The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August. And this is Episode 388 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig is off in London working on Chernobyl, but luckily I have Matt Selman here to fill in. Matt is the cohost of Duly Noted, the official Scriptnotes after show. He also serves as an executive producer of The Simpsons. Welcome back Matt.
Matt Selman: I took a break from my duties at Duly Noted, which are pretty extensive, but I was able to squeeze this in.
John: Yes. So our longtime listeners can find Duly Noted in the Scriptnotes bonus episodes.
Matt: We should do another one. We should get another together.
John: Absolutely. There’s actually meta news that you could talk about in an upcoming episode, so it would be good. Nothing bad happened to Craig. Nothing like that.
Matt: OK good.
John: That’s not that. But Craig is gone but I have you here because we are going to talk about The Simpsons. In particular, I want to talk about–
Matt: Unlike Craig I listen to the podcast and I’m a fan of it. So I hopefully will be able to provide good information for you.
John: Fantastic. Well, I want to talk to you about Simpsons, but I want to talk about specifically the episode that just aired on Sunday. So hopefully I tweeted loud enough that people actually watched the episode. We’ll do a synopsis of sort of what happens. But I mostly want to talk about the whole process of making an episode because we’ve talked about the process of making a movie, but The Simpsons is a specific kind of thing. So, it’s not just any other half hour comedy. It’s a very long process. And I’ve been surprised talking with you about how much changes even up to the last minute. So we’re going to get through the whole look at how you make an episode of The Simpsons, particularly this episode which is so weirdly meta and felt like it was – not that Scriptnotes itself informed it, but there was a conversation about a podcast about making–
Matt: It didn’t not inform it.
John: All right. Because you were the host of Duly Noted, so therefore you had a special insight into how this would all work. Let’s go through a quick summary. So if you watched the episode or you didn’t watch the episode this will get you a baseline understanding of what happens in the episode. The show opens, we’ve got Bart and Lisa on the school bus. They’re delayed because there’s a truck accident up ahead. There’s a petting zoo. There’s chaos. There’s a question about what a selfie actually entails.
Bart ends up taking Lisa’s phone and listening to an episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, where Marc Maron is interviewing Krusty the Clown about the Sands of Space. He gets Krusty to finally talk about this thing called the Sands of Space. Krusty explains that at the time he had starred in a high concept comedy called Dog Cop. And let’s take a listen to Dog Cop.
Krusty the Clown: Dog Cop. Where I played a murdered police officer who is reincarnated as his partner’s pet Saint Bernard.
Male Voice: Five smashed squad cars. 100 exploding helicopters. And the mayor’s wife has fleas. Turn in your badge and your collar. You’re suspended for a month.
Krusty the Clown: For me that’s like seven months.
Male Voice: Dog Cop!
Krusty the Clown: Suddenly everyone in town was dying to be in the Krusty business and I was dipping shrimp with all the big talents I once longed to see fail. And, of course, what the studio wanted most was a sequel.
Male Voice: OK, Krusty, we’ve got Good Cop, Dog Cop 2: Golden Revolver, all lined up. Who did the – the two Terrys. They just turned in a great script. Savage Sam Bogberg is all set to direct. So when do we start?
Krusty the Clown: I get it. You think I’m just some hack out to churn out lazy sequels for a quick buck.
Male Voice: Yes.
Krusty the Clown: This is my next movie.
Male Voice: The Sands of Space? Krusty are you kidding me? This is the most famously unfilmable book in history. It made Kubrick a recluse. It drove Coppola to wine. The four Jeffs tried to write a script but even they couldn’t crack it.
Krusty the Clown: When I bought this at an adult bookstore by mistake it changed my life. There’s a light that shines from star to star, from soul to soul, connecting everyone in the universe. Wow.
Female Voice: It’s not landing for me that the hero doesn’t refuse the quest before he accepts the quest. Is that landing for you?
Krusty the Clown: Look, I’m not drinking out of one more toilet until you green light this movie. And I’m not playing a dog either.
Male Voice: All right. We’ve got a comic who wants to make a hippie-dippy science fiction vanity project. Here’s what we do. We humor him and we make it. Dirt cheap.
Female Voice: We could shoot it in Mexico for nothing.
Male Voice: We hire a has-been to direct it and never-was-s to do everything else.
Male Voice: After it bombs that clown will come scooting his butt back here to make all the Dog Cop movies we want. Two more.
Matt: I’m laughing at my own work.
John: Well, from there we see the making of the movie. Krusty takes a bunch of folks from Springfield to Mexico, including Homer and Marge before they had kids. Krusty fires the director, decides to do it himself. He becomes paralyzed by indecision, so Marge becomes his personal assistant and helps him decide what to do. Krusty ultimately becomes frustrated/jealous that Marge is spending more time with Homer and tries to get him killed. Ultimately the film is traded to Mexican kidnappers and never comes out in the United States.
So that’s the history of like why this–
Matt: But somehow the Mexican kidnappers do edit it and put in all the effects and music somehow.
John: Yes. Which is impressive.
Matt: They did it. I don’t know. They pulled it off.
John: Yeah, I mean, the Mexican film industry is a force to be reckoned with. So, this episode, let’s start from the very, very beginning. What was the initial idea for this episode and how long ago did that happen?
Matt: Well, the process that I use at The Simpsons is one of like vast creative luxury, but it is so comfortable to me at this point that I don’t know any other way to do it. So this began – and I hope this is a useful tidbit for writers and creators and thinkers out there. It began as a goofy room-run of silliness that wasn’t related to what we were working on at the time. It was just like the idea if Krusty had been in some terrible movie in the ‘80s, like Three Amigos that had kind of been disavowed. But what was the back – the making of that movie Three Amigos had insane making of back story. And so we were just riffing on kind of a crazy cocaine-fueled adventure that he would have had making a bad movie in Mexico. And I believe there was a climax in which all of the cocaine was poured into a river and the fish got so whacked-out on drugs that you could run across the fish and escape the bad guys.
And also the movie was an excuse – there wasn’t even a real reason to make the movie. They were smuggling drugs in the film reel canisters. So this was just like a pure flight of fancy. But having been at The Simpsons for literally over two decades I just – we have great assistants who are very thorough and was just, “Well just write that down. Put it in a document.” And, you know, maybe it’ll turn into something, maybe it won’t. And we’d forget about it.
John: So this room-run, this was a 20-minute conversation? Or long did the room go on this?
Matt: Yeah. Just a goofy 20-minute conversation. And I’m like just write it down. What’s the harm in writing it down?
John: How long ago would this have been?
Matt: I mean, three years, four years ago.
John: So was it something like Jodorowsky’s Dune? Was that a thing? What do you think was informing this idea?
Matt: It was the movie Three Amigos.
John: So it was Three Amigos.
Matt: At the time.
