Archive for the 'Spews Truth from Every Orifice' Category

07
Mar
13

The Telltale Head Spews Truth

telltalehead

Today’s post is another installment in our long-running “series” of DVD commentary posts; the lucky victim this time is Season 1’s classic “The Telltale Head.” Featured speakers on the commentary are the episode’s director Rich Moore and writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss. I’ll keep it short and simple (read: descriptive and lacking in any meaningful/substantive analysis), but here are the highlights from their conversation for me:

(Times are approximate)

  • 00:17 – Supposedly there were a lot of Elvis sightings when this episode was written, hence the chalkboard gag
  • 00:31 – Early intro didn’t have Burns or Smithers in the Homer/SNPP shot
  • 01:21 – Directors, well at least Rich Moore in this case, don’t get residual checks when this episode airs. Wah wah.
  • 02:08 – During table readings, the episode got big laughs up front and petered out, which explains the reverse structure of the episode as it we know
  • 02:34 – This is one of the few episodes that actually has the title after the credits
  • 02:52 – This is also Rich Moore’s Simpsons directorial debut
  • 03:14 – Episode is full of first appearances – Rev. Lovejoy, Jimbo, Dolph, Kearney, Quimby, Apu
  • 03:40 – Homer standing on the couch is where the episode originally started before the structural changes
  • 03:51 – This is the first time the family goes to church
  • 04:15 – The Simpsons staff is full of football fans, so references work their way into many episodes
  • 05:45 – Apparently the Sunday school teacher doesn’t have a name
  • 07:15 – “Twister mouths” were phased out in Season 1, but made an accidental appearance in Season 3 thanks to Wes Archer
  • 07:37 – Repeat backgrounds are a godsend
  • 08:11 – “Space Mutants” was a regular thing that just sort of dropped out of later episodes
  • 09:25 – Jimbo is named after Jim Brooks
  • 10:50 – Apu wasn’t originally intended to be an ethnic character, but Hank Azaria added the accent during the table read and the rest is history
  • 11:17 – It’s still a five-fingered discount even though the characters only have four fingers
  • 14:07 – Rich’s father called after this show aired to ask if Homer was based on him
  • 14:27 – Bart’s first ninja costume
  • 15:30 – Intent of the episode was always to be played as “live action” with interesting composition and shots rather than the flatness associated with many early episodes
  • 16:50 – At the table read, the fact that the Jebidiah’s head was cut off didn’t resonate with the group as much as the denizens of Springfield
  • 17:50 – This is where shit gets weird: the head starts talking. This didn’t get many laughs initially
  • 18:22 – You rarely see Moe and Burns share a scene together
  • 18:31 – First episode where Smither’s affection for Burns is notable
  • 18:40 – Around the middle of the first season, Sam Simon declared that Smithers should be gay, but not to make a big deal about it. The audience caught on quickly though
  • 18:57 – First Sideshow Bob, who is both silent and looks nothing like his later incarnation
  • 20:40 – First mob made up of supporting characters and not generic people
  • 22:04 – The early internet was a cruel mistress in pointing out animation inconsistencies and other flaws (sound familiar?)
  • That’s a wrap!
17
Jan
13

DVD Commentary: Bart the Genius

bartthegenius

Be gentle, it’s my first one of these.

Four guys on this commentary, David Silverman, Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and Jon Vitti.

David Silverman talks about the popularity of the show after the Christmas Special

Matt Groening talks about the development of the now classic “Simpsons” main titles music

Blackboard and main titles were originally a way to pad the show length, but as the show got more sophisticated the writers didn’t want to cut anything

This episode was Jon Vitti’s first 30-minute script, and David Silverman’s first full-length directorial debut

Koreans don’t have bananas, hence the miscoloring

KWYJIBO was also later used as a name for a computer virus

Milhouse’s hair is inconsistently colored in this episode, occasionally black, occasionally blue

Jon wrote a  list of 100 bad things that Bart could do, and cheating on a test was the only thing that stuck

Series was not going to do fantasy sequences initially, but that stipulation was relaxed after the directors started using them very creatively (dream sequence with numbers)

Matt wanted a full orchestra to play the emotion that the show otherwise could not have depicted using animation

It was very controversial how stupid Homer’s handwriting was on the check

Loren Pyror sounds a lot like Mr. Burns in this episode

Matt considers this episode, like the other 12 in Season 1, to be experiments in the visual language of the show. Things like giant plants which featured somewhat prominently in the background were later removed

It used to be Skinner’s persistent goal to get Bart out of Springfield Elementary

There’s a discussion/mea culpa about Bart’s many, likely unoriginal, catch phrases, from “eat my shorts” to “cowabunga” etc.

The school that Bart goes to is a product of co-creation from the writers, not necessarily based on any actual school that the writers went to

The first draft of this episode was over 71 pages long!

Matt initially could not wrap his head around the fact that the sketches were moving, owing to his background in print media, but loved what he was seeing all the same

It was easier to merchandise villains than friends, so that’s why the show’s writers kept adding more

One can’t help but notice the crudeness of the animation in the opera scene

They’re all chuckling at the leisurely pacing of this episode, a result of the show’s creators learning on the fly

Kids playing with marbles is a cute anachronism

Shadows were used sparingly in early episodes out of concerns that they couldn’t afford them

The hamster gets to escape after Bart’s chemistry mishap, otherwise the joke earlier about the hamster being dissected would’ve been too cruel

Bart’s confession was animated in the US, not Korea

David enjoys having a yellow character talk to a green character

16
Oct
12

Lisa the Beauty Queen Spews Truth

Lisa the Beauty Queen8

“What a feeling!  I’m as happy as a smoker taking that first puff in the morning.” – Pageant Girl
“That could be Lisa!” – Homer Simpson

As usual with these early season commentaries, there are a small enough number of people that they can have an actual conversation, the topic never strays far from the episode, there’s lots of genuine laughter, and Jean sounds like he’s actually having fun instead of watching the clock and trying to fill time while everyone else sits silently as some horrible Zombie Simpsons crap parades across the screen.  Plus this one has a Bob Hope story.

Just four guys here, Groening, Mark Kirkland, Jean, and Jeff Martin.

0:20 – Groening asks Jean about the origin of this episode.  Apparently, Jean and Reiss were among the few people still under contract when this was getting going, and they came up with it hoping guys like Jeff Martin would come back, which they did

1:30 – Noting that they were ahead of the curve on making fun of little girl beauty pageants, but that they didn’t realize the seedier side of it at the time.

1:45 – Disney never complained, so they just kept making Disney jokes.

2:15 – Jean jokes that the lawyer is based on Roy Cohn, “which the kids always find hilarious”.

2:20 – Nelson spraying Martin was based off of something that a National Lampoon writer once did to Jean.

3:40 – Martin used to draw caricatures when he was a teenager at Astro-World, the amusement park next to the Astrodome in Houston.  He drew the Lisa one, and the regular artists were nice enough to use it.

5:00 – The big raffle prize at Martin’s school really was a ride on the blimp.

5:30 – Lots of praise here for Yeardley Smith as always putting a lot of emotion into Lisa.

6:00 – Groening notes that Lisa is a character who isn’t completely ruled by her impulses, which causes Martin to joke, “Yes, and as a result she’s in pain a lot of the time.”

6:45 – Krusty’s “heartily endorse” came from the old board game Life which had a picture of Art Linkletter on the front saying he “heartily endorsed” it.  Reiss knew exactly where it was from the first time he read the script.

7:45 – Lona Williams, who did the voice of Amber Dempsey, was an assistant on the show at the time.  She actually had been in beauty pageants and gave Martin a tape of one of them if he promised not to show it to anyone else.

8:50 – Everyone cracks up as Homer cries while singing the blimp song and holding a pickle.

9:30 – They just made up the Jack Nicklaus thing, none of them are sure whether or not he was actually considered handsome.

11:00 – Jean’s not sure if Homer’s fantasy of Marge mowing the lawn while he lies in a hammock is based off of it, but there did used to be a Flintstones cigarette commercial where Fred and Barney were lying in hammocks smoking while Wilma and Betty mowed the lawn.  (Though Jean accidentally called Fred “Homer”.  Groening cracks on him for it.)

11:30 – Grau plays the ice cream parlor lady, which leads to everyone talking about how great she was to have around.  Groening then confirms my suspicion that losing her wasn’t just losing Lunchlady Doris:  “Also, she was a little bit of a voice of reason because she would actually comment on things.  That was good, that was no good.”  I can think of many places where a voice of reason definitely could’ve come in handy post Season 7.

12:40 – As the pageant starts, Kirkland comes on to note that this is the part where the director starts to feel faint at all the crowd shots and action.

