I think if there was a turning point in the Simpsons, as I've mentioned before, it was somewhere just after
Season 8, the moment where Scully took over the reins as head showrunner and several of the guys so important to its early inception (Brad Bird, John Scwartzwelder, Mike Judge, etc) left around the same time that Ian Maxtone-Graham became a fully fledged staff writer. These things are subtle, but you notice in the way the gags became much, much broader under Scully's tenure and the previous keen observation of even the minor characters (Apu, Smithers, Wiggum, etc) slowly started to go to pot. Also, something cosmetic happened as well- the animation became shinier and I think they lost some comedic timing with that. But Maxtone-Graham is a key because he infamously came in without having seen
a single episode of the Simpsons and much of his early work with them betrays that. Tonally, it's almost a parody of a run-of-the-mill Simpsons episode.
As guys like Al Jean and Conan O'Brien say in the commentaries to the early seasons, even the slightest off-beat in timing could upset not just one gag, but the punchline following it (one of the great things about the peak run was how seamlessly
off-the-wall it was- everything flowed after another). That and the fact that Groening's increasingly hands-off approach during the Futurama
years definitely exacerbated the slide. And let's not forget the fact that Phil Hartman's death seemed to fill a much bigger hole than was first reckoned- one how many episodes during the Season 5-8 period relied on a Troy McClure gag/Lionel Hutz subplot to kick things into action. Apparently Groening and the other writers were going to give him other characters to work with too, not just on the Simpsons
's Zap Brannigan was written directly with Hartman in mind.
Another question- how different do Simpsons
fans reckon it would've been if Conan O'Brien stayed on a bit longer? He left right in the middle of their peak (let's say about '94) and he was the first writer outside the "original circle" to come along too. And he really shook things up, I mean one of his very first episodes was the Monorail episode! But O'Brien's style definitely became the dominant mode of their golden run: high culture collides with pop culture, plots go everywhere but (and here's the key) remain essentially linear
, the more subversive elements are offset with nice character stuff--maybe if O'Brien stayed on for a couple more years, he could've helped prolong the peak. But then again, maybe it wasn't to be.
Season 8 is the keypoint because, while it's one of the best seasons, it's without doubt the most self-referential. After that season, there was nowhere for the show but repeat itself.
I know, I know...
Btw, here's the guides to each episode writer-by-writer
Anyway, while we're all pretty sure that the Simpsons' Movie
will be a dog, early reviews indication that former showrunner Brad Bird's latest for Pixar, Ratatouille
, might be the best thing either himself or Pixar studios have done yet. That
's the Simpsons
-affiliated film we should be supporting.
It's before my time but I've been told, he never came back from Karangahape Road.