Destroying Zombie Simpsons to Save It

The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase4

“We’re like this all the time.” – Marge Simpson

In response to the renewal news, Split Sider published a list of six ways to improve Zombie Simpsons.  They’re willing to acknowledge that the show is a shadow of itself, but they’re still operating under the illusion that it is capable of getting better.  It isn’t.  Moreover, of the six suggestions they offer, only two of them could result in any real changes, and those would both basically end the show. 

Before we get to that, however, we should first note that nothing like this is ever going to happen.  Zombie Simpsons has been stuck in a creative rut for for a decade and change, but the rut pays the bills and then some.  If the recent contract extension is proof of anything it’s that the show, as flat, lifeless and fan displeasing as it is, remains profitable.  But even if we set aside the practical and business considerations and focus exclusively on the creative side, the changes are doomed to fail.  Here are the six suggestions:

1. Less Bart-Centric Episodes

2. Get Rid of the Fourth Act

3. Age the Show


5. Unconventional, High Concept Episodes

6. A Season-Long Arc

I’ll agree that #2 is just a bad way to run a television show, but Zombie Simpsons sucked long before the addition of the third commercial break, so I don’t think that one is going to help much.  Three of them, #1, #4, and #5, are all variations on a theme.  The fifth one is a call for more of a certain kind of episode, the other two are calls for less of other kinds.  These seem unlikely to help much for the same reason dropping the fourth act wouldn’t help: Zombie Simpsons has long been terrible across all of these kinds of episodes.  Even if they did drop the annual travel episode in favor of more flashback/flashforward type episodes, it wouldn’t make much difference. 

The two interesting suggestions are #3 and #6.  Unfortunately, doing either one of them would mark a permanent break with The Simpsons, which is the last thing a show staggering along on nostalgia wants to do.  First, consider #6, having a season long plot arc.  Here’s the explanation:

Even after 10 years of supposedly subpar episodes, The Simpsons will still go down as the greatest comedy, possibly show, of all-time. There’s nothing the writers can do to hurt the show’s legacy, so why not do something extreme? For instance, why not have a season-long arc? Do the high concept episodes in season 24, and have season 25 be focused on a single topic. Maybe Mr. Burns can die and the Germans come back to take over the plant and fire everyone, and all of the episodes could be about Homer looking for a job? That’s not the greatest idea in the world, I’ll admit, but a season-long arc would require viewers to tune in every week and solve the inconsistency problems many fans and critics have complained about for years.

Zombie Simpsons can’t sustain a plot across twenty minutes, much less twenty episodes.  A season long plot would have to make sense across weeks and weeks of episodes.  Zombie Simpsons has a hard time making sense within individual scenes.  Far more devastatingly, it would require change and progress from the characters.  Bart and Lisa would have to grow up a little, Homer and Marge would have to go through some kind of crisis, even the supporting characters would be expected to find themselves in at least somewhat changed circumstances.  All of that would leave the show looking nothing like The Simpsons, and looking like The Simpsons is the only thing that keeps Zombie Simpsons going. 

Making Bart and Lisa older, as suggested in #3 “Age the Show”, would also damage the resemblance to The Simpsons.  Beyond that, moving the characters forward a few years wouldn’t change things much, if at all.  Here’s the full text:

Next season, have Bart and Lisa inexplicably graduate from second and fourth grade, and have them in fifth and seventh, respectively. Why so far in advance? Because Miss Hoover and Mrs. Krabappel have both gone as far (if not further) as their characters will allow, and they’ve become tired and boring. (They’re, of course, not the only ones on the show, but they’re a necessary reduction.) There’s a HUGE difference between being in elementary and middle school (I still shudder thinking about it), and this would allow a whole new setting for the writers to create, something the new guys haven’t been able to do for years. Skinner can "graduate," too, in a Mr. Fenny from Boy Meets World-like situation.

I’ll agree that the worlds of seventh and fifth grade are a lot different than those of fourth and second, but Zombie Simpsons came untethered from grade school reality a long time ago.  Bart being in the fourth grade hasn’t stopped them from giving him a new girlfriend every other season.  Lisa being in the second grade didn’t keep her from entering a movie at the Sundance Film Festival or protect her from more adolescent problems like that time she got an eating disorder.  And if you’re dropping Hoover and Krabappel, why are you keeping Skinner?  He’s just as played out as they are. 

Instituting a season long plot arc would sever whatever connection remains between Zombie Simpsons and The Simpsons, but merely tinkering with the formula by pushing ahead a couple of years wouldn’t change the worn out format they’re stuck with.  It’s a catch-22, if they changed the show enough to make it genuinely fresh, it wouldn’t be anything like The Simpsons, but if they just tinkered with things, it wouldn’t change things enough to make a difference. 

This (plus the profitability of the rut) is why any ideas to revitalize the show are dead on arrival.  Whether you’re talking about shifting it forward in time, season long plot arcs, going spin-off showcase style and concentrating on other characters, all of them have one thing in common: they abandon the essential Homer, Marge and their small kids setup.  Zombie Simpsons can be about them as they are, or it can be about something else and drop everything from The Simpsons except the setting.  It can’t be both.

17 Responses to “Destroying Zombie Simpsons to Save It”

  1. 1 Stan
    13 October 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Considering that the current show is still officially formally called “The Simpsons”, I think ending it relies solely on how much the audience want to see Bart and Lisa grow up while Homer and Marge enter their late 40s.

