I am finding it surprisingly difficult to push that one small button.
Oh sure, the actual pressing down of the button itself isn’t all that hard – I can handle the remote like a champ.
It is everything that solitary click means: the end of an era; the last words in the final chapter in a relationship that has lasted longer than most friendships I’ve had.
That click means I am going to say good-bye to The Simpsons.
After being a devoted, some might say obsessive, fan of The Simpsons, after years of championing a program I watched since its very first moments on The Tracey Ullman Show, I have come to the conclusion that I am ready to throw in the towel: No more would I have to defend myself against the show’s naysayers, no matter how weak and feeble my defense ending up being. Sunday nights, already killing my DVR with an embarrassment of truly good television, would gain a 30-minute window at 8 PM.
And most importantly, no longer would I force myself to sit through mirthless, soulless, story-less episodes that were not only devoid of all character integrity but were a mere shadow of what the show used to be and ultimately just made me sad. All of these things are right and good.
And yet… And yet.
To understand why doing this would be so emotional, you need to go back to crazy, heady salad days of our relationship.
For years this one-sided love affair gave me so much. I made friends with people based almost solely on our mutual love for Springfield and its famous residents. In college, I would program my VCR to tape the daily reruns while I was at the library, or occasionally, class and my dorm room would be stacked high with these video tapes. For longer than I care to admit, my Scottish brogue was based solely on Groundskeeper Willie. While I could barely mouth along with the songs of Mary Poppins*, I knew the words to all of the Shary Bobbins songs. Be Our Guest was merely the inspiration for the true masterpiece, See My Vest.
I would get into lengthy discussions with people over why moving the focus of the show from Bart to Homer in the early years was what finally gave it the freedom to be great. I would tell anyone who would listen how I swelled with pride when my younger brothers knew the right response to the phrase “Hi everybody!”** To this day my speech is peppered with Simpsons quotes, from the obvious (“Me fail English? That’s unpossible!“) to the somewhat obvious (“In theory, Communism works. In theory.”), to the somewhat more obscure (“Why must life be so hard? Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry??”). I was young and in love and everything was golden.
Then one day, Bart became a jockey. And Homer got exponentially dumber. And Lisa more annoyingly strident. And plots kept repeating themselves. And it seemed that the writers hadn’t seen any earlier episodes of the show they themselves were now writing. And the first act of each episode ceased to have any bearing on the second act, which in turn was divorced from the third. And the plots kept repeating themselves, this time paler, weaker, flabbier versions of already degraded copies of the shiny original.
Friends who had once loved the show as I did, who quoted it as incessantly, gave it up. My brothers, whom I myself had introduced to the show, now openly mocked it. Television critics who once praised it, now barely acknowledged it and when they did, it was rarely a favorable mention.
But still I watched.
Once in a blue moon there would be something great, a tantalizing glimmer back to the days when I was hopeful and naïve and believed that such things would last forever. These episodes were few and oh-so-far between, and often seasons went by without even a whisper of former glory.
But still I watched. And everyone who knew me, knew that I watched. I was the girl who, despite all evidence to the contrary, stuck with a loser because I believed, no I knew, that it still had potential. People shook their heads and kept hoping that I would come to my senses.
It took until the end of the show’s 26th season for that to happen.
For months I didn’t even realize that I hadn’t been watching the new episodes after May 2015. Sure the number of unwatched shows on my DVR grew each week and the online recaps kept appeared and remained unread in my RSS feed, but somehow I never put two and two together. Perhaps that was because I had a new favorite cartoon family in the Belchers of Bob’s Burgers***. Or perhaps it was because the sheer wealth of TV offerings could overwhelm me on any given night and there was always something more interesting to tempt me. Or perhaps it was because I finally began to value my time a little more than I valued my need to see every single episode…
But whatever the reason, I stopped watching and stopped caring. Though one might ask, what came first, the chicken or the egg?
And so now every day when I check to see what television goodies are waiting for me, I pause when I see The Simpsons (9) on the screen****. There is no urge to watch them. There isn’t even the still, small voice in the back of my mind begging me to keep up even the mere appearance of being one of the longest running Simpsons fans around. Instead, night after night I choose to turn on something that I know will entertain me far more. If I want to see something animated I can watch Adventure Time. If I need to laugh, I can turn on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. If I need a good lower-middle class family comedy sitcom, there’s always The Middle. If I want to feel that pleasant twinge of nostalgia, there are entire series runs of Seinfeld or Friends or Frasier on various streaming platforms. If I find I need to get riled up and enraged, there is Last Week Tonight or the latest Republican debate. My Simpsons itch can be scratched in more satisfying ways than I can count.
But still, I have not deleted the episodes from my DVR and canceled the series recording.
I recently joked that I can’t delete the unwatched shows because it’s who I am. But I don’t know if that’s true anymore. I don’t think I am that same person who would sit around for hours trading Simpsons quotes, speaking in my own version of shorthand. I am not sure if my need to be a completist is as overpowering as it once was. And even if those things are still true, and even if I still feel the need to partially define myself by a television show, I don’t know if I really want that defining show to be this one.
The want is gone. The need is gone. What remains is mere hesitance and that is just not enough.
So, with this perfectly cromulent act, I will embiggen my soul and do the previously unthinkable. I understand now that doing this doesn’t mean my previous affection has been diminished nor does this mean that I will no longer dip into the earlier seasons whose dialog is entwined with my DNA.
If they say it is better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all, I will take this to heart. I will take comfort that as the distance grows, only the positive memories will stand clear in my mind and the painful years will fade into a washed out sea of pale yellows. And I will look forward to the time when I can once again talk about The Simpsons and give a slow, rueful, sweet smile as I remember with fondness one of the longest loves of my life.
Do you want to delete all?
Do you want to cancel the series recording?
P.S. Screw Flanders.
*My long and sordid history with Mary Poppins deserves its own post one day.
**The proper response is “Hi Dr. Nick!”
***I cannot stress enough how great Bob’s Burgers is and how anyone who has felt let down by The Simpsons should be watching this.
****Truth be told, I have seen a few of the new season, but I didn’t really pay attention and could not under threat of torture remember what the hell happened. I’m pretty sure Bart did something rotten, Homer screwed something up, and Mr. Burns was evil. But I could be wrong.