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Author Topic: When did The Simpsons go downhill?
MisterGrey
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It doesn't seem like a point of dispute with too many people that the quality of The Simpsons has taken a sharp nosedive in recent years. Even among fans, there seems to be a great deal of people, not necessarily a majority but close to it, who believe that the show quite simply is not what it used to be. So I've been wondering for a while now, at which point did the series begin the decline into what it is now? And, to be really specific, what was the last episode to exemplify the kind of show the Simpsons used to be, versus its present form?

For me, the point of decline is "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" It threw the show into the national spotlight, not as a subject of controversy (remember when the "Underachiever" shirts with Bart Simpson were the target of ire from angry moms everywhere?) but as a public spectacle; combined with the conclusion, Maggie being the culprit, these things seemed to be a harbinger of the series' sarcastic, self-congratulatory future to come. There were some great episodes, still-- the James Bond parody episode with Homer and Hank Scorpio, for one-- but fewer and fewer episodes that I can look back on now and trutfully say I'd really look forward to watching again. Plus, it seemed that from that point on, the frequency of truly awful episodes began to steadily rise. Back in the earlier seasons there were certainly some stinkers, but from 7 onward, it seemed that you were taking a gamble on whether or not the episode was truly going to suck. I can't quite put my finger on the last episode that I really consider to be truly "early Simpsons," but it's definitely before Season 12, sometime around the departure of Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein. Season 12's episodes, featuring a musical ending sequence about a giant log tearing apart America, and the practice in sadism "Homer vs. Dignity," to me, were the end of The Simpsons.

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Kajico
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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First bad episode was The Principle and the Pauper, ever since then the show has no longer been amusing. The last good episode was The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.

That to me is the crossroads.

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I don't think it's completely that the quality went downhill either (although obviously it has.) I think it's partially that the novelty of a cartoon with grown-up humor has worn off. King of the Hill, South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy have all also pulled it off very well, making The Simpsons one among many, not top dog.

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Christie
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I still like The Simpsons. Guess I'm just not very discriminating. Ah well.

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Kajico
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Midgard_Dragon:
I don't think it's completely that the quality went downhill either (although obviously it has.) I think it's partially that the novelty of a cartoon with grown-up humor has worn off. King of the Hill, South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy have all also pulled it off very well, making The Simpsons one among many, not top dog.

In part I would agree, except that I can still watch many old Simpsons episodes and laugh, and I meany have a really good laugh. I can't even get a chuckle out of many of the new episodes.
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Crow
I Saw Three Shipments


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I'm weird, I guess... I haven't really noticed a big decline(of course I mostly watch the re-runs so thats the only episodes I can think of at the moment.). To me, it has always been hit and miss for the shows individually, but the real quality is the little tidbits you notice from episode to episode. Same with Family guy, Southpark, and all the others.

I am "cerialy" into those cartoons. [Smile]

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CitizenAim
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I have every episode of The Simpsons on my hard drive which is networked to my Xbox. I usually watch a couple of episodes while falling asleep at night.

I can't really pinpoint where it started to go wrong but it's obviously a few things that make it bad:

1. Too wacky, no plot as a result. Simpsons episodes didn't always start off with a 7-8 minute segment that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show.

2. Lisa is too stuffy, pretentious, and annoying. In earlier episodes, she was still a kid, despite being smart. It'd be okay if she seemed very adult-like if not for her grating personality. See "Lisa the Skeptic" (Season 9) for examples of that. Don't get me wrong--Lisa is the main focus of my favorite episode (the one where she gets a crush on her substitute teacher), but in episodes where she was actually good, her maturity made the episode more heart-felt.

3. Too many pop culture and product references. Bart has a Playstation, the family is eating Poptarts, etc. Archie Comics started doing this around the time I stopped reading them when I was 12--the kids were constantly drinking "Poopsi Cola" and so on.

