The Simpsons is about to embark on its 29th season. You read that right: 29. Why, this show has been around so long, it's been able to legally drink Duff for, like, seven years. And this season will help the animated Fox comedy blow past another milestone, as it contains episode No. 636. Homer & Co. will eclipse TV's longest-running scripted primetime series, Gunsmoke, the CBS western that churned out 635 episodes. "It’s a tribute to everybody that’s worked on the show, and how hard they’ve worked," says executive producer Al Jean. "It used to be an unthinkable number and here we are!... I don’t even know if [the Gunsmoke producers and actors] were aware that they were establishing a record when they went off the air, or I don’t remember anybody saying, 'Take that!' but we’re beating it."
Aside from the deafening sound of shattering records, what else can fans expect when Springfield springs back into action? We bring you a dozen teases for season 29, which kicks off Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
Springfield will be transformed into something fantastic(al) for the season premiere. An ambitious fantasy-themed episode, titled "The Serfsons," will pay tribute to the movies, TV shows, and books in said genre.
"It's a sprawling epic fanatsy episode that's worthy of a 9-hour movie trilogy — 10-and-a-half hours after you count the extended edition," says Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman. "Setting an episode in a fantasy world allowed us to tell a deeper, more emotional story that had huge surges of emotion and feeling but also is really silly. It has a lot of satire and asks interesting philosophical questions — and makes fun, pointed political commentary." Plus, there's this guy...
Game of Thrones
star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau hops over from Westeros to make a brief appearance. "The part is more Needle
" nerdily says Selman, "but no less deadly." Selman won't reveal too much about the role, other than to say, "He has a very Jaime Lannister-type relationship with one of the Simpsons," and also to reassure: "It is an acceptable level of disgusting."
So, what exactly happens when The Simpsons goes medieval on itself? "Homer Serfson has to lead a rebellion against what he loves most: feudalism itself," quips Selman. "If you thought one Milhouse was annoying, imagine dozens of goblin Milhouses. Krusty has a uniquely magical venereal disease. And Moe's bar is, if anything, a little nicer."
The second episode of the season is a short one — a Martin Short one. In a story that knowingly nods at Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home, Lisa and Marge join creative forces to whip up a graphic novel about Lisa's life. (Words by Lisa, drawings by Marge.) "It becomes an unexpected hit and it takes Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, which is our version of Comic-Con, by storm," says Simpsons consulting producer Tim Long, who co-wrote the episode with Miranda Thompson. "Everything is going great, but an eccentric theater director played by Martin Short turns it into a musical extravaganza, à la Fun Home, and ends up sewing chaos and driving a wedge between mother and daughter. Maybe, just maybe, those bonds can be repaired by the end of the episode, but tune in to make sure."
The Short episode also features Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom as an intelligent, highly neurotic student psychologist. "The Simpsons send Lisa to her to deal with her neuroses because they’re both loving parents and incredibly cheap," says Long. "It's her idea to get Lisa expressing her feelings through art therapy, which sets the whole graphic novel part in progress."
Bloom will flower in a geeky subplot as well. "There’s a funny, very small subplot where it turns out that Rachel's character has a complicated relationship with her academic supervisor," says Long, "so if you love comedy about academic supervision, you’re going to love this episode."
The annual Halloween episode, "Treehouse of Horror" is usually heavier on screams of laughter than screams of fright, but executive producer Al Jean thinks the final segment in the XXVIIIth edition may change that. "We have what I think is the scariest segment we ever did," he says. "I don't want to say more." Please say more. "I’ll give you the title: 'Mmmmmmm, Homer.' We actually put a disclaimer on it again like we used to — a warning to the audience."
There's also a 3-D parody of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, titled "Coralisa," which features Neil Gaiman voicing the cat. "Lisa finds a perfect world," says Jean, "except that they make you sew buttons on your eyes."
Another THOH segment features baby Maggie becoming possessed, and The Exorcist star Ben Daniels voicing the role of the priest. "Maggie says, 'You're all going to die,' and Marge is excited," says Jean, "because it’s Maggie first words."
