Jul 3, 2014
The Simpsons 2030 Spin-Off Showcase
It’s 2030. The Simpsons franchise is “Orson Welles doing Transformers” levels of bloated. The show has lost so much creative dignity that it’s no longer appropriate to evaluate it as even bad television. A better comparison point is a rock band that weathered the five-album mark where ideas are depleted or somebody dies. After a time, it becomes immaterial whether the band is still good. It simply matters that the posters say “Original Lineup.”
The show’s classic run been phased out of existence by an increasingly secluded Matt Groening, whose creative discussions are confined to therapists and sycophants. The “classic run” has fallen out of print several times, quietly circulating auction sites and those black market DVD stores in malls. Aging collectors still complain of VHS decay and syndication edits on the bootleg copies, as Groening allows the franchise to stagger deeper and deeper into ruin.
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At 90 years old, executive producer James L. Brooks is too business-minded to allow for complete ineptitude to go on before he dies and his children inherit the Brooks estate, so he decides to pull a coup and re-launch the show. He succeeds, and FOX sends Groening packing to the 2030s version of cable. James L. Brooks Presents The Simpsons debuts on FOX in September 2032 as an immediate hit, a surprisingly competent throwback and love letter to 90s network comedy. Its few detractors, however, say it ironically owes too much to Gov. Seth MacFarlane’s (R-CA) cartoon Family Guy.
Meanwhile, Matt Groening is falling headfirst into the darkness. Although creative purgatory and pathological isolation are perhaps inevitable for any Southern California billionaire, Groening takes it to exciting new lows. Negative feedback never makes it within striking distance of his desk, and he’s been told repeatedly by his remaining friends that he never lost the magic. He takes The Simpsons to FX–because ABC-CBS made Netflix illegal in 2018–with all of the show’s old production assets and cast. There, he promptly goes full-blown Brian Wilson.
Unfortunately for Groening, in 2030 the rock band comparison still applies. The Simpsons has been on the oldies circuit for another 17 years. And like any rock band, the casualties it suffers along the way are never the ones you’d expect, as Dan Castellaneta (RIP 1957-2028) leaves the show. But Groening is going on this journey anyway. Unencumbered by voices of reason in his social circle, he refuses to retire Homer. So he goes to the vaults for outtakes, deleted scenes, sessions for licensed video games–anything with Homer’s voice. At one point he hires somebody to rob the Castellaneta family attic for tapes. In death, Dan Castellaneta becomes the Jimi Hendrix of the TV landscape. Impossible amounts of posthumous material keep him in the public eye.
Whole seasons are rewritten to accommodate old Castellaneta outtakes. Allegations of soundalike usage spread overnight. John DiMaggio, who plays Homer on Brooks’ superior reboot (which is retired after three seasons out of respect for Brooks’ passing), becomes intractable and defensive during interviews on the subject and almost immediately “retires” to upstate New York.
After the bad press gets so overwhelming that Homer’s character is retired, unlikely survivor Harry Shearer is promoted to star of the show. Everything is rebranded to oversell him as a living legend. He is a flesh-and-blood connection to the golden age of Hollywood and he’s still with us, suggests the new ad campaign. He was taught by Jack Benny and worked with Mel Blanc. He’s the greatest voice actor alive, we’re told. So Principal Skinner moves into the Simpsons house, adopts Bart and Lisa, and everybody presses on.
Hank Azaria, meanwhile, successfully sues FOX for millions after the show plagiarizes a script he wrote for a cartoon pilot that was never sold. He takes all his characters with him and retires to a gated, intimidating Los Feliz mansion. He is never seen again barring one interview he grants to the Christian Science Monitor about his role in Mystery Men, and a brief sighting at John Cusack’s funeral, where he appears emaciated, propped up by two unknown women.
This doesn’t stop Groening. “Season 47, really,” he tells the Los Angeles Times, “is easily our strongest […] probably ever.” He partners with Google to use old Castellaneta tapes for synthesizing new Homer lines, and makes the front page of all the trades with it, but the technology fails to materialize.
So, devoid of outtakes and down most of his cast, Groening keeps finding new bottoms to crash through. He panders to collectors with re-directed and re-scored versions of classic run episodes, in 3-D with limited theatrical runs. He does silent episodes. Anything to avoid the Castellaneta problem.
But it all has to end, as most shows do, not over creative bankruptcy, but regular bankruptcy. FOX orders the show’s cancellation in 2034 when it is no longer able to afford Harry Shearer’s annual salary of 1.7 billion dollars. So Groening finally decides to give the show what fans thought it would never get: a proper ending.
In the very last episode, Principal Skinner decides to move out. “I am going to start a small jazz combo,” says Skinner, in a slightly repurposed story that previously appeared in season 26, season 29, and season 33. “I will follow the lines of the highway wherever they take me, and maybe I will see you again. But I can’t be around forever,” he stoically declares, looking out toward the sunset.
Meanwhile, in an emotional B plot set to a sweeping orchestral score (to cover up a complete lack of remaining voice-over tapes), Castellaneta’s death is finally acknowledged. Homer is alone. He’s flying an experimental rocket that will take the very first 3-D video of Mercury. He’s the sole pilot. It’s a lonesome journey for Homer. There are no others. The show then cuts to footage of Skinner playing saxophone in a jazz bar straight out of an Altman movie. He plays a minor key rendition of the Simpsons theme.
And Homer Simpson flies into the sun.