The Simpsons has been on television since December 1989 (and since April 1987 if you include The Tracey Ullman Show shorts). It is the longest running sitcom in American television history, and as such the very definition of a Long Runner. However, the show was created in the late 1980s as a send-up of sitcoms throughout television's then-40 year existence. Everything in their initial structure easily shows that fact, and the references they made were directed at people who grew up in that era, or to the then-current day.
However, as television evolved (somewhat from the show's enormous influence on comedy and television), and societal trends and norms shifted, a lot of the show's characters and themes did not. Most shows that are extremely long-running (and even some that are not so long-running) usually change characters, premises, or settings to keep relevant and bring in new story ideas. However, The Simpsons still has the same premise and almost all the same characters as it did when it premiered 30 years ago, with only a few recurring ones added over the years, with the same designs, mannerisms, and general backstory. In fact, current showrunner Al Jean (who has been showrunner since 2001) has confirmed he has enforced the status quo, even undoing several of the changes the previous showrunner, Mike Scully, oversaw.
Also, due to its being animated and having a system of Comic-Book Time, none of the characters have aged, except for a few scattered exceptions, almost none of whom are recurring characters. Because of this, various elements of the show are brought into the present even though they started as things that were very relevant and timely, but are no longer relevant in culture, or at least far less relevant. There are also some issues where character dynamics run for so long that the writers forget why certain characters do or feel certain things. Often, the show will actually do episodes addressing these points, but because those elements are "iconic", refuse to properly update.
This is not usually a problem that television shows, especially sitcoms, have, as shows typically end within their cultural era, and by the time such a show would need to drastically adapt, it had already been wrapped up years beforehand. If the show had aired new episodes for only 8-10 years (the typical length of a successful sitcom), as most viewers, cast, and crew expected the show to last, this datedness would have been far less noticeable and more forgivable, if it ever became an issue at all. The show would have be seen at best as a classic show heavily defined by its time, or at worst an Unintentional Period Piece.
The Simpsons is basically a living fossil trapped in time, the only pop culture connection left from the early 90s, as every other television show from the time has LONG ended. For perspective, the start of the Simpsons happened closer to the Eisenhower presidency (1953-1961) than to today. After 30 years, spanning four decades, various things glaringly show their age:
- The premise and set-up as a whole. Every member of the family was parodying, deconstructing, and/or subverting famous archetypes of sitcom families from The '50s to The '80s. However, because the Simpsons became so successful and iconic, it pretty much destroyed the "wholesome family sitcom" genre. The shows they were heavily parodying wrapped up by the mid-90s, and television moved heavily to sitcoms with more modern sensibilities, or ones with very different premises, such as ones about bachelors instead of families. Because of this, the characters lost all context. From there, the characters at this point are known as the characters themselves, not what they were subverting.
- The Simpsons was born in an era where sitcoms were vastly different from today. In sitcoms, characters essentially never watched television, or even brought up television at all. Matt Groening stated that given how much Americans watched TV, the idea that fictional characters who are supposed to represent us did not even acknowledge its existence was absolutely absurd. The Simpson family, especially in Seasons 1 and 2, was obsessed with television, with several plot points revolving around what is seen on television. From there, parodies of what is seen in television and movies came from that, and from there, the Simpsons became also known for its brilliant parodies of pop culture at a wit and speed unprecedented in sitcom history. This was a watershed moment in comedy that changed how parody was done in pop culture.
- Had the Simpsons wrapped up in the late 90s, it would be very fondly remembered as basically the father of modern television comedy, especially of animated comedy. Since the 90s, TV writers and producers started making shows inspired by the Simpsons's style and humor (and now, shows from people inspired by the Simpsons from watching it as children and/or teenagers). The Simpsons now has to compete with a landscape it inspired and created, against people creating parody using methods and writing styles that have since evolved and improved significantly. And now THOSE shows have inspired a new wave of writers and producers, with shows that begin and end and allow for a seamless evolution of entertainment while the Simpsons will always have its origins rooted firmly in the early 90s. A show usually does not have to go through this, because by the time a show fully creates such a landscape, it has already ended.
- The Simpsons has also had to compete against the show most clearly inspired by itself, Family Guy. While the shows appear very similar in structure (suburban, blue collar Nuclear Family with 3 kids in a town with wacky inhabitants), Family Guy 's style of humor is very different (its trademark incessant cutaway gags for one), and is far less grounded in reality, with more overt references, crass jokes, and fantastical moments. The show was cancelled after 2 seasons, but was picked up for a third at the last minute, and then cancelled after that season. However, it was revived in 2005 after very impressive DVD sales and huge ratings success in syndication, and became the newest animated comedy to talk about. The Simpsons tried to incorporate Family Guy 's humor and writing style into their own, but as the Simpsons was not originally meant to have such a style, it usually does not work well.
Internet Killed the TV Star
- The Simpsons also came in a time where the Internet was not in mainstream usage. In 1989, only 15% of households owned a computer, and the World Wide Web had JUST been invented that year (and it was only used by scientists at CERN to share documents). So television was America's main source of pop culture and satire. Back then, television was more of a great cultural unifier, with very large pop culture moments having a lot of gravitas, often still being remembered decades later. This was especially true at the time since there were only three main channels (and the Simpsons helped FOX become a fourth), and cable and satellite were expensive and did not have a lot of original programming. Prime Time television was the only mainstream method of popular television, so reruns of old shows and movies on main channels and cable were common. Because people more solidly remembered old movies and TV shows, and very common reruns helped get newer viewers up to speed, satire and parody of old pop culture was a sure winner. It also helped that the Simpsons wrote their parodies broadly enough that they were still very enjoyable to a viewer who did not get the references.