13:15 – Krusty’s seldom seen assistant Miss Pennycandy helps him with his jacket before he goes on here.  That causes Jean to note that her first appearance was the one where Krusty reconciles with his father, but he couldn’t remember the title right away.  He just remembered that Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky called it “Krusty the Jew”.

14:10 – Speaking of Wolodarsky, he pitched the line where Lisa calls loving your country “real Melvin”.

16:20 – According to Groening, Brockman switching instantly from “Oh, the humanity!” to “Anyway” got a big laugh.

17:25 – Martin went to a hall of Presidents wax museum in Boulder, Colorado that had obviously mismatched bodies, and that’s where Lisa getting Dr. Ruth’s body came from.

18:00 – Conan O’Brien and Martin went over to Bob Hope’s house to record his lines.  Groening then mentions that O’Brien wrote about Hope for The New York Times.  Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can read that here.

19:50 – Everyone laughs at Azaria’s Santa wanting to know what the hold up is.  He’s got a real flair for those cranky old guy parts.

21:15 – It took them a long time to figure out the ending, but Jean thinks it was Frank Mula who came up with the thing about Homer writing “OK” on the application.  I did that for years on standardized tests.

21:30 – Everybody cracks up again when Lisa says “Possibly” after Homer asks her if he was drunk.

29
Aug
12

’Round Springfield Spews Truth

'Round Springfield10

“Two hundred and fifty dollars?  But I need that album to honor the memory of Bleeding Gums Murphy.” – Lisa Simpson
“He’s dead?  Well, why didn’t you say so?” – Comic Book Guy

It doesn’t come up in individual statements, but when you listen to the commentary for this episode right after you listen to the commentary for “Alone Again Natura-Diddily”, the most striking thing is the absence of feeling the need to explain things. Instead of anyone getting defensive or saying something about, “no really, this was a good idea”, it’s all just trivia about the episode, the occasional short tangent, and backstory on this or that. The Season 11 commentary is just this side of an apology. The Season 6 commentary is a regular DVD commentary track.

Five guys on this one: Jean and Reiss, Steven Dean Moore (who directed), and Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, who wrote the script.

0:20 – Jean starts out by noting that this is the non-“A Star Is Burns” episode that was done with a lot of the staff from The Critic, and they figured that at this point in the show’s run a major character hadn’t been killed, so why not? Importantly, he notes that the episode is actually about “Lisa’s grief”, which is much better than “Flanders’ dating”, but he doesn’t say that last part.

1:00 – Reiss originally wanted to kill Marge’s mother.

1:30 – The first episode Steven Dean Moore worked on was “Moaning Lisa” and this was the first one he directed, so it was a nice bookend for him.

1:50 – Jean notes that Ron Taylor, Steve Allen, Phil Hartman and Doris Grau all did voices on this episode and all of them have since died. That causes Reiss to crack, “It’s a real blood bath, folks, so sit back and enjoy”.

2:25 – Reiss and Jean took credit on the story, but Sternin and Ventimilia got the “teleplay” credit. Reiss notes that show runners don’t usually take story credits like that, but they thought it was going to win a bunch of awards “it’s death and a black guy and jazz” . . . and then it didn’t. But they did get paid.

3:30 – Jean says that they don’t remember for sure who came up with “cheese eating surrender monkeys”, but that it might have been Ken Keeler. Then they joke around about how people took it awfully seriously when it was just a throwaway joke for them.

5:15 – There’s a backlighting effect on the operating table lights to make it look more like old hospital shows.

6:00 – The little glints on the jagged metal-Os are done post production.

6:15 – Reiss’ father is a doctor, and no matter how many times they asked him, he wouldn’t tell them that you could get appendicitis from eating a piece of metal. Jean then jokes that more people saw this than know him, so they won.

6:45 – Writers and directors love flashbacks because they don’t have to do anything.

8:00 – Jean makes the obligatory note that Steve Allen had done a voice before and later harshly criticized the show.

8:30 – Laughing at the Faberge egg habit. Reiss says that Joan Rivers was collecting them and that’s where he got the idea.

9:00 – It’s Castellaneta doing the great Cosby impression here, but they’d gone back to Sunday by now and Cosby was off the air, so Reiss calls it “residual malice”, which would be an awesome band name.

10:15 – Josh Sternin really did have appendicitis once.

10:20 – It took awhile to get Lisa’s un-brushed teeth “gross but clear”.

10:40 – One of the reasons they wanted to pitch this was to let Lisa sing “Jazzman”.

10:50 – Jean then notes that this was when the show was longer so they could take their time and do things like show the song.

11:40 – Jean can’t tell the difference between a tenor and a baritone saxophone. Moore comes on to say that she’s normally supposed to play tenor, but for this they downsized the sax a little. Jean’s brother plays the saxophone, but that doesn’t help, which leads Reiss to crack, “We ignore our families, that’s why we’re comedy writers”.

12:50 – The scene where Lisa wins over the crowd prompts Jean to compare it to the movie Ray where the same thing happens.

13:00 – Reiss comes on to note that Lisa finding out Bleeding Gums is dead should’ve been the act break. I probably haven’t seen this episode with commercials in the better part of a decade, so I really have no idea where the act breaks are.

13:45 – This was only the second script Sternin and Ventimilia had done. The only other one they’d done was an episode of The Critic. They talk about how cool it was to be a fan of the show and then be able to put words in the mouths of the characters. Jean, feeling wistful, says he felt the same way when the cast of Gilligan’s Island came on Alf while he was writing there.

14:50 – Interesting directing note here, David Silverman told Moore that when Grampa is pointing and yelling at various things being “Death!”, they shouldn’t pull the frame out too quickly. They originally had the camera pulling very fast, but the joke is that Grampa is overreacting, so the camera should under-react to show how senile he’s being.

15:15 – Jean jokes that the Starland Vocal Band tattoo would’ve been a great act break which prompts Reiss to say, “Don’t tell that to FOX, they’ll be giving us eight act breaks now”. Just an observation, but Jean always seems to be having way more fun on commentaries where Reiss is around as opposed to when he isn’t.

16:05 – Everyone laughs at the hot dog cart at the funeral.

16:55 – It is indeed a white Bronco in which Hutz and OJ’s attorney’s speed away.

17:10 – That causes Jean to recall that they were working on The Critic right by the freeway during the OJ chase (Wikipedia and YouTube for those of you too young to remember 1994) when they saw all the helicopters. He jokes that they should’ve run to an overpass with a sign reading “Watch The Critic” among all the signs that said Go, OJ Go.

18:00 – Moore was told that the laid back DJ was based on David Mirkin, but nobody seems to know if that’s true or not.

18:30 – Jean and Reiss explain how odd and puzzling Pogs were, even at the time.

19:45 – Just in case you were wondering, this episode gets its title from a 1986 movie called ’Round Midnight.

20:00 – Wes Archer’s brother Martin did most of the animation on the scene where the clouds come together.

20:20 – Everyone laughs at Wiggum getting poisoned.

20:45 – The “Kimba, I mean Simba” joke is a reference to a 1960s cartoon about a lion named Kimba whose father died. There was even a baboon.

21:30 – Reiss asks Sternin and Ventimilia how it was to write this. Predictably they say it was a lot of fun, then one of them jokes, “It was back when we were young and full of hope”. Heh.

21:50 – Moore jokes that after he worked a long time to get a directing slot on the show, he wasn’t sure how many he’d get because, really, how long could it go on after six seasons already?

14
Jun
12

“A Star Is Burns” Spews Truth

A Star is Burns12

“The film is just me in front of a brick wall for an hour and a half.  It cost eighty million dollars.” – Rainier Wolfcastle
“How do you sleep at night?” – Jay Sherman
“On top of a pile of money, with many beautiful ladies.” – Rainier Wolfcastle

If these meta-commentary posts are ever enlightening, this one promises to be minimally so.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard one that is just this straight up funny.  It’s basically twenty minutes of Lovitz, Jean, Castellaneta and company ragging on each other personally and professionally in sometimes really mean ways while they all laugh their assess off.  It doesn’t translate well to text on the internet, but it’s hilarious.

Seven people here, an all-star lineup of Al Jean, Jim Brooks, Mike Reiss, Jon Lovitz, Dan Castellaneta, Susie Dietter (director), and Ken Keeler (writer).

0:40 – Jean explains the backstory of how they got cancelled on ABC and Brooks came up with the idea of having them do a film festival to launch The Critic on FOX.  I maintain that the fact that The Critic got cancelled twice is one of the great unacknowledged cultural losses of the 1990s. 

1:20 – Talking about how they knew they’d “made cult” when The Critic went to Comedy Central.  Allow me to simply say that I was one of the members.  As I recall, when it first came to Comedy Central it was on at some ungodly timeslot, like 11:30pm on Sunday.  I nearly died the first time I ever saw “Hee Haw: The Next Generation” (I laughed uncontrollably through the entire commercial break), and it was everything I remembered it was the first time I got to see it on syndication. 

