I’ve been hearing a lot about “When The Simpsons got bad” lately. It’s a debate that seems to come up at least in passing on several of the podcasts I listen to from time to time. This inspired me to start doing some of my own research and maybe write a series of blog posts about my takeaways. Basically, I’m going to watch three or so episodes per blog post and review why they may or may not bring me closer to the mythical tipping point. My hypothesis going in is that the show has always been great, but there was definitely a slump somewhere between the undisputed classics and the still excellent, if occasionally out of touch, show we have today.
I started at the beginning of Season 11. It makes sense that this might be where quality might drop off. The show had been on for over a decade, and it was the end of the millennium. If we think of The Simpsons as primarily a relic of the 90s, this would be a prime season to arbitrarily decide the show got bad.
The Season Premiere, “Beyond Blunderdome” features guest star Mel Gibson asking Homer for help re-shooting a remake of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” The Simpsons go to Hollywood, Homer suggests all kinds of crazy things to add to the movie, and hijinks ensue. This episode isn’t one of my top ten of all time, and it definitely loses points for some of the stuff Mel Gibson did in the years to follow, but It’s got some iconic moments. If the season went downhill from here, this could have been the beginning of the end, but the next few episodes were great!
Favorite quote: “All in favor? Say Die!”
Episode 2, “Brother’s Little Helper,” is a forgotten classic. In fact, I remember it was one of the first episodes I watched live. Bart goes too far with a prank and Homer and Marge put him on experimental meds that make him pay attention and become increasingly paranoid. He’s convinced that Major League Baseball is surveilling everyone from a satellite, so he steals a tank to shoot it down. When he proves that he was right, Marc McGuire shows up and distracts everyone by hitting some home runs. This isn’t the most quotable episode, but the randomness is amazing.
Favorite Quote: “When I can’t stop fiddlin’ I just takes me Ritalin. I’m poppin’ and sailin’ man!”
Episode 3, “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” is a classic Lisa and Homer episode. When Homer becomes the local paper’s food critic, he recruits Lisa to actually write articles for him. Seriously, this season’s awesome!
Favorite Quote: “You love Shake ‘n Bake. You used to put it in your coffee.”
Looking at the next batch of episodes “E-I-E-I (Annoyed Grunt)” (aka the Tomacco episode), “Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder” (“Did somebody say a perfect game?”), and “Eight Misbehavin” (Apu has octuplets) are all classics. I don’t know when the simpsons got bad, but it definitely wasn’t season 11.