John: So it was the idea of these incredibly high concept comedies that were just goofy stuff, the stuff that was selling at the time.
Matt: Right. And that movie, like Three Amigos I guess at the time was – how could this movie fail? It’s the three funniest guys in the world with this big concept and yet it was a total dud. But I bet the making of that movie is a pretty great story.
So, it kind of sat there on a hard drive for a while and then I was looking through the old ideas and I kind of dug it out and I started saying, you know what, there’s something here but what we have is too silly. It’s far too silly. But the idea of Krusty making a movie and the real story of a movie is interesting. And I’ve always loved behind the scenes of how movies are made. And good Simpsons movies will dive into a subculture and dig deep and dig up the dirt and really explore. That’s exciting to me to reinterpret the world in our wacky animation style.
But then I thought, and I know from past experience, if there isn’t something that our super executive producer James L. Brooks isn’t going to hook into you’re in big trouble. So it’s like what’s the emotion? What’s the character move? What’s the human broken-ness that you can tap into? Because if you don’t have that all the cocaine jokes in the world aren’t going to save you.
John: Now, so the idea of a film production is not new to The Simpsons. So there was Radioactive Man. There’s Mr. Burns’ great movie he’s making about himself. So the idea of film people coming to Springfield isn’t new, but the idea of the behind the scenes history of how this movie happened was an idea you hadn’t explored.
Matt: Right. And that felt fun. So what’s cool about our show is that you have other things that you think are neat that you can plug into ideas and they fit together nicely in the Matt Groening animation style. So like, you know, like I broke into showbiz in the early ‘90s. You guys broke in around the same time. And it was a different era then. Big spec scripts were being written. You know, high concept movies with goofy premises. Wasn’t Craig’s first movie like Space Squirrels or something?
John: Yep. Rocket Man.
Matt: And no shame in that, Craig. Have fun with those virtual effects in England. So, that felt like this is a distinct era that we are no longer living in – there was a line in the script that I cut. It was Krusty’s voiceover nostalgia saying, “This was back in an era when movies weren’t made by giant corporations. They were made by medium-sized corporations.” Which I like that line but I changed it at the last minute because it was in the voiceover of the section where you’re seeing all the goofy high concept movies and I thought you needed an explanatory VO about what is high concept. It was cleaner to have one idea happening at one time.
John: So we do a golf cart tour past a bunch of one sheets of the kinds of movies that are being made. And that really was a thing that was happening. This was a time where Disney was trying to make 40 movies a year. It was a really different time.
Matt: Right. The kind of joke we’ve done before, but it’s Pope and a Half, and Nerd Mom, and Nunjas, like that’s nun ninjas. But that was an exciting time. And Premiere Magazine. Like that’s–
John: Oh yeah. Premiere Magazine was a big moment for me.
Matt: John was in Premiere Magazine.
John: I was. But I would say that Premiere Magazine was how I first found out that there was a job screenwriting.
John: Because it’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t popular culture attention to the making of movies, just like movies would come out. Oh, that movie exists? But it was the first time I think I saw the word screenwriter. That was the monthly magazine that actually talked about how movies were made.
Matt: It was a good magazine. There was real reporting in it. There was gossip.
John: And Libby Gelman-Waxner with a Paul Rudnick character.
John: Talking about movies.
Matt: So I think young guys in college in the early ‘90s would see Premiere Magazine and think this is like a fun, cool, dynamic industry that’s – and I’m getting a peek. And it doesn’t really exist anymore now that journalism has evolved into whatever it is.
John: So just a pit in this. So one of the things that The Simpsons has chosen to do is that time just slides forward. Decades just slide forward. So now the past, Homer’s past could be in that ‘90s because the show has been on the air so long. It’s just like it’s always that many years ago is whenever that past was. And so even more explicitly now. He was in the grunge era. He was in the ‘80s.
Matt: I wrote that and that enraged everybody. But it wasn’t supposed to say the other episodes didn’t happen. It wasn’t a retcon. It was just playful, my friends. It was playful.
John: Yeah. But I mean essentially it says the past is however old Bart and Lisa is. Basically that’s how far back it goes.
Matt: And like honestly at this point sometimes Marge and Homer were kids in the ‘70s, sometimes they were kids in the ‘90s. There’s no rules. We’re in unchartered territory of a 30-year-old show where the characters don’t age.
John: But in this episode clearly this moment that happened happened at the height of sort of peak high concept comedies and Krusty the Clown was apparently a big enough star to star in one these things as the dog in Good Dog–
Matt: Good Cop, Dog Cop.
John: Good Cop, Dog Cop.
Matt: Good Cop, Dog Cop. And his partner is Charlie Sheen, but we don’t say it.
John: All right. Very nice. So he’s in this comedy. There’s the natural desire to make two sequels to this comedy.
John: And he’s doing that thing that actors do which is now they have their passion project and they’re going to go off and make their passion project.
John: At one point did you get to the idea of like, OK, it’s definitely Krusty who is in this moment and it’s Krusty trying to make this big artistic movie and not Three Amigos?
Matt: You know, when you’re pitching out a story on a TV show like ours there are certain ideas I sort of refer to as being sticky. And the idea that like Krusty as a pretentious – so once we got excited about the idea of a flashback, you know, movie-movie, behind-the-scenes making of a movie story with Krusty as kind of the star-director, him being an out of control maniac who wanted to do a pretentious movie seemed like the funniest thing. I mean, it might have been a cleaner idea if he just wanted to do like the Razor’s Edge, or like an art house movie or a character drama, but sci-fi Dune pretentious stuff.
John: It gives you all the comedy of trying to make way too ambitious of a movie.
Matt: Yes. So then we said that’s important.
John: So you’ve dusted off this idea. Do you bring that back into the room to talk about it?
Matt: All in the room. I love the room. I’m a creature of the room.
John: So, does this mean that one day as everyone is gathering in the room you say, “OK, today we’re dusting off this idea and we’re going to talk through how we would do an episode that is a flashback story of Krusty trying to make this movie and go.” And that’s just the discussion of the day?
Matt: Mm-hmm. It’s very casual. Because…it’s always good when you can trick writers into thinking that digressing is actually easier than the work they’re supposed to be doing. So we probably were supposed to be working on a specific task, like get this rewrite done today. But, hey, let’s just screw around and talk about this pie-in-the-sky insane idea that I’ve always had a fancy for. And I probably at this point had remembered, oh, I love Marc Maron, I love podcasts. That as a wrap-around device–
John: The framing device that gets you in and out of the story.
Matt: Would be good. And everyone, of course, said that was a good idea. Of course. Maybe they thought it was bad and they just didn’t tell me.
John: But it feels like the why now hook and how you get into it. You wouldn’t have done that as – if you’d had this idea ten years ago that wouldn’t have been the way that you got into it. It would have been some sort of like AMC cable presents ways of getting into and out of those moments.