- However, two major, interrelated things have shifted that completely killed this landscape.
- The first was the evolution of television. By the mid-to-late 1990s, cable television started to have more original programming. This led to more competition, and more split markets. This splintered the unifying nature of television, and made it more easily cater to specific tastes. So general pop culture references weren't as memorable or easy to parody with all the variety and constant deluge of new shows. Also, reruns became less and less common, so as various movies and famous moments faded into history, references were lost and a new generation never learned about them collectively. And while the Simpsons pushed the envelope on what you could get away with on television, cable channels (especially the premium ones, like HBO and Showtime) had fewer broadcast standards to abide by, so they had fewer creative constraints. Today, the most successful shows are on cable or premium channels.
- The second is the proliferation of the Internet. By 2000, a majority of Americans had internet access. This created the same phenomenon as cable television (but on a far bigger, more general scale), because with the Internet, there was a far bigger quantity of news, and it came faster than ever before, and making older references is going to make you look out-of-touch. There was also the fact that the Internet was a new time-killer instead of television, letting everyone find their niches and not watch television to pass the time. This already-tectonic shift was then exponentially multiplied in the mid-to-late 2000s when internet speeds vastly increased, and casual usage of the Internet became a part of everyday life for almost all Americans. Whereas during the The Simpsons' early years one had to, for example, watch television at a specific time (or perhaps make the appropriate settings on a VCR) to see their favourite series or movie, one can now just log into a multitude of streaming services whenever they feel like watching television series x or movie y.
- This was then FURTHER multiplied by the invention of smartphones. Instead of waiting until you got home or to work to use the Internet, you can use it literally anywhere you go. And with social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+, along with news apps that give notifications, news and opinions of said news are broadcast and consumed worldwide and instantaneously, making all pop culture work on a very abbreviated schedule. Due to the Simpsons's long production cycle, this leads to looking incredibly behind the times even if it was just a year ago. By the time the Simpsons gets a crack at a new trend, the episode about it doesn't air until the trend is long dead, or it airs after all the social media feeds, late-night talk show hosts, comedians, Web Comics, and web shows already squeezed out every possible joke about it, and then got bored with it.
- Also, with higher internet speeds, came television shows released on the Internet. Unlike the 90s where television only competed with itself, today there are HUNDREDS of shows to pick from on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and many other choices. Gone are the days when television shows regularly attracted tens of millions viewers per episode. With the ENORMOUS variety available to people, making pop culture parody is very difficult these days, so most other comedy shows have stopped trying, instead parodying more general aspects of society. Because essentially all of today's other shows came out in an era when this fast pace of life was a given, they usually account for this instead of hoping it doesn't exist.
- In short, the Simpsons didn't have much competition (except a few other networks) in its prime, and most jokes it could tell about pop culture people would collectively understand. Today, it has to compete with other channels, basic cable channels, premium cable channels, webcomics, the Internet's original programming, YouTube, and countless other sources.
America's Favorite Family
- The Running Gag of Homer strangling Bart was yet another one of the many subversions of traditional sitcoms of the period, as Homer's knee-jerk response of strangling his son for troublemaking came off as a shocking and hilarious demonstration of Homer's character. As time has gone on, however, the joke stopped being shocking (Peter Griffin on a good day still makes Homer look like a saint by comparison) and the realistic method of attack combined with advancements in studies on the effect of physical abuse on children makes the joke more uncomfortable than anything else. Like many things, the show did an episode discussing this, but completely missed the point when it came to actually addressing it, creating a massive Family-Unfriendly Aesop that implied such treatment was required to prevent Bart from going too far, and then going back to doing it as soon as the episode finished.
- The family cars have remained generic family sedans/station wagon-type cars that were already outdated by the 1980s/early 1990s, but still serviceable. Needless to say, cars have substantially changed in appearance, performance, and features over the last 30 years. Occasionally, an episode comes along where they are driving a new car, and that car usually fits the time period of the episode, but they always go back to the original cars by the next episode, even if the last car was destroyed because Status Quo Is God.
- The family TV in their living room was an old rabbit-ears CRT television until the late 2000s. In the 60s-80s, families often had only one TV, due to how big and expensive they were, and kept them for long periods of time. During the 90s and 00s, however, most Americans got cable/satellite (often with DVR), the price of TVs themselves plummeted, and in 2005-2006, bulky, standard-definition CRT televisions were almost completely phased out in favor of much lighter, flat-screen high-definition TV. As of the present day, not one factory on Earth manufactures cathode ray tubes, and the CRT TV is essentially an extinct, worthless product that even charities refuse note . In 2009, the Simpsons living room television was finally upgraded to a modern HD flat-screen (to symbolize the show itself moving to HD), although in some scenes, it goes back to the original design.
- Homer still working outside the safety room at the Power Plant in the opening theme may be this. Although zigzagged, Homer has since been shown the main role of working as the "Nuclear Safety Inspector" for the most part with the openings appearing with the same depiction of him mostly working as the other employees work.
