23
Jul
14

Debunking the Zombie Simpsons Apologists (Part 1)

By Calvin

[You can read Part 2 here.]

One of the reasons I enjoy visiting Dead Homer Society at least once a week is reading the articulate breakdowns and critiques of latter-day Simpsons episodes, from the show’s desperate efforts to be relevant by bringing in celebrities and making clumsy pop culture references, to the poor and disjointed writing, lame new characters, odd character development, bad animation, and lack of actual, you know, jokes. As a longtime Simpsons fan who reveres its glory years, it was devastating to find myself joining the ranks of its fans-turned-critics and agreeing that it should have ended years ago.

Yet I’m intrigued by fans of Zombie Simpsons, who lack an equivalent website like DHS but pop up in nearly every online discussion to defend the show. Sure, it’s difficult to engage with people who dismiss your arguments with, “Well, I still like it,” but it’s gotten annoying to see them trot out the same arguments and half-hearted defenses of Zombie Simpsons that can easily be debunked.

For the record, I favor ending Zombie Simpsons with a proper sendoff, as the writers on Futurama were able to do when that show was canceled. I believe it’s ridiculous to keep defending a bad show with vigor that these “fans” would never give to any other show, as if Zombie Simpsons is more sacred than the Catholic Church or Prophet Muhammad.

Here are my responses to some of the most common (and silly) defenses of the show. In keeping with the theme of this website, I refer to latter-day Simpsons (post-season 9 episodes) as Zombie Simpsons.

Even at its worst, (Zombie) Simpsons is still better than most crap on television

I still hear this claim from the most devoted fans, even though they typically preface it with a caveat like, “I don’t rush home and watch it like I once did” or “I watch it On Demand when I have the time.” Can you imagine Simpsons fans saying this when the show was in its prime? “I didn’t have time to watch ‘Lisa’s Pony,’ but I recorded it and will see it later this week if I have the time.”

The problem with making this claim, especially in 2014, is that The Simpsons is no longer the best show on TV. Heck, it’s not even the best show on Sunday.

You’ve probably read those articles about how we’ve entered the golden age of television, when cable and broadcast networks are attracting the best and brightest writers, actors and directors, and TV shows are surpassing movies in the quality of their acting and writing. Famous Hollywood directors and actors are jumping on the bandwagon and forgoing movies in favor of television (and being rewarded for it).

On Sunday nights, Americans have the option of tuning in to a range of popular, critically acclaimed shows such as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Detective, Veep, The Walking Dead, Silicon Valley, Boardwalk Empire, Cosmos, True Blood, British imports like Sherlock and Downton Abbey, and many other shows I’m forgetting. Even the other shows on the Fox’s Sunday cartoon block like Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are earning critical and fan acclaim. In contrast, I can hardly find an article about Zombie Simpsons’ latest ratings gimmick without a variant of the “It’s not as good as it used to be” line.

The next day, these shows become the hot topic of conversation with family, friends and co-workers. Yet I can’t remember the last time I discussed the latest Simpsons episode with coworkers and friends – which would have been inconceivable to me 15 years ago.

Perhaps if you live in a country with state-run television that relies on U.S. imports to fill the schedule, than Zombie Simpsons may still be better than 99 percent of everything else. Still, don’t most people watch everything online anyway?

Shut up, Comic Book Guy. The Simpsons owe you nothing. If anything, you owe them for all that free entertainment they gave you.

My, what a timely Simpsons reference dating all the way back to … 1997, in season eight. Could you not think of any line from season 20-something that delivers an equally clever jab?

Regarding your overall point, I agree that I owe The Simpsons a lot for the years of entertainment it provided to me. This is why, 20 years after my first viewing, I remain an outspoken fan of those classic seasons, and why I engage with fellow fans, including those of you who continue to convince me that its inferior seasons are somehow worthy. Heck, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t care about it.

You can’t end The Simpsons. It’s a popular, critically acclaimed show, and an American institution! People would lose their jobs!

Folks, are you familiar with how television works? All in the Family, M.A.S.H., Seinfeld, Cheers, I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show were TV royalty in their heyday. Guess what happened to them?

TV shows get canceled all the time for any number of reasons. There are websites dedicated to informing viewers when their favorite shows are canceled. Zombie Simpsons is no different.

I know the disappointment of seeing a favorite show get canceled. Freaks and Geeks, Carnivale, The Critic, Rome, Boomtown, Arrested Development, and Futurama are favorite shows of mine that were axed by heartless network executives. (Note how two of those shows were created by Simpsons alumni.)