Matt: Right. But then you start to get excited because it’s like, OK, it would be fun to see Marc Maron. It’s going to be fun to do a flashback show. It’s going to be fun to show Krusty undergoing the stresses of being a director, which is a hard job. But then the thing that I would say would come out of that day of let’s say official work on it was the Marge helping him not be a monster relationship.
John: So that’s the emotional center of this.
John: And they are characters we’ve never seen really interact together in a meaningful way, so they’re an interesting dynamic. And, you know, directors become monsters. It’s just part of the job. They become insecure monsters. I think there’s a line, you know, the combination of narcissism and insecurity that feeds.
Matt: Or as Krusty says, “I’ve become what every director is: an amiable guy who makes everyone suffer through his hellish process.” And I can’t remember if Jim Brooks pitched us that line, or if we wrote that about him. But I think he wrote it. Also, so like that was maybe the next step in it was like, OK, Krusty is freaking out. He doesn’t know how to do it. And originally he was just much more of the monster from the get go. We actually wrote a funny scene that didn’t fit where he was hiring high-priced screenwriters and they were just throwing everything out and changing everything on the set. More kind of a generic bad director overcompensating by being a jerk because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s afraid of looking weak.
And then Marge is like a calming influence who is able to help him straighten out. We’ve all seen these relationships in people and their assistants. In fact, even in the movie I’ll Do Anything by Jim Brooks, like Albert Brooks who is a monster producing and he has a straight-talking Julie Kavner, also Marge actually, who kind of can give him the truth and calm him down and help him be kind of a better person. Another Jim Brooks-y kind of theme.
So we knew Jim would like that relationship. And I thought it was nice and specific and not something you’d seen a thousand times.
John: So at the end of this day you have this relationship between Krusty and Marge and that’s going to be one of the emotional centerpieces of the story. Is there a document? What do you have at the end of that day’s work?
Matt: We just have a document with notes on it. The writer’s assistant taking notes of the stream of consciousness. And then I can read that over later and edit it down and sort of know what the things were that we were really into and what were just the things that were a dead end and weren’t really going anyway.
John: Now, at some point are you pitching this up to Jim? What is the process of saying like, OK, this is a story idea versus this is definitely an episode?
Matt: So, once we had that Marge and Krusty assistant-director kind of mother-helper-rabbi, you know, dysfunctional/functional relationship I felt like, OK, this is going to show now. Jim will like this. Because that’s the important thing. We don’t have network notes. We don’t have studio notes. We don’t have any notes, but if Jim doesn’t like it at the table read that’s not good. And, you know, if he doesn’t like it he’s also not wrong. So listen when he doesn’t like it, because he knows.
So, originally there was also another huge subplot about Homer and Marge then having an above-the-line/below-the-line romance and that drawing a wedge between them that like Marge got promoted to be hanging out with the director and Homer was a grunt. And that’s a very specific thing, above-the-line/below-the-line. And that’s something where I feel like, if I can jump ahead a little bit by accident, having a team of creative people you respect help you build these things who are honest with you and say, “Look, Matt, that’s too inside. That’s another idea. Don’t jam too many ideas into this. You don’t need to draw that distinction. The Marge/Krusty thing is interesting. The fact that Krusty is then jealous of Homer, not that he has lust for Marge but just can’t handle his assistant thinking about anyone but him in a super narcissistic way is an interesting enough wedge. You don’t need that above-the-line/below-the-line subplot.”
The episode is also a real love letter from guys who have mostly not worked on movie sets to physical production of movies and the crew energy of like the people that actually have to do the job rather than the thing that you actually see. And we tried to put in lots of specific references to that crew culture which is also deep and fun, like guys playing hacky-sack which before smartphones they used to do. And the importance of your kind of breakfast and just how the inane decisions of the people at the top wreak havoc on the people who actually have to physically do the thing.
And so I really hope that people in movies would watch this and think, oh yeah, this is an affectionate loving take on literally making something that might suck.
John: Yeah. And I’ll say that in this episode we see a lot of familiar Simpsons faces in their younger forms but they don’t tend to do a lot.
John: They’re slightly younger versions of their characters but it’s not entirely clear why they’re there in the first place and we just choose not to worry about it.
Matt: Right. They just hired the cheapest crew they could.
John: And people somehow from Springfield.
Matt: They needed jobs.
John: Yeah. Which is fine.
Matt: Which is a great thing about the show that like huge cheats even on great shows that are Simpsons-like, like Parks and Rec, you couldn’t just have everyone on Parks and Rec go to Mexico and make a movie. Well, you could. I don’t know. But that’s a super–
John: You’d have to really explain why they’re doing it. And every character would have to articulate sort of exactly what they’re doing there and being in that moment. So at what point is there a script? At what point is there a script that people are actually sitting down and doing a read on?
Matt: So here’s the process. I believe I then had enough, a couple times a year we’ll do these elaborate story pitches that are kind of like show and tell days or talent show that I really like these days because most of our work is so collaborative, but then everyone can go off and whip up something on their own and pitch it to Matt Groening and Al Jean and Jim Brooks and see what their reaction is. I always found that super fun. Obviously some people are more nervous about it than me, but I always just thought it was fun to put on a little show.
So I took those notes, maybe put it into like a six-page document that I then pitched and took about 15-minutes. I was pretty confident that they would like it, just because I knew that relationship was something Jim would like. I knew the Marc Maron wraparound was something people would respond to.
John: So this is a six-page document. Are you reading this aloud?
Matt: Reading aloud and kind of performing it a little bit, too.
John: And does that have act breaks? It has a sense of–?
Matt: It has act breaks, yeah.
John: And so it has a sense of how you’d get through it. And how close is that six-page document to the episode that aired on Sunday?
Matt: Like log line, like 80%. But like execution 40%.
John: OK. So I mean a lot changed in the actual writing. And in this version, the six-page version, are there jokes? Are there dialogue jokes?
Matt: Yeah. There are little dialogue jokes, but usually if they sell the story. So if they’re just side jokes they don’t really help sell – unfortunately, I never knew this when I started this business, but you are a salesman, or saleswoman, or salesperson, and you are selling. If you have a job you’re selling. If you don’t have a job you’re selling. John and Craig have said it all the time. You have to take your personality and somehow make that into a salesperson if you’re going to convince people to give you money to think of dumb stuff.
John: Which is crucial. Even if I’m going in on a rewrite on a thing on a thing that I wrote the first, I’m still a salesman going in there to describe this is what I’m going to do and this is why it’s going to be better and this is why you’re going to be excited to read this next draft. You are constantly selling. And that’s a hard thing to remember as a writer. If you’re a novelist you’re not doing that same job.
Matt: And even if you’re on staff, the selling begins.
