Apu isn't the Problem with The Simpsons
As sentimental creatures, we enjoy holding onto the past. I have an entire drawer full of ticket stubs from concerts because it helps me keep a hold of my past and releases some sort of happy chemical when I go through them. We all have things that we hoard, whether it’s old newspapers or your dusty VHS collection you hang onto because maybe VHS will come back like vinyl did (it won’t). However, people are not the only things that hoard memories. There is another entity hoarding to massive proportions: TV networks. All across television and streaming platforms, the rotting carcasses of decades-old shows that were picked clean long ago are still stinking up the airwaves. It is time to take these shows out to the dumpster and move forward.
There is one clear show that needs to end immediately before another half hour of our and FOX’s precious time is wasted: The Simpsons. To any readers familiar with my previous articles, there have been Simpsons references since my first piece on fake news to an article just last month on the nature of nostalgia. I would just like to make clear that I am an avid and longtime fan of The Simpsons and not some bleeding-heart who is campaigning for the show to end because of Apu. No this is a problem that started long before Apu was suddenly declared not okay after twenty years of nobody caring. This is about my favorite show turning into something I wouldn’t even put on for my dog when I leave the house.
But if The Simpsons were taken off the air even five years ago, there would not be this recent uproar about what seem people now think is offensive about Apu. Bill Maher recently made a great point about the issue in his show Real Time on HBO in a segment about what he called the “what were you thinking” generation. He basically said that you can’t fault a society for not being “woke” when there was no “woke.” I mean nobody is out here trying to defend Mickey Rooney’s appallingly racist role as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but the film is still regarded with reverence for its artistic merit. Nobody is trying to go back and delete those scenes or get rid of the characters. The Simpsons could’ve easily avoided this public relations nightmare by ending when they were still on top (which some say was nearly twenty years ago). But instead they directly responded to the uproar in a recent episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” when Marge discovers that a favorite story from her childhood isn’t as politically correct as she remembered. Now The Simpsons hadn’t been going anywhere for years, but this sad attempt at fourth-wall breaking for no comedic payoff would make Leslie Nielsen roll over in his grave. It brought an immediate halt to any hope of The Simpsons ever moving forward again.
There is a point in every show’s life when the story simply stops moving. Characters don’t develop and the plot seems to just move in circles. What separates good shows from great shows is how they deal with that stop in momentum. There are some very famous examples of shows doing a terrible job, most notably Fonzie jumping over a shark in Happy Days, which spawned the phrase that describes this very concept of a show getting stale or “jumping the shark.” And, unfortunately, The Simpsons jumped the shark many years ago. The exact number is up to each fan, while many die-hards insist on only watching the first nine seasons (as most of the original writing staff is gone by season 10) while others go further. However every fan can agree that the newest episodes are simply not watchable.
There have been some fantastic shows that were kept on far too long simply because people would not let go and stop watching. And the networks themselves cannot be counted on to take off a successful show just because the writing has gotten stale and repetitive. After almost five seasons of Cheers I finally threw in the towel because I couldn’t stand the constant laps Sam and Diane were running in their terribly drawn-out “will they, won’t they?” scenario that lasted six seasons. Plus the death of Coach was very personal to me, no offense to Woody Harrelson.
But when a show does finally let characters stop chasing their tails, something far worse can happen. Instead of allowing the characters to keep developing in the way we have grown accustomed to for so many seasons, the writers will completely distort the character as a cheap way to fill another 22 minutes. The classic example from The Simpsons is the season nine episode “The Principal and the Pauper” where we learn that Principal Skinner, who we have come to know over the past nine years as the stern and uptight head of Springfield Elementary and a foil to Bart’s destruction, has actually been lying about his identity the entire time and is nothing but a street-punk imposter who stole the identity of the real Seymour Skinner when he was thought to have died in Vietnam. This episode has been dubbed by many Simpsons fans as “the worst episode ever.”
But this is not just a Simpsons article (much to my chagrin). One program in particular that hasn’t moved forward in years but still enjoys mass appeal is Showtime’s Shameless. For years I tuned in every week to Showtime because it wasn’t on Netflix yet (true fan), to see the fresh and wacky shenanigans that the Gallagher family would get into. Frank with all of his crazy schemes, Lip getting all the girls he wants but still being too smart for his own good, Ian’s closet homosexuality, whatever Debbie did, Carl’s schoolyard trouble-making and Fionna there to clean up the mess. And the same thing the next season, and after that and so on. But in the past couple seasons, things have gotten to that Cheers point of endless repetition. Fionna is always saying how she is going to assert her independence and stop fixing all the family’s problems, but then comes right back to being their doormat. Just like how much Sam says he hates Dianne but then ends each season trying to marry her.
But now with the revitalized popularity of Shameless on Netflix and everyone on Twitter calling themselves Frank Gallagher because they had an Old Style once, the show isn’t going anywhere. My only hope at this point is that William H. Macy gets as bored as we are and finally leaves the project, with Showtime following soon behind. But, just as the recent release of Super Troopers 2 has shown us, people are more than willing to shell out thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe to see the same crap they’ve already seen years before.