I’m frustrated when my favorite shows get the chop but I adjust, as do the people behind these shows. Cancelation is not a career death sentence. Producers, writers and actors go on to do other things. Matt Groening & Co. are big boys (and big girls) with clout in the industry; they’ll be fine and may go on to create other great shows.

As I stated above, I would like Fox to give Zombie Simpsons advanced notice to end the show so that the writers could give it a proper sendoff, just as the writers of Futurama were able to do. Subsidizing a show with diminishing ratings for the benefit of a few vocal fans is not how TV should work (unless you’re a Communist or something).

But if I still haven’t convinced you, let’s imagine the alternate world in which The Simpsons ended its run after Season 8. What could have happened?

  • The Simpsons cements its status as the greatest show of all time and is admired for ending at the height of its popularity, while subsequent criticism from critics and fans (like me) never happens
  • Matt Groening goes on to create Futurama and several other TV shows that earn critical and audience acclaim
  • A Simpsons movie comes out every few years
  • Simpsons writers, voice actors and crewmembers get jobs at other sitcoms and cartoon shows, and drive the overall quality of those programs up (it’s worked out for Brad Bird and Greg Daniels)
  • Mike Scully doesn’t become a hated figure among fans
  • The Simpsons still gets a lucrative syndication deal where two to four classic episodes are aired back to back, five days a week, on Fox or on one of those cable channels like TBS or Cartoon Network
  • We don’t get to see Homer take 50+ new jobs as an acrobat, hair stylist, Super Bowl choreographer, Mexican wrestler, paparazzo, and grunge musician
  • Awful episodes like “Saddlesore Galactica,” “That ‘90s Show,” “Strong Arms of the Ma,” “Donnie Fatso,” “Large Marge,” and the episode where Homer gets raped by a panda never get made

The horror, the horror!

[Ed Note: Part 2 coming tomorrow!]


22 Responses to “Debunking the Zombie Simpsons Apologists (Part 1)”


  1. 1 Ben
    23 July 2014 at 5:43 pm

    All fair arguments. It’s to The Simosons testament that a show so good has fallen so far. It’s time to end.

  2. 2 Residents Fan
    23 July 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Interesting points- you’ve basically said, in a smarter and wittier fashion, what
    fans like me say whenever these cliches come up in online debate.

    Also, note that the “Simpsons is free entertainment!” argument doesn’t
    apply if you live in a country where you have to pay a TV licence fee (like Ireland, the UK or
    Sweden).

    And “the people would lose their jobs!” one, while more understandable in today’s rough
    times, doesn’t apply to the Simpsons- it’s not like Dan Castellaneta & co. would end up
    begging on the streets if ZS were axed.

    Having said that, and terrible, terrible as Zombie Simpsons is, I’d be lying, if I said I won’t feel a just little bit sad
    when the annoucement “Fox will no longer be making “The Simpsons” TV show anymore”
    one day comes up.

    It’ll be the end of an era in American TV, and while “The Simpsons” will be much better off no longer airing awful ZS episodes, it’ll still be kind of sad to see it end.

  3. 23 July 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I’m not sure I agree that giving Zombie Simpsons a chance for a proper sendoff is such a good idea. I think the movie demonstrated pretty clearly that increasing the spectacle is merely increasing the disappointment.

    Secondly, giving them a finale is giving them the opportunity to own the narrative. We’ve seen in the past how they use occasions like anniversaries and the like to present an image of “X years and still going strong” or as in the case of the 500th episode “500 episodes and shut up nerds”. A finale episode would inevitably be a full on charm offensive, an opportunity to utilise nostalgia, the emotion of it all ending and a large amount of media interest to once again rewrite history and pretend that it was all good. The thing is, any finale would necessarily conflate The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons, not to mention it would essentially be the murderer writing the victim’s eulogy.

    • 4 Calvin
      24 July 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Perhaps. My thought was that if Matt Groening and Co. had a definite end date to the show, they would have some incentive to step it up and really create a memorable episode that wraps the show up and gives some closure, cements its legacy and pays tribute to its long history. I can’t imagine that they would choose to half-ass the finale and go out with a sputter instead of a bang.

      • 24 July 2014 at 3:26 pm

        As I say, the movie was supposed to be an incentive to step things up too, but that ended up being just as big of a dud as anything else they’ve done. And it’s not a matter of effort, they pulled out all the stops for the movie, it’s just that the basic quality of talent in everything from storytelling to animation remained as putrid as ever. Only thing I could see them doing which could possibly make a finale worth it would be if they brought back a bunch of the guys from the early years to take over, but I doubt that would happen.

