Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on The Simpsons, one of the longest running, most successful “sitcoms” ever. Some episodes were absolutely brilliant. Remember the “Duff Gardens” episode in which Aunt Selma tried to be a good babysitter, but Lisa ended up getting drunk? Remember the absolutely hilarious “Flaming Moe” episode with Aerosmith? Then, there is my all-time favorite Simpsons episode, "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge", where Marge tried to get Itchy and Scratchy banned from television.
For years, the Simpsons dealt with taboo subjects and pushed the limits of network television. However, being that it is “network” television, the limits can only be stretched so far and it’s obvious from some recent lame episodes that the Janet Jackson effect has lamed even this once impeccable series. Now, no matter how funny the show gets, the writers always have to “make up” for it by teaching a lesson to the viewer. "There’s Something About Marrying," the famous episode which featured the “gay marriage,” was incredibly lame and tried too hard to satisfy both sides of the controversy.
Because South Park is on a cable network, Comedy Central, the writers don’t have to worry about satisfying the Christian right, with the exception of not originally airing the “Virgin Mary” episode (it did eventually air). The episode, which angered the Catholic League by having the Virgin Mary statue fart blood on people, was actually pretty offensive. However, it also showed the craziness of organized religion.
Catholicism is certainly not the only religion that’s been a target on South Park, which has also made fun of Christianity, Judaism, and Tom Cruise’s favorite religion, Scientology. It was the “In The Closet” episode that made me a South Park fan. Because of all the hype, I just had to watch it. Because of the brilliance of this episode, I was on file-sharing sites downloading every episode of South Park that I could.
In this episode, Kyle is brainwashed into becoming a Scientologist and made to believe he is the reincarnated spirit of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. We learn, from this episode, that Scientology was founded on the belief that evil aliens had been planting irrational thoughts into our heads. The episode also pokes fun of some celebrities whose sexual orientation is the subject of tabloid speculation, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, by having them “hide in a closet.” The episode was not only a commentary on the craziness of religion, but a brilliant commentary on how major stars will often live a lie in order to cover up their sexual orientation.
Another hilarious and adventurous episode is the recent “World of Warcraft," in which a renegade player threatens the massively multiplayer online game and the fate of this game lies in the hands of the South Park characters. This episode not only spotlights the brilliance of technology, but it also shows that people really have no lives. The renegade player, who obviously has no life and enough time to become an expert that even the experts can’t stop, symbolizes all of the video game addicts in this world. But it’s the advancement of technology that leads to this irrelevant conquest. Wow! Who would ever think that technology would let us join a virtual world in which pathetic video game characters kill each other?
The recent “Mystery of The Urinal Device,” was one of the first South Park episodes in a long time that hasn’t thrilled me. It deals with Eric Cartman’s discovery of the 9/11 conspiracy. For the first time – in a long time – the episode just seemed “behind the times.” However, even this episode was more relevant, funny, and thought provoking than any episode of The Simpsons has been in the last five years.
Perhaps when The Simpsons Movie hits theaters later this year, we will see a funny, brilliant movie that isn't censored by the religious right. Perhaps Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, and all the other characters will show more development and have better dialogue than they have on FOX over the past five or six years. As of now, however, it appears that The Simpsons Movie would have been far more relevant in 1997 than 2007.