4. Relies too much on guest stars. It's okay when they put guest stars on for cameo appearances (Sara Gilbert doing the voice of his new neighbor that he had a crush on or Joe Namath showing up in "Bart Star" for half a minute to say, "I'm Joe Namath" and briefly mention vapor lock, but think of the episode where N*Sync showed up and they spent 5 minutes glorifying them just for being famous.

One of the more recent episodes that I think exemplifies a couple of the above things is the one where Marge writes a romance novel. Throughout the episode, there was some wacky subplot in which Homer lost his job 3 times and became an ambulance driver. It made no sense and did nothing to contribute to the main plot. Meanwhile, when Lisa found out about the novel, she started nagging Marge about how it seemed to be alluding to her parents' actual marriage.

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Illuminatus
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quote:
Originally posted by CitizenAim:

3. Too many pop culture and product references. Bart has a Playstation, the family is eating Poptarts, etc. Archie Comics started doing this around the time I stopped reading them when I was 12--the kids were constantly drinking "Poopsi Cola" and so on.

I think that you're right on here. The Simpsons, at some point which I can't put my finger on, started focusing too many episodes around current trends, rather than timeless storylines. A current one, where Marge goes on a "Wife Swap" knockoff and winds up with Ricky Gervais is an unfortunate example. Who will rememeber, or even crae about a show as crappy as "Wife Swap"? However, previous episodes, like the City of NEw York vs. Homer Simpson, would be funny in 20 years.

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Cervus
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I guess around season 9 or 10. No particular reason I can recall, but looking over all the episodes, that marks the year when an overwhelming number were just pointless and/or unfunny.

Someone once commented that the show has developed ADD. The tangent segments that have no connection to the plot (which usually open the newer episodes) are cited as an example of this. Another being that changes in past episodes, like Lisa's conversion to vegetarianism, have stayed consistent. But since the Principal Skinner/Armin Tamzarian episode, the show ends too often with "we'll just pretend this never happened". The reliance on pop-culture references is a change from the original storylines of earlier episodes.

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MisterGrey
Little Sales Drummer Boy


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quote:
Originally posted by CitizenAim:

2. Lisa is too stuffy, pretentious, and annoying. In earlier episodes, she was still a kid, despite being smart. It'd be okay if she seemed very adult-like if not for her grating personality. See "Lisa the Skeptic" (Season 9) for examples of that. Don't get me wrong--Lisa is the main focus of my favorite episode (the one where she gets a crush on her substitute teacher), but in episodes where she was actually good, her maturity made the episode more heart-felt.

You know, this ties into something I was going to bring up, but didn't want to make my first post very long. Since you've got the ball rolling, though...

The characters seem to have become bastardized from their original versions. Granted, characters should evolve over time, and TV characters often change radically from their earliest incarnations, but to me at least, the Simpsons reached a point on the show where their characters were, if not three-dimensional, well rounded enough to make them identifiable. The Dustin Hoffman episode, as Citizen mentioned, was some real gold, and tapped into some real, heartfelt, human emotion. Ditto for my own personal favorite ep of all time, where we see the family's future for the first time (Hugh, the wedding, etc). At the end of that episode, when the fortune teller turned Lisa away from the tent, there was something vaguely dark and morose about the episode; watching Lisa and Homer walk away, with Homer going on about his day, was poignant. It was emotional, and it worked; these were characters we could care about.

Now, the characters are charicatures of themselves, existing only to serve as punchlines to their own jokes. Another snopester and I once had a conversation about how monstrous Homer has become, with the other snopester pointing out that the "real" Homer of earlier seasons never would've framed Marge for a drunk driving crash, as he did on a fairly recent episode. Homer was always a terrible father, but he was a genuinely good guy underneath it all, and would've done anything for his family. Now, he seems to be a vehicle of negligent evil, ruining everyone's life he touches due to his own stupidity and carelessness. There's nothing profound left to reinforce the screwball humor; it's all one big joke. They've even gone on to try and ret-con their own deep moments: The endless re-makes of the "future" episodes, and the terrible follow-up to Homer's mom returning, parodying the first episode's rather downbeat ending of Homer sitting alone on his car with a ridiculous gag about Homer's mom having escaped her death to hide a protracted message in the newspaper.

