I’ve been mulling over this since the news came out, the idea of Harry Shearer leaving The Simspons, and what that means for the shape of the show.
There’s this Youtube video going around of some impressionist who can do the characters, but what a lot of regular TV viewers might not know is that a lot of voice actors can do those parts and none of them would be willing to take over the role. Fox tried something like this a while ago, and it seemed like every voice actor in Hollywood got the call to come in. They all said no. So we’re not going to see those characters with a slightly different voice. Unless Shearer comes back as a guest role (which I would not rule out), his characters are pretty much gone.
What makes that matter worse is that several of his characters were part of a pairing (Lenny and Carl, one of the cops, one of the nerds, Itchy and Scratchy, Kang and Kodos) so that whole pair is gone now. That’s a huge slate of staple characters gone.
How do you explain that sudden shift? Well, a while ago I did one of these blog post article things where I suggested a minor time jump into the future, just far enough to push the kids into the next level of their development. I originally suggested it as a way to keep the show fresh, but now it seems like the simplest, quickest way to explain the massive change that just happened.
Without all the Shearer characters, and with several jobs and roles to fill, now the show would also have an excuse to go back to basics, focus on the (marginally different) family, and slowly introduce new characters as they’re needed. So many of the characters that are classics on the show were originally there to fulfill a simple function.
The need for new characters (Shearer voiced everyone Homer worked with, so Homer’s gotta get a new job) means you could get other voice actors in, not to replace, but to augment. I’d love to see John DiMaggio, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche et al get to join the cast (it would also keep the existing cast from having to shoulder more responsibility). And those guest actor parts pay pretty well. I can picture a time coming where some of the guest cast become regulars and then there’s a big pay difference between the new blood and the old blood that could be hard to resolve, but if the show only goes on for two more years, that issue might not come to a head.
And of course, The Simpsons isn’t going to time-jump. They’re not going to experiment. They’re a brand. They’ve been consistent for 22 years. They have a theme park. They can’t change now.
(Don’t) Bring Back Futurama! (Yet)
Any news about The Simpsons brings up conversation about the horrible quality of the show and how Futurama is more deserving, but you know what? Let Futurama rest... at least for a little while longer. The show’s been brought back twice, had some good runs, but to me, the freshness of it has worn off. I think it shows signs that it could fall into the same problems as The Simpsons if it kept going.
What really made Futurama work when it premiered is that is was so different from The Simpsons, the creators and crew got to try a new and different things, experiment, find a new voice... there was a vitality to that which I don’t think will be there if they just went right back and did some more again. At least, without doing something new first.
The Simpsons/Futurama people need a new project, something different than they did before, but right up their alley, that they can stretch their creative muscles on.
The Exploding Detective, aka The Frank Burly Mysteries
“Now I’m not the most observant of men, which is unfortunate, because I’m a private eye.”
After leaving The Simpsons, John Swartzwelder (who created some of the best episodes) went on to write a series of books about a bumbling private detective solving unusual cases with unusual titles.
John Swartzwelder did the best Simpsons episodes, and I think that The Simpsons crew executes Swartzwelder better than anyone could hope for. To me, the pairing is obvious.
Maybe too obvious. I imagine if this was ever going to happen, that it would have happened a long time ago. I can imagine Swartzwelder not wanting to sell the rights to his book, or have it be in the Matt Groening style with Groening getting all the credit (like with the artwork, which is all signed by never actually drawn by MG himself).
But honestly, when I read “The Time Machine Did It,” I can’t help but picture the old episodes of The Simpsons, the old Treehouses Of Horror, the ones where they did a shot-for-shot remake of a movie scene to really sell a joke, then cut to an entirely different mood. The way information is withheld from the reader feels the same as when the Simpsons would finally notice something off-screen, or pan to someone not wearing pants. It feels like the good old days of the show while being something different, and I think that’s what Simpsons fans really want now.
To me, the way to do it is simple, you take a page from Futurama and adapt the books into multi-episode “movies.” Put them on Netflix or Amazon, they’d pay through the nose for an original series from The Simpsons people.
And I’ll admit that a big reason for me pitching this is because I’m cheap, these books are expensive. 16 bucks for just 140 pages in big type, come on. Big TV series release like this means a re-release, meaning affordable collected volumes at the bookstore. If that’s all that comes out of this talk, I’ll be happy.