The Simpsons is Weird Now
I don’t really watch The Simpsons any more. I have it favorited on Hulu, so the episodes pop into my queue, and generally they pop out again when they expire without me having watched them. I think I watched a couple episodes last season. I haven’t watched it regularly since I was in college, probably, in the early aughts.
Yet, I had a spare 20 minutes recently, and so I watched an episode called “The Day the Earth Stood Cool.” It was the episode that had the cameo from The Onion and Onion AV Club in it, and featured hipster characters voiced by Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. I watched the episode and I was so creeped out by it that it sent shivers down my spine.
It wasn’t the story itself that disturbed me—it was just the standard “the Simpsons make new friends within a subculture, are unsuited for it, maybe learn a lesson” plotline. The problem came up when the hip Portland family from next door (parents voiced by Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein of Portlandia, son voiced wryly by Patton Oswalt) was aligned narratively with the Simpsons family. And suddenly there was this guy in his early to mid-30s talking to Homer about how to overcome the burdens of being a dad, and a woman sharing baby-tending tips with Marge, and a kid who should be comparing toys with Bart and Lisa but is instead talking about the British TV shows he streams on the internet.
I grew up on The Simpsons. LITERALLY. The first episode I saw, if I’m not mistaken, was “Life on the Fast Lane,” the one where Marge contemplates an affair with a Frenchman who has taught her how to bowl. Do you know when that episode aired? According to IMDb, it was March 18, 1990. I was eight years old then. I’m going to be 32 this year—32. And Bart Simpson is still 10?
It’s literally reached the point where real-life kids who started out the same age as the Simpson kids are now old enough to have kids of their own who are the same age as the Simpson kids. And that’s where my brain breaks. An entire generation has gone by and the Simpson family is frozen in amber.
This didn’t bother me until this episode, really. I saw The Simpsons Movie in the theater just five years ago and enjoyed it heartily. I don’t know what the tipping point was, really. Possibly this episode simply leaned on modern times too heavily.
Or maybe it’s that this episode recalled for me another episode in which Homer fears he is not cool and is embraced by a hip crowd, “Homerpalooza” from 1996. A classic. It featured cameos from a bunch of bands who don’t exist anymore like Smashing Pumpkins (“Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins” “Homer Simpson, Smiling Politely”) and Sonic Youth. The problem is that the guy who is the dad in “The Day the Earth Stood Cool” is of an age that he would have been listening to those bands as a teen, same as I was. Well, not Sonic Youth because they were too cool (read: weird) for me.
It reminded me that the Simpson kids that I know grew up watching VHS tapes and playing video games that were heavily pixilated. They listened to the music of Michael Jackson on a record player. Their parents—like my parents—met and fell in love in the 70s. The 1970s. (And don’t tell me that the show rewrote its own history by doing a 90s episode in which a yet-unmarried Marge & Homer listened to grunge music and Marge had the Rachel. Because I think we can all agree that that episode never happened and we will all be much happier as a result.)
You can’t be part of every generation, The Simpsons! You just can’t. Time to move on.