Casually ignoring the last decade of its output, Emer Sugrue offers birthday greetings to The Simpsons

The Simpsons are 20 this month, and my, how the years have taken their toll. 20 might be a young age in human years, but for a television program turning 20 means decrepitness, crumbling, and longing to be put out of misery. The Simpsons is currently one of the America’s longest-running sitcoms – though the ‘com’ element is becoming increasingly tenuous. Fans have watched in dismay as witty lines become clunky and embarrassing. The characters have lost all nuance and personality in favour of ‘wackiness’, and where once we had a family, we are now left with five individual squawking yellow hacks.

But I shouldn’t be so critical, this is a celebration! On your birthday, your family and friends don’t start listing your faults, or sob about how much more attractive you were when you first met. No – they squeeze out some jollity and mask their true feelings with cake. So in that spirit, I’ll repress the last ten years and talk about why The Simpsons is completely awesome.

The Simpsons was groundbreaking. Cartoon culture used to be completely different; animation wasn’t a respected art form, deemed suitable only for children. The Simpsons was created to be sitcom first and cartoon second, and had appeal for both children and adults. It always amazes me when I watch old episodes, how many rude or political jokes went straight over my head but that I found hilarious anyway. Cartoons are now aimed at all audiences, and we have entered a second golden age of animation. The cinema is packed with well-written comedy cartoons like Shrek and Toy Story – using the same blend of humour, pop culture and real emotion that The Simpsons pioneered.

Television cartoons have also had a revolution, and here in the ‘oneties’ adult cartoons are commonplace. I don’t mean adult in a sexy way, of course (although there are plenty of those too if you check your local internet), but cartoons aimed at grownups – grownups with a very childish sense of humour. We now have American Dad, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Adult Swim and many more I can’t remember off the top of my head, all indebted to the influence of The Simpsons. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane once said that The Simpsons “basically re-invented the wheel. They created what is in many ways – you could classify it as – a wholly new medium.”

The Simpsons’ legacy is more than mere endlessly quotable lines or the word ‘meh’ – invaluable to the disaffected Facebook generation – but a rich comedic legacy. Though technically The Simpsons is still hanging on, refusing to die like the boss at the end of a video game (“I’ve shot you 400 times, what’s wrong with you?!”), for my mental ease I’m going to pretend that production stopped around season nine and contend that all writers and comedians must try and live up to its genius.