And don't miss the sweet opening to the episode, which imagines the Simpsons as candy bars that are trying not to get eaten. “Bart is Barterfinger,” says Jean, “so nobody takes him.”
After playing the son of Dracula and a boy interested in falconry, Daniel Radcliffe returns to the show to cameo as himself in an episode about Bart using Sun Tzu's The Art of War to destroy Homer. "They go to a Minecraft-like convention and Daniel is there wearing a costume," explains Jean. "That’s how people like him go to conventions without being seen, and Homer unmasks him, and he gets torn to shreds." (Silicon Valley star Jimmy O. Yang pops up as Sun Tzu to advise Bart on how to ruin Homer’s life.)
Speaking of returning guest stars, in one episode, Marge and Homer remember how much fun they used to have before they had a family, and Marge goes to work for the newspaper, with J.K. Simmons playing her editor (think: J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man). What is he like as her boss? "Gruff," says Jean. "And loud." (Kevin Pollack also pops up in several roles.)
Still speaking of returning guest stars, Jon Lovitz reprises his role as director Llewellyn Sinclair (Oh! Streetcar!). "Bart pulls a prank using clown masks, and that makes everybody horrified of clowns, so Krusty loses his job and tries to come back as a dramatic actor and Llewellyn Sinclair is his director," says Jean. "They don't get the rights to Death of a Salesman, so the play is called The Salesman's Bad Day."
Not speaking of returning guest stars but still speaking of musicals, one episode features a love triangle that you most certainly weren't expecting. "It fulfills many of my longheld Simpsons dreams, which include hearing Nelson sing," says Long. "Nelson is a deceptively soulful character. About 12 years ago, he was lamenting the fact that his father wasn’t around and he sang, 'Papa, Can You Hear Me?' from Yentl, and I remember thinking, 'This is a crazy thing,' and also thinking, 'I’m incredibly moved.' There’s a lot of pain inside that sleeveless vest that we tried to draw upon."
Ed Sheeran plays a musician named Brendan whom Lisa falls for — and, yes, Brendan will do some singing. "He's a great musician and he’s a little condescending to Lisa, but also thinks she could be great," says Jean. "So it’s a choice that she makes between Nelson and him. At one point he goes, 'Why is this even a choice?'"
Speaking not of musicals but of music, the Simpsons will head to New Orleans during Jazz Fest this season. But the story kicks off on a sad note, as Lisa's music teacher tells Lisa that she’s just a big fish in a small pond and that she’s not actually that good of a musician. Hints Jean: "She gets the yips and she can’t play, so she’s really heartbroken." Don't worry: Things get better after beignets. (And she has a nice moment with the statue of Louis Armstrong.)
Want some Burns? After giving Jean the third degree, he provided this tease: "There’s an episode where Burns sees an old Orson Welles show where he talks about Nostradamus, and Burns believes that the end of the world is near. He wants a test to determine who should go on a spaceship with him, and Fring comes up with a new way of testing everybody in town."
The Simpsons spoofed Boyhood with "Barthood," showing Bart at different stages of his life, and now Lisa will receive the same treatment in "Lisahood." "You see her as a little precocious kid where Homer first discovers how smart she is, and you see her in college wondering if she’s going to fit in, and finally getting out of Springfield and being really scared," says Jean. "You also see Flanders try to cure Homer of his alcohol problem." (Guest star alert: Valerie Harper plays Lisa's teacher in one sequence, and Norman Lear pops up in a cameo.)
Grab the nearest ski mask, hop in a car with no license plates, and hightail it to a sophisticated place to watch this particular episode. It revolves around an art heist — and it's unspooled in the style of a '70s detective show. Bill Hader guest-stars as the detective who investigates the case of some stolen artwork, and all eyes are on... Homer? "He falls in love with a painting and when it goes missing," says Selman, "he’s the main suspect." The episode also boasts a mini-SNL reunion, as Cecily Strong plays one of the other suspects.
How could we make it all the way to the end of a Simpsons preview story without talking about Moe? Let's fix that right now. (Right after we fix a cocktail.) One season 29 episode will boldly unspool Moe's family backstory. "It’s a Shakespearean family drama," sums up Selman, "set against the backdrop of a fading mattress store empire."