During Season 8, in an early indication that writers were falling short of new ideas for wacky family-centric plots, The Simpsons ran an episode titled The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase, a lampoon of 70s and 80s sitcoms that turned ancillary characters (Rhoda, The Jeffersons, The Ropers, Laverne & Shirley) into the stars of their own shows, which often became hits in their own right. 

The thing is -- maybe this was a good idea?  In the episode, Troy McClure introduces three new shows spotlighting marginal characters in surprisingly intriguing new settings.  The first, Wiggum P.I., features Springfield’s beleaguered police chief as a New Orleans private eye. And in spin-off tradition, McClure suggests viewers “keep at least one eye open, because his best friends, the Simpsons, just might pop in to wish him luck.”

Next up, Abe Simpson gets his own show as the Love-Matic Grampa.  In the tradition of dopey shows with talking machines like My Mother the Car and Small Wonder, Grampa dies but his spirit gets lost along the way, eventually inhabiting the coin-operated Love Tester at Moe’s Tavern.  

Finally, it’s the Simpsons Family Smile Time Variety Hour, a riff on 1970s variety shows, complete with an “I’m too good for this” Lisa being replaced by a new actress. (The same thing happened to Eve Plumb/Jan on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, leading to the casting of Fake Jan.)

Is it nuts to say we’d watch all of these?  Maybe it’s too many seasons of “Homer gets a wacky new job as ” but maybe 8 or 9 years of the nuclear Simpsons family was enough.  With those plotlines exhausted, why not blow up the whole thing and launch beloved but underused characters in an entirely different direction?  Heck, we might even watch a show solely devoted to the behind-the-scenes drama of the Waylon Smithers Dancers.

Shelbyville

Ah, the anti-Springfield.  It’s the perfect spot for a spin-off, with a rich Simpsons history of colorful, violent rivalry that dates back to the late 1700s.  

OK, sure, Shelbyville has been destroyed twice (once by toppling Mr. Burns’ Sun Blocker, which crushed the city, and the second by a nuclear attack).  But it’s that kind of resiliency that makes Shelbyville a go-getter of a town!  With at least nine Simpsons episodes featuring Shelbyville, writers have a strong base but also free rein to create entirely new families, businesses, and social structures. And who knows -- the Simpsons could even stop by to wish them luck!  

Free Comic Book Guy

Comic Book Guy discovers he’s a non-playable character in a violent, open-world video game.  Does he try to break free?  Or is being a passive digital avatar the embodiment of all of Comic Book Guy’s fantasies?

Breaking Kirk

Milhouse’s father, Kirk Van Houten, probably already qualifies as the saddest man in Springfield. But what if the writers could push him to even further depths of desperation? 

Surely he learned some chemistry before he was fired from the cracker factory -- couldn’t he use that saltine knowledge to concoct some intoxicating substances?  By selling them on the street, if only for a little while, maybe he could pay off his crippling debt to Fat Tony and win back the love and respect of his family!  What could go wrong? 

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

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