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CitizenAim
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I kept thinking about this after I posted. I remembered something else about Lisa's character--EA released a Simpsons game for Playstation 2 about 4 years ago, Simpsons' Road Rage. It was a spinoff of both Grand Theft Auto and another game I can't remember the exact name of (Taxi Cab, or something like that). I bought it to play while on vacation with my now-ex-boyfriend and as we were playing it, I felt like something was wrong about the game. It wasn't the gameplay or the graphics, those were fine for a game of its time, but something more subtlely annoying. My ex said he noticed it too.

It took us a week of playing the game to really figure it out. Whenever you play as Lisa, she keeps repeatedly saying the same obnoxious things over and over again, things like, "Thank goodness for seat belts!" and a few other typical snarky comments about how corporations are evil.

In that respect, MisterGrey is right: the Simpsons have become caricatures of themselves.

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1958Fury
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I still like it. Actually, I don't really like the first season or so, when Homer still talked funny and the animation still had that sketchy "Tracy Ullman Show" feel to it.

I do agree that the past few years haven't been as good, but that could also be that I've matured (dang, I was in ninth grade when it started!), and that ANY show gets stale after too many seasons.

I seem to remember reading an article a couple of years ago about the show going downhill, and it blamed it on a specific major staff change... I'm not sure which season it would have been though. Anyone?

Still, with such a long-running series, you're going to get completely different answers from people. The people who discovered the show when they were in high school, are going to judge the decline differently from those who first saw it in their 30s.

Last week a friend of mine, who happens to be 10 years younger than me, said the following: "I miss when Saturday Night Live used to be good... you know, back when Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were on it." I swear I burst out laughing... those were the years that I was lamenting SNL's sad decline.

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Cervus
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quote:
Originally posted by 1958Fury:
Last week a friend of mine, who happens to be 10 years younger than me, said the following: "I miss when Saturday Night Live used to be good... you know, back when Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were on it." I swear I burst out laughing... those were the years that I was lamenting SNL's sad decline.

Oh, ditto. For me the "good SNL years" were the first four seasons (Belushi-Aykroyd-Gilda) and the Wayne's World-Dennis Miller-Hartman seasons in the early 90's. The 80's and late 90's were slump years. I haven't watched a new episode in about 5 years, though.

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Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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Jelly Bean Queen
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The Simpsons decline has been a slow ongoing process. Characters have decayed tiny bit by tiny bit over the years. Like MisterGrey, I see the descent of Homer as a good guy who is essentially clueless but tries to get it right into a vehicle of wanton destruction as one of the main reasons that the show has become an empty parady of itself. It seems to lack heart these days and I find it hard to find a reason to watch it.

In Australia one of our 'free to air' TV stations has repeated The Simpsons so often that even kids are over it- at one stage showing 18 episodes a week. We have a cable station that shows those espisodes one week later (twice daily)then regularly has marathon weekends. The real problem with The Simpsons is over exposure. How many times can you hear the same joke before you just want to smack the person telling it for the umteenth time? They can no longer reference themselves without seeming trite and cliched- self reference used to be one of their most effective tools. TV networks cannot get away with this behaviour unless the makers of a TV show allow it. Are The Simpson's a victim of their creators' greed?

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1958Fury
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I miss Phil Hartman. [Frown]

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Midgard_Dragon
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:
quote:
Originally posted by 1958Fury:
Last week a friend of mine, who happens to be 10 years younger than me, said the following: "I miss when Saturday Night Live used to be good... you know, back when Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were on it." I swear I burst out laughing... those were the years that I was lamenting SNL's sad decline.

Oh, ditto. For me the "good SNL years" were the first four seasons (Belushi-Aykroyd-Gilda) and the Wayne's World-Dennis Miller-Hartman seasons in the early 90's. The 80's and late 90's were slump years. I haven't watched a new episode in about 5 years, though.
I think, in this case, it's a generational thing. I can certainly respect the older episodes with Belushi-Akroyd-Gilda, but the ones that come to the forefront in my mind as the last good episodes were the ones with Sandler, Farley, etc. Although I would say the decline started around their time, and the Wayne's World stuff was still in the near perfect stage of the show.

