Vulture has learned that Fox has renewed The Simpsons for a 23rd season of animated adventures, taking it through its landmark 500th episode (specifically, it takes the show up to episode 515). Word of the show's continued production comes as The Simpsons is having a particularly buzzworthy season, what with that recent Banksy open, a Mark Zuckerberg cameo, and an upcoming Katy Perry segment with the Muppets. Longtime Simpsons show-runner Al Jean, while psyched about the renewal, said he can't claim to be the most excited one about the good news: "The happiest of all was the unicorn who pokes in all our DVDs," Jean told us. "He's getting extra hay out of this."
Fox's last Simpsons renewal, which was for two seasons, came back in February 2009. The show needs the extra lead time owing to its long production timetable, and with the new pickup, it will have enough episodes to air though at least spring 2012; Jean expects the 500th episode to be broadcast in February 2012. "We'll actually have enough episodes to go into a 24th season," even if Fox doesn't officially order that season. However, with the series so tantalizingly close to season 25, it seems hard to imagine the show not surviving that long. (For TV geeks keeping track, Lassie and Gunsmoke are the only prime-time shows that have produced more episodes, with 588 and 635, respectively.)
Ratings for The Simpsons remain solid: Factoring in DVR usage, the show is drawing around 8.5 million viewers overall and averages a 3.9 rating in adults 18 to 49, ranking it among Fox's biggest hits. As for the show's continued pop-culture pulse, Jean agrees that the Internet has helped the citizens of Springfield stay viral. "When we started it was before the computer had even been invented," he jokes. "But we've really grown up with the Internet. And we're a show that rewards repeated viewing."
Jean has already teased most of the big plotlines for this season of the show, and while producers just got done working on the 2011 Treehouse of Horror, he wouldn't give up any spoilers for next year just yet. Jean did, however, hint at another Banksy-level couch gag as a possibility for later this season. "We're in the early stages of it, and if it happens, it would surprise people a great deal," he said.
For now, the next big event on The Simpsons calendar is the Thanksgiving-night broadcast premiere of The Simpsons Movie. Jean said he'll be watching to see just how Fox's standards and practices department deals with three major gags he says "we wouldn't be able to get away with on the show." The naughty trio: Homer giving a mob the middle finger, Bart exposing his penis, and Marge using the word "goddamn." He's especially curious considering how Fox has gotten more prudish about cartoon obscenity over the years: For example, they can no longer show Homer's bare rear end. "There was a period where we could show Homer's ass," Jean says. But then, presumably post–Janet Jackson, "They said we couldn't. I then went back to them and noted that the repeats where we had showed it are airing in syndication at 6 p.m. [on Fox-owned TV stations]." Was Fox convinced by Jean's logic? "Nope. Banned. Completely."