The Simpsons has always been a show that’s not afraid to take risks, dating all the way back to the decision to give almost everyone in Springfield bright yellow skin. There’s a spirit of daring in the show’s DNA that’s helped it survive for nearly three decades, but lately major new developments on the show are starting to feel, to some fans, less like risks and more like stunts.
Depending on who you ask, The Simpsons either had its Jump the Shark moment seasons ago, or it’ll never have that moment simply because of the wacky nature of the series. For me, it’s kind of hard to accuse a show that’s done stuff like “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” and an entire film about the town being trapped under a dome of jumping the shark, in part because the nature of The Simpsons has always been to take those wacky, stunt-packed TV moments and dress them down a bit. I don’t know that The Simpsons can ever really “go too far” into the realm of stunt episodes, but from the sound of things Season 27 is definitely pushing it.
The just-concluded 26th season of the show definitely had its share of Very Special Episodes, including crossovers with both Family Guy and Futurama, but from the sound of things Season 27 is set to be even bigger in terms of “If You Watch Just One Episode This Season!” moments.
Earlier this week, we got the news that, in this season’s “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween special, Simpsons villain Sideshow Bob will finally get his quarter-century-in-the-making wish and kill Bart Simpson. Now, given that it’s a “Treehouse of Horror” episode, Bart’s death likely won’t really “count” in the grander scheme of the show, but it’s interesting to hear that, after years of Sideshow Bob coming up short, the show’s writers finally gave into him this season. Then, yesterday, an even bigger bombshell dropped.
In an interview with Variety, showrunner Al Jean gave us this little teaser for Season 27:
“In the premiere, it’s discovered after all the years Homer has narcolepsy and it’s an incredible strain on the marriage. Homer and Marge legally separate, and Homer falls in love with his pharmacist, who’s voiced by Lena Dunham.”
Now, we have no way of knowing how permanent this separation might be. For all we know, Homer and Marge will reconcile by the end of the episode, but even though I firmly believe that shows like The Simpsons can basically stretch as far as they want as long as the laughs are still there, this feels a little like reaching. Part of the appeal of the show has always been that, even when things are at their most dire, even when they hate each other, the Simpson family always comes back together by the time the credits roll. It sounds sappy, but to me that’s part of why the show works.
Now, I’m not about to claim The Simpsons is going to be terrible next season based on one little quote about the plot of one episode. I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this develops, but it does lend credence to claims that The Simpsons might be running a little too close to empty. The show’s never been afraid of stunts, but lately it seems like everything Simpsons worth talking about is a stunt, like a crossover episode or a marriage breaking up.
I refuse to claim that the show is done, or that it should’ve already been done, because even the dullest of Simpsons episodes still have their moments. That said, though, you can bet a lot of fans will be watching the next season for signs of decay more than ever before.