REVIEWED: SEASON 31 (EPISODES 1-11) | WHERE TO WATCH: SKY ONE, SKY GO
The Simpsons: a once-undisputed masterpiece, the shining pinnacle of the medium of television; now a dusty corpse, refused the mercy of death and kept alive in a fetid, painful state of decay. The Simpsons in its current form resembles the show’s first ten seasons in the same way that a cat resembles a dog. Presumably, there’s a painting of The Simpsons somewhere in Matt Groening’s attic that, for the last two decades, has been getting funnier.
Back in 2007, the show culminated an episode with the song, ‘They’ll Never Stop The Simpsons’, a satirical, self-aware acknowledgement that the show was running out of steam. Thirteen years later and it seems that the joke went over enough people’s heads that once they started scraping the bottom of the barrel, they simply kept scraping until they carved a hole straight through the barrel-floor, allowing themselves to continue plummeting for a further 400 episodes and counting.
The show arguably hit its lowest point with 2015’s ‘The Musk Who Fell to Earth’ in which famous not-an-actor, Elon Musk, fumbled his way through 22-minutes of misguided hero-worship with the emotive range of a man attempting to perform a play written in binary code.
They say once you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Perhaps Groening is less distracted by Disenchantment than he used to be when working on Futurama or perhaps Disney’s recent Fox-acquisition has scared the show’s staff into trying like they used to, but it’s with this extremely long-winded qualifier that we’re delighted to report that season 31 of The Simpsons represents a very real uptick in quality.
Most of this run is made up of the usual bad-but-not-completely-terrible episodes that the show pumps out nowadays, but there are a handful of standouts such as the show’s 30th ‘Treehouse of Horror’ Halloween special (also the series’ 666th episode overall), which features an extended cold-open (practically constituting a fourth segment of the usually three-part format), repositioning Maggie as the anti-Christ in a parody of The Omen (something the show somehow only just got around to spoofing). Following that is the limply titled ‘Danger Things’ – a flavour-of-the-month Stranger Things parody - forgivable for the fact that the show has covered pretty much every horror movie in existence, already (apart from The Omen, apparently). While the latter half of the episode descends into typical, unfunny dreck, the first half is lively and legitimately funny.
Picking up the baton of this episode is ‘Thanksgiving of Horror’, an unprecedented second trilogy of spooky stories, but this time with a Thanksgiving-twist that would make Eli Roth proud. If nothing else, it’s fresh in a way that the show hasn’t felt in years.
As an episode, ‘Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?’, is almost a direct riposte to complaints that the show has become completely ungrounded in a way that leaves it with no emotional stakes where Ned Flanders’ son, Todd, loses his faith thanks to the death of Maude, his mother (finally reacting to the events of an episode from 20 years ago). It’s a rare character-driven episode where jokes are secondary to the plot and it works… right up until the point where Todd’s belief in God is unsatisfyingly restored, ensuring that nobody need worry about adhering to any sort of continuity in the future.
Last of note is ‘Bobby, It’s Cold Outside’, a Christmas episode featuring the always crowd-pleasing return of Sideshow Bob. Is it good? Not exactly. It’s mediocre. But by modern The Simpsons’ standards… well, it’s the best episode they’ve produced in the last five years.
Mileage for season 31 will depend on how invested you are in the show in its current form. These episodes aren’t going to win anyone back to the series who’s already written it off, but for those sticking this through to the end, they’re a welcome addition to the show’s catalogue.