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The Long, Slow, Painful Death of The Simpsons

Twentieth Century Fox

I can say without any exaggeration that The Simpsons has influenced me more than any other television show in existence. As a child I would watch in the presence of my older brother, noting what he found humorous, so I knew when to laugh.  He would often explain why something was funny, since my 8-year-old self missed most of the high-level humor.  For instance, when Homer becomes a big brother to a poor child named Pepi, Pepi says, “Papa Homer, you are so learn-ed.”  Homer corrects him, “It’s learned, son.  Learned.”  If you don’t know how the word is really pronounced, the joke is lost.  I believe this kind of humor, this “high-level” humor, is what made The Simpsons a great (perhaps greatest) comedy.  It’s not what makes it great because, let’s face it, the show hasn’t been good for about 13 seasons.  Right around season 10, it started the long and steady decline toward mediocrity.  Now, when I do give it another chance, it is like visiting an old friend who is dying of a painful terminal illness.  It’s sad, it’s tragic, and it’s at the point where you just want their suffering to end.  The Simpsons needs to die.

It’s hard to begin.  How does one describe the comic genius that made The Simpsons special?  Well, here are 2 clips that I’ll use as examples.  This first one comes from ” Deep Space Homer” in season 5.  We’ve just seen a shot of Homer’s space shuttle and an escaped ant moved past the camera.  Here is Kent Brockman’s reaction.

As a member of the media, Kent Brockman is prone to sensationalism.  We see it in an earlier episode in which Kent claims, ” I’ve been to Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together.”  He is referring to a rebellion at Bart’s summer camp.  The writers are poking fun at how ridiculous the news media can be in an attempt to make a story more interesting.  But what really makes this funny is that Kent clearly believes his own sensational claims.  He jumps from one radical conclusion to the next and even accepts that the invasion is a foregone conclusion, which is why he is already trying to convince the ant overlords that he can be useful.  This is very silly, but we in the audience can see the work of intelligent people behind the scenes.

In this next clip, we find Mr. Burns attempting to win Homer’s trust.  Homer has become the head of the union at the power plant and Mr. Burns is threatening to remove their dental plan.  This clip comes from season 4, and the title is, “Last Exit to Springfield”.

There is this Infinite Monkey Theorem that assumes if a monkey were to hit the keys on a typewriter into infinity, it would eventually write Shakespeare.  A variation is that an infinite number of chimps (or some really high number) banging on typewriters would eventually produce some great piece of literature.  I actually wrote about this in A Universe of Infinite Chimps.  Anyway, in the clip we can see that the monkeys are smoking and focusing intently on their work, just like a bunch of human writers.  They are also chained to their typewriters.  I’m sure the writers who wrote this scene were thinking of themselves.  When Mr. Burns reads what the monkey wrote, it turns out to be the first line of Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities.  But the monkey wrote “blurst” instead of “worst”, so Mr. Burns completely overlooks the incredible feat and judges the animal like he would some great author.  It plays on our expectations, and Mr. Burns’ sincerity and serious tone throughout the exchange makes for the perfect contrast to the ludicrous event.

The main point I want to make with these clips is that the early episodes were cleverly written by intelligent people who were aiming high at their audience.  Sure, there is plenty of slapstick to be found, but slapstick is only funny if it’s carried out by a person or entity with dignity and intelligence.  The Simpsons often referenced classic literature and film in these great episodes.  Even now, I find myself discovering things that I first learned from The Simpsons.  Perhaps I’ll recall a scene after watching  a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, or Citizen Kane.  In 6th grade I got a congratulatory letter sent home for knowing what the scientific name for the Northern Lights was: aurora borealis.  I learned that from Principal Skinner.

As I’ve previously mentioned, it was around season 10 that the show started to suffer creatively.  If you search around the internet you’ll see a consensus on this moment in the show’s history as the beginning of the end.  Some blame the shift toward a younger audience.  Some blame new producers, or the exodus of Conan O’Brien from the staff (though he left after season 5).   Others simply believe that the show had run out of clever ideas, like any long-running program.  I’m sure there were a number of reasons for the decline, but the fact remains that The Simpsons has shuffled on into an endless sunset.

Here’s a preview of the first episode of season 23.

So here we have Homer in a ridiculous situation with a celebrity guest star.  This is the norm.  Critic Jim Schembri of The Sydney Morning Herald summed it up pretty well when he wrote,  “Now the show has in essence fermented into a limp parody of itself. Memorable story arcs have been sacrificed for the sake of celebrity walk-ons and punchline-hungry dialogue.”  He is absolutely correct.  Once rich characters have been emptied of intelligence, emotion and dignity for the sake of selling out to the lowest common denominator of humor and entertainment.  It’s pathetic, and a lesson in the cost of pride and greed.

