“My favorite television show of all-time is still on the air, but it’s not my favorite current show.” It’s a riddle I like to ask friends, strangers, post office workers, fast food employees who just want to know if I would like medium or large fries with my burger, please, sir, there’s a line forming. After they all look back at me with a mix of confusion and annoyance, I answer, “It’s The Simpsons. The Simpsons is my favorite show ever, but even though it’s still on, my favorite show at the moment is Better Call Saul.”
This, I imagine, is a familiar refrain (give or take the Better Call Saul thing) for many fans of the long-running animated series, which premiered in December 1989 and has been on for 679 episodes. To say “The Simpsons isn’t as good as it used to be” has become a cliché. Of course, there’s usually some truth in every cliché, and that’s the case here. The Simpsons ISN’T as good as it used to be, but that’s because in its prime, it was working at a level of comedy and characterization that no show ever has, and it did it for approximately 10 seasons (or however long you consider the “golden age” to be). Besides, waving off the current-day The Simpsons is not only dismissive, it’s also wrong.
I’m not going to say The Simpsons is still consistently great TV, although it’s capable of great episodes (we’ll get there), but there are many reasons to still watch. Here are five.
1. It’s willing to experiment
Sometimes those experiments don’t work, like the infamous Moe’s rag episode or when the Simpsons went to Rigel 7 in a non-Treehouse of Horror episode (the AV Club recap is brutal). But handing off the couch gags to animators like Don Hertzfeldt and Sylvain Chomet was a stroke of genius, and showrunner Al Jean & Co. have allowed outside talent to write episodes, including Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg (season 21’s “Homer the Whopper”), Megan Amram (season 30’s “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” and “Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion”), and upcoming episodes from Round Springfield podcast host Julia Prescott and comedian Pete Holmes. Anything to shake things up. The Simpsons can’t help or hurt its legacy at this point — it should (to quote Mr. Holmes) make it weird.
2. “Wait, what happened to Milhouse?”
If you stopped bothering with The Simpsons after, let’s say, season 12, you’re missing a lot. For instance, did you know Horatio McCallister, better known as the Sea Captain, had a wife and they were both treasure hunters? Or that Hans Moleman used to be the mayor of Springfield? Or that Sideshow Bob used the “Face-Off Machine” to swap faces with another inmate at Springfield Penitentiary? One very specific joy of still watching the show is knowing all that’s happened to the plethora of side characters — the ones who put the spring in Springfield, so to speak — since millions of others tuned out. It’s a robust and ever-evolving canon. Artie Ziff married a robot Marge; Patty Bouvier is fluent in both Dothraki and parseltongue; Comic Book Guy (Jeff Albertson) is married to a Japanese woman named Kumiko Nakamura; Cookie Kwan is still number one on the west side, but she also had a baby with Mayor Quimby. Find yourself someone who still watches The Simpsons, and you’ll find yourself the winner of Simpsons trivia.
3. It’s still capable of very good-to-great episodes
It’s from a few years ago, but season 27’s “Halloween of Horror” ranks among the best post-season eight episodes. Season 25’s “Brick Like Me,” where the characters appear in Lego form, is another highlight, as is “Steal This Episode.” There’s nothing this season, the show’s 31st, that belongs on any must-watch list (so far), but “Livin La Pura Vida” (the Simpsons go to Costa Rica!) and “Thanksgiving of Horror,” a Treehouse of Horror-inspired spin on Turkey Day, are both pretty fun. Point is, The Simpsons is still capable of quality television, and even the occasional new classic.
4. The comfort factor
Growing up, Sunday night at 8 p.m. EST was both my favorite and least favorite time of the week. Favorite, because it meant a new episode of The Simpsons (assuming the late NFL game on Fox didn’t run over; no wonder I still hate the Cowboys). Least favorite, because I had school the next day. I no longer watch The Simpsons live (lol, imagine watching anything live), but I’m still ever-aware of when the clock hits 8 p.m. on a Sunday, even though I’m now in a different timezone. It’s comforting knowing that The Simpsons has had the same timeslot since 1994, and it will be extremely weird when another show eventually takes it. When The Simpsons is over, Fox should retire Sunday at 8 p.m. the way teams do jerseys when a Hall of Fame-caliber athlete calls it a career.
You’ve made it this far. Why not see The Simpsons until the end? Whenever that is. Honestly, I hope it’s on for 40, hell, even 50 seasons. Come on, why not?