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"The Simpsons" Reaches 400th Episode Milestone

I'll admit that I've kind of tuned out The Simpsons in recent years, as its once witty humor has turned predictable and tired. What was once the most well crafted, intelligent series on television has buckled under the weight of 400 episodes, each with zany plotlines and characters that steadfastly refuse to change or age.

So imagine my surprise when I tuned in to catch the series' 399th and 400th episodes and discovered that The Simpsons, while nowhere near the standard it set for itself years before, can still manage to tickle my funny bone. The 399th episode, "24 Minutes" brought the audience a parody of fellow FOX series 24, in which Lisa and Bart work for CTU, the Counter Truancy Unit, and must work together to defuse a terrorist situation involving a bully-made stink bomb and a school bake sale. (It's all the more funny for the fact that it's more amusing and engaging than the current season of 24 (which wraps its sixth season tonight) has consistently been this year.

What worked so well about the episode is the way that it appropriated those old 24 tropes--split screens, Kiefer Sutherland narration, moles within CTU--and turned them on their head. Plus, kudos to Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub for mocking themselves (or at least their bombastic characters, Jack and Chloe). Loved the dumpster gag, as well, in which Homer and Milhouse (don't ask) take a dumpster for a spin around town. It might not reach the heights of some of my favorite episodes like "Das Bus" or "The Old Man and the Lisa," but it's a funny 24 minutes, if a little dated, nonetheless.

Following "24 Minutes," The Simpsons crew manages to commandeer some of the imagery of Good Night and Good Luck for the landmark 400th episode, "You Kent Always Say What You Want" that has local news anchor Kent Brockman lose his job after uttering a swearword on the air when Homer Simpson, local buffoon and 1 millionth ice cream cone purchaser, spills coffee on his crotch. It touches upon the demons of the anti-indecency campaign in America, in which people increasingly look to find something indecent about nearly every television show that doesn't meet their rigid views of morality and decency. (Off topic: there's a fascinating recent Entertainment Weekly article here that talks with four network standards and practices execs.)

My favorite bits: the opening title sequence that takes us back twenty years to five squiggly, poorly drawn yellow characters (looking rather like they did back on the old Tracy Ullman Show) attempting to arrange a family picture; a cigarette-smoking Kent Brockman delivering a savage Edward R. Murrow-style indictment in classy black and white (Lisa even taps his knee with a pencil when they go live on the air); and the headshot "wall of fame" in the Simpsons house that recounts past visitors who have moved into the home, from Apu and Sideshow Bob to Gil and Stampy the elephant.

It's a wink to the series' longevity and its (dare I say it?) continuity and make me a bit wistful for the good old days. In any event, however, making it to 400 episodes in an age where new series get yanked off the air after three episodes is quite a feat and it's a testament to the cast and crew of The Simpsons that this little series has become such a part of the global zeitgeist.


Anonymous said…
I haven't been a fan of the last few seasons of The Simpsons but these two episodes were great. The 24 spoof was fun but I especially enjoyed the Kent Brockman episode which was as timely as it was humorous. It actually reminded me a lot of some of the earlier, stronger seasons which were always zany but intelligent and topical as well. Lately, I just feel like they're zany without any real direction. I'm hoping that these two eps. bode well for The Simpsons movie this summer!

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