We all knew this day would come. Though The Simpsons has felt like an eternal presence watching over us, at some point, the empire would inevitably come crashing down when one of the main voice actors decided it was time to call it quits.
That day is finally here.
Harry Shearer – the voice of vital characters such as Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Mr. Smithers, Otto, Dr. Hibbert, Kent Brockman and an absurd amount of others (including one of my favorites, Gaylord Q. Tinkledink) – has decided to leave the show after 567 seasons or so. Depending on who you ask, he wanted a bigger piece of the giant money pie. Or maybe he really did just want the freedom to do other work.
How can the show possibly live on without the voice of so many of the most important people in Springfield? The simple and smart answer is that it just can’t. Unfortunately, though, we’re going to watch the show really flounder and struggle through it, as showrunner Al Jean confirmed that Shearer’s characters won’t even disappear or be killed off; they’ll actually be recast.
— Al Jean (@AlJean) May 14, 2015
The idea of Shearer’s characters being recast with new voice actors is giving me strong intestinal pain. The thought of having to think about the expansive history of the show with a couple final seasons of blatantly obvious new voice talent is most definitely going to lead to an ulcer. I’ve loved The Simpsons for as long as I can remember, going back to the days when I was in elementary school and my family used to record episodes on VHS for repeat viewings (I never watched Martin, but I sure remember all of the commercials for it from those VHS tapes), so it’s hard to imagine why the show would allow itself to remain so gutted (other than the obvious answer of $$$).
As long as the main voice actors were in place, I would have been content with the show existing for eternity. If scientists created a drug to prolong a human’s life in perpetuity, and I had my way, people like Shearer, Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner and Hank Azaria would have been some of the first recipients of it. Though the great episodes have been few and far between for plenty of years now, I still find some hidden gems in the later seasons, which, to me, have done enough to justify the continued existence of the show. For all of the bad episodes that have begun to really infest the later years, there has always been something oddly reassuring about ‘The Simpsons’ still being on television.
But now that Shearer is gone, and the show will move forward for at least a couple more seasons, the complete legacy feels irreparably obliterated. Nothing will ever be taken away from those first ten or so seasons, but at this point, they feel like a lifetime ago, replaced by the inescapably dark state of where we are today.
The Simpsons should really learn to follow its own advice.