I count myself as a former super-fan among a close group of super-fans of one of the best American network TV comedies ever. (You don’t make it to the Fawlty Four of Funkhouser’s 2014 Greatest Television Episode Tournament if you ain’t good.) Half a dozen of us would spend entire weekends watching episodes old and new on TV or DVD or VHS(!), bickering over which ones were funnier, cobbling together conversations entirely from Simpsons quotes. We played Simpsons boardgames. We destroyed local Simpsons-themed bar trivia nights. Yet all of us, every single one, stopped watching almost a decade ago. Come to think of it, literally not a single person I regularly speak with watches The Simpsons anymore.
It’s not just us. Uproxx points out that the 1990 episode “Bart Gets an F” pulled in 33.3 million viewers–33.3 million–while the last first-run 2013 Simpsons episode logged 4.8 million. I’m sure some of the decline is due to familiarity: “Bart Gets An F” was the first episode of Season 2 of a new-ish, highly anticipated, slightly edgy and controversial (at the time) show that has now run 25 seasons and counting. And yes, the number of TV shows in general has exploded as have the methods of delivering them, leaving us with difficult choices as to how we spend our time as entertainment consumers. But still, sloughing off tens of millions of viewers, even if it is over 20-odd years? If across-the-board quality and viewership are dropping, why not pull the plug? There’s something else at work. It must still be making money, which is what is important to Fox, and rightly so. Creating a TV show isn’t free. That doesn’t change the fact (? yes, I know comedy is subjective), that The Simpsons has struggled to remain consistently funny and relevant.
For former Simpsons fans, though, we can’t pinpoint a specific time that we stopped watching. Did we change? Did the show? Or both? If you ask fans of other shows why they stopped watching, most can give a moment or window of time. When Friends became all marriage and baby drama, when David Duchovny left X-Files, when the American version of The Office morphed its characters into two-dimensional stereotypes. And, of course, when Fonzie jumped the shark. As I’ve gotten older and parent-ier, my views of certain things have changed, but I don’t feel like my sense of humor is that different. I still laugh my ass off at the “Marge vs. the Monorail” or “The Cartridge Family” episodes. We just…drifted away, like friends who don’t have much in common anymore. I don’t know if that’s better or worse. I do know that we didn’t laugh nearly as much in those later years and when we did, we were forcing it, trying our hardest to recapture feelings that just didn’t exist anymore. The old, worn-out jokes. The gratuitous special guest and cameos. It was too planned, too contrived. We simply couldn’t go on like that.
So if you do still watch The Simpsons, can you let me know why? Is it for old times’ sake? Is it still funny, or at least funny enough often enough? Is it out of respect? To be clear, I haven’t rejected The Simpsons. I want to love it again. We never had a falling out. We just went our separate ways. And when the time comes and I read about its death, like an old friend in an alumni news letter, I’ll raise a glass and toast the good times we had. I may even cry a little.