Last week, I heard the news that one of America’s most legendary voice actors is quitting the production of one of America’s most legendary TV cartoons. Yes folks, it’s the Mel Blanc of the 90s-onwards, Harry Shearer.
For those who don’t know, Harry Shearer, like the other cast members, voices various characters in The Simpsons. His characters include Mr. Burns, Mr. Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Dr. Hibbert, Otto, Lenny Leonard and Rainier Wolfcastle. The reason why I associated him with Mel Blanc is not only due to the various voices, but because Mel once mentored him.
First of all, I do respect that Harry is now in his 70s and he does have a right to retire if he wishes. Mind you, none of the voice actors are getting any younger, but yet, most of the characters don’t seem to be getting any older. For instance, Bart Simpson remains 10 years old and Marge remains 34. But then how about Mr. Burns revealing himself to be 81 in season 2 and then in season 11, revealed to be over 100? Geez. Second, The Simpsons has run for over 20 seasons and I think it is time it was given a rest, but we’ll get to that later.
Though I hear that none of Harry’s characters are going to be killed off or just plain written out of the programme. They are instead going to be voiced by somebody else. Personally, I can’t see that happening. I know when Gerry Anderson produced the second season of Thunderbirds, he replaced David Holliday with Jeremy Wilkin as the voice of Virgil Tracy. They got away with that. It was only the one major character. When the A-Team was produced, Dirk Benedict replaced Tim Dunigan as Face. Of course, that was only after the pilot. And how about the various cast changes in EastEnders? Actually, the actors’ replacements in The Simpsons are more comparable to the replacements in EastEnders. Sure it was understandable when Todd Carty replaced David Scarboro as Mark Fowler, due to David’s death and the character’s status was to be changed anyway, but the replacements for most of the child characters are fairly unrealistic. For instance, I found it unnecessary when James Martin replaced Joseph Shade as Peter Beale. it looked like Peter went through puberty too quickly. In the Simpsons, I understood they had to kill off Edna Krabappel due to Marcia Wallace’s death in 2013 and Tress MacNeille got away with taking over as the voice of Lunchlady Doris following Doris Grau’s death. But when you think about all the voices Harry Shearer did, who could possibly replace him? Harry once said Mr. Burns was the hardest character he ever voiced. And he was voiced by a professional. Even I can’t do Burns’ voice as well as him.
The Simpsons is one of my personal all-time favourite TV shows. I’ve long-obtained a love to the show since early childhood, when it first aired on BBC2. Nowadays it’s broadcast every weekday at 6pm on Channel 4. There are a variety of reasons why I admire The Simpsons so much. I don’t just praise it for the humour, but I also admire the issues it has tackled, such as environmental problems, economics, depression and so forth. In fact, the show has had a fair amount of adventure and drama included in certain episodes. For instance, I certainly remember feeling tearful when I saw the end credits of the Season 7 episode Mother Simpson.
However I do have to admit that although I enjoyed Seasons 1 to 12, I do feel the show has gone downhill since season 13. Before then, we had such classic and great episodes; The Call Of The Simpsons (S1 E7), One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Bluefish (S2 E11), Bart The Murderer (S3 E4), Marge Vs. The Monorail (S4), Cape Feare (S5 E2), Who Shot Mr. Burns (S6 E25 + S7 E1), The Mysterious Voyage Of Homer (S8 E9), The City Of New York Vs. Homer (S9 E1), The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace (S10 E2), Take My Wife Sleaze (S11), Trilogy Of Error (S12 E18), to name some. Even the Hallowe’en specials were so cool. But when you look at certain episodes from Season 13-onwards, there have been a few good episodes such as Barting Over. But many other episodes are repeats of the previous ones or plain unrealistic or both. I hated the episode Brawl In The Family (S13 E7). The reason is because it was uninteresting to see the family fighting over a game of Monopoly and then being branded as dysfunctional. We’ve known for the while that they are anyway. It’s totally worn. And then, they come across two Vegas women from an episode way from Season 10, which is so random and couldn’t have much to do with the synopsis. It’s a ridiculous set up.
The point I am trying to make is that I feel pessimistic considering that now Harry Shearer is no longer a cast member for The Simpsons, whether audience ratings and viewings will stay the same, rise or fall. I know according to the Boston Matrix, The Simpsons is considered Cash Cow, but I doubt that Harry’s replacement will be able to pull it off. Very soon, viewers will hear the obvious different voices and think “Wait, this isn’t how I remember Mr. Burns/Skinner/Flanders and so forth.” The show is likely to continue rolling downhill and its fans may soon lose interest. Now and then, I do watch the older episodes, because they certainly define The Simpsons. But the majority of the newer episodes are so forgettable and I doubt that anybody will remember the new Harry’s voices for generations. The voices they’ll definitely remember are the original Harry’s. In general, I think it’s about time The Simpsons ceased production, not only because Harry is leaving, but the producers seem to be running out of ideas for new episodes.
Harry, as an admirer of your various talents, I wish you the very best of luck for the future.