End of an era: why “The Simpsons” no longer matters

The Simpsons House in Henderson, Nevada (now repainted)
The Simpsons House in Henderson, Nevada (now repainted)

Salon recently published an interview with author John Ortved about The Simpsons entitled “Why ‘The Simpsons’ no longer matters.” It’s a short but good interview and worth the quick read.

Like many people my age, I grew up on The Simpsons.

I remember watching it while it was still an odd series of shorts on the Tracy Ullman Show, I remember when the show launched, I remember when I bought my Bartman shirt, I remember when I ran across the treasure trove that is The Simpsons Archive. The Simpsons have always been there.

Thursday marks the show’s two-decade anniversary – an event that serves as a reminder not only of the show’s extraordinary staying power, but also the extent to which it’s disappeared from the cultural conversation.

How true. While the show has remained popular enough to remain on the air, spawn a long-awaited movie, and sell tons of stuff (including the Pin Pals shirt I often wear bowling, a reference to an early episode), the ubiquitous discussion of the show has vanished. I’ve been disappointed in the show for years, yet I’m entirely unable to remove it from the DVR…even though I haven’t watched a full episode in years. It’s a friggin’ institution and an old friend you can’t quite give up on.

While the show’s trajectory is clearly barreling downward, it’s hard not to step back and acknowledge the sheer brilliance, courage, and influence of the show. After because of The Simpsons, it doesn’t even feel weird anymore to say that about a cartoon. That’s a testament in itself of how much of an impact the show’s had on our culture.

I would add that “The Simpsons” made audiences a lot smarter. They really raised the bar for what you could put out there and what audiences were ready for. I can’t say with any authority that we wouldn’t have “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” without “The Simpsons.” But I doubt it.

Indeed. And when asked about which current tv show is the hier to The Simpsons, I thought he hit the bullseye:

Without sounding too cheesy, I think contemporary television is itself the heir. I think “The Simpsons” in one way or another gave us most of what’s smart and progressive in television.

It’s a bit sad to watch as the show slowly declines. But only because it set such a high bar over an incredible length of time. And for that reason, The Simpsons will probably always remain my all-time favorite tv show.

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