Writers and Density

12 Apr

I worry a lot about the future. A lot could go horribly wrong in the next few decades- the seas will rise, storms could destroy many of our major cities, and young people won’t think The Simpsons is any good. There’s now some 457 episodes already written, and that number will probably get about 500 when the show finally ends. Much like M.A.S.H , The Simpsons will no doubt be in reruns until the sun dies and we’re forced to strap rockets to the moon and venture out in search of new planets, but with such a sheer volume of episodes it’s hard to pick out the gold.

Not that The Simpsons has ever actually been a bad show, even at its absolute worse (maybe season 17 or so) there were still a few good jokes per episode- but what Simpsons fanatics will argue is that the brilliance of the earlier seasons makes the later stuff  so much more disappointing by comparison. When precisely this slide occurred is not universally agreed upon, but most will say that Season 9 (when Mike Scully become show-runner) was the start of the downward trend. Under his reign it became more cartoony (for lack of a better word), Homer became serious-health-condition stupid than just not-particularly-bright stupid, and celebrities started showing up as themselves with increasing frequency.

What really separates the good from the genius is that the best episodes feel dense, there’s always a lot going on that you won’t necessarily pick up on the first time through. Many of the new episodes, while funny, feel like just another throwaway sitcom. Take the above clip as an example of how much you can pack into a minute: there’s two great visual gags, a dream sequence joke, a parody of goofy 70’s action shows, a jab at Dallas (which is almost a meta-joke since the episode itself is a parody of the “Who Shot JR?” storyline) and a good character bit between Burns and Smithers. I wish I could write a minute’s worth of tv half that good.

The reason I wanted to mention all this is because I’ve been watching the new Doctor Who series, and I thought it was a good comparison. The first block of episodes all have similar plots to episode under RTD’s reign (UK in the future, Daleks invade a historical setting, romance between the Doctor and the companion) but so far I’ve enjoyed Moffat’s take on these tropes more, and I think a lot of that has to do with his approach to the subject material. Even though last week’s episode has been done before- British city in the future and something odd with claws was living beneath it, there was so much more happening around it-  talk of totalitarianism,  the value of memory, utilitarianism, the decline of the monarchy, moral choices. Simply put it’s better writing, and like a lot of Who fans I’m looking forward to where he goes next.

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3 Responses to “Writers and Density”

  1. liamjordan April 17, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    Yeah I sort of answered my own question there didn’t I. What I should have said is that when The Simpsons moves to *only* reruns, the episodes we know and love will be intermingled with the zombie episodes (which is a great term by the way).

    • Charlie Sweatpants April 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

      It’s happened already. The reruns are all but unwatchable at this point. My hope is that once the show finally does die, Zombie Simpsons will fade into obscurity while people go on quoting and loving the old ones.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Reading Digest: Insufficient Zealotry Edition « Dead Homer Society - April 16, 2010

    […] Writers and Density – I agree with some of this, but there is one thing I must disagree vehemently with: There’s now some 457 episodes already written, and that number will probably get about 500 when the show finally ends. Much like M.A.S.H , The Simpsons will no doubt be in reruns until the sun dies and we’re forced to strap rockets to the moon and venture out in search of new planets, but with such a sheer volume of episodes it’s hard to pick out the gold. […]

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