Archive for April, 2020


DVD Commentary: Crepes of Wrath with Wes Archer and George Meyer

Wednesday was the 30th Anniversary of “The Crepes of Wrath”. So I busted out my Season 1 DVDs and spent some quarantime listening to Wes Archer and George Meyer’s commentary.

Wikipedia says these DVDs were released in September 2001, so the commentaries were probably recorded in early 2001 or so. From early 2001, this episode was 11 years old. Today it is 30 years old, so the time between the commentary recording and now is roughly double that between the episode and the recording. This gives an interesting flavor some of what’s said.

By the time this was recorded, Archer was already done with the show. His last directing credit is “Homerpalooza” from the end of Season 7. He’s since gone one to do stuff like Bob’s Burgers, Futurama, Disenchantment, and Rick & Morty.

Meyer was still there but had one foot out the door. His last writing credit is “The Parent Wrap”, which was the second episode of Season 13 but produced at the end of the Season 12 production run, i.e. right about when they were recording this. So while he has some producer credits for a couple more years, George Meyer never actually wrote another one after he recorded this commentary. This is him looking back on work that he still does but is already preparing to quit.


Meyer opens things up by joking about how they originally found writing the chalkboard gags delightful and now it’s a tedious chore and always falls to the newest writers on the staff. So Bart writing on the chalkboard was a great idea that was kind of tired by *Season 12*. Even these two couldn’t imagine the bland, mushy, paint-by-number thing would keep going for twenty more years (and counting).

Meyer mentions that the idea was inspired by the French movie Manon of the Spring. He then quips, “Which I have not seen”. Heh.

Meyer talking about how he got on the show: had been working on a movie for David Letterman in Colorado and agreed to come out and work on the series in October of ’89, working on the show fulltime after that because he liked it so much. I’ve said this a lot of times, but it is a legit thermodynamic miracle that The Simpsons ever happened. Every cog, part, and gear of the entertainment industry is intended to prevent things like The Simpsons.

As Homer lies on the floor, crippled by Bart, Archer notes that, “Low angle on Homer’s face was always difficult to animate because the mouth animation was different from the regular mouth charts”. Here’s the shot:

The next shot is Bart’s messy room, which Archer notes is “filled with props”. Meyer immediately chimes in about how the writers would torment the animators by never thinking about how much stuff is in a scene.

Archer notes that the design for Milhouse was taken from a Groening sketch.

Meyer notes that the cherrybomb bathroom scene was where he began to realize what you could get away with in animation, “the way she blasts off the toilet is a just a thing of beauty”.

They made the foreign country Albania because they hadn’t seen it much in other productions and John Belushi was Albanian. They named Adil after Albanian ruler and noted asshole Enver Hoxha.

At the airport, the steward’s pull and throw of Bart onto the plane was “a little cartoony”.

Meyer on Simon: “I believe that’s real Albanian, and we started early on trying to get the actual language if we could, at Sam Simon’s instigation. He was really big on research and getting things right. And I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

Archer then notes that they had to research a certain airport in France for the shot of the plane landing. No idea which. I know very little of French airports.

As Bart goes to the winery in the motorcycle, they’re discussing how they liked getting references in, like the painting backdrops and Maurice Chevalier song.

As Lisa reads random facts from the Albania book, Meyer jokes that their process was what Lisa’s doing: just looking through the almanac to find out a few facts about this country.

“Real French! Nothing but the best for our viewers.”

Archer notes that facial closeups mean less background to draw. I think all the background props in this one still haunt him.

“Yeah, there’s always a dinner scene in these old shows where they’re eating mush.”

Meyer’s reminiscing about how animation makes episodes like this possible, where you can switch kids and have a sprawling story which you couldn’t do on a normal sitcom.

Complimenting the animation as really coming together toward the end of Season 1, with the glow from the candle, and the shadows on Bart, and the “cool looking” Donkey.

At SNL and Letterman, Meyer used to work with Jim Downey, who used to tent his fingers and say “Excellent”, which Adil does here.

“I spent a lot of time drawing those donuts.” – Perhaps the most Simpsoniest(?) Simpsons commentary comment ever.

“The nuclear plant tends to not have many people around. And at night it just seems to close down entirely, which is not the case with most nuclear plants.” – Ha!

