Over the two decade long run that the Simpsons has enjoyed, it seems that the episodes that are amongst the most popular are the yearly Halloween episodes, and I can't really find any fault in that. With the vaguely realistic rules that surround the regular episodes relaxed a bit, they are able to indulge in some jokes and character development that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise (for better or worse).
But for me, I've always had a soft spot for the episodes that portray how the future might be for the Simpsons Universe, as it has the same narrative freedom as the Treehouse of Horrors but generally is more emotionally invested in what's going on. Plus these episode fill the gap left when Futurama was taken off the air for the umpteenth time.
Anyways, here are the episodes based on the Simpsons' futures that I've liked the most, as of the current season (23).
- Bart to the Future
Set-Up: The Simpson Family end up at a Native American casino, and after Bart is caught attempting to gamble whilst underage, the owner decides to show Bart how his future will go if he doesn't change his ways.
Future: Bart is a forty-something year old slacker who can't even afford towels, and after his shack is repossessed he decides to go and crash at Lisa's house. The problem being that Lisa is now President of the United States, and already has her own problems with the fact that her country was left bankrupt by the previous administration.
What I thought of it?: Of all the episodes, this was arguably my least favourite. Although it tries to set itself up as a Bart and Lisa bonding episode, it really spins into more of a dry political piece with most of the science fiction trappings dropped in the first third. The contrast between Lisa and Bart's comparative successes (or lack of there of) was kind of interesting and also in keeping with how depressing the canon depictions of Bart future will be in the regular episodes. Elderly Homer and Marge were pretty funny in their quest for Lincoln's gold, but their presence seemed kind of tagged on to get all the family under one roof This also goes for the baby Maggie Jr taking the place of the regular one, whose nonappearance is probably explained further down the list.
- Lisa's Wedding
Future: It's now the futuristic world of 2010 (yeah, this is why in near future science fiction you shouldn't refer to what the actual date is)! And a 23 year old Lisa is in college, where she falls for a Hugh Grant-ish English classmate. The pair head back to Springfield for the ceremony, with Lisa living in mortal fear that her family's eccentricities might save off her new fiance.
What I Thought Of It?: This episode was the first of the Simpsons future episodes, airing all the way back in 1995 when they thought that the show probably wouldn't still be around in another ten plus years. A much stronger episode than the above mentioned one, it interestingly shows that the older Simpsons seem to have gotten a little more mature over time (though not massively): Homer is a little more mellow, Bart actually is somewhat successful and has a job he loves: owning a deconstruction firm, Maggie is in the midst of a rebellious teen phase (with an apparently beautiful singing voice, which'll come into play later), and Marge is... basically the same. The balance between romance, Lisa's relationship with her family, jokes and science fiction is well handled, leading to moments like the genuinely affecting scene when Lisa's boyfriend proposes to her only to be followed up by the running joke of robots that melt when they cry. A good episode, albeit bittersweet.
Set-Up: Bart and Lisa are bickering again, and end up getting into a fight that causes them to roll down an embankment into mad inventor Dr Frink's house. It turns out that Frink has invented a machine that can accurately predict the future using the "science" of Astrology. He then shows Bart and Lisa what'll happen surrounding their graduation.
Future: Teenage Bart and Lisa are both graduating at the same time (Lisa is finishing early due to her intelligence) and both are currently dating someone, Lisa with Milhouse and Bart with a new character called Jenda. Things are not all happy though, as Homer and Marge split up (following Homer spending all of their money on an underwater house) and Jenda and Bart's relationship is becoming increasingly rocky because he won't put out. In an attempt to show that he's mature enough to think about the future, Bart gets a job and, through a complicated series of events ends up saving the life of Mr Burns, who gives him the college scholarship that originally had been promised to Lisa. Things go downhill from here.
What I Thought of It?: Yet another episode about Bart and Lisa's relationship, and yeah, it's about what you'd come to expect from a future episode in a lot of ways. The emotional scenes work, and the personalities of the aged up side characters are very funny. Such as Milhouse seemingly trying to compensate for his nerdy appearance as a child by massively overdoing it in the bodybuilding stakes, and Lenny and Carl's hilarious turn as possible ghosts that may or may not be trapped two trees. Overall though, this one does manage to be one of the funnier of the future episodes, despite hilariously cruel fates that are apparently going to befall some of the characters in a few years time, such as Nelson getting the twins Sheri and Teri pregnant with twins. Plus, the Almighty John DiMaggio cameos briefly as Bender, that he is quickly dispatched soon afterwards sadly.
And finally we come to the most recent future episode,
- Holidays Of Future Passed
Future: Arguably this is an episode that links together all of the previous Future episodes into a somewhat coherent continuity, altered somewhat for changes in real-life that have happened since the previous episodes aired. Seemingly this takes place shortly before Lisa became president, and in the ten plus years since Lisa's Wedding she's apparently married Milhouse. This is after her experimenting with both lesbianism and polygyny (look it up) whilst in college, which, if we follow the logic of the previous episode, enabled her to achieve her potential before settling down and marrying Milhouse. She now has a teenage daughter called Zia, who is genetically engineered to only have the best DNA (resulting in none of Milhouse's barring her having a little of his blue hair). Bart on the other hand is pretty much in the same position he was in in Bart to the Future, as a mooching bum who deliberately avoids paying his rent. He has two sons via Jenda (apparently they got back together again after Future Drama, but have since divorced), and doesn't really like spending any time with them. Maggie, meanwhile, is both a massively successful rock star, building off of her apparently spectacular singing voice from Lisa's Wedding, and heavily pregnant. This naturally means that she ends up having her kid (Maggie Jr.) during the course of the episode.
What I Thought of It?: If there was any episode of the Simpsons that that could spinoff into its own show, I'd very much like it to be this one. Very funny, and very sweet, this manages to age up the characters into parents in a way that feels very natural and unforced. Homer apparently learning from the mistakes he made when raising Bart, Lisa and Maggie to be the best grandfather ever was a very nice touch, as was a drunken Bart and Lisa getting into a heartfelt conversation about how parenting didn't turn out like they thought it would. The science fiction elements of the who were good too, with elements like air travel devolving into a Mad Maxish postapocalyptic affair following the mass use of teleportation machines and an element mocking current Islamaphobia in the US by claiming that Michigan is "still" under Shira law.
I'm kind of nuts when it comes to continuity, even when in cases like the Simpsons where it really shouldn't apply. But when it becomes a perfect storm of humour, science fiction, damn fine character interactions and a nicely interlocking plot, to me it makes a really good twenty minutes of television. Class.