There is no denying it; The Simpsons has shaped American culture. It broke rules on what can be in a cartoon, it mocked everybody, it managed to merge both cynicism and sweetness within mere moments of each other (if not simultaneously), it had likable characters, intelligent humor, and a wonderful setting. It was the very first prime-time program I EVER watched, and I still quote various episodes to this very day.
Now, the show gets ready to enter its historic season 25. With this, we must take some time out to reflect on a show that is still shaking up norms, slashing-and-burning, making us think, and overall, bringing us strong belly laughs and warming our hearts.
I only wish that the second sentence in the previous paragraph was true.
Indeed, there is no doubt about it; at some point, The Simpsons slipped in quality. How badly it has fallen and when it slipped is up to every viewer. It is the opinion of this blogger that the show began slipping in season 9, entered freefall in season 10, and finally burned out completely in the middle of season 20.
There are various factors in the crash: running out of plausible plots, mischaracterization, trying too hard to say relevant, etc… There are also many people to blame for this crash in quality: the less talented writers, Matt Groening, FOX, the cast, etc. etc. However, most of the hatred from the fandom is laid at the feet of one man.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the distinct honor of introducing you to Mike Scully.
Scully took over the show in season 9. Coincidentally, that is also when the show started to slip in quality. Now, it’s hard to list every problem in minute detail, but let’s go over the problems in quick succession.
- The tight control on the storylines got loosened. Suddenly, plots were seemingly made up on the spot.
- The more intellectual humor was cut down significantly.
- A decline in touching moments. We went from endings such as “You Are Lisa Simpson” and “Do It For Her” to “Jockey Elves trapped in Garbage Bags” (Not kidding about the elves) and “Pirates Rob a Yacht”.
- Mischaracterization. Often, characters would change from episode to episode. The most infamous example? Homer went from “selfish and moronic, yet lovable and somewhat down to earth”, all the way to “Captain Wacky callous egomaniac”. Others were changed, but Homer is the one most remembered.
- Adding on to the Homer example, he also became the center of the universe, and met all these celebrities, had zillions of jobs, etc. You know, your average joe!
- Speaking of celebrities, the purpose of guest stars changed from having them voice characters created by the writers, to having them voice idealized versions of themselves.
- Storylines that were not shifting rapidly from second to second were repeated from earlier episodes.
- Stuff that would have been played for laughs in earlier episodes was played seriously, and vice-versa.
- Not a single care toward the audience, if not outright insulting them.
Now, I know what you are thinking: Mike Scully is not the one man responsible for the decline of a once brilliant TV show! And you are right. In Scully’s defense, many factors involving the staff caused a slip in quality. Also, Mike Scully wrote some of the best scripts in the history of the show (Lisa’s Rival, Lisa on Ice, Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, Lisa’s Date with Destiny).
However, Scully was the man at the top of the food chain (Matt Groening had backed off the show and was developing some office comedy that was not well liked by FOX.)
Mike could have kept a tight control on the staff and their writing/animation. He did not. And that’s why Mike Scully gets so much blame. He had so much responsibility, and he did not utilize it well. That’s why he gets a chunk of the blame for the show’s slip in quality.
Now, here’s the deal with the episodes that I will be watching. We are going to span from the first episode of season 9 all the way to Mike Scully’s last episode as executive producer in season 13. This will mean that we will cover a couple of episodes directed by Bill Oakley and Joel Weinstein (who are responsible for season’s 7 and 8, but also had a few holdovers). One of those episodes from season 9 under Oakley/Weinstein is considered the beginning of the show’s collapse.
Will we cover any more episodes? Maybe. We might go back to season 1 to analyze the beginning of the show, season 7 to try and rebut a claim by the popular “Kill the Simpsons and Do It 15 Years Ago” blog “Dead Homer Society” that the episode “Marge Be Not Proud” marked the very first signs of decline. We might even take a look at season 25, just to see how stupid and boring it is.
But the point is, we are going to analyze the collapse of what was once the de facto king of comedy.