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10 Years of D'oh!

By Coury Turczyn

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  While The Simpsons (FOX, Sundays at 8) has been flattered with all sorts of critical kudos in celebration of its 10th anniversary ("best sit-com of the century," etc.), longtime fans are mired in debate over the show's current health. "Not funny" is the recurring charge on the Internet, but then there are also accusations that the writers have made Homer too mean, Lisa too compromising, and the slapstick too heavy. The writers have struck back by parodying their nerdy mudslingers (most typically in the form of the unnamed, rotund comics shop owner) and basically ignoring what they have to say because, after all, it's their show.

So who's right? Probably both camps—the 10th season isn't nearly as bad as Simpsons purists believe, but it isn't retaining the freshness its writers are no doubt shooting for by changing the show's focus. In one recent show, the writers seemed to even be daring to copy a previous episode just to prove they could get away with it: Bart insists on saving a water-diving horse retired from the circus, forcing the family to adopt the equine. But just as you're thinking Geez, why did they bother to rehash this?, the episode is redeemed when Bart races him on Springfield's horsetrack—and exposes the other jockeys as part of an underworld elf conspiracy. While such episodes lack the skewering of American family dynamics that made The Simpsons so radically unique, they are nevertheless injecting left-field craziness that still surprises. Of course, such zaniness can get clunky real fast if it isn't pitch-perfect; recall, if you will, the episode in which Homer becomes the personal assistant of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, eventually injuring Ron Howard in a high-speed chase. Must've looked pretty wacky on paper...

For those who prefer more classic episodes, there's The Simpsons Go Hollywood, a new three-volume set that collects shows lampooning show business. Included are favorites like "A Streetcar Named Marge" (with Jon Lovtiz as a demanding stage director) and the Dallas-style cliffhanger "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" But the very best selections also make fun of society at large, such as the Music Man-inspired "Marge vs. the Monorail," wherein a fast-talking shyster insists that a huge public investment in a gimmicky project will save Springfield's downtown. (Sound familiar?) The Simpsons will forever be at its best when it's parodying the very fiber of our being. Granted, there's only so much fiber in American society, but stay hopeful, Simpsons fans—human stupidity is infinite. Here's to another 10 years.

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