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TV That Matters: The Simpsons

By John Thomas Columnist


Last Monday I was hanging out with a few friends when one lamented the declining quality of  “The Simpsons.” Like most similar assertions, they didn’t give any rationale, which isn’t really any skin off my back, but it did make me wonder whether or not they had outgrown the show rather than “The Simpsons” dumbing down throughout the years.

Then, however, my friend did say something I took issue with: “No one watches it anymore anyways.”

Before I could say anything, a chorus of voices sprung up to rebut his claim, and that’s when I realized that it was probably a good thing that I didn’t join them because, save for the odd “Treehouse of Horror,” I hadn’t watched a new episode of “The Simpsons” in months, even years.

I couldn’t immediately think of a reason, and that seemed to indicate that “The Simpsons” must have taken a turn for the worse, because it had fallen out of my cultural consciousness to the point of apathy.

It was such an important show to me as a child. My father and I used to watch it every week, and “Simpsons Comics” were the first I ever read.

The thought that I hadn’t had any pangs of nostalgia for the program until then was nearly as heartbreaking as this week’s chalkboard gag tribute to the late Marcia Wallace.

So, I decided to see if I had stopped watching the show out of apathy, or if my lapse was an act of cultural malfeasance.

I have to say that while I might not have gotten an answer to that question, the consequences of my decision were pleasant nonetheless.

This episode has my favorite joke from any television show in recent memory.

The vignettes are framed by the characters attending the funeral of a previously unseen resident of Springfield who, apparently, has played a pivotal role in the lives of each and every one of his neighbors, and is respected in a way that none of them ever will be.

That being said, the neighbor still had a few regrets, which leads Homer, Marge, Mr. Burns and anchorman Kent Brockman to revisit their own.

I think this episode is emblematic of what makes “The Simpson’s” eternally watchable. Each character is endeared to the audience through their flaws. Even Mr. Burns is a basically good person.

Yes, the setting strikes a balance between the absurd and conventional that makes each such absurdity stand out and be counted, but more important than those qualities is something much more simple: “The Simpsons” is still funny.

True, the bit I mentioned earlier is the only one that really knocked me on my ass, but I chuckled in earnest from the first crack to the credits, and more than that I felt warm and bubbly about those chuckles which isn’t something I can say about a lot of my current comedy fare.

It’s a gratifying feeling to find a place of humor that, while maybe not universal, feels like something that you could share with the many different types of people in your life, and “The Simpsons” is one of those places.

I’m not trying to bemoan crass comedy, or alternative humor or anything of the sort. I myself perform ludicrous, gross sets on a regular basis, but “The Simpsons” offers a genuinely funny alternative to the alternative, and the Tosh’s, Handler’s  and Hardwick’s too.

I think I’m fine with “The Simpsons” going on for as long it has. It would be impossible for the show to have an embarrassing death at this point when it’s led such a wonderful life.

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