The Springfieldiad

I was born in 1980, I enjoyed geeky pastimes growing up, and when it comes to humor, the more esoteric, the better. I mention this to establish that I was once a fanatic for The Simpsons. In high school I knew when syndicated episodes were broadcast on three different channels, and there was a period, extending probably to 2000, where I’d seen every show ever made.

The Simpsons and I have long since parted ways. My TV watching has effectively dropped to zero, with the exception of a few Cubs games, and new writers, one-note characterization and non sequitur storytelling rendered the show I loved nearly unrecognizable. It’s been years since I’ve watched a new episode, and while I’ll probably see The Simpsons Movie when it’s released this Friday, I’m more nervous than excited at the prospect.

Ungrateful bitching aside, one great aspect of the movie’s release is that it’s prompted all sorts all articles analyzing the show’s impact as well as its high points. Vanity Fair led the way with a 9,000 word article presenting the show’s history from inception to the present, with quotes from Matt Groening, Brad Bird, Conan O’Brien and even Rupert Murdoch. They also presented their picks for the top 10 episodes ever.

Inexplicably missing from that list is “Homer at the Bat,” which Jim Caple lovingly profiles at Ken Griffey Jr., Ozzie Smith, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco and Daryl Strawberry all lent their voices to the episode (a list I remembered without having to look up). Surprisingly, few of them seem to be fans of the show.

“Oh, God, I didn’t realize how many people watched that show,” Don Mattingly said. “All I heard at the stadium after that was ‘Mattingly, I told you to shave those sideburns.’ I still hear it.”

Griffey Jr. is reported to have only watched the episode once, and Caple reports there are even intimations of a Simpsons curse.

Meanwhile, the Onion AV Club has dedicated themselves to Simpsons week, beginning with “15 Simpsons Moments that Perfectly Captured Their Eras,” and continuing with “The Simpsons as Krusty the Clown: The Strangest Simpsons Products” and “The Simpsons Vs. Civilization: Why Springfield’s First Family is Mankind’s Greatest Accomplishment.”

More features are promised throughout the week, including a dialogue between two of the A.V. Club’s writers debating whether the show is still relevant. While I would come down on the “no” side of the debate, I still appreciate all of the attention The Simpsons has received in the march to the movie’s release. For a generation of viewers, including myself, it taught us how to mock unquestioned assumptions and hollow, hallowed institutions, a practice that serves us well at the moment and one that is carried on in even more vibrant form with The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

It also emphasized that that the more you knew—about history, literature, politics and old movies—the more likely you were to get the joke. Most of the shows on television now are hollow; to maintain a universal appeal, they only reference things that the most ignorant among us recognize. The Simpsons were challenging, at least for a teenager, and that may have been what I liked about the show most.

Update: A Crosstalk between two A.V. Club writers on “Is it Time for the Simpsons to Call it a Day?” is now online.