“Does anybody care what this guy thinks?” “NO!”
Well, here we are… Season 11 of The Simpsons. We are halfway through the Mike Scully era. And from the looks of things, I think we might be in the doldrums here.
I mean, consider that this season premiered just weeks before the 10th anniversary of the first full episode of The Simpsons. The show had spanned through the 90s, had made it through both the Bush Sr. and Clinton eras, saw the rise and “fall” of Grunge, and even was one of the few shows to cross from the pre-Internet and “internet” generations. There were and are people (myself included) who have never known the world without The Simpsons on TV.
But this success can’t last forever. We already saw in Season 10 a continued move away from character-driven comedy and emotional resonance in favor of more outlandish plots, guest stars, and even a few gimmicks! Characters, at least as we knew them, became mere pawns in what had seemingly become the Homer show.
This transition was not aided by Homer’s own shift in character. He went from a somewhat selfish and idiotic, but basically decent, every man who had to deal with the less than stellar cards life dealt him, into a vehicle for the writers to examine whatever they desired (the pop-art scene, the Super Bowl, trucking). The character moments that were present showcased a more odious, obnoxious character who simultaneously became the center of Springfield – to the point where even Mr. Burns requested his advice to be loved.
Will these trends be let up in Season 11? Will they stay even? Or worse, will they be taken to hyperdrive? I’m gunning on the latter, but don’t count the first two possibilities out yet.
I put my money on the “hyperdrive” option, though, because of circumstances that the writers encountered around this time.
The first was simple – Maggie Roswell’s resignation. Roswell had to go between Denver and Los Angeles to record her lines, including for characters like Maude Flanders, Helen Lovejoy, Luanne Van Houten, Elizabeth Hoover, etc. Fairly minor characters, but they contributed to the tapestry of the excellent setting that is Springfield. Still, it netted her a solid $1500-2000 per episode – $10500-$14000 in her last season. The rest of the cast members were getting $125,000 per episode. Quite a difference.
Roswell wanted a bump to $6000 per episode to at least cover travel costs. She only got a $150 increase from FOX, because that’s a good sign that you value your voice actors. Disgusted, she resigned – and honestly, who could blame her? While not a major part of the cast, what the writers did with her characters will likely factor into the overall quality of the season.
(Also, this is the first full season without Phil Hartman. What a tragedy.)
The second was external – The Simpsons was no longer the cool kid on the block.
On one hand, you had Family Guy, which took The Simpsons and put it in a more overtly cartoonish, crude atmosphere. While the second season of FG was punted around by FOX and only got renewed for a third season thanks to a last-second reprieve, it did gain a small cult following. Similarly, Futurama managed to combine an out-of-this-world science fiction setting with a heightened sense of continuity and increasingly developed characters. Despite also getting messed around with FOX, the show became a much more intense cult classic.
Not helping matters was that over the prior summer, South Park released its theatrical movie. Written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone as just one last huzzah, the movie reset the standards of what an animated feature could show (as well as what an R-rated feature could show, albeit by defying the censors), took on some social commentary involving censorship and etc, and still netted a cool $81M on a $21M budget – giving a massive shot in the arm to South Park and transitioning the show from a “mania” to a solid cultural centerpiece.
So we have a show that was falling apart internally and getting challenged externally. How the hell do you survive that? Well, that’s what we’re going to take a look at – if The Simpsons at least tried to hold it’s own. Or not.
Is it a bad sign if I begin listing the sheer amount of guest stars? I mean, the writers got…
- Mel Gibson (yikes)
- Jack Burns,
- Marc McGuire,
- Ed Asner,
- Dick Clark,
- Tom Arnold,
- Lucy Lawless,
- The B-52s,
- Ron “Survived a Fall From an RV” Howard,
- Pat O’Brien,
- Nancy O’Dell,
- Penn Jillette and Teller,
- Garry Marshall,
- Butch Patrick,
- ‘John Goodman,
- Henry Winkler,
- Jay North,
- Gary Coleman,
- Tim Robbins,
- Clarence “THE BIG MAN” Clemons,
- Elwood Edwards,
- Don Cheadle,
- Britney Spears,
- Bachmann Turner Overdrive (“Let’s Rock!”),
- Jim Cummings,
- Shawn Colvin,
- Betty White,
- Kid Rock,
- Joe C,
- Charlie Rose,
- Diedrick Bader,
- Frank Welker,
- Parker “Umbriel” Posey,
- Jim Forbes,
- Willie Nelson…
Eat your heart out, Star Wars Holiday Special! Counting the bands as one guest star, just two under Season 10’s total count. Without that exception, it goes over.
So… why put it off any further?
Let’s dive into Season 11!