- Marge's Beehive Hairdo. In the 1970s and 1980s, that hairstyle, along with other "big hair" styles were at the forefront of hair trends. So a woman having that hairstyle in a sitcom made sense and fit the era. However, as the 1990s went on, the trend died out, and emphasis was placed on longer and/or less voluminous hair. By the 2000s, the beehive and other styles of the 1980s were considered completely retro. Anyone with Marge's hairstyle today would be very conspicuous. In the Season 28 episode "Moho House", Marge inexplicably has a more modern, shorter hairstyle for a majority of the episode. This is likely what hairstyle Marge would have if the show premiered today.
- The show in its infancy (Season 1 and especially the Tracey Ullman shorts) had a rather crude art style. The Simpsons family members were drawn with hair the same color as their head, or a bunch of lines (like Homer's bald head). The exception is Marge, originally drawn with a beehive of realistic proportions, but soon became the trademark insanely tall hairstyle she is famous for, although with blue hair the entire time. A few nameless background characters were indeed drawn this way as well (including one random man waiting at the bus stop where Bart steals the sign in the Season 1 intro). Also, Homer and Grandpa (as well as Lenny, Krusty, and a few other characters) all have brown muzzles signaling beard growth. Many side characters had these style choices as well, and the character designs fit in with the rest of the show's style at that point.
- However, by the start of Season 2, things changed very markedly. Due to the show's enormous success, the second season was given a much bigger budget, and most of the show's rough and crude animation style was heavily cleaned up. Characters and locations started to look much more polished. Character designs of new characters started to be far more realistic and detailed, with the exception of some background characters. There were some exceptions, of course, like Herb Powell still having a brown muzzle, although that was almost definitely to show family resemblance. And Comic Book Guy had a small goatee the same color as his skin...even though he had brown hair. So newer characters were more polished, but the original characters did not look too out of place.
- By season 3, though, the show was even MORE polished with an even bigger budget, and literally all new character designs were similar to those today. Absolutely no new characters with brown muzzles and lined hair were created. No characters with unusual hair color were created. While these rules were occasionally broken for crowd scenes and background characters, it stayed true for any named characters and/or those in the foreground. This was basically the style that the show has stayed with, although the animation gets crisper with each season. Eventually, even the exceptions went away.
- However, during all of this, no characters created in the first two seasons were redesigned. Marge and the Van Houtens have blue hair when literally no one else does (although Patty and Selma also have strange colored hair - it's likely their hair used to be as blue like Marge's but grayed over time, although flashbacks contradict this). Homer has one line around his head signifying baldness, when every other bald character in the show has more realistic, full sides of the head (e.g. Superintendent Chalmers or Kirk Van Houten). Also, Homer's cylindrical head shape is not used with any other character since Season 2. Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are the only ones with hair color the same as their skin.
- Even by Season 4 and 5, it was obvious what characters were created in which season, but since the appearance of the characters were so iconic, nobody really complained or took issue with it. However, after thirty years, and being surrounded by thousands of character designs that only get more detailed and crisper with each passing year, it is absurdly glaring that the Simpsons (and the original characters from the very early years) are just weirdly drawn people in an increasingly realistically drawn world (except for the fact that every light-skinned person is still yellow and everyone still has Four-Fingered Hands).
- As any long-running show, The Simpsons has undergone a lot of Art Evolution. When the original Season 1 intro was reanimated for the second season, it still reused some traced-over animation from the former one, resulting in some of it being rather subtly clashing with the usual animation of the show, while also keeping some other quirks (such as Homer's pink sedan being a two-door). This version of the intro remained in use for many years until the high definition update in 2009.
- Homer and Marge being teens in The '70s. This made sense when the show started... since people in their 30s would have been in high school in the 1970s, but as the show went on, 30-somethings would have grown up in The '80s and The '90s, and now, even the 00s. Certain episodes like "That '90s Show", "Four Regrettings and a Funeral", and "Three Scenes Plus A Tag From A Marriage" attempted to address this, but they generally didn't stick, the former heavily panned by critics and longtime fans. The "Bart and Homer's Excellent Adventure" segment from "Treehouse of Horror XXIII" pokes fun at this by depicting Bart travelling back to the events of Season 2's Whole Episode Flashback "The Way We Was" in 1974... from 2012.
- Abe Simpson being a World War II veteran. This is not wholly implausible, since a good amount of WWII veterans are still alive (although they are dwindling by the day; as of the end of 2019, only about 385,000 out of the original 16 million are still living). However, he has a 30-something son, and was clearly established to have taken care of Homer as a middle-aged man in the 1960s-70s. Most WWII veterans alive today have children in their 60s and 70s, since all of them are in their late 80s to 90s or even pushing 100 and beyond.
- Mona Simpson falling in with hippies in The '60s. The episode introducing her and her backstory aired in the fall of 1995, and revealed she ran from the family to escape the police after a lab raid in 1969. In 1995, a 30-something man like Homer would have been approximately 7-10 years old, as Homer was shown to be. However, as the show went on, and she made two other appearances before dying (and many other appearances afterwards in flashbacks), the backstory didn't change, even though 30-somethings would no longer have been alive in The '60s, and since elements of the hippie movement completely died out or became incorporated into mainstream society by The '70s (and especially The '80s), the backstory makes increasingly less sense.
