A secret from Mr. Burns’ past. A dig at the Donald. A guilt monster that’s growing bigger by the minute. A trip to Boston that might end with Homer in the gutter. (Not that kind.) All of those animated high jinks, plus a 600th episode, are squished into season 28 of The Simpsons, which begins Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. on Fox. Here, executive producer Al Jean tosses out some teases for the upcoming action.
It’s Time for Adventure.
The season premiere begins with a couch gag imagined in the Adventure Time universe, complete with a Simpsonized version of that show’s theme song sung by Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. “It’s the whole Adventure Time opening redone with Simpsons,” says Jean. “Homer is the dog.”
Mr. Burns tries to erase the past through song and dance.
The season premiere finds Mr. Burns staging a musical at the Springfield Bowl to compensate for a childhood trauma, and Amy Schumer (who is also guesting on Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers that night) playing Burns’ mother in flashbacks. “We learn something that might have made him the man he is,” says Jean. “We discover he was the equivalent of an Internet fail sensation in, like, 1917.”
Burns makes a break with reality by delving into virtual reality.
“Mr. Burns gets an Oculus and hires the Simpson family to play his family so he can pretend to be a family man and we deal with alternative reality and what it’s like to be wearing this all the time,” says Jean. While the family works non-stop for Burns, Homer is home alone and winds up forging a platonic relationship with neighbor Julia, played by Allison Janney. Although Julia doesn’t present any stranger danger in a romantic sense, Marge doesn’t quite see it that way, “She’s someone who likes beer and likes Homer and has absolutely no interest in him,” says Jean. “They became incredibly close friends, and then Marge comes back and is not happy.”
Homer has a (third) ball bowling in Beantown.
Homer and his family travel to Boston, a city that he hates… until he discovers candlepin bowling. “Homer is thrilled because he learns you can get three balls when you bowl, and they want to move there,” says Jean, adding: “I think people from Boston will be very thrilled how thorough it is in its depiction of Boston. The bowling alley is owned by Whitey Bulger.”
The Simpsons has done so many episodes, it’s… scary.
Treehouse of Horror XXVII, which airs Oct. 16 and serves as the show’s 600th episode, begins with the return of Frank Grimes — or at least his ghost — who is hellbent on revenge. Brace yourself for a parody of dystopian movies like The Hunger Games and Mad Max: Fury Road that imagines “a world where there’s no water but Burns has it all, and they’re trying to get it back from him,” says Jean. “We deal with the fact that these things are very bleak and seem to never end.” Jean teases one Hunger Games joke: “We say, ‘Okay, contestants…’ as they’re about to start, and Ralph is immediately killed. Wiggum was in the bathroom and he’s like, ‘What? What did I miss?'” After a segment in which Sarah Silverman voices Lisa’s imaginary friend who starts killing Lisa’s real friends, Bart will take the spotlight in a spy spoof of James Bond and Kingsman movies. “Bart is recruited by this group that Moe runs and they are trying to discover who this villain is that’s going to destroy the world,” says Jean. “It has a very violent conclusion at a Steely Dan concert.” Naturally.
Holiday cheer turns to holiday fear for Maggie.
“We have a Christmas show where we satirize Elf on a Shelf — it’s called Gnome in a Home,” says Jean. “They put this thing in Maggie’s room and it terrifies her because it’s looking at her nonstop, and they tell her it will tell if she’s bad or good or wets the bed.” The episode also features another chararacter from beyond the grave: Rabbi Krustofski, who appears as a hallucination to Krusty.
Great F. Scott Fitzgerald!
The show will offer up its first-ever hourlong episode in January with a hip-hop homage to The Great Gatsby. Empire’s Taraji P. Henson will guest-star along with Key & Peele’s Keegan-Michael Key in an episode that chronicles the destruction of a friendship with Mr. Burns and a mysterious hip-hop mogul named Jay G. “[He] is an acolyte of Burns and uses the knowledge he’s acquired from Burns to destroy him,” says Jean, “and Homer is the detatched, ironic narrator in the F. Scott Fitzgerald mode.”
Calling all chess fans: Here’s a cameo you might want to check(mate) out.
World chess champ Magnus Carlsen will appear as himself in an episode about the relationship between Homer and Grandpa Simpson, which became strained over this game of strategy. “It turns out that Homer and Grandpa used to play chess a lot, and Homer got better than Grandpa who wouldn’t play anymore,” says Jean. “Then Homer learns that one theory in chess is you become good because you want to kill your father, and he wants to see if that’s true. Magnus Carlsen says the only way you can find out is to play one last game against Grandpa.”
Pokémon Go fever spreads to Springfield.
In an episode slated for spring, Homer and Lisa get addicted to the game and wind up spending a lot of loot on Pokémon extras, but “Lisa takes the rap for Homer and it starts to make her very upset,” says Jean. Meanwhile, Bart plays his own game — except he’s making money, not spending it. “Bart goes up to elderly women with no grandchildren,” says Jean, “and pretends to be their grandchildren in exchange for toys and gifts and cards with five dollars in them.”
Bart is tormented by literal guilt.
When Bart is mean to Lisa, something regretful grows inside of him. “Patton Oswalt plays Bart’s guilt, which starts very small,” says Jean, “and then turns into this huge lumbering fantasy creature that torments Bart.”
Homer and Marge’s sex drive stalls out.
Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan play their romance-researching characters from Masters of Sex in an episode that’s actually a sequel to season 4’s “Kamp Krusty” and finds Bart messing up his parents’ sex life. “Bart comes back traumatized from the camp, and he has to sleep in Homer and Marge’s bed because he’s so upset,” explains Jean. “Homer discovers that by not having sex, he’s suddenly extremely active and successful, and he’s no longer interested, so Marge takes him to a clinic.” What do Homer and Marge learn from the researchers? “They say, ‘It’s always the kids. We tell this to every parent we meet: The kids are always to blame,’” says Jean. Oh, and this detail is rather perfect: “Moe is there for an anomaly study.”
The Simpsons takes Trump to school.
Yes, the show that ridiculed his ability to be presidential at 3 a.m. will now mock the Donald’s beleaguered Trump University by introducing us to Burns University. “Burns tries to endow a department of nuclear studies but [Yale] says, ‘You can’t do nuclear. How about you endow a department of transgender cinema?’” notes Jean. “He’s really mad at how politically correct Yale has gotten, so he takes his money and he founds his own university. He’s so excited to discover that you can have such a thing as a for-profit college.” (Jason Alexander guests as the inventor of cheerful yet odious inventor of for-profit colleges.) And how does Jean think that Trump will react to this episode? “I guess he’ll sic Putin on us.”