“Pillow talk” scenes with Marge and Homer were “kind of encouraged by Jim Brooks”. Meyer calls them good to use for both exposition and “intimacy and sweetness”.

Archer discusses how they try to get a lot of “acting” out of Bart as he painfully reads his letter from home, which means the frayed clothes, the messed up hair, the line under his eye.

“That little halo behind the candle, I know how hard that is to get right now.”

The idea for this anti-freeze scheme came from a real life scandal where anti-freeze was found in wine, though in real life it apparently wasn’t intentional. Meyer thinks that was “our flourish”.

As Hugo tests Bart’s vision, “This is kind of a dark edge. They’re perhaps going to blind a small child.”

“We became sign happy as the show progressed.”

When Bart starts suddenly speaking French, Meyer chimes in sarcastically, “I buy it! I hope you do too!” – HA!

Next comment, “Bart did seem to forget his French over the years. It didn’t really come up that much after this.” – There’s a gently parental sympathy for this episode from Meyer. Archer is kind of straightforward about what happened, Meyer has more of an attitude like, “Yes, I know my child’s art project sucks, but it’s still nice”.

Archer pleased with how the end scene with the swat team and Sparrow in the treehouse came together.

Apparently the FBI guy with the megaphone wasn’t an effect. They used a real bullhorn at the microphone. And it sounds a lot like Shearer, so now I have the image of Derek Smalls pointing a bullhorn at a studio mic.

“It was a little unclear what happened there with Adil’s microphone. He seemed to drop it at an inopportune moment. Perhaps we could’ve thought a better way for him to give himself away.” – See what I mean? Meyer clearly doesn’t think this one is quite up to snuff by later standards, but he’s not angry about it or anything, just noting them.

“But it worked. People got the point.”

Adil: “I hope this experience will not sour you on the student exchange program.”
Meyer: “I like that line. It’s a subtle line, but I thought it was really funny.”


I enjoy these older commentaries where there’s only two or three people. Not only does it make telling people apart easier, but you get more of a sense for how they actually feel about the episode. If you want to hear this one yourself, it’s on Disc 2 of the Season 1 collection.


Saturday Morning Cartoons

“Perhaps you’d be more comfortable talking to Snappy the Alligator.” – Mr. Smithers
“Maybe.” – C.M. Burns

The episode where Burns sells out to the Germans occurs halfway through Season 3. By this early point in the series we’ve already seen him gleefully cancel employee Christmas bonuses, run for governor, run down a child in his car, commit Homer (involuntarily) to a mental hospital, and rage scald Smithers with hot tea. As a human being he is comprehensively vile, uncaring about the pain his actions inflict and rich enough to cause damage on a scale most evil people could only dream about.

And yet . . . as Smithers himself says, “People think that because he’s rich and powerful and cruel he doesn’t have feelings like other men, but he does.”

This is part of what makes Burns such an enduring villain. Sure, he’s a grotesque; but there’s a logical (albeit vile) humanity to him. Like many an old person, he has regrets about how he could have spent his younger years, but his are about “wiping out nations with the stroke of a pen”. And as twisted as he is, he does have a tender side. Expressing it and indulging it just happens to destroy people’s lives, but to Burns that is incidental.

Enter Snappy the Alligator, a hand puppet Smithers uses to soothe his boss and coax him into revealing what he’s really feeling. It’s ludicrously childish, but it’s also funny as hell. A hundred million dollar decision upon which the fates and livelihoods of his workers depend comes from an old man talking to some green felt.

That’s Burns in a nutshell: bugfuck crazy, indiscriminately cruel, and deeply, deeply sad. Lucky for no one, his folk guitar class was cancelled and he bought the plant back. Capricious comedy at its finest.


Sunday Evening Cartoons: Brad Goodman vs. Rona


“Let’s look at the rainbow. What’s in there?” – Brad Goodman

I’ve never had much use for “best episode” or “favorite season” discussions. I always enjoy talking Simpsons, even when I’m drinking my chicory, but trying to definitely say this essentially flawless episode is better than that essentially flawless episode has never seemed fun to me.

That being said, I recognize that “Marge vs. the Monorail” will always top “Bart’s Inner Child” in terms of popularity. The song alone puts the monorail episode ahead. But the one and only thing I never liked about “Marge vs. the Monorail”, even as a kid, was that Lyle Lanley gets caught. I get the joke (“Where have I heard that name before?”), and it is funny, but it implies an improbable karmic justice that the show usually doesn’t indulge.

