The Simpsons should start getting older

If the show really wants to boost its rating in an ingenious way it should break free from its static biological present

Share

The 25th season of The Simpsons began a couple weeks ago. The show has already been picked up for a 26th. People have now been debating the precise moment the show began to decline for longer than even the most successful TV series tend to stay on air. And the producers know this, of course: Executive producer Al Jean has recently promised new reasons to watch the next two seasons — including the death of an “iconic” character, which he said he hopes will garner Breaking Bad-like ratings. (He was apparently joking about the ratings.)

The death of that character, whoever he or she is, may make viewers pay attention to the show again, for a bit. But it's a move we've seen before (most notably, Maude Flanders died in Season 11). And it's just a temporary fix: It will not restore the show's reputation as innovative or groundbreaking. To reclaim that type of territory, and reestablish its hold on the American zeitgeist, The Simpsons needs to think much bigger. So here is what I'm proposing: The Simpsons should break free from its static biological present. The characters need to age. Yes, a cartoon, a 2-D world where the laws of nature are constructed in a writers' room, should suddenly be forced to carry, like Homer chained to the “Stone of Shame,” the same burden all humans are forced to carry: growing older.

Over 25 seasons, the characters have grown in complexity, but they still mostly grapple with issues appropriate to their respective ages. The possible narratives are dwindling. And our few glimpses of the Simpsons at more advanced ages have been tantalizing. Four episodes over 25 years have flash-forwarded in time and braved the family's future, showing us Lisa, Bart and Maggie as teenagers, college students, adults. Out of those four episodes, three were nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program. (In all fairness, Entertainment Weekly called “Bart to the Future” the worst episode in the series' entire, gigantic catalogue. But hey: high risk, high reward.)

If the Simpsons aged, the audience could at last watch their favorite characters struggle with the challenges of growth and maturity. We could see how serious change affects one of pop culture's most indelible modern families. I love the couch gags, the one-liners, and the brilliant “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, but the heart of the show is still a family that loves and cares for one another in a touching if dysfunctional way. It's the story of contemporary normalcy with a twist. At its best, the show holds a mirror up to ourselves.

Consider one of the best flash forwards, “Holidays of Future Passed” (Season 23, Episode 9). Bart is divorced and living in “The Lofts at Springfield Elementary,” grinding coffee in a pencil sharpener. His children hate him. Lisa is trying to balance her time between work and her daughter (who literally plugs into the Internet); she wonders if marrying Milhouse was a catastrophic decision. Homer has mellowed and become an exceptional grandfather who has given up drinking to build spaceships in bottles. Maggie is, of course, a rock star. And Marge, well, Marge is still not fully appreciated.

Imagine a whole season of Bart trying to find redemption for a wasteful life and his heedless, petty rebellion. Imagine Lisa struggling to balance family with work and self. Imagine all the opportunities for the writers to satirize our culture, to show us who we really are. The ability to freeze characters in time is one of the great advantages of animation. (I'm sure the producers of “Modern Family” would love to keep the children adorable and the world of that show static forever, too.) But it can become a straitjacket. And “The Simpsons” is well past that point.

How would the audience react if Homer suddenly started to get older? If The Simpsons gave us cartoons who, like us, aged? Possibly not well: Aging is filled with complications, and it's comforting to drop in on The Simpsons whenever you want and return to discover they are still the same. But that also makes the show easy to ignore. And bringing biological reality to the series would change that. If The Simpsons began to grow older, each episode would — for the first time in a long time — hold the promise of something new.

Copyright Slate/Washington Post.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future