When was the last time you cared about The Simpsons? Was it when the show announced a Family Guy crossover? When Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Jesse Pinkman made live-action cameos? Or was it all the way back in 1995, when the show teased the cliffhanger of who, exactly, shot Mr. Burns? (Spoiler: It was Maggie. You know, the baby.)
Now, producers are hoping there’s still some love for America’s favourite yellow-hued family, announcing plans this week to kill a “regular character” in the upcoming season, the animated show’s 25th (!). Without divulging any specifics, executive producer Al Jean only said that the actor playing the character won an Emmy Award for doing so. That narrows things down to a perfectly cromulent list of two dozen or so suspects, including every member of the immediate family and such hangers-on as Krusty, Apu, Chief Wiggum, Ms. Krabappel, Sideshow Bob and even Princess Penelope, a one-episode character voiced by Anne Hathaway.
One thing is for sure, though: For a show that mercilessly mocks the conventions of modern television, The Simpsons sure loves its publicity stunts. While the move sparked whining from across the web—with commentators and columnists all basically complaining that the show is long past its best-before date—what’s gone unmentioned is the fact that The Simpsons never needed these types of cheap PR moves, even now.
For the past, oh, let’s say decade, the popular stance among critics was to declare The Simpsons creatively dead, having exhausted its “golden age” run that lasted between seasons two and nine. The theory isn’t total bunk, as the past few years have seen Springfield endure some particularly rocky story lines and what I can only assume the writers thought were “jokes.” (For instance, I’m not sure anyone—ever—decided it was necessary for Homer to partner up with Cheech Marin in a comedy duo called “Cheech and Chunk” in the 22nd season. Yes, this really happened.)
But in the past two years, the show has pulled a remarkable about-face, delivering consistently entertaining episodes that mix humour and warmth in ways most naysayers would rather not acknowledge. I’m not saying the 23rd season was the dawn of a new golden age, but it’s pretty close. Regardless, the show is still miles ahead of nearly every other comedy on the big four networks, especially with The Office, 30 Rock and Happy Endings now off the air, and Community and Parks and Recreation likely to follow soon.
As for The Simpsons’ animated competitors? Only Bob’s Burgers comes close, thanks to its heartfelt, family-centric storyline and a knockout voice cast, and perhaps The Venture Bros. over on the Cartoon Network, though the latter is less of an animated comedy than some comic-book fever dream brought to life. Family Guy, American Dad, the now-cancelled Cleveland Show…to even mention these competitors in the same paragraph as The Simpsons is critically irresponsible (a sin of which I’m now guilty of).
In terms of ratings, The Simpsons is also shockingly strong. Last Sunday’s season premiere (again, its 25th) was the No. 1 premiere of the of the night in the key 18-49 demographic, and gives no signs of slowing. It’s entirely conceivable the comedy could live another 25 years—if its voice cast lives that long (or doesn’t launch another contract dispute).
But no matter who lives or dies in Springfield, the “Simpsons suck” choruses will still deafen the online conversation, echoes of a generation that clearly hasn’t moved on. It’s time we block out the white (yellow?) noise, and just enjoy one of the entertainment industry’s most astounding success stories.
UPDATE: For those who still insist on slamming the show, this newly released opening-credits scene from the upcoming Halloween episode should change your tune.