"Brick Like Me," airing on Sunday, marks the show's 550th
episode and adds a notch in this year's revival of the popular
Danish plastic building brick, after the runaway success of
February's "The Lego Movie."
"The Simpsons," created by Matt Groening and premiering in 1989,
has rarely changed its basic visual form in a quarter century.
It is the world's most-watched U.S television show, syndicated
across more than 100 countries, and reaches more than 150
million viewers a week according to Fox. The show also has one
of the largest TV Facebook fan pages with 72 million.
The show has tapped into the changing American zeitgeist and
successfully embedded itself in international pop culture over
the past two decades, with Homer's "D'oh!" catchphrase entering
the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001.
"Brick Like Me," the brainchild of longtime "Simpsons"
writer-producers Brian Kelley and Matt Selman, will see both the
cartoon characters and town of Springfield reimagined in the
form of the plastic toy brick blocks.
In a clip of footage shown to Reuters, Homer and Marge wake up
in their 3D Lego forms and Homer tumbles, disassembling himself.
Later, Bart goes to Springfield Elementary school and manages to
reduce the building into a rubble of plastic bricks.
"We really try to take full advantage of the Lego playground, to
tell the story from a different way than we usually would,"
Selman said at the show's headquarters in the center of the Fox
Studios lot in Los Angeles.
"It yielded a ton of jokes being able to be in a world that is
similar to our normal universe but different in key ways,"
Kelley said. "It's very hard on the regular show to disassemble
our characters without causing them permanent harm, but in Lego,
we could do that," he added.
"The Simpsons" has endured in part due to its ability to mirror
and comment on cultural and social issues through the average
middle class American family of Homer, Marge and their children
Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The show often fuses classic family
themes with pop culture references.
"We do a parody of a current movie series in this episode, but
it's always a goal that the show be timeless as it can be,"
Kelley said. "If there's too many pop culture references, it can
really date the show."
[to top of second column]
FINDING FRESH STORYLINES
Al Jean, executive producer of "The Simpsons" and one of the
original team from 1989, said viral content — including an animated
parody of Ellen DeGeneres' recent Oscars selfie that showed Bradley
Cooper kicking Homer out of the frame — had always helped keep the
Once able to draw upwards of 12 million viewers per episode a decade
ago, the current "Simpsons" season has averaged 6.1 million viewers
per episode. The ratings slump did not concern Jean, who said the
show was still in the top five primetime scripted shows commanding
the highest advertising rates.
After 25 years, Jean said the biggest challenge he and the writers
faced is finding fresh takes on some storylines.
The writing team gather around a large rectangular wooden table in a
room with high ceilings and wooden beams. On one wall, large square
placards featuring the show's characters have been signed by the
show's eclectic guest stars.
Selman said that while the show doesn't rely on guest stars, he'd
like to see Sean Connery and David Bowie lend their voices, while
Jean said he'd like to see comedian Will Ferrell.
As season 26 goes into production, fans can prepare for the big
episode where a character will die — the only clue Jean gave is the
character's voice actor has won an Emmy for the role.
But one beloved "Simpsons" figure was forced to retire in the 25th
season — Springfield Elementary's jaded teacher Edna Krabappel,
voiced by late actress Marcia Wallace.
Wallace's death in October 2013 raised questions about the show's
future if any of the lead voice actors — Dan Castellaneta, Nancy
Cartwright, Julie Kavner, Harry Shearer, Yeardley Smith and Hank
Azaria — left the show.
"The short answer is we don't want to do it without our cast, and
the longer answer is, I wouldn't want to think about or project on
that," Jean said.
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Tom Brown)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.