    The plus to that is we would finally get some fresh material out of the box, something that we can both relate our beloved characters to but experience them facing new situations, more suitable to today’s social trends.

    The minus, a big one, is that nobody would want to watch it after 5 or so episodes. Since the Simpsons have started, and even long after, many shows came on with their own ideas: Futurama tried to season-arc approach, King of the Hill proned reality, MacFarlane’s shit ties everything together for a golden midst. But in reality, whatever they come up with today has already been done one way or another.

    My point? Only one way to go – the internets. Do some Hulu shorts, show them on the web and return back to the years of Tracy Ullman. This could both be The Simpsons AND still watchable for at least a decade to come. Of course plan B is ending the show, which is still prone to happen one way or another, but why put reset when you can still ctrl+alt+dlt, right?

  2. 2 Wrinkledlion X
    13 October 2011 at 3:34 pm

    What if Al Jean just died? Would that solve anything?

  3. 13 October 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Zombie Simpsons wouldn’t be watchable even if they started writing realistic, down-to-earth episodes that are completely off-the-wall and swarming with magic robots.

  4. 4 PEPITO! The Biggest Cat In The Whole Wide World!
    13 October 2011 at 3:56 pm

    what about our heros oakley, weinsten and swartzewelder with just a pinch of Conan. purge every other writer else associated with Al jean and ian maxtone graham.

    have the voice actors to perform in the same room at the same time, rather than in their hermetically sealed boxes. that is one of the biggest unmentioned, downfalls that occurred even in the vaunted season 7 time line.

  5. 13 October 2011 at 4:55 pm

    “I’ll agree that the worlds of seventh and fifth grade are a lot different than those of fourth and second, but Zombie Simpsons came untethered from grade school reality a long time ago. Bart being in the fourth grade hasn’t stopped them from giving him a new girlfriend every other season. Lisa being in the second grade didn’t keep her from entering a movie at the Sundance Film Festival or protect her from more adolescent problems like that time she got an eating disorder. ”

    Yes!!! This is what I’ve been trying to say to people on nohomers for years whenever this suggestion crops up

  6. 6 Thrillho
    13 October 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Unrelated, but ZS just released a new promo that responds to their renewal. Dan Castellaneta even did an updated version of the “They’ll Never Stop the Simpsons” song from Season 13 with these telling lyrics:

    “Lots more more more more/we don’t care if we’ve done it before”

    We know you don’t, Zombie Simpsons. We know you don’t.


    • 7 Patrick
      14 October 2011 at 7:48 am

      I love how the majority of clips came from Seasons 1-9, really says something when even the FOX publicist is on the same wavelength as us :O

  7. 13 October 2011 at 8:08 pm

    7. Whenever Poochie’s not on screen, all the other characters should be asking “Where’s Poochie?”

    Absolutely nothing can save The Simpsons now. It’s like Old Yeller – we had some fun a while ago, but it’s about time we put a bullet between its eyes.

  8. 13 October 2011 at 8:58 pm

    The forces that are capable of rescuing the show (basically any talented writers, especially those of the Oakley/Weinstein/Mirkin/Conan caliber) would be better suited by working on new, completely original material. Anything even remotely good is a reason not to watch the latest episode of the Simps.

    • 14 October 2011 at 2:50 am

      I agree. I’ve thought about why they don’t try to bring back more writers from the classic era, but for them, why put in the effort unearthing a dinosaur when they work on something new and unique? It just doesn’t seem worth it, especially at this point.

  9. 11 ecco6t9
    14 October 2011 at 3:06 am

    Well if retro is in, lets go back to the old looking art style and what would be wrong with keeping the show in 90’s?

    • 12 Stan
      14 October 2011 at 9:10 am

      Nothing wrong with it. Just wouldn’t be more watchable than it is anyway.

      Come to think of it the internets things wouldn’t last more than three years anyway. But at least they won’t have to waste that much cash into episode production and still have their 7 million viewers upon release (surely, there are at least 7 million people in US watching TV on the web regularly today). By 2015 it will die anyway.

  10. 13 Ad
    14 October 2011 at 4:03 am

    Wait… Lisa had an eating disorder?…..

  11. 15 Chris
    14 October 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “Even after 10 years of supposedly subpar episodes, The Simpsons will still go down as the greatest comedy, possibly show, of all-time. There’s nothing the writers can do to hurt the show’s legacy, so why not do something extreme?”

    Is this really true? I think the show’s reputation and historical legacy has been irreparably harmed by releasing as many bad episodes as they have. Two weeks ago when reports came out the show might be ending, the overriding theme seemed to be that it should have ended a long time ago. Very few were coming out saying, no the show’s still great. There’s no way the show’s legacy couldn’t have been harmed by the past 13 seasons. When a show, literally, has more bad episodes than good on its resume, it really can’t be considered the greatest of all-time. Seasons 1-8? I’ll put those up against anything. Seasons 11-present? I wouldn’t put those up against American Dad or The Cleveland Show. And, as everyone here knows, seasons 11-present outnumber seasons 1-8.

    I think it’s cute, though, that people think the show is salvagable. I’ll clue you in; there’s a reason most TV shows don’t last as long as the Simpsons. It’s because after awhile you run out of ideas, and there’s nothing else to do without completely changing the show, at which point no one’s happy because those aren’t the characters they fell in love with. We all need to take Lisa’s advice from Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores in season 8; just don’t look.

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