John: Here’s an interesting thing about being on staff though. I mean, in that room you are constantly trying to sell your idea if you have a pitch for a thing or a pitch for a joke. But you also have to acknowledge that if they don’t buy it just not feel hurt that they didn’t buy it and move on to the next thing.
Matt: It’s true. It’s a kind of bizarre Zen tough-skin-ness that you develop over time. You’re just like I’m here to help. What about this? No response. Great. I’ll think of something else. And you kind of get the hang of it.
John: So the six-page version goes well and that’s just to the little small group? That’s just to the four of them?
Matt: That was in front of all the writers, a big conference room in Fox Tower with sushi lunch, the whole deal. But I like it.
John: And so it’s a couple times a year you do that big thing. And so it’s really mapping out like these are episodes for the season. So how many episodes would usually be discussed in that kind of room?
Matt: Well usually everyone would kind of pitch one or two and see how many we could do in a day. And maybe like half, a third get approved, or some get approved, and then we change our mind. I’m pretty senior on the show so usually whatever I pitch they trust me that I’ll be able to make it work. But I mean when I pitched it Matt Groening said, “I like it but can it be in the present? Can they be making the movie now?” And I sort of thought to myself, well, we lose a lot of what’s special about this if we do that.
John: It also – it is Radioactive Man again in a way, because it’s the present tense. It’s about the actual production and Lisa and Bart become crucial. A nice thing about setting it in the past is it gets rid of some characters who you don’t want to have be a key point in it.
Matt: There’s that thing I love of like this identifying a time period and satirizing it, like this ‘90s big budget high concept Premiere Magazine era which I just love saying, oh, this is a thing, and we think this is a thing, and I think you might know this is a thing, too.
John: Yeah. So in a recent episode we talk about an Uber kind of, or a self-driving car company comes to town. That’s an example of like it has to be set right now and that episode may feel really dated five years from now, as soon as everything does just change.
Matt: When we’re all breathing methane? Yeah, definitely.
John: Yeah. Yeah. You know, versus this episode which will – unless podcasts go away as your wrapping device – but really the basic idea of the episode will still be valid 20 years from now because it was set in that past.
Matt: I hope so. And it’s a vague past.
John: It’s a vague past. But we get sort of what it generally feels like. You’re not making big jokes about how big cellphones are or anything like that.
John: Most of it feels like it could be–
Matt: But we put special love and attention into trying to show that the technology like the film editing stuff and the camera was all more old school.
John: He’s cutting on a flatbed. It was definitely old school. Now, so this pitch off the six pages goes well.
John: So that becomes an episode. Does that episode have a number on it already? At what point do you say this is definitely something that’s going to happen in 2019 it’s on the boards?
Matt: So the episode gets approved. They like it. And they just send me off to kind of figure it out. And it doesn’t have a number yet because my job at the show is – I’m so lucky to have it because I’m not the showrunner, but I get to sort of show run various episodes during the year that I go crazy on, like this one. And I also help out our awesome regular showrunner, Al Jean, with his stuff. And so it’s a really great collaboration and it works so well. I’m so happy to have it. Because I get to do goofy stuff and I get to be helpful.
John: Well, it’s also nice that your show isn’t serialized in any meaningful way.
Matt: Oh my god.
John: I mean, you could move stuff around. It doesn’t matter.
Matt: That would be a nightmare.
John: So, you get the green light to say like, OK, let’s make that. Are you going off to write a first script? How does that start?
Matt: So what I do – I’m so busy, for me to take the two weeks to write my super polished draft is not the best use of my time. What I will kind of do is write the fastest script-y outline, like a 25-page script outline that I feel is the most useful to begin the rewriting as possible and get it into the room as I can. For me the skill of turning in that great draft that you can shoot no super applicable to our show. To write a super useful outline that is easy to rewrite and hopefully the scenes and ideas are organized correctly is a useful document. So I just wrote that as fast as I could.
John: So this kind of scriptment thing, so you said it’s like 25 pages. So it has some dialogue in places. It has headers that indicate what the basic scenes are. But with the acknowledgment that like almost everything in this document can change?
Matt: Oh yeah. Because everyone knows everything can and may well change.
John: So this document comes out, everyone in the room reads it, and then you spend, like today we are going to tackle this thing?
Matt: Right. Now we’re really going to finish breaking the story.
John: So based on that you’re asking, OK, is this really the right way in? What are some alt ways to get into this moment? What is the best version of this beat, whether it’s specifically this scene or a way of doing this thing? Things like in the episode there’s the truck accident and there’s the petting zoo and there’s the Chief Wiggum and the goat. Does that kind of joke happen then or does it happen later?
Matt: Maybe that comes even a little later where you start to do the page by page rewrite. Because we just wanted a silly way in that kind of was fun and goofy. Get the show started. It really at that point was still just what you were just saying, like maximize the premise. I’m always thinking what have we missed. If this is the premise we don’t want to forget anything because this is our shot.
John: One weird thing about this episode is that there’s not really much of a B-plot. There’s not a B-story where this character is having a completely separate adventure. Homer has a little bit of an emotional through line with his imagined kids as cacti, but it’s very late and it’s not a major thing to it. And from an early stage you had a sense that this was just really an A-story episode?
Matt: Right. I mean, I don’t love B-stories. On our show I would love to put a little mini story at the beginning that leads into an A-story. And if you’re doing it good the A-story engages all the family members in some way, or maybe not. But I like to just stay on – to me every Simpsons should be like a little movie and movies mostly – this has changed – but mostly don’t have B-stories that don’t relate super powerfully to the A-story. And, although I loved Game Night and that just had a B-story. That was a great movie. I thought it was super funny and there was a funny B-story about this guy’s wife doing a guy who may or may not have been Denzel. And it’s just like, oh, it’s like a sitcom B-story. But it was funny. Anyway.
John: So you have the scriptment, you’re in the room. How many days work are you in the room saying like, OK, we’re going to beat the hell out of this episode and figure out what this thing is going to look like?
Matt: I would say it was maybe two or three days to really just – yeah, that premise. We have this kind of outline script document treatment. And let’s maximize the premise here. And that was where another important thing came. Another idea that I really love that about this show because it’s near and dear to my heart is that of creative insecurity. Krusty isn’t just a bad director anymore. He’s not just an abusive monster, although he is. It’s that being a director you have to make so many decisions and appear so confident and he freaks out. He melts and he implodes under all the people asking him, like there’s a scene where he just walks through the set on the first day and everyone is asking him stuff. And he loses his mind. And anyone in the rarified job of show business can relate to that.
John: It’s what kept me from directing for a long time. I was worried I was not going to have answers to those 4,000 questions a day. And then I realized like, oh wait, I actually do have the answers. Or sometimes the answer is none of the above, or I leave it to you to decide. There’s those choices. But it can be overwhelming to have to make decisions when you don’t want to make the decision.
