Now 20 years old, Simpsons Hit & Run has enjoyed a mini-renaissance among fans of the series, who fondly remember it for its silly, simple gameplay and reams of references. These recollections have created a groundswell of support for a remaster or even a remake — a groundswell that Selman fully supports.
If you want to get Matt Selman talking, you only need to mention Simpsons Hit & Run — the 2003 sandbox action game that took America’s most famous cartoon family and effectively dropped them into Grand Theft Auto 3.
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“I would love to see a remastered version of , I would,” Selman tells IGN. “It’s a complicated corporate octopus to try to make that happen.”
Selman doesn’t have much time for gaming these days — he says he wants to retire and then play pretty much all of the big games in one go — but he still has fond memories of his time spent working on Simpsons Hit & Run, recalling the various arguments he had with its developers.
“We were all playing Grand Theft Auto at the time and publisher… they just wanted another driving game. And we were like, everyone’s playing whatever version of Grand Theft Auto, people need to get out of the cars,” Selman remembers. “That was a huge creative battle over whether it was just a ‘driving around doing missions’ game or a ‘getting out of the car and doing missions’ game. But I do think the battle was worth fighting.”
A Generational Time Capsule
Like the rest of the show’s ancillary material, Simpsons Hit & Run — and more recently, the crossover short featuring Loki — serve as a time capsule for a show that encompasses multiple pop culture eras. The Simpsons has been in practically every conceivable entertainment medium, from comic books to film to video games. Now in its 33rd season, multiple generations of fans have grown up with the series, which Selman describes as “the ultimate compliment.”
Selman himself has been present for several of those eras. While he wasn’t around for the earliest days of the series, he had a hand in several seminal Simpsons moments. His first credited episode was the Season 9 finale Natural Born Kissers — the famously racy episode that ends with a naked Marge and Homer being chased throughout Springfield. Selman would go on to work on several of the games based on The Simpsons, including The Simpsons Game, and talks about being addicted to The Simpsons Tapped Out mobile game, amused by how one could find an “uncensored, bizarre, crazy, bananas joke” buried in one of its otherwise unassuming dialogue bubbles.
These days Selman is the co-showrunner alongside Al Jean, a relationship he describes as “super collaborative.” His writing days on The Simpsons largely behind him, he is currently focused on the show’s upcoming 33rd season, which among other things will include a musical episode featuring Kristen Bell, and what Selman calls a massive two-part tribute to prestige dramas like Fargo. He describes himself as a coach, there to give writers, animators, actors, and musicians the occasional nudge while aiding Jean in running day-to-day operations.
If Selman feels the burden of history working on a show like The Simpsons, he doesn’t show it. Even so many years after South Park joked that the Simpsons had already done every conceivable idea, Selman says he’s still able to find ways to put established characters in strange and interesting situations. He points to the Season 30 episode “Krusty the Clown,” which finds the cantankerous TV host hiding out in a low-budget circus. We’re not saying this is the official continuity now, and none of that other stuff happened. We’re just saying in this one episode, this is a silly way to present the character’s life. It doesn’t mean that the people’s beloved episodes from the past didn’t happen
“I just think, ‘Oh, there’s a funny idea,’” Selman says. “It’s just funny to never have thought of it in 30 years, like what if Krusty actually joined the circus — this spoiled Hollywood clown has to go to a rundown, real-life circus. It’s just, I don’t know, I thought it was good. I don’t know if it was under-appreciated or over-appreciated, or just quickly watched and forgotten like most things. But I appreciate it. I appreciate crafting a clap.”
As a writer, Selman’s credits include fanciful short stories like Simpsons Bible Stories and Simpsons Tall Tales; Eight Misbehavin’, in which Apu suddenly becomes a father of eight, and Behind the Laughter, the episode that imagines the Simpsons family as real-life actors on a show resembling VH1’s Behind the Music (“Some people didn’t think we should do that one,” Selman remembers). Perhaps most infamously, Selman wrote That ‘90s Show, which moved Marge and Homer’s origin story from the 1970s to the 1990s. Selman, it should be said, doesn’t seem to be much for continuity. Referring to the Season 32 episode Do PizzaBots Dream of Electric Guitars, Selman talks about the backlash to Homer being depicted as a hip-hop loving ‘90s kid in a flashback. “I understood it, but that kind of thing is not a retcon, you know what I mean? We’re not saying this is the official continuity now, and none of that other stuff happened. We’re just saying in this one episode, this is a silly way to present the character’s life. It doesn’t mean that the people’s beloved episodes from the past didn’t happen. They all kind of happened in their imaginary world, you know, and people can choose to love whichever version they love.”
He continues, “And I’m glad people love the old shows. And I’m excited when people love the new ones. And I understand this show is a unique, crazy thing, and you just have to love the paradoxes. But it’s never an attempt to undo the past. Like, the past is there, the past is on Disney+. We’re not saying it didn’t happen. It’s not like Star Trek. Star Trek doesn’t even make sense anymore.” In a sense, the Simpsons are now unstuck in time — witness the episode where Kent Brockman, a news anchor straight out of the 1970s, discovers true crime podcasting. Selman describes each Simpsons episode as its own little universe — an opportunity to hold the mirror up to an aspect of Springfield that hasn’t been examined before. “We don’t have the stresses of other shows — of having them to be serialized or having an arc for the season. We’re a real old-school ‘90s show where every episode could be the first episode of the Simpsons; every episode could be the last episode of the Simpsons. We’re not really married to continuity, although some people love continuity. Every episode is its own little mini-movie.”
In an era dominated by streaming services, such an approach can be a boon, as proven by the success of similar shows like Bob’s Burgers. Indeed, The Simpsons “does really well” on Disney+, Selman says, not least because it’s now fully plugged into the Disney machine. Its collaborations with properties like Loki and Star Wars — usually masterminded by Jean — give it visibility, and its reassuring nostalgia allows it to occupy a space similar to The Office or Friends. But despite its inherently fixed nature, The Simpsons has evolved in recent years. The gregarious Kwik-E-Mart clerk Apu Nahasapeemapetilon remains in limbo following Hank Azaria’s retirement from voicing the character (creator Matt Groening says the show has “something kind of ambitious” in mind for Apu). Carl and Dr. Hibbert, meanwhile, are being filled by Alex Désert and Kevin Michael Richardson.
Asked how the transition has been going, Selman demurs. “I feel like that kind of speaks for itself. The show was ready to evolve and they’re great actors. I think like they’ve been embraced and just, you know, we’re just kind of moving forward.” As for the perpetual threat of the Simpsons coming to an end, Selman says he’s never really sat down with the team to brainstorm a conclusion, despite rumors of a stealth ending through the years. “That doesn’t seem like a fun meeting, that seems like a sad meeting. And maybe we shouldn’t even do a last episode,” he says. “We should just pick a random episode and have that be the last one and be like the whole point of the show is that you don’t watch them in order. The continuity doesn’t make sense. It could never make sense. If we put some self-aware jokes in, but just did a sweet show about the characters and their basic family dynamic and social dynamic, and have that be that. Although, I don’t know. It might be hard.”
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