This show is a cash cow, and has been for many years.  The voice actors make millions and the producers make even more.  They have nothing to prove and nowhere to go.  I imagine Matt Groening, the creator, has become much like George Lucas.  Both men made something that the people loved, and they gained incredible wealth and fame.  But at some point they lost touch with the original vision, and traded it all for just a little more.  Look at this quote from Groening in 2006.

I honestly don’t see any end in sight. I think it’s possible that the show will become too financially cumbersome… but right now, the show is creatively, I think, as good or better than it’s ever been. The animation is incredibly detailed and imaginative, and the stories do things that we haven’t done before. So creatively there’s no reason to quit.

You know that once a storyteller starts focusing on the “incredibly detailed” animation, he has lost his soul (i.e. James Cameron with Avatar and George Lucas with everything since Star Wars Special Edition).

It saddens me that The Simpsons now has more mediocre and bad episodes than good and great ones.  It also saddens me that I wish for its swift death, so that the memory of what was right isn’t overshadowed by what is so very wrong.  All we can do is re-watch those episodes from the golden age, and hope that future generations will understand that The Simpsons was at one time the greatest show on television.  And not because it was the most popular, or the longest- running, but because it was clever and profoundly hilarious.

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I Need Your Help: What Show Am I Thinking Of?

I watched quite a substantial amount of television as a child.  To give you an idea of exactly how much I am talking about, I recall taking a survey that asked me how many hours of television I watch daily, and I thought that the high number was a little low.  My mother gets embarrassed when I bring this up, but it’s mostly because of my older brother and sister.  I watched a lot of television with them, and then I watched a lot of television by myself.  So if you’re wondering if it rots your brain, take a look at me.  I am the result of thousands upon thousands of hours of television.  My brother will not miss this opportunity to poke fun at my intelligence.  Bring it on, Chuck!  I know you’ve watched even more television than myself.

Anyway, I bring this up in order to address something that has been bothering me for many years.  Within this vast ocean of television there is one show that has managed to slip into the deep.  Even in this age of YouTube and Google I have not been able to narrow down my search.  I am going off of so little information, I am not sure that I will ever be able to find this long-forgotten show.  In other words, I need the help of real people to find this show.  I need you.

If my memory serves me right, this show was on Nickelodeon way back in the early nineties.  It is possible that it was on Disney, but I am 90% sure that I watched it on Nickelodeon (Not Nick!  Nick is what the kiddies call it nowadays.  We Millenials weren’t so lazy.  Five syllables, baby!!)

The show was set in an apartment building or maybe an office after hours.  I believe that there was a puppet who was a janitor.  He had a dirty blonde mustache and I think his name was Sam.  And honestly, that’s all I remember.  It was a show on Nickelodeon in the early nineties set in an apartment building/office after hours with a puppet janitor that might have been named Sam.  You can see why I am having trouble.

I’m asking for your help.  Maybe you know what show I am talking about.  Or, maybe I made all of it up, and all of that television really did mess with my brain.

The Cookie Monster: A Tale of Forsaken Identity

It has been about four years since the Cookie Monster sold his soul to the gods of political correctness.  With five little words, he lost himself forever.

COOKIES ARE A SOMETIMES FOOD.

They say that the change came as a response to the growing obesity epidemic among American children.  Sesame Street decided to feature more segments about healthy living, and it only made sense to address the Cookie Monster’s insatiable appetite for sweets.  Namely, cookies.  Seems harmless, right?

The Cookie monster is defined by his love for cookies.  Cookies are his religion.  They are his passion.  They are his purpose.  Every time he appears, he is either talking about cookies or eating cookies.  We know him as a monster.  A cookie monster.  A monster fueled by cookies.

He has a famous song.  Here it is.

C is for cookie.  It’s good enough for me.

C is for cookie. It’s good enough for me.

Cookies are good enough for Cookie Monster.  His love of cookies is directly tied to his sense of self-worth.  Cookies are good enough for him because his sole purpose in life is to eat and worship them.  The Cookie Monster couldn’t ever sell his soul for a cookie because his soul is already cookie.  Cookie Monster is cookie.  The two cannot be torn asunder.  So when he goes on television and claims that, “Cookies are a sometimes food”, we should be concerned.  Deeply concerned; for the Cookie Monster and for our children.

When the Cookie Monster claims that life is more than cookies, he is forsaking his own identity.  It is the Muppet equivalent of a Christian claiming that Jesus isn’t good enough.  He is lying to himself.  And that means he is also lying to the children.  He is telling them not to be true to themselves.  He is saying, “Forsake your personal convictions as not to offend anyone.”

When the Cookie Monster forsakes his cookies, he forsakes himself.  A cookie monster lives for cookies.  They are one.

