字幕表 動画を再生する 英語字幕をプリント There is a show that airs every night on the Fox network from around 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. And it's an animated series about a family of five: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. And it's not an exceptionally entertaining show, in fact it's downright mediocre. But what's so unusual about it is that the show goes by the name The Simpsons. And the reason this is so strange is that it bears a striking resemblance to another animated TV series from the early 90s, one also called The Simpsons, which many people, myself included, consider the greatest piece of television of the 20th century. But make no mistake; no matter how similar these two appear, no matter what surface level resemblances exist, these are not the same show. And this, friends, is the story of how one became the other. How one of the best and most influential TV shows of all time became just another sitcom. This is The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened. So, to keep this outside the realms of my own subjective opinion, we're going to chart The Simpsons' decline off the IMDb user review data, collected from nearly 300,000 individual episode reviews aggregated over the show's 28 seasons, which looks like this: Yikes. And so the conversation is, how did we get from the Simpsonsmania of the 90s, to present-day, where the show is now widely referred to as "Zombie Simpsons?" And to understand this, as well as the gravity of its decline, we need to first go back to the series' origins. TV of the 80s was a very different place than what we have today. While the first half of the decade was dominated by soaps like Dallas and Dynasty, in its later half we would see the return and rise of the TV family sitcom, with shows like Diff'rent Strokes, Alf and Family Ties dominating primetime TV slots. Each of these big shows centered around instilling the virtues of the American family unit, with smart-aleck but well-meaning kids, and wise and loving parents. The families being shown on TV were safe and comfortable depictions of the staunchly middle-upper class, rich enough to be aspirational, while not so wealthy that they become unrelatable. Which was fine as long as you were never in the mood for anything more than good, wholesome fun, but it was also TV at its softest and most docile. There's a sugary blandness to the television of this period. Or, as Matt Groening referred to it, the "zombification of the American family." And it seemed like this was the way family sitcom was going to stay, right up until the last dying breath of the 80s, when, on December 14th 1989, two weeks before the closing of the decade, the Fox Network aired the first episode of The Simpsons, and in doing so completely transformed television as we know it. It was dark, it was satirical and it was hilarious. Rather than embrace the virtues of the American family like every other show of that time, The Simpsons seem to be actively mocking them. It's a little hard to imagine, given the modern media landscape, but back then The Simpsons were seen as an expression of blatant anti-authority. Disruptive entertainment that challenged every convention of primetime TV that had built up over the forty years of its existence. The Simpsons was counterculture, shining a spotlight and satirizing every ugly wart of American society that so many others willingly ignored. Bullying, depression, the struggle of the lower-middle class, nothing was off-limits and everything was game. And The Simpsons took gleeful joy in exposing it all. Such disregard for what, at the time, were seen as modern American values quickly drew the ire of many parental and watchdog groups, decrying The Simpsons as abashedly un-American, even drawing the disdain of former United States president George Bush Senior. "...make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons!" [crowd cheering] Of course, the disdain of such massive authority figures only fueled the flames of The Simpsons' countercultural blaze, and audiences across the world fell in love with the distinctly dysfunctional family. If you were born after 1990, you probably don't remember how big Simpsonsmania actually was, but for a time, The Simpsons was easily the biggest fictional property in all of media, with even throwaway pieces of Simpsons merchandise turning into their own miniature cultural touchstones, like The Simpsons arcade game, a staple of 90s Arcades across the world, or Bart Simpson's Guide to Life, which to this day is still one of my favorite books I've ever read. The Simpsons even had hit songs, like the infamous "Do the Bartman." ♫ ...chain reaction ♫ ♫ If you can do the Bart you're bad like Michael Jackson ♫ ♫ Everybody if you can, do the Bartman ♫ ♫ Shake your body, turn it round... ♫ ♫ Check it out! ♫ And so Simpsonsmania blazed on, but what truly made the show special was three core principles, each of which could be represented by one of the show's three creators. The first of which was Matt Groening. Groening was the one who conceived the initial premise for The Simpsons. He first came to prominence with his uniquely warped counterculture comic, Life in Hell, and if you go back and read this comic now, it's incredible how much of early Simpsons' rebellious spirit exists in it. And it's this disdain for authority and convention that gave classic Simpsons the edge it had. The second major creative force behind the show was Sam Simon, a veteran writer of TV sitcoms like Taxi and Cheers, Simon was the person who took Groening's rebellious concept and gave it form, turning it into an actual TV show. He was the one who hired and led the original writing team, and instilled the idea that the comedy of the show should always be grounded in its characters, and not just be a string of cartoonish gags. Which gave the characters a real weight and honesty, while also keeping the show consistently hilarious. The third and final major contributor to The Simpsons was a little more hands-off than Simon and Groening, but arguably just important. And that was its producer, James L. Brooks, who not only was the one pushing for the series to get made in the first place, but also largely credited as being the person to bring a heart to The Simpsons. While not on the actual writing staff, he'd often come to the yearly story retreats, and was always keen to encourage ideas that were more emotionally resonant than they were satirical or comedic, often pushing episodes that featured Lisa or Marge as the protagonist, and is even credited at penning the beautifully bittersweet moment from the episode Lisa's Substitute, where Mr. Bergstrom hands Lisa a note that simply reads, "You are Lisa Simpson." before disappearing from her life forever. Rebellious satire, comedy grounded in character, and heart. These men and their ideals were at the core of The Simpsons, something that is plainly obvious by the fact that you can still see their names listed at the start of every episode. Of course that's to say nothing of the actual writing staff, who were also heavily involved in the development. John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Conan O'Brien, David M. Stern, these and many others were the exceptionally talented writers that made up the early staff of The Simpsons. And while Groening, Simon, and Brooks oversaw the show's creation, these were the people that crafted each and every episode. One thing that becomes abundantly clear after going through enough old interviews with these guys is the incredible amount of work that went into each and every script. A team of roughly twelve writers would work multiple long eleven-hour days on a single episode, and it's a little hard to imagine now, given how seamlessly the comedy in classic Simpsons flows, but I think once you start to break down the way these jokes work, the effort behind them becomes abundantly clear. Let's take one of my favorite moments from one of my favorite episodes, Bart Sells His Soul, in which Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for five dollars, and after a run of bad luck and a rather horrifying existential nightmare, he realizes what a mistake he's made and journeys out late into the night in order to find Milhouse, and reclaim his lost soul. And then this happens: "Well finally, a little luck!" [evil laughter] It's a brilliant, darkly hilarious piece of comedy, timed, paced, and delivered to near perfection. But what's interesting is what happens when you break down the mechanics of how this joke works. Mainly by recognizing that this is not one singular joke, but a combination of smaller ones. It starts with Bart's bike being run over by the street sweeper. Second, it turns out that all the street sweeper actually did was clean the bike. Third, no, it's actually been destroyed. Fourth, the reveal that this was actually an act of malice by some psychotic nameless public servant. And finally, the street sweeper plunging down the stairwell. That's five jokes in fifteen seconds. And I get that by breaking them down like this, I'm robbing them of some of their magic, but I think it's important to understand the underlying structure. And that is how each little piece of comedy builds on and expands on the one that came before it, crescendoing in the beautifully absurd and nearly surreal punchline. And it's a perfect example of the brilliant layered comedy of the jokes of classic Simpsons. These are jokes that, according to writers of The Simpsons from the time, would go through roughly thirty to forty drafts of rewrites, which I think is genuinely evident from their makeup. They're simply too layered and too intricate to be the product of one single writing pass. And this is also a style of comedy that was completely distinct to everything else at the time. Sitcoms of the late 80s and early 90s were ruled by the laughter track, which had been a staple of American sitcoms since the 1950s. Originally provided by a live studio audience, but now it was just fake canned laughter, used as an artificial way to prop up lazy one-liners and unimaginative quips. The problem with using laughter tracks is that they only allow for jokes to be structured in a very particular way, with long lead ins and big punchlines. But there is also a forced quality to it too, as it takes the onus away from the audience and tells us when to react. And if a joke is genuinely funny, then surely we don't need it to be pointed out to us. And if you want to see some proof of this, just check out what an existential nightmare the Big Bang Theory turns into when the laughter track is removed. "Sorry I'm late." "What happened?" "Nothing. I just really didn't wanna come." [long, uncomfortable silence] [shudders] Not only is there not a laughter track in The Simpsons, there straight up could not be one. The pace, rhythm, and subtlety of the jokes didn't allow for it. Take our previous street sweeper gag. The way the joke is interconnected and paced means there's no space for canned laughter. The only place you could put it would be right at the end, and by doing so, you would ruin these darkly surreal atmosphere the joke establishes. And so in disregarding the biggest crutch of TV sitcoms of that era, The Simpsons created a different style of comedy to anything else at the time. One that was consistently creative, surprising and hilarious. And yet, despite how exceptionally the show delivered its comedy, it never did so at the expense of its characters. I think the key to what makes these characters so distinct and memorable is that each one operates off a very specific set of conflicting beliefs and motivations. Take Homer, for example. He's an emotional man, equally prone to bouts of both intense joy and excitement, as well as fits of blinding rage. He's unintelligent and slow witted, but not just that. He was also gluttonous and extremely lazy. And this aspect of his character would often prove more detrimental to him than his low intelligence. He was also an optimist, often choosing to ignore problems until they became unavoidable, but also just kind of wanted to be left alone. To go about his life his own way, and enjoy the little pleasures of it on his own terms. And lastly, he really, really cares about his family. These are the core traits that define Homer Simpson. These are the motivations and beliefs that determine each action he takes, and in any given scene, you can see one or more of them pulling him in different directions. In other words, there was a consistent internal logic to Homer. No matter how outlandish this situation he was in, Homer could always be expected to act like Homer. And so when comedy did occur, you weren't just laughing because something goofy was happening, you were doing so because a character you were intimately familiar with had done something that made sense to them and only them. The comedy of Homer's character comes from his failings causing him to misinterpret the world around him, and suffer because of it. This is the kind of character writing that was dense throughout every episode of The Simpsons. But it's only when this combined with the show's expertly crafted narratives that the series' true strength becomes apparent. Even when the show ventured into its more surreal territory, which it often did, there was always the feeling that each story had something to say. From accepting one's own mortality, to corruption in politics, and even the nature of the human soul. And yet It did all this with a sincerity that never felt patronizing. And so The Simpsons delivered classic episode after classic episode, like the touching, poignant Lisa on Ice, the genius season-spanning cliffhanger Who Shot Mr. Burns, and the irreverent, hilarious Last Exit to Springfield. These, and so many others, are some of the finest pieces of television ever crafted, and cemented The Simpsons not only as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but as a bonafide worldwide cultural phenomenon. The Simpsons, it seemed, was unstoppable. And then... Season eight happened. The eighth season of The Simpsons is... odd. It's still home to a lot of classic stories, in particular the episode Homer's Enemy, which is the all-time highest rated episode of the entire show. But when you look at this season closely, things were beginning to change in subtle, but meaningful ways. The rock-solid narrative commentaries of the earlier seasons were gradually giving way to stories that were growing increasingly more nonsensical. Homer became a heavyweight boxer, Bart started working at a burlesque club, Marge got involved with both the Italian mob and Japanese yakuza, and the family hired a magical British nanny. And I like all these episodes, but what they represent is the start of a pivot away from satire straight into the absurd, a pivot that's full significance would only truly come to light a season later, with the infamous episode The Principal and the Pauper. It's an episode largely reviled by the hardcore Simpsons fanbase, and was originally written about by Simpsons authority Charlie Sweatpants in one of his many fantastic blog posts about the show. Like a lot of seasons eight to ten, the episode itself isn't particularly bad, and there's even some great jokes in there. But the problem comes from how it shatters the fictional integrity of one of the show's most beloved characters: Principal Seymour Skinner. Skinner, like so many other of the supporting cast of The Simpsons, is a geniusly written character. Designed as the direct antithesis to Bart, Skinner is a rigidly authoritarian abider of rules, and a strict believer in hierarchy and order, used to hilarious effect in the episode The Boy Who Knew Too Much. But at the center of Skinner's character, and what made him this way, is his upbringing by his tyrannically oppressive razor-toned mother Agnes, and the pair were a hilarious commentary on what overly authoritative parenting could do to a person. "I owe everything I have to my mother's watchful eye," "and swift hand..." "Hm. There's mother now." [crow cawing] "Watching me." "Well they have a right to be here! It's school business! I-" "Mother, that sailor suit doesn't fit anymore!" "Hrmm. I think we should go." It's dark, comedic Simpsons brilliance, emblematic of how Simpsons of the 90s handled its characters. And in 22 short minutes, The Principal and the Pauper undoes all that. The entire episode is based on the premise that the upbringing that made Principal Skinner who he is and is so integral to his character... never actually happened. Instead, the character we thought was Seymour Skinner is actually Armin Tamzarian, a street punk from Capital City who switched identities with his M.I.A. Officer after returning from the Vietnam war. It's not the first time The Simpsons delved into absurdist storytelling, various episodes from even the earliest seasons would occasionally dabble in these kind of immersion-shattering narratives, but throughout them we could always rely on the characters to act like the characters. But now this episode was telling us that a character who's been built up carefully for eight years isn't real and never was. all for the sake of a cheap gag narrative that ultimately goes nowhere and says nothing. It felt... wrong. A little perverse, even. And if this perversion had remained just in this one episode, it wouldn't have been that big a deal, but unfortunately this was just a prelude of what was to come. Slowly, as The Simpsons crept along, little pieces of it would start falling away and disappear. The narratives were becoming less poignant, the characters less consistent, and a lot of the jokes were starting to land with the laziness of the most average of sitcoms. Something was changing for the primetime series.