Why Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and George Clooney could be drinking urine in New Zealand in The Simpsons

Kiwis are no strangers to The Simpsons

The long-running US animated sitcom has featured cameos from the likes of the Flight of the Conchords, Rhys Darby, and in a soon-to-be-aired episode in season 35, Sir Peter Jackson

But unlike our Aussie pals who had a whole episode to themselves (1995's Bart vs. Australia), Aotearoa has never been a backdrop for Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie and Bart and their adventures.  

However, that could be all about to change - if long-time showrunner Matt Selman has his way. 

Selman, who has been on our shores for a work holiday, admitted to Newshub that outside of working for the show in the early hours of the day, he has been "discovering New Zealand for future Simpsons inspiration." 

"I think an episode where The Simpsons went to New Zealand would be amazing. I mean, obviously the temptation to do a lot of Lord of the Rings stuff - that will be hard to resist, but maybe that's the obvious way to go. The trick with all Simpsons travel shows is to find that new emotional journey that they go on," he said.

Within seconds of our sit-down, Selman's eyes flashed with the basics of an idea, formulated on the fly and inspired by what he's seen from a morning of "discovering" earlier on Waiheke Island. 

"They're always saying that American billionaires are secretly buying their end of the world bunkers in New Zealand, right? I don't know if that's true or not, but that could be kind of funny. Okay, now we're just brainstorming, you and I. If Mr Burns thinks that the world is in trouble, it might be in trouble. And so, he buys one of those end of the world bunkers that supposedly rich American tech lunatics have in New Zealand. I saw a building while hiking on Waiheke that sure looked like an American crazy tech billionaire's end of the world bunker. Probably just a regular rich guy's house," he laughed. 

But he was taken with the idea, and already appeared to have in mind a dream list of guest stars who could head to the Land of the Long White Cloud.  

"That's where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and George Clooney are all going to live together drinking their own urine, or whatever." 

The Simpsons has hit its 35th season.
The Simpsons has hit its 35th season. Photo credit: Disney

Selman should know a thing or two about spit-balling ideas for the show. After all, he has been on the writing staff there since 1997 and been involved in over 26 seasons of the animation sensation, as well as the movie spin-off and video games. 

"It does churn through a lot of ideas. One of the fun challenges of the job is you have a funny idea, but is it a joke in the background or is it the whole episode? So, because sometimes you realise something you think is funny, you have to work out if it is only just a tiny cut away or a scene or a set piece, or is it the whole thing? That's one of the fun challenges that I'm sometimes good at and sometimes bad at. I'll overdo something if I think it's funny," he confessed. 

"Keeping the show fresh is the hardest, the most fun, the most challenging and most stimulating part of the job. That's the main reason I am still doing it, because I feel a huge passion for telling new stories and keeping the show fresh and not having to be repetitive or stale or having it be an acceptable level of repetitive and stale," he laughed. 

Shaking it up is something Selman loves to do - even if one of his earliest ideas gave show creator Matt Groening a "heart attack." 

"Matt Groening once said to me, the good thing about this show is 'we'll never have to see an episode where Bart and Lisa are teenagers'. And I was like, 'That gives me an idea' - that we did a show where they were teenagers that took place in the future." (Several episodes have since envisioned an older Bart and Lisa and their lives). 

The Simpsons' Homer has a new job in a new season of the animated hit.
The Simpsons' Homer has a new job in a new season of the animated hit. Photo credit: Disney

The show's 35th season has just begun in the US and will transmit here soon on Disney+. Selman promised the coming season, as well as bringing Sir Peter Jackson into the fold, will keep things fresh. 

But in the season opener 'Homer's Crossing', the writers threw a dire prediction into the mix - that 2023 would signal the demise of the giant panda. 

The show has forever been linked with predictions that have appeared to come true, from Donald Trump becoming US President to the prevalence of smart watches - so how concerned is he that this one throwaway gag will come to pass as well? 

"I'm worried about every species, so I don't know how to really pick out the pandas. Have you heard anything about them in particular? I mean, I'm sure they're vulnerable. They're famously, you know, adorable, but genetically kind of went down the wrong path for their own survival. So, they're probably pretty vulnerable too - as are koalas. I believe koalas are a disaster." 

Regardless of whether that prediction comes true, Selman is still happy the show is rating and continuing to pull in a range of demographics. 

"I don't think there's any other show where an adult parent can watch new episodes of the show they watched when they were the same age as their kid, that I'm aware of, other than various anime things in Japan perhaps. We're the only one where you were raised on this show and now your kids are raised on it and there's still new episodes, so you're not going back and making your kids watch your favourite [ones]." 

Selman is not averse to rewatching old episodes from the 750-plus archive with a critical eye, especially ones he has written, believing the chance to learn is still a vital one. But while on his New Zealand trip, he told Newshub he visited Wellington's WETA Workshop and their creative team and found one of his core beliefs challenged. 

Sir Peter Jackson has been "Simpsonified" for an upcoming episode.
Sir Peter Jackson has been "Simpsonified" for an upcoming episode. Photo credit: Supplied

"I always think we could have improved on [the writing of] it. But, you know, I think anyone in the creative position, we'll do that. I believe I can say as it was a secret thing as part of my trip here, but one of the kind of work-slash-pleasure things I did was visit the amazing people at the WETA Workshop in Wellington and that whole Peter Jackson enclave of genius. 

"One of the main creative people on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies told me he's never rewatched the movies since the premiere, and he's never even seen the extended editions. That just blew my mind." 

With seasons 35 and 36 already commissioned by Fox in the US, the show is already barreling towards hitting the 800-episode mark. Asked if the writers ever plan for its conclusion, Selman was quick and defiant in his answer. 

Matt Selman is one of the Simpsons' showrunners.
Matt Selman is one of the Simpsons' showrunners. Photo credit: Supplied

"It should never end - we should never have to write the last episode. It was never engineered to end. Writing a last episode that you knew was going to be the last episode would be not fun and creatively lame. It should just be kept alive as long as there is a world. So, for like eight or nine more years, we should be there to hold up the mirror to the society of the planet in the Springfield world," he cautioned. 

But once again the creative gene in him is sparked to life, his eyes twinkling mischievously. 

"...Although I do think writing an episode that was a last episode that wasn't going to actually end the show would be fine, right? I guess a satirical parody of last episodes just in the middle of a season - Yeah, I think that's actually a good idea, which I'm excited about because I would know that the pressure, there'd be no pressure to end it because you're just making fun of last episodes." 

Asked by Newshub why the show continues to be so popular years after initially being decried in its early days for its negative portrayal of the family dynamic (US President George W Bush famously shot it down during a speech on family values in 1992, where he said America should be "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons"), Selman didn't hold back in highlighting the love between the core members as one of the main reasons for its ongoing success and relevance.  

"They're still married. I mean, the kids are, you know, they're functioning. I think in the beginning, they were like this dysfunctional family. That's a good point. Now they seem to be one of our more functional families. 

"But only because the world has gotten super dysfunctional!"