Thursday, 3 March 2016

The Simpsons: season 5

Most fans will put the turning point a fair bit later, but in my opinion Season 5 was the beginning of the end for The Simpsons. Decades later, of course it had far further to fall, but in my opinion, this was where things started to get lazy, repetitive and far less adventurous. The characters are by now very well-established, with only the likes of one-note Cletus and the mute monobrow baby introduced into the cast at this stage.

The series begins strongly, but that seems to me largely because of holdovers and creative continuances from Season 4. Cape Feare’ in particular is a favourite episode, and while it begins the annoying trend of ‘Don’t you remember this time that ought to have made Homer incredibly famous?’, there are great moments in ‘Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.’ ‘Rosebud’ also reminds the viewer that by this stage, Mr. Burns is actually one of the most developed of the show’s characters, ‘Homer and Apu’ fleshes out a character who could so easily have been an embarrassment for the writers and this is in fact probably a golden era for Bart, what with insisting on an elephant, getting briefly famous, becoming a billionaire’s heir and getting Skinner fired and having a dilemma over testifying in court or keeping his truancy secret.

Some set-ups seem repetitive. There’s been enough wooing of Marge and her sisters, so it’s time for her mother to get an episode. Homer’s gossiping estranges Marge yet again in a rushed and very superficial season finale – oh, and is also tempted by another woman once again, only to remember that his marriage is much more important.

I’m not saying this isn’t a strong season. It has a lot of classic episodes and was a show really hitting its stride. But for me, the signs of the well-known later decline are in place. This is also the stage where it feels extremely hard to continue to look at The Simpsons as the average American dysfunctional family, which was after all the show’s hook – honest pessimism with a heart of gold underneath it, as opposed to idealisation. They are in many ways average, sure, but at this stage, both father and son have been household names, even if only briefly, Lisa has released a toy line and Homer has gone to space. Yes, at every stage the idea is that it’s the loveable everyday family getting into these strange situations, but at a certain point, they’re just no longer going to be credible as loveable and everyday.

There’s still a long way to go before The Simpsons stops being fun to watch, and there are plenty of great episodes still to come. But the show has lost its fresh feeling. Luckily, by this stage it is very well-established as a true classic and an American institution. But in some ways I wish they’d taken the Fawlty Towers route rather than pushing it until inevitably the shark is jumped.