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‘The Simpsons’ Season 25 Hits a ‘Homerland’ — a Talk with Al Jean

simpsons“The Simpsons” is celebrating its 25th season — launching Sept. 29 — with special episodes, a second ride at Universal’s Orlando theme park (part of the Springfield attraction that just opened there this past spring) and anniversary celebrations. 

It’s only right. 

“There hasn’t been a primetime show that’s scripted that’s gone 25 years before.  We’re thinking that’s like a real accomplishment,” says “Simpsons” exec producer Al Jean.  Yup, that it certainly is – in addition to the series’ 27 Emmys, its Peabody award and numerous other honors.

Among the must-see episodes on the way – the Halloween episode “opens with a really special opening directed by Guillermo del Toro,” reports Jean.  “And the rest of the Halloween episode is really terrific.”  More guest director episodes are in the works for Spring.   There’s also a “crossover with ‘Futurama.’  We’ve been trying to do it for a while.  It’s very exciting to all of us.”

al jeanThe crossover of the two Matt Groening-created shows will “probably air like the finale of this year, or maybe the premiere of next year.  It’s great to have the two universes together.”
But how?  “We’ve got a way,” he says with a laugh.
“It’s a great year — 25 years and we’re very excited.   We started December 1989,” adds Jean, one of “The Simpsons” original writers as well as its showrunner since Season 13.  “A lot of things have changed.” 
As for criticism in more recent years that the show quality has declined, Jean, a “Simpsons” writer from the beginning, comments that “We never stop trying as hard as we can.  It’s hard to, you know, do fresh episodes when you’ve already done 500, but we really take the time to try to think of things we haven’t done before.”
The 25th Season opener is called “Homerland” – a takeoff of Showtime’s “Homeland,” featuring the voice of Kristin Wiig.
With all the excitement over the 25th year, is the team also looking beyond, to the 26th, 27th and beyond?  What’s the outlook?
“Right now we’re in our last year of our current [contract],” says Jean.  “I think it’s extremely likely that we’ll do two more years. Our ratings are great.  Our reruns in the summer do as well as the reality shows that they put on, and our reruns don’t cost them anything.  During the year, we hold down 8 pm Sunday for Fox — we go out from our lead-in, often doubling it.   And in my view, I would say there are at least two more years to this show, very likely more.” 
He points out that Fox entertainment chairman “Kevin Reilly said something very similar at TCA.”   
The cast members to whom we’ve spoken still seem enthused as well. 
“Oh, yeah.  If I was them , I wouldn’t want to stop either,” says Jean.  “They’re terrific.  It’s a terrific show.  Why stop?”
Jean says he can’t name his favorite episodes.  “It’s like asking which of your 550 children is your favorite.  I mean, there’s so many that had meaning for me in different ways.”  But he can talk about which episodes have drawn the biggest reaction through the years. 
“The premiere — the Christmas show — means a lot to me; it turned out to be a phenomenon and I worked a lot on that show.  It meant the world.   Another one was when we did the episode with all the baseball players, ‘Homer at the Bat.’  It was amazing to meet them and now – you know I love baseball – it’s kind of regarded as a classic of sports television.  The one where we did a ‘Behind the Music’ with Mike Scully running the show that was great; it won an Emmy.  I wrote one which won an Emmy, a ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ that meant a lot to me.  We had one called ‘The Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind’ — like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ – which was a brilliant show that also won an Emmy.  The milestone episodes — 500 .  The movie.  To me, it’s amazing to have reached all those and still to be going.”
Will there be another “The Simpsons” movie?
“We talk about it, but you know, it’s not going to happen this year or next year or anything like that,” says Jean.    
And of course, we must broach the topic of the most recent “Simpsons” controversy – the flap over the show becoming a Lego blocks line that caused a mini uproar among some Lego purists.
“It’s funny that some Lego fans are like, ‘Oh my God. This is outrageous.’  And we were like, ‘Well, there are Harry Potter Legos and Harry Potter movies are PG 13.’  I’m glad we can still arouse Ire,” says Jean, sounding, in fact, quite satisfied.  “That made me happy.”