It is almost unbelievable that this is a review for The Simpsons 31st season. The little animated sitcom that first aired when I was still in grade school has amassed an unprecedented 684 unique episodes. Season thirty was a milestone year breaking records and creating new heights for what is possible out of an animated TV sitcom. Now this series is just showing off and making the records that much more unobtainable like Wayne Gretzky in his 1981-82 season.
There is no secret that The Simpsons is not the same show that captivated the world in the early 90s. This isn’t even the same show that was airing twenty years ago. A lot changes in three decades and I hope everyone is somewhere completely different than they were thirty years ago. Just like us, The Simpsons has been through some things and it came out changed.
Truth is, The Simpsons are in a brand-new era this season. The impossible has become possible as the series entered its fourth decades worth of content. More significantly, season 31 is the beginning of The Simpsons flying under the flag of Disney. The show that we understand as The Simpsons is changing before our eyes as we enter the next generation.
Back in the days when we had conventions to meet our favourite talents from shows like this, or about a year ago, Simpsons staffers would get multiple questions about what life was like under the House of Mouse. The main message from all of those interviews was that there was a little more freedom. Turns out Disney supports imagination. This was our first season of seeing how the show comes together under new management.
The result was a rollercoaster ride of a season. The highs were high, the lows were low, and you never knew what would happen next. At times, the show played it safe and recycled old story ideas. But not nearly to the extent that has happened in recent years. In place were a few gambles regarding original concepts and big ideas. The Simpsons does not feel as uptight or like it is trying to prove anything, season 31 is the showrunners letting loose and having fun.
Off the top, there are a few episodes that deserve recognition. “Thanksgiving of Horror” wasn’t only a clever meta-parody of the annual “Treehouse of Horror”, it won Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Writing in Animation. The same award which had two other nominations from this season of The Simpsons, “Go Big or Go Homer” and “Livin’ La Pura Vida”.
Late additions to the season that deserve their own awards are plentiful. “Highway to Well” had Marge promoting a cannabis dispensary. “The Incredible Lightness of Being a Baby” continued Maggie’s adventures with Hudson from “Playdate with Destiny” which premiered on the big screen ala Pixar’s Onward. Most impressive was “Bart the Bad Guy” which delivered a Marvel Cinematic Universe parody and guest stars Kevin Feige, Cobie Smulders, and the Russo Brothers.
Speaking of guest stars.
Season 31 brought the goods. Mega talents like Jon Lovitz, Kelsey Grammer, and Glenn Close all make a return as beloved characters Artie Ziff, Sideshow Bob, and Mona Simpson. A-list stars like John Legend, Cate Blanchett, and Kevin Smith are all now a part of the Simpsons-verse. Weezer appeared as themselves delivering their own rock star rendition of The Simpsons Theme. And the doors were open for actors and comedians like John Mulaney, Asia Kate Dillon, Fortune Feimster, Chelsea Peretti, and the cast of Riverdale. The series always maintains an impressive list of friends, because who wouldn’t want to appear on The Simpsons.
What The Simpsons did phenomenally this season was give love and attention to the beloved characters of Springfield. Some of our favourite citizens got some much-deserved airtime including Nelson Muntz, Professor Frink, and Chief Wiggum. Out of all the characters explored it was the Sea Captain that brought production to another level. “The Miseducation of Lisa Simpson” opened with an exploration of the Captain and what his purpose is. The vignette is potentially the greatest two-minutes of The Simpsons in twenty years and a keen example of what the series is still capable of.
The season was strong from start to finish. “The Winter of Our Monetized Content” opened things up by making a mockery out of what we do here at Bubbleblabber. How could we not love it? While the season finale featured a touching rewind on the life of Santa’s Little Helper. With a flashback to the very first episode of The Simpsons, “The Way of the Dog” could have served well as a thoughtful series conclusion. Thankfully, it is not.
There are a few blemishes along the way assuring that this would not be a perfect season. “Hail to the Teeth” was a blatant rip-off of old ideas including giving Lisa braces for the second time as an 8-year-old. It is that lack of consideration for continuity that lost The Simpsons a lot of fans after season 9’s “Principal and the Pauper”, which saw Principal Skinner’s backstory tarnished.
On the opposite side of that coin, sometimes taking chances does not work either. This year The Simpsons rolled the dice on their third two-part episode in their three-decade history. Unfortunately, dividing an average episode into two parts doesn’t make it better. “Warrin’ Priests Part One and Two” stand out like a sore thumb in the middle of such a successful season. Attempting to extend the plot only did damage insulting every other episode that was more deserving.
The truth is the same as it is every other year, The Simpsons is some of the best stuff you can find on television. It may not always be perfect, and it to has gone through its own growing pains in the last thirty-one years. But it delivers consistent premium content more often than not. Season 31 was a treasure chest filled with great new additions to The Simpsons library. The series feels like it is on an upswing when it comes to storytelling and ingenuity.
In this new era under the Disney banner, The Simpsons is deserving of our respect and admiration. If you were to watch this latest season without any context or nostalgia for what the show is, it will still entertain. And long-time fans can take comfort that the series is headed in a great direction moving forward. The Simpsons no longer acts like it has something to prove to its fans, and they have gone back to having fun again.