So ask yourself, which is more important:  the health of the body, or the health of the soul?  The Cookie Monster has already made his choice.  And the world is a little darker because of it.

Pokemon and Power Rangers: A Geek Rant for the Ages

I’m a simple man.

Old School Original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

Old School Original Pokemon

I have seen a few television shows in my day.  As a young man, I developed a special connection to two shows that became pop culture phenomenons.  Those shows were, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and Pokemon.  Whether or not you’ve watched them, you certainly know of them.  Their toys have lined the shelves of every major shopping outlet for over a decade.  You have seen their playing cards as you’ve reached for Burt’s Beeswax, or the latest trashy copy of Cosmo.  Truly, there is no escaping these characters.

Today, I would like to take you on a journey filled with passion, controversy, and corporate greed.  This may repel the women from me even further, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take for the truth.

 

The Premise

Pokemon-   In a world much like our own, there exist special creatures known as Pokemon.  These creatures have unique abilities in a number of different categories, including: water, earth, fire, electricity, and psychic.  Certain individuals set out to become Pokemon trainers.  This means that they intend to catch these creatures and train them in order to improve their fighting abilities.  Pokemon trainers battle each other out in the open, and also in structured tournaments.  In the original video game, and show based on the video game, the main character named Ash sets out to become a Pokemon Master.  He will achieve this by accomplishing three specific goals: Catch and train teams of Pokemon, defeat the leaders of various Pokemon gyms who specialize in a particular type of Pokemon, and defeat the Elite Four masters to become a true Pokemon Master!

In this world of Pokemon, there are 151 recorded species.  These are listed in what is called a Pokedex.  It is critical to understand that one of the driving forces in the video game and show is to “catch ’em all”.   The show made it a point to test your Pokemon knowledge before and after each commercial by giving you an outline that you had to identify.  With 151 Pokemon, this was difficult but reasonable.  So, to summarize, you catch and train as many of the 151 varieties that you can in order to  defeat the Elite Four and become a Pokemon Master.  Very good.

 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers-  In a world much like our own, astronauts accidentally open an ancient seal on the Moon, which unleashes the evil witch, Rita.  Rita is hell-bent on conquering Earth, but another ancient and powerful being rises to meet the challenge.  His name is Zordon.  Unfortunately, he is only a giant head, so he needs the help of others.  He chooses five “teenagers with attitude” to fight Rita and her evil minions.  Their names are, Jason, Billy, Trini, Zach, and Kimberly.  Zordon equips each of them with the ability to “morph” into super human fighters known as Power Rangers.  Along with this new power, they are also given “Zords”, which are dinosaur-like massive robots.  They have the ability to combine into a man-like super robot called the Megazord.

So, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers exist to fight Rita.  Pretty simple.  Pretty satisfying premise for a 7 year old.

 

The Great Cheapening: Or, Selling One’s Soul to Make a Buck

I remember seeing an advertisement for Power Rangers Zeo.  I thought, “What the hell is a Zeo?”  You see, Power Rangers Zeo was the series that followed Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  With it came new characters and costumes and a new villain.  Emperor Zed replaced Rita as the head villain.  I tried to watch it, but how could I when everything was different?  The things I used to care about were gone.

Then came Turbo.

Then came Power Rangers in Space.

Then Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue, Time Force, Wild Force, Ninja Storm, Dino Thunder, S.P.D., Mystic Force, Operation Overdrive, Jungle Fury, RPM, and now, Samurai.

 

 

 

Pokemon operated under the premise that there were 151 Pokemon.

Here they are.

 

 

 

Yeah!

Then something changed.  Suddenly, Ash was in a new region called Johto, and suddenly there were 100 new Pokemon!!!! What?  Where were these Pokemon during the thousands of years before Ash started training?  But, it doesn’t end there.  Ash then goes to another region and, what do you know, 135 new species are discovered.  Now there is something like 490 different species.  Hey, I thought there were 151!  Somebody lied to me.

Here’s a more updated poster.

 

Ahhhh! 

Pokemon and Power Rangers are guilty of the same crime.  They both forsook their original stories and characters in order to stay popular. Now, I understand that they exist to make a profit.  I know this.  But other artistic creations have existed with the same end goal, and retained their integrity.  It is possible to remain true to the characters and premise that make a franchise great, but only when profit is not king.  The fact that Pokemon and Power Rangers sold out tells me that their creators care more for worldly gain than long-term artistic value.  For this reason, I identify these profit hounds as enemies to our society.  If art is not contributing to the good of society in some way (even a very small way), and it is only existing to rob our children of their time and our adults of their money, it should be destroyed. 

Pokemon and Power Rangers should no longer exist.