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Stoneage Dinosaur
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I think the Simpsons has slightly dipped in quality in recent years (although put me down as being not much of a fan of the first two seasons), but most seasons still have a few great episodes, and most episodes still have at least a couple of laugh out loud moments and are therefore worth watching.

For example, in season 17 the Christmas episode and the one where Marge babysits Rod and Todd Flanders are classics, and "My Fair Laddy" is one of the funniest episodes ever as well as being as good as any of the previous musical parodies.

And even though its not quite as good as it used to be, The Simpsons is still one of the best shows on the telly.

Stoneage "The secular humanist in the school house with misinformation" Dinosaur

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Spc. Sharki
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The decline and fall of The Simpsons began when Lisa became a vegitarian and the show started addressign social issues via her character. You know your really scrapping the bottom of the issue barrle when you do an episode about 'light polution'.
Another reason I got turned me off of the show was the way it treated Ned Flanders. He went from being a happy-go-lucky, good natured Christian in the first few seasons, to a hard core religous zealot i.e the episode where Lisa uncovers the dead 'angel'. It was almost as if the writers grew to hate the character. In subsequent seasons Flanders had his house destroyed and his wife killed.
Then there were all those stupid musical numbers and endless parade of guest stars.
But the absolute low point was when Homer became Mr. Burns' prank monkey and got raped by a panda. Because we all now how hilarious rape can be.

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Moth Drone
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I can pinpoint the exact episode where I stopped watching. It was the one where Millhouse becomes a superhero (or a superhero sidekick, seriously I can't remember I've only seen the episode once). It wasn't that that episode was particularily bad, it's just at that point I'd given "The Simpsons" a several episode pass after a particular string of bad episodes. But at that moment, I realized that I just didn't care to watch anymore and the series fell off my viewing list. I think it must have been a change in the writers lineup that killed it for me.

I may have seen a few episodes after that point, but not many and what I have seen..."meh". And I used to be such a rabid fan up to that point not that I loved every episode mind you. I detest musical number episodes with "A Streetcar Named Desire" the first one I remember actively disliking. But now, I can't even tell you what's been going on with the characters in the last 10 years or so. I'd rather remember them the way they used to be.

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Amigone201
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I think it was a fairly recent episode, one in which Homer goes to India, that rejuvenated my appreciation for the show. The humor in that one was just spot-on; I felt like somebody who knew the show intimately had gone away for a long time, and came back right at the India episode. There was a lot of fresh, original humor, a little social commentary, and the Simpsons, and Mr. Burns, all acted like who they really were.

If you've lost faith in the show, try and dig that episode up. It's pretty good.

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1958Fury
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quote:
Originally posted by Moth Drone:
I detest musical number episodes with "A Streetcar Named Desire" the first one I remember actively disliking.

I love that one [Smile]
I remember when it came out, the people of New Orleans complained about the derogatory comments. I wanted to boycott the city for not having a sense of humor. I mean please, they've made fun of my hometown too; it's all in good fun.

My favorite ones are still the Halloween episodes. I wish they'd release just the Halloween episodes on DVD. The did put out one volume (has Treehouse Of Horrors V, VI, VII, and XII on it), but I've not seen any more.

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NewZer0
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MisterGrey, I love "Who Shot Mr. Burns" -- seasons 7 and 8 are my favorite!

Oh, well.

For me, about season 9/10 was the downturn, though I didn't stop watching until season 13 or so. I've seen about half of the episodes from this past season (Season 17!), and honestly, they were pretty good. I think the India ("Kiss Kiss Bangalre") was just awesome.

On another board, someone suggested that doing the commentaries for the golden age of the Simpsons (generally considered to be season 4-7) made the writers realize they're errors. This was a show that was funny *and* had heart. I always loved the Homer-Lisa episodes, but both characters became shrill, annoying jerks.

