“But the grocery store sells sugar for thirty-five cents a pound.” – Marge Simpson
“And it doesn’t have nails and broken glass in it.” – Lisa Simpson
“Those are prizes!” – Homer Simpson
This episode is terrible, no two ways about it. It begins with Homer attempting to win a world record (including a bit where all the townspeople roll through town in a giant ball), has a middle with Marge as a moral crusader against sugar, and ends with Homer as a smuggler. It makes no sense, and what few jokes exist are basically stapled to the story as it races along from one dull idea to the next. Nor will this commentary enlighten you at all as to why they thought any of this was funny. So far, that’s all very standard, for Season 13 and its commentaries.
However, this is one of the rare commentaries I can recommend. It’s basically the Mark Kirkland hour, and he’s great. Kirkland’s directed plenty of both The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons, and he talks a lot about both old fashioned and modern animation, how they shoot things, and what kind of gear they use. There is some downside, as you’ll see below. But Kirkland (who, based on the crosstalk, sounds like he’s not in the same room with the rest of them) is easily half of the commentary.
Seven people here, including Caroline Omine as the token female.
0:10 – Jean gives the original airdate here as 20 January 2002, then adds “President Bush had been in office for a full year” with a sort of menacing tone in his voice. Too bad the show never made fun of him.
0:25 – This was the first episode they did after the voice cast re-signed, and there was a lot of talk about how they wanted to refocus the show on the family. Which is naturally why this one involves international smuggling.
1:30 – This episode was born of a mixture of smokers suing the tobacco companies and a realization of how many fat characters they have. That leads to a long discussion about how many fat characters they have.
2:15 – Still discussing fat people in Springfield.
2:25 – Someone, sounds like Selman, brings up the fact that the show is now in the Guinness Book of Records and all but begs Jean to expound upon it. I have never met Matt Selman, I do not know Matt Selman, and the voices aren’t always easy to tell apart on these commentaries so I may be confusing him with someone else. But somebody who sounds an awful lot like him spends a lot of time on these commentaries kissing up to Jean.
2:30 – Heh. Tom Gammill, who has one of the most distinctive voices on here, sneaks in a genuinely funny aside as Jean is beginning his Selman requested monologue. As Jean starts talking about the real records the show holds, Gammill offers “Fattest writing staff.” Jean ignores him and continues, but it was funny.
3:00 – Jean tosses things to Mark Kirkland, who directed this, asking him about the effects they used on the giant pyramid of people and the giant ball of people. On-screen, Homer is freaking out pretty much this entire time.
This goes on for the next four odd minutes and is pretty interesting. To do the ball of people, Kirkland took an old globe from his house and painted it white and then they put the town on it and photographed it sequentially. I’m not going to even try and transcribe it all, but if you’re interested in outdated spherical animation techniques, this is your one stop shop. It goes almost without saying, but it ends with the usual statement of how doing it on a computer nowadays would be a snap. Painted globes are cooler.
7:45 – Still talking about how it’s not hand colored anymore.
8:25 – Talking about how many cels they used to have and how much they were theoretically worth.
9:10 – Reminiscing about the fact that they make a Butterfingers joke in this episode and how ungrateful they are since Butterfingers helped keep them in business those first shaky years.
10:15 – Oh crap, Selman and Warburton (I think) are joking about how when they had Ben Stiller in they gave him the ideas for all his subsequently successful movies. They’re just riffing back and forth and, wow, they are terrible.
11:00 – This was the debut of Count Fudgula.
11:30 – Still talking about breakfast cereals.
13:15 – Warburton identifies himself before asking Kirkland a question. I guess Kirkland is in another location. Anyway, he asked what’s still difficult even with difficult animation and Kirkland replied simply, “Making computers work.” This leads to thrilling tales of calling tech support.
14:00 – Still talking about how even with digital animation things can still be hand drawn on those Cintiq tablets and the software involved. As per usual, little to nothing of what’s going on in the episode is being mentioned.
15:15 – See above.
15:40 – Drawing pupils is apparently hard on the computer.
16:10 – Another interesting animation tidbit: with digital it’s very hard to pull out from a close up because the lines on the background will get fuzzy and not look right. They’ve actually stopped doing a lot of those kinds of shots for precisely this reason.
17:00 – Backgrounds have to be more detailed in HD because everything shows. Also, Homer’s about to become a smuggler with three minutes left in the episode.
18:00 – The animators work mostly in black and white and then it gets colored. This leads to a discussion of digital coloring, which is easier, but not as easy as it was advertised as being.
19:20 – Further discussion of Count Fudgula with more spontaneous genius between Warburton and Selman. Maybe they just got out on the wrong side of the bed that morning, but listening to this you would not peg either one of them as a professional comedy writer.
20:15 – Al Jean endorses Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.
21:00 – Still discussing hand drawn animation and Disney.
21:30 – Discussing Cal Arts as an animation school.
22:00 – And it ends with a little playful animator vs. writer banter.