1:45 – Lovitz talking about how nice it was of them to write the script for him, which causes someone to crack on him for having his career go downhill.  Lovitz, of course, can give as good as he gets.  This is funny.

2:30 – They’re cracking up about A League of Their Own now and how Lovitz’s part was too small.  Sample of banter: “The masturbation scene never would’ve worked, man, I saw that rough cut.” 

3:00 – Lovitz just said “Al and Jean” trying to say “Al and Mike”.  Apparently this has been a tic of his for a long time.  They’re still just cracking up making fun of each other.  I can’t really make it work as text, but it’s really funny. 

3:40 – See above.  They really seem like a) they like each other, and b) they’re having a good time.  Note to Zombie Simpsons: this is much more fun to listen to than awkward silences and people politely complimenting each other. 

4:15 – Tip from Keeler, Bart introducing “The Eternal Struggle” is a riff on Plan 9 From Outer Space.

4:40 – Noting the similarity of Homer struggling into his pants with Mr. Incredible doing the same thing before he gets back in shape in The Incredibles

5:00 – Laughing about the fact that Shearer does God, the Devil, Hitler and Jesus.  Shearer is amazing.

5:45 – Reiss has a friend with the Salvation Army, and apparently they love Flanders.  He then relates a cop telling him how he thought they must have a cop on staff because Wiggum is so “true to life”.

6:30 – Talking about how they tried to draw Sherman more sympathetically (shorter, bigger eyes) for this and the second season. 

6:45 – Again, I can’t do this justice in print, so I’ll merely say that Lovitz just made a great dick joke.

7:30 – Castellaneta improvised Wolfcastle’s “On closer inspection, these are loafers.” 

9:00 – Jebus, Lovitz is really funny.  As Senor Spielbergo comes on screen for the first time, he (with just the right hint of sarcasm) jokes that this was the inspiration for Spanglish, “coming out on DVD! . . . Thanks for the check, Jim”. 

9:45 – And they’re back to just cracking on Lovitz and each other. 

10:20 – Huh, the giant belch is Maurice LaMarche.  I didn’t know that.  Chalk one up for LaMarche.  Apparently he also does a perfectly dead-on Lovitz impression.  He once called Jean, as Lovitz, and demanded that he (LaMarche) be fired.  Jean says it took him a minute to figure it out.

11:50 – Lovitz: “But I worked very hard on The Critic.”  Someone else (maybe Reiss) who’s already laughing from the previous joke: “I don’t know about that.”  They’re all just losing it.  This is one of the stand out funniest commentaries I’ve ever heard.

12:15 – A long story here about how The Critic got cancelled by turnover among FOX executives.

14:00 – And they’re back to ragging on each other.  Apparently Lovitz insinuating that Jean and Reiss are gay is a joke that’s been going on for over a decade. 

14:40 – As we see Barney’s movie, Jean throws it to Dietter who says it was one of her favorite things she ever did on The Simpsons.

15:00 – Jean points out that it’s a bit like both a Calvin Klein commercial and Koyaanisqatsi, which puts it well ahead of that time killing Itchy & Scratchy from a couple of years ago.

15:20 – Dietter talking about the transparency effect on the curtains makes the customary animation note that this would be very different on a computer.  Meanwhile, Reiss (I think) cracks up in the background as Barney attends the Girl Scout meeting.

16:30 – Lovitz gets into it with Dietter, which leads, once again, to everyone cracking on him.  Again, these people are both very funny and seem to genuinely like each other enough not to pull any punches.

17:15 – Castellaneta and Lovitz are joking about Hartman now.  In the background, Jean sounds like he’s struggling to breathe he’s laughing so hard.

18:35 – After a pause as they just laugh at the episode, the show cuts to the two monkeys grooming each other inside Homer’s head.  Lovitz deadpans: “There’s Al and Mike”.  And we’re off again.

20:30 – Castellaneta recalling Lovitz telling him to screw around while they were recording and then denying his involvement when it died in the room.

21:45 – As soon as the “Al Jean & Mike Reiss” credit appears, Lovitz is on them again, “Who’s that?”.

22:00 – “Brad Bird?  Never met him.”

22:25 – And we end with Lovitz talking about how Swartzwelder, Vitti and Meyer were all writers at Saturday Night Live while he was there, which prompts Jean to try to compliment him by calling that his favorite era of SNL, Lovitz getting in one more dig by telling him “check’s in the mail” right as the Gracie logo rolls, and the last sound being Jean cracking up once more. 

10
Apr
12

“Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” Spews Truth

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge8

“I’ve started a crusade against cartoon violence.  I can protect my own children, but there are many others whose minds are being warped every afternoon at four.” – Marge Simpson
“That reminds me, I gotta get over to Milhouse’s and . . . play sports.” – Bart Simpson
“Alright.” – Marge Simpson
“And I’m going over to Janie’s again.  We’re going to be, um, making the most of our childhood years.” – Lisa Simpson
Have Fun!” – Marge Simpson
We will.” – Bart and Lisa Simpson

They talk quite a bit about this idea near the end, but “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” has always been one of the premier examples of the way the show could be funny about every aspect of something.  They are a violent cartoon show, but they’re still able to make violent cartoon shows look bad. 

Four guys on this one, Groening, Jean, Reiss, and Jim Reardon. 

0:35 – Reiss notes that Swartzwelder loves Itchy & Scratchy.

1:00 – Groening recounts how when he was a kid he and his friends would fantasize about what an ultraviolent version of Tom & Jerry would look like.  This leads to him introducing Reardon by pointing out that one of the reasons Reardon was hired was because of a short film he made.

1:15 – Reardon picks up the tale of a student film he made called “Bring me the Head of Charlie Brown”, which is funny and ends with, “I got a reputation for doing violent cartoons, which served me well in this episode.”

2:25 – Reiss briefly mentions Herman & Katnip as a truly terrible Tom & Jerry knockoff.

2:40 – Jean points out that they had a running theme in the early years of Homer being an incredibly bad workman, nothing he produces is any good (he cites the soapbox derby racer and the BBQ pit).  Too bad these days he’s instantly good at everything.

3:00 – As Maggie goes Psycho on Homer, Reiss mentions how great it was that VCRs existed then, because they could go back and get the scenes right.

3:05 – They all crack up as Maggie hops away.

3:35 – Groening laughs and declares it his favorite moment as Marge wonders where Maggie got the idea as she puts her down right in front of the television.

4:15 – Irony alert.  Groening was talking about how they get fan mail asking for Itchy & Scratchy to get their own series, and he had a demo reel of nothing but their cartoons that he’d show to people, but that they’d get numb after about a minute and a half.  This prompts Jean to joke that through ten years there probably wasn’t twenty minutes of actual footage because they’re “incredibly quick”.  Of course, the last two or three seasons, when they do have Itchy & Scratchy, it’s always some forty-five second long movie remake.

5:10 – Since this was Reardon’s first episode, he remembers that they were at the Christmas party when the FOX satellite went on the fritz and the whole west coast missed the first act, so nobody saw his name on the credits.  Aww.

5:40 – They’re laughing at Swartzwelder having Scratchy’s “bombs for eyes” actually work as eyes, and then Groening cracks up at “Dogs Tricked” on Marge’s list of violent acts.

6:15 – When the nerdy looking animator throws Marge’s letter over his shoulder and into the wastebasket, Reiss asks if that’s Reardon.  Apparently it’s a guy named Eddie who used to work with Sam Simon.

6:30 – As Alex Rocco appears to dictate the letter, Reardon jokes that they tried to find a way to get his eye shot out, but they couldn’t “fit it in”.  They would’ve found one these days, methinks.

6:50 – Joking around about the fact that there’s an Itchy & Scratchy on Ice poster in Meyers’ office, and then they actually did do a Simpsons on Ice.  Groening wrote the script and got paid in pinball machines.

7:30 – Reardon notes that all the picket signs are a pain because you’ve got to keep the lettering from bouncing up and down.

8:20 – Laughing at Moe’s sign to “Bring Back ‘Wagon Train’”.

9:20 – They’re just sort of quietly giggling at the episode, with compliments here for Castellaneta’s Krusty.

10:15 – When another animator appears on screen, Jean guesses that it’s supposed to be Rich Moore, but they all kinda look the same and nobody even responds.

11:00 – Reiss laughs that if anyone should understand who the squirrel is supposed to be, it would be Homer, and yet it “goes right by him”.

11:20 – Reiss asks Jean if they were going to get O.J. Simpson for the Smartline panel, but that was going to be for “Last Exit to Springfield” where they got Dr. Joyce Brothers instead.

