Monday, September 29, 2008

The SIMPSONS Turns 20! The Return of FOX Sunday Night - Reviewed!

Okay, time to take a break from self-serious birthday reflection and acknowledge that yesterday was indeed signifigant for reasons other than being the glorious day that brought one Danny Baram into this world. Afterall, yesterday was the TWENTIETH season premiere of the greatest TV show of all time, The Simpsons. Say what you want about the show in its latter years, but that is still a pretty signifigant achievement. It's probably been at least a good eight years since the show was it's old self, and in the last decade or so the show has swung back and forth between being mediocre, mildly funny, and at its best, refreshingly reminiscient of the good ol' days, when seemingly every Simpsons episode was an instant classic, immediately entered into the pop-culture lexicon of awesomely hilarious TV.

But you have to wonder, have the Simpsons fans become so jaded in their old age that they can't even recognize when a good episode comes their way? Afterall, many of us twenty-something fans saw many of the classics when we were in elementary school. There's no way we'll have the same reaction to a great new Simpsons episode now that we're out of college and workin' the 9 to 5. Now, that's not me being an apologist. The classics do tend to hold up brilliantly in a way that many of the newer episodes don't. They were amazingly written, hilariously voice-acted, and contained classic premise after classic premise.

More than once on the blog, I've provided lengthy disections of why exactly nu-Simpsons episodes don't possess the old-school episodes' brilliance, so I won't spend too much time on that here. But I will say this: between the not-amazing-but-still-pretty-funny movie from last year, and several episodes from last season that fell in the good-to-very-good range ... well, any true Simpsons fan has no excuse to not check out new episodes. No, the show has not made some miraculous return to Season 4 quality, but it has undeniably upped its game a bit over the last several months.

I think that was evident in last night's 20th (!!!) season premiere. The premise - Homer and Flanders becoming bail bondsmen - was nothing revolutionary, but on the whole the writing felt sharper and the jokes felt more on-point than many Simpsons detractors might have expected. For those who dismiss this ep as just another new-school, mediocre Simpsons, let me provide a few reasons why that simply isn't true:

a.) A singular A-plot that goes from start to finish: A hallmark of later-era Simpsons eps was that many episodes would start out dealing with one premise and then finally get around to its primary premise with only 10 or so minutes left in the episode. To many, this kind of sloppy storytelling was a clear sign that the show's writing had gone down the tubes. Last night though, we saw an ep that seems to be more emblematic of more recent Simpsons ep structures - an opening that leads directly into the main A-plot, which then lasted all the way through the episode. Nice.

b.) A plot that was NOT centered around Homer trying to win back Marge: and thank God - that has to be the single most overused premise in the last 10 years of The Simpsons. If it never pops up again, no one will mind.

c.) Some mild continuity when appropriate: nice reference to Maude Flanders' death (to be fair, it's one of the few continuity points the show has continually referenced over the last several years)

d.) Jokes that actually hit the mark: some of the one-liners and set-ups from last night's ep plain and simply made me laugh ... the gag with Skinner and Chalmers having dinner, Homer being upset that Marge would withhold sexy cakes from him, the Irish parade with the empty float for straight Catholic priests, Ned and Homer's Christian-rock version of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds." Good stuff.

Now, was this a modern-day classic or a flat-out amazing episode? No, def not. It felt like a retread in many ways and there wasn't much build-up behind the twists that the Homer-Ned relationship took. If you compare it to the eps where they go to Vegas, or when Flanders first opens the Leftorium ... those classics gave a lot of depth to the Flanders - Homer rivalry. Compared to those, this one was pretty lightweight. But - the ep made me laugh, entertained me, and had no real groan-inducing moments. And it was the best show on Fox on Sunday. Overall, good show for a twenty-year old series.

My Grade: B+

- KING OF THE HILL was solid, but felt overall a bit bland. We've seen Bill-centric episodes that delved deeper into his tortured psyche, and funnier overall Bill episodes as well. The Bobby B-plot was barely there to boot. But man, I love these characters - even a mid-range Bill episode still has its entertaining moments, and only Bill would voluntarily confine himself to a wheelchair as a preemptive measure, and then enjoy the resulting pity from his friends. Overall, a decent opener, but not the best that this still-great show is capable of.

My Grade: B

- Meanwhile, FAMILY GUY was a very new-school style episode, meaning that it had this weird need to try to prove that the show is smarter and more adult than people give it credit for. I don't know, I liked when Stewie was an insane baby who wanted to take over the world, and Brian was the family dog who was smarter than everyone else in the room. Stewie as a creepy, effeminate gay baby and Brian as a sexually-frustrated bohemian dog is just a bit much for me. I miss when this show was random and fun - now it just seems like its trying too hard. I'm not saying I want a return to the random cutaways every 10 seconds, but I also don't want any more shows centered around Brian's moping and lousy luck with the ladies. Sure, the ep had its moments - Cleveland's exclamations whilst getting busy with Brian's flame were kind of hilarious - but, overall, this was yet another Family Guy ep that I wanted to like but just didn't find much to laugh at.

My Grade: B-

- Alright -- SHANA TOVAH and Happy New Year!

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