Thursday, July 19, 2007

Will The Simpson's Movie Suck?

The new Simpsons movie comes out in less than a month - and already I'm getting so excited for it I nearly want to swallow the marketing campaign that's being force fed to us right now.

My generation, for everything we are, are really the Simpsons' generation. The show has been with me ever since there was a me for it to be with. It's shaped my humor, my intonation, my sense of self and has generally had the cultural impact of an earthquake. A well-plotted, yellow-skinned earthquake. Well. Maybe not. Maybe the cultural impact of... this.

And there have been so many good cartoons to come to the big screen in the past couple years. Ratatouille, of course, has to stand up there as probably the best film I've seen in a billion years. But don't you forget the hilarious Spongebob Squarepants Movie, The Incredibles, and Spirited Away.

But the Simpsons - the actual show - has sucked for a while. Or, at least, it hasn't been as good as it used to be. It's like the Applebee's of comedy now, and so very American for: it's consistent, there's a lot of it, and you can find it wherever the hell you go, whether it be Alaska, Spain or Korea.

The Simpsons used to be so much more. Why this happened - why it jumped the shark - was that it could no longer tackle the practical human issues that made it sparkle in its hey-day. It had simply tackled them all. Once you deal with crushes, bullying, obesity, nuclear power, hippydom, wanting to be cool and not being cool and then realizing that not being cool is actually cool (all things that various Simpsons episodes did wonderfully) - then you have to start having trips to Japan and Aerosmith coming to town and Homer becoming a stoner.

Moreover, the show is constrained because it needs to end on some sort of sit-com equilibrium. We need to return to the same Springfield at the start of every episode, so we have to close on the same Springfield at the close of every episode. This means that for the past ten years of so instead of growing the characters have only collapsed into broad caricatures of themselves. Bart is even more snarky. Marge more boring. Lisa more liberal. And Homer... , far, stupider. And there's not anything explicitly wrong with that. It just means that the show has lost some of it's luster.

So. Here's my prediction: if the Simpsons Movie deals with everyday human problems - it's going to be great. If it turns out to be an hour and a half of raising the ante of silliness and oddity, with Homer - I dunno - with Homer converting to Islam or something, it will be funny, but fail to be profound.

But I don't think it can return to the profundity of those early years. Great stories are about great change. And you can't represent this sort of great change when the characters need to again and again return to our TV screens for the next decade and a half. And so the characters are no longer us - no longer my generation that literally grew up with the Simpsons - but become totems, or idols - the mockery of life, but not its mimicry.


Evan Petrie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan Petrie said...

Having yet to experience any of the Simpson's movie marketing, I found your remarks and analysis interesting. I'm not so sure I would go so far as to say we are the Simpson's generation, but I certainly concede that the show is one defining component of our generations TV consumption. I personally think of South Park as having taken up the mantel from the Simpson's somewhere around South Parks third season as the show that seemed dedicated to offering irreverent and oft-times controversial commentary on current topics in the popular psyche.

But returning to the question of a show for our generation... I still like Seinfeld the most of any show from that time period, even if it was not necessarily aimed at youth.

Ben Weyl said...

Agreed--we would not be who we are without The Simpsons. Period. While I probably haven't watched a new episode in a few years, Sunday at 8 pm was a momentous event for me growing up. And those that didn't watch the Simpsons were just out of the loop.

That said, I do like Seinfeld better and still find myself quoting bits from the show about nothing (which I can't say for the Simpsons) It's genius, pure and simple. But I don't think it was our generation's show. I didn't start watching it religiously until it was off the air pretty much.

I never got in to South Park.