It's hardly surprising The Simpsons has been renewed for yet another two seasons, a move that will take its total number of episodes up to 757 by the end of 2023. While the show's live viewing figures are a fraction of what they used to be, one can only imagine the amount of money it makes in syndication and merchandise sales alone. But of course, the unfortunate truth is that its general level of quality has dipped substantially since the so-called "golden age", which ended all the way back with season nine (or 11, depending on who you ask).
It's for this reason that even the most ardent fans have questioned whether it's time for The Simpsons to end and, in this viewer's opinion, the answer is most definitely yes. But given the show's extraordinary impact – its popularity all over the world and its proudly held title of the longest-running primetime scripted series in television history – it would be a great shame if it bowed out on just another run-of-the-mill mediocre batch of episodes. The family deserves a more ambitious send-off than that and so do their fans. Instead, here's a more outside-the-box idea for the final season (whenever it does arrive).
For starters, let's shake up the format. The most commonly touted rule of the sitcom is that nothing can ever fundamentally change, but this show built its reputation on pushing the envelope and it would be nice to see that creative flair return. With that in mind, I'm pitching an extended farewell series of 25 episodes in which The Simpsons do the one thing they haven't yet tried: ageing. (No, those hypothetical episodes set in the future don't count and aren't canon, as far as I'm concerned).
The story would begin with The Simpsons as we know them today: Homer and Marge in their late 30s, with their children Bart, Lisa and Maggie at age 10, eight and one respectively. However, a narrative time-jump of approximately two years between each episode would see the family get older with every passing chapter, culminating in a series finale with the parents in their twilight years and their adult offspring forging ahead with fulfilling lives of their own.
But why, do I hear you cry? No doubt the mere thought of this idea will be nauseating to some purists, but allow me to explain. The Simpsons has grown stale and there's no two ways about it. The family dynamic is in dire need of re-energising and every conceivable trip abroad, celebrity guest and wacky occupation has already been done twice over. The time is right to tell a story with a little more emotional heft and this particular narrative device would be the perfect way to do so, allowing The Simpsons to put its own distinct spin on the bittersweet experience that is growing up.
I wouldn't want to do away with the show's trademark sense of humour but, just like life itself, this would be a season of ups and downs. On the one hand, we could see Lisa being accepted to her dream university, Homer taking up some post-retirement hobbies and Maggie finally finding her voice, but it would also have to explore some of life's toughest tests such as leaving home and losing grandparents. Do you think that sounds a bit too heavy for The Simpsons? Don't forget this is a show that has already seen Homer attempt to take his own life (S1 E3), say goodbye to his children before surgery for a near-fatal heart condition (S4 E11) and struggle to come to terms with being ripped apart from his fugitive mother (S7 E8).
The Simpsons might be one of the funniest television shows ever made (or at least, it was), but don't let that fool you into thinking the show can't veer away from comedy when it has a strong enough story to tell.
I'm fully aware that successfully making a final season of this nature would be incredibly difficult. How do you go about telling the life stories of five of the most prominent – yet stagnant – figures in pop culture? Certainly, it would be a challenging undertaking but I'm confident it could be done well if the right team were assembled, starting with the writers that shepherded the series through its golden age, including John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, Al Jean, George Meyer and, of course, creator Matt Groening.
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It would be wise to add some fresh and diverse voices into the mix too as well as consulting with some of the trailblazers currently pushing the medium of animation to new heights. Among that group, two people who should definitely be approached are Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy, who have proven themselves capable of finding a perfect balance between funny and thought-provoking; first, in Netflix's acclaimed Bojack Horseman and once again in Amazon Prime Video's criminally overlooked Undone.
I understand change makes some people feel uneasy and that a lot of fans like these characters exactly how they are, but taking a family as universally well-known as The Simpsons and bringing them on an emotional journey through life would open the door to some moving and very memorable vignettes which all of us could relate to. Think about it: would you prefer The Simpsons' final ever season to take a big, exciting swing or simply stick to the same tired jokes that audiences have largely shrugged off since 1999? The choice is clear.
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