- Principal Skinner being heavily established as a veteran of The Vietnam War. In the 80s and 90s, most Vietnam War veterans were middle-aged Baby Boomers, so a stern school principal having this backstory would make perfect sense. However, today, most Vietnam war veterans are retired and/or in their 60s and 70s, so a man Skinner's age would likely have been a small child during the war, or not even born yet.
- Montgomery Burns has Victorian-era memories (or at the very least, pre-WWI memories) that would make him absurdly old at this point. In the 1990 episode "Simpson and Delilah", Burns tells Homer that he's 81 years old, which would place his birth date in 1908 at the earliest. Burns's age was then exaggerated in later seasons; by the mid-90s he was usually stated to be 104 years old. While this is of course an age that most people never reach, it's still not downright absurdly old (although to be still actively running a business empire at that age is something of a stretch). At that point in the series, flashbacks to Burns's childhood were usually implied to take place in the late 1800s, which made sense since the episodes aired in the 1990s. The thing is though, that even in the episodes airing in the 2010s and 2020s, Burns still seems to be a child of the late 1800s (or very early 1900s), having had vivid memories of the time. By 2000, the amount of people born in or before 1900 were down to a very select few, and was heavily female. By 2018, literally all of them are dead. Arguably, though, the absurdity of Burns' age is an explicit point of the part of the writers, more so than the other time-frame examples. One episode established that his age is his bank account number, and while we dont see the specific numbers he presses, it was 4 digits long.
- The fact that Moe calls Marge "Midge" is an example of writers forgetting context. In the classic era, Moe had very little interaction with the Simpsons aside from Homer's common visits to his tavern, and when he did, he clearly did not care (with one or two exceptions in Seasons 1-3, but that can likely be chalked up to Early Installment Weirdness). Moe did not care much about Homer's home life, and hence didn't really know or care about Marge's real name, so whenever they did meet up, he called her "Midge" (although sometimes, he did correctly call her Marge), showing his lack of knowledge. However, as the show went on, Moe spent much more time with all the members of the Simpsons (working with Marge to build a British pub, taking care of Maggie, Lisa helping him write poetry), to the point where he is essentially a family friend. It no longer makes sense for him not to know Marge's name. This was addressed in Season 28 with "Moho House", but it proves the writers forgot the reason why, because Moe says he has no idea why he does it.
- The hatred that Homer has for Ned Flanders makes no sense anymore due to how dynamics have shifted. At the beginning of the show, Homer's resentment of Flanders was out of pure jealousy. Flanders had everything Homer wished he had: a beautiful and caring wife, well behaved and loving kids, enough money to live very comfortably, and beloved by the town. And while Homer could be miserable, Flanders was always cheerful — the origin of Flanders's religiosity was simply that, while Homer struggled to even stay awake in church, Flanders actively looked forward to it. The Simpsons were the dumpy, everyman family constantly beaten down by the world, and the Flanderses were the successful, perfect neighbors. But as the show went on, the Simpsons became less beaten down and soon most episodes were about how awesome their lives were. Money never seems to be an issue anymore, and the Flanderses have completely changed. Maude was killed off, Ned turned from the perfect neighbor into a goofy but nosy, crazily religious moralizer, and Rod and Todd turned from naive and good-behaved to creepily sheltered. It makes absolutely no sense for Homer to be jealous of him.
- Ned's Flanderization is an example of this in itself because it shows the writers forgetting the point behind a joke, namely that Ned was supposed to be a traditional sitcom dad compared to the subversion that Homer was, with his religiosity being another symbol of him as a "ideal" American father. Once that archetype had vanished from the American consciousness (if anything, the Bumbling Dad is now the norm and Ned is now the subversion), the Flanders family was left without any kind of role. Thus, the idea of them being obsessed with religion, despite the already having a character (Reverend Lovejoy) who was used to comment on religion since the early seasons.
Ethnic StereotypesThe show made great use of Funny Foreigners, such as Luigi Risotto, Groundskeeper Willie, and especially Apu (see below). They were created in a time when ethnic stereotypes were far more acceptable in comedy, but due to cultural shifts, no show today would create characters like them anymore.
- Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in particular was created to be a stereotype of the ethnic store clerk, voiced by the white Hank Azaria, but due to the increased Indian population in America, as well as changing ethnic norms and taboos, doing this today would be considered offensive. His depiction has become the target for a lot of Indian-American people in recent years, especially from actors who'd had to go through thousands of auditions where they'd be asked to do some variation on his stereotypical voice, not to mention dealt with racism from people making fun of them by doing that voice. Comedian Hari Kondabolu once described him as "a white guy doing an impression of a white guy doing an impression of my dad," and went as far as to make a documentary, The Problem With Apu, discussing his and other Indian people's complicated relationship with this show and the character and acknowledging that it has as much to do with a general lack of representation of Indians in American media as it did with Apu himself.
- In rebuttal to this, many have said that Apu was a relatable, fleshed-out character with a realistic, down-to-earth backstory, at a time when Indians did not get much positive representation (if any representation at all) in American television. While you could feasibly make this argument in the classic era, in the modern era, he, like most characters, severely regressed and he is basically a crude Indian stereotype. Also, this was addressed in the above documentary, saying that while Apu was not the WORST possible representation of an Indian, it was still not extremely flattering for the aforementioned reasons, he was still played by a white actor, and he was pretty much the ONLY representation of Indians in pop culture.