12:00 – Again, they’re just quietly watching and laughing.  Maybe I’m projecting, but it sure seems like they enjoy watching these episodes a lot more than the Zombie Simpsons ones.

13:00 – Minor animation goof pointed out by Rich Moore when “Live From Vienna” pops up under Dr. Marvin Monroe from one shot to the next.  It must be at least kinda frustrating to have gone through every frame of this a decade earlier, then have to see it all again when you’re far enough removed from it to spot all the little mistakes.

13:20 – As Monroe makes an ass of himself, Jean laughs about how they never had much use for psychiatry.

14:20 – Reiss asks about the shot with all the mail trucks backed up, if it was sort of from Field of Dreams.  Jean deadpans, “Yeah, why not?”.  As usual, I can’t do his delivery justice.

14:35 – Reardon says that this scene where the cartoon gets edited was near to his heart because he always hated it when the Saturday morning cartoons would get half their punchlines edited out.

15:15 – Groening compliments the way the animators look here because they’re not overly elaborate.  In other words, they don’t look like any more time was taken on them than on anyone else.

16:40 – Again, I may be projecting, but you almost can’t count the number of times someone says “I always liked this” or “We love this” on these old commentaries.  Similarly, none of the silences are broken by someone talking for the sake of talking, it’s always about the episode.

17:15 – Groening loves the montage because it’s a satirical point that’s the opposite of what they believe.  They don’t actually think everything would be Norman Rockwell if cartoons were banned, but they did it anyway because it’s funny and the cartoons here are getting made fun of just as much as the censorship.  Things like this really are what made the show so damn good.

17:30 – They’re complimenting the pastoral montage, and Reiss cracks up recalling that Brooks had wanted it to end with everyone happy like this and Itchy & Scratchy banned.

18:00 – The Beethoven was in Swartzwelder’s script, it wasn’t a later addition.

18:45 – Jean notes that Bart’s line about building a soapbox racer was the genesis for next season’s episode where that happened, and how they often combed over old episodes to find new ideas.  Reiss mentions that Skinner’s line about seeing some awful things in ’Nam was kind of the same way.  Afterwards, they just kept coming up with more.

19:30 – Reardon’s favorite joke is the newspaper headline that reads “Michelangelo’s David in 1958”.  That is a great joke.

20:20 – Jean recalls having seen a picture of a David statue in Florida that really did have marble pants on it.

20:35 – Reiss jokes that “Scratchy’s the cat, by the way”.  They could only remember because “Scratchy” has the word “cat” in it.

22:10 – And we end with Jean joking that at least they didn’t have to pay old Ludwig any royalties.

05
Apr
12

“New Kid On the Block” Spews Truth

New Kid on the Block10

“She’s beautiful.  Say something clever.” – Bart’s Brain
“I fell on my bottom.” – Bart Simpson
“D’oh!” – Bart’s Brain

This commentary is mildly annoying in that it’s basically a bunch of guys congratulating each other on being awesome.  On the other hand, all of them are fantastically funny, so not only is it fun to hear, but they’re self aware enough to keep it entertaining.  They only occasionally talk about the episode, but unlike when that happens on Zombie Simpsons commentaries, here it’s not them avoiding what’s happening so much as it is them clowning around about things they actually want to laugh about. 

Just five guys here, and it’s a murderer’s row: Jean, Reiss, Groening, Silverman and Conan O’Brien.

0:45 – Joking about how they brought O’Brien in as a replacement, they mention that the two guys they wanted before him went on to create Martin and NewsRadio.  The guy they settled on turned out to be a fantastically accomplished late night host.  The talent density of this show cannot be overstated. 

1:15 – They’re joking that for O’Brien’s first three weeks at the show, they made him do nothing but rewrites and never let him out of the office.  O’Brien, who’s usually talk-show peppy on these kind of things just says, “Yeah”, in a genuinely defeated voice. 

2:30 – Jean: “For some reason, we had a Sylvester Stallone hand puppet.”  Of course they did. 

3:30 – The previous comment got O’Brien started about what a comedy weirdo he is.  It’s still happening.

4:15 – The B-plot was originally going to be Homer in court for hitting Don Rickles after being insulted at a show.  It died when Rickles passed on doing the voice.  Bullet?  Dodged. 

4:40 – Groening was at a FOX event where Rickles was introduced to him by Rupert fucking Murdoch, and Rickles was apparently seriously pissed about the script.  He thought they were stealing his act.

5:45 – Reiss points out that they’ve always kinda had trouble with “older people” as guest voices.

7:00 – Third hand performance advice: O’Brien had Jerry Lewis tell him something that Stan Laurel had told him: “Tell the audience what you’re going to do, then do it, but then tell them it has been done.” 

7:20 – Jean follows up by joking that he got the same advice from Johnny Carson, but his conclusion was, “Tell them what you did.” 

8:05 – Amid further discussion of late night comedy tips, someone (might be Reiss) asks, “Why does this Afghani have horns?”:

New Kid on the Block9

Heh.  I never noticed that before.

9:30 – They’re discussing the origin of this B-plot, and a failed story they ditched (O’Brien says “threw it out.”).  What did they throw out?  A story about Homer being a talented hair dresser.  Simon apparently killed it.  Fuck you, Zombie Simpsons

10:30 – O’Brien starts telling a story about a script he had to rewrite, but stops when he doesn’t want to out the writers, so he saves it by saying that it was something that “Mike and Al” wrote and it was crap.  Jean, always on his game, retorts “You’ll have to be more specific”.  I hate Zombie Simpsons, but I love Al Jean.

11:00 – Changing the subject, they try to get O’Brien talking about Wes Archer’s direction or Sara Gilbert’s guest voice.  Then they all crack up when Lionel Hutz calls Homer the greatest hero in American history. 

11:25 – This needs to be quoted in full (from when Bart gets to the old folks home and the old Jewish guy acts out because he’s desperate for attention): “Derogatory reference to old person, that’s Conan O’Brien.  Look at him, he’s got no mind.  He’s wasting a young person’s time.  He’s serving no function, and he’s led away."

11:45 – Jean and O’Brien joking about how they used to give shitty assignments to O’Brien.

13:00 – Mild giggling at Homer’s quote about a woman being a lot like a refrigerator.

13:20 – Jean jokes about Oakley and Weinstein having to read “The Plague” by Albert Camus for an episode, which leads O’Brien to joke that there are a bunch of “skulls and femurs” at his feet.  I’ve never been this entertained by a commentary that ignores the episode.

14:45 – They’re cracking about how bad television is, and I really can’t do it justice.  And while I’m certainly not an unbiased observer, the tone of this is much more relaxed (and funny) than when they wander off the reservation when some Season 13 episode falls apart.  Here it sounds like they’re just having a good time rather than trying to fill space.

15:15 – Apparently the idea of Bart telling Moe that he was Jimbo to get Moe to come over came from James L. Brooks.

16:30 – O’Brien goes off on a long and somewhat meandering speech about how people get fewer and fewer references as time goes on.  It all ends it Al Jean saying, “Lisa loves Roy Cohn!”.  Again, words fail to convey how funny it actually is.

18:00 – “Jub Jub”, a vocal history.

19:00 – They’re just cutting up now.  O’Brien just joked, “I had a lot of bad ideas.” 

19:15 – Laughing at Barney drinking beer out of the ashtray.

19:45 – In yet another thing that doesn’t translate well to type, O’Brien cracks everyone up by describing how unfair it is that Jimbo gets branded a coward because a knife wielding maniac interrupts his innocent teenage makeout session. 

20:30 – Now they’re just laughing at the way people ask who wrote what line.  Jean jokes that he only writes for Ralph and they all crack up.  This is a much more relaxed Al Jean than you find on later season commentaries where he has to carry the whole load.  Here he gets to just be one of the guys, and he sounds like he’s having a much better time.  

21:30 – And we end with more banter and O’Brien being generally charming. 

28
Feb
12

“Separate Vocations” Spews Truth

Separate Vocations10

“Looks like you just bought yourself a lottery ticket, to jail!” – Chief Wiggum
“He’s unconscious, sir.” – Lou
“Ah, they can still hear things.” – Chief Wiggum

This post was originally going to go up yesterday for the 20th anniversary of this episode’s first broadcast, but about halfway through I noticed that there was a “hidden” audio track that turned out to be a one man commentary from Al Jean.  (Side note: Dear DVD people, drop the “easter egg” crap, will ya?  Just like hidden tracks on CDs, the game is up.  You can’t hide anything from modern media software.)  Apparently Jean’s basement flooded and he missed the original recording, so he came back in for a solo make up session.  I didn’t have time to do the second commentary track yesterday, so I figured, it’s already been 7,305 days, what’s a 7,306th? 

