Archive for the 'Spews Truth from Every Orifice' Category


“Separate Vocations” Spews Truth

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“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:

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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.


“Blood Feud” Spews Truth from Every Orifice

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“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.

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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. 


“The Springfield Files” Spews Truth

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“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.


“Saturdays of Thunder” Spews Truth

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“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.


“Burns’ Heir” Spews Truth


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.


“Cape Feare” Spews Truth

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“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.


“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”.


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