Okay, this is very nerdy, but bear with me.
I’ve been watching lately a fair few episodes from what I’d call the “Late Imperial” era of The Simpsons – that is, the era in which, at its best, it was still the best thing on television; but in which it wasn’t hitting its “best” with every episode. This has largely involved watching most of season eight, but I’ve also watched odds and sods from seasons seven and nine as well. And this got me thinking in more detail about a theory I’ve had for a little while, which is this:
I believe a Simpsons episode is more likely to be good if it opens with an in-universe TV show/film/radio show than if it doesn’t.
I’ve come up with this theory based on the fact that the “show within a show” kinds of fiction (largely covering TV shows, but also including movies and radio stations) often tend to be among the funniest and most memorable moments in the series’ history (particularly when they involve Krusty, Kent Brockman or Troy McClure). And for some reason, when an episode opens with one of these scenes, it instantly feels sharper and more imaginative than one that just brings us in to a random scene somewhere in Springfield or at the Simpsons’ home. This is particularly noticeable during these later seasons (and when I say “later”, I mean “later in the good period” – we’re going by the assumption that the programme is largely not worth watching, and thus non-existent in my head, after around season eleven), when it’s the more dull and boring episodes that seem to start in this mundane way, and the better ones that give the laughs by opening with – for example – the Krusty Komedy Klassic, or an edition of Eye on Springfield. It therefore feels to me like I’m simply more likely to enjoy an episode if it’s got one of these opening scenes (which from now on I’m referring to as “TV openings”, even though they also covers other forms of media).
So, I’ve decided to test it out. And count up data in Excel. And turn it into a graph. Because that’s how I roll.
To mark Hallowe’en this year, I’ve decided to sit down and watch The Simpsons‘ annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, in order, at least up to the point where they stop being any good (probably about season 11 or 12). And I thought I might as well throw out a link to something I wrote three years ago – a list of what I think are the ten best individual segments.
Whether I still agree with that list after watching ten or eleven of the things in a row, meanwhile, remains to be seen…