Jean says some interesting things, but through a lot of it he just sounds crushingly lonely.  The whole time he was talking all I could picture was this:

Homer Defined5

Not pictured: Mike Reiss

Just four guys here, Groening, Vitti, Reiss and Silverman.  Jean’s comments from the other track are interspersed in bold

1:30 – Lots of praise for George Meyer, who didn’t want to do commentary here.  Mostly it’s the usual stuff about how he doesn’t write many episodes because they needed him in the rewrite room.  This episode was all but final when he turned in his script.  The whole testing sequence is apparently there pretty much as is. 

1:50 – Jean points out that most of the writers were pretty good test takers, and this kind of thing was something they were used to doing.

2:30 – Jean mentions how Iowa was where these standardized tests came from, and I can vouch for that.  I was taking tests like this at the time this episode was made, and all of them were from “Iowa Testing” or whatever.  We all thought it was weird, but I loved that it was made fun of in this episode.

3:20 – The sight of Dr. J Loren Pryor prompts them to credit Vitti with the name.

3:50 – Someone took a vocational test that said he was going to be a librarian.  Couldn’t tell who, but I think it was Reiss.

4:40 – The little piece of music Lisa plays for the devastating music teacher was apparently an Alf Clausen original.

5:15 – Everyone laughs at “you know, devastating”.

5:15 – Jean mentions that they’ve had to resort to using tapes of actual crappy school bands to get the effect right sometimes because the pros just can’t play that poorly.

5:45 – Joking that they never know which one is Lou or Eddie leads to someone mentioning that Lou’s voice was sort of a Sylvester Stallone impression.

6:15 – Everyone’s pleased they got away with “polling the electorate” as a “nice dirty joke”. 

7:00 – As Snake goes speeding by, Silverman mentions how they aren’t just parodying one movie here, they’re going for every action movie cliche they can.

7:40 – Apparently Clausen actually worked on some cop shows in the 1970s and 80s, so the chase music was something he knew.

7:45 – People have always loved the milk truck exploding.

7:55 – And “Damn boxes!”.  As someone says, it’s “always empty boxes”.

8:00 – Jean mentions that if they’d done this episode today (circa Season 15), they’d have Wiggum in the car and give him a lot of lines.  But at this point, “We were still trying to maintain the fiction that the chief of police didn’t go out on every call, and you didn’t see him in every shot where you’d have the cops.”

8:20 – Generic compliments for the angles and lighting as the cops search for Snake.

8:40 – When we come back for “Death drives a stick”, someone compliments Shearer on his “Quinn Martin voice”.  This sends me to Wikipedia where I found out that Quinn Martin:

was one of the most successful American television producers. He had at least one television series running in prime time for 21 straight years (from 1959 to 1980), an industry record.

I learned something today.

8:45 – Jean’s making fun of all the old Quinn Martin shows, and how “pompous” and repetitive they were.

9:05 – Saying that Wiggum’s voice isn’t quite the one we know.  I’d disagree with that.  It’s pretty well Edward G. Robinson by now. 

9:40 – Mentioning how the layout artists had some fun with Bart and Lisa switching roles and doing things they normally don’t do.

10:20 – Everyone chuckles at the pictures of Homer stuffing himself into the cake.

10:45 – Talking about how cute flashback astronaut Marge is, how she really does look and pose like a little girl.

11:20 – The flashback leads Groening to mention how he pitched a show to FOX about doing Homer at various ages.  They didn’t bite, which leads to some quick jokes about how all they do are crappy reality shows which someone mocks as “how many midgets they can fit inside an elephant”. 

11:30 – Jean mentions how the Skinner-Vietnam thing got started here as a throwaway.  They didn’t sit down and plan things out for characters, things just sort of evolved based on what worked.  Again, I would like to point out that this isn’t something Zombie Simpsons does.  When was the last time they added to what we know about a character without it being some horrible retcon? 

12:10 – Compliments for the shot of Skinner with the desecrated puma.  Someone wonders if this was the line that set him up as a traumatized Vietnam vet.

13:20 – Groening recalls that a lot of the older writers were really geeked to have Steve Allen on as a guest voice, Swartzwelder in particular.  Apparently it took nine takes to get “Ay Carumba” out of him.  He kept making it sound Spanish.

13:20 – Apparently before he died Steve Allen went on a bit of a crusade against television crudity, and cited The Simpsons specifically.  I couldn’t find any details with a quick search though. 

14:15 – Apparently the blue dot over his face was taken from a rape trial one of the Kennedys was involved with. 

15:00 – Someone’s trying to remember if the bad girls in the bathroom reoccurred.  They don’t think so (I can’t think of anything either). 

15:20 – They’re chuckling at “Laramie Jr.” cigarettes, and how they always get letters when they show smoking.

16:00 – Laughing at all the crap in the seized property room.

16:50 – Laughing at Mr. Glasscock when Reiss fails to explain the joke.

16:50 – Jean thinks Mr. Glasscock was a teacher Reiss had, and that’s how they got it by the censor, by telling them that it was a real name.

17:30 – Neat story here about Ralph and how he wasn’t quite the world beating moron that he’d later become.  Reiss then mentions that it wasn’t until the next season in “I Love Lisa” that they made Ralph Chief Wiggum’s kid, and they only did it to flesh out the story a little because it was running short.  That leads to a longer discussion of Ralph and how he’s dumb, but he’s also got that blissful enthusiasm about things.  They don’t say this, but little evolutions in the characters like that are one of the things that helped the show.  These days everyone’s a caricature of a caricature of something they used to be.

18:00 – Jean’s very complimentary about chalk dust and cigarette smoke as transparency effects that look really good and were much better than they could do in Season 1.

19:20 – They’re enjoying the battering ram here. 

19:40 – Groening says the headshot of Bart (where it looks like a logo and zooms in and out) looks very “video-y”.  Apparently they pulled a frame of Bart’s head on and spun a picture of a police car to get the effect. 

20:00 – Noting all the dramatic angles (and ripped off Beverly Hills Cop theme) as they search the lockers.

20:20 – Interesting animation note here.  You know how in cartoons if you’ve got a lot of one object (say, lockers) and one of them is going to move, it’s always a different color?  Apparently that’s an artifact of cell depth.  The one that’s going to move is on a different layer when they film it, and even though the cell is transparent, there’s a very slight color to it, so things that are on different layers, even if they’re painted with the exact same color, appear differently.  You can compensate by mixing the paint differently, but it still happens, apparently more with darker colors than lighter ones.

21:50 – Happy to have the nice ending that’s both sweet (Bart sticking up for Lisa) and a joke (mooching money). 

22:30 – Groening rhetorically asks what Meyer would’ve thought.  Someone replies that he would’ve said, “If this made one child hate the police, it was worth doing”.  Ha.

18
Oct
11

“Blood Feud” Spews Truth from Every Orifice

Blood Feud8

“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.

Blood Feud7

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. 

17
Aug
11

“The Springfield Files” Spews Truth

The Springfield Files5

“Wait a minute, Scully, what’s the point of this test?” – Fox Mulder
“No point.  I just thought he could stand to lose a little weight.” – Dana Scully
“His jiggling is almost hypnotic.” – Fox Mulder
“Yes.  It’s like a lava lamp.” – Dana Scully

There’s an interesting flow to this commentary.  There’s a hefty enough catch of guest stars and X-Files stuff that they start out talking about what sparked the idea and how things finally got going.  Then, about halfway, they’ve filled in most of the details there and start paying closer attention to what’s on the screen that moment.  This leads to some minor trivia and a lot of laughing. 

Six guys on this one.

0:30 – Jean mentions that this is one of the four episodes he and Reiss were able to do on the side while working at Disney (on The Critic).

1:00 – Reiss is joking around that they came up with the idea for this way back when The X-Files was brand new. Jean says he found a copy of TV Guide in the bathroom with the show on the cover and thought, “Oh, this is a good idea”. But it didn’t go anywhere until many years later.

1:45 – Reid Harrison, the credited writer, had been hired by Jean and Reiss to do an episode of The Critic for a season that never got aired.

3:00 – Jean theorizes that one of the reasons FOX cancelled The Critic was that they didn’t own the show, saw it was doing well after The Simpsons, and plugged in King of the Hill, which they did own, to fill the slot. Bastards.

4:00 – The board artist who did Act 2, with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, was Kevin O’Brien, a big fan of The X-Files who went on to Pixar. Lots of people on the show were fans. That’s where they got many of the details from the show, such as the smoking man.

5:20 – Reiss laughingly plugs the Queer Duck movie by mentioning that Duchovny is in it playing Tiny Jesus. No qualms from me: Queer Duck – The Movie (2006).

6:00 – Jean mentions that because this was one of those split off episodes he and Reiss did, the writers room was only a handful of people and the whole thing got no laughs.