        • 6 Jack
          24 July 2014 at 4:41 pm

          For me, the movie actually WAS a big step up in quality. Though in real terms this just meant it was more Season 12 quality than Season 18 quality. But, eh, I still enjoyed it. Not great by any stretch, but I would have been satisfied with it as a conclusion if it came to that.

          This is where we’re at, people: the current Simpsons team could not create a finale as decent as **The Simpsons Movie**. Let that sink in.

          • 7 Sarah J
            24 July 2014 at 10:18 pm

            Agreed. The movie may not have been as good as the classics era, but it was still a hell of a lot better than Zombie Simpsons. Probably because the creators took more time on it, and knew they had to step things up. I think if the team were given some time to make a finale, it could actually be good.

  4. 8 Sarah J
    24 July 2014 at 12:38 am

    Man, don’t even get me started! One reason I love this website is that it’s helped me sort my thoughts on Zombie Simpsons. I’ve never been a good comedy critic, and eventually I began to realize that Zombie Simpsons wasn’t very good. Indeed, it was actually kind of terrible. So I’d say my opinion and people would accuse me of only saying that because I’m a snob, or because I’m holding the show up to the standards of the older episodes. That wasn’t true, but I couldn’t figure out how to explain why I thought the show was bad. Thanks to DHS, I have the tools to do that as well as explain comedy in general.

    I really hate the whole “It’s better than most stuff on TV right now!”. No it’s not. Honestly, if Zombie Simpsons wasn’t connected to The Simpsons at all, it wouldn’t have any fans and it wouldn’t have lasted very long. It’s just not a good show, period. People accuse critics of comparing it to the previous episodes, but really, most of us are just judging it by our normal standards and still deeming it terrible. I love The Legend of Korra, even though it’s not as good as the show it followed. If I judged it in comparison to Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s not a good show. But ATLA was something special, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many shows that could live up to it.

    I think a lot of people, especially the ones who say they “catch it when they can”, are in denial about the quality slippage. Not making time to watch a favorite show like you used to is a sign that you aren’t enjoying that show very much any more. You watch it out of obligation rather than enjoyment. You remember the show as it once was and still can’t bring yourself to admit that it might not be very good any more, so you keep watching even if you don’t look forward to it.

    Further proof that ZS isn’t very good? Find “best episodes” lists. Even the ones made by people who defend Zombie Simpsons will still be dominated by episodes made before season 12. Zombie Simpsons hasn’t managed to produce any classics or must-sees. Indeed, there aren’t even a lot of memorable moments in general. Even “fans” of ZS don’t seem to have many fond memories of the show.

    • 9 paulotf
      28 July 2014 at 2:33 pm

      “Thanks to DHS, I have the tools to do that as well as explain comedy in general.”
      I just want to bring that point up.

  5. 10 random anon
    24 July 2014 at 3:16 am

    The “Simpsons owe you nothing” line was so stupid and arrogant it still gets on my nerves 16 years later. The writers owe not only their paychecks but the existence of The Simpsons to the viewers, and yet here they are telling them “shut up, you can’t criticize us because we provide you with free entertainment”?

    Yeah, so how did it work out to ignore all criticism and have the attitude that viewers are OBLIGATED to support your show? Not too well, did it? Most of your viewers – who totally owe you BTW – tuned out, didn’t they?

    I wanna know who wrote that line. Seriously, it makes me so mad I’m ready to pin Zombie Simpsons on them entirely reason be damned.

    • 24 July 2014 at 8:41 am

      I just wish they’d take the “Simpsons owe you nothing” line to its logical conclusion, and stop making The Simpsons.

    • 12 Jack
      24 July 2014 at 8:48 am

      I think you’re misrepresenting what the original line really meant back in 1997. As early as season 5, The Simpsons was getting a lot of criticism from fans online, but at the time internet forums were niche enough that those criticisms really were as petty and nitpicky as many portrayed in the episode. I’ve seen archived alt.tv posts that complain that The Simpsons was going downhill because a pause was a bit too long, or a joke was marginally over-explained. “When Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes that same rib twice in succession yet he produces two clearly different tones.” was scarcely an exaggeration.

      Basically, the line wasn’t criticising fans who are disenfranchised after years of uninterrupted terrible-quality episodes, it was criticising fans who would deliberately look for incredibly minor details to complain about, and call betrayal over a single bad episode.

      • 13 random anon
        25 July 2014 at 1:06 am

        I’m pretty sure they really did mean “don’t criticize The Simpsons at all ever”.

