‘Simpsons’ Co-Creator James L. Brooks Is Pro-Strangling
Last week, Simpsons producers struck back at “clickbaiters” who claimed that a joke in a recent Simpsons episode, “McMansion & Wife,” indicated the end of strangulation in the Simpsons household. In the underwhelming episode, Homer receives a compliment on his grip strength from his new neighbor, prompting the uncharacteristically meta joke directed at his wife, “See, Marge? Strangling the boy has paid off! Just kidding, I don’t do that anymore. Times have changed.”
With the construction and tone of a wink to the audience, this line made front-page news across the internet as culture warriors quickly started a fight over whether the retirement of the original Simpsons gag was a step in the right direction or a slap in the face of history.
Speaking to People, Brooks reiterated what other producers of the show he co-created have said about the gag’s non-cancelation, proclaiming, “Nothing’s getting tamed. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Brooks said of Bart, “He’ll continue to be strangled — (if) you want to use that awful term for it. He’ll continue to be loved by his father in a specific way.”
Right, because the phrase “loved by his father in a specific way” is less awful.
Though The Simpsons' official stance on strangulation is now abundantly clear, the end of the non-controversy does beg the question: Why would Homer make a meta-joke about no longer choking his son if the writers were just going to keep using the gag? Historically speaking, Homer isn’t typically the kind of character who breaks the fourth wall or winks at himself with inside jokes about the show’s tropes. Why, then, would he make a rare and confusingly incorrect canon-conscious quip about something that was already phased out of the Simpsons household four seasons ago?
The simple answer — one with which Brooks probably would not agree — is that today’s Simpsons is a tonally inconsistent, canonically reckless and depressingly derivative mess of self-reference to the time when writers told original stories and humor happened organically. Through 756 total episodes, any ounce of ingenuity has already been squeezed out of the series like the gasps of a choking 10-year-old, and today’s Simpsons writers have no choice but to endlessly name-drop the jokes of the Golden Age, to which their audience clings as if it’s that same kid’s windpipe.
The meta line in “McMansion & Wife” wasn’t an endorsement of better parenting habits, as the CEO and President of Prevent Child Abuse America had hoped. It wasn’t uber-liberal, cancel culture woke pandering, as the right-wing Twitter warriors cried — at least, not entirely. Instead, it was a perfect storm of a handful of the modern Simpsons’ bad habits rolled into one — the new writers’ need to demonstrate their political alignment with a vaguely liberal viewership crashed into their awareness that casual child abuse may not play well to modern audiences, and that combination went careening into the lame, sloppy and characteristically inconsistent comedic voice that’s been allowed to fester on the once-great show.
So, no, The Simpsons will not retire the strangulation joke — but only because they don’t have many good jokes left.