Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Simpsons: 400 and out

The Simpsons has passionate lovers and haters. For its lovers – and I included myself among them – its 400th episode, broadcast last night on Sky One, should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, it left me wishing that the show, much like the Bush administration and Big Brother, be put out of our misery forthwith.

The plot was promising, if not entirely new ground. Homer spills scalding coffee over the TV news anchorman Kent Brockman live on air, prompting an obscenity (unheard, sadly) so foul Kent is fired. Betrayed by the dumbed-down media, Kent follows the well-worn Network route: he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any more. He uses the internet to spew the awful truth about the Fox Network’s collusion with the Republican Party, but is soon paid off and returns to TV.

It gets in a couple of good jabs, including when Lisa tries to tell Homer the truth about poisonous media-political collusion: instead of their voices, we hear a Fox spokesman lauding his network’s products. But this is a tired pony, one they’ve ridden many times before. There doesn’t seem to be anything new or useful they can contribute to the debate.

Where is the show that drew Rupert Murdoch having trouble writing his signature? That had novelty, cruelty and relevance. The only shining moment of recent episodes has been having Stephen Sondheim write a jingle where he rhymes ‘Buzz Cola’ with ‘Ayatollah’.

Even something which, after 399 attempts, should now be perfect was shocking. The plot’s pacing was akin to a rollercoaster, with great longueurs barren of comedy alternating with some sharp-shot jokes. This has been a feature of recent series (never mind episodes). Even Friends (Friends, for god’s sake!) had the decency to keep the laughs coming. Perhaps the distraction of also having to script the Simpsons Movie (out July 27th) is to blame.

The show’s decline has not been hard to trace. The more explicit it has become, the less acute and amusing are its jokes. Marge getting her enlarged breasts out to distract an elephant signalled bloat in more ways than just the obvious, and presaged the long-term deterioration last night’s episode made so clear.

By forsaking a deep strike at Fox and the wider media for a glancing blow and a semi-amusing movie parody, the Simpsons shows that it has given up the ghost: it has become satire-lite. It’s time to turn off Springfield’s lights.

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