        Think about it. Al Jean, the writers, the producers… They seem to think that literally all criticism of the show is on par with “two notes came out of the same rib”. When they lampoon their critics on Zombie Simpsons the punchline is always “ahyuk hyuk, look at this stupid nerd and his stupid nerdy nitpicking!”.

        Somewhere at some point the staff did decide to dismiss all criticism. I definitely think that’s where the “you owe the Simpsons” line was coming from, especially considering how soon afterwards The Simpsons was swarming with jockey elves. How could they even write episodes like Saddlesore or Kill the Alligator or Moe’s Magic Talking Bar Rag unless they thought they were above criticism and people had some kind of duty to keep watching?.

        • 14 Jack
          25 July 2014 at 8:18 am

          And what are you basing that assumption on? The Season 8 Simpsons team had no need to dismiss genuine criticism because they were making a show they were confident in and were loved for it – they just noticed that fan nitpicks were funny. The modern Simpsons team use similar arguments in order to make strawmen out of their critics, but that doesn’t mean the original line was a “no criticism allowed” message; that’s just what the line was unfairly warped into.

          If you want evidence that classic Simpsons creatives were receptive to genuine criticism, just look at their acknowledgement of the problems with episodes such as ‘A Star is Burns’, ‘Principal and the Pauper’ and ‘Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder’. The ZS production would never respond to or agree with criticism like that, but the classic (or immediate post-classic) production would. Reasonable criticism was not the target of the line, unreasonable criticism was.

  6. 15 Jack
    24 July 2014 at 8:29 am

    The Simpsons should definitely have ended many years ago, but I can’t agree with you that it should have ended after season 8. As patchy and schizophrenic as season 9 is, it contains way too many classic episodes for me to want it gone. Heck, even for a few years after then, there were still a number of really good episodes scattered about.

    The ideal scenario in my mind would have been to cancel the show between seasons 10 and 15. That way, we still would have got to experience all of the classic episodes and all of the best post-classic episodes, but the deep-rooted bitterness amongst fans about the show’s agonizingly dull longevity wouldn’t exist. The show would still be recognized as one of the greatest comedies of all time (if not THE greatest) that just happened to get pretty sucky later on. The decline would be recognized, but there’d be no “there are more bad episodes of The Simpsons than good ones” problems, and fans certainly wouldn’t need to clarify themselves when saying that it’s their favourite TV series.

    If The Simpsons HAD been cancelled after season 8, then it would be seen as a show that got unfairly cut down in its prime, denying its massive global audience many years more of equally good comedy. At least if it ended once it had already started sucking then people would be able to feel closure about it, but if it ended in 1997 then Fox would probably have been bombarded with “Bring Back The Simpsons!” petitions and protests, until they gave in and un-cancelled the show – only for it to end up awful anyway.

    Heh, at least you didn’t take the extreme viewpoint that DHS usually takes: that it should have ended after season 7, and season 8 was the start of the decline.

    • 24 July 2014 at 10:47 am

      I’m generally agreed with you but it has got me thinking about what exactly happened between season 8 and season 15. Specifically, in becoming zombified, did the Simpsons actually become invincible? Ending the show out of artistic considerations back in seasons 8 seems like it may have been a viable option had the thought occurred to anybody at the time. If Brooks, Groening or somebody similarly central to the show had put their foot down, despite immense pushback, presumably they would have been able to end it. Creative pride was evidently still a semi major consideration at that point.

      However, from season 8 on a gradual transformation took place that slowly turned the show into something autonomous and independent from that creative desire. As the characters morphed into teevee sitcom cliches, stories became staid sitcom set pieces and in general the whole show became a generic teevee sitcom dressed in Simpsons skins so did any sense that the Simpsons was primarily a creative enterprise get replaced with an acceptance that it was just a commercial product destined to continue so long as the profits could justify it. I think the best way to illustrate this is to compare the level of integrity Matt Growning had in season 6, when he refused to put his name on “A Star is Burns” out of a sense of creative pride, with the integrity Matt Groening has exhibited (or rather hasn’t) in gladly putting his name to infinitely worse crimes against the Simpsons’ good name in recent years.

      Before season 10 I’d say a decision to end the show was probably somewhat possible. I could see those involved making a stand for the creative integrity of the show. By season 15 I’d say it was too late, profit margins had taken over as the main driving force for the show and nobody with any influence was willing any longer to challenge that.

      • 17 Jack
        24 July 2014 at 2:37 pm

        You raise an interesting point, but ultimately there are 2 things that can stop The Simpsons: (1) Too many important cast & crew members leave, or (2) Fox decide to cancel it.

