As the longest-running prime-time narrative series on American television, The Simpsons continues to draw a loyal and rabid following. But over the years, some disgruntled viewers have noticed a major shift in the show's levels of daring originality and comic vibrancy. One of those fans has even made a documentary on the subject - titled The Fall of the Simpsons: How It Happened - where he attempts to reconstruct the moment in the show's history when everything went wrong.
First premiering in 1989, The Simpsons introduced the world to a deliciously malfunctioning family, including father Homer, mother Marge and children Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Each member of the Simpsons clan would soon become an enduring player in pop culture iconography. The show quickly exploded from cult status to international acclaim. In the process, it successfully transformed the tone of the family-based sitcom, and redefined the barometer of success for prime-time animated series in the modern age.
In order to dissect where the show might have lost its edge, a critic must know where it once excelled. The film displays great insight as it outlines the qualities that made The Simpsons such a phenomenon from the beginning, including the outside-the-box perspectives of the show's creators, the complexity of its comic constructions, and its sharply observed counter-cultural leanings.
The filmmaker is equally precise when criticizing the flaws of its latter seasons. Specifically, he cites the show's barrage of increasingly cheap gags and pointless routines, sloppy attention to character, lack of commitment to its savage satirical roots, and a continually revolving door of quality writers. His arguments are accentuated by a superbly editing array of illustrative show clips, and further supported by the dwindling fan enthusiasm found online among over 300,000 user reviews.
The Fall of the Simpsons: How It Happened is not some catty and shallow exercise in amateur criticism. Instead, it is an immaculately informed and solidly articulated plea from a devotee who understands the strengths and weaknesses of this once-vital show inside and out. It is clearly a passion project, and not professionally or glossily produced. But it is entirely authoritative and persuasive.