Matt: I’ve never directed a movie, but you always people say you have to somewhat fake your confidence or you’re going to lose the crew and it’s just going to turn to mush. Where making a cartoon is so collaborative you can really say to people I don’t know, I’m not sure, what do you think. And I’m not passionate about this choice, but if you are convince me. And you can do that at every level from like editing to music to story-breaking to background jokes. You can really say to people I don’t know, I’m not sure.
And sometimes you are sure. I’m sure Marc Maron is a cool wraparound. But other stuff you want to listen to the staff and your partners and be like, “What’s up?”
John: Yep. So at the end of this three days of breaking, is this happening on a whiteboard?
Matt: Usually on the monitor. We had it on the monitor by now.
John: And so one person is responsible for typing on the monitor, updating an outline kind of thing for what’s happening?
Matt: Mm-hmm. He was typing into the scriptment at that point. Like chunks that we wanted to add, like that insecurity run and making that more specific.
John: Great. Aline describes that on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. There’s a pass that she’ll end up doing where her computer screen is up on the board and as they’re walking through it they’ll just be pitching alts and jokes and they’ll be working through that stuff. So you’re figuring out this thing. At the end of this there is something that looks like the script and you’ve all worked on it together. What is the next step for – is there a table read happening after this? What is the next step for that script?
Matt: So there’s one more step. Then we kind of go through and really joke by joke punch it up and make sure all the scenes are funny. And add that Wiggum thing. You’re kind of feeling it. Like feeling in your DNA at this point. Is this working? This is exciting. This is fun. You know, I may not be the most confident director in the world but I am passionate and excited and I like to get people passionate and excited that we’re doing something crazy and fun that maybe no other show would do, which is a wraparound double flashback set in the late ‘80s. So that’s the fun part is really to be a cheerleader and a gung-ho dude.
John: What’s different than any other TV show I’ve heard about is at no point was somebody sent off on script.
Matt: Right. Me writing that outline thingy was sort of the closest. Because I was doing this one, I just short-cutted that system.
John: Great. So usually on an episode would there be some writer who was assigned to go off and do that thing?
Matt: Yes. So we would have after days of room-breaking and maybe multiple outlines and beat sheets they would go and turn in a draft and then maybe even do a second draft.
John: So when we see a written by credit on The Simpsons is it generally the person who went off and did that?
John: OK. That’s usually the person who is credited for that. So you’ve gone through the joke punch up. Are you guys reading it aloud in a room for yourselves before the actors come in?
Matt: Yes. So I will do that also. Which is really fun, because it’s a good way to shake – if people are tired of looking at a script after maybe three or four days of solid punch up. Set it aside for a couple of days. Then just assign the parts to the writers in the room. And it’s fun. You can bring in the PAs and everyone can kind of do it. Make it a little party. And it’s a read out loud and it does give you a good newish clarity about what’s working, what’s not working, from jokes to like story confusion. Most important thing story confusion.
John: The script I should say, how many pages is it? And also you use that format that Craig didn’t even know existed which is the sitcom format where action is double spaced? Or at least it used to. Is it still?
Matt: We use a freaky hybrid which is sitcom double spaced dialogue but then action and everything else movie description.
John: Movie description. So it’s not all uppercase for actions and stuff?
Matt: Right. And I noticed watching it recently, and I didn’t even put this in, that when Marge is looking at the script for the movie within the show it is formatted like a Simpsons script, which we didn’t tell them to do that. But I was like oh that’s cute, I’ll leave that in. Although I did anally-retentively change – the script is written by four ‘80s screenwriters, Joe Eszterhas, William Goldman, Shane Black, and Nora Ephron.
John: It’s amazing.
Matt: But there were originally ampersands between them.
John: Oh no, they had to be ands.
Matt: And I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa. So I actually spent Rupert Murdock’s money–
John: To go in and–
Matt: To change and make those into A-N-Ds so that people would know it wasn’t a collaboration but a series of super expensive rewrites.
John: Now you’ve had your little in the room table reading. You have a script finally.
John: At what point are actors reading the script?
Matt: So then it’s scheduled, we’re in production, we’re like OK this is going to be show five of Season 30, so we know it’s coming. We copy read it. Print it out the day before. Send it to all the actors. They read it at the table. Jim comes in. Matt Groening comes in.
John: Will this be the only episode they’re reading, or they’re reading multiple episodes?
Matt: Just one. We just do one at a time. And then usually there are a lot of fun Simpsons-y guests there. And so it’s a little bit of like–
John: Who is a Simpson-y guest?
Matt: Like kids that are excited to see it. Fans and stuff. Or maybe, sometimes a random celebrity will be there. For a time Stephen Hawking was coming to table reads.
Matt: We would just look over and like there’s Stephen Hawking. But that’s a super important part of the process is like you’re kind of creating a radio play to sell a movie. And so you’ve got to put on a good radio play and then once that’s done then you can go make the movie.
John: I will say that even as I was cutting the audio for this little introductory clip it plays really well just as audio. Like you can actually follow most of what’s happening even without the visual gags.
Matt: Oh wow. Well thank you.
John: Yeah. But that radio play version is important.
John: And who is reading scene description during one of these things or are you just skipping it?
Matt: No, no. One of our writers, Mike Price, who is a very funny, jolly, well-spoken man, will read the stage directions so I can sort of sit there and sweat, flop sweat, and hope that Jim and Matt like it.
John: Now at this point a director has been assigned to the episode. Correct? Is that director in the room for the table read?
Matt: Yes. Usually the director will come, the animation director. So in this case it was Tim Bailey who is one of our veteran directors. So he usually is there because they know they’re going to be directing that. They’re already listening and getting ideas and–
John: Now you’re distinguishing between animation director and a voice director?
Matt: Right. Because I will usually do all the voice directing, or I will delegate it.
John: So voice directing being performances? Being sort of like figuring out this is – let’s try an alt, or we’re doing something different with this. And I forget now, are Simpsons’ actors generally recording in a room together or everyone is recording their lines separately?
Matt: It’s a mix. Like there usually is a record, an official record several days later where whoever is in town will go through the whole script and scenes and go through each scene four times and maybe do a couple pickups for certain lines. And it takes about four hours. But usually half the actors are there. And then we’ll have temp voices for the rest. And then you’ll be able to edit a rough cut of the show from that and you’ll pick up – like Hank Azaria lives in New York. So, we’ll usually pick up Hank later. That kind of thing.
John: Great. So you have voices now, you have animation director. When is the first person you as the person who are producing this episode are seeing those things marry together? What is the first version of the show that is an audio visual presentation for you?
