The Simpsons is one of the most-loved animated sitcoms of all time, but it is always a challenge for the makers to keep the show topical, says showrunner Al Jean. The animated sitcom, created by Matt Groening, is the longest running show of the American television history and an inalienable part of modern day pop culture.
The affable story of the titular family, which consists of middle class couple Homer and Marge as well as their three children, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, continues to touch lives of many people across the globe that brought it a dedicated following over the course of the last 30 years.
But Jean, who has been associated with The Simpsons since its inception back in 1989, believes there is also a downside to a show going on for over three decades. “We made a decision early on that we wouldn’t advance the storyline. It wouldn’t be a continuing narrative where people got older, which I think was good because now Bart would be about 45 and he’d still be living at home, which would be very pathetic.
“So the negative of that is that when you always go back to square one, there’s never going to be…. Bart isn’t going to die. We’re not going to do anything terrifying to the characters. So the lack of suspense and the number of episodes that we’ve done, the hard thing is to keep it fresh,” Jean told PTI in a group interview over Zoom.
The showrunner added that the world of animation is “evergreen” and with the core cast still attached with the series he is confident that The Simpsons will continue to find stories and experiences worth telling on the screen.
“The animation is evergreen. We still have the original cast, which is fantastic. We just try to look at the world. What’s happened to us, our families and our friends’ families… anything you could possibly see and turn it into something that is part of The Simpsons which is great.”
While there have been bouquets aplenty for The Simpsons makers, they have also faced brickbats for the controversies the show courted along the way. From Bart being a bad role model for school children to the row over the stereotypical depiction of Indian-origin character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the show has often rubbed the audiences the wrong way.
Jean, 60, said it is true that the world has changed a lot since The Simpsons started and the things, which were “funny and and inoffensive” back then, could offend people today.
“One has to go with the times. But it’s really true that we stereotype every nationality, especially Americans, especially fat American men. I think they come off worse on our show than just about anybody. “So our hearts are in the right place. And if we’ve made a mistake here or there, it probably comes with going on the air for 30 years.”
The Simpsons was among the major intellectual properties that Disney was able to get its hands on after the Hollywood studio acquired 20th Century Fox and its key assets in 2019. That enabled Jean to plot crossover episodes of The Simpsons with Disney’s marquee properties — Stars Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchises. The first crossover was with the Star Wars which resulted in the animated short The Force Awakens from Its Nap involving the character of Maggie Simpson. The short debuted on streamer Disney Plus on Star Wars Day in May.
Jean now got the chance to work with key MCU character Loki, voiced by original star Tom Hiddleston, for another short The Good, The Bart, and The Loki. Hiddleston can currently be seen in his solo MCU show Loki.
“People have different knowledge of Loki and some of the people I worked with knew quite a bit. Other people had less knowledge. So we sort of did it just basically like he’s the God of Mischief going in and you don’t have to know anything more.
“I think he’s gotten a good deal of publicity in the last four weeks. So people who were less familiar are now more familiar with him. One thing to know is that he’s a shape-shifter and he can pretend to be other people, which is a key to the short,” Jean said. The Good, The Bart, and The Loki follows Loki after he is banished from Asgard and must face his toughest opponents yet: the Simpsons and Springfield’s mightiest heroes.
Jean was particularly in awe of Hiddleston as they had absolute fun while working on the short. “Tom Hiddleston could not have been nicer and funnier. That really made the experience over the top for me. With him, you just don’t want the session to stop. You just want it to keep going because it was so fun.”
The positive of being at Disney and working on its key intellectual property is that one can also make fun of the studio, Jean said. “Now it’s actually freer reign because they’re not going to sue themselves, which is us. The funny thing is that we’ve made a lot of jokes about Disney over the years and these are all available on Disney Plus. In terms of the future, they just wanted us to be ourselves.
“They said, ‘You know, we bought The Simpsons to be The Simpsons.’ And we’ve had no blow back. The two shorts that we did, the Star Wars people were very gracious and Marvel people couldn’t have been better. And so yeah, it’s been a huge advantage,” Jean added. The Good, The Bart, and The Loki currently streams on Disney+ Hotstar Premium.