I was thrilled to get this fifteenth season of The Simpsons by mistake because it would give me an opportunity to discuss the downward trajectory of the series. Previous reviews of The Simpsons that I’ve seen on our site as well as others seem to come from Simpsons loyalists, who defend the series more now in its 24th season than they did when the show was new and actually innovative. I grew up on The Simpsons, sneaking around to watch episodes after school because my mother didn’t allow me or my brother to watch the series. Back then, the show was fresh and complicated, with narratives that would move and unfold in wonderfully unpredictable ways. Yes, it was mature and gratuitously violent, and I completely understand why my mother had a problem with us watching it, but there’s no denying what those early seasons were capable of in terms of brilliant storytelling and satire.
I’m also the first to admit that The Simpsons stayed very good for a long time; much longer than the average series. By pure coincidence, I started watching the series from the beginning a few months ago and had just finished season 15 when this review copy came in the mail. I was curious to see exactly where the breaking point was; where the show’s noticeable downfall officially occurred. It’s not quite that simple. Somewhere around season 12, the number of weak episodes per season began to outweigh the number of good episodes. By season 15, most of the episodes are on the weaker side. Stories in this season include Marge writing a cheesy romance novel, Milhouse moving away to capital city, and Marge’s ex-boyfriend Artie Ziff turning up again; this time living in the Simpson’s attic. These episodes are of a fairly low quality and sadly have become the average for the series by season 15.
Season 15 also contains one of the worst episodes I’ve seen of the series, where the Springfield residents grow to despise anything childish, and Marge has to win everyone over. It’s a bizarre storyline that makes very little sense in a show that is known for pushing the boundaries of realism. Not every episode here is bad. The annual treehouse of horror special for this season is among my favorites; featuring a story where Homer becomes the new grim reaper. Sure, Family Guy did a similar story some years earlier, but obviously both series are guilty of borrowing from the other. Another strong episode is one where Homer builds a fighting robot for Bart to compete with. Not having the technical knowhow to build a functional robot, Homer instead builds a robot shell which he can operate from the inside. There’s a lot of room for physical comedy in the episode while it also serves to develop the characters in an interesting way. It’s everything The Simpsons should be, but episodes like that have become an endangered species.
I feel pressed to push on with season 16 and either get caught up or just go until I can’t take it anymore. I think it’s important when criticizing the series to those who seem unwaveringly loyal to this particular sinking ship to know what I’m talking about.
Special Features audio commentary on every episode, several behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and some commercials.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox on December 4.