A new episode of The Simpsons just shook things up a bit. In an effort to attract attention to the season finale and drum up some more viewers when the next season roles around, they’re letting the audience vote on the success or failure of a fledgling cartoon relationship.

Season 22 of The Simpsons has just completed its run in the United States, and in many respects it was exactly the same as every other episode of the long running show that people regard as less of a ‘must see’, and more of a ‘familiar presence’. Homer said something mildly amusing. There was one storyline which abruptly segued into another which was completely different. There was a celebrity cameo with no context, this time in the guise of Aerosmith drummer Joey Krammer.

The Ned-Liest Catch, eventually, told the story of a romance blossoming between the mismatched couple of Ned Flanders and Edna Krabappel. Flanders being the staunch religious type, and Krabappel being a bit loose with her morals and well known to all the men in Springfield, you see. With some hindrance and help from Homer (in his own way), Flanders tried to decide whether this personal history was something he could accept.

All sounds smooth so far, but The Simpsons had something a little different planned for its 486th outing.

Just when you were due for some storyline resolution, Homer and Marge step out and break the fourth wall, telling the audience that the fate of Ned and Edna’s relationship is now up to the voters. So go onto thesimpsons.com, go onto Facebook, go onto Twitter, and voice your opinion. Make a little noise. As Marge tells you, the answer will be revealed ‘in the next season’s premiere, probably at the end, so you’ll watch the whole thing.’

I wouldn’t call this lazy story-telling, but it’s definitely breaking a few rules. Should there be line between narrative and interactive television? Do we really want voters to have the power over beloved characters? While it wouldn’t be feasible every episode given the cycle of episode development, for the end of the season, it’s something that could happen.

But I wouldn’t want trust to other viewers with the fate of House and Cuddy’s relationship in House. Or that of Richard Castle and Kate Beckett in Castle. Can you imagine if the fate of characters in Lost was left up to viewers at the end of every season? I somehow get the impression that Jack wouldn’t last. Voting someone off the island would take on an entirely new context.

Asking the audience to vote also leaves the fate of a storyline in the hands of ‘certain kinds of people’. You know the ones… the ones who will actually vote. No matter how many millions of viewers tune in to a reality television show, it’s a select few who can actually be bothered to interact. Leaving a narrative scripted show in their hands? That’s one hell of a risk to take.

But maybe, after 22 years, its a decision the people behind The Simpsons feel comfortable with making. They’re dealing with a couple of minor characters, it should have some sort of ratings result, where’s the harm in trying something different? And maybe their right. I remember back in the day, the ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns’ storyline being the talk of my schoolyard (with what was ultimately a very crappy payoff). This is just them taking it one step further.

I just really hope that it doesn’t start a trend.


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