Matt: The show used to be drawn with paper storyboards, like the way you would imagine animation happening. But now they draw the storyboards immediately onto a computer and so they can animate fairly easily and you skip that paper step. So, in about three weeks after I’ve turned in the audio track there’s what’s called the rough board pass where the rough animated storyboards are available. And I will usually go to a meeting at Fox Animation in the Valley and go over those over the course of the day with the director and the board artists and other animators and make sure everything is on the right track.
John: Great. And so at this point you’re looking at like that background doesn’t all match sort of your vision for what this new setting was supposed to look like?
Matt: Actually, John, the designs aren’t even final yet. It’s really more, so you have to kind of take a leap of faith that it’s going to look good.
John: Of course.
Matt: But what it looks like doesn’t matter. It’s more like camerawork. Staging. Timing. Especially on a show like this. Make it dramatic. You know, like should the camera be above the character? Should it be a close two-shot? Like what you would do in literally directing a movie. And it’s sort of a timing, camerawork, angles.
John: Now what I don’t have a sense of with The Simpsons because Family Guy you can tell they’re in a 3D environment more often, and sometimes South Park you can tell they’re in a 3D.
John: But are you guys in 3D sets? Or is everything flat the way it sort of looks?
Matt: Pretty flat. I mean, occasionally we’ll design something on a computer, like a car, or a helicopter, but it’s pretty 2D.
John: So it’s really shot-by-shot sort of thing that you’re drawing everything else in there. So, let’s back up and talk timeline overall. So, from that first idea and you had that first idea, you set it in the vault and forgot about it for a while, but from the time you dusted it off and said like, OK, room, let’s talk about this today, how long ago was that?
Matt: So I probably dusted it off like in October of 2017. Had the pitch ready by December 2017. Had the table read in March 2018. And now it’s going to air–
John: So almost a year later it airs?
John: And that is a pretty normal timeline?
Matt: That’s pretty normal. In fact, that’s even faster because it’s kind of a ten-month turnaround. Once you record the actors and have the table read that’s when production begins.
John: Great. And so production would normally be safely at ten months. Ten months after the table read is when the episode could come out. That’s a long time.
Matt: It is.
John: So, but then even as we were preparing for this episode you said like, oh, I think I’m done so I can send you a link so you can take a peek at it. How much stuff is changing after you’ve done – so I’m skipping over some steps here obviously.
John: So, you went through that rough board pass. Then you signed off. You did essentially final animation on things.
Matt: Right. So the rough board pass. Then they revise that. Then we screen the black and white animated boards for all the writers, like another month later after that.
John: And what do you want the writers to do there? To pitch alternate jokes? What are you looking for there?
Matt: First it’s like laugh or not laugh. Then is the story working? Is the story clear? Are the emotions strong? What are we saying? And then also obviously what jokes super suck? And by this point I sort of have in mind what I know I want to change having seen various steps. But I can wait until this stage to rewrite it.
John: And so in this rewrite is it sort of starred changes where like we’re going to swap out these things, we’ll rerecord these lines?
John: If there’s any visual stuff you want to change or cut. This black and white version, is that to time? Basically it’s going to fit within the shape.
Matt: It is roughly to time. It is not exactly to time. Because it is not technically animation. It is an animated storyboard. So then once we’ve done the rewrite on this animatic stage – and at this point the script will also be full of these incredibly lengthy detailed director’s notes. Like once we had I believe a 15-line director’s note about what a roasted hobbit foot should look like.
John: [laughs] I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that on the Twitter.
Matt: I think that might have been a little indulgent. But so then we’re really communicating with the directors from the writers’ room in as clear a way as we can to make sure the execution is everything we are dreaming of.
John: The artists who are drawing this show, which of those artists are here in the United States? Which of those artists are overseas?
Matt: They’re all in the United States. All of the creative part of the show is in Burbank. It’s the meticulous coloring and computer execution of all the between scenes, movements that are done in Korea. So the creativity is American-made baby.
John: Now, a thing I’ve noticed increasingly on The Simpsons is especially like the opening blackboard gag will have a lot of very current things. Obviously those are things you’re swapping out at the last minute. Is that just because with computers you can swap out what Bart’s writing or you can make little small choices?
Matt: Right. So, computers are so amazing that you can really make timely little tweaks at the last minute. If you have a great idea for a little – like we had an episode where Bart accidentally gets involved in the Christian moviemaking business. Another movie one. And the Friday before that aired, or no, the Friday before we screened it at the premiere I had the idea one of the background movies should be Crazy Rich Aslans.
John: Oh yeah.
Matt: Because Crazy Rich Asians had just come out and of course Narnia Aslan, Christian allegory. So that’s kind of little Simpsons-y joke that I’m in love with. And is such a treasure to be able to do those goofy little things. So I texted it to Al and like what do you think about this? He’s like great. And our super animation producer, Richard Chung, was able to pop it into the show and there it was.
Matt: Crazy Rich Aslans.
John: Finding a person to draw it and then you’re literally just sliding it in over the place of something that was there. Those are simple things. What were some of the smaller, simpler things you did on this episode in these last couple weeks?
Matt: Well, there was the idea that Krusty kept changing his mind about what color the sand should be. First it should be red, and so then you see people spray-painting the sand red. And then he changes his mind that it should be sand colored again. Because I just love people changing their minds, because I always change my mind and I always get yelled at for changing my mind. That kind of thing. It was that little screenplay screenshot.
John: So this like change it back to sand, so was that a new shot that had to be added so he could say that line? Or you’re swapping a different line in?
Matt: So we did the rewrite and then I would say in the script at the appropriate moment, “Now insert in the background characters with sand colored spray paint spray-painting over the red.”
John: You both added him saying it and you added a shot of them spray-painting it?
Matt: Right. So he first yells at the director and fires this old-timey director because the director clearly doesn’t understand his vision for the book this ridiculous movie is based on. And it’s this cheapo bad director that he fires whose name is Ford Brackford, by the way, who we don’t name but I thought was a good name.
John: Good name.
Matt: But that was funny, and god I love callbacks. So we just peppering it in through the script that, OK, we should see them spray-painting the sand red and then he should change his mind about that and have them go back to sand colored again.
Matt: It’s very expensive, by the way. This show is very expensive to make.
John: It is. It’s a luxury. So, but those kind of changes that’s probably budgeted into – that’s an expected thing to happen.
John: So it’s those last tweaks that just nudge it up a little higher.
Matt: I do try to be responsible most of the time. I do feel like I’m doing Fox, Disney, or whoever owns us a favor by making what I believe to be episodes that are watchable and rewatchable till the end of the world. So I feel like I have their best interests in heart if I go a little over budget. But obviously if I have some great idea way too late that’s super expensive, forget it. No, I can’t. I couldn’t sleep.
John: So this episode came out on Sunday. How many episodes are you kind of the point person working on for the next season and probably the season after that, right? Because there’s so much–
Matt: Right. There’s so much in the mix. I usually do about four a year, depending on how the vibe of the season is going. And so I already know what those four are. And I beginning on the ones for next season now.
