting since the Simpson family takes part on a reality TV show in Season 14 five episodes later. Season 15 does manage to provide a few good episodes titled, “Catch Em If You Can,” “Simple Simpson,” and “Milhouse Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” while the following season does not have anything worth mentioning.

Shouldn't he be writing on a SMART Board by now?

Nevertheless, there is nothing more insulting to any Simpsons fan than Season Seventeen’s episode titled, “Homer’s Paternity Coot.” In this episode, a mail carrier from the sixties is uncovered from a melted snow bank, and all of the letters he held on him are delivered to the families of the addressees. One of the letters was sent from Homer’s mother, so the letter is delivered to him and upon opening it he reads that Abe might not be his father. Knowing this, Homer sets up to find his “true” father only to discover that Abe is indeed his father (as if it wasn’t obvious during these 17 years). It is such an insulting episode to the series and to anyone that has watched any previous episode. There is no reason this episode should have been animated, let alone green lit. It just spits all over the entire audience and shows that the writer’s did not care about the show anymore. I cannot begin to explain my frustration with it, as this is the one episode that should be removed from all existence and locked away in a vault never to be seen again with “Batman & Robin.”

Fortunately, Season 18 made up for this insult with a few good episodes (and two great roles by J.K. Simmons) along with having the best episode since “Trilogy of Error” titled “24 Minutes.” “24 Minutes” is obviously a parody of the show “24,” but it is a clever and refreshing episode that gives us something different in the way the story is told. I have never watched the series itself, but I have been told it is an exact replica of Jack Bauer’s adventures. Season 19 also featured two clever episodes named “The Debarted” and “Eternal Moonshine in the Simpson Mind.” Judging by the titles, you can easily deduce what movies both episodes are parodies of, but they are done in such a hilarious manner that they make you nearly forget how bland the bad episodes of the season are. There is another episode of the nineteenth season called “That 90’s Show,” which is meant to be a parody of “That 70’s Show,” only obviously centered around the nineties. The problem is, outside of a few pop culture jokes (like Kurt Cobain’s cousin calling him to have him hear Homer’s music), the episode completely misses what the nineties were about, This is sad considering the first eleven years of the show took place in the 90s and were already parodying the time period. It is definitely one of those moments where the term “Epic Failure” needs to be attached. During this process comes Season 20, which is more of the same. However, the best thing that could have happened in the series’ lifetime comes to fruition, its move to High Def. For the first time in 18 years, a new opening plays before the episode, which added new life to the show. Did the switch to HD really make the show better?

"Heh, this is so much cooler than making prank calls to Moe."

No, it did not. Despite the excellent looking animation, most of the episodes throughout the rest of the season and the remaining three seasons are boring. More plots from seasons past are used, more antics of Homer occur, and this is when there is a big shift to focusing on Lisa begins. Instead of being the innocent girl who is too smart to really fit in with anyone, she becomes a self-centered, self-righteous brat who craves attention and has no problem pointing out everyone’s flaws but her own. Neither does it help that there are so many episodes in a row that feature her. In fact, outside of the Halloween episode in Season 22, the first five episodes of the season are about Lisa. There were some good episodes during the HD seasons, conversely, such as Twenty’s “Gone Maggie Gone” parody of “The Da Vinci Code.” Season 23 also featured movie parodies such as “How I Wet Your Mother,” which was on “Inception” and “The D’oh-cial Network,” mocking “The Social Network.” While these episodes are nowhere near the quality of storytelling I had viewed in the series’ first nine seasons, they were still great fun and featured vast moments of hilarity. The highlight of Season 23 surprisingly comes from another episode featuring a future version of the cast. This episode is called “Holiday of Futures Past,” and is the best one since “Lisa’s Wedding.” “Holiday of Futures Past” features a pregnant Maggie, who is the singer of a rock band, and yet, we still never hear her speak. The accomplishment of the episode is done in a smart manner that it feels like it could have been from the ninth or tenth season of the show. It does have some whacky moments to it, but the quality is definitely there.

"Foolish earthlings. The Simpsons will never end because we make too much money. Hahahahaha hahahahaha hahahahaha..."

