Once, years ago, we gazed into our future and caught a glimpse of our death—sprawled on our backs like an upended tortoise, slowly succumbing to the darkness beneath a sudden avalanche of Simpsons DVDs. But now only the first part of that premonition will come true, as Simpsons showrunner Al Jean has revealed that Fox will no longer be releasing its seasons on DVD—and presumably, any other physical media. It’s the end of an era, and given the durability of the series, probably the right decision to save Mother Earth.
Jean let the news slip on Twitter, in a series of conversations with fans who wanted to know when Fox—after skipping from season 17 to 20—would be putting out seasons 18 and 19, or any of the other seasons the show has had since then and possibly since the beginning of this sentence. The answer is never, thanks to what Jean blames on a dying market for DVDs—even among diehard Simpsons fans who almost singlehandedly have been keeping it alive through their demand for commentaries, deleted scenes, and the like.
The good news is that Jean promises that those commentaries and deleted scenes will continue, and will be made available to fans free of charge. The bad news for anyone outside the U.S., or who doesn’t have a cable provider that supports FX Now, is that they’ll only be distributed through the Simpsons World website. Yes, you are now at the whims of geography, your home entertainment package, and the reliability of your Internet if you want to see outtakes and hear Jean and others talk about the making of latter-day Simpsons episodes. And no longer will you have a comforting cardboard and plastic case to cradle in your arms, or bite down on in frustration. You can’t, like, own The Simpsons, man.
For prognosticators of the death of physical media, the end of The Simpsons on DVD—easily among the most popular and enduring TV collections out there—certainly looks like a neon-yellow canary in the coalmine. (Though the constant deluge of TV DVD sets we still get here daily at The A.V. Club would beg to differ. We just got a “complete series” of The Colbys yesterday. The fucking Colbys.) Still, while Jean graciously declined offers from crazy people to crowdfund more Simpsons DVDs—“ I don’t think The Simpsons should ever ask for money without providing you a cheap toy,” he said—he did leave some hope for one giant, series-encompassing “master” set, should the series ever be allowed to end.
In the meantime, those who want to watch The Simpsons beyond the episodes that have already been released on DVD will have to make do with the hours upon hours that are available pretty much anywhere there is a screen. At least, until the implants are finished.