Based on this past season, though, I think the show is on an upswing. This show has been on for so long, that no matter what, I will still be sad when it goes off the air.

--NewZer0

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Grumpy
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quote:
Originally posted by MisterGrey:
It doesn't seem like a point of dispute with too many people that the quality of The Simpsons has taken a sharp nosedive in recent years.

"Recent years"? People have been saying this about The Simpsons for longer than most other shows have been on!

EDITED TO ADD:
quote:
posted by MisterGrey:
Now, the characters are charicatures of themselves...

To the extent that this is true, I'll nominate the shark-jumping moment as the "Behind the Laughter" episode which supposedly showed the real-life Simpson family. Ever since then, it's hard to watch a regular episode without imagining that the characters are literally performers, not living their lives but actively seeking approval from the audience.

Now, that episode ended the 11th season, and people had been griping about the show's decline for five years before that.

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Spamamander in a pear tree
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I haven't really watched the Simpsons closely in recent years, not like back in high school when I felt like a positive rebel wearing a shirt that said "hell" on it (I'm Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?).

I do have to agree on the changing of Lisa as a character. I remember kind of relating to her way back when, because I was only a couple of years out from whe I tended to be more socially aware and well-spoken than my peers. She was brilliant- yet she still was a kid, and that was so different than most potrayals of "smart kids" on TV. I think that's a reason I was drawn to the first few seasons of that Frankie Muniz show (ack I'm having a brain freeze...) I was already an adult but seeing the brilliant kid still dealing with adolecense and his family was refreshing.

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Paulie Jay
O Little Down-Payment of Bethlehem


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Although I'm not pointing directly at this particular episode, the series that contained the Pinchy the Lobster episode was where I noticed a big drop in quality. I still watch occasionally, still chuckle occasionally, but I've only laughed out loud once in the last few years -

"Why did you think a big balloon would stop him?"

"Shut up!! That's why!"

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creative gal
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It's difficult for me to pinpoint exactly where The Simpsons started to go downhill for me, but it seemed to snowball into a tangled mess of gags with a distinct lack of plot from about season 10 onwards. There are still some good episodes, and I do still enjoy watching the Simpsons, but it simply doesn't hold that same tight structure and, as others have said, the characters have become mockeries of themselves.

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Andrew of Ware, England
A-Ware in a Manger


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I don't know about it going downhill, but it has always been an uphill struggle for me to watch it. The only episode I was able to watch from start to finish was the one when the family came to London.

They took the mickey out of the English. I loved it!

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Andrew, Ware, England

Posts: 1709 | From: Ware, England | Registered: Apr 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Illuminatus
Jingle Bell Hock


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quote:
Originally posted by Spamamander, the home game:
I think that's a reason I was drawn to the first few seasons of that Frankie Muniz show (ack I'm having a brain freeze...)

Malcolm in the Middle. Another fantastic show screwed by FOX executives.

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"DEAR APPALLED: I see no harm in a group of young women playing strip poker at an all-girl slumber party." -Dear Abby

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AdmiralDinty
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I stopped watching the Simpsons sometime around 1999 (not sure which season). My not watching it coincided more with my going to college than anything else, but I also noticed a change in the characters and situations. For one, and I hope you won't think me a prude, I noticed that there were a lot more overtly sexually references. Previously, they had only been hinted at.

This really went overboard when Ned got laid by that actress. What made this worse was the fact that it seemed that Ned was throwing away his core values for a one night stand. It just made no sense.

I also agree about Lisa. Her character became a real killjoy.

And whatever happened to Barney? His character seems to have disappeared.

There have definitely been a few gems mixed in - in particular the episode where Homer has a flashback to finding the dead body in the quarry.

Also, I think there have been a few improvements. In particular, I like how they've developed Moe's character. His "lonely man" stuff is hillarious.

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"I wanna bite the hand that feeds me. I wanna bite that hand so badly. I wanna make them wish they'd never seen me." - Elvis Costello

Posts: 2291 | From: The Banks of the Merrimack, MA | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
TransponderHut
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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When 'Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo' aired, I knew it was the beginning of the end. I imagined that the episode would be cooler, but it was a letdown.

