Monday, 9 November 2009

Just How Long Do The Simpsons Have Left?

Everyone loves The Simpsons - that's a given fact.  Well, ok...everyone loves The Simpsons apart from a couple I met earlier this year in my local pub, but two out of seven billion can be wrong.  This fact was re-impressed upon me yesterday when Channel 4 screened the classic episode 'Simpson and Delilah' (the one where Homer charges hair-growth formula to the nuclear power plant and becomes a powerful junior executive - until he is found out, the formula is spilt by Bart and eventually his influence weakens with every lost strand of synthetic hair) which was originally screened in October 1990 nestling among a universal clutch of "classic episodes".  This is an episode I have seen many times but, like so many others, it was with a friendly smile that I greeted this old friend instead of a derisive sneer of over-familiarity.  Contrarily, my normal response to The Simpsons on Sky One, where the episodes tend to be recent ones, is "I haven't seen this one - must be crap."  Sadly, it often turns out to be true.  The series will celebrate its twentieth anniversary on 17th December this year and many may argue this would be a suitable chance to finally call time, not just in Moe's bar, but on the whole town of Springfield.

It's long been said that it's difficult to pin-point the exact point when The Simpsons began to lose its magic, but general consensus puts it, sadly, at around the summer of 1997 when series creator Matt Groening began to look at his new venture Futurama with David X Cohen.  The series had run virtually flawlessly for eight triumphant seasons (although there were some near misses in season six!) but, with a disastrous season premiere finding The Simpsons in New York (which had previously been portrayed brilliantly by the fictional 'Capital City') and the first of many ill-advised character developments outside the family (Apu and new spouse in 'The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons') this was the beginning of the end for a show which had simply run out of stories.

From 1997, The Simpsons relied more on celebrity cameos.  Famous voices would more often than not play themselves as this previously normal American family increasingly found themselves coming face to face with Hollywood stars, Rock Gods, Teenyboppers and, in the abysmal 'British' episode, the incumbent Prime Minister - who, let's face it, has never been shy of doing anything for a stray dollar.  At least when Ricky Gervais was given the honour of becoming the first guest to write and appear in the show, he voiced the smarmy 'Charles', an extension of Gervais - just like David Brent or Andy Millman.  However, the wonderful irony at work here is that Gervais has been a long-standing advocate of "quit while you're ahead", wrapping up both The Office and Extras after two series and a special to tie up any loose ends.  To accuse Gervais of the same sell out tactics so often employed by his two most famous creations would be churlish, however.  This is the Simpsons after all!

That's possibly the problem.  Nobody really wants to admit that The Simpsons has gone stale, nor that it did a long time ago.  However, voluntary euthanasia may be the kindest gift Matt Groening can give his biggest cash cow.  The movie is quite literally in the can (one for you American slang enthusiasts there) and the show's greatest character has completed his journey from gruff, frustrated patriarch to a guff, frustrating idiot savant (minus the savant) with an over-reliance on a skin-crawlingly unfunny, exaggerated whisper.  It would simply be kindest to remember him on his greatest day ever...

Watch: 'Simpson and Delilah' (1990)

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