John: All right. Last question about this episode. At what point did Homer and the cactus children come into the mix?
Matt: Great question. I really started to feel like, well, Bart and Lisa are just not in this show at all and they’re major characters. And of course the rules we’ve set up how are they going to be in it. So I just thought, like if I had a criticism of this episode is that like maybe that Homer/Marge story is a little bit kind of tacked on, you know, and maybe it doesn’t – if this were a movie that might not really hold up to scrutiny, like movie screenwriting, like what you guys do. But Simpsons is pretty flexible and so I know if you want to jam in a little bit of Homer worrying he’s not going to have a family because Krusty drives a wedge between him and Marge, or literally kills him, the show can sustain that kind of writing sloppiness or flexibility, whatever you want to call it.
But it was fun to get them in the show. And I do think Homer ripping off cactus Bart’s head and drinking the liquid from his neck is very funny and visual and surprising in a good way.
John: Absolutely. It’s a thing that has existed as long as The Simpsons has existed is that strangling Bart but sort of is an extra step on it.
Matt: So our world is very flexible that you can kind of jam in elements that because of the emotional history of the show don’t necessarily have to be 100% earned for like what The Simpsons story is happening.
John: Cool. We have some questions from Twitter I’m going to ask you.
Matt: Oh my god.
John: Jason Reid asked, “Has there ever been a pop culture or news event that you’ve wanted to depict on the show but decided against it for some reason?”
Matt: Well, Jason, I wish my brain memory worked better than it does.
John: I feel like there must be like a thousand examples of that where like–
Matt: There probably are.
John: Because I bet part of the decision process is like this is a thing that is important to us right now, but two years from now will it still be relevant.
John: You have to find a way to take a newsworthy event and generalize it enough that it actually makes sense overall.
Matt: Also so many newsworthy events are such a colossal bum-out right now, for example let’s say school shootings. What’s The Simpsons version of that? I don’t think there is one. Like South Park can go super hardcore on it, super dark, and make it their own and it works for them. But how would we touch that? There’s various issues that seem so sad now that what’s the funny way in? Or you just do it as a glancing joke rather than like this is a story.
John: Family Guy could do a school shooting joke.
John: South Park can do a school shooting joke. But Bob’s Burgers is not going to do a school shooting joke.
John: So there’s just a nature of the universe of the show about how you can get into those things.
Matt: And I think all those shows have such a strong creative point of view that we can kind of sit back and be like they’ll take care of it.
John: Joshua Sauer from Germany, hi Joshua.
Matt: Oh wow.
John: Writes, “I’d like to know if the show bible changed in any way since he started 22 years ago. Do they deliberately break rules they had in the ‘90s at some point to cover new territory, story, and structure wise?”
Matt: Well, I hate to break people’s heart, but I don’t think there is a bible. What there is is there’s 600 episodes, almost 650 episodes, and if you want to think of new things you can’t try to remember the 600. And I know it’s fun as a fan to watch the show and feel angry when you feel like something is similar and I respect that adrenaline rush in your head when you recognize something is being similar to something else. And I don’t dismiss it. But in order to do new things, again, we’re in unchartered territory here. We just have to think forward like what is funny and emotional and silly and satirical and visual to us today. That’s all we can do.
And I don’t really think that many people are holding us to task anymore. Like I would like to do another episode where a different monorail comes to town. If it’s a good story then do it. I’m not going to do that.
John: No. We had Zoanne Clack on the show from Grey’s Anatomy and she said that when they hire on a new staff writer they expect a staff writer to have seen every episode of Grey’s Anatomy and they’ll send them out of the room if they hadn’t. Do you expect your writers to have seen every episode of The Simpsons?
Matt: No. I don’t really. I mean, I think when we’re pitching stories it’ll be harder for them, because then a lot of us will remember like, oh, we already did an episode in which Marc Maron narrates a flashback about a fake movie from the late ‘80s, so we can’t do that again. But to me the most creatively paralyzing thing is looking in this giant red book that they sell of the first 20 seasons, let alone the 10 after that, and you just freeze up. Like you just have to look around the world and think of goofy stuff like what if Krusty had been in Three Amigos and what kind of crazy thing would that have led to. Or, like podcasts are a thing. Marc Maron is great. Let’s get him on.
I mean, also it doesn’t really make sense in the show. Did Krusty tell Marc Maron about Homer and Marge?
John: That doesn’t make–
Matt: Does he somehow later find out the details of their love triangle? The conceit – again, if this were a movie the conceit would be so muddy you would get a thousand notes that this doesn’t make sense. But our universe is pretty goofy.
John: It is goofy. Talk to me about how you find writers for your show, because you have a large staff, but some people are not there the whole time. So like Megan Amram who was a guest on our show, you actually met her on our show. You met her on stage.
Matt: That’s right. Scriptnotes baby.
John: And then you hired her on the show. But she’s a writer who comes in and then she leaves and goes to The Good Place. Is that a model that you’re going to – because you guys are kind of running all the time? Is that a model you think you’re going to be doing more in the future?
Matt: Well, I do like that model. That The Simpsons can take advantage of the peak TV style that every other writer in the world is subjected to of I’m doing ten episodes of this and I have to be thinking for my next job. Instead of saying every writer has to come and become a lifer literally like me, who has to sign a four-year deal and that’s that, you bring in interesting voices like Megan for four months at a time and then she’s in second position. She can go back to her Good Life [sic] or producing her Emmy-generating Internet shorts, or Emmy failing-to-generate Internet shorts, but she tried. You definitely tried.
John: Performance art pieces.
Matt: Yes. Performance art pieces. I love that fellowship model of not just every writer is ours forever, but just let’s bring in fun people who have had different experiences who can just inject new energy into the room and help us and then go on their merry way. And it’s not this pressure thing of like oh this is my job and I hope I get picked and da-da-da-da.
John: I think if there’s been a consistent complaint about The Simpsons since its inception is that it was a clubby group of Harvardy kind of folks who did a lot of it. And so I think it seems like this is an opportunity to bring in some folks and just let them be in your room for a while and mix it up.
Matt: I love that. I do think that’s certainly changing. We weren’t really ahead of the curve on that, but I do feel like we’re making some really good progress.
John: Carlos Sandoval writes, “Ask him about all the Kubrick references on the show, including in this episode, and of course the way he uses character voices in a unique way. By voices I mean they have a very defined personality.” So let’s first talk about Kubrick references. Why are there so many Kubrick references in the show?
Matt: Well, when the show first started it was really innovative that they were doing movie references. Now a sandwich commercial will have a Kubrick reference. Like when the show first began Homer rolled down some stairs and they played the Indiana Jones music. John, you and I were probably just fans of the show and like holy cow that TV show knows that movie exists. That was a cool – that was new. That was new.
