Yes, yes it is.
I’m not the first person on the internet to discuss the general decline of The Simpsons, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Like many others, I have verbally debated the topic for years. However, having recently caught a few episodes from the show’s golden era, as well as, unfortunately, ten minutes or so of the movie, I felt it was finally time to let off some steam and write it all down.
The Simpsons has been an embarrassment for quite some time now. The last season of pure television gold was probably Season 9, which concluded in 1998. Seasons 10 and 11 saw a slight dip in quality but were still generally excellent. Season 12 had its moments but was inconsistent. Season 13 was where everything began to rapidly fall apart. The show’s 25th season is currently being broadcast in the United States, with Season 26 in the pipeline. The Simpsons, once a shout for the greatest television programme ever made, now has more below average episodes than it does classics, or even simply above average.
The classless, money-grabbing nature of the way in which new episodes are continuously churned out perhaps wouldn’t be quite so irksome if the writers, producers and Matt Groening himself actually demonstrated a little self-awareness, a little grace and a little humility. Instead they show nothing but contempt for their audience by still trying to claim that the current nonsense they’re producing is of a decent standard. One thing that has given them away over the years however is the manner in which they look to discredit their major rivals in the field of twenty-two minute animation. What are probably supposed to come across as light hearted, witty digs at their primary opponents in the ratings game – namely South Park and FamilyGuy – instead appear to be nothing but outright bitterness. In the case of Family Guy, this is exhibited by way of plagiarism accusations; Peter Griffin appearing on an Italian police wanted list for the crime of ‘plagiarismo’, as well as popping up in an episode in which Homer is able to clone himself. South Park meanwhile is simply dismissed as random ‘cartoon violence’ which appeals only to simple minded children.
Yes, Peter Griffin is a fat buffoon with a wife and three children, but the similarities end there. Of course those responsible for The Simpsons are undoubtedly fully aware that Seth MacFarlane’s creation is hardly a Simpsons rip off, just like they know quite well that Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s creation is not simply hollow, mind numbing foul-mouthed violence, but actually one of the finest, most consistent satires of American social and political life ever created. These baseless taunts therefore appear to have been based on little more than fear and concern over the ever-rising popularity of other hit shows seen as encroaching on The Simpsons’ territory. Sure, Stone and Parker took issue with what they saw as the simplicity of Family Guy, but the episodes they made to demonstrate their beliefs were essentially spot on. In contrast, those at The Simpsons appear incapable of accepting a little competition, perhaps because they know their show isn’t up to it anymore. They seem to think they’re being victimised and respond accordingly. In the end Seth MacFarlane answered The Simpsons’ accusations perfectly; after Stewie Griffin runs Homer over in the Griffin’s garage in reference to The Simpsons opening credits sequence, Peter walks in and says “Hey Stewie”, before looking down at Homer and asking, “Who the hell is that?” You just know the Springfield crowd would have been seething.
Anyway, I digress. The main point of all this, as the title suggests, is The Simpsons Movie. I’ve stated that it is the most overrated movie all of time and I stand by that, so let’s take a look at why. Well first off, it’s awful. There isn’t a single redeeming feature. In fact, aside from the obvious ($$$), I’m not sure why it was even made. For starters, it was released in 2007, at least ten or so years too late. Groening and co. apparently looked at making a Simpsons movie as early as 1992, with the classic Season 4 episode Kamp Krusty as the template, but decided that stretching it out by another hour or so would be too difficult. The advantage of the 1999 South Park picture was that it was made when the show was only three or four seasons old and Stone and Parker were absolutely on fire. They had the balls to take advantage of their situation and simply went for it; stretching the liberties of cinema and delivering a film that truly wasBigger, Longer and Uncut. 1992-98 was a period when The Simpsons was riding the crest of a wave, both creatively and commercially, but instead of gambling and going for the jugular, as Stone and Parker did, Groening and his producers missed their opportunity to kick on. Instead they gradually allowed the show to begin developing into the horrendous doppelgänger it is today, before suddenly deciding to finally make a feature after all.
