One thing I didn’t mention in my 30 Rock post below is that because I don’t consider it a genuinely great show, I enjoy almost every episode. (I’ve even enjoyed the ones that most people found really disappointing, like the Steve Martin episode.) I think of it as a show that isn’t really going to achieve transcendent greatness, so I tune in expecting to get a few laughs, which it always manages to provide. It’s a reliably entertaining show. I think all of us have shows that we just enjoy, without worrying overmuch about whether they’re truly great. That is what television largely consists of, anyway.
But on the other hand, with shows I do consider great or potentially great, it can sometimes be agonizing to watch an episode, because I expect so much of it. If I’m hoping for the best thing ever, an episode can feel like a complete failure even if it has some good bits in it. We’ve all seen this happen. That’s why loyal fans of a show tend to be hyper-critical, whereas casual fans just enjoy the good bits — leading to the weird but typical dynamic, where the biggest fans of a show seem to hate it more than the ones who aren‘t huge fans.
The Simpsons hasn’t been a great show in a long time, but it hasn’t been really terrible in a while either (in my opinion). It feels like a perpetual disappointment because it has, in the distant past, been capable of greatness. Whereas the Seth MacFarlane shows have lower expectations attached to them, and something like American Dad gets my approval if it has a decent story and some good gags. A good current American Dad probably isn’t any better than a typical current Simpsons, but I can’t shake the feeling that Simpsons could do better.