We’re currently halfway through the most embiggened television event of the summer. Every. Simpsons. Ever. is FXX’s 12-day marathon of all 552 episodes of The Simpsons in order, a feat which will require more than even a hundred tacos for adequate sustenance…and a bigger wheelbarrow. I refuse to rhapsodize about the quality of these episodes, partly because it is so astoundingly self-evident that anyone who can’t see it is already a lost cause and also because if you’re yet to be convinced it will take Hypnotoad therapy (it’s still Groening!) to convert you, not the arbitrary superlatives of a fan-blogger.
What struck me watching the series from the beginning is how fully-formed it arrived. A few episodes in and the refined notes of sitcom, satire, slapstick and emotion had already found a blended chemistry. I’ve always suspected the idea that series take place in a coherent fictional universe was just World of Warcraft for TV critics, but looking back it’s remarkable how every line of dialogue or character action is layered with a thousand future meanings and significances. The day is not far off when, as in Shakespeare or The Bible, a reference to everything in existence will be found in The Simpsons.
You don’t need me to remind you of this. In fact, I didn’t need to remind myself. I just did it because the TV told me to, and it’s hard not to listen because it spent so much time raising me. What I do need to remind you is that The Simpsons is still good and should not be cancelled. Whenever anyone involved in the show is asked whether they should call it an epoch – an inevitable question after 25 years on the air – they invariably defer to what is most unprecedented and unrepeatable about The Simpsons.
The show’s original contract with Fox contains a clause stipulating that the network cannot interfere in its production. This clause still holds today. To end the series would be to forsake a kind of creative freedom not seen before nor possible since in network television, or any other corporate media for that matter. Of course, if The Simpsons wasn’t doing anything valuable with their autonomy, then it shouldn’t be kept on the air just to make a point. But I would argue, fervently, that it is. Perhaps not as well as it once did, or as consistently, but cromulently enough.
In recent years, the abuse The Simpsons receives at the hands of the internet (eh?) has become so ritualised that the show even has a running gag about it (which is reason enough to keep the series on the air, if you ask me). I was probably in their camp a couple of years ago. But when I think about, the time I disliked the series most was when I was denied a steady flow of new episodes by Rupert Murdoch restricting UK premiere rights to channels I didn’t have (the Sith Lord giveth and the Sith Lord taketh away).
Since I moved to the US, I get daily back-to-back episodes of The Simpsons on my local station which are all from 2010 onwards and shown on a continuous loop. For some time now, this is what The Simpsons has been to me. Rather than experiencing melancholia for the show’s golden age, my appreciation and enthusiasm for the series has been renewed and revitalised. The writing remains acerbic, the satire of contemporary folly is as punchy and provocative as that of the first Bush administration, and contrary to popular belief there is as much feeling for the characters as ever.
Rupert Murdoch will no doubt need all 552 episodes of The Simpsons as evidence in his defence when he is eventually tried by The Hague but I only need one to defend the series against charges of loitering that may come its way. ‘Steal This Episode’ is the ninth episode of the 25th season of The Simpsons and aired this January. It is one of the most recent episodes and one of the overall best. It contains a nuanced and insightful commentary on the moral contradictions and hypocrisies of media piracy, spot-on critiques of Hollywood’s recent output (‘I like that James Bond is ugly now’), and pinpoint social observation (I have lived the Raiders’ fan with the baby at the 9pm screening!). It has an emotional centre and yet draws intelligent laughter from what we know of the characters and what is true of life. They’ll never stop The Simpsons.