Today is Valentine’s Day, and in five days from now The Simpsons will make history and reach an amazing television milestone by airing 500 episodes. That means that if you were to turn on Episode 1 right now and never pause, go to the bathroom, eat, or sleep for the next five days, you would not even get close to episode 499 by the time the 500th episode airs. 500 episodes means 23 seasons and 21 years on the air. 500 episodes means that The Simpsons is older than almost half of the world’s population. 500 episodes means that at any given time, someone, somewhere in the world is watching The Simpsons. 500 episodes means a whole lot, and this Valentine’s Day I’m declaring my love for the show and thinking back to a time 300, 200, maybe even 100 episodes ago when I would have choo-choo-chosen The Simpsons on TV over anything else; and I bet you would have too.
The mid to late 90s and early 2000s were a simpler time before PVRs, time shifting, and Netflix. It was a time when channels 1-60 something were all that existed, and you knew when The Simpsons was on every day. 5:00, 6:00, 9:00; every weekday. My days were always the same. I’d get home from school, wait in front of the TV, and watch The Simpsons. Within the first few seconds, I would shout out what the episode was about. I would quote lines, laugh my head off, sit patiently through commercials (remember them?), and repeat the process when the next episode came on. I had no control over which episodes were shown, and I didn’t need any; every episode was gold. Seen an episode the week before? Who cares, it was still as funny as ever.
When something happened in the news, The Simpsons was there to cover it; even in reruns. SARS epidemic? No problem, just play the Osaka Flu episode. It was fresh, relevant, edgy, and above all else, funny. No other show needed to exist on TV as long as there was The Simpsons.
Anything in life could be explained using The Simpsons. Schoolyard arguments, math lessons, conversations, friendships, hardships, holidays, movies, and celebrities; it all had to do with The Simpsons.
“How do you know that?” is a question I was constantly asked as a kid.
“The Simpsons,” I would say.
“You’re so funny,” I would get complimented.
“It’s from The Simpsons,” I replied.
“Did you see the episode when…” I would constantly get asked.
“Yes. I did. I’ve seen all of the episodes. Get on with it,” I would interrupt.
My life was The Simpsons. My friend’s lives were The Simpsons. I wouldn’t surround myself by anything that wasn’t The Simpsons, because what’s the point?
But the thing is, I’m not even the most diehard fan. I never went to the conventions and read fan-fiction and knew episode titles or did anything that Comic Book Guy would do; I was just like anyone else I knew. The Simpsons simply was that big. It was a show to live your life around. The Simpsons doesn’t cater to you, you cater to The Simpsons.
As my walls filled up with Simpsons posters, my shelves with plastic Bart toys, and my drawers with shirts ranging from “Don’t Have A Cow Man,” to “D’oh,” there was no end to my love for The Simpsons. To this day, the best birthday present I have ever received was a simple white t-shirt that I still own, with a picture of Ralph on it, which says “Me Fail English, That’s Unpossible.”
Life was great as long as there was a Simpsons episode to watch. Reruns during the week, even more reruns during the weekend, and a new episode every Sunday night. The episode numbers kept ticking up and I kept adding new quotes to my vastly growing mental Rolodex of Simpsons knowledge. When Episode 300 came around nearly 9 years ago to this day, it was big news. It was on every magazine cover, it was in the news that the grown-ups watched, and it was talked about all over school. I remember exactly where I was sitting and what I was doing and what the episode was about. It’s one of my most vivid memories, and it’s about The Simpsons.
Around the time of the 300th episode, I read an interview with Matt Groening saying that he would like to make 365 episodes of The Simpsons so that there is one for every day of the year. I remember being sad thinking that The Simpsons would ever end, but relieved because 365 was still a long way off.
Meanwhile, 365 episodes passed. As did 400, 425, 450, and now 499. We’re 9 years from that 300th episode, and it’s sad to say that a lot has changed. Somewhere along the way The Simpsons stopped mattering to me. The daily reruns became weekly, which became monthly, which stopped entirely. The posters came down, the shirts got worn less, and the quotes became more and more infrequent in my conversations. If someone did something worth booing, I would say “boo,” not “boo-urns.” I would still watch the new episodes every Sunday, but soon after the film came out I started wondering, “what’s the point?”
With each new episode, The Simpsons I once knew was fading and something else was taking its place. Or more accurately, nothing else was taking its place. Nothing new, nothing topical, nothing funny. It was still The Simpsons, but even they couldn’t recognize themselves. Sure, they were going through new stories and saying new words, but none of them mattered. A reference that would have once contained a joke would now be a simple reference. Do you know iPods? Well, here’s one of them…on this show…isn’t that good?
Smartly written humor was gone and so was the enjoyment. This year, for the first time in my life, I turned off a new episode of The Simpsons a few minutes in. It wasn’t even a matter of “what’s the point?” but it was now a matter of “there is no point.”
A few weeks ago, I turned on a new episode to see some of the characters on a dance floor. They were playing a song that I’m sure is popular and the writers must have said “wouldn’t it be funny if we used this song?” As the characters were dancing to the song for a much too extended period of time, Homer proceeded to walk up the wall and defy gravity by dancing on the ceiling. Then the scene ended.
Why? Why, why, why, why, why? How come suddenly, after 21 years, we are now just supposed to accept that Homer can dance on the ceiling and defy all logic for a sight gag that isn’t in the least bit funny? I get that it is probably a reference to Lionel Richie, but it still doesn’t make sense in the context of the show and it isn’t even a joke. This is the same show that brought us lines like “They have the Internet on computers now,” and “When I grow up, I’m going to Bovine University.”
So after 499 episodes here we are. We’re at a crossroads between “greatest show ever made” and “worst show on television.” The Simpsons could have packed it in years ago, but the fact that they haven’t is a testament to how much of a part of society it really is.
And while it’s no longer up for debate whether or not it’s still funny, the real question is, do we even want it to end? What would we gain from not having The Simpsons on the air anymore? Nothing. It’s too late now to salvage their name by calling it quits, so why bother?
After 500 episodes I’m not calling for an end to The Simpsons, but I’m calling for a beginning. I’m calling towards revisiting an incredible television show in any way possible and reliving the magic. I’m advocating that as fans of The Simpsons, we stop dwelling on the present and start looking to the past. For too long, The Simpsons has been criticized and laughed at, even though it’s been fair criticism and laughter for the most part.
The Simpsons was the show that united us all and made our lives brighter. The Simpsons was a source of laughter, relaxation, conversation, love, hate, work, and play, and it’s time to get back to that again. It’s time to rekindle your love with The Simpsons and celebrate it for its profound impact on your life. This Valentine’s Day, spend some time with The Simpsons; they’ve certainly spent enough time with you.