Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Frinking the Unfrinkable

Heaving a sigh that makes even the Comic Book Guy seem cheerful, I am forced to admit what's been clear for quite a while now: It's time for The Simpsons to call it quits.

What was once TV's funniest and most intelligent show has completed its slow slide into a crass, unfunny embarrassment, with each new episode only tarnishing its once golden image. There was a time when I would have been all gloyven at the prospect of an episode featuring Professor Frink, but when I learned about the premise of Sunday's show, my first thought was, "How are they going to ruin this character, too?"

The episode turned out to be a tepid rip-off of a gem from the sixth season in which we flash forward to Lisa's wedding in the year 2010. A device that originally showcased the writers' creativity serves, ten years later, only to emphasize its decay. I'm sure that I was not alone in wishing that they had devoted the entire half-hour to "Vice President Cletus." (They should really consider doing a Cletus and Brandine spin-off, especially since their real-life versions have a reality series beginning in less than a month.)

I guess Harvard ain't what it used to be. Like the august university that still supplies many Simpsons writers, the show is both complacent and condescending; so content in being an institution that it lacks the capacity to show that it still deserves to be.

It's hard to pinpoint when the show began its decline, but I turned in my alt.nerd.obsessive credentials as soon as I stopped religiously taping every episode in the late 90s. To my mind, the last truly outstanding Simpsons episode was "Behind the Laughter," which aired in May, 2000. There have been plenty of decent episodes since, but a new Simpsons aesthetic was slowly taking over.

Perhaps in response to the rise of South Park, the Simpsons has become increasingly violent and graphic over the past five or six years to the point where the show has been stripped of its heart-this buffer against cynicism was always its secret weapon. As the characters become increasingly inhuman and inhumane, the show finds itself in violation of Krusty the Klown's axiom on comedy: It only works if the sap's got dignity.

Yet the Simpsons franchise trudges onward, creeping ever closer to the mythical "X-Files Frontier"—that point where a once-brilliant program is dragged out to the point that it has sucked longer than it was good. The one future event we didn't see on Sunday's broadcast was all of us sitting there watching the 25th season, trying in vain to convince our children that the Simpsons was truly great, back in the long, long ago.

Canceling the Simpsons may seem like euthanizing the family dog, but at this stage it's far better to think the unthinkable than to go on watching the unwatchable. It doesn't embiggen me to say it, but the Simpsons isn't a perfectly cromulent show anymore. It's just not cromulent at all.
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