“There he is, seat 3F!”

Lanley is a con artist who happens to sell monorails instead of band uniforms or patent medicine, and he fits right in with the show’s love of the lowest of the low brow aspects of American business. The man is an obvious charlatan, full of shit from tip to toe and not the least bit shy about it. He’s great. But the only way the show can give him his comeuppance is to have his plane make an unscheduled stop in North Haverbrook. Again: it’s funny, but the need for a justice is a little teevee.

On that score, I’ve always preferred “Bart’s Inner Child” for the simple reason that Brad Goodman is a *much* better con-man than Lyle Lanley for one simple reason: he gets away. By the time the people of Springfield realize that his self help bullshit is actually bullshit, they’ve built him a statue and he’s five towns down the road telling another sold out auditorium about the Feel Bad Rainbow.

“God is angry. We’ve made a false idol of this Brad Goodman!”

Goodman was based on Tony Robbins and a bunch of other 80s/90s scam artists who specialize(d) in acknowledging that people’s lives are bad and then peddling false hope. And if you’re wondering how Brad Goodman would be doing in the age of corona, well, Tony’s Twitter feed tells you all you need to know:

As the plague descends on the entire world, he’s plugging a movie and linking to crazy winger bullshit that says coronavirus isn’t that big a deal. When the plague passes, Robbins and guys like him will be running the exact same scam because that’s what Brad Goodman would do:

We all suffered during coronavirus, but we’ve survived, and that kind of toughness can help you succeed in life and in business. In my new book, I chart the seven paths of excellence . . .

The grift must go on. That’s what high hats like Goodman and Robbins believe, that there is no problem people face that cannot be solved by them giving you money.

In less immediately trying circumstances, this is the kind of admirable crookedness upon which fortunes are founded. In this perilous moment, it is, to quote the inimitable Al Swearengen, “Sick fucking ghoulish thinking.”

“What a type you must consort with, that you not fear beating for such an insult.”

A lot of people are going to die. No getting around that. But past the millions of sudden and unnecessary deaths that will traumatize populations the world over, there are the shitheel cockdents that believe they will get away with it. And they’re probably right.

Fuck them. Let’s go to the old mill anyway. Get some cider.*

(*2m social distancing still applies.)




Thursday Evening Cartoons

“We need a cure! We need a cure!” – Mob
“Why the only cure is bedrest. Anything I give you would only be a placebo.” – Dr. Hibbert
“Where do we get these placebos?!” – Panicked Woman
“Maybe there’s some in this truck!” – Panicked Man

Howdy, campers, how’s everyone doing with the ongoing unpleasantness? My life has certainly been turned upside down, though I’m on team “Stuck At Home” not team “Doing All the Real Work”, so I’ve got it fairly easy. And while there are a lot of people that I love and care about who are at risk or already suffering, so far nobody has died or lost their home. Don’t know how long that’s going to last, but [fingers crossed].

I have been knocked off my tram lines on doing Quotes of the Day. Those got shaky a couple years ago and moreso of late. Then with the “wait, what day is it” experience of the last three weeks, I finally fucked it up and let it lapse all the way. I guess eleven years and change will have to suffice for now.

Instead, let’s take a look at a timely Simpsons episode, the first act of which has nicely captured our real life episode of Love in the Time of SARS-CoV-2, or, more festively, SARS 2: Corona Boogaloo.

The “Osaka Flu” opening of “Marge in Chains” goes from Homer ordering useless junk off the TV to the town being abandoned by its rich and powerful to irresponsible media coverage and panicked mobs run amok in search of any protection (no matter how ineffective). About the only thing the episode wasn’t cynical enough about was that nobody blamed Akira for it, though, given that it was written at a time when the federal government was trying to make amends with Japanese-Americans and seemed to be progressing in many areas, that’s at least understandable.

But for the most devastatingly on the nose from a quarter century ago, we have Ned Flanders’ lament. A wealthy, white, Evangelical father of two who almost certainly would’ve voted Republican in 2016, Ned cries out, “Oh, the network slogan is true! Watch FOX and be damned for all eternity!”.



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