Back in the prime of its life, The Simpsons was the show on TV. Offering a fantastically accurate mix of cultural observations, social messages and lifestyle lessons, the cartoon was not only entertaining but on the pulse week in week out. It was also highly quotable and abs-shakingly funny… but that all seemed to stop somewhere between season 9 and 14 (depending on your tastes), and yet here we are: the 27th season. Though the show still receives fairly favourable viewing figures – over 8 million tuning in at the beginning of 2016 – it stutters on at the cost of its quality. On 15th May, #HomerLive looks to do something about that (…maybe).
What is #HomerLive?
When Homer landed the role as Poochie in the iconic Itchy & Scratchy Show and asked whether or not the episode would air live, he was met with the response: “Very few cartoons are broadcast live; it’s a terrible strain on the animators’ wrists”.
Now, The Simpsons looks to distort their own punchline by becoming the first cartoon to air a live episode of their show – or a portion of an episode, at least. For three minutes of the episode’s run, Dan Castellaneta will be performing his role of Homer, but totally live. Utilising motion capture technology, Castellaneta will be answering pre-tweeted questions (sent into the show using the hashtag #HomerLive), giving the show a live element unlike any other in history. Homer’s actions and words will be, for all intents and purposes, happening in real time.
On paper, this sounds like a desperate plea for ratings crazy yet intriguing idea, and is a throwback to when The Simpsons were regularly breaking new ground. In a time when ‘content on demand’ is outshining regularly scheduled programming, opting for live or interactive elements seems to be the latest dog and pony show for the networks. And #HomerLive is certainly a talking point that will, for 180 seconds at least, have the couch potatoes out there reaching for their remotes.
The problem with #HomerLive, however, to me seems obvious. Even if this three-minute segment of improv works as well as the show hopes it will, it won’t save our old yellow friends from the burning tyre fire of their regular weekly output on its own. For three minutes, we may be pleasantly reminded just how good the gags and golden age of The Simpsons were, but when the series reverts back to its standard practice thereafter, most will simply switch off again.
Either way, #HomerLive could actually be a fantastic moment for The Simpsons (even if it ends up being worse than a Krusty Burger). Why? Because if it booms, it will act as a reminder to the writers of what made the show so special in the past and motivate them to try other new ideas. And if it bombs, hopefully it’ll be the garden rake in the face the writers need to put Springfield to rest once and for all.