I was heartbroken this season when they decided that Sideshow Bob should be married. Granted, he may be a cartoon character, but I certainly had a crush on him. They should have stopped making Sideshow Bob episodes after that horrible one with Frank Grimes' son.

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Methuselah
Happy Holly Days


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quote:
Originally posted by MisterGrey:
It doesn't seem like a point of dispute with too many people that the quality of The Simpsons has taken a sharp nosedive in recent years.

I've been hearing this since season 3...no joke.

I'm one of those in the "Tracy Ullman" group of Simpsons fans (it really is it's own subgroup [Wink] ). The show definitely had seasons that were better than others, but I still see a high quality show with each new episode. There was a time when I could easily declare The Simpsons to be the smartest, funniest, and most well written show on television. Now, it may not hold the top spot...but I still can't name more than three other shows that consistently outperform The Simpsons.

Some of their best material is now found in the 'history anthology' episodes (the shows where they present Simpson versions of classic tales or historical stories). Their take on Joan of Arc was absolutely brilliant ("Victory? We're FRENCH! We don't even have a word for it!").

The episode where Bart and Milhouse stumble onto the Playdude magazines (with all pictures cut out) was very funny(season 16)...and had a brilliant cameo by James Caan, without relying on his presence as the selling point for the episode.

One other highlight, in my opinion, would be the story within a story within a story episode (season 17 - takes place inside the cave with the hidden stash of gold coins).

All in all, The Simpsons is still quality television.

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"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." - G.K. Chesterton

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DawnStorm
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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quote:
Originally posted by AdmiralDinty:
I also agree about Lisa. Her character became a real killjoy.


This is the reason why I quit watching; that and the episodes were just plain stupid.
One of the funniest episodes of the Simpsons was when the kids went to Camp Krusty. One of the early ones.

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Leashes?! We don't need no stinking leashes!!

Posts: 4771 | From: The Berkeley of the East Coast: Montgomery County MD | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Cervus
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Methuselah:
Some of their best material is now found in the 'history anthology' episodes (the shows where they present Simpson versions of classic tales or historical stories).

I find these boring and I turn the show off when I realize what it's going to be. I'm generally not a fan of "anthology" or "short-story" episodes, and yes that includes the Treehouse of Horror shows.

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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Demonic Matt
I Saw Three Shipments


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It went downhill with these three factors:


- Celebrities started appearing as themselves

- it got surreal (can't think how to finish an episode? make everyone go surfing!)

- plots seeming like they were written as they went along (An episode would start with Homer wanting a new TV, and end with the family fighting off Rhinos in Africa)

Posts: 60 | From: North Wales | Registered: Sep 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
Tantei Kijo
The First USA Noel


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quote:
Originally posted by Methuselah:
quote:
Originally posted by MisterGrey:
It doesn't seem like a point of dispute with too many people that the quality of The Simpsons has taken a sharp nosedive in recent years.

I've been hearing this since season 3...no joke.

Aww, I was going to mention that too.

I'm a die hard fan of most of 3-10 (I'll have to wait for the dvds to figure out what I consider the first trully awful episode, but the Gator one springs to mind). I stopped watching the show 3 years ago, which was a shock since I had obsessively been watching/taping it ever since the end of season 3.
I caught the aforementioned India episode recently, and loved the Richard Dean Anderson part (strange, since I generally detest the "Hi I'm X" or "X! what are you doing here!?" moments), but the Homer part of that episode didn't do much for me.
I think about when Futurama came on might have been the turning point for me, seeing a fresh Matt Groening cartoon next to one starting to lose its luster. That and I totally dig David Cohen [Wink] . Still, I doubt anything could top what I consider "classic" Simpsons.

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Bender: Though you may have to make a metaphorical "deal with the devil". And by "devil", I mean the robot devil, and by "metaphorically" I mean get your coat. ------------ My sad site: A new way to be bored.

Posts: 722 | From: Colorado | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a moderator
   

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