If the creators did not believe that creating a feature length production was viable in 1992, who on earth thought it would be a good idea to try when the show was well past its artistic peak? (Yes yes, $$$ aside). Were the writers really so deluded that they thought they could resurrect the old magic? Indeed, by this point the show’s sharp, original wit and ability to connect emotionally with its audience had long since been buried on television. Evidence of this is painstakingly clear in the finished film, which consists of a predictable, cliché riddled plot, bland, forgettable pop-culture references/celebrity cameos and that fucking pig.
The characters themselves are a shadow of what they were. In the golden-era Homer was certainly bumbling, clumsy and a little slow, but the vast majority of the time he did what he did out of love for those around him. He was selfless, even when it meant personal humiliation, a trait that charmed the show’s audience. By the time the film came along he’d been transformed into a brainless, genuine moron, a selfish unlikeable plum. The supporting cast do not fare much better. Why Charles Montgomery Burns is not the villain is baffling to me. I just cannot get my head around how he is so criminally underused. He’s a legendary figure in the Springfield universe, and one of the most consistently funny characters to boot. He’s showed his contempt for Springfield and its residents countless times in the past, and could easily have been the one to hatch a dastardly plot with the government involving the destruction of the town. But in all their wisdom, the powers that be decided to limit his involvement to one or two scenes, in which he does next to nothing. It’s almost as if they were too scared to depict a character now so loveable as pure evil, despite the fact that is seen to be so many time overs in the original show. This is a classic example of allowing the outside world to seep into the story. Instead of Mr Burns we have a dull, standard, run of the mill government advisor named Russ Cargill terrorising the town. He’s so memorable I had to pause when I got to this point in order to look up his name. Stunning character work there chaps.
Then there’s the humour, which is desperate at times. Broad comedy was a staple of the golden era – it’s why children have always loved The Simpsons from a young age, despite not really understanding everything that’s going on – but it was combined with brilliant, subtle satire that is completely missing here. The fact that Bart gets his cock out says it all. Like the refusal to use Mr Burns, a simple internal solution to the problem of who to cast as the villain, the writers missed a trick by ignoring in-jokes that would surely have raised a smile from fans, instead trying to include broad humour to get a quick laugh from as many people as possible. A glaring example would be the character of President Schwarzenegger, who looks exactly like Reiner Wolfcastle, an obvious (and quite superb) parody of Arnie and a regular member of the Simpsons supporting cast. Why not just call him President Wolfcastle? It makes no sense this way and irritates those who’ve watched the show for any substantial amount of time during their life (which is likely to be the majority of people who went to see the film). It was a cheap laugh that wasn’t necessary; people would have got Wolfcastle’s inclusion. See what I mean about those in charge of this shower having nothing but contempt for their audience?
So we’ve established the film is way below the standard set by the first nine or so seasons of the television show. So why is it overrated? Because for some reason people actually rated it at the time, and still do! I have no idea why. Instead of standing up and just telling us outright that it was terrible upon release, critics pandered to it, consistently giving it four out of five stars. On IMDB it’s rated at 7.4/10, Metacritic has it at 80%, while on Rotten Tomatoes has it holds a staggering 90% approval rating. Even those who pointed out problems with the film and dared to suggest that perhaps something was missing still said that overall it was funny and enjoyable, before giving it a fairly decent score. To see how bizarrely high it’s rated, one only has to compare its scores to those of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, a vastly superior film in absolutely every aspect, yet rated thusly: IMDB – 7.7/10, Metacritic – 73% and Rotten Tomatoes – 83%. Ridiculous.
It’s possible that when people watched the world’s favourite family up on the big screen they just couldn’t bring themselves to admit that the film didn’t live up to expectations, that something once seen as invulnerable in its 6pm slot on BBC2 (with a double-bill on Friday’s before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) had essentially been tarnished forever on the biggest stage of all. The hype surrounding it before its release cannot have helped, as it understandably provided hope that the franchise could be saved. One final hurrah perhaps. If Groening and his cronies had done something along those lines, a bold finale to the whole thing, then maybe, just maybe it would have provided a satisfying end, despite years of decline. Unfortunately it didn’t end anything. Instead the fact that it made a substantial profit has prolonged the years of decline to the point of pure arrogance and almost harrowing decadence on the part of not only the creator, but all those associated with the making of the show. Someone should have just said no. Quite frankly, it’s sad.