Lately I've been watching The Flintstones with the girls, and enjoying the humorous tidbits thrown over the heads of children to adults. This following bit of dialogue is from "The Beauty Contest" episode. Fred and Barney are the judges of a beauty pageant put on by their Lodge. They are, of course, trying to keep this a secret from their wives. Cut to Fred coming home from work:
FRED: Wilma, I'm home! Any mail?
WILMA: No, just a phone-call from some girl.
FRED: Some girl?
WILMA: She says her measurements are 45-23-34.
FRED: That's some girl, alright.
WILMA: OK Fred, who is she?
FRED: I don't know, Wilma! Honest, I don't know!
WILMA: Why would she call up to give you her measurements?
FRED (stumbling): Well ... you know how some women are: they just can't keep a secret!
WILMA: A secret! No-one could keep measurements like that a secret!
FRED: It wouldn't be easy.
Then there are the little decorative touches, usually to the side of the action. In one of the "Hollyrock Comes To Bedrock" episodes, we see a sign for "Miracle Pictures", with the motto, "If it's good, it's a Miracle!"
These catch-as-catch-can yuks are what The Simpsons has been reduced to - when shopping for a swimming pool, the Simpsons visit a shop with a sign that reads, "POOL SHARKS: Where The Customer Is Our Chum."
It's been years since I made it a point of watching The Simpsons. I'm almost entirely sympathetic to their line of satire, but whenever I've caught a recent episode, the experience leaves me feeling disatisfied (a bad sign for a half-hour program!). I'm told even the show's producers admit their best episodes all took place in the first four seasons.
I suspect when the producers began to glimpse just how long they could beat this horse, they very consciously chose to yank emotional engagement from the formula. After all, just how many lessons can an eight-year-old reprobate learn over the course of 12-plus years? Instead the tack is to wield satirical tar with an enormous brush, and to lay it on fast and thick.
There's little point in expressing disappointment in The Simpsons. It's like expressing disappointment with the Republicans: what they do clearly works for them. You can whinge til the cows come home; they'll just keep doing what they're doing until the public stops buying.
But the show has fallen from quite a lofty peak of grandeur. Last night I caught the second season episode, Two Cars in Every Garage, Three Eyes on Every Fish. That baby has it all: scathing satire that skewers the political, social, media, religious and scientific scenes. And it provokes genuine laughter (not the frightened, cynical snicker) because it engages the heart. The Simpsons isn't going to return to such olympic form - it can't possibly. But it gets me considering the purchase of the first few seasons' worth of DVDs.