Voices: The Cypress Hill/Simpsons collab is a sad attempt to rekindle 90s TV glory days

When somebody says they’re a fan of The Simpsons, they don’t really mean that they’re a fan of The Simpsons. What they mean is that they’re fan of that impossibly brief window, from 1991 to 1997 – 1998 at a push – when The Simpsons perfected the animated sitcom format and became the best thing on television.

Unfortunately, as all true fans of The Simpsons know, it was then abruptly cancelled, saving it from the ignobility of becoming a shambling corpse of itself as it made jokes about iPads and Lady Gaga in a pathetic attempt to remain relevant 25 years after its prime. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

Simpsons fans are often accused of being stuck in the past, and it’s a fair charge. But, in our defence, the past was a lot better than our awful, Simpsons-less present. And besides, it isn’t just us. Fans of the show had their interest piqued this week when it was revealed that hip hop group Cypress Hill will be collaborating with the London Symphony Orchestra to bring a joke from a 1996 Simpsons episode to life.

If you aren’t familiar with one of the best episodes of television ever made, the collab refers to the season seven episode “Homerpalooza”, in which the family attends a music festival and runs into a slew of celebrity guests including Sonic Youth and the Smashing Pumpkins. At one point a crew member asks whether somebody ordered the London Symphony Orchestra “possibly while high”, and after a brief discussion the group assumes it must have been them. The orchestra then plays the band’s hit song “Insane in the Membrane”, which Marge approves of.

It’s a great bit, made funnier later in the episode, when a furious Peter Frampton reveals that the orchestra was actually supposed to perform with him. In another piece of art-imitating-life-potentially-imitating-art, Frampton has been invited to perform at the concert, but is yet to commit.

Look, far be it from me to accuse somebody else of being stuck in the past. I’m currently on my fifth Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch, and I’m in an eBay bidding war for a classic Goosebumps hoodie. I miss that period in the early-2000s when BBC would show a Fresh Prince\Star Trek\Simpsons triple-bill as much as the next childless millennial.

But as cool as this Cypress Hill collab is, it really feels like the point at which our nostalgia for America’s funniest and yellowest family may have reached critical mass. Imagine renting out a concert hall, drafting 60 of the greatest classical musicians in the world, and rehearsing for weeks, just to make a reference to a 45-second joke in an episode of television that came out before half of the orchestra’s percussion section was born.

It’s not even the best joke in that episode (that honour still goes to Billy Corgan introducing himself to Homer as “Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins”, and Homer responding “Homer Simpson, smiling politely”). It would be like if somebody actually came up with a get-rich-quick scheme that involved stealing cooking grease, and said they were inspired by a similar ploy in the just-okay episode “Lard of the Dance”. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

The Simpsons is often accused of predicting the future, but I’m not sure it counts when people go out of their way to make sure things from the show end up happening. Sure, it was weird that Trump ended up being president after that exact scenario took place in the 2000 episode “Bart to the Future”, but it’s not like he ran because the show told him to. At least, god, I hope that’s not what happened.

At some point in the 1990s The Simpsons achieved total cultural supremacy, and then abruptly stopped being watchable. It was worse than when a great show gets cancelled in its prime, like Firefly or Arrested Development, because a lot of us spent a very long time lying to ourselves that it would one day return to its former glory. Even today, people can’t agree on exactly when the show “got bad” (the correct answer is season nine, episode 11, “All Singing, All Dancing”), and some sickos even try to rehabilitate the post-season 10 episodes because they confuse nostalgia for quality.

But this really feels like a sign that we finally need to let it go. Not just The Simpsons, but our addiction to nostalgia in general. Not everything needs to be a reference to something that happened in the past. We’re allowed to create new things. We should be creating new things.

We’re at a point of cultural stagnation because all of our most popular movies and TV shows are based on properties that came out 20 to 60 years ago. We can only tap that well for so long before it dries up – in fact, there’s a good chance it already has. Maybe it’s better to leave the memories alone. The Simpsons did a lot of great things, but it’s old now, and old people are useless.

That was a Simpsons reference. Sorry.


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