- The show actually provided a rebuttal to this documentary in a season 29 episode, using an allegory of Marge wanting to share with Lisa a book she loved as a child, but realizes it is rather offensive by modern standards. However, the episode badly and confusingly bungled it, completely ridiculing the idea and mocking people for not allowing for or being able to handle Values Dissonance of an old character... which would be a somewhat appropriate response if the Simpsons had ended in The '90s, but the Simpsons is still on television, with Apu still appearing. Again, most shows would not have this problem because by the time such major cultural shifts culminate, the show has long ended.
- Bumblebee Man was a parody of strange Spanish-language sitcoms found on obscure channels in the 90s (specifically, El Chapulín Colorado). Today, with Latino media being far more mainstream (both in the English and Spanish-speaking communities), most viewers, especially younger ones, will likely have no idea what he is supposed to be. This is slightly justified in that his appearances in more modern episodes are mostly reduced to crowd scenes, but sometimes he talks and has the same shtick he did in 1995.
- Jeff "Comic Book Guy" Albertson was originally established as a composite parody of rude, nerdy shut-ins and of angry Simpsons nerds of the time, since they were the most vocal, given their access to the then-nascent Internet. However, as The Internet grew in usage, both of these factors were weakened. First, by the late 90s, when the Internet became far more widely used, everyone watching the Simpsons now had an outlet for their opinion, diluting the opinions of the hardcore nerds. Two, because of the Internet, nerd culture became more far more accepted and diverse (not just in demographics, but in interests: film buffs, otakus, gamers, comic book nerds, Bronies, Trekkies, Whovians, etc.). So while the image of a lonely, angry, fat, white man obsessed with comic books is still understood, it is nowhere near the archetype it once was. For what it's worth, later episodes appear to be putting some effort into modernizing Comic Book Guy by expanding his nerdy repertoire (albeit still keeping him grounded in American Comic Books) and having him find love with a woman who is into anime, Magical Girls and Kawaii stuff.
- The sporadically recurring character Database was created as a extreme nerd stereotype who looked and talked like Pat from Saturday Night Live (although unlike Pat's premise of ambiguous gender, Database clearly identifies as male). While Pat's last appearance in any media was in August 1994 (with the Box Office Bomb of It's Pat!), six months before Database's first appearance (February 1995), this was still a fresh reference that most people figured out. But Pat's presence in pop culture pretty much faded away shortly after, and is mostly forgotten by younger generations, so he has basically become a funny-looking nerdy kid with an annoyingly strange voice. Also, with Pat considered today a questionably transphobic premise, or at the very least, inconsiderate to those who identify as non-binary in terms of gender, most try to leave the character in the past.
- Drederick Tatum was an obvious parody of Mike Tyson, along with his manager Lucius Sweet, an obvious parody of Tyson's manager Don King. In The '90s, Tyson was a very prominent and famous (as well as infamous) boxing champion, so satire of him on the Simpsons and in other media was common. While Mike Tyson is still alive and well, and is mentioned somewhat regularly in pop culture, he no longer boxes, and he is nowhere near as relevant as he once was. However, Tatum still appears, sometimes just to say a few lines.
- Judge Snyder, the judge who presides over almost every plot-relevant case in the show, is based on former judge Robert Bork. Robert Bork became very well-known in the 1980s as an appellate judge, a legal activist, and (most famously) his failed nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. However, Bork retired from being a judge in 1988, making Judge Snyder already a mostly outdated reference. But with anyone born in the 1990s likely knowing nothing of Bork, and Bork's death in 2012, Snyder is now completely outdated with the satire lost.
- The Blue-Haired Lawyer (he is never given a name onscreen, nor is it All There in the Manual) is shown to be Mr. Burns' attorney (or lead attorney), as well as the attorney for most businesses and wealthy people in Springfield, and also is a defense attorney for the government occasionally. Unlike many of the other lawyers in the show, he is shown to be extremely competent and diligent, and defends his client very ruthlessly and professionally. His nasally voice with the New York accent is clearly based on that of Roy Cohn, the New York attorney most famous for helping Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy conduct his Communism witch hunts in the early to mid 50s, being Donald Trump's lawyer in the 1970s (as well as the lawyer for many of New York's prominent businessmen and mafiosos), and for being revealed as gay and dying of AIDS in 1986 (although while dying, he insisted it was liver cancer). Despite his death, Cohn was very well-known in the 1990s for his very cutthroat, ruthless messaging and methods, and his using of McCarthyism to basically blacklist and exterminate any political opponents. However, since the 90s, he has mostly faded into history, with newer generations knowing little about him, so today the Blue-Haired Lawyer is just a lawyer with an unnecessarily silly voice that only masks his competence instead of exemplifying it.
