There’s a bit of concern within the Simpsons fan community right now thanks to a few (now vanished) tweets from a scene planner who has worked on the production of the show since 2006 and the apparent lack of a deal to produce more than seven episodes next season.
Will The Simpsons end its long and illustrious run with a truncated final run after 26 seasons? Anything is technically possible, but its infinitely more likely that the matter will be amicably resolved and a full season 27 will be delivered to the fans. With that said, though, at some point, the show’s producers will have a hell of a challenge to deal with: how do you live up to almost 600 episodes of television and the iconic and awesome legacy of everything that The Simpsons has accomplished while also exiting in a way that somehow feels right? No one is prepared for that moment, but interestingly enough, the writers have inadvertently created a handful of episodes of The Simpsons that could have, in hindsight, worked as series finales and an apt departure point. So with that said, here are those episodes.
“Summer Of 4 ft. 2” — Original Air Date: May 19, 1996
After realizing just how unpopular she is, Lisa strives to change herself while the family stays at the Flanders’ beach house. She quickly fits in with a bunch of surfer-type kids mostly by pretending to be like them and abandoning her nerdy personality. But while Lisa isn’t being totally honest with herself here, we can still understand why she makes these drastic changes to her personality, and also feel awful for her when Bart attempts to sabotage her friendship by telling her new friends about her goody-two-shows past. Thankfully, Lisa’s new friends embrace her for who she is, and give her a going away present that Homer can’t exactly appreciate (“Sweet merciful crap! My car!”), but which makes Lisa feel like she finally has real friends. Had the series ended here, poor Lisa’s story would have ended on a decidedly happy note.
“Homer’s Enemy” — Original Air Date: May 4, 1997
A decidedly meta episode, “Homer’s Enemy” essentially looked at what would happen if a normal person had to deal with Homer Simpson’s antics. Naturally, poor Frank Grimes was appalled by Homer, who ratcheted things up for this episode. This is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of television, but one can’t help but wonder if it was also a tacit admission by the writers that they had done all they could with Homer Simpson. That he would eventually devolve from a human being into a wacky ball of outrageousness in subsequent seasons would only support this theory. Had The Simpsons stopped at “Homer’s Enemy,” we would have been spared those changes to Homer’s character. Then again, we also would have lost great post-classic era episodes like “Trilogy Of Error,” and “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” so it’s a bit of a tough call.
“The Secret War Of Lisa Simpson” — Original Air Date: May 18, 1997
For the second straight season, the finale was focused on Lisa. This time, it was her quest to graduate from military school, after she decides to enroll there along with Bart, who was sent their as a punishment for a prank. Unlike “Summer Of 4 ft. 2,” Bart is on Lisa’s side in this one, as he does his best to support his sister even when the other cadets are cruel to her. In the end, it is Bart’s encouragement that gives her the strength to tame “The Eliminator,” the insanely difficult obstacle course that one must pass in order to graduate.
This episode did a brilliant job of focusing on the Bart-Lisa relationship in a positive aspect, just as “Summer Of 4 ft. 2” did a great job of looking at the rivalry between the two. Had the show ended on this note, there would have been a nice bit of closure for Lisa, as well as for Bart, who matured quite a bit during his military school experience.
“Behind The Laughter” — Original Air Date: May 21, 2000
Ah, the rare post-classic era Simpsons episodes that most of the die-hard purists can agree is pretty good. A spot-on parody of Behind The Music, “Behind The Laughter” presents the Simpsons as a real-life family that one day created a highly popular TV sitcom. We see the family torn apart through addictions and vicious rumors, just like any band on Behind The Music would battle through.
The key here is the meta aspect, where the issues that destroy the Simpsons are intended to be metaphors for the mistakes that plagued The Simpsons as it moved past its golden age. Some of those mistakes are referenced directly, with “The Principal And The Pauper” being derided for its “nonsensical plot.”
This would have been an interesting note for The Simpsons to go out on, as it essentially tells an alternate version of the show’s history. Instead, The Simpsons has hung around for another 15 years. For better or worse, this show is really hard to take down.
“Holidays Of Future Passed” – Original Air Date: December 18, 2011
This episode is particularly noteworthy because it actually could have been the last Simpsons episode. When contract negotiations were uncertain, Al Jean intended for this to act as a potential series finale in case no new deal were reached. The show did get renewed, of course, but this would have been a solid episode for the show to end on, as it gives us an emotional, and engaging storyline that involves the entire family.
We’re in the future, and everyone is going through stress; Maggie is giving birth, Lisa is dealing with her divorce from Milhouse, and Bart still doesn’t have his life together. In the end, we get a happy ending for everyone involved, and to be sure, this would have been a very satisfying conclusion to The Simpsons. One can only hope that the actual finale, whenever that may air, can live up to the standard set by this episode.