The golden age of The Simpsons lasted for eight glorious years and comprised nearly 200 episodes, becoming an indelible part of our collective consciousness. Only a relatively small number of scripted television shows last half as long and even fewer can claim to have had such a seismic cultural impact or sustained such stratospheric standards of excellence. Yet nothing lasts forever and all good things must come to an end. Even The Simpsons was no exception to that rule. The eighth season stretched the show to its creative limits and, in doing so, created the first noticeable chinks in what had once been an impregnable armour. The subsequent decline was swift and inexorable. During season nine, it became increasingly clear that The Simpsons had reached the end of its natural lifespan.
The show should have ended there, closing up shop and walking gracefully into the sunset with its head held high. It would have been almost peerless in its consistency of extraordinary quality, legendary in its calibre of satirical hilarity, and a pinpoint accurate snapshot of late 20th century America. Yet The Simpsons endured into the 21st century. Somehow, astonishingly, it continues uninterrupted to this day. A mind-boggling 24 seasons – 500 episodes and change – have aired since 1997 when the warning signs first appeared, dwarfing the venerated classic era three to one. Seasons 33 and 34 are in the pipeline, further renewals seem almost inevitable, and no end appears to be in sight. Even as its live ratings dwindle and what remains of its cultural relevance evaporates, the show perseveres and one wonders whether anything save the fall of civilisation will stop it at this point.
The last two decades of The Simpsons have been widely and summarily dismissed by casual and hardcore fans alike. Almost everyone agrees the show fundamentally changed for the worse in the late '90s and is now less than a shadow of what it once was. That assessment is true – The Simpsons has unquestionably aged and deteriorated in every way – but does this mean that every episode from the last two decades is instantly and intrinsically bad or that the show has been entirely devoid of value since the turn of the century? I'm not so sure. Would that not be akin to claiming that life becomes meaningless or worthless when we get older and inevitably discover that our bodies are not as strong and our minds are not as sharp as they once were? Okay, I realise that’s a bit fallacious, but l like the principal and think it can be applied to the show.
Like us, The Simpsons will never be able to recapture the glory of its youth. Yet even now it still has flashes of vitality, creativity, humour, and warmth which makes it worthwhile. This is why a small contingent of dedicated viewers continue watching. It’s not because they think the show is as good as ever (well, some do and they’re nuts) or live in hope that another golden age will come around (it won't) – it’s simply that the stories and characters as they are can still make them smile and laugh. I myself still find joy and meaning in some of what the show has to offer. Rejecting the entire body of work that constitutes post-classic Simpsons is unfair and dogmatic. All it needs is some, admittedly significant, modifications such as removing its worst transgressions and reassembling the leftovers.
That really gets to the heart of what I want to achieve here. Disney+ has made The Simpsons more accessible than ever, but having to tolerate mounds of trash to find the occasional gem isn't motivating. My goal is to condense the post-classic era into a more palatable form by compiling twelve seasons and excising most of what I consider to be the worst episodes. This will be broken down into two seasons run by Mike Scully (analogous to his predecessors), four SD seasons run by Al Jean, and six HD seasons run by Jean and Matt Selman. A seventh isn’t out of the question (after all, the show is still on the air and additional episodes worthy of inclusion may present themselves), but isn’t currently planned.
My posts will contain scores and comments for each episode that elucidate my reasoning for its selection. I welcome comments of your own and I hope this will generate some lively discussion about post-classic Simpsons. I like to think that this will cast the post-classic era of the show in a slightly more favourable light and offer an abridged version worthy of at least cursory interest. I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about most of the time, but I love this show and its characters with every fibre of my being. Maybe that's enough?
- Season 9 (Part 1) / (Part 2)
- Season 10 (Part 1) / (Part 2)
- Season 11 (Part 1) / (Part 2)
- Season 12 (Part 1) / (Part 2) / (Part 3)
- Season 13 (Part 1) / (Part 2)
- Season 14 (Part 1) / (Part 2) / (Part 3)
- Completely rewritten from scratch a couple of months ago to better express my thoughts and goals.
- Changed the screencap at the start.