- Mayor Joe Quimby still works today as a satire of corrupt, womanizing politicians, but he is clearly supposed to be a parody of the Kennedys, such as the obvious Boston accent, the liberal reputation, the family compound, the large Catholic family, and the demeanors and personalities of him and his family members. In the 1990s, the Kennedy political family was still rather relevant. The two brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, were both gunned down in their prime (the former while President, and the latter while running for president) and were still fondly remembered by Baby Boomers. Their brother Edward "Ted" Kennedy (who Quimby most strongly resembles) was still a very powerful Senator, having had been in office since 1962. However, as the Kennedy assassinations faded into history (and because of Values Dissonance, people today are not as forgiving the Kennedys for their womanizing and major transgressions as people in the past did), and fewer Kennedys were rising to take their place, the Kennedys have lost their omnipresence:
- Ted Kennedy died in August 2009, and his Senate seat was then occupied by Republican Scott Brown for 3 years in a shocker special election in January 2010, blunting his legacy until liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren defeated Brown in November 2012.
- Connecticut State Senator Edward Kennedy Jr., Ted Kennedy's older son, was elected in 2014, but left office in 2019.
- Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's younger son, retired from Congress in 2010 due to his drug problems.
- Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert Kennedy, was elected in 2012, and re-elected in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and, as of now, is the only member of the family currently in political office, or considered to have any future ambitions.
- Minor example, but Dr. Julius Hibbert started as an obvious parody of Dr. Huxtable from The Cosby Show. The show was one of The Simpsons's competitors in their time slot, so it made comedic sense to have a character that mocked/played homage to their main competitor. However, The Cosby Show ended in 1992, but Dr. Hibbert kept his mannerisms, although he was never a true Expy and had his own quirks and personality. However, he is still the result of a reference that references something irrelevant today. Bill Cosby is relevant today for... other reasons, but his character Dr. Huxtable has mostly faded from pop culture.
- Also, other aspects of his Cosby similarities were phased out. He originally had a family and a house very similar to that of the Huxtables. However, while his wife Bernice is an occasionally recurring character, his children were also completely forgotten, with the exception of the occasional crowd scene.
- Rainier Wolfcastle, or McBain, is an obvious Expy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, down to such detail he is basically a Captain Ersatz. When he first appeared in the early 90s, Schwarzenegger was easily one of the biggest movie stars in the world, with almost every form of entertainment having a parody of him in some way. Wolfcastle was also used to parody other 80s and 90s action stars, and his McBain movies are obvious parodies of 80s and 90s action movies.
- By the mid to late 90s, Schwarzenegger's career was in decline, although only relatively from the amazing heights of the 80s and early 90s. So even by Seasons 10-11, making fun of him was still relevant. However, his movie career ended when he became governor of California in 2003, and while he made a few movies after leaving office, it is nowhere even close to the heights he had in the 80s and 90s. Despite this, Wolfcastle still appeared regularly when pop culture mostly moved on. While Schwarzenegger never truly slipped into obscurity during this time, a show that premiered today would likely never even consider creating a character solely dedicated to satirizing him.
- Otto Mann, the school bus driver, is clearly a Simpsonized take of 1980s metal-head teenagers (despite being a man in his 30s), with the long hair, the constant obsessions with 1970s and 1980s rock bands, his musical skills, the "surfer dude" voice, his slacker attitude and casual substance abuse, and his ever-present tape player with large headphones. Characters like this were commonly satirized in the late 80s and early 90s, with Bill & Ted and Beavis and Butt-Head, just to name a few. However, as musical tastes changed, and those teenagers grew into adults, and the new generation of teenagers had very different cultural and musical tastes, these satires obviously faded into history as products of their time. However, Otto stayed on, with his personality and mannerisms identical from the start. Tape players are extremely obsolete, but Otto still uses his. He still makes references to 1970s and 1980s rock bands, even though that was very clearly not the popular music when a man his age was a teenager. Lately, though, Otto just appears to make a drug reference or a joke about drug trips and hallucinations. There is also the odd, behind-the-scenes strangeness of Harry Shearer, a man in his mid-70s, still doing an 80s Surfer Dude voice.
- Professor Frink was heavily based on Jerry Lewis's character Julius Kelp from 1963's The Nutty Professor. In the 90s and early 2000s, this character was still well-remembered by Baby Boomers and pop culture, but by the mid-to-late 2000s, most of the newer generation had never heard of Jerry Lewis, or more often associated the title with the 1996 Eddie Murphy version. With Jerry Lewis's death in 2017, the character has become a relic.
- Herman Hermann, the head of the military antiques shop, is a very minor example, partly because he was mostly phased out of the show. His appearance is based heavily on Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder (who left the show after season 15), and his voice is based on President George H. W. Bush, who was president at the time of the beginning seasons. At the beginning, this worked as a fun reference and an interesting character, especially since Bush was a harsh critic of the show. However, Bush lost re-election to Bill Clinton in 1992, and mostly faded from public life. As such, a character with his voice is a strange reference to make by the mid-to-late 90s, and especially now with Bush's death in late 2018.
- This is somewhat excused because Herman, while clearly originally intended to be a regularly recurring character, fell out of prominence very quickly and only VERY sporadically appeared up to Season 9 (with two cameos in Season 24 and one in Season 30), although he appeared often in crowd scenes. He likely disappeared because other characters could fill his niche in likely much funnier ways, as Herman was not exactly a lighthearted character, and any shady business would likely be done more funnily with someone like Moe, Snake, or Mr. Burns.
