The Fall of the Simpsons

Super Eyepatch Wolf charts the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of perennial TV fixture The Simpsons. The video proves an objective decline in the quality of the series, explains what made it work in the early years, and reveals how the creative team dropped the ball. Required viewing for anyone who even walked past a TV in the 90s.

My comment: Super Eyepatch Wolf nails the reasons for the Simpsons' fall. One factor that's hinted at but which I'll make more explicit is that The Simpsons was conceived as the anti-sitcom, intended to subvert the rosy depictions of the American family that ruled the airwaves throughout the 80s.

S.E.W. correctly points out that, even if the disastrous writing team shakeups and original creator departures hadn't happened, The Simpsons was a reaction against a long-gone age that would have eventually exhausted its fuel supply, anyway.

Matt Groening & co. set out to deconstruct the conservative establishment's vision of post-Reagan America. Along the way they became the establishment, which is always fatal to subversive projects.

The lesson for writers: undermining traditional culture can be good for a quick buck and fleeting fame. If you're lucky, the fad burns out and you go on to something else, wiser for the experience. If you're The Simpsons, you  progressively degenerate into a zombified husk of your former glory, rendered unkillable by syndication.

As the subversives of yesteryear fade away, a new generation of independent creators are venturing forth to build anew in the cultural wasteland. I'm joining a host of indie authors in working to make science fiction fun again. Anyone with the talent and inclination is urged to join us.

In the meantime, my Dragon Award-nominated space opera The Secret Kings isn't free anymore, but it is on sale. If you've been jonesing for the kind of thrilling adventure that Star Wars books just don't offer anymore, check it out!



  1. The Simpsons was a victim of its own success. It went from subverting the standard model of TV comedy to becoming the model. Indeed, as a kid, whenever I saw a "dopey dad" on a TV show, I figured they were just copying The Simpsons.

    1. And often as not, your hunch was probably right. Groening deserves his share of blame for the nigh universal denigration of fatherhood.

    2. It also suffered from the original writers leaving during season 9 to join King of the Hill and Futurama, which overtook it almost instantly.

      King of the Hill is my favorite adult sitcom. It is far more consistent than The Simpsons.

    3. Futurana still holes up well too.

      But i do love me some arlen time.

  2. Brian

    Perhaps itès time for an anti Simpson show. One that subverts the whole social justice worldview and mercilessly skewers it with counter cultural tradition and respect for the past

    1. Do you mean...a *superversive* show? :)

    2. Sure or even pulp. :) or a mix of genres. Why not go on the offensive and be offensive? :)

  3. The Simpsons was my favorite show growing up. But while I still find the early seasons funny with some good gags I have not watched it or the old episodes in over a decade.

    Their love of being on the edge and unpredictable has ironically made it safe and predictable. Its style of humor has been aped by everything from kid shows to comic books and even live action shows. There's no reason to watch it anymore because it's freaking everywhere.

    It's also responsible for Family Guy and the rise of Seth MacFarlane, so I can't ever forgive it.

  4. I posted this at Chris Lansdown's blog, but I figured I'd also share it here.

    These are some tidbits I learned back when I was a hardcore fan. It really puts some of this in perspective.

    1. In the DVD commentaries, Matt Groening comes off as a big liberal type, but he absolutely hates (and never forgets to point out) any time the writers had made a joke involving Christians' being stupid or hypocrites. He objects any time someone tries to insult Christianity or Christians or characters that are believing Christians. It's no coincidence he left the show around the same time the old writers did in season 10.

    2. The most prolific writer of the show is John Swartzwelder, a hardcore right wing conservative. He wrote 59 scripts for the show before he was let go. He never appears on any commentaries because he wants his work to speak for himself. His output drops off hard after season 9.

    3. Mike Scully, who was a better writer than showrunner, does also shares Groening's comments on Christians, and also dislikes certain jokes the imply religious people are stupid. He also chastises hack writer Matt Selman (who joined in season 10) when he tries to go on a rant about how atheists are oppressed. No one in the commentary with him agrees.

    4. Said Matt Selman is also responsible for writing the travesty of a 90s episode mentioned above. He is also responsible for more bad episodes than any other writer in the history of the show.

    5. The Simpsons' downswing in quality can be directly attributed to the original writers leaving for greener pastures and hacks like Selman taking charge (and certain writers wanting him to be the showrunner!) and creating soulless subversive entertainment.

    Just some thoughts to ponder on.

    1. Thanks, JD. Something the video didn't address, and that I found hard to square with it, was that even in their heyday the Simpsons were pretty much the only American sitcom family who were shown regularly attending church.

      Not even the 80s sitcoms The Simpsons lampoons frequently showed their families at weekly Sunday services. You have to go back to the 70s for any mention of church being a central part of family life. When Family Ties, Growing Pains, Who's the Boss?, etc. had scenes set in a church, it was always for a wedding or a funeral.

      I think that's the key. Groening might be a lefty, but he's an old-school lefty who genuinely hates hypocrisy. Seems to me The Simpsons' positive--or at least neutral--depiction of Christianity was another dig at shallow 80s sitcoms that sold themselves as "family values" brands while omitting a core element that even All in the Family got right.

    2. That was another thing that came across in the commentaries: how they went out of depict things like characters praying or going to church or even discussing God at all.

      From what I gathered it wasn't so much subversion that they were interested in but having depictions of real things people went through and finding jokes and observations to play off of. The jokes came from them wanting to figure out how to extend a sequence without losing the audience's attention, as the video example showed.

      When they lost it was when they let generic Hollywood writers climb aboard with the same view and beliefs on every subject.

    3. Wow. So, SJWs ruin everything. Again.


      Brian, JD -- great discussion!

    4. I just looked up Matt Selman. You right about man. Many of the bad episodes belong to him. There is probably 2 or 3 that I like of his.

  5. It's very interesting to see the graph visually depicting the show's decline. I've always felt the show began clearly going downhill in season 5 (still funny but some read duds began appearing) and basically became unwatchable somewhere around season 8 or so, and that's more or less what the graph indicates. It's insane to me that the show is still on.

    Things that increasingly turned me off of the show: going Hollywood by casting celebrities as themselves and having the cast kiss up to them, the male characters being increasingly shown as clueless jackasses, and somewhat related to that Lisa becoming a maudlin figure who often served as a mouthpiece for the writers' pet causes.

    This video inspired me to re-watch the first few seasons and it's not me that's changed because I still laughed out loud from the very first episode onward :)

    1. "It's insane to me that the show is still on."

      The solution to this puzzle lies earlier in your own comment.

      "I've always felt the show began clearly going downhill in season 5"

      TV shows rarely show big profits from ad revenue in their initial runs. The real money's in syndication.

      In general, people have a six month attention span for entertainment. If the average viewer sees a certain episode of a TV show once, viewing it again before six months passes will feel repetitive.

      The normal episode count for one season of US television is 26. A show that's run for 5 seasons has a total of 130 episodes. That's enough to run 1 episode every weekday without repeating an episode for--you guessed it--6 months.

      That is why, as soon as the fifth season of any TV show is in the can, it's effectively unkillable. Even if the first-run ratings tank, syndication licensing fees will more than compensate.

      M*A*S*H was the first series to figure this out. Take a look at the latter episodes of that show!