Last night David Letterman's Late Show welcomed a special cameo by one of television's favorite fathers. Here's Homer Simpson reminding us of the things we've learned over the past double-decade, and a declaration exposing the irony in such a statement.
[above: Homer Simpson's Top Ten List, January 7, 2010.]
David Letterman and Homer Simpson. What have these two men learned as they reach their golden years? Lessons deserving of ovation, or the deadening of what they once stood for? Fifteen years ago they had both hit their stride, and that stride was based on derisiveness. Many loved them passionately and many hated them passionately. They were icons of what television was supposed to offer it's audience, and what it does not offer any longer, try as it might.
Let's go back fifteen years: Letterman was hosting an Oscar ceremony that was maybe the most debated in history. Some calling it smart, calling it different, but most were saying it was the worst Academy Awards show of all time. The buzz surrounding Letterman at the time was controversy over who would be next to wear the Tonight Show crown. Books were written on the Leno/Letterman battle, television movies were made!
Today, Dave is cleaning up the coveted 11:30 ratings, but should he really be patting himself on the back? The controversy surrounding him is not exciting, but as sullied as so much of enduring television has become. Sex with interns, jokes being misheard as sexual judgments on minors, and how well he kept it together during the process of these negative accusations.
[Letterman's Oscar Opener, 1995.]
Homer Simpson's decrepitude comes from a different place, but is just as shining. While Dave was making Oprah uncomfortable, The Simpsons were doing an even better job. Parents and right-wing religious groups lambasted the show as they won Emmy after Emmy. The writing staff was extraordinary, most of them SNL writing alums including Conan O'Brien who penned such classic episodes as Marge vs. the Monorail and New Kid on the Block.
[Excerpt from "New Kid on the Block," The Simpsons, 1992.]
Today, The Simpsons have become what most are willing to call acceptable, but is that what they were working toward? Again, is this what there is to be proud of?
These days, Letterman makes more jokes your grandfather makes at the dinnertable than he does on G.E. or evil corporate entities. Television controversy has deepened cheaply and The Simpsons have been deemed as family friendly by almost every periodical in the country. What have Letterman and Simpson learned over the last twenty years? How to please everyone, and in doing so, offering their audiences something a lot less entertaining.