a little less great
Edge becoming rounded
by celebs cutting up
By Dan Jewel
“Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?” –Homer Simpson, 1994
There was a time, not so long ago, when the vast majority of my brain cells were occupied by one all-consuming task: remembering and regurgitating quotes from “The Simpsons.”
I’m not ashamed to admit this. At its pinnacle, from 1992-1997 (seasons
three through eight or so), “The Simpsons” was simply worthy of absolute worship.
(Luckily, my social life didn’t suffer too much, since I socialized largely with people as psychopathically obsessed with the
Fox cartoon as I.)
Nearly all challenges in life could be met by following Homer’s example or advice.
Tough assignment at work or school?
Do what Homer did: “I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”
Mess something up?
Listen to Homer: “Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”
You get the point.
These days, the detritus of everyday life has shoved much of my knowledge of “Simpsons” arcana out of my mind. In part, that’s a result of a basic need to function in society. But it’s also because of a sad fact: It’s been a while since “The Simpsons” deserved to occupy prime mental real estate.
There’s a common belief out there that “The Simpsons” remains the only show on the air that has never jumped the shark. (The term, you probably know by now, refers to the moment when a long-running once-good show goes bad, named for the “Happy Days” episode in which
the Fonz does a water-ski jump over a shark.)
While there’s never been a single moment that brought the show crashing to the ground, there has been a slow, steady decay. Sure, it’s still far superior to other comedies, but it’s not in the same realm as it once was.
(My own choice for the only show that has never jumped the shark: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” “The Sopranos” seems to be jumping as you read this.)
Two new episodes of “The Simpsons” over the next two weeks, the annual Halloween
special and the 14th season premiere, offer signs of hope and signs of doom.
As usual, this year’s “Treehouse of Horror” trilogy, airing
this Sunday at 8 p.m., is something of a mixed bag.
In the opening segment, Homer’s new hammock begins shooting out clones ever stupider than he is—which leads to a mishap with a chainsaw and a certain annoying neighbor. This is among the best Halloween bits ever, filled with clever writing and terrific visual gags.
The final installment, which finds the family vacationing among human-animal hybrids a la “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” is fairly amusing as well. But the middle one, in which the townspeople give up their guns, only to find themselves defenseless against zombie versions of Billy the Kid, Frank and Jesse James, the Sundance Kid and Kaiser Wilhelm, is a dud.
The same concept—guns are evil but sometimes save the day—has been handled with much more subtlety and wit in episodes past.
The 14th season’s premiere episode, airing next Sunday,
Nov. 10, at 8 p.m., also begins brilliantly, with Homer out of money and searching for ways to alter his mind sans beer. Eventually,
through a string of events too complicated to get into, he winds up attending a rock music fantasy camp, where Mick Jagger informs his campers that they can live the rock star life, “without the lawsuits and STDs.”
Wonderful moments and wonderful lines abound (Homer: “My dream has been shattered into shards of a broken dream”), but the episode follows the pattern of recent years. After a clever opening, it devolves into slapsticky scenes of Homer being chased around.
Homer’s always been an idiot, but lately he’s become a simple buffoon. I hate to say this about a cartoon, but he’s become too cartoonish.
The season premiere also demonstrates another major problem of recent years: “The Simpsons” has become a rotating showcase for celebs to poke fun at themselves and prove how hip they are. Celebrity guest stars, once used sparingly and to great effect (see Adam West), now pop up as though they’re on an edgier “Hollywood Squares.”
This particular episode features Elvis Costello, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, and Brian Setzer. There are good moments—Costello and Kravitz are the butt of the best jokes—but enough is enough.
Still, the first 10 minutes of this “Simpsons” episode is like “The Simpsons” of old; a couple of scenes at Moe’s Tavern deserve a place among the classics. As Homer once said, “To alcohol! The cause of--and solution to--all of life’s problems!”
November 1, 2002© 2002 Media Life
-Dan Jewel is a senior editor at
Biography Magazine in New York and a frequent contributor to Media Life.
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