“Perhaps there is no moral to this story.” – Lisa Simpson
“Exactly, it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” – Homer Simpson
About halfway through this commentary, Al Jean notes that the story of a mean letter to the boss had been previously done on The Honeymooners and was a kind of “sitcom staple”. He was saying it sort of defensively, like he’d heard it as a criticism that the episode hadn’t been that original. But parodying sitcom staples was a big part of what The Simpsons did, especially in Seasons 1 and 2. It wasn’t just plots either, it was stereotypical scenes and moralizing and parenting that had been done to death by other shows but that The Simpsons both took apart and made funny. (Of course, it doesn’t work when Zombie Simpsons rehashes stories that had already been done by The Simpsons.) Incidentally, though I’ve never seen an episode of The Honeymooners, you can see “Letter to the Boss” on YouTube (Part I, Part II, Part III). Alice, who’s working on Ralph’s underwear as the show begins, would later voice Beatrice Simmons in “Old Money”.
Just three guys on this one, Groening, Jean and David Silverman.
0:30 – Interesting trivia: this is the first time Homer uses what the call the “fairy voice” and the first time Homer talks to his brain.
1:00 – Jean mentions that this particular episode was inspired by one of the producers on the show needing a blood transfusion, and they thought they could graft that onto Mr. Burns.
1:40 – The nuclear warning sign is back lit instead of animated like everything else, which explains that glow.
2:00 – Shearer had to cancel on the first reading at the last minute, Castellaneta stepped in and there weren’t any problems. That’s a nice little anecdote, but it does help demonstrate just how different the production process was back then.
2:40 – Praise for Shearer who can do multiple voices all in one take. So if there’s a scene with Burns and Smithers or Smithers and Hibbert, he can just read it all through in a single take.
3:40 – Laughing at the continuity head scratcher of Carl being Homer’s supervisor. Jean then expounds on how Homer’s job at the plant seems to mostly be him sleeping at his console.
4:30 – They do a lot of quick cuts to different Simpsons as the family quizzes Marge on their personal aspects, Silverman chirps up to say that quick cuts like that are fun to do because in this scene you never lose sight of who’s doing the talking.
5:00 – Jean talking about how at this point they had the design locked in pretty well. Most of the off model stuff had been knocked out.
5:20 – The scene where Homer tells Bart the awesomely dumb story of Hercules and the lion is lit very specifically to make it seem intimate as Homer tries to convince Bart that donating blood is the right thing to do.
6:35 – As the elevator guy waits to push the button with the blood, Groening mentions that they don’t slow the show down for much. Well, not in Season 2.
8:00 – Talking about how this is a very long Act 1. They considered ending the show with Burns feeling better, but that wouldn’t have really made sense.
9:20 – Here’s Homer’s “fairy voice” where he goes up a register or two to tell Marge she’s living in a world of make believe. Because of the way the show is made, when they bring things like this back, it’ll often be months after the first time. But when they do bring it back it shows up in a bunch of them.
9:45 – Silverman animated a lot of Homer’s dictating the letter to Bart himself.
10:00 – Mentioning that, among others, The Honeymooners had done a “write a letter to the boss” plot. Also, they had some trouble getting “elephant’s butt” in.
12:00 – Lots of small comments here about all the different ways the shots are constructed in this episode.
14:00 – Praise for the postal mural and Homer’s inability to know Burns’ first name.
Gotta love the mural.
14:40 – Pointing out the quill pen as another one of those old man quirks of Burns.
15:00 – Apparently Brad Bird suggested the camera move up to the top of Homer’s head when he talks with his brain.
16:10 – More interesting lighting as Burns and Smithers are backlit against the fireplace.
17:45 – When Burns yells “Judas!” at Smithers there’s a lightning effect which was white frames except for the outline of Burns.
18:30 – Jeans mentions that it was always nice to have a black and white television at Moe’s.
19:30 – The Barney belch was usually just recycled because Castellaneta couldn’t just keep belching.
20:10 – Silverman says he got compliments on the Olmec head from people who study pre-Columbian art, though they may have just been happy to have the word “Olmec” used on a television show.
21:00 – Talking about how they realized the show didn’t really have a point, so they thought they’d make a joke out of that at the end.
22:00 – And we end on Groening complaining that they used to let the credits roll unmolested, but now they often split them off to the side or something.