7:30 – They had to try quite a few things to get the glow on the Burns alien to look right. That comment is followed by the obligatory mention that it would be a lot different on computers.

8:00 – Some love for Leonard Nimoy as a nice guy who does funny reads. Reiss mentions that Nimoy doesn’t get used enough for comedy, which reminds me of this music video (which now has a healthy 4.5 million views on YouTube).

8:45 – Jean asks if this is the first episode Steven Dean Moore directed, and it wasn’t. His first episode was “Marge Be Not Proud”, which prompts someone in the background (can’t tell who) to say “What was ‘Marge Be Not Proud’”? Ha.

9:40 – Groening mentions that he hadn’t seen The X-Files when they did this and had wondered why their voices sounded so flat, which causes some deserved laughter.

10:15 – Reiss jokes that the lineup of aliens (Marvin the Martian, Gort, Chewbacca, Alf, and Kang/Kodos) was their “most illegal shot in history”. He and Jean had worked on Alf and they got a call from the Alf guy a couple of weeks later. He said if they ever do Alf again to let him do the voice.

10:50 – Appreciating, and laughing at, the shot of Homer running on the treadmill reflected in the glass as Mulder and Scully look on.

11:45 – Moore thinks it was a writers note to add Duchovny in his speedo on his ID photo. That always cracked me up.

12:00 – Laughing at Moe’s habit of smuggling animals.

12:20 – Jean mentions that this was the second time they had an animal steal Grampa’s teeth, but this was episode 167 and how much longer was it really going to go?

12:50 – Laughing at Duchovny’s goofy speech and Anderson’s eye-rolling reaction.

13:20 – Reiss and Jean are trying to remember how much they fiddled with this one after the script was completed. Consensus is: not much.

14:20 – Another animation note: shadows (Bart and Homer are talking in the kitchen at night) were much harder to do before computers.

15:40 – Laughing about how they don’t have cels to sell anymore, but that there are so many of them left over that paying a bunch of money for one isn’t the brightest idea.

16:20 – Laughing at Nimoy’s fake signoff.

17:10 – Jean always likes goofy file photos of Homer on the news. This is the one where Homer’s tongue is stuck to the frozen pole.

17:40 – Remembering that this was around the time FOX actually broadcast their “alien autopsy” special and how dumb that was.

18:15 – Reiss jokes that the reason they have commentaries is so that they can explain all of the dated jokes like the Budweiser frogs and Steve Urkel.

18:30 – They didn’t get the music rights for the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme.

18:40 – Laughing at Nimoy’s “Surprise me.” That always gets me.

19:10 – They always had to be careful with lettering on things because the Koreans doing the animation weren’t native English speakers.

19:35 – Laughing at Lenny saying “It’s bringing love, don’t let it get away!”

20:00 – The explanation of the alien came along toward the end.

21:00 – Cracking up at Nimoy’s singing.

22:30 – And we close on someone having to go to a dentist’s appointment.

27
Jul
11

“Saturdays of Thunder” Spews Truth

Saturdays of Thunder9

“Dear God, not again!” – Dave from the National Fatherhood Institute

Toward the end of this commentary, right after Martin slaps Bart to get him to pay attention, Jean comments on how much violence there is in this one.  He laughs as he recalls that it might have been a reaction to how stressed out everyone was while they were doing this.  I can’t comment on that, but he’s right that there are a lot of violent images in here (Nelson whipping Bart as they race, Martin crashing and getting set on fire, even the unfortunate shark attack).  The difference is that none of it is drawn out or gratuitous.  The things Jean notes as violent wouldn’t even rate as such past Season 10 or so, even the shark attack.  It lasts less than two seconds, is completely bloodless, and is funny not just for being violent, but also for being completely absurd (made even better by the cry of “not again!”). 

Six guys on this one.

0:30 – This one premiered before the first televised showing of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video, and included the second part where he smashed up a car, which caused a lot of controversy.  On the plus side, the episode got great ratings.

2:20 – They were trying to come up with a name for a fake detergent, and the first eight or so they came up with were already real detergents before they got to Spiffy.

2:45 – When they were first designing Dr. Nick, they’d heard Azaria’s voice and thought he was doing an impression of Gabor Csupo, so they did a caricature of him. Azaria was actually doing Ricky Ricardo.

3:30 – Vlada from The Critic was also designed after Csupo.

3:45 – Ken Levine (who’s on the commentary) and his writing partner David Isaacs (who isn’t) worked on a show with Mary Tyler Moore for a year, so they thought the Mary Tyler Moore haircuts on Patty & Selma were hilarious. Jean cracks that Levine said “worked with Mary Tyler Moore” the same way other people say “I served in Vietnam for two years”. It was funny.

4:30 – They had a censor battle over Bart welding in horribly unsafe ways. Their reply was that it was hard for kids to get access to welding equipment so they wouldn’t really do it. I guess that worked.

4:50 – They only had one report of a kid ever getting hurt imitating the Simpsons. He was trying to skateboard down some stairs, but they were skeptical of the story.

5:40 – Discussing the avalanche of cliches they parodied in the scene where McBain’s black partner gets shot right before retirement.

6:00 – Someone, I think it’s Reiss but it’s hard to tell, was thrilled that they used the “Mendoza!” line on MST3K like a year after this.

6:20 – Jean thinks the fatherhood test was a real thing Sam Simon found.

7:20 – Reiss jokes that the years he and Jean were running the show were the years when people on the show were always watching TV.

7:30 – Jean discussing how they used that TV watching to do cutaways, which they did a ton of on The Critic, and which now has become the hallmark of Family Guy. Then Groening says what he thought was “great” about The Critic was that they got to do all the parodies they wanted to do.

8:10 – Jean’s discussing how making the family the center of the show makes it really tough for other shows to make relatable characters without being compared to The Simpsons. This brings up King of the Hill, which Reiss (again, I think) cracks has “Homer with glasses”, which leads to Groening kinda laughing and Reiss replying “Yes, I said it.” Ha.

8:40 – Jean recalls the irony of editing this episode at three in the morning instead of being home with his kid.

9:10 – They think “Ronny Beck” was a friend of David Isaacs.

9:50 – Jean describes the fatherhood institute guy’s voice as Harry Shearer doing Casey Kasem/Mason Adams.

10:20 – Laughing about Cosby’s dislike for the show.

11:00 – The design of the soapbox derby racer was based on some real life failures.

11:15 – Jim Reardon jokes that bad carpentry is a theme of his life.

11:20 – The Cosby book quotes are actually from the book.

12:00 – The censors also didn’t like Homer putting the welding torch in the gasoline.

12:40 – Laughing about Homer’s inability to construct a decent racer.

13:00 – Discussing the scandal that rocked soap box derby racing when one kid had a magnet in his car, which I assume is this

13:30 – Talking about how the idea for this one came from the throwaway line in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” when Bart describes building a soap box derby racer after the cartoons become lame and nonviolent.

14:00 – Joking that they did three father/child type plots in a row and nobody noticed or cared.

14:30 – The censors had no complaints about Martin being on fire, but they did get a lot of complaints, especially from Jean’s mother.

15:30 – Mentioning how the lettering on the shirts (“Team Simpson”) would probably be printed now instead of looking miserable and hand drawn, which leads to the usual discussion of how animating has changed thanks to computers. Nobody mentions that if Bart and Homer had nicely printed shirts it wouldn’t work as well. The fact that the shirts are just as crappy looking at the racer is what makes them funny.

16:40 – Laughing (for the second time) at the Honor Roller and the neat little sound it makes when it goes by.

17:00 – Russi Taylor does Martin, as well as Minnie Mouse, which lead to a digression about her husband who does Mickey but is actually a great big biker looking guy.

17:50 – The derby announcers, and their love of superlatives and exaggerated historical significance, come from Olympic announcers who do the same thing.

18:35 – Laughing at Homer blowing off Flanders.

19:10 – Laughing at their love of gratuitous violence here when Martin just slaps Bart.

19:25 – As usual Groening remains unimpressed at the crowd scene.

19:50 – Groening was told by someone at 20/20 that Ted Kennedy hates Quimby. Groening then gets in his little disclaimer that he supports Kennedy and donates to him, but that he does have a funny voice.  (Of course, this was recorded before Kennedy died.) 

20:50 – Laughing at the unexpected smallness of Ronny Beck and another strange character in the crowd.

21:30 – Everyone cracking up at Homer and Bart celebrating Bart being a bad winner.

22:20 – And we close on them jokingly complaining that they didn’t win any awards for this episode.

05
Jul
11

“Burns’ Heir” Spews Truth

Wings

Image yoinked from Wikipedia.

