Not many primetime entertainment shows in the U.S. can claim to have aired for 30 seasons — actually, none of them can besides The Simpsons. The Emmy-encrusted animated comedy crosses that milestone this fall as this next batch of episodes is unveiled. The religious film industry will be mined for laughs in the season premiere when Bart claims to have found Jesus after nearly losing his life. Elsewhere, Homer and Marge wind up quarantined after being eliminated from an Amazing Race-type show, and later a Netflix show divides them. Here, showrunner Al Jean drops all kinds of hints to EW about season 30 and issues a new statement on Apu.
Bart almost dies — and most certainly lies
Season 30 kicks off with… a satire of the religious film industry and Bart in peril. A dare nearly does in the little hellion, who is hospitalized after a bad fall and doesn’t want to tell Marge how it happened. “He makes up this story that he went to heaven and saw Jesus, and everybody believes him, and it becomes this big thing and a book,” says Jean. “Homer and Ned are asked to write a Christian movie about it.” Playing herself, Gal Gadot auditions as Lisa, and in the film, “she’s eating hamburgers and saying she can’t sing and it makes the real Lisa very aggravated.” There’s also a wink to an ancient Simpsons urban legend that maintains there is a never-aired episode named “Dead Bart,” which contains Bart’s gruesome death. “The title is ‘Bart’s Not Dead,’ and I guess it’s a slight allusion to the dead Bart rumor that was untrue in season 1,” says Jean. “He’s definitely not dead — he’s very much alive and lying to his mother.”
Homer and Marge spend some quality time together. Way too much quality time, in fact.
The Simpson parents compete an Amazing Race-esque show (Rhys Darby voices the host!) and are immediately eliminated “for a reason I won’t reveal because it’s pertinent to the plot,” says Jean. Stuck in a motel, “they can’t talk to anybody about the show for six months,” he says. “There’s a real cool song ‘Homer Heartbreak Motel,’ about being stuck in the motel, and there’s a really cool parody of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Homer and Marge getting really bitter at each other.”
Homer has a torrid affair with… Netflix.
In another episode, Homer “cheats” on Marge by binging a Stranger Things-type show without her, which angers her and strains their relationship. “We got [Netflix Chief Content Officer] Ted Sarandos to play himself,” says Jean. “When Homer’s trying not to watch the show, Ted goes, ‘Do you want to know what Marge watches when you’re not around? Scandinavian crime dramas — with nudity.’ And Homer goes, ‘It’s story-driven!,’ and Ted goes, ‘Yeah, right.'”
Mr. Burns may have discovered the fossilized fountain of youth.
One segment of “Treehouse of Horror XIXX” will riff on Jurassic Park — it’s called “Geriatric Park” — as Mr. Burns opens a special retirement home that can reverse the aging process in senior citizens using dinosaur DNA. “But there might be some consequences,” understates Jean. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is lampooned in “Intrusion of the Pod-Y Snatchers,” as “everybody is just mesmerized by their phones, and they’re getting destroyed by the aliens,” says Jean. And another segment, “Multiplisaty,” drills down on Lisa while sending up The Three Faces of Eve. “Yeardley Smith has a real showcase of her talents, doing different voices and singing, where all her personalities want to murder Bart except one that likes him,” hints Jean. And don’t forget about the opening of the episode, during which “Cthulhu, the ancient creature of the sea, gets into an eating contest with Homer,” says Jean. “I’ll leave you to guess who might win.”
Scout’s honor: The Simpsons will riff on To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Daddicus Fitch” will be an unusual one for the long-running animated series, as it features live-action footage from a classic film. In the episode, Lisa watches To Kill a Mockingbird, and afterward, “she sees Homer doing something really nice and starts to visualize her dad as Gregory Peck,” says Jean. “The girl who played Scout [Mary Badham] is still alive, and we actually got clearance from the estate of Gregory Peck to use to use footage of the two of them. So there’s actual footage of that film in this show, which is really cool — and then see Homer relate to Lisa on that basis.”
The face of Drag Race will grace an upcoming episode.
“This is true – most successful Tupperware sellers are drag queens,” says Jean. “So Marge starts selling Tupperware, and her friend Julio convinces her to pose as a drag queen to make more money. They think she’s a guy playing a woman, which Marge kind of looks like a little. She’s really successful and then RuPaul is playing a character like himself. When [Marge] is going to go out and earn money, Homer says, “‘No wife of mine is ever going to work,’ is a bizarre thing that men used to say for some reason. Please do!'”
Guillermo del Toro tackles his greatest monster project yet: Mr. Burns.
The Oscar-winning director contributed a couch gag in season 25, and five seasons later, he returns to play himself in an episode in which Mr. Burns is in legal trouble. “There’s a real-life thing called a mitigation video where if you commit a crime, you make a video that you show to the court,” says Jean. “If it’s well-made, you can convince the judge to reduce your sentence. So Mr. Burns made a mitigation video and he had Guillermo direct it. And Guillermo says, ‘All my life, I’ve loved monsters — King Kong, Godzilla, Godzuki, but Mr. Burns is the most misunderstood monster of all.”
Apu’s future is still unknown.
The Simpsons found itself at the center of controversy last season in the wake of last year’s TruTV documentary by Hari Kondabolu, The Problem With Apu, which maintains that Apu is a harmful stereotype of South Asian people. The show briefly addressed the issue in an April episode, with Lisa saying, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” (Marge then said, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” to which Lisa added: “If it all.”) Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, seemed to distance himself from that scene, saying on The Late Show, “I had nothing to do with the writing or voicing”; he was open to reinventing the character and even volunteering to stop voicing the character. Simpsons creator Matt Groening subsequently said, “I love the character, and it makes me feel bad that it makes other people feel bad. But on the other hand, it’s tainted now — the conversation, there’s no nuance to the conversation now.” Asked about any season 30 plans for Apu (who hasn’t appeared in an episode since last fall) or how the matter might be addressed again, Jean only said: “If you are a bully and you’re using The Simpsons to bully people, we don’t want you, you’re not a Simpsons fan — and I’ll kick your ass. That’s my response in general on Apu. And the only other thing I’ll say — I will just defer to what Matt Groening has said, and that’s it.”
The sun will “likely” not be setting on Springfield anytime soon.
Over the summer, Fox CEO Dana Walden told reporters inquiring about the upcoming merger with Disney that “there’s no consideration of not ordering more Simpsons.” Jean says that her words are “confidence-inspiring,” but there is nothing official to report as the cast has not yet signed new deals. “In my own opinion, I would say the word is ‘pretty likely’ there will be more seasons,” he says. “I don’t see why anybody involved wouldn’t want to do more. We’re still going up from our lead-in on Sunday. I think we’re the second-highest rated show on Fox. We just won an Emmy for character design. All good things.”
The Simpsons airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.