The Simpsons live! A remarkable stunt that proves Homer will outlive us all

In a never-before-attempted live animation high-wire act, Homer talked about everything from Drake to Donald Trump. It may be the first time an animated character has endorsed a presidential candidate

I must admit I am no longer a regular viewer of The Simpsons. This is not because I fall into the category of unequivocal hater or nostalgic purist. The show is staffed by some of the smartest comedy writers around, and lesser minds would collapse in a pool of their own drool if asked to write fresh material for a show that has aired for two decades. The reason I dont watch it is primarily because I take for granted that it will always exist.

As a lapsed viewer, I am probably the target audience for last nights episode, Simprovised, which featured a gimmick coda in which Homer Simpson took live, pre-screened phone calls through the magic of motion-capture technology. What better way to shake me out of my apathy than to promise a never-before-attempted high-wire act?

The episode, while not the main event, was a vintage Simpsons story. Once again, Homer discovers he has a special talent, harking back to the times he has become a boxer, astronaut, bootlegger and sports mascot. Here, he finds that he has a knack for improvisational comedy. As usual, Homer faces a moral quandary, as he is tempted to use Moe as a plant for a premise suggestion. And, as is often the case, Lisa is Homers compass, pleading with him to retain his dignity whatevers left of it, anyway.

The wacky live bit at the end was a bit like an improv premise. Wisely, the producers leaned as far into the surreal nature of the concept as possible. Pre-animated characters walked past Homer at his desk, while his whole body, save for his mouth and eyes, never moved. Bender from Futurama strolled past holding up a sign that read Bring back Futurama again, while Bart rushed behind his dads desk and emerged with his jeans. Homers mouth movements occasionally matched up to the dialogue, but for the most part, the words drifted away from their ostensible source. Voice actor Dan Castellaneta proved the veracity of the live TV claims by referencing the Toronto Blue Jays/Texas Rangers baseball brawl for the benefit of the west coast broadcast on the east coast, it was a dig at the Drake Saturday Night Live episode.

In the east-coast feed, a caller named Hannah asked Homer who he preferred Lenny or Carl. Perfectly in character, Homer responded that he doesnt know which one is which. Over on the west coast, Homer answered a question about Donald Trump, and told the caller that he supports Bernie Sanders. This might be the first time an animated character has endorsed a presidential candidate, unless I am forgetting the time Fred Flintstone backed Barry Goldwater. However, Homer went on to praise Sanders chicken, and recommend that we show him respect by calling him Colonel.

The responses were funny enough the Homer voice is just intrinsically amusing but nothing earth-shattering. The humour couldnt distract from the novelty of Homer Simpson actually talking to real people during an episode of the show. Now, we, the television viewers, know that the boundaries between us and our entertainment are getting smaller.

For everyone used to the perfect delivery and crisp diction of animated characters, it was remarkable to hear the voice of Homer Simpson trip on his words and mix in a few umms and ahhs here and there. Even this brief segment was seriously labour-intensive, but its only a matter of time before live animation broadcasts such as this become commonplace. I cant help but think about the Black Mirror episode The Waldo Moment, in which a performance-capture character becomes a politician (and later an animated dictator). Cartoons might not actually dupe us into voting for them Im sure theres a rule in most countries banning pixels from holding public office but as our technological sophistication improves, theres no reason to assume that animation and live actors cant coexist in real time for our amusement. Going further, its inevitable that iconic characters such as Homer will be replicated as intelligent, responsive computer programmes that people can pay good money to talk to whenever they want. How soon until we can create a version of Homer that sounds just like Castellaneta, retains the characters personality and can think and improvise jokes for itself? If we can make a computer play chess, cant we also make it say Doh?

During the live segment, Homer off-handedly joked that The Simpsons will never end. It doesnt give me much incentive to keep tuning in after this stunt, but hes probably not far off. Even when Castellaneta ceases to be able to play the character, there will be ways to keep him around. Homer Simpson will outlive us all in the landfills where 20 years of discarded merchandise is kept, and inside the hard drives and servers that process his image. I cant decide if thats comforting or terrifying.

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