Monday, December 8, 2014

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

Title: The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History
Author: John Ortved
Publisher: Faber & Faber
It happens to me every year; I decide to watch a new Simpson’s episode on Sunday night hoping the show has finally turned a tide towards what it used to be.  Sadly it never happens, and I’m left distraught over the fall from glory this series has had.  What’s amazing is that there are now more terrible seasons than actual good ones.  An outsider might question why I’m still a fan despite so many terrible seasons, but the reason is those early episodes were so well made that I became a fan for life.

To help me better understand the creation of the show and why its quality has gone awry, I decided to read The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History.  The book was written by John Ortved, a long time Simpsons fan.  In writing the book, Ortved interviewed many people who worked on the show and also did extensive research.  The interesting thing is the main creator’s of the show refused to be interviewed by him, though admittedly I didn’t see it as much of a problem.

The book itself does an excellent job at giving an in-depth account of how the show was created and highlights the contributions of individuals that had a hand in its creation.  For this reason alone this book is worth a read.  Yet, what I value the most from this book is its ability to create debate.  By this I mean the book sets up the story and the players, and then it’s up to a fan’s acumen to decide who is responsible for the show’s genius and failures.

Having read the book, I now want to share my perspective on who made it genius and who’s responsible for its deterioration; 

Its greatness can be attributed to it being something new and fresh in the early 90’s, an adult themed cartoon show.  The show’s commitment to real life issues (bully’s at school, unemployment, infidelity, the environment, spirituality, feeling dumb, politics, suicide and depression) and how people could relate to those stories.  The solid foundation of each character established by Sam Simon and his writing team.  The diverse humour that varied from cheap gag, satirical, intelligent, inside joke, to absolutely brilliant made it a show you could watch multiple times and find it funny and even find new jokes every time you watched it.  And finally, the selection of very smart and funny writers (Harvard Alumni) who were not only original but actually told complete stories.

The root causes of the show’s deterioration are pretty much the opposite of what made it great.  There are now an abundance of cartoon shows geared towards adults that have caused the Simpsons to lose its hipness and uniqueness.  The stories are now more cartoony and exaggerated, making it impossible to relate to them (substance and heart is missing).  The personality of characters that were once beautifully entrenched have now diverted into something completely different from what they once were.  Jokes are dumb-down, lacking any wit, and are repackaged over and over again.  And finally, the writers are lazy by relying on past characters, regurgitated storylines, current events and celebrities to complete a terribly bland episode.

To be honest, I can’t blame them for whipping out another awful season after another.  I mean as long as they’re getting paid, they might as well release anything they can get away with.  Besides the money, they’re probably also just used to the routine of showing up to work and producing dull episodes.  Whether they bring the show to an end now or a few years from now, it doesn’t really matter anymore; the last 15 plus years the series has sucked.  Thankful those early seasons when the show was at its finest will be enough to sustain me for life as a fan.  I highly recommend The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History to anyone that is a fan of those classic episodes and would like to learn more about those classic years.


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