It was 20 years ago that Fox aired the first full-length episode of "The Simpsons" — now the longest-running prime-time series in American history. The dysfunctional cartoon family from Springfield — Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie — has left an indelible impression on American pop culture. But after 449 episodes, Bartmania has faded, and the show's audience has dwindled. Does "The Simpsons" still matter?
The show's influence has admittedly waned: "The Simpsons" doesn't drive the cultural conversation the way it used to, says John Ortved, author of The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, in an interview with Salon. Quality slipped as the writers substituted "throwaway jokes" for character-driven comedy, and the show became less edgy when Bart's irreverence stopped stirring up complaints from the family values crowd. But "The Simpsons" "made audiences a lot smarter," and for that we should be grateful, even if the show isn't what it used to be.
"Why 'The Simpsons' no longer matters"
"The Simpsons" is still funnier than almost everything else on TV: It's puzzling to hear fans complain that "The Simpsons" "ain't what it used to be," says Aaron Simpson in the animation blog Line Boil. "What a picky lot, eh?" The show makes audiences laugh — isn't that the point? "I’m just happy to have more episodes, even if they’re not world-class."
"CNN ready to foreclose on The Simpsons"
Past its prime, perhaps, but "The Simpsons" isn't going away: In the 1990s, says Todd Leopold in CNN.com, creator Matt Groening's brainchild "was one of the most inventive shows ever broadcast, taking on high and low culture with equal abandon." Today, it's as iconic and familiar as Disney, and most observers agree that the show "has declined from its heyday" (probably in seasons three through eight). That said, it still beats the Sunday competition in the ratings. And Homer and his brood are still a "goldmine" for Fox, so don't expect them to disappear any time soon.
"Is it time for 'The Simpsons' to 'g'oh'?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- Ferguson riots were terrible — but this racist reaction was worse
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- Don't argue about politics this Thanksgiving. Just don't.
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Hey, scolds: Stop telling us to enjoy a healthy Thanksgiving
Subscribe to the Week