I’ve always been a really big fan of the Simpsons. I’ve found that over the years the mix of family life stories and wacky adventures have kept me laughing, even if I’ve heard the same joke a zillion times. However, I’ve also noticed a major change in the way that the show is written and to me Season 11 is the first time that this sea change in writing style can really be seen.
To be honest, watching this season really confirms my theory that despite one or two shaky episodes, Season 8 was the last truly great Simpsons series. That season had the right balance of family, adventure, pop culture and jokes to keep anyone happy: it even featured my favourite episode of all time, “The Springfield Files”.
I won’t be unfair though. Season 11 is far from a mess. In fact, there are some great laughs here that come from unexpected places. Moe’s plastic surgery and Bart becoming a faith healer are both strange and fun-filled escapades, but the shining light in this series is definitely “Beyond Blunderdrome”, the very first episode. Here, Mel Gibson invites Homer to help him re-edit his version of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”, with disastrous results. The flipside of this is probably the more poignant episodes: “Alone Again Natura-Diddly” and “Days of Wine And Doh’ses” are both strangely touching, even if they aren’t on the same tear-inducing level of Season 7’s “Mother Simpson”.
Sometimes though the season drifts off into strange territory: what annoys me about the newest seasons is that nothing is wrapped up as neatly as it was in the first ten seasons. Where narratives were once tied up neatly so that it was obvious that the Simpsons were back in the same scenario as they were at the beginning of each episode, in Season 11 we get the first glimpses of storylines trailing off and not reaching a defined conclusion. Admittedly this is mostly in the sub-plots, but this is enough to be a little frustrating after a while.
At the same time, there are less truly laugh-out-loud jokes. In its place we are given wry laughs at more culture-centric targets. The best example of this would be “Beyond the Laughter” where the whole episode is designed as a documentary about the lives of the Simpsons behind the scenes. Most of the episode focuses on cliches and slight twists on side-projects of each family member (the tell-all book, moving into a different medium, causing carnage on a plane, putting on a stage show). However, this episode does poke fun at the show by claiming that the Season 9 episode “The Principal and the Pauper” had an “implausible” storyline because of rifts in the family. Oddly enough though the biggest laugh of the episode comes right at the end, where we’re given a preview of the next episode of “Behind the Laughter”. I won’t spoil it.
Essentially the chinks in the armour are starting to appear in this season, although it is still highly enjoyable for any fan and the extras on the DVD are, as ever, fairly extensive and feature one of my favourites, deleted scenes. I think it would be best to enjoy these seasons now before the Simpsons descend further down this route.