Producer Al Jean gives a preview of the 13th season -- and answers the rumors about those ''Simpsons'' movies

By Brian Hiatt
Updated November 12, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
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As if ”Malcolm in the Middle” mom Jane Kaczmarek didn’t have enough kid trouble on her own show, on Sunday night she’ll come face to face with the ultimate parenting challenge: Bart Simpson himself.

In the season premiere of ”The Simpsons”’ (Fox, Sundays, 8 p.m.) Kaczmarek plays a tough-on-crime judge who faces Bart in court after he takes a police car out for a joy ride. ”She sentences Bart to be shackled to Homer, punishing them both,” executive producer and show-runner Al Jean explains. ”And so Homer goes to Moe’s and he’s got Bart shackled to him; then he’s trying to make love with Marge and Bart’s on the floor. It’s basically a look at creative sentencing.”

As fans have come to expect, this year’s shows will see Springfield packed with flashy guest stars, including Phish, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Richard Gere. But Jean, who has worked on the show since the first season, says he hopes this year will also mark a return to what might be called ”Simpsons” family values. ”We want to make sure we remember why the show is so popular — because whoever watches, they find someone to relate to,” he explains. ”We wanted to make sure that this season’s shows are focused on the family — I say that and it sounds like I’m a religious broadcaster.”

Still, some beloved side characters will have their moments, too. That noted aficionado of illustrated literature, Comic Book Guy, is set to have a life-shattering encounter with Marvel comics mastermind Stan Lee (providing his own voice). ”Comic Book Guy’s really excited,” Jean says, ”but then Stan Lee won’t leave, and Comic Book Guy gets fed up with him.” Alas, Comic Book Guy won’t get a love interest this season, or even a real name.

Another episode will introduce the family of the Ah-nuld-like action hero McBain; his daughter, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, will develop a crush on Bart. ”Bart’s kind of interested,” Jean says, ”but only because she has a big TV and a cool house.” Meanwhile, a genuine action star, veteran actor Dennis Weaver (star of ”Gunsmoke”) will play a former cowboy actor who befriends Bart. Other episodes will include Homer’s experimentation with medical marijuana (not surprisingly, that’s when the members of Phish show up) as well as voice appearances from, among others, Richard Gere, Ben Stiller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Newman, and Jon Lovitz.

The voice actors for ”The Simpsons” signed a contract this summer committing them to two more seasons of the show and three possible movies. Word of the potential theatrical releases — and a show writer’s joke that the loss of Bart’s virginity would be a plot point — sent fans into fits of rumor-mongering worthy of Homer’s stint as Internet ”journalist” Mr. X. But according to Jean, the movies are little more than a gleam in Matt Groening’s eye.

”The rumors are based on nothing,” Jean says. ”There’s no script, I can tell you for a fact — there’s nothing planned for the next year at least. Just personally, I think the smart thing is to do what ‘Star Trek’ did — after the original series ends, you would wait a couple years, and then the anticipation for a movie would be really huge.”

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