“But I did get Paul McCartney out of Wings.” – Conformco Guy
“You idiot!  He was the most talented one!” – Homer Simpson

Even with twenty years of viewings under my belt, I am continually amazed at the sheer number of cultural references and allusions in The Simpsons.  There isn’t a guest voice and the focus of the episode is a story about Burns and Bart, but they bring up or crib from about five different movies and make fun of half a dozen celebrities.  They toss them off with remarkable speed so that things never slow down or feel heavy handed.  You the view just have this steady stream of moments of where cultural awareness is rewarded. 

Five guys on this one.

0:40 – Jace Richdale recounts how David Mirkin told him on his first day that he had to pitch stories, and he came up with this one without putting much thought into it. 

1:20 – Mirkin’s talking about the exodus of writers after Season 4 and how he brought on Richdale. It’s very complementary in an anodyne, DVD commentary sort of way.

3:00 – Groening recounts how they did a promotion with Burger King with an environmental message. They were going to give some of the money to an environmental group, but no one would take their money because they were making plastic cups and other landfill fodder.

3:50 – The THX sound joke earned them a call from George Lucas and company who then used it in actual movie theaters.

5:10 – Still discussing the THX thing, they had a big argument for whether or not a person’s head could explode. They came down in favor.

5:40 – Joking about the prevalence of head explosions in Jane Austen novels.

7:10 – Laughing about the boot kicking Bart and Homer’s reaction bleeds into Homer’s lesson about never trying.

8:30 – Laughing at Bart’s destruction of Burns property.

9:00 – Still laughing.

9:20 – I know I’ve said this every time I’ve written up one of these older commentaries, but the contrast with the commentaries from Seasons 12 and 13 couldn’t be more stark. They’re clearly proud of this episode (justifiably), and they really like watching it and talking about it. There’s never a moment where they’re thinking “Well, what do we talk about now?” because they’re having such a good time.

11:20 – Apparently people ask about the Homer eating flowers thing a lot.

12:15 – They’ve been giggling for the last forty seconds or so.

13:15 – Discussing the robotic Richard Simmons that got cut from here. Apparently Simmons turned them down because he didn’t want to be a robot.

15:45 – The whole Bart driving thing, hitting the Christmas village, was a rewrite after the original idea involving a car and a train was deemed pointlessly hard to animate.

17:00 – Getting back to the Richard Simmons robot, they cut it because it always died when they were reviewing it. But it killed whenever one of them would show it when they were giving a talk at a comedy festival or the like.

18:30 – The James Woods part in “Homer and Apu” was originally written for Michael Caine, but he turned them down so they put him in here playing Homer.

20:00 – Marveling and laughing at Lenny both a) not saying the letter “e” until after the trap door opens and b) just going right into it, like he’s accustomed to completely insane orders from Burns.

21:50 – And we end on them laughing at Hans Moleman.

09
Jun
11

“Cape Feare” Spews Truth

Cape Feare4

“Okay , it’s over!  Get ’em out of here.” – Moe

Aside from the way they don’t go off on random tangents and seem to be actually enjoying these episodes, the next biggest difference between these old commentaries and the ones on Zombie Simpsons is simply the number of people on them.  On Season 12 or 13, six people would qualify as a very small contingent, here it’d be quite large.  I don’t know if that’s the result of the age of the episodes or scheduling conflicts or what, but it makes things a bit more coherent (i.e. they can actually carry on a conversation) and it makes it a lot easier to tell who’s talking. 

Just three guys on this one, Groening, Vitti, and Jean.

1:00 – Jean recalls that Wallace Wolodarsky saw the De Niro Cape Fear remake and thought it would make a good show.

2:00 – Vitti thinks the episode was helped by the fact that it was the last one the original writing staff did, so people were very loose writing it, as in “What are you gonna do, fire us?”.

2:30 – This one has the extra long circus couch gag, which Jean mentions they use to fill time. Oh, how short it looks in retrospect.

4:00 – Groening gets all giddy, saying “Ooh, this is one of my favorite Itchy & Scratchys”.

4:45 – Talking about how this was a bit easier than earlier Sideshow Bob episodes because they didn’t have to write it as a mystery since he wasn’t pretending to be innocent at first.

5:15 – Praise for Kelsey Grammer.

5:45 – Jean’s cracking up about how simple Bob’s plan is, all he’s trying to do is stab a ten year old and yet he goes through all this unnecessary stuff.

6:20 – Laughing about how there’s no logical reason for Flanders to be scowling at Bart. Marge, Flanders and Krabappel potentially threatening Bart were inserted to fill in some time. I’ll just briefly note that when they needed to fill time here the added more stuff instead of stretching scenes with nothing extra.

7:30 – Laughing about Moe having the pandas in the back of the bar. They decide that Moe was smuggling them in sell to zoos at inflated prices.

8:25 – Vitti thinks they made things in this episode a little scarier than they otherwise would have if they weren’t all leaving the show.

8:45 – Jean notes that the picture of Clinton on the wall at the parole hearing is kind of a callback to Bob saying you can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House in “Black Widower”.

9:20 – Apparently, Conan O’Brien was really good at writing Sideshow Bob, including “The Bart, The”. He and “Mike” (Mendel?) were responsible for the “Mr. Thompson” scene, which they basically made up on the spot.

10:10 – Vitti wonders why they hated the Knoxville World’s Fair so much (it’s on Homer’s giant cigar). Jean deadpans: “That World’s Fair pissed me off so much.” It was really funny.

11:20 – Recording for Kelsey Grammer is tough because he’s so busy, so you’ve got to get him out the door quick. I wonder if that’s still true.

11:30 – Vitti launches into a story about the writers on the last day they did recording. It’s pretty funny, but I can’t really do it justice in text. Alcohol and cake are involved.

12:20 – Holy crap, verbatim from Groening after Vitti finishes his story: “We were talking about, in the break before we were doing this commentary, that a history of The Simpsons should be written, an oral history. Because nobody was everywhere at every time, and everybody had such completely different experiences.” Guess he changed his mind between 2004 (when they recorded these) and John Ortved writing his book.

13:20 – Jean laughing about how it never feels like the end for him.

14:00 – Apparently Conan O’Brien was worried because he was signed to a two year deal through Season 5, and everyone else’s contract ended after Season 4, so they were teasing him that he’d have to write Season 5 by himself.

14:30 – Homer’s hat and the singing in the car is apparently an I Love Lucy reference from an episode where they went to Hollywood.

15:30 – According to Jean, the rakes came about because after everything else had gone in they were still short on time, so they just went for broke on the rakes. Grammer was confused when he saw the episode because he only did the noise once, but he liked it.

16:50 – Jean’s cracking up at the elephant with just the word “The” on it.

17:35 – O’Brien performed the jokes about Homer breaking into Bart’s room with the butcher knife and chainsaw, and that’s kind of what sold them.

19:00 – The surreal parts of Sideshow Bob’s performance, things like the Union Jack and Bart having popcorn, were added in to make the otherwise straightforward song funny.

20:50 – The ending with the cops was worked on by the Season 5 staff briefly to get it finished.

21:30 – Vitti mentions that he’s seen this one mentioned on the old Jump the Shark website, but I can’t imagine it got more than one or two votes from disgruntled wackaloons. I’ve never heard anyone have anything but high praise for this one, deservedly so.

06
Jun
11

“A Milhouse Divided” Spews Truth

A Milhouse Divided6

“As you know, there’s been a lot of talk about divorce lately, and I think your mom might not be happy with me.” – Homer Simpson
“You’ve done a lot of crazy stuff over the years, and she stood by you.  Why would she leave you now?” – Lisa Simpson
“Cause there’s lots of stuff she doesn’t know about.” – Homer Simpson
“You mean like your poker shack out in the swamp?” – Lisa Simpson
“Mmm-Hmm.” – Homer Simpson
“She knows.” – Lisa Simpson

I’ve been listening to a few of these older commentaries and, though I’m sure I’ll be saying this a lot as I do more of these posts, the difference between these and the commentaries on the Season 12 and 13 DVDs is almost as stark as the difference between the episodes themselves.  On Zombie Simpsons there are frequently long silences that are only broken when someone launches into another completely off topic discussion.  They never come close to anything like that for this commentary.  Oh, there are some silences here and there, but they’re broken by laughter and trivia, not rambling digressions. 

Five guys here: Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Steve Tompkins, Steven Dean Moore, and a very quiet Matt Groening.

1:15 – Praise from (I think) Oakley and Weinstein for Steve Tompkins, who wrote this episode and who started dating his wife when both of them were working on The Critic.

3:00 – Talking about how they wanted to build episodes around single ideas in Seasons 7 & 8, here it’s divorce.

