Oh, Marge, cartoons don’t have any deep meaning. They’re just stupid drawings that give you a cheap laugh.— Homer
Do you ever feel like The Simpsons these days is a soap opera? Many recent episodes have had plot lines depending on previous episodes, and personally, I don't like them. Back in The Simpsons' heyday, people were always complaining about a lack of continuity. If The Simpsons' house was destroyed in one episode, it miraculously appeared fixed up in the next.
Many continuity issues have been raised about the Simpsons' address: in some episodes it was not 742 Evergreen Terrace. An even more pressing issue is what state do they live in? Is it North Dakota, Southern Kentucky, or another from the huge list of references? There's also the Simpsons' back garden: what happened to the swimming pool, Lisa's peach tree, the tennis court... and since when has the nuclear power plant car park been adjacent to it?
There is only one straight answer anyone can give: it's a cartoon. Things don't have to make sense. Of course, one of the reasons the show is so popular is because it does have an sense of realism - characters don't walk on air or die in every episode. The fact that everything goes back to normal at the end of each episode is another of the show's selling points.
What I'm trying to get at here is that while The Simpsons is a realistic show, it is a timeless show - episodes should not have to depend on one another, and if you mix them all up into a different order, they should still be watchable without any confusion.
With some recent episodes, however, this is not possible. From about Season 9, there have been certain episodes which carry on a story into another episode in a later Season. For example, Maude Flanders' died in Season 11, and since then, there have been two episodes directly related to this in three Seasons.
And since Apu got married in Season 9, there have been no less than three follow-up episodes: I'm With Cupid, where Apu showers Manjula with Valentine's Day gifts, Eight Misbehavin', where Manjula gives birth to octuplets, and The Sweetest Apu, where Apu has an affair. There's also Kirk & Luanne Van Houten splitting up in A Milhouse Divided, and the Skinner/Krebappel relationship.
And it's not just these particular episodes, either. These continuity changes appear in nearly every episode. Whenever Apu appears, so does Manjula and their eight children. Whenever Luanne appears, so does her new boyfriend. Kirk is often seen at his bachelor pad. There have also been several references to Maude Flander's passing.
Of course there's one character which I have purposefully missed out of this: Barney. In the episode Days of Wine and D'oh'ses, Barney quits drinking. With hilarious results. This is a really funny episode, but what lets it down is the following episodes.
At the end of this episode, Barney has quit alcohol and drinks coffee instead. Now, this would be okay if in the next episode, he was on the booze again, but the writers had to make him permanently sober, didn't they? Barney has now taken a back seat - he rarely appears, and when he does he is unfunny. Furthermore, this had paved the way for the overuse of Lenny and Carl. This is the worst continuity change ever.
So what's the lesson from all of this? Basically, I am pleading for the writers to revert Barney back to his old drunken self, and cut down on the permanent continuity changes. I don't want to see Skinner and Krebappel getting married, The Simpsons was so much better when there was less continuity. Let's hope the writers can see that.