a) A family of five who lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield, USA
b) The longest-running American sitcom and longest-running American animated program in television history
c) The defining television show of my generation, and a strong contender for the most culturally relevant television program ever
d) A good 8-10 years past its “best before” date
e) All of the above
I know, I know, complaining about the decline in The Simpsons’ quality in recent times is as clichéd as complaining about the weather. After all, though far less consistent than it used to be, the show is still funny. Hell, up until NBC’s Thursday night resurgence, a case could have been made for The Simpsons still being one of the best comedies on television.
The problem, of course, is that it used to be so much more. Like all truly great comedies, The Simpsons was a show about its characters, not its jokes. The brick wall that The Simpsons has run up against in the 00’s is that as the show starts its nineteenth season, there’s really nowhere left to take its characters. Every facet of the family’s personalities has been exploited for every possible plot scenario, leaving the show to rely on flashy guest stars and ripped-from-the-headlines conflicts (Springfield gets gay marriage!) to keep things fresh. And it just ain’t working like it used to.
That there’s actually a Simpsons movie in theatres right now ranks up there with the upcoming fourth Indiana Jones film on the “Holy crap, this is actually finally really happening!” scale. Gossiped about for years and then in production for almost as long, The Simpsons Movie may be arriving in the show’s twilight years but that hasn’t stopped fans from lining up in anticipation; the film’s $72 million at the box office this weekend says it all. So the question is: could the producers and writers of The Simpsons give fans a movie that overcomes the franchise’s present-day shortcomings?
The short answer is no. The Simpsons Movie falls victim to the same redundancies that its small-screen counterpart suffers from. Every plot point in the film is an extension of something that we’ve already seen before. Bart coming to see Flanders as a preferable father figure than Homer? Check. Lisa falling for a boy who shares her interest in environmentalism? Check. Homer doing something so completely stupid that it leads to separation from Marge and the family? Check. There’s absolutely nothing new here because there’s literally nothing that The Simpsons haven’t done.
But somehow, The Simpsons Movie works and works quite well in spite of this. Smartly, as if they realized they had nowhere new to go plot-wise, the Simpsons’ creative team uses the sense of scale that the big screen provides them and ramps everything up to 11. With a louder soundtrack, better visuals and a chance to draft a 90-minute plot, they succeed in actually making you believe that THIS time that Marge leaves Homer is the most serious one ever, that Bart’s pull towards Flanders is SERIOUS this time, that Lisa…well, okay, Lisa’s storyline in the film is only marginally better-developed than Maggie’s. But still, the creative team makes you believe, on some level, that The Simpsons Movie actually means something.
The movie also feels less like seasons 10-18 of the Simpsons and more like seasons 3-9 because it relies on its past strengths. Celebrity guest stars are kept to a bare minimum, and the movie brings in the always-reliable Albert Brooks to play its villain. The script provides little moments for the majority of supporting characters in the Springfield, but by-and-large it’s America’s favourite family that are the focus here.
And of course, it’s really funny. Maybe not “best episode of the Simpsons ever” funny, but more than funny enough to justify its existence. In fact, was this to be the final act for our beloved Simpsons universe, it would have been a decent note to bow out on. Too bad that after a surprisingly poignant big-screen adventure, there’s still lots of pointless small-screen ones awaiting the Simpson family.
Watch: The Simpsons Movie – trailer