Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Unexpected Majesty of the Every Simpsons Ever Marathon

Since a week ago Thursday through this past Monday the cable channel FXX aired the complete run of The Simpsons (#EverySimpsonsEver the hashtag reminded us) in a marathon. Over those twelve days I have tuned in to re-watch episodes when I had the chance, and have found it to be perhaps the best background viewing material available.

We'll get to Sesame Street later.
For example, last Thursday night as I washed the dishes I saw parts of the 2003 Treehouse of Horror episode. I didn't need to give it my full attention but when I wasn't rinsing I was reminded of the scene where Homer has killed Death and takes over as the Grim Reaper and goes to claim Jasper's soul—and upon seeing Grim Homer, Jasper asks "Where's the regular guy? Where's Doug?" Obviously that joke holds special appeal for me personally, but it's the way something like that can stand on its own as a moment without me having to then pause my task at hand made it particularly good as what I'd want on the TV when I couldn't give it my full attention.

Now, that's only true because I'd seen every episode before. That's not bragging, but mere indication that I am, in fact, old enough to have seen them since the beginning in 1989. I am enough of a fan that I've stuck with the show through even some the latter seasons that haven't been of the quality of their heyday. Many times in recent years it seems like I'm watching more out of habit than out of believing the show is the best animated show on TV (it's not—that's Bob's Burgers).

But here's the thing: I'm still glad it's on and, most important, that it get repeated.

As I've thought since long before the marathon, when I'd catch a later episode airing in syndication, the episodes often are better when seen after that initial airing. When the new ones air on Sundays they are judged against the standard of twenty years ago—something against which they cannot possibly compete. However, when given a second chance at some other hour some months or years later the same episode gets more of an opportunity to be gauged on its own merits. No, they're not as good as the all-time best ones, but their worthwhile moments get a better chance to stand out when one is not looking for that primary intake.

The marathon merely reinforced that.

What this experience has revealed to me: If there were a non-stop Simpsons channel I wouldn't binge on it but probably I would tune in every time I needed that level of passive entertainment. Fixing dinner? Sure. Up with the baby at 3 a.m.? Absolutely. Working on the laptop but don't want silence? Hey, why not?

There have been plenty of times I've sat through, say, SportsCenter multiple times because I couldn't find anything else to operate as that doesn't-require-focus-but-still-has-enough-to-be-just-interesting-enough-when-I-glance-up distraction. I've left the TV on far worse shows out of that quasi-viewing desperation. Having a random Simpsons episode always at the ready would always be a superior choice.

There have been moments over the last decade when I've thought the Simpsons should pack it in, but after the marathon I have a renewed appreciation for it still going.

It is perhaps sad that it took an event like this to renew my appreciation of a show where over the course of 25 years I've gone from loving to liking (but taking for granted), but I am nonetheless somewhat grateful to FXX for refreshing my relationship with the show.

Although I didn't realize it, that's what I needed.

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