Dear Mr. Groening,
You will not find a bigger fan of “The Simpsons” than I. Beginning with the show’s 1989 debut (when I was 9), I watched every episode religiously. When it went into syndication, it became an after school ritual of mine. I’ve probably seen every episode from seasons 1-6 at least 15 times, quote them incessantly, and can replay them all in my mind in their entirety. It’s no exaggeration to say that the show played a significant role in shaping my personality.
“The Simpsons” was a brilliant show for several reasons. Animated programming, exemplified by “Looney Tunes,” had previously been inoffensive, fantastic, and puerile. Matt Groening’s brainchild was the first “adult” cartoon: edgy, realistic, and highbrow. The writing was genius, featuring mordant social satire and familiar, relatable characters. Most importantly, it was damn funny. Many critics have called it not just the most important animated show, but the most important television show in history.
The first season was somewhat crude; the animation had not yet been perfected, and the characters were still taking shape. Nonetheless, it was quite entertaining, and the seeds of what would make it great were evident. The show really hit its stride in the second season, and cranked out consistently superb episodes through season 5.
In season 6 I began to notice some inconsistency in the quality of the episodes, as well as some creeping changes in the characters I had grown to love. The show was still very funny, though; in fact, season 6 includes one of my favorite episodes, in which Homer is accused of sexual harassment.
Season 7 (1996-7), however, marked a real turning point. About half the episodes that season were very poor. The quality of the writing had declined noticeably; indeed, most of the great writers from the previous seasons had either moved on or run out of ideas. Subtle, socially relevant humor was being replaced with boilerplate sitcom jokes. Furthermore, the character changes that began in season 6 continued apace. Homer increasingly became the focus of the show, and transformed from a slow-witted but well-meaning father into an incredibly stupid, obnoxious jerk. Bart, formerly a sly and mischievous rapscallion, became a flamboyantly gay mini-Homer. Lisa went from sweet, overachieving little girl to cynical, moralizing brat. Marge was no longer the doting supermom, having been turned into a personality-devoid doormat.
In season 8, the show went completely in the shitter, never to emerge. A few of the episodes had their moments, but overall it was a disaster. I continued to watch, hoping the show was merely in a slump from which it would eventually rebound, but it never did. After season 10, I basically gave up; I’d check an episode out from time to time, but it would only depress me. It looked and sounded like “The Simpsons,” but it was no longer “The Simpsons.”
That was ten years ago. That’s right: the show is now in its TWENTIETH season. This means that there are now more than twice as many bad episodes as good. Does anybody find it funny anymore? I suppose some cretins out there must, or else Fox wouldn’t continue squeezing these turds out; as Lisa once said, you’ll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator.
But Mr. Groening, you don’t need to worry about going broke; you’re rich, and deservedly so. If you still have any control over your creation, please stop whoring it out. It pains me that I can no longer admit to being a fan of “The Simpsons” without adding the qualification, “but only when it was funny, like 15 years ago.” “Seinfeld” aknowledged that it had run its course after nine seasons; “The Office” called it quits after just twelve wildly successful episodes, the producers preferring to end the show rather than lower its standard of quality. You clearly don’t share this level of artistic integrity, but where does it end? Season 30? 40? With every check you cash, you’re only tarnishing your already sullied legacy.