rhymes with complaining

I finally saw the Simpsons Movie on Sunday night (on TV). I had skipped it when it came out as it didn’t look good, and the show hasn’t been worth it for years, in my estimation. But, Matt Groening was a hero of mine during my adolescence, so I was kind of curious, and there’s not much else on on a Sunday night anyway… (well, I don’t even have a tv of my own. this was all at N’s house. who, by the by, I should probably credit with the “Zohan” twist in that post below).

Yeah, anyway. So I was really into the Life in Hell comic series in middle school and high school, and was amazed when I saw color clips on the Tracy Ullman show – as I said in another blog, I’d have recognized those overbites anywhere. For those of you without much pre-internet memory, it may be hard to understand why this was so surprising, but there were no cartoons on prime time and there certainly was no humor like matt groening’s on prime time, and maybe more than anything, matt groening was a small-market, alternative artist. He was like R. Crumb or Jules Feiffer or Tom Tomorrow – it had just never occurred to me that he would be on national television. But, just as it turned out that everyone loved Nirvana, it turned out everyone loved the Simpsons, too. What had seemed alternative was actually pretty well shared by a lot of the population – and as I went into college, my favorite cartoonist became the best show on television.

For years, the gift kept on giving. But somewhere along the way something changed, either in the show or in me. I think it’s the show, because I think I still find the early ones funny… The movie was really the epitome of it for me. It started out with some promising moments – mostly because the itchy and scratchy segue was cute. I was totally willing to give it a chance, and I was smiling at ralph in the O and the “I will not illegally download this movie” opening stuff. But the movie itself did not deliver. The characters have become unlikable. Homer was really portrayed as an abusive father, which just cast a shadow over the whole family, esp Bart & Marge, and Lisa was even more self-righteous than usual (of course she was right, since they wrote that too)… basically Maggie was the only likable one – until her first word during the credits.

The story was predictable, and had been used in various forms in regular episodes – Lisa tries to warn springfield, Homer fucks up & dooms them all, springfield comes after Homer with torches, they escape, Homer has a revelation and comes back to save the town. The plot had holes in it, though I guess it’s silly to worry over the consistency of a cartoon. (I was especially annoyed that they escape through a sinkhole but no one else ever tried to dig a tunnel out of the dome, though. Maybe it was supposed to be a joke.) But really what was unappealing about it was just how there were no surprising moments, no real laughs where you are caught off guard because you didn’t see something coming, or because the writers presented such a perfect reflection of our experience that you feel almost a sense of epiphany – yes, that’s how life is, kinda thing. Those are the kinds of jokes that make something truly funny, and I am just sorry that Matt Groening attaches his name to an enterprise that is so unconnected to anything like that anymore. There are funny cartoons out there, but the Simpsons is not on the list anymore. South Park is still very often funny. King of the Hill is still very often funny. American Dad has gotten to be very often funny. The Simpsons paved the way and had a lot of brilliant moments over the years, but in replaying the same joke over and over they have lost the original sense of it that made it funny in the first place, and they can’t deliver it in a way that makes us believe it’s funny (-and delivery is 90% of the joke to start with…) so it falls flat. I don’t know who still watches it – presumably people who weren’t fans at the beginning.

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2 Responses to “rhymes with complaining”

  1. Stephen Says:

    To me what changed was this: their jokes used to be layered. If there was a sex or grossness angle, it was allusive and part of a bigger joke that probably had a pop culture reference, a political edge, or an absurdist zing. Now Simpsons scripts have gags with innuendo or poo humour – and that’s all. No layers, no nothing but cheap gags.

    PS: Metatalk misses you.

  2. BigSky Says:

    I must be around the same page. The show started in either my Junior or Senior year of High School. ‘Life in Hell’ had been a favorite of mine for years before ‘The Simpsons’.

    For whatever reason the first episode didn’t click with me and I only saw the occasional episode when I was over at a friends. Several were pretty good, but only one joke ever stuck in my head. Some episode listed the credits with nicknames. Towards the end came:

    Matt ‘Licensing’ Groening

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