- Julio was introduced in Season 14 as a gay character. At the time, he was portrayed as a very stereotypical Hispanic gay person: he looked like a young boy-toy, talked with a lisp, and was flamboyant, wealthy, and highly cultured. Even at the time, this was slightly jarring, especially since The Simpsons had been known at that point for respectfully showing gay characters as nuanced, ordinary people as far back as 1990, when it was almost unheard of for television shows to have ANY gay characters of any kind. As cultural and political views shifted, over the course of the Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s, gay stereotypes became more offensive and unacceptable in comedy, but Julio still appears unchanged. If anything, it is worse today, because what little characterization he had was dropped to being a one-note character who has whatever stereotypical job a gay person has. A show coming out today would not make a character like Julio unless they wanted a ton of hate mail.
- Disco Stu started as a sight gag involving Homer's "Disco Stud" jacket. Afterwards, he became a more and more commonly occurring, repeating the same joke as someone still engulfed in the 1970s disco culture. In the 1990s, it worked, because many viewers remember disco and the huge backlash that ensued in 1980, and how someone who still embraces it is considered extremely silly and pathetic. However, as the disco era faded further into history, such a joke no longer hits since the context for the joke was lost. Despite this, Disco Stu still appeared very often to make this joke. Also, with elements of disco being incorporated into today's modern dance music, and some retro trends returning, someone embracing 1970s fashion is not as much of a joke as it was in the 1990s. Also, this potentially plays into being a Refugee from Time, because unlike the mid-90s when relatively young and middle-aged people had been around in the disco era, anyone alive today that was engulfed in disco culture would be approaching senior citizen status, making Disco Stu's relative youth and energy increasingly out of place.
- In a case of a character who fell into this for reasons besides Society Marches On, we have Barney Gumble. His original gag was simply being a drunken barfly with flashes of brilliance who acted as Homer's friend (he's even named after Barney Rubble), but over time, the writers seemed to run out of ideas for how to handle him: as early as Season 5, they felt they'd exhausted the supply of drunk jokes. (In fact, an early pitch for "Who Shot Mr. Burns" had it be Barney, as a way to write him out of the show.) In Season 11, Barney got an episode where he became sober, in what was either a Very Special Episode or an attempt to revamp his character, but it just never caught on because "coffee-drinker" offered even less room for gags, and later episodes go back and forth on whether Barney is sober or not. Barney still pops up on occasion, but it's become very clear the writers just don't know what to do with him anymore.
America's crud-bucket, Springfield
- Even Where the Hell Is Springfield?, an idea famous enough that it is the Trope Namer, is an example. The sitcoms that the show satirized were very intent on showing the idea of an All-American family, and thus very deliberately avoided identifying the state and used the VERY common town name of Springfield (there are over 30 Springfields across America - Wisconsin alone has 5) to create and mock that sense of "it could be anywhere". Granted, this was more reflective of the shows in the 1950s, such as Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best (which actually also took place in a town called Springfield), and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, since most shows after the 1950s had a setting of a real location, usually a suburb of a prominent Midwestern or Northeastern city (the suburb or town itself is sometimes fictional, but its basic location is not). But Springfield was left jokingly vague, and blatant aversions and teases of outright stating the state was a humorous lampshading of such an idea. It eventually got to the point where Springfield's geographical location could not possibly exist in reality due to contradicting facts about it.
- But two problems arose:
- 1) The show has been on television for so long that the joke has gotten old. Once it was essentially revealed that Springfield could not exist anywhere, that became the joke, and then that also got old. To add onto it, Matt Groening stated in 2012 that Springfield is in Oregon, his home state...even though that contradicts a few episodes and the jokes about it have not stopped since then.
- 2) Almost no sitcom on television does this anymore. Outside of children's shows, almost every sitcom in recent years takes place in a real city (or at least a real state, or just Big Applesauce), with all the cultural references of that region being part of the show's setting and aesthetic. Sitcoms no longer try to create a "perfect, All-American family" that could live anywhere... somewhat because the Simpsons deconstructed and parodied them to oblivion.
- So essentially, like many things on this list, the gags about the location of Springfield are now satirizing an idea which no longer exists.
- But two problems arose:
- The nuclear power plant was established early on as a major element of the show's anti-corporate satire—a pollutant-pumping, outdated trainwreck that seemed constantly on the verge of meltdown, kept alive through regular infusions of bribery. All this was pretty cutting in 1990, a mere four years after Chernobyl and with Three Mile Island in living memory, when the nuclear power industry was one of the most notoriously corrupt in America. It also acted as a subversion of the ideals of the Atomic Age, which was a major running theme of the series when it ran in the dying days of that era. Nowadays, the nuclear power industry is pretty much stagnant, and the idea of a nuclear power plant sticking around against even a tenth of the Springfield one's incidents is hard to swallow (something that The Simpsons itself could be given some credit for). Additionally, the Running Gag of the plant's terrible environmental record now looks anywhere from silly to downright irresponsible, since nowadays nuclear power's low carbon footprint is seen as one of its key advantages compared to coal and natural gas. It's rather hard to imagine, were Burns created today, that he would be running a nuclear power plant, as coal and gas have since become far more heavily associated with old-fashioned conservative industrialists, and nuclear power is, if anything, associated with the opposite. On top of that, even its main relevance as a place for Homer to work has suffered, when more episodes seem to revolve around Homer working anywhere except the plant.