        Concerning (2), it’s probably true that The Simpsons became more cancellation-proof as time went on; around the time that the show was just starting its downfall, it was also solidifying its status as an iconic global brand, and once that had been established, viewing figures and critical acclaim no longer mattered that much. The show is now infamous for its decline, and its ratings are abysmal, but it still sometimes gets renewed two seasons at a time. Why? Because the money Fox gets from merchandising and international broadcasting rights is astronomical. Fox cancelling The Simpsons would be like NBC cancelling Saturday Night Live; it just ain’t gonna happen unless the show’s profits PLUMMET, rather than simply dwindling.

        As for (1), I don’t think Matt Groening and James L. Brooks had any more power to end the show in 1997 than they do now. If Matt Groening demanded the show end after season 8, Fox would just say “Uh, no thanks. This show is insanely popular, critically lauded, and making us all fabulously rich. We own all the rights to it, so we’ll just find someone else to do your job. Bye!”. In fact, Groening and Brooks had no reason to end the show anyway. They had no way to predict the decline, and by that point their day-to-day contributions were minimal, so it’s not like they needed to end the show in order to work on other projects.

        The only way (1) is going to happen is if a major cast member leaves. Producers, writers and directors can be replaced, but you simply can’t re-cast Homer Simpson. Of course, the principal cast are the best paid voice actors in the world, so it’s unlikely, but there are contract disputes every few years, so who knows?

    • 18 Calvin
      24 July 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I wavered back and forth between whether the show should have ended after season 8 or 9, so I included both possibilities in the article. Season 8 is definitely the stronger season for me. Season 9 was Mike Scully’s first season as showrunner, and while I enjoy some episodes, his trademark over-the-top “wackiness” mar the concept of many of those episodes. (I wonder why John Schwartzwelder or George Meyer didn’t become showrunner.) Plus, many ZS writers like Ian Maxtone-Graham and Matt Selman had joined the staff by then.

      The “Bring Back the Simpsons” petition is a good point, but I don’t agree that a slow decline would have served the show just so we could cherish the classic seasons even more. I mentioned that they could have gone on to do Simpsons movies every few years.

      I like this recent trend of TV show creators deciding when to end their shows so that all the storylines can be wrapped up to a satisfying conclusion. My original draft listed several shows that have done this (Breaking Bad), but I cut it for length.

      • 19 Jack
        24 July 2014 at 3:31 pm

        – There’s a very good chance that those season 9 episodes you enjoyed were the season 8 hold-overs. ;-)

        – Don’t know about Meyer, but I don’t think John Swartzwelder would have been up to the task. It’s not easy to move from being a writer to a producer as it is, but Swartzwelder started writing his scripts from home as soon as he was no longer allowed to smoke at work. Being showrunner wouldn’t gel with his publicity-shyness either.

        – I didn’t mean that we should have bad Simpsons episodes to make us appreciate the good ones; I meant that if The Simpsons got cancelled after a bad (or just obviously worse) season, it would be a lot easier to accept.

        – Ah, but you can’t treat a sitcom the same way you would a drama. Unlike Breaking Bad or Mad Men, The Simpsons has no overarching plot or continuing story of any kind. You can’t end The Simpsons when the story concludes because there is no story to conclude; every episode is its own. Narratively, Season 8 is no closer to the “end” than Season 1. Live action sitcoms still feel like they’re progressing despite their lack of overarching story because the actors are aging, so the writers are forced to adjust the setting/story accordingly (e.g. moving a child from Elementary School to Middle School), but The Simpsons doesn’t do that, so it’ll keep going as long as the actors and execs allow – not due to anything story-related.

        I actually think it would have been really cool if, say, around Season 10 they had started aging the characters a year per season. That would have given the show a more dynamic feel even if the writing failed it, the writers would have been able to properly do all those ‘teenage Bart and Lisa’ stories that they insisted on doing with 10 and 8 year old Bart and Lisa anyway, and it could have built up to a satisfying end several years down the line – with Bart/Lisa going to college a la Malcolm in the Middle.

  7. 20 Dan
    24 July 2014 at 10:43 am

    Unfortunately, films and TV shows are rarely allowed to go out on a high note – the entertainment industry is a business, and profits come before quality. Once a show/franchise is established, another season/sequel is just easy money.
    Topical comparison – The Planet of the Apes (the movie, not the planet!) from 1968 had FOUR sequels! They weren’t trying to please the fans, they were trying to please their bank manager.

  8. 21 Mysterio
    24 July 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Everyone’s an analyst…


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