Monday, July 11, 2011

#237: The Final Season

It's been a part of my life for 22 years. I've watched every episode. I can quote, nearly word-for-word, most of seasons 1-10. From "Rubber Baby Buggie Bumper Babysitting Service" to "Mr. Plow, that's my name. That name again is Mr. Plow" to "I'm peeing on the seat! Give me a raise!" I can quote just about anything. It was also one of the few shows I have watched from beginning to end that has lasted longer than four seasons. The Simpsons was a lot of things to me. Most of those things no longer exist. The Simpsons used to be at the top of my list on TV shows. Whenever someone would ask me what the best shows on TV were, my answers would be The Simpsons, All In the Family and M*A*S*H. I chose those shows based on irrefutable evidence that those shows were all good. From season 1, episode 1 until their end. Then I began amending my answer, keeping AItF and M*A*S*H but mentioning The Simpsons seasons 1-9 only and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Now, I can't even bring myself to say The Simpsons because people have either seen the dreck that is seasons 11 to present or because they will be curious and watch those terrible seasons and it will forever sour their Simpsons experience. And, while I hate to do it, I am going to stop watching The Simpsons with their upcoming season. Season 23.

Sadly, this means that The Simpsons will not be awarded the coveted Brian Award that has been awarded to Boy Meets World (1993-2000) and Smallville (2001-2011), the only other shows I've watched in their entirety while they were on the air. So when did it all start going downhill? For me, it was the season 11 opener "Beyond Blunderdome" guest-starring Mel "I will put you in a fucking rose garden" Gibson. Sure there are some good moments in that episode and all through seasons 11, 12, 13 and 14 but "Blunderdome" seemed like a gimmick to me. While season ten's "When You Dish Upon a Star" featured four guest stars I can get past their addition as it seemed more genuine of a storyline. "Blunderdome" just seemed like a "how big of a guest star can we get?" episode. It was also the start of something I have grown to loathe. Guest stars playing themselves.

There was a time where guest stars played one-off characters. Dustin Hoffman played Mr. Bergstrom, Penny Marshall played Ms. Botz, Steve Martin played Ray Patterson. Even Tom Cruise was planned to play Tom before Phil Hartman was cast instead. Characters who the audience would grow to like throughout the episode and then their storyline would be wrapped up and never seen again--or possibly used as a background joke. Even when guest stars would play themselves in early episodes, they would usually play the opposite of themselves. "Homer at the Bat" is a great example. Now we are forced to care about these celebrities as they infiltrate a show where they are clearly not the star but, damn it, they will be the star. On later episodes where the guest plays a one-off character, the character is not established enough for the audience to care. Case in point: Mr. Bergstrom from "Lisa's Substitute" was introduced to be, well, Lisa's substitute. He would go on to make a deep impact in Lisa's life by engaging his students, challenging them, entertaining them and genuinely caring about them and his job unlike every other teacher at Springfield Elementary. When his time substituting is done, Lisa is devastated which devastates the audience because we all know Mr. Bergstrom will be the only teacher to touch Lisa in that way again.

Now let's look at "Once Upon Time in Springfield" from 2010. We'll skip over the fact the episode is dedicated to Eartha Kitt, who guest stars and passed away two years prior in 2008 and move onto Anne Hathway's guest role as Princess Penelope. Penelope is hired to "girl-up" The Krusty the Clown Show which works and more girls watch than ever. Krusty and Penelope find themselves attracted to each other which ends with Krusty proposing on air. Hathaway's Penelope isn't engaging, her actions don't make us care about her or her relationship with Krusty. Honestly, the fact that Penelope is played by a guest star, and a busy one at that, assures us we will never see Penelope again. Why do TV shows do this? I've never understood it. It is also worthy to note that season 2, or more specifically, the episode "Homer Vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" won the Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. "OUaTiS" was nominated but didn't win, losing to something called Prep & Landing. Hathaway did receive an Outstanding Voice Over Emmy though.

Ratings for The Simpsons are not great. Compared to the other shows on FOX's Sunday night, it's par for the coarse. The cast is signed through season 23 and I hope they decide to say "that's enough" because it is. The Simpsons used to be a force to be reckoned with but that is no longer the case. They used to rail against being a "pop culture meme" but that is ultimately what they have become. While early episodes have entire episodes of genius, current episodes generally have one standout moment that is quickly forgotten the next day. I hope, against hope, that season 23 is the last one. I know it will be my last one. I may be back for an actual final season but until that happens we'll just have to pray that Jebus saves us from this show.