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Saving The Simpsons: 5 Steps To Fix Animation's First Family

The Simpsons isn't as good as it used to be. This is an almost universally accepted fact. The debate is when exactly the decline set in, and exactly how bad it has gotten. Some say the show is unwatchable now, while others think it's merely not as good as it was. Either way, the consensus seems to be that the first decade or so of the show is untouchable. I tend to fall closer to the latter camp- most episodes still have their moments and it's always good to see the characters I love. That's probably why that when the UK finally got access to Disney Plus, and therefore the entire run of The Simpsons, I first turned not to the classic era, but decided to check out some of the newer episodes I have missed.

In doing so, I began to realise some of the issues that were bothering me about the newer episodes. And I began to ask myself a question that I haven't really heard asked before. Can it be fixed? Could it ever be as good as it once was? Of course, nobody at Fox or Disney really thinks the show needs fixing- they seem to be happy with the show's performance and there's no sign of it ending anytime soon. If the money keeps coming in, why would it? And even if they were looking for tips, the last person they'd ask is Some Guy On The Internet. So it's an entirely hypothetical question but: how would you save The Simpsons?  I've racked my brain and come up with some ideas. See what you think!

Bring In Fresh Blood

The Simpsons has been on the air for more than 30 years. Which means that the show's creators are three decades older, because that's how time works. Naturally, there's been a lot of turnover among the writers in that time, but some have been there since the beginning, and several others have been there for around 20 years. Even though new writers have come and gone over the years, the people driving the show forward have stayed mainly the same for a long time.

Getting older doesn't make you less funny. But there's definitely a danger that doing the same thing for a long time breeds a certain complacency. When it was first on air, The Simpsons was the enfant terrible of TV. It was controversial and stuck two fingers up to the establishment. Now, due to its success, it's part of that establishment.

The show's key creative team made the series the cultural juggernaut it is, and deserve a massive amount of respect for that. I'm not saying it's time for them to go. But the series feels like it's in dire need of an injection of fresh blood. New voices and new perspectives. There are whole generations who grew up on the Simpsons and many of them are now are talented writers in their own right. The combination of fresh talent and the established team could make for a winning combination and put the show in good hands for the future. On the odd occasion, the show has brought on guest writers to pen an episode- such as Ricky Gervais and Seth Rogen. Doing it more often, with a variety of writers would also be a great way of keeping things fresh.

A definite highlight of more recent years has been inviting outside filmmakers and animators to direct a Couch Gag. The likes of Bill PlymptonGuillermo del Toro,  Sylvain Chomet (of Bellvous Rendezvous fame) and even Banksy have contributed, alongside independent animators. What if a similar approach was taken to the series itself?

Go Back To Basics

How the hell can you keep coming up with fresh plots for three decades? You have to hand it to them, it's an impressive feat by any standards. Trying to avoid repeating themselves must be challenging- and you'd need an Encyclopedic knowledge of the show to remember every plot they've ever done. Arguably the series has in more recent seasons tended to put too much emphasis on things such as big name guest voices and gimmicky episodes such as The LEGO episode or The Family Guy crossover. While the series has always made the most of its being animated, it always maintained a certain sense of reality within the show's world. These days, it's not unusual for things that would have traditionally appeared only in a Treehouse of Horror or other fantasy or dream episodes have crept into the show itself. One episode revealed that Homer had repeatedly died and been replaced with a clone back-up that was produced by Professor Frink. I was awaiting the reveal at the end that it was a dream, or someone telling a story. But it never came. So I guess that's canon now?  The series has always worked best when it keeps one foot in the real world. It's the characters that make the series so special, so that should be where the focus remains, and less on the crazy plots.

Bring Back The Heart

Years ago, I remember having a 'Simpsons versus  Family Guy' conversation with a friend of mine. I argued that the Simpsons was better because there was more to it than just the comedy. Whilst it's one of the funniest, most quotable shows of all time, The Simpsons also had a real affection for its central characters. They might fight, argue and drive each other up the wall, but you really do believe that the family really do love each other. You know- just like real families. Every now and again, the classic series would catch you off guard with a genuinely sweet, 'awww' moment.  This seems to have become much less common in the later parts of the series. There's a certain mean-spiritedness that seems to have crept into much of the humour over time, that was never there before. It's been part of Seth MacFarlane's creations since the start, but The Simpsons was never like that originally. Simpsons parodies used to be more affectionate- being lampooned by them would have been something of an honour. Not so much today, when they have become much more savage. It's high time to go back to the kinder, gentler Simpsons of old.

Read The Room

The controversy over the casting of Apu, and the subsequent decision by Hank Azaria to step down from voicing the character has drawn attention to the fact that the series has in some ways fallen behind the times in terms of changing attitudes. The Simpsons once drew the ire of conservative groups, who saw it as a negative influence. Yet in the 21st century, conservatives jumped to the show's defence, seeing it as another attempt to 'stifle free speech'.

And Apu is just one character that could be seen as controversial by today's standards. Depictions of Asians are extremely questionable throughout, and the gender politics don't always exactly stand up to modern scrutiny.

The show's makers probably didn't help matters by handling the controversy extremely badly at first, including a tone-deaf reference in the show itself. The show's creators come from a generation who think you should be able to joke about anything. Comedians of this generation (hello Jerry Seinfeld)  are often heard despairing of younger generations, saying "you can't joke about anything any more", and this sort of attitude seems to be seeping into the show. As they are now getting closer in age to Grandpa Simpson than Homer, many of the jokes are increasingly beginning to resemble the 'Old Man Yells at Cloud' meme.

Of course, The Simpsons has always made fun of everybody. They'd make fun of Democrats just as they would Republicans. But I feel like the series of old never really 'punched down'- but regrettably, that no longer seems to be the case. I don't think that they intend any harm- they just want to write jokes. But when someone tells you that what you've written may cause somebody pain, you should listen. Azaria set a strong example here, that the whole series would do well to follow. You can't change the past, but you can promise to do better going forward.

If All Else Fails... Reboot!

AKA The nuclear option. A controversial idea, I know- but hear me out. What if the generation of creators raised on The Simpsons got a chance to remake the series for the modern audience? Many of today's most talented creators, like Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch know The Simpsons inside out. Imagine what they could bring to a fresh take on the series. Some of the original writers could certainly contribute- but it would be ideally lead by a new team, hopefully creating something that would work for fans both new and old, like the DuckTales reboot. Of course, many would cry sacrilege, and there would be those who would refuse to watch in principal. But the good thing about reboots is that even if they fail, the original remains untouched. It wouldn't take anything away from the earlier incarnation, but it would have the potential to be something exciting and new.

So there we have it- my suggestions for how you could save The Simpsons (if it was up to me, which obviously it isn't). If it was up to you, what would you do? Or do you think it's just time for the series to end? Or maybe you think it's all good and nothing needs fixing? Let us know in the comments!