The Simpsons might just be the most influential television series of all time. Not only did it forever change the face of animation by proving the medium can work for adult audiences as well, but the show is generally looked up to as one of the best comedies of all time. Screenwriter John Swartzwelder, who wrote 59 episodes of the show, a record among The Simpsons writers, recently gave his first media interview ever, in which he explained why the early seasons of the series were particularly strong.
"I will say that I've always thought Season 3 was our best individual season. By Season 3 we had learned how to grind out first-class 'Simpsons' episodes with surprising regularity, we had developed a big cast of characters to work with, we hadn't even come close to running out of story lines, and the staff hadn't been worn down by overwork yet. Season 3 was a fun year to be in the 'Simpsons' writers' room, and I think it shows in the work."
Depending on who you ask, fans of The Simpsons will tell you the quality of the show started to decline somewhere around the ninth, thirteenth, or fifteenth season. But the only reason the show is seen to suffer in quality now is that the earliest seasons were some of the best-written comedy gold ever shown on network television.
The third season that Swartzwelder mentions is a perfect example of what the show could do when it was firing on all cylinders. With episodes like "When Flanders Failed", "I Married Marge", and "Bart's Friend Falls in Love", there was a real sense of humanity to the characters despite their whacky shenanigans. Later seasons saw the same characters devolve much more into cartoon archetypes, and the situations they found themselves in began to lose that grounded touch of reality that had made The Simpsons the poster child for animated shows for adults.
Perhaps some of the show's problems can be tied into the departure of Swartzwelder from behind the scenes in 2003. Many urban legends surround Swartzwelder's decision to leave, including trouble with the studio because he insisted on smoking at work. But the writer dismisses those rumors, explaining that his desire to work remotely was more a product of his advancing age than anything else.
"After Season 4, I renegotiated my contract to allow me to work from home. I didn't want to go in to work every day anymore. Getting old, I guess. It had nothing to do with smoking... Actually, I bought a new diner booth and had it installed in my home. Later, I added a second one, in a different part of the house. Diner booths are a great place to write. Try it."
Although Swartzwelder no longer writers for the show, his association with The Simpsons endures in the hearts of fans. He contributed to the script for The Simpsons Movie and still speaks fondly of his time working on the show. Meanwhile, The Simpsons is still going strong, with new episodes airing on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. This news first appeared at The New Yorker.