If there is one thing a Simpsons fan looked forward to every year, it was the annual Halloween specials known as the “Treehouse of Horror.” Its name originated from Bart and Lisa telling each other scary stories inside their tree house in the first special. These specials always give us three stories, which originally were adaptations of scary stories, movies, and television series, but in time, they began to stray away from that path. In the early years, various episodes of “The Twilight Zone” were adapted, such as “To Serve Man,” “Little Girl Lost,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Movies parodied during the early years include “The Shinning,” “King Kong,” “The Omega Man,” “Return of the Living Dead,” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.” All of these stories were full of hilarious and memorable jokes (“No beer or TV make Homer something something…”) and did a nice job of showing their love for the original source material. Not to mention they did an incredible rendition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” read by James Earl Jones, which to this day is one of my favorite stories from the series. Unfortunately, like all later seasons of “The Simpsons,” even these did not remain untouched in quality. They started making up their own scary stories like having Maggie be a child to the reoccurring aliens Kodos and Kang, and the family goes onto Jerry Springer to resolve the issue at hand. Then they also started to adapt non-horror movies such as “Transformers” and “Avatar” into the mix, which really pulls the viewer out of the mood since neither of those have anything to do with Halloween. Given that the writers like to do episodes every now and then of the family telling stories, they could have easily just saved those movies for one of those specials. After all, we have had a trilogy of stories from the Bible, stories from historical figures like Mozart, and tall tales, along with some of their own made up stories. There really was no reason for the “Treehouse of Horror” series to stray away from Halloween movies. In fact, there was an episode in Season 21 where Patty and Selma kidnap Homer and put him into a room with a similar situation to the “Saw” movies, which would have made much better sense had it been saved for a Halloween episode. Alas, this is just one of the many moments in which the writers have failed the show.

"Good writers... need good writers..."

Overall, “The Simpsons” is a long an enduring series that has many twists and turns, sometimes good, sometimes bad. In fact, I have come to see the entire series as Homer’s journey across Springfield Gorge from “Bart the Daredevil.” The series starts out at a steady pace at the top as Homer hugs Bart, but when season nine comes around, Homer's descent down the side of the mountain begins. He quickly zips past the rocks, flying over the gorge hoping he is going to make it, and just as “Trilogy of Error” airs, you think the series will too. However, this is quickly washed away as Al Jean takes over and Homer plunges down in the gorge, screaming along the way. As the seventeenth season hits, Homer hits the bottom and rocks fall atop of him as “Homer’s Paternity Coot” is shown. When Seasons 18 and 19 air, Homer is pulled out of the gorge and placed into an ambulance, only for it to hit a tree and send Homer flying right back into the gorge during Season Twenty’s run. The situation is no longer funny and unfortunately for Homer, he is still at the bottom of the gorge waiting to be rescued. If the characters were to grow up just a little bit, it may gain some renewed interest from the audience that grew up with the show. Characters need to age as the audience ages. That does not mean they have to age the characters 20 years, but even five years can make a difference. It would give the show some new energy, provided the writer’s know how to do this because aging them just for the sake of aging them will not help without the skills to do it intelligently. Without good writing, it does not matter what happens as I have witnessed myself over the last month. Nevertheless, favorite episodes, favorite seasons, and the like will always be based on the viewer’s opinion. Where the show fell apart is open to interpretation, but there is a reason so many either gave up on the show years ago or are always watching it in hopes it is going to get better. Whatever the case may be is up to you, I have just provided my experience with the show from watching it in just over a month’s time.

"I'm going to be good again, I WILL BE GOOD AGAIN!!"

Probably My Top 15 Favorite Episodes of “The Simpsons:”

1. Treehouse of Horror V

2. 22 Short Films about Springfield

3. Trilogy of Error

4. Cape Feare

5. Homer the Great

6. Homer the Heretic

7. You Only Move Twice

8. El Viaje de Nuestro Jomer

9. Who Shot Mr. Burns

10. Homer’s Enemy

11. 24 Minutes

12. Mr. Plow

13. Deep Space Homer

14. The Boy Who Knew Too Much

15. Lisa’s Wedding

My Top 15 Worst Episodes of “The Simpsons:"

1. Homer’s Paternity Coot

2. Frying Game

3. Homer vs. Dignity

4. Homer Simpson in: “Kidney Trouble”

5. Helter Skelter

6. Saddlesore Galactica

7. Lisa the Drama Queen

8. Boy Meets Curl

9. Bart to the Future

10. Future Drama

11. Kill the Alligator and Run

12. Simpson Safari

13. Day of the Jackanapes

14. There’s Something about Marrying

15. Goo Goo Gai Pan