by Catie Brown
This past Sunday, the Simpsons were banished—not from our screens, but from Springfield.
In the show’s landmark 500th episode, the Simpson family was unceremoniously booted from their hometown, after causing one too many controversies. The family must then move to the unimaginatively named “Outlands,” where the neighbors include WikiLeaks owner Julian Assange (voicing himself).
At 500 episodes, it should come as no surprise that “The Simpsons” has already told this story before—in the fifth season fan-favorite “Cape Feare,” the family joined the Witness Protection Program to escape the villainous Sideshow Bob.
Even more tiresome was the show’s opening couch gag, which served as a tribute to 23 years of couch gags prior—yet another reminder that the series may be overstaying its welcome.
The show’s 500th episode had all the elements to serve as a turnaround. The situation itself, in which the town finally grows bored of the family, echoes the sentiments of many of its viewers. This could have been an opportunity for the show’s creators to confront its audience directly, much like “South Park’s” recent shockingly honest episode where the characters themselves admit the show is getting stale.
However, the episode was ultimately groundless. By the end of the episode, everything feels like it is returning to normal—that this was just another zany adventure in the Simpsons’ lives, with no sense that anything has changed. And change is exactly what the series needs.
More recent episodes have become dependent upon somewhat gratuitous guest stars, like Ted Nugent, John Slattery, and Jeremy Irons to name a few recent turns. The avid fan might think longingly of the days when the show used to garner powerful names, like Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, or the Beatles themselves—George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney have all loaned their voices to the show.
Although the Halloween-themed “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are still worth watching, and the series does occasionally turn out a prize (like this season’s memorable Christmas episode), the quality of the show is sharply declining.
The new episodes are not particularly bad, but rather unable to measure up to the gems that made the show so iconic in the ‘90s. But with the show’s increasing number of unmemorable episodes, the duds now outnumber the classics. Each episode feels like a repeat of an idea that the show has already had, though in the show’s defense, such a fate may be impossible to avoid after 23 years on the air.
So what’s next for the family? There’s still the rest of Season 23 for the show to make a dramatic change. But after two decades of social change and evolving expectations from television audiences, where the outlandishness of “Family Guy” overrules the gentleness of “The Simpsons,” it may be time for the series to exit gracefully—and take pride in its everlasting mark on television history.
Catie Brown is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.