Is There (Still) Room at Your Table for a Foolish Old Man?

For everyone who can recognize that quote (without the “still”), congrats.  It comes, Grampa (Abe, before he was Abe) Simpson’s mouth in episode 7F17 “Old Money” of The Simpsons.  Unfortunately the quote fits eerily well for what the show has become: a grandfather for its viewers.

Take a stroll down memory lane for a second (hopefully not powered by lampposts that Mr. Burns has come to “watch [their] power flowin'”) and remember your grandpa.  Your grandpa was always there letting you do things your parents wouldn’t let you do.  You’d usually have fun times with him simply because he was your grandpa.  He’d take you out to lunch, buy you a toy or maybe you’d watch football games with him as he stamped his foot on the ground and yelled at the players on the TV.  Even on some special mornings he’d take you down to the neighborhood McDonald’s to go get some breakfast while he met up with his old war buddies.  It was all exciting, it was all different, and most of all it was fun (unless you had to be cooped up in the house with nothing to do and were missing some quality time with friends, of course).

As the years go on you grow tired of the visits and feel like  your life is more important.  Meanwhile his health deteriorates.  He could be sick, or just getting old, but something isn’t right anymore.  He’s lost his energy, you no longer want to or he no longer is able to take you outside to the park or for breakfast.  What he’s become might even frighten you a little bit, as he might have endless amounts of tubes going in and out of his body while you are too young to think of them as anything but weird and gross.  And then you make a conscious choice, you either focus solely on the great memories you had of him before and try to live through those or delude yourself into believing that nothing has changed and he is still the same person he’s always been.  Even though he has changed, his presence is still wanted and felt, and he still provides that feeling of security and love that he always has.

This is where we are with The Simpsons.  Those of us old enough to remember the first eleven-ish seasons of the show remember how great it used to be.  How funny, yet endearing the episodes could be while we also got to discover different aspects of the beloved main characters.  The jokes were poppier, the timing was better, the dramatic elements were heartfelt without being too corny.  Now the show has changed (or so we believe it has). It has a whole different energy, the jokes aren’t nearly as funny, and the dramatic plot is all but gone (or so I’ve heard).

I assume most of us older fans (I won’t lie, I didn’t start watching the show until about 1996, although with Fox having back-to-back reruns every evening it wasn’t hard to catch up) have opted to focus on how great the show used to be, as opposed to trying to delude ourselves that it is still great.  However, even though most of us probably don’t watch it anymore, we would still miss it if it went off the air.  Much like our grandfather’s, even if the show is no longer as exciting and entertaining as it was before, the fact that it is still on air gives us a feeling of unchanging safety.  Being able to count on The Simpsons to air every Sunday night allows us to take a deep breath and pause, knowing that our grandfather is still around for us if we need him.

And who knows, maybe The Simpsons isn’t any worse than it ever was.  Maybe it is us who have changed.  Or maybe The Simpsons was never as funny as we thought it was back when we used to religiously watch it.  The fuzzy aura surrounding our memories grows larger and larger the farther we get from the show’s “golden age,” and that means our positivity of its previous greatness will only continue to grow  We were different then, not only us as an audience but us a TV viewing public.  Now with niche TV channels and all these specific niche shows, trying to create something to reach out to as many people as possible is even harder (especially for comedic shows).

The importance of The Simpsons on comedic TV shows can never be overstated.  And any creative endeavor that has been going on for 23 years and 500 episodes will likely lose its quality over that span of time.  Unfortunately for me I can’t shut off my memories of the former greatness of the show.  So I will continue to look through my channel listings and scroll past the newest episode of The Simpsons as I have for the past eight seasons.  And much like photo albums, I will always love sitting down and look through the great memories of The Be Sharps, the power plant’s softball team, the Ayn Rand School for Tots, and on and on and on.  So I for one would like clink or glasses filled with Flaming Moes (oh the internationality of The Simpsons), and give a toast to The Simpsons in congratulations for 500 episodes, and here’s to 500 more (hopefully everyone is well versed in their ’80s television to get that parody).

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