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The most tragic moment of a comedy nerd's life...

...is whenever you realized "The Simpsons" had become kinda crappy.

No reason to bring this up today, but it was on my mind recently.  It's one of those life-defining moments that stays with you forever.  It's kinda like how people can tell you exactly where they were when they learned JFK was assassinated. (I was going to say "where they were when 9/11 happened," but I guess that's slightly worse than a beloved comedy show going downhill.)


For me, it was the episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?", which I had always called "Homer the Food Critic" until I Googled it just now.  In case it's not clear, this is the episode where Homer becomes a food critic.  It's the third entry of Season 11, which is actually much earlier in the run than I expected; sadly, this means that less than half of the show's existence has been any good.

The exact moment is a scene where Homer is touring Planet Springfield, the hilarious parody of that real life restaurant, Applebee's.  You can actually watch this right now as a free clip on Simpsons World - for some reason they decided this was a highlight.

In the scene, Homer, Bart, and Lisa check out a wall with a couple of exhibits of movie memorabilia.  There's a cane behind a glass, labeled as "The Cane from Citizen Kane."  This is kind of a funny sight gag, which is ruined first by Lisa pointing it out and reading the sign out loud, and then completely destroyed by her further explaining the joke when she comments, "Hey... there wasn't a cane in Citizen Kane!"  But that shitty joke is actually just the lead-in for the moment that killed the series for me.

What happens next is that Bart points out "the awful screenplay" to The Cable Guy. Homer gasps and says, "Let me see that!"  Then he starts ripping the screenplay apart and shouting, until the camera cuts to a bunch of patrons at the restaurant who are staring at him in dismay.

...aaaaaaand that's the joke.

Let's be clear here.  No matter what the context, this is a bad joke.  It doesn't even really qualify as a joke.  There's barely a setup and the punchline is just that a bunch of arbitrary bystanders are staring blankly.  But that's not actually a punchline, see, because that's exactly what you would do if you saw some asshole come into a restaurant and start ripping shit off the wall while screaming.  There's no subversion of expectations or anything.

But now you put this shitty not-a-joke right on the heels of a serviceable joke whose delivery was marred by over-explaining it, and then on top of that, the butt of the "zinger" - the movie The Cable Guy - is actually waaaaay funnier than the show in which this stupid not-a-joke is taking place.  It's kinda like if in the middle of a Larry the Cable Guy routine, Dan Whitney broke down and started talking shit about Mark Twain.

The series was already going downhill before that - I recall thinking the first couple episodes of season 11 were pretty crappy, too - but even when I didn't like an episode, I still found moments that were funny.  The lame Cable Guy joke was simply the point where it tipped too far in the wrong direction and I couldn't justify watching anymore.  That was when I got hit by a fistful of bad humor and couldn't deal.

It probably sounds like an exaggeration, but losing the weekly ritual of "The Simpsons" - and the indescribable joy it filled me with every Sunday - was every bit as nerve-rattling for me as the summer when I realized I had no faith in God.  When I was growing up, "The Simpsons" was more an institution in my house than church, and turning my back on it felt like I was abandoning two families.

But I had to.  That joke was just so bad.

So, what episode / scene was it for you?  When did you realize "The Simpsons" was no longer up to snuff?  And how did you fill the void when it was over?

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