13
Jul
17

Rock Us, Dr. Zaius

“I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z!” – Troy McClure 

This afternoon, Vulture published an oral history of Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, featuring interviews with Alf Clausen, David S/X Cohen, Chris Ledesma, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Mark Kirkland. (Dana Gould too, but, you know, why?) The whole thing is well worth a read, but I thought I’d highlight a few pieces:

Oakley: Our goal when we took over was to copy season three. Season three of The Simpsons — which we didn’t work on by the way — was the best season of any TV show of all time. When we took over, we said, “What was it about season three that made it so good?” We reverse-engineered it and said, “Well, a lot of the stories were pretty grounded, but they took a couple of crazy leaps out into space with like, ‘Homer at the Bat.’” They did seven Homer episodes, three Lisa episodes, a Sideshow Bob, an Itchy and Scratchy, so we did exactly the same thing. Now as far as the Selma episode, there was an episode in season three where she’s going to marry Sideshow Bob.

I’ve heard Oakley and Weinstein talk about their (justified) love for Season 3, but I never knew they followed it that closely.

On one of the most memorable lines:

Cohen: The reason I remember the moment at all is that it got a big reaction in the room from the other writers, much better than I had expected. So into the script in went. To overanalyze it a little, the question is what, if anything, makes the line better than a run-of-the-mill pun on the word “chimpanzee.”  The fun of it I think is that you get the joke prematurely during the contrived setup, without even needing to get to the pun part. It’s a slightly weird line in that sense.

I used to use that line as the ringtone for a friend of mine who had a (legit) job giving cocaine to monkeys.

On Homer and Bart’s love of “legitimate the-a-ter”:

Mark Kirkland (director for The Simpsons, 1990–present): It was a script that made me laugh a lot to begin with. The thing that struck me was the satire of those classic movies being made into Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, like The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard. I caught both of those in the theater so I knew what we were trying to do based on those.

My favorite lines were the one is when Bart says, “This play has everything!” and Homer goes, “Oh, I love legitimate the-a-ter!” The saying we talk about in art and drawing, but it comes from food preparation: A good salad doesn’t have everything in it, and here they are enjoying it because it does. They don’t know how bad it is! It’s a critical success.

That is such a wonderful Simpsons joke, packing so much meaning into two lines and some (expertly) mispronounced syllables by Castellaneta.

Finally (and as usual I don’t mean to pick on anyone with these), there’s another tacit admission that Zombie Simpsons ain’t The Simpsons:

Ledesma: Fans talk so lovingly about “the golden era” from seasons one to eight, this falls right in there, and I think it’s also part of the golden era of the show’s music as well. This is not to say that the show’s music has declined in any way, but the show is different.

Indeed it is.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s pretty long and worth every word. Oakley called it a rare visit from the joke fairy.


5 Responses to “Rock Us, Dr. Zaius”


  1. 1 madeofghosts
    14 July 2017 at 6:40 am

    Wait how are you supposed to pronounce “theatre”

  2. 2 Anonymous
    14 July 2017 at 12:05 pm

    That was a fantastic read. Nice find, Charlie. Interesting timing since yesterday “Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius” was stuck in my head for no apparent reason.

    What I enjoy most about reading articles like this is how everyone involved not only talks about the love and care they put into the show, but they also express the fun they had while doing so. They get a laugh out of it, their friends get a laugh out of it, and so do we. They go over the little details, but they also don’t get bogged down by them and they sort of build off each other’s creative energy when someone in the room gets a good joke. That’s how the magic happens, or happened, I should say. Can you honestly imagine a room full of ZS staff members doing anything like this today? They’re all half-assing and phoning it in.

    Oakley: The reaction that we got for virtually everything on The Simpsons back in those days was that we broadcast it into a void. There was no Twitter. There was alt.tv.simpsons but I’d stopped reading it before then because they hated everything and it was driving me out of my mind.

    Reading stuff like that is just so frustrating, because you know it’s got to be one of the biggest reasons staff members are dismissive of fans with legitimate complaints about the state of the show today. Those overly obsessive nerds of the early fandom ruined it for us all.

    Kirkland: It was important from our acting POV that the characters on stage were serious. Dr. Zaius was like the real Dr. Zaius and very serious. We let the ridiculousness of the story, the situation, happen and then we played it straight because if we’d been cross-eyed or made funny faces, we would’ve stepped on the joke. There are times where Troy McClure, especially, turns to the audience as though they’re doing their best, but it’s got just atrocious concepts that nobody seems to notice. There’s a humor in that often, in our present-day entertainment, which looks sophisticated or timely when we see it, but when we see it a few years later, we go, “Oh my god, we were entertained by that?” It’s the emperor having no clothes, a little bit.

    Kirkland: I studied at Cal Arts under the director Alexander “Sandy” Mackendrick, who did Sweet Smell of Success. He’d warn students: Don’t try comedy or satire until you’ve mastered your craft. You have to be as good, legitimately, in order to make fun of it. So when I’d have a sequence like that, it would have been very controlled. I would’ve seen that section and thought, “This is make or break, because if this sequence falls apart, we’re in trouble.” I always take musical numbers really seriously, and that begins with the storyboard artist, sitting down and figuring out the best camera angles and the way to tell these jokes without interrupting the flow of the music.

    Take notes, guys.

    Oakley: The person running the room had never seen it, yet was able to concoct a beloved parody of it just through pop-culture osmosis.

    Funny, I got my own “pop-culture osmosis” of Planet of the Apes from this show, especially this episode, and didn’t see the original movies until many years later. And now that they’re rebooting the whole series, I’d rather watch this episode on repeat than the newer movies.

    • 3 Nick
      15 July 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Can you honestly imagine a room full of ZS staff members doing anything like this today? They’re all half-assing and phoning it in.

      I think they’d object to that assertion!

      … Some of them are using their whole ass.

    • 4 The Artist Formerly Known as NOT DUSTIN HOFFMAN
      15 July 2017 at 6:01 pm

      The new Planet of the Apes film, and indeed the reboot trilogy is incredibly good and well worth an open mind. I love the Troy McClure musical number and Homer’s amazing freak out in the astronaut episode, but the reboot series actually transcends nostalgia and stands proudly on its own merits.

  3. 5 Rob K.
    15 July 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Very nice.


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