Fall TV Preview

Simpsons Boss on Carell’s Violent Tendencies, Cumberbatch’s Eagerness and ‘Bart’s Annie Hall

The Simpsons will come down with a case of Bieber fever in its upcoming Season 24, but executive producer Al Jean says it won’t be a lingering illness.

“It’s actually a very brief cameo,” he says, downplaying the excitement generated when Justin Bieber tweeted last month about recording his part, which will air in the spring. “We might even put a little notice saying ‘30 seconds to Bieber,’ and an all-clear after it,” he says.

This much is known: Bieber will play himself, he’ll appear at a talent show in which Bart is performing and — despite Lisa’s preoccupation with boyish pop stars — he won’t snag her attention. Jean is hesitant to reveal much more. Similarly, he’s pretty jazzed-yet-reticent about the couch gags in this season’s opening credits. “Those, I like to wait until they come on so the people see them and are surprised,” he says.

Jean will, however, happily discuss the other star power the animated series has amassed for the season ahead, which begins Sunday, Sept. 30 at 8/7c on Fox. Below, he gives TVLine the scoop on what sort of element Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie will associate with this season.

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TVLINE | There’s a really long line of guest stars coming up this season. First, Zooey Deschanel will be back as Mary Spuckler.
Yes, in the season premiere. Lisa points out to Bart that any girl who likes him dumps him after a week. He’s very dejected by this, and Mary turns out to be his last hope. So he tracks her down. She’s run away from home and she’s living in New York. Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa are trying to find something cultural to do in New York that doesn’t cost a fortune.

TVLINE | What makes him decide that Mary’s the one, out of all of them?
When he goes to the other ones [voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Silverman and Natalie Portman], they all just slam the door in his face. She’s the one he hasn’t been able to get a hold of, so she’s the last hope. [Laughs] These actresses were great at yelling and slamming doors.

TVLINE | And then there’s Steve Carell.
We wrote something specifically for him, and that airs in November. He’s an accountant for Fat Tony who gets promoted to the head of the gang, and then Fat Tony wants him to start killing people. And the thing is, he actually wants to do it. He’s trying to get Homer to stop him from killing people. [Carell] came in, he was great. He recorded with Dan Castellaneta and Hank Azaria — really, really funny.

TVLINE | I would say that Homer’s probably not the best impulse-prevention coach you could find.
Yeah. [Homer] locks him in the basement and says, “I’ll be down every five hours with food, and every 10 hours with food for you.”

TVLINE | Later in the year, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein from Portandia will be around.
And their son is Patton Oswalt — if you ever wondered what creature they would create. They move to Springfield and live next door to the Simpsons and bring the Portlandia philosophy to Springfield. Homer really falls in love with them, except it turns out badly.

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TVLINE | Do they put a bird on anything while they’re in town?
No, but there’s a lot of great references to Portlandia and to Portland, which is the hometown, by the way, of [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening.

TVLINE | And Edward Norton is coming on as the most likable minister in the world, which gives Rev. Lovejoy a crisis.
Yeah. The town is infested with bedbugs, and Lovejoy can’t cope. He’s so boring, nobody will listen to him in the middle of this panic. So Edward Norton’s brought in — a little like Bing Crosby in the old movie Going My Way — to try to calm the people down. And he was great.

TVLINE | Does Rev. Lovejoy get his mojo back?
He finds that he’s actually really good at selling hot tubs. He doesn’t want to quit. The only people that are unhappy with the new guy are Bart and Flanders, and they try to figure out how to get Lovejoy back.

TVLINE | Our readers are very excited about Benedict Cumberbatch coming on.
Oh my God yes, he’s really funny. He came to a read, and we had a couple of things that he said, “Hey, I could do those. Can I?” [Laughs] This was the first time someone actually just kinda muscled their way into being a guest star. He called us back and he said, “You want me to do anything else?” And we gave him a little more… He’s just this completely irresistible person. You must give him dialogue if you come within 100 yards of him.

TVLINE | Max Weinberg is in that episode, too – and that’s Zooey’s second one this season.
It’s an episode that’s a little bit like Bart’s Annie Hall. It’s really clever. Max plays himself. Bart’s thinking of people he admires… It’s more of a mature Bart looking back at his life.

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TVLINE | After Marvin Hamlisch’s passing in August, was there any discussion at all about not using the lines he’d recorded for his episode?
You know, it’s happened to us, sadly, once before, with Eartha Kitt. And our belief is, well, they wanted to do the part. And if it was me, I’d say of course use it. There’s nothing offensive about it – he’s playing himself in a flashback. He worked with Grandpa briefly years ago. We just feel the correct way to honor the memory would be do the part as we had it. He was really nice. I was very sad and surprised to hear about it.

TVLINE | Speaking of Grandpa, Anika Noni Rose is returning as a nightclub singer.
It turns out, she was married to Grandpa… Homer was still pretty little. Grandpa was an aspiring songwriter, and she sings some of his songs. She’s hilarious, by the way, which anyone who saw Dreamgirls would know.

TVLINE | Would you say that’s a Grandpa-centric episode?
Yes. Grandpa disappears, so they’re trying to find him and they find out all these things they never knew about him.

TVLINE | What other kinds of things?
Homer’s surprised to discover his father had dreams and ambitions. He’s very shocked by that.