In the old days one could easily empathize with some characters, thus many situations ended up as funny ones.

Now a days, it's like they try to convince us to empathize with them by giving some explanation, or justification, or a character's actions. It seems like all characters tend to justify their actions somehow, as a parody of themselves.

Could those changes be due to a change in the target audience? How has the show objectively changed over time?

Initially, the show was intended as a broad audience. I started watching the series as a kid, and even as an adult I find it funny, at least the earlier seasons. Now the show seems more like SpongeBob SquarePants or The Fairly OddParents.


The following are some interesting data:

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Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Simpsons_episodes#Ratings

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Source: http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2012/04/ranking-simpsons-seasons.html

List of showrunners throughout the series' run:

  • Season 1–2: Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, & Sam Simon
  • Season 3–4: Al Jean & Mike Reiss
  • Season 5–6: David Mirkin
  • Season 7–8: Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
  • Season 9–12: Mike Scully
  • Season 13–present: Al Jean

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Simpsons

Maybe it could be related somehow.

  • 1
    this may be too subjective to be answered objectively, but I noticed the drop, too. Basically it's just: Bart does mischiev, Marge is annoyed, Lisa is Clever and Homer says D'Oh.
    – oers
    Dec 4, 2012 at 15:12
  • Yeah, but it seems to me more like... Bart mischiefs and explain why, then Marge gets annoyed and explains why, and Lisa too, and Homer doesn't even understand and tries to explain why too. That's like an educational spin-off, that tries to be funny.
    – rraallvv
    Dec 4, 2012 at 15:21
  • 6
    I'll place a notice on this post for now. If it turns into a subjective debate, then I will have to close it. Keep in mind that we welcome theories that can be backed up but calling something "dumb" is purely subjective and not what we're looking for.
    – Tablemaker
    Dec 4, 2012 at 16:13
  • Relevant Meta Discussion
    – Tablemaker
    Dec 5, 2012 at 5:33
  • a great factor might have been, that matt groening left the show
    – oers
    Dec 5, 2012 at 22:47

1 Answer 1


Wikipedia has a nice section about that

It basically make the same assumptions as in the comments

  • Simpsons becoming a shallow parody of itself
  • Shift from plot driven to gag driven episodes

Critics' reviews of early Simpsons episodes praised the show for its wit, realism, and intelligence.
In the late 1990s, around the airing of season ten, the tone and emphasis of the show began to change. Some critics started calling the show "tired". By 2000, some long-term fans had become disillusioned with the show and pointed to its shift from character-driven plots to what they perceived as an overemphasis on zany antics.

The BBC noted "the common consensus is that The Simpsons' golden era ended after season nine", while Todd Leopold of CNN, in an article looking at its perceived decline, stated "for many fans [...] the glory days are long past."

Jim Schembri of the The Sydney Morning Herald called the show "a cultural touchstone for at least two—possibly three—generations of couch potatoes", but claimed that the show has declined in quality. He attributed this decline in quality to an abandonment of character-driven storylines in favour of and overuse of celebrity cameo appearances and references to popular culture. Schembri wrote: "The central tragedy of The Simpsons is that it has gone from commanding attention to merely being attention seeking. It began by proving that cartoon characters don't have to be caricatures; they can be invested with real emotions. Now the show has in essence fermented into a limp parody of itself. Memorable story arcs have been sacrificed for the sake of celebrity walk-ons and punchline-hungry dialogue."

Another objective critery for the downfall could be top ten ratings like this from the guardian frm 2012 where every episode is prior to season 10.


  • #1: "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" (S08E14)
  • #4: "Last Exit to Springfield" (S04E17)
  • #7: "Marge vs. the Monorail" (S04E12)
  • 1
    I'm not sure how objective that particular Top 10 rating is, because it's seems to be the opinion of one critic.
    – Oliver_C
    Dec 6, 2012 at 9:40
  • @Oliver_C I could find/add a few more, I think the wikipedia article stated the same. So its more a question for more data.
    – oers
    Dec 6, 2012 at 11:31
  • I actually upvoted your answer, because it shows that you did some research. I only have a problem with the use of the word objective. Even a majority opinion is still just an opinion. An objective change is something everybody can agree on, e.g. the change in showrunners over the years.
    – Oliver_C
    Dec 6, 2012 at 12:41
  • If you want to talk about ratings, I would suggest doing Neilson ratings vs critic ratings. Neilson has an actual measurement based on audience whereas critics are still opinionated. Otherwise, this is the type of answer that works for this question, +1
    – Tablemaker
    Dec 6, 2012 at 13:20
  • That's a good summary. A particular irony with "It began by proving that cartoon characters don't have to be caricatures" is that a common term for a character drifting over time into a caricature of itself actually comes from later series of the Simpsons: "Flanderization - The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character" Jul 2, 2017 at 20:07

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