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Simpsons’ Al Jean On Season 24, ‘Treehouse’ and the Show’s End

Bart travels to New York City to reconnect with his long-lost love Mary Spucker (guest star Zooey Deschanel) on the season premiere of "The Simpsons"

The Simpsons returns for its 24th season Sunday on Fox, and the venerable animated series is as plugged in to pop culture as ever. Spinoff Online recently joined other members of the press in a conversation with Al Jean, who’s been writing for The Simpsons for more than two decades. We talked about everything from the upcoming season to the performer who declined an invitation to guest star to the way Jean makes sure the show remains fresh. Be warned, there are some spoilers about the season premiere.

The season opens with the Simpson family returning to New York City, where Bart tries to reconnect with his long-lost love Mary Spuckler (voiced by Zooey Deschanel). While the Simpsons have visited the Big Apple before, Jean said he tried to make sure this episode didn’t repeat any that came before.

“We do locations that I haven’t seen, not even in an animated show, but even in films, like, they go to the High Line, which wasn’t there when they went to New York previously. So, we try to do stuff like that,” he explained. “You know, New York is a rich place full of interesting things. We just tried, either if we repeated something it would be to say, here’s what happened to that person. Or if we don’t repeat it, in general with the show, we’re trying to cover new ground.”

That said, there are several nods to the Simpsons’ previous adventures in New York. The Khlav Kalash vendor makes an appearance, and Homer, although no longer a parking fugitive, still is sick of the city’s crime.

“There is a funny thing where he gets his pocket picked, and he says, ‘I thought there was no more crime in this city, Giuliani,'” Jean related in his best Homer Simpson voice.

This season’s “Treehouse of Horror” episode is set to air Oct. 7, and Jean is excited about that legacy. The Halloween special travels back to the time of the Mayans, whose calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, leading to the belief a major global catastrophe will occur on that date. The plot seems like a given considering that we’re only weeks away from supposed doom.

“The ‘Treehouse,’ because it’s such a thriving genre, I think is a little easier to come up with ideas for. Plus you don’t have to come up with a full storyline,” Jean explained. “You’re often just saying I’m going to hop on the shoulders of this original great story that people are familiar with. Coming up with ideas and new storylines is definitely the hardest thing that we can do, and the most difficult aspect of the job now. But I would say with the ‘Treehouse,’ it’s actually easier.”

He added that they’ve already completed next year’s “Treehouse” episode, which includes “a very violent world resembling Dr. Seuss’, and also the movie Freaks.”

Fans might have noticed the promo ad for the 24th season that follows Homer Simpson as he casts his vote for president. That scene isn’t in any specific episode, but Jean said they might find a home for it yet. After the good response to the scene in which Homer voted in 2008, Jean knew he wanted to try to tie in the 2012 election.

“We were trying to figure out a way to remind people the premiere was Sept. 30, and the Halloween show is early this year, Oct. 7,” Jean said. “So I thought, hey, why don’t we have Homer vote again like he did in 2008, you know with the topical references to this year’s election. We wrote it about a month ago, and then Dan Castellaneta came in, and he does all of the voices, except the woman on the voting machine is Tress MacNeille. And Film Roman animated extremely quickly. Hey, it helped.”

In addition to Deschanel, it’s already been announced that Steve Carell and Benedict Cumberbatch will lend their voices to the new season. Jean added that Janet Reno, Edward Norton, Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski will also guest star.

With 23 years of The Simpsons under his belt, Jean has seen a lot of voice actors come and go. He said his favorites have been Phil Hartman, Kelsey Grammar, Anne Hathaway and Kiefer Sutherland, but there are still celebrities who turn down the opportunity to appear.

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“There are people that even asked to be on, and then we wrote them a part, and then they declined. I won’t name them,” Jean said, before adding, “All right, I will: Jon Bon Jovi.”

The Simpsons has been renewed through its 25th season, but Jean said he doesn’t see any reason to stop there. He gave the sense that he’ll keep writing as long as Fox keeps letting him.

“The pickup was definitely open-ended. Nobody ever said we’re going to stop the show after we produce these episodes,” he said. “So, you know, at the beginning I was hoping for five years, much less 25. I wouldn’t even guess where we’d end up.”

The bottom line is that Jean is proud of the show that has become such a part of his life.

“The basic style of the show which came from Matt Groening, I think is so original and intriguing to the eye that I think no matter what we stand out,” he said. “Flipping through the channels and you hit The Simpsons, you always know it.”

The 24th season of The Simpsons premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.


  • JRC

    In the voice of an Itchy & Scratchy obsessive nerd: “Its not cloud collage, its kalkalash–man, I bet you get fired over that one.”

  • Omnihallows

    the simpsons never died

  • butters911

    Its funny. the Simpsons has now had more awful seasons than good ones. It was time to end the show in the early 2000’s

  • Nerdy McNerdelbaum

    Oh, come on. Even bad episodes of The Simpsons are better than most good episodes of other shows. 

  • butters911

    I disagree. I can think of like ten shows of the top of my head that are better and more funny than the Simpsons. Seriously, after the Dude Ranch episode of like 2005 I can’t even watch any more without cringing. And about once or twice a season I give it a chance and its always bad. It started out with Family Guy being a Simpsons copy but the Simpsons have devolved into a less dirty version of Family Guy. Ugh at least South Park is still funny

  • Statham

    I think the major problem is the fact that the characters have settled into such distinct routines. Homer, for instance – will either A – be a complete jerk with no remorse, B – be a complete idiot, C – find a new job, or D – take the family on some wacky vacation somewhere. Occasionally you get E, which is where the writers remember he’s actually meant to be a half-decent father at times.

  • Demoncat4

    the simpsons could wind up tieing doctor who as the longest series since they keep picking up new generations and surprised the writers manage to keep it fresh. including how far they can go on the tree house of horrors with out getting fox winding up with the fcc screaming at them for the violence

  • Silver Fang

    The Simpsons was at its apex in the 90s, then became mediocre in the 2000s. I did find some of the last two seasons’ episodes rather enjoyable. Hopefully, this season will continue that trend.

  • Joe

    I didn’t see the Homer Simpson’s vote preview thing. The last four years have stripped me of a lot my humour.

  • 30Hs

    actually, after the recent Decline of South Park, and the not so recent decline of Family Guy, the Simpsons manage to be better than both of them 

  • didjw

    the simpsons should’ve ended afte season 12 or 13