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The Simpsons Might Be Worth Another Glance…Again.

July 28, 2011

Like many children that grew up in the 90s, there were several shows that I grew up with that just sort of turned bust through my teenage years. The big examples are probably in the comedy realm, and rest with The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, both of which have definitely been making comebacks over the past few years. Let’s leave SNL be for now, simply because that show has had several lower shittier periods and then gets punctuated by times of pure hilarity because of what happens when you have not only the rotations that occur in production and writing over the course of longer series but also cast changes as well. Whereas The Simpsons has had a mainstay cast and characters, with just the standard shift in writers and producers.

Personally I felt that the best seasons were the later episodes helmed by Conan O’Brien (hell my favorite episode is Conan O’Brien’s last sole writing credit, “Homer Goes to College” and meets the nerds), and then of course the seasons run by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein (who later went on to create one of my favorite television shows Mission Hill). By the time I was entering my teens though, I’m really not sure what it was, but I just stopped caring about the episodes. I would leave them on while I did other things, but they just became less and less engaging, and definitely less humorous. Then one day, I realized that I hadn’t watched a new episode of The Simpsons in a long time.

When I was in college though, the only roommate I ever lived with for more than one semester (second semester freshman year, and all of senior year) was a huge Simpsons fan. When I say huge, I mean his side of the dorm, as well as his room in our off-campus apartment, was filled to the rafters with Simpsons memorabilia. I remember this is around the time when it started to become really obvious to me that I just hadn’t watched the show in years, despite the fact that to this day I can still produce quotes from early 90s episodes. The great thing though, is that when you live with someone who sat through the worst of The Simpsons and still liked it, you would occasionally be told what episodes to watch. My roommate would always be sure to pass along episodes that I should watch after they aired, and then sometimes I might watch the preceding or following episode just to get a view of the current standard of quality, which was definitely increasing.

Then this past evening, I decided I wanted to watch an episode. It didn’t matter what it was, I just wanted it to be good. So I hopped over to sidereel, and prepared to scroll all the way down to the bottom where the early single-digit seasons were. That’s when I saw that the 22nd season finale was up, and I read the premise and thought it was kind of silly though an interesting one to play around with (Ned Flanders and Edna Krabapple date), but hey after 22 seasons I’ll cut you some slack on the premise, execution is what matters. However, what caught my eye was actually an episode shortly before that one called “Homer Scissorhands”, not because of the title but because of the promo image. It showed Milhouse and a girl I didn’t recognize kissing, with Lisa in the background.

“Homer Scissorhands” has a nice a-plot/b-plot mix. The a-plot is a standard sitcom premise which The Simpsons used to be able to do really well: Everyman father of the household finds a new talent and ends up starting a new career. In this case, Homer discovers a talent for cutting and styling women’s hair. Frankly, the execution of this simple plot was just great; it had all the right digs, a humorous explanation to why he has this talent (nothing gut-busting but it made me smirk, and chuckle a bit), along with running us through some ancillary characters, as well as making a few funny winks of social commentary.

The star of this episode though is it’s b-plot. I’ll admit my view may be colored since the b-plot does center on one of my favorite characters: Milhouse. Milhouse is great because he’s an amazing underdog, and he’s one of those classic nerds. You’ll never see Milhouse being glib about comic book continuity, or being too bookish, because he’s too busy nerding it up. On top of that, they’ve always used him to encapsulate the fact that the children on this show are children, which you can forget given Lisa’s occasionally superhuman intellect and Bart’s cartoonish schemes. Milhouse was Butters before Butters existed.

Milhouse shines in this episode. From the moment he explains why he’s decided to live life to the fullest, to the last line of the episode (the great catch phrase “Everything’s Coming Up Milhouse!”), he’s cranking all cylinders. Plus, this plot dealt with something that’s been a long-standing part of the series: that Milhouse has a huge crush on Lisa, and Lisa’s feelings about are mixed. This has been part of the series since before Emmy award winner “Lisa’s Wedding,” and it’s something they’ve visited several times (in fact really well in “Lisa’s Wedding”). Hell, this premise might have been visited as an a-plot before. The thing was, is that at the end of the episode, something does change, and there’s a really big part of me that wants to see if they’ll stick with it.

The Simpsons has kept some basic continuity, mainly because of big stuff involving ancillary characters (sort of like this is). Ned Flanders, for example, has been single for half of the show’s run now. I’m sure that would surprise anyone if you told them that just 12 seasons ago (Maude dies in Season 11, so a season before that). Since then, every so often they have episodes that deal with the fact that Ned Flanders is a widower, and they have been some of the diamonds in the rough (at least for me) over some of the dry spells of the teen seasons. I just really wonder if this new plot point is going to be something they deal with over the next few seasons as well. Sure, I’m not waiting on the edge of my seat for it, as I am for the mid-season premiere of South Park this fall, but I’m intrigued to say the least.

What I’m trying to say is, maybe it’s time that we all give The Simpsons another glance again. Why? I’m not going to say it will ever be as phenomenal as it was when it first started. It would be crazy to promise that, because nothing can ever live up to our memories (or twenty-plus of years of quoting). However, the people that grew up watching the Conan O’Brien episodes or the Oakely/Weinstein years, are now writing comedy. Some of them are probably in the writer’s room for The Simpsons. That might just be worth paying attention to.

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