I have always been a fan of The Simpsons - to this day I watch the ten seasons out on DVD on a weekly basis. There's a good reason why it's the longest running situation comedy in the history of television - it's smart, but doesn't bore you to death or condescend.
However, in recent years I have not bothered to tune in to new episodes on Sundays - somewhere just before the 300th episode, the quality level tended to dip. The unfortunate fact is, when you're on the air that long, you start to run out of things for your characters to do. I became one of the many Simpsons snobs that only respect the first eleven or twelve (of now 19!) seasons of the series.
Today, I stumbled across an MSN service that shows a handful of full episodes of the 19th season, and I have to say, Matt Groening and Co. have still got it. Sure, the episodes' premises are even more far fetched and the writers are more prone to episodes completely devoted to parody - 'Love, Springfield Style' made me laugh once or twice but reminded me why I didn't bother to make the series appointment television anymore - but compared to the drivel that gets primetime status on other nights, it's pretty damn good.
In my opinion, the ideal length for a quality sitcom is 8-10 years, maximum. Jerry Seinfeld had it right - go out on top. The Simpsons has obviously sprinted past that mark (nearly twiceover), but popular culture commentary still gives it some steam. An episode entitled 'Any Given Sundance', in which Lisa films her dysfunctional family in a documentary had a great example of the family being a foil for current events -
Throw in the self-effacing cameo by John C. Reilly in the end (The Simpsons often avoids the pitfalls of stunt-casting by openly lampooning guest stars) and that's worth my thirty minutes. Yeah, it's not as good as it was anymore - but you could do much worse.
Lisa [Turning on the Camera]: No Toupees!
Homer: Whaat, I’m going for a Shia LeBeouf thing – not quite a nerd, not quite a hunk – Shia LeBeouf!
As for myself, I'm looking forward to when these episodes come out on DVD - I have some catching up to do.