3:40 – Wanted to defy the old sit-com convention where they pretend that the main characters are going to get divorced even though you know they aren’t. They “very consciously” wanted to avoid that, so they had the van Houtens be the divorcing couple so they could leave them divorced. In other words, back in Season 8 they didn’t bother with crap like Ned and Marge nervously eyeing one another because they knew it was cheap bullshit and they knew the audience knew it too.

5:30 – There were several designs for Kirk’s terrible drawing of dignity. They wanted it to be completely incomprehensible, which makes it funnier when he underlines it in frustration.

6:30 – They’re really enjoying this episode, recounting Gudger College, cracker companies and other things they made up. It’s such a contrast compared to later commentaries when the conversation frequently wanders off topic and they often feel the need to defend things that clearly suck.

8:00 – They’re having a hard time getting through whole comments because they keep cracking up at stuff in the episode.

9:00 – A lot of stuff about Milhouse dealing with the divorce and Bart’s reaction to it got cut.

9:50 – The glowing fire when Luann sets Kirk’s shirts on fire is a camera effect not an animation.

10:15 – Noting how, when we get to Kirk’s uber-pathetic apartment, there are some great sound effects of a bus going by, a car alarm, and a jackhammer so you know how sad this place is.

11:10 – Laughing about “I don’t recall saying good luck.” and how they quote that all the time.

12:05 – They thought about doing something else in place of the American Gladiators hamster ball, but were glad they left it in. Just as they’re laughing and trying to discuss the animation of the ball, Bart breaks the chair over Homer’s back and they all lose it again. I probably don’t need to keep repeating this, but this is the third or fourth time they’ve had to stop talking because everyone is laughing at something on screen. I can’t recall a single instance of something like that happening in the Season 12 or Season 13 commentaries. On those they often seem bored with the episode, here they couldn’t be more enthusiastic.

13:10 – Starla, KZUG, Kirk’s demo tape, they just can’t stop cracking up.

13:40 – Trivia tidbit: there really was an album called “Can I Borrow a Feelin’?” by a guy named Cody Matherson.  Google image search turns up this:

Cody Matherson Can I Borrow a Feelin

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user xadrian.

There’s even a debate on the Snopes message board about whether or not the image and the album are fakes, but according to the commentary it was a real album that they discovered in Nick DiFonzo’s book about the worst album covers ever. The song they wrote is original, but they stole the title.

14:30 – Long discussion about whether they prefer this third act or if they should’ve done more with the kids. Ultimately they like that they were able to include the Simpsons without falling into the previously mentioned sitcom convention of pretending that the main characters are actually going to split.

16:10 – Short mention of the fact that the flashback to Marge and Homer’s wedding used a clip from “I Married Marge” and then built on it by then having Homer buy their wedding cake at a truck stop.

17:05 – Cracking up at Homer’s stupidity in thinking that divorce is inevitable while Marge thinks nothing is wrong.

17:55 – Part of the story that got cut was Bart trying to get Marge and Homer divorced because he was envious of all the toys Milhouse was getting. The original outline was super long, so that never got very far.

19:45 – The original vows were a lot longer as well.

21:00 – Mentioning how in any other show this is where Kirk and Luann would get back together, instead they all crack up at Kirk’s continued patheticness.

22:05 – They were thinking about getting someone to sing “Can I Borrow A Feeling?” over the end credits, Sheryl Crow’s name came up, but they never got around to it. As a finale, they jokingly vow to get her to sing it and end quoting Kirk’s tepid “prob-probably”.

21
Apr
11

“Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” Spews Truth

Homer vs Lisa and the 8th Commandment5

“Now, today’s Christian doesn’t think he needs God. He thinks he’s got it made. He’s got his hi-fi, his boob tube, and his instant pizza pie.” – Reverend Lovejoy
“Ooh, pizza.” – Homer Simpson

After we got such a positive response when we did those posts about “Lisa’s First Word”, and caught in the barren wasteland of the week it’s been around here, I thought I’d go back through the commentary tracks for The Simpsons and see what’s there. For the record, I have only ever heard a tiny handful of these. I got most of the DVD sets as soon as they came out, but I never listened to more than a couple of the commentaries because I often found myself just wanting to watch the episodes instead.

Remember, the early Naughts were an awkward time to watch the good episodes. Unless you were a VHS obsessive, the only way to see the old ones was on syndication. Season 2 came out on DVD in 2002, between Seasons 13 and 14, when the syndication runs were already substantially polluted with Zombie Simpsons. Nor did they always rerun the episodes in order or even equally. The first time I sat down with the Season 2 discs, I was amazed at the number of episodes I hadn’t seen in a couple of years or more.

Just based on this and the one or two other classic commentaries I’ve heard since I started doing “Lies Make Baby Jesus Cry”, the biggest difference is the lack of meandering tangents. There are still some long silences here and there, but they never stray from the episode. Literally everything they say is directly related to what’s going on. The second biggest difference is the fact that they laugh a lot more. And it’s not nervous laughter at something dumb, it’s fun giggles and chuckles at stuff they enjoyed or even had forgotten. There’s never a sense that they’re bored or killing time.

Five guys on this one, Al Jean, Steve Pepoon, Mike Reiss, Matt Groening, and Rich Moore

0:30 – Already into interesting trivia, as they originally had it titled without Lisa’s name, but episodes with her name in the title were always popular so they added it.

1:50 – Moore (I think) says that this was the first time they had a really busy sky, with a lot of clouds.

2:20 – Love for Hartman and his Charlton Heston impression.

3:00 – They really enjoyed doing all the cable channel parodies, which at the time no one had done.

3:30 – Noting Homer falling in front of the truck is “shot by shot” from North by Northwest.

3:35 – Someone (think it’s Reiss) says, impressed, “We’ve gone from Cecil B. DeMille to Hitchcock and we’re a minute-three into the episode.”

4:15 – Laughing at the potted plant Marge is holding, all in the service of a background gag that never gets mentioned.

5:00 – Laughing at the set for “Hear Me Roar: the network for women”.

5:40 – Laughing at the World Series of Cockfighting and pointing out that it’s Shearer doing the voice.

6:00 – More laughter at Lovejoy’s sermon.

7:40 – The “you’re no longer in Sunday school, don’t swear” is Pepoon’s favorite joke he ever wrote.

8:10 – Doug McClure, one of the guys they based Troy McClure off of, thought this was funny.

8:40 – Complimenting Moore on the animation as the living room dissolves into Hell.

9:15 – Laughing at the rolling shopping cart and Jimbo shoplifting apples.

10:00 – Reiss really enjoys episodes with strong themes like this, where they can play off of it endlessly. He cites the grape theft as a good example.

10:20 – Someone, not sure who, “Homer seems a lot more real in this episode than he seemed to become in a lot of the later episodes.” We know. Oh, how we know.

10:45 – They have a brief discussion about Homer becoming dumber over the years, which ends with them pegging his IQ at zero in Season 13, which they would’ve been working on right about the time they recorded this commentary. There you have it, proof that Zombie Simpsons has been flat lining ever since.

11:40 – Someone giggles at the fact that Burns has a video camera trained on the showers.

12:05 – Called themselves “a little intoxicated” writing Burns’ “florid prose”.

12:50 – Speculating that if they ever run out of ideas they can spin off the minor characters into their own programs. Look for “The Moe Show” in 2060.

13:15 – Laughing at Lovejoy and Lisa.

14:35 – Discussion about how they make the television flicker effect. Sometimes it’s animated on, but this was a second pass of the camera.

15:10 – Marge and Homer talking in bed is always really hard to stage. Jay Kogen acted out how Homer should put his foot down for the animators.

15:30 – The ever so brief “I was poor like you” line as Homer’s flipping channels was based on Tom Vu. It’s been more than twenty years, who knows how many viewings, and I never knew that was based on a real guy.

16:20 – Reiss (I think) points out how you can see the tape on Bart’s top hat, and it really makes it look like something he made himself out of construction paper. Now it’s like Bart has “access to some costume warehouse”.

16:40 – At the script reading, they all looked over a James L. Brooks when they read out “Broadcast Nudes” because he had written Broadcast News, but he gave no reaction.

17:45 – Jean thinks the name “Drederick” came from a real fighter George Meyer once saw.

18:25 – Laughing at all the quick action as Homer hides the stuff he stole.

18:55 – Laughing at Burns thinking Barney is Homer.

19:25 – Laughing at Homer instantly trying to shift all the blame for the illegal cable onto his wife when Lou and Eddie show up.

21:45 – Laughing that Burns recounting of the old fight he saw would make him about a 120 years old.

22:05 – Noticing that the Atlanta Braves joke doesn’t work as well since at the time they were only on cable because they were dead last, then they got super good for an entire decade. Joe Franklin’s the same way.

22:40 – Trying to remember which shows they beat out for an Emmy with this one. They’re not sure.




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