I have long been of the opinion that the entire history of American popular culture -- maybe even of Western civilization -- amounts to little more than a long prelude to "The Simpsons." I don't think I'm alone in this belief. But it does not follow that "The Simpsons Movie" represents a creative peak toward which the show's 18 seasons and 400 episodes have been a long, slow climb. Let's keep things in perspective. "The Simpsons" is an inexhaustible repository of humor, invention and insight, an achievement without precedent or peer in the history of broadcast television, perhaps the purest distillation of our glories and failings as a nation ever conceived. "The Simpsons Movie" is, well, a movie. Don't get me wrong. It's a very funny movie, loaded with dumb jokes that are often as funny as the clever ones, and full of the anarchic, generous, good-natured humor that is the show's enduring signature. But "The Simpsons Movie," in the end, is as good as an average episode of "The Simpsons." In other words, I'd be willing to watch it only -- excuse me while I crunch some numbers here -- 20 or 30 more times.
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