I have a plan to fix The Simpsons.
This plan assumes that The Simpsons needs fixing, so I ask you to play along. Don't worry: I promise I'll talk about how The Simpsons isn't actually so bad by the end of this piece, but for now, let's assume it's downright awful and desperately needs a big change.
Here's the plan: Surrender the 27th Season to twenty-two artists and allow them do whatever they'd like with the characters and universe for their allotted 23 minutes.
Because The Simpsons needs more of this:
And less of this:
The show's producers have already made steps in the right direction, allowing some of the world's best animators to create their own unique version of the opening couch gag. The shorts have been fantastic and some critics have even called them the best moments from The Simpsons in the past decade.
The couch gags deserve plenty of other superlatives. They have been weirder, edgier, more provocative, thoughtful and even avant-garde than The Simpsons, or really, most network television. And yet they're followed by twenty-some minutes that generally play things safe.
The couch gag is the future
Some Simpsons fans — enough to warrant the show's continual renewal — and a few critics — including Vox's Todd VanDerWerff — will disagree with the assumption that the show is busted. They're right that The Simpsons is still better than most generic sitcom fodder, and that episodes like "Holidays of Future Passed," "Apocalypse Cow" and "A Totally Fun Thing Bart Will Never Do Again," approach the show's first decade of excellence.
But The Simpsons is more often than not a serviceable parody of the moment, not as fast as South Park, as warm as Bob's Burgers or as grand as Adventure Time — shows for which The Simpsons laid the foundation. Those shows, while each unique, important and wonderful, lack two things The Simpsons still has: scope and global cultural relevance.
The Simpsons has scope and global cultural relevance
Artists would have 25 years worth of culture, plots, characters and character arcs to do anything and everything with. Millions of people have a shorthand with The Simpsons, an established set of expectations that makes this surreal Don Hertzfeldt intro an affecting take on time, age and the depressing abstraction of a show that could run forever and ever and ever. Or maybe the intro's just a silly riff on squiggles making funny noises. I don't know for certain, but it's more inspiring, funny and thought provoking than the show's been in years.
Why limit the best part of your show to two minutes once a week? I'd prefer an inverted ratio. Let the intro sequence remind me why I fell in love with The Simpsons, and let the remaining time deconstruct the longest running sitcom in history. I'd rather watch the show fail trying something wild and unproven than a thousand more episodes of big name guest star and third-string character deaths.
GIF courtesy my pal Thomas Ricker.