As “The Simpsons” marks another milestone this Sunday with its 700th episode, fans can be rest assured that there are many more to come beyond that. Fox recently renewed the animated institution for another two seasons, bringing the show to Season 34 (and a grand total of 757 episodes) in 2023. But what happens after that?
“We’re going to definitely do 757,” said executive producer Al Jean. “I wouldn’t say that’s the end but I don’t know how much further we can go.”
He laughs at the idea of making it to an even 1,000 episodes, noting that it would take another 12 years to pull off that feat. But it’s not out of the question, and Jean notes that with virtually every classic series being rebooted — including animated entries like “Beavis & Butt-Head” — he doesn’t think “The Simpsons” would stay dormant for long even if production stopped. “As soon as they cancel us, they’ll reboot us,” he said. “I’m confident, after I’m gone, there’ll be some sort of ‘Simpsons’ coming. It’s too ubiquitous to think that it’ll just disappear.”
“The Simpsons” has always been in the zeitgeist, but Jean has been thrilled to see audiences embrace the availability of every episode on Disney Plus. “This show has just been blessed with great luck with casting, Fox, FX and Disney Plus all the way through its history,” Jean said. “If you’d asked me to choose a [streaming] place to be on, Disney Plus would be the number one choice. So we’re very lucky.”
Jean, who has spent 30 years on “The Simpsons,” also considers himself pretty lucky. “That we get to do this thing that we all love so much, and means so much,” he said. “I’ve been here over half my life, and what a great way to spend it. The hundreds are sort of arbitrary milestones, but could now be more thankful to the people that work here and the people that watch the show.”
Lately the show’s longevity has stirred new conversation on social media over the show’s continuity and what might be considered canon. Jean and others attached to the show have noted that every story is meant as its own contained adventure, and that the show has to evolve as the times change. Homer is in his late 30s — which means in 2021, this Homer would have been a child when “The Simpsons” debuted in 1990.
“I love that they’re interested, and we have a joke that deals with that honestly in the 700th episode,” Jean said. “But, my response would be, if you kept ‘The Simpsons’ frozen in 1990, it would be a little bit like that show ‘The Goldbergs,’ it would be a retro show. They wouldn’t have cell phones, it would be a different life. I don’t think that people watching it would relate to them as a family that lives in the present. So, I don’t know what you do, except to have them deal with current issues and stuff that today’s families and kids encounter.”
Episode 700, “Manger Things,” is a flashback episode, revealing another wrinkle in the Homer and Flanders relationship, and also visiting a room in the Simpsons’ house that viewers have never seen.
“The thought was, Matt Groening wanted to do an episode featuring that little room above the garage that you see every week, but we’ve never been in,” Jean said. “That features big in this episode, and I thought it would be great if Homer and Flanders has sort of a secret bond that we never knew about, which is revealed in an episode that dates six years before the present. We’re careful not to say what year that is. And we do we have a flashback where, Maggie Roswell returns as Maude Flanders and you see Maude and Ned and Homer and Marge before Maggie was born. I always love doing Flanders episodes, Harry doing the voice is so great.”
It also takes place during Christmas. That was an intentional nod to the first episode of “The Simpsons” being a Christmas special, but also “we thought that this year the world could use two Christmases,” Jean said.
“Manger Things” was completely written and produced during the pandemic. “There’s a line where Marge goes, ‘you know this happened six years in the past’ and Homer goes, ‘thank God it’s not the horrible present!’ We decided except for that little Halloween segment, we weren’t going to have everybody in every episode wearing a mask and distancing. Because I think in five years, that’s just not going to look like what people are doing. It’s going to look like a sad aberration. And we wound up doing more future or flashback shows, just because there’s no point in having them deal with the pandemic.”
Animator Bill Plympton is also back with another couch gag for the episode.
Jean said “The Simpsons” team has been working on Zoom for a year now, and haven’t encountered any pandemic-related delays. “Our post-production and our sound people did this incredible job of setting up little mini studios in each actor’s house,” Jean said. “And if you listen to the audio on the show, I don’t think anybody notices a difference. The ones we’re in now were all pandemic-produced, not a single line was recorded in studio.”
And for now, that’s how it will remain — especially table reads, which Jean predicts will be the very last thing that Hollywood brings back. “I can’t imagine anything more dangerous than fitting 50 people in a little room, and getting them to laugh,” he said.
Here’s a clip from Episode 700, “Manger Things,” airing Sunday, March 21, at 8 p.m. ET on Fox:
And here is the new couch gag from Bill Plympton: