I've been going through some season 12 episodes recently, and I've been finding that maybe these episodes weren't as bad as I first thought.
A little background: I started watching the Simpsons probably around season 6 and watched it pretty much every week. Season 12 featured the first episode that I can remember actively hating, which was Homer vs. Dignity. I can remember sitting still through that entire episode, not being entertained at all by how my favorite show was being dragged through the mud. By the end of the season, which ended with the Simpsons giving a hobo a sponge bath, I was done with the show and stopped making it appointment television. I've been in and out ever since, mostly out.
So ever since then, I've had a pretty strong hatred for season 12. It's the one that has stuck out to me the most as being the worst in the show's history (admittedly having not seen much of seasons 13 and beyond). Seasons 10 and 11 had some bad episodes, but season 12 really brought my hatred to the forefront. Season 12 was the first time I realized my favorite show probably wasn't coming back.
But now I've been watching season 12 episodes again, for the first time in many years. And I've gotta say, it's not quite as bad as I remember it. The show still seems to have a sense of humor at this point, which I really can't say about it nowadays. What bothered me the most at the time, and continues to this day, is how cartoony the show was becoming. The Simpsons have always been a TV show that happened to be animated, not a cartoon on par with Looney Tunes. But this season, and the two that preceded it, are filled with cartoonish gags that disgust me. In Trilogy of Error, there's a radioactive monkey with Ned at the end. In one of the episodes, the great gazoo appears. The entire plot of Bye Bye Nerdie revolves around nerd sweat. I mean, these are grade school gags.
With that said, I do find myself laughing at some of the stuff in this season. In HOMR, Homer says he's a Spalding Gray in a Rick Dees world. I can appreciate New Kids on the Blecch more now that boy bands are gone and I don't feel an intense hatred for anything they come in contact with anymore. Tale of Two Springfields, Insane Clown Poppy and Day of the Jackanapes aren't as bad as I remember them.
This is not to say that I like season 12. Homer vs. Dignity and Simpson Safari are awful episodes that bring shame to the series, and Tennis the Menace and Pokey Mom are just really boring. The Computer Wore Menace Shoes is a good episode ruined by a horrible reference in the 3rd act that few got and served no point in conjunction with episode or the Simpsons universe. This is still a bottom of the barrel season that deserves to be in the discussion for worst in the show's history. I used to think this was the no-doubt worst season, though, and now I no longer think that. I watched more of season 21 than I cared to, and those episodes were truly horrible. Like I said, at least season 12 still had a sense of humor. Season 21 was just horrible television.
I guess time heals old wounds. Seeing your favorite show decline always sucks, and for that reason season 12 was always my least favorite. In retrospect, however, it's probably no worse than seasons 10 or 11 and as I've found out, it actually can get worse than this.