Heck, There's Nothing Better on

Standing up for The Simpsons

By Scott Feschuk

© National Post, February 16, 2001.

Seems to happen every couple of months nowadays: You pick up a newspaper, a magazine, you scan the Internet, and someone somewhere is clamouring for the swift and brutal cancellation of The Simpsons.

The most recent textual bellow was posted on the online newsmagazine, where one of the Web site's writers grouchily proclaimed: "Hell, d'oh, Bart must go." As evidence to support his contention, author Seth Stevenson asserts "the show has been slipping of late ... Jokes often fall flat. Timing isn't as razor sharp. Punchlines are overexplained, and the show's light touch is gone."

Worse yet, he groans, the series has no vision and is being guided by inferior newbies who possess little in the way of institutional memory. Lacking only a menacing orchestral swell to enhance the stark drama of his conclusion, Stevenson gravely intones: "The Simpsons has lost its soul."

Seth's cranky rant and declarative theatrics will surely remind Simpsons enthusiasts of the show's surly Comic Book Guy and his classic lamentation: "Worst ... episode ... ever!" That corpulent character is an incomparable parody of the sullen hordes among us who are forever fretting that whatever it is they like is not nearly as good as it used to be. I only listen to early Floyd, dude! I'd never watch anything Scorsese made after Raging Bull! I only deign to regard the pre-cousin-Oliver episodes of The Brady Bunch!

Crusading for the cancellation of a show such as The Simpsons is a clever editorial gimmick in that the sentiment clearly runs counter to that expressed by the still-devoted viewers of the series (which continues to hover near the top 10 in viewership), and is therefore certain to generate controversy and thus confer on the writer the fleeting sheen of being dreamily r ebellious! "Oooo, he slagged The Simpsons," the girls all coo. "He's ... dangerous!"

Plus, if Fox actually did wind up cancelling the show, the writer would a) look really, really smart, and b) be required to wait only a few months before authoring the inevitable sequel, "Bring back The Simpsons!"

What it accomplishes beyond all that is less clear. Sure, the series will never again approach its creative zenith, which to these eyes stretched from 1991 to the dark day in November, 1994, when that godawful hockey episode first aired. But it's preposterous to hold the show to that sublime standard, to say it's no longer worth producing when even the most meticulous burrowing through the pages of TV Guide would unearth few treasures that are its modern-day equal. As Stevenson himself allows, "It's still better than 95% of television."

Put simply, last Sunday's episode -- in which Homer declined to fork out for a fancy burial plot for his father and instead used the cash to install a backyard tennis court -- was among the funniest shows on TV during the week, surpassed only by another classic instalment of the hugely underrated Futurama and the inadvertent comedy that always stems from watching Mike Bullard's audience uneasily fake-laugh its way through his monologue.

Sure, the notion of retiring a series while it's at its creative pinnacle is all very poignant, but there's just one slight snag: There'd be nothing left on TV but total crap. Few shows are great for more than a brief burst, but many can be very good for a very long time.

In this era of the Very Special Episode, in an environment where most every sitcom routinely succumbs to the compulsion to tie things up each week by trumpeting a profound human truth, can we really afford to talk about ditching a series that in its 12th season somehow retains a cheeky sense of subversion? Are we really prepared to bid adieu to a show whose moral decrees are rarely more high-falutin' than Homer's life lesson from Sunday's show: "It's better to watch stuff than to do stuff."

Seth Stevenson wonders what could possibly motivate people to continue to watch The Simpsons. He inquires: "Do they wish to watch it die slowly?"

Yes, please. Very, very slowly.

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Last updated on September 23, 2002 by Jouni Paakkinen (