It was a big weekend for The Simpsons, a series that kicked off Season 26 with a death and had its characters imported into a crossover episode with Family Guy. (Your mileage will have varied with both episodes, though I liked them both, for better and worse.) But the greatest thing Matt Groening’s long-running series did that night was air a couch gag to end all couch gags, a creation of the Oscar-nominated animator Don Hertzfeldt that nightmarishly calls forward to the future of television’s longest-lasting family. It’s the most outside of myself I’ve ever felt watching this show.
Ever the impulsive brute, Homer attempts to change the date on his set-top box triggers a trip back in time to the character’s origin days of 1987, when his head was a little longer and he was a little fatter. But it’s not the trip back in time that’s impressively haunting. He then vaults himself 8,000 years into the future — specifically, “Today’s Sun-Date Be Of: Septembar 36.4, 10,535” — where The Simpsons is still on the air, though it’s morphed into The Sampsans, as the letter “A” has become a more aggressive consonant in the future. Maybe around the time Homer started growing his tentacles.
“Epasode Numbar 164.775.7” is less about awesome animation and more about putting the simplest form of this series directly into your brain through a neural network, where it can inspire thoughts like “Hail Hail Moon God” and the yearning to buy Sampsans-themed helmats, ape spray, and…just a Sampsan. However that works. Anyway, the purely frightening parts have to do with Lisa evolving into a self-announcing cyclops whose mouth is her only upper-body appendage, and Bart devolving into a four-legged pile of sludge that regurgitates his first catchphrase over and over. Less understandable are Maggie’s transition into marketing and Homer’s floating tentacles, but I think we all expected Marge to become one with her hair and adjust her matriarchy to worshiping a moon god.
But the bit that truly inspires prescription pill abuse is when Homer hallucinates a window on the wall into the “real world,” which brings about memories of his family during their degradation. As they go from heads-on-legs to puzzle-piece organisms to root vegetable-looking beings, the love is still there in each incarnation. And then Homer goes back to the present and side-glances at Marge with what I like to think is a hint of loving nostalgia and warmth (even though it probably wasn’t). And how does she react?
By saying, “All animals can scream.” Just cover me with a blanket soaked in gasoline and let me sleep this one off.
Hertzfeldt is a master of thought-provoking animation, and Simpsons showrunner Al Jean told The Hollywood Reporter that they decided to approach the filmmaker after watching the highly acclaimed 2000 short Rejected. “It’s his creation and he did some of the voices,” Jean said. “It’s his window that he photographed so all the credit goes to him.”
Check out another sweet-ass couch gag from recent years, this time from animator Bill Plympton.
And don’t forget about the Simpsons/Futurama crossover episode in November!