In 1987 The Simpsons premiered as a short on The Tracey Ullman Show and in 1989 it moved to Fox as the half-hour series that we know, from there becoming a global cultural phenomenon. I have three Simpsons tattoos, an extensive toy collection that I’ve spent years collecting, socks, t-shirts, sweaters, hats, sneakers, I even have a Krusty bong. My poor priorities aside, it is a show that has been a constant in my life, that I grew with as it shaped my childhood, adolescence, and most of all my sense of humour. But I haven’t watched an episode that came out after 2001 and I hate showrunner Matt Groening—The Simpsons is dead to me and has been for a long time.
I can’t remember a time before The Simpsons were in my life. My mom hated it but I still snuck in the nightly 6.00pm viewings that were part of growing up in the 90s. I loved it and I learnt from it and even if I didn’t understand the references, I grew to get them and the show proved endlessly rich and satisfying. One of the strongest parts of The Simpsons was that it was human, that it had all the warmth and love and frustration of real life even at its most ridiculous. Homer wasn’t smart but he loved his family, and it was believable that despite all the problems he caused that his family stood by him. Episodes about Homer and Lisa’s relationship were particularly important to me because my father was fairly absent throughout my life, and I found catharsis when they found solutions to their issues. I found countless similarities between my mother and Marge, something she was originally skeptical of but has since warmed to after I got a tattoo of young Marge alongside my mother’s initials. As an only child the Simpson children represented different facets of my personality—I was Bart’s unapologetic cheek, I was Lisa’s passion for academia, and I was Maggie’s wonder as I learnt about the world around me through a four-fingered yellow family. What some saw as just a cartoon I saw as a guide to life, that taught me how to support those I love and how to laugh at ourselves and our lives, at times, to keep from crying.
The 1999 premiere and success of Family Guy heralded a sharp decline in the quality of The Simpsons. The latter was previously unchallenged as the prime time adult-oriented animated series; Family Guy’s arrival was like a car dealership opening right across the road and offering “better deals” but secretly filling up the tanks with sawdust like Danny Devito in Matilda. Family Guy was devoid of depth—the animation was poor and the characters horrible, with humour frequently of a sexist, racist, and homophobic nature. In its tenth season The Simpsons had a chance to up its game, but instead quickly sank to its competitor’s levels. Homer and Bart became loud, selfish, and insufferable idiots, while Marge and Lisa became nags and punching bags. Episodes were consumed with celebrity cameos and cheap gags for cheap laughs. It became unwatchable. Any time I’ve caught an episode I’ve had to turn it off, like running into your childhood best friend who became a total bitch.
Conan O’Brien served as a writer on the show for two seasons, writing some of my favourite episodes including “Marge vs. the Monorail.” In 2013 his website hosted a Simpsons’ writers reunion with Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen, and Jeff Martin. They reflect back on their time together in a cramped writers’ room where they were given limits on the amount of donuts eaten, despite writing for a show that was earning over $2 billion in merchandising alone in a fourteen month period. They touch on a scene in “Bart the Daredevil” where Homer attempts to jump the Springfield Gorge on a skateboard only to plummet to the bottom, repeatedly hitting the jagged rocks and injuring himself. Groening was originally hesitant to include Homer falling and hurting himself so severely, as he wanted the show to remain within the realms of human possibility as any sitcom would. Groening has gone on to view that scene as one of the funniest of the series, maybe a foreshadowing of what was to come—as the show lost touch with reality, it fell out of touch with its fans.
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Of course when I say I hate The Simpsons I love it, but I can’t support or endorse it as it is now. I will forever love the golden age of its programming, up until season nine with a sprinkling of episodes through to season twelve. Those episodes are so brilliant that perhaps it was always going to be impossible for the show to adapt, but in that case the plug could have been pulled before the shark was jumped. The Simpsons will keep going until Matt Groening dies and I still won’t watch the very last episode, but the show will always be incredibly special to me.
“Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead.”—Barney Gumble
The Simpsons, 1989 –