The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: 500 Episodes of The Simpsons – What Now?

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

CC2K TV Editor-emeritus Phoebe Raven looks back at the legacy of The Simpsons.

It’s hard to write anything about The Simpsons that hasn’t already been written. It’s also hard to write anything that anyone can agree upon. The show is so closely entangled with so many memories distinct and different for every one of us that it is almost impossible to have an objective opinion about it.

But which TV critic can honestly claim to be in the objectivity game anyway, right? So let’s have a look at the 500th episode of The Simpsons Fox aired on Sunday and at the 23rd season in general.

I can’t say that I was blown away by the milestone episode, but then again Simpsons episodes have stopped blowing me away a long time ago. The concept is no longer novel, the characters are predictable in their ways and the politically astute commentary is few and far between these days.

The 500th episode was a fine one. Just that, fine. The Simpsons turned its humor on itself and made fun of its own legacy and that is never a bad move for a show that has built its reputation on keen cultural observation and irreverence to the etiquette of TV creation.
What did irk me a little bit was the opening title subline reading: “500th Episode – The Most Meaningless Milestone of All!”
I simultaneously agree and disagree with this statement. Yes, in the larger scheme of the world, this milestone is completely meaningless. The world, at large, has not been made better or worse by the existence of The Simpsons. Although the show has provided generations of people the world over with entertainment and sometimes even food for thought, it has not prevented wars or cured famine.

On the other hand, the milestone The Simpsons are setting is likely never going to be broken again by another animated show. (But wait, you say. “What about the 3D animated shows will get in the future? Those could be good and run for a long time!” Face it, The Simpsons will probably just get the 3D treatment and keep going.) Or any other show, for that matter. Seriously, who wants to see Grey’s Anatomy go on for 500 episodes?
So in a way I felt the makers of The Simpsons (Matt Groening, I am looking at you) should not toss aside this event as willy-nilly as this subtitle implied. Sure, irreverence is healthy and needed sometimes, but you are also allowed to celebrate when something truly groundbreaking happens.

To be fair, the opening of the 499th episode featured the characters of The Simpsons celebrating the “milestone” and Moe quipped about the premature celebration, saying “Fox ain’t doing this again.”
Maybe this was the only way to deal with a record-breaking event by the Simpsons‘ creators. In this day and age, too many things get hyped beyond reasonable expectation, everything is supposed to be “The Next Big Thing”, even every single episode of television (thank HBO for this development). When the hyped product eventually arrives, almost everyone ends up disappointed. So it seems a clever strategy to take the wind out of the “It’s the 500th episode of The Simpsons, ZOMG!” early.

There is no denying the show as a whole has lost its subversive edge over the years and is reveling in its own “If you don’t get this, you’re just not cool enough”, smug humor. This 23rd season in particular has featured some of the worst episodes I can recall in the entire show’s history (and yes, I have seen all 500 episodes, thank you very much). Episode 12, “Moe Goes from Rags to Riches”, was a pain to get through and not remotely funny. My disbelief is always suspended when I watch The Simpsons (how else do you process them not getting older?), but this episode stretched my suspension so thin, it snapped in the end and I just tuned out.
And what was with the “A Show Too Short Story” at the end of Episode 11, “The D’oh-cial Network”? The episode had basically ripped off The Social Network (a year too late) and made sufficient fun of it, but I am sure there would have been two more minutes of jokes in there somewhere to prevent the unnecessary, slightly Treehouse of Horror-esque, Poe’s The Raven-esque epilog.


At the end of the day I don’t know what to make of The Simpsons anymore. I never miss an episode, but it has been a long time since one has really excited or entertained me more than any other programming. Sure, the show is a staple and I can’t very well imagine Fox’s “Animation Domination” without it. My childhood and teenage memories are just as entangled in The Simpsons as everyone else’s (I played the Simpsons game on my GameBoy, for crying out loud!). But lately I get the feeling we are holding on to Homer, Marge, Barr, Lisa, Maggie and Co. out of pure nostalgia and maybe it’s time we let them go and find a new home.
Wait, was that the subtle message we were supposed to get from Episode 500? Matt Groening, have you done it again?