Late last week, news broke that after seemingly months of speculation, even though it was in reality about a week (a HELLACIOUS week, though), The Simpsons will air for two more seasons, its 24th and 25th. That means that in the spring of 2014, there will be over 550 episodes of the world’s most perfectly cromulent show for public consumption, and millions of “This show is still on?” comments on whatever social media platform that will soon destroy Twitter.
But yes, The Simpsons is still on TV. Although it’s not as era-defining as it was during seasons 2-12, it’s still a good sitcom, one that can occasionally come up with a great episode, like “Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind” and “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words.” But there are ways of improving the show for its final two seasons (we’re going under the assumption that it’s done after that), and for the writers to have some fun. Such as…
1. Less Bart-Centric Episodes
For as much as people complain about the dumber Homer gets, the worse the show is, I actually think Bart’s been a bigger problem. He might have seemed like a badass in the pre-Cartman 1990s, but his practical jokes both suck and blow now — they’re simply too tame and a little embarrassing. So, get rid of most of his grade-school shenanigans, and while we’re at it, let there be less Bart altogether. “Homer the Father” had a good enough premise — Homer starts acting like a 1980s sitcom father — but the entire episode was ruined when after Bart isn’t allowed to get a mini-bike, he sells secrets about the power plant to the Chinese. Really? Really. Unlike the rest of the family, Bart feels stuck in a different, “Eat My Shorts” era, and unless he’s working with Lisa or having a mom-son moment with Marge, I wouldn’t mind not doing the Bartman for the next two years.
2. Get Rid of the Fourth Act
When The Simpsons switched to high definition in February 2009, the show also changed to a four-act format, rather than their usual three. That means an extra commercial break and an extra “cliffhanger” moment, trying to keep the audience invested with a shocking moment rather than a well paced plot, were added. The new act, along with the increased length of the couch gags, also decreased the amount of storytelling time available, making most post-season 21 episodes feel extremely rushed. Go back to what worked for, oh, 20 years.
3. Age the Show
Next season, have Bart and Lisa inexplicably graduate from second and fourth grade, and have them in fifth and seventh, respectively. Why so far in advance? Because Miss Hoover and Mrs. Krabappel have both gone as far (if not further) as their characters will allow, and they’ve become tired and boring. (They’re, of course, not the only ones on the show, but they’re a necessary reduction.) There’s a HUGE difference between being in elementary and middle school (I still shudder thinking about it), and this would allow a whole new setting for the writers to create, something the new guys haven’t been able to do for years. Skinner can “graduate,” too, in a Mr. Fenny from Boy Meets World-like situation.
4. No More “THE SIMPSONS ARE GOING TO…”
Later this season, the Simpsons will visit Antarctica. Why? So that the producers can say they’ve visited every continent. That’s even worse than having a guest star every episode, because at least the show can occasionally find a good use for, say, Kiefer Sutherland (see: season 23’s premiere). The Simpsons hasn’t been able to pull of a decent “ARE GOING TO…” episode since season 12’s “Simpson Safari,” and in those 10 years, they’ve gone to Oslo, Israel, India, England, and Italy, among others. From now on, just keep them Springfield, or at least within the country.
5. Unconventional, High Concept Episodes
One of my favorite episodes from last season was “500 Keys,” where the Simpsons discover a plethora of keys and go on a hunt to find out what they’re all for. It was fun and sort of mysterious, not unlike the aforementioned “Eternal Moonshine,” “Trilogy of Error,” “The Debarted,” “The Blunder Years,” etc. These high-concept stories feel like a breath of fresh air compared to “Homer and Marge are fighting again,” even when they’re about Homer and Marge fighting again, because at least it’s something different, and after twenty-plus years, sometimes that’s all you can ask for. I’m also a fan of flashback episodes, such as “That 90s Show,” but I’m in the minority there.
6. A Season-Long Arc
Even after 10 years of supposedly subpar episodes, The Simpsons will still go down as the greatest comedy, possibly show, of all-time. There’s nothing the writers can do to hurt the show’s legacy, so why not do something extreme? For instance, why not have a season-long arc? Do the high concept episodes in season 24, and have season 25 be focused on a single topic. Maybe Mr. Burns can die and the Germans come back to take over the plant and fire everyone, and all of the episodes could be about Homer looking for a job? That’s not the greatest idea in the world, I’ll admit, but a season-long arc would require viewers to tune in every week and solve the inconsistency problems many fans and critics have complained about for years.
Josh Kurp didn’t include nearly enough Simpsons quotes, so, “I’d say that Les Whinen ought to do more thinking and less whining!”