Earlier this evening I watched a first season episode of The Simpsons (and as an aside, I'd like to thank Fox primetime for bringing me the best that 1990 had to offer). It was "Krusty Gets Busted," the episode that introduced Sideshow Bob. It wasn't the greatest Simpsons ever - the show had yet to find its tone at that point and the actors hadn't all settled into their characters - but it was smartly paced, funny and engaging. It was also one of the first episodes to engage in signature Simpsons dialogue, with its constant misdirection and reversal of viewers' expectations. Best of all, it was a sheer pleasure to watch the show and remember a better time, before the collapse of the world's economy, when The Simpsons didn't suck.
But it's possible that I may be wrong in my assessment of The Simpsons: that the last eleven years or so haven't been awful television - just mediocre television. It only looks bad in comparison with the first eight or so seasons, when the staff churned out one memorable episode after another. At this point in the show's history, the mediocre has definitely overwhelmed the exceptional, so in the spirit of Ayn Rand I propose that the exceptional be punished and scourged until it sinks into the pit of mediocrity, where seasons 9-20 are stewing. Is that not in the spirit of Ayn Rand? No? Well fuck Ayn Rand. This is my blog. The early episodes of the Simpsons should all be remade with the following rules in mind:
1) The early episodes packed gag after gag into an extraordinarily compact narrative. Well, nuts to that. Jokes should be drawn out, usually past the point of funninesss, but not to the point at which the joke takes on a new life through repetition. It is essential that all gags go on just long enough to hit that unfunny sweet spot.
2) Episodes not about Homer's wacky antics and his crazy new job should be retooled so that they are about Homer's wacky antics and his crazy new job.
3) Homer must whine, snivel and act like a gigantic baby in the hope that this repulsive behaviour will draw laughs from total morons.
4) In the early episodes, no matter how crazy or convoluted the story got, the plot was always driven by and unfolded from the characters. This formula should be reversed so that the characters are pulled along by the plot, as if tied to the back of an out-of-control wagon. If a scene requires that Bart should somehow become a mob enforcer with goons at his back, then so be it.
5) Side characters must have staggeringly uninteresting episodes all to themselves.
6) References to classic cinema must be replaced by references to bad '70s television.
7) Celebrity appearances must be so lame that you feel embarrassed for the celebrities. Whenever possible, have a character introduce the celebrity by saying, "Wow, [celebrity], what are you doing in Springfield?"
8) In the early episodes of The Simpsons, you could tell that the writers were having a great time, that they were creating something fresh and new. That sense of energy and joy must be killed at once. A creeping cynicism must be poured in to replace lost joy.
9) Marge must cease being an interesting and independent character. Instead, her job is to react to Homer. When not reacting to Homer's shenanigans, just make her do and say stuff. It doesn't really matter.
10) Bore us.
Those are just ten simple rules. I'm sure there are many more. Suggestions?
Random bit o' trivia: In "Krusty Gets Busted," the tag on Krusty's prison uniform is 'A113'. A113 is an inside joke used by some of the animators who graduated from the California Institute of the Arts - apparently it was the classroom number. A113 shows up in everything Brad Bird has ever directed and (I believe) every Pixar feature length film. It most recently appeared in Wall-E as the code for Auto's secret directive. It also ends up being Sideshow Bob's prison number in a season episode.