I wrote earlier today about my frustrations with The Simpsons' voice work, which has become the least interesting part of a show that's doing its best to creatively tread water. A number of people have already responded that the solution to the show's casting problems is for The Simpsons to finally end. That almost happened in December 2011 due to similar circumstances.
"Holidays of Future Passed" was written as a potential series finale. At the time J. Stewart Burns penned the script, long before the episode's air date, the show's producers knew they were about to enter a fresh contract negotiation round with the leads. By fall of 2011, Fox was asking the primary actors to take a rumored 45 percent cut from the $8-million-a-year salaries. In late September 2011, it looked like the two parties had reached an impasse, and that the 495th episode of the show would be its last.
That would have been okay.
This would have been a great series finale
The episode has all the trappings of a heartfelt goodbye to one of television's best programs. Creator Matt Groening makes a cameo. We learn what happens in the future to the Simpsons family. And the Christmas setting makes for a nice bookend to the show's pilot, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."
Summarizing a great episode of television is like explaining a funny joke, it's better to just experience the thing firsthand. Which you can if you have access to FXX's The Simpsons World. I'll keep this brief.
After a conversation about the importance of family photos, the show speeds forward 30 years. The children are living the adult extensions of their childhoods. Maggie is the lead singer of a band, and she's about to give birth. Bart is divorced, and is spending the holidays with his two sons he rarely sees. Lisa is particularly successful as a businesswoman, but she's frustrated by her dull husband Milhouse and rebellious daughter, Zia.
The entire family — grandparents to grandchildren — come together in Marge and Homer's house, where they quarrel about proper parenting, and how it's tough to forgive the transgressions and hypocrisies of the people who raised us, all of which is embodied in Homer's decision to unfreeze Grandpa from a cryogenic chamber. Grandpa was frozen to prevent a disease from killing him, one that has long been cured.
It's all about family
Grandpa is defrosted, Maggie gives birth, and the family forgives one another, recognizing they're flawed individuals with profound, unconditional love. And so they gather in the living room for a family photo, taken by Santa's Little Helper and Snowball II, who have evolved into super beings.
The episode delivers the occasional dull joke, but the meat of the story connects. Plus, for tech savvy viewers, the episode is also a smart commentary on how we will interact with each other in a future spent wearing goggles that place us inside of virtual spaces.
What I'm saying is, if you are the sort of person that hasn't watched The Simpsons because you believe it should have ended long ago, then you're in luck. Because that kind of sort of almost happened, and the result is everything a fan could hope for.
Verge Video archive: The life of a voice actor as explained by Archer, Coach Mcguirk and Bob Belcher (2013)