Re-Introducing The Simpsons Decade, One of My Best Failures
I don’t like to humblebrag, but The Simpsons Decade, my ongoing column on comedy in the 1990s has failed at some of the highest levels of publishing. I first conceived of The Simpsons Decade as what would have been my fifth book for a major publisher. If everything had gone according to plan, Scribner would have followed up 2013's You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me with a book-length treatise on the comedy and pop culture of 1990s called The Simpsons Decade.
It would have been an expansive exploration of the best comedy of that particular era rooted in the hypothesis that the 1990s represented a unique, singular time both within the context of American comedy and in American culture. The Cold War had ended, with capitalism triumphant. We were experiencing an incredible, internet-fueled era of peace and prosperity that would come to a screeching halt with the attacks of 9/11 and the War on Terror.
The overarching conceit of The Simpsons Decade was that American life in general in the 1990s was so stable and prosperous that it caused the best comedy of the era to look inward and take as its fundamental theme not sex or freedom or rebellion but rather television, which was enjoying its final decade of cultural domination before the Internet usurped much of its power and prominence, in no small part because it made watching television easier and more enjoyable than ever before via streaming and sites like Youtube and Netflix.
Scribner was interested but ultimately passed (around the time I was fired from The Dissolve) because it had lost money on my last three books (although at this point You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me has endured to the point where it may someday break even) and wasn’t eager to re-up for a fourth.
So I pitched it to The A.V Club and Rotten Tomatoes. They were both interested, but I went with Rotten Tomatoes both because they offered to pay me twice as much as The A.V Club and also because I didn’t have the kind of complicated, troubled relationship with them that I do with my former employer.
I had high hopes for The Simpsons Decade going in. I hoped that it would take off and become a signature column for me, like My World of Flops, Forgotbusters, Control Nathan Rabin, Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club, Sub-Cult, Pod-Canon or the Weird Accordion to Al. But that just didn’t happen. It really just did not happen.
A lot of that is my fault. I should have made the premise of the column clearer. I also should have either written about The Simpsons for it right off the bat or early in the run, since Matt Groening’s brainchild epitomized the meta-textual, post-modern, television-obsessed comedy I was writing about. Instead, I wrote about some far less commercial fodder like Weekly World News, This Modern World and Man Bites Dog. I’m proud of those pieces, and feel like they fit the column nicely but it’s not hard to see why they did not appeal to a broad audience unfamiliar with either my work or the overly academic, annoyingly intellectual framework of The Simpsons Decade.
I wanted very badly for The Simpsons Decade to succeed, and to find an audience but it just did not. Even fans of my work didn’t seem to know it existed so I was not terribly surprised when Rotten Tomatoes decided to replace it with a column called The Zeroes, where I write about movies that have received the dreaded zero rating on their site.
The premise for The Zeroes is a whole lot less academic than the Simpsons Decade, and a whole lot more fun and commercial. Thankfully, Rotten Tomatoes has allowed me to run The Simpsons Decade on Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, beginning with today’s entry on Pulp Fiction. Up next is Fear of a Black Hat, which I’ve already written.
I’m excited to be bringing The Simpsons Decade to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place but I’m also realistic. At this point my expectations for it have shifted from sky-high to exceedingly modest. At one point, I thought it’d catapult my career to that fabled “next level.” Now I just want to see it through to completion, particularly since I am now officially two years (the introduction ran almost two years ago to this day, during a more hopeful time when, for example, the idea that Donald Trump would be president was damn near inconceivable), twenty entries and now two websites into this big, big, weird, deeply unpopular idea.
I was overjoyed to be able to run My World of Flops on my website because, despite what the A.V Club felt, I knew it was a terrific idea that had already proven successful and enduring and had a whole lot of life left in it. The Simpsons Decade, in sharp contrast, has already failed in multiple forms. It’s a bit of a red-headed step-child but I believe in it. I really do.
So please do check out the first nineteen entries in The Simpsons Decade over at Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve got a bunch of great pieces there on stuff like Get A Life, Lookwell, Groundhog Day, Goodfellas, Gremlins 2, The Ben Stiller Show, Wayne’s World and a whole lot more.
And please read and share my columns that are still a going concern on Rotten Tomatoes, Sub-Cult and The Zeroes.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like The Simpsons Decade is more of a Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place idea—obsessive, intense, niche-oriented, self-indulgent—than a Rotten Tomatoes idea, so please do give the column a try. It’s already failed big-time with the big boys, but hopefully it’ll be at least a modest success here, particularly when I actually get around to writing about The Simpsons for it. From both a creative and commercial standpoint, that'd probably be a good idea.
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