- The comic book shop, the Android's Dungeon. Back when the show was first created, places like that were treated as the main gathering place for nerd culture, and the idea of kids wandering into one to pick up a book was still entrenched in the American consciousness. After the The Great Comics Crash of 1996 and the advent of the internet, however, this is no longer the case, and most shops have either closed or converted into more general hobby shops. Nowadays, the idea that a comic shop could survive in Springfield, let alone have kids still interested in it, borders on absurd.
- This was actually addressed in a season 19 episode where a trendy comic book store opens across the street from the Android's Dungeon (ironically, Comic Book Guy inadvertently points it out when saying there is nowhere else in town to buy comics, something absurd to claim in 2007, deep into the Internet era). The store is run by a young, hip, charming guy named Milo (played by Jack Black) who is very friendly to his customers, values their opinions, and believes that comics should be read and enjoyed (to the point he does not care when a customer accidentally rips a page, something even the nicest store clerk in real life would not take kindly to). The store is extremely spacious and welcoming, with video games, music, and a very varied selection of comics. Comic Book Guy is not able to compete, so after the very odd decision to advertise that he sells ninja weapons does not work, he goes out of business... but that does not seem to matter, as he is back in business by his next appearance as if nothing happened AND Milo appears in a future episode.
- The Krusty the Clown Show was already somewhat of an anachronism when the show started, but it originally supposed to be somewhat of an Expy of Bozo The Clown from the 1960s (with a mix of other clowns the cast and crew grew up with, especially "Rusty Nails", a local TV clown in Portland, where Groening grew up), with fun stunts, tricks, sketches, and cartoons to entertain kids. This originally worked because very early Simpsons (the Tracey Ullman era and Seasons 1-2) took place in a mostly timeless but relatable era, and because the joke in later seasons was that a local children's television entertainer in a small dumpy town was such a celebrity. However, kids in the 90s and onward did not watch Bozo the Clown, or any TV clowns, as almost all of them disappeared into the 90s, and so did a large amount of local programming in general. As for cartoons, kids watched them on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, syndication, or just Saturday mornings (with the latter two fading away by the end of The '90s). So with Krusty the Clown already being a relic in the 90s, in modern Simpsons it is just an amorphous, low-budget Variety Show with absolutely no set format, that is inexplicably a huge hit with Springfield's children, who would most likely have no desire to watch a run-down show when there are so many alternatives.
- The Itchy & Scratchy Show remains the default show for the kids to be watching. When first introduced, it was an obvious parody of Tom and Jerry and other plotless chase cartoons, but with the violence ramped up from cartoonish to Gorn and the Designated Hero-Designated Villain dynamic escalated into a full-blown Nominal Hero bullying a victim. Given that chase cartoons were still fairly common on the airwaves, it was a pretty on-topic parody, but in the years since, chase cartoons have basically vanished, with most modern kids cartoons featuring actual plots, while many adult cartoons or internet animations make Itchy And Scratchy look downright tame. This is probably why the series has been Out of Focus. It also always aired on the Krusty the Clown show, which, like Bozo, showed cartoons.
- Bart's prank calls to Moe started as a way of showing Bart (and in the very early episodes, Lisa as well) how misbehaving and rebellious he was. It was also a reference to a series of prank calls made to the Tube Bar, a bar in Jersey City, NJ, in the mid 1970s. Bart would make these calls with little recourse, because Moe could never find out who he was. This whole "prank call to Moe" thing became an iconic running gag in the show.
- However, today, someone could not make these calls without consequence. Since the 1990s, last call return (known in the United States as *69) became mainstream and was offered by almost every major telephone service. And caller ID became mainstream years later. Many modern landline phones (and all cellphones) today have a screen that gives the name and number of every ingoing and outgoing call. If Bart called Moe today, Moe would know immediately who called him, eliminating the main appeal of the joke.
- There is also the fact that almost nobody today would call a bar to ask whether someone is there, as essentially everyone today has a cell phone. Anyone looking for someone would most likely just call or text the person's cell phone. There are still many situations where someone might need to call the bar (the bar has bad reception, they are not picking up their phone, their phone is not on their person, the phone is out of batteries, etc.), but typically, if one were to ask today if someone were present in a bar, the bartender would likely first ask why they have not tried the person's cell phone.
- Thirdly, there is the fact that the bar's role in the show had changed substantially since the beginning. In the beginning seasons, Moe was just a typical bartender with a few shady, surly personality quirks, who ran a typical bar where members of Springfield would come to drink and relax after work, like any bar. But it rather quickly morphed into a seedy, dark dive bar where the only customers 99% of the time are Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, and two random, mostly taciturn barflies (whose names, Sam and Larry, are mentioned once in passing). The idea that Moe would have to call out a random name to see if someone is there makes little sense when you know basically all your customers.
- Despite all of this, episodes as late as 2018 still have Bart do this, and Moe still picks up on his old 1970s-era landline phone, as if it is still 1990 and he runs a lively, crowded bar. Most recent occurrences tend to put some kind of twist on the format (such as Bart calling foreign bars in "Lost Verizon," sending Moe a telegram in "Helter Shelter," or medieval Bart sending a message via bird in "The Serfsons"), as the writers phased out the regular prank calls after five or six seasons because it was hard to come up with all the components of the gag (joke name, funny way for Moe to ask for the fake person, response from the barflies, and Moe's threats).