When Will The Simpsons Leave Us?

For every cultural zeitgeist, for every TV show or movie that surpasses all others and becomes a fixture in millions of peoples’ lives, there will be a smaller group of people who become too interested and too attached. These people, who cross the spectrum from mongo to permavirgin, are your common nerd. For these nerds, few shows have had more of an impact than “The Simpsons.”

In a recent interview, Simpsons creator, Matt Groening, and show runner, Al Jean, said that work on a sequel to 2007’s “The Simpson’s Movie” wouldn’t begin until the show was off the air. But according to the creators, the show may never go off the air; it’s already contracted for two more seasons and Jean “gave up predicting the end a long time ago.”

The nerds have armed themselves and split into factions over this news. With Cheeto-dusted fists high in the air, they debate the life or death of “The Simpsons.” Unfortunately, the debate seems limited to the following arguments: on the death side you have folks who think the Simpsons just aren’t as funny as they used to be so it’s bad for the show’s legacy to keep going (that’s right, there are grown ups in the world that care about a cartoon’s legacy), and on the life side you have folks who agree that “The Simpsons” isn’t really as funny as before, but lots of other shows aren’t consistently funny either, giving “The Simpsons” an earned right to keep going. They’re cultural icons for Chrissakes!

So the fanboys and fangirls are reduced to cuckolded husbands and desperate housewives of the non-cougar variety. We lie on our backs and take what we’ve been given because once, a long time ago, “The Simpsons” shook the world to pieces. Even now we see short flashes of the brilliance that so enchanted us. But then Sideshow Bob appears and we choke on our tears once again. Our two camps disagree about whether or not to call it a quits on “The Simpsons,” but they both agree that the show has lost its luster.

Some point to other established franchises: The Rolling Stones, “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek.” Should we also force them to quit because they’ve past their prime?

First, let’s address the slippage from “the show should give up the ghost” and “let’s force the show to quit.” Nobody is talking about holding the animators down and smashing their hands or tossing the writers in a paper bag and forcing them to write their way out. Rather, we want the show to bow out before there are more terrible newer episodes made in syndication to awesome older episodes. Secondly, what’s with this reverence for mediocre pop culture? The Rolling Stones – Really? “The Simpsons” shouldn’t give up because The Rolling Stones still exist?

The problem, as I see it, is that these Simpsons fans are suffering from some combination of arrested development and Stockholm syndrome. They’re afraid to grow up and leave the show alone, but are also pathetically attached to it. Yes, let us wait for Matt Groening to decide to end the show, let’s pretend he cares more about his show’s relevance than the money he makes off of it, let’s see what the next five years (110 episodes) has in store for a cast of characters that can’t age, grow or die.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for what “The Simpsons” has done because it’s hard to hyperbolize when it comes to that show. But it should learn some lessons from the younger generations of cartoon sitcoms that have followed it. “King of the Hill” was cancelled because of a combination of low ratings and to make room for “The Cleveland Show” (which should be remembered as one of the great crimes of this young century). Its final episode managed to wrap the entire series together without losing any of the distinctive grace and charm of its 12-year run. Better yet, follow “South Park’s” lead and make the entire series available on the web for free! But don’t pretend that anything other than greed is what keeps the show in production, and don’t pretend that anything other than pathetic devotion is what keeps nerds, like me, watching it every week.