Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New TV Season: The Simpsons

I was all set to write a post about how The Simpsons is a broken show. It’s been on too long; every episode is redundant; it’s no longer capable of surprising me or making me care about anything that happens.

There were the early, awkward years. There were the Conan O’Brien years, where the show found its voice and perfectly balanced absurdity and heart.

There were the Mike Scully years, in which the show got weirder and weirder and eventually abandoned coherence entirely. These brought us episodes like the one where Homer goes on a missionary trip, and just when he’s about to fall into an inescapable stream of hot lava, the story is interrupted by Betty White soliciting money for the Fox network, and Bart calling in with a bogus pledge. Or the one where Homer wins a Pulitzer and is banished to a Prisoner-style secret island, where the family eventually joins him. Fans hated a lot of these at the time, but Scully’s philosophy in running the show seemed to be that the characters had run their course, no one cared anymore, and they would just push shit as far as they could.

In retrospect, I really like those years.

But the problem is, once you go there, you can’t come back.

The current phase of the show is the second reign of Al Jean, one of the show’s producers in its early years. Since Jean returned to take the reins from Scully, he’s tried to steer the show back toward character-based stories with heart. Which is an admirable goal, but once you’ve crossed all the lines that the show crossed in the Scully years, it’s really impossible to take any of this crap seriously. What Al Jean II has amounted to is a bunch of episodes in which Homer makes Marge mad, and then makes it up to her. She loves him and he can’t believe he’s so lucky. It’s gotten to the point where, when it happened on the season premiere, Marge even mentioned how it happens all the time. But fuck am I sick of it. If The Simpsons never did a Homer and Marge Fight episode again it would please me greatly. We’ve seen it a million times and it no longer tugs the heartstrings like it did in season three. Now there’s nothing more tiresome.

But this week’s episode totally surprised me. It was good, really good, and I laughed a lot. Homer throws a chicken pox party when Maggie gets the pox, and at the party, Milhouse’s parents get drunk and reconcile. As they toy with getting back together and reignite their sex lives, Milhouse feels neglected, so he and Bart set about doing a “reverse Parent Trap” to split them up again. Milhouse is so pathetic, and underused recently, that he’s very funny, and even though the plot involves Homer and Marge fighting again, it’s related to the Parent Trap scheming and the emphasis is on Bart, so I can forgive it.

Highlights: Lisa watches The OC, in which the characters decide to “score some jam at Knott’s Berry Farm”—a slow motion montage follows to that “California here we come” song, in which the characters go skipping with a guy in a Snoopy suit for a shot that’s held for a ridiculously long time, then ride the log ride with Snoopy, then get held up at the ATM by Snoopy. When their “reverse Parent Trap” fails, Milhouse proposes trying the plot from a different movie: Oklahoma! And we cut to a fantasy of Bart and Milhouse singing “The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends.”

It just goes to show, once or twice a season, The Simpsons can still surprise you.


lyan! said...

I too love the crazy simpsons episodes. Like the crazy chili episode turning into johnny cash as Coyote and telling Homer to look for his soul mate.
I grew to love how the show would start one way, that would be forgotten, then it would go in a completely different, other way. Made me happy.
I never so much as lost interest as I did, lost the time spent watching the show (going to college, having a life, moving to japan)
Hell, if I could watch the Simpsons here, I'd watch a lot more television.
But anyway, Hiromi told me about that episode, and I thought it was pretty cool to go to Knotts to score some Boysenberry.
Even though it might not always be stellar, be happy that you have it to neglect.

Steve said...

For some reason, I was really amused by Marge punishing bart by deleting his playstation memory card, a suggestion she got from "Modern Punishments" magazine.

Anonymous said...

"Ridiculously long" is, I think, a device that's getting some fair exploration from the Fox cartoons, and one of the reasons I keep watching them. The Snoopy shot was already impossibly satisfying—the linger let its absurdity sink so deep.

I am still impressed by the Family Guy's willingness to commit long stretches of time to sequences that are less parody than homage; they are so lovingly reconstructed. Perhaps you saw the A-Ha bit?

Kenny said...

Anonymous who?

Good description of that Snoopy moment, you sell it better than I did.

On this blog I haven't gone into my perhaps irrationally strong dislike for Family Guy, a show I admit is hilarious but whose derivativeness and shallowness and general obnoxiousness and ugliness I refuse to forgive. The fact that it is universally beloved makes me hate it more.

Kenny said...

Also, when an Family Guy extended homage/parody misses, as in the Annie-inspired "This House is Frickin' Great," bit, it's interminable.

lyan! said...

I swing either way on Family Guy. I like jokes on it, but for the most part, it grates on me.

Though I accepted it the first time I saw some episode where Peter was hearing a guilty verdict, and everyone shouts 'oh no!' and from out of no where, Kool-Aid man bursts through the wall and shouts "Oh yeah!" looks around, then embarassed-like, picks up and walks back out through the hole dejected.

So good.

matt said...

You haven't done a damn thing here to convince me that "The Simpsons" is still worth watching. Heavy-handed plugs for "The OC" and Knott's Berry Farm aren't going to put the show back on the other side of the shark.

Also, I really like "The Family Guy" but hardly ever watch it. Meli doesn't like it. She gave up on it during the "You've Got AIDS" musical number.

Sarah said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Family Guy. Funny/shallow/obnoxious/ugly. Spot on observation.