And I think the early super writers, the classic showrunners of the show like David Mirkin and other people were huge film buffs. And all this stuff hadn’t been mined yet. And so like Dr. Strangelove and The Shining and these classic – we put a thing in recently from The Killing that no one really identified. Actually, the shot where Krusty is being peppered with questions from all his crew members about how to make the movie was sort of not The Killing, what’s the Kubrick one where they’re in the trenches? Paths of Glory?
Matt: That was Paths of Glory. It didn’t really come across. But in its origination there was sort of a Paths of Glory tracking shot of a person walking through a trench interacting with people.
Anyway, the show really made its mark by doing these pop culture mashups that we now take for granted. But for then it was just so innovative and we did a Hollywood show four or five years ago that was like a sequel to Clockwork Orange, like what happened when all the Droogs got older and got married and kind of sold out. Yeah, it was certainly full of – that one was certainly full of Kubrick references.
So it’s just part of the DNA of the show. Now what happens is someone will pitch something like, oh, that’s from a classic scene in Breaking Bad. And we’re like, oh, yes, that’s good, that’s funny. Because it’s hard to generate classic stuff now because everyone is watching everything and it’s all split up. So we’re running out of these culturally coalesced moments that you can spoof.
John: Well, Matt, congratulations on the episode. Congratulations on – it’ll be 22 years on the show?
Matt: Yeah, 22 Years.
John: Wow. That’s a long time. And a zillion episodes. Is there an episode already where Krusty celebrates his 1,000 episode of the Krusty the Clown Show?
Matt: Yeah. As the show ages, Krusty kind of – what happens to the show happens to Krusty. In fact, Megan Amram has an excellent Krusty episode she wrote coming up.
John: I can’t wait.
Matt: That I don’t want to say what the premise is, but it also involves Krusty and I’m very excited about it.
John: Very nice.
Matt: The Scriptnotes element of it is like even if you don’t have a giant staff and a big budget and all the luxuries of a four-decade running cultural behemoth at your fingertips, the idea of a silly idea that you like and just writing it down and keeping it in your back pocket and then to kind of digging it around and attaching other stuff to it can really pay off. So that’s the nugget of this, John.
John: Absolutely. In many ways this episode came out of that, you know, the scribbly thing, the idea you have in the middle of the night and you write it down. And you go back to it and you’re like, oh, this idea is actually about that thing. And that’s the experience of a lot of writers is that they’re not quite sure what they would do with that idea but it triggers something in them that they know is really a thing. And it became a thing.
Matt: Thanks for all these great questions. I love talking about this stuff. I’m going to live tweet this, or I will have live tweeted this. I’m going to explain every single detail of this. No one cares. But I’m going to write like a five-page document of tweets.
John: Great. It’s time for our One Cool Things.
Matt: One Cool Thing.
John: All right. My One Cool Thing is a video. It’s a bunch of Russian guys, I’m pretty sure, and they’re talking/arguing in a grubby hotel room. And there’s one heavyset drunk guy who is sort of middle of frame who doesn’t realize he’s being filmed as he’s trying to put on a sweatshirt. To say more than this would spoil it. But it’s one of the funniest things I sort of keep coming back to.
And he feels like a Simpsons’ character. He’s sort of a cross between a Homer and Barney, but also sort of like a Sideshow Bob in the way that Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on the rake in the Cape Fear episode. It is Cape Fear?
John: Yes. So it’s a person who doesn’t realize they’re in a futile situation and sort of keeps going. So, I would recommend everyone check this out. I’ll put a link in Twitter, but it was a big meme.
Matt: I will reward the writers in the room by playing it for them in the rewrite room once we come to a little break time. And maybe we will then put it in our little file of things to make fun of and maybe you will see a Simpsons character do it one day.
John: It completely is a viable Simpsons’ gag. What’s interesting though is Simpsons don’t tend to have a long background gag. Simpsons tends to happen mostly in the foreground. Because unlike a spoof movie where you can have BS banter in the foreground and the real joke is behind, you don’t tend to do that very much on The Simpsons.
Matt: Right. Although with computers we can put in increasingly detailed things you can freeze frame and read, which I like.
John: I do love that, too. And Megan Amram’s, half of her shtick is just finding incredibly great names for stores in the backgrounds of The Good Place.
Matt: Right. Or I’ll just – I will text her for an episode and be like we need a poster in a home-ec office. And she will give me eight hilarious posters.
John: It’s tough.
Matt: She’s never off the clock.
John: No. Matt, do you have a One Cool Thing for us?
Matt: I do have my One Cool Thing. It is called The Defender Shield. It is an EMF-blocking laptop case. And also you kind of put it on your lap when you’re laptop typing.
John: So you’re holding it and it looks sort of like a tray, but it actually – like a giant envelope/tray. It’s stiff.
Matt: And I don’t really know if it works. It was the best rated one I saw online. But here’s what it does work at. Making your wife feel that you seem to care about yourself and the family.
John: So the goal behind this is so that the wifi and basically the signals that your computer is putting off are not irradiating your testicles.
Matt: Right. Or ovaries.
John: Or ovaries. True.
Matt: As the case may be. So I bought one for myself, for my wife, and for my two daughters.
John: But ovaries are really more of an apron situation, wouldn’t it? I don’t know.
Matt: [laughs] That’s true, Defender Shield. Get on the apron.
John: Yeah. So I guess another thing it could in theory do, I’m trying to sell this product that I really don’t necessarily believe in.
Matt: Sure. It could be complete wife and husband anxiety future fear snake oil.
John: Yeah. But they make this sort of same kind of shields for your passport and stuff, so the passive tracking doesn’t sort of work. And so the degree to which somebody could be getting at your electronic devices while you’re just carrying them around, I guess it would hopefully block that. It’s not made of lead. What is this made of?
Matt: It’s probably just made of nothing.
John: It’s probably made of nothing.
Matt: It’s probably complete garbage. But the point is when my wife saw I bought this for everyone on Christmas I seemed like such a thoughtful husband that I got wife points. And that is so important.
John: Wife points are very crucial. What I will say in this’s defense also is that provides a little bit more of a desk situation for your lap. It’s not just the bare metal of your computer on your lap. So if you were wearing shorts it would be probably more comfortable.
Matt: Now I sort of feel naked without it, like if I don’t have my seatbelt on.
John: I get that. Or like, I don’t know if you sleep with a mouth guard, but once you start having a mouth guard so you don’t grind your teeth my biggest fear in packing is what if I forget my mouth guard.
Matt: Right. Oh my god.
John: Terrifying. That is our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megana Rao. Yes, that is a new name and we’ll have exciting news about sort of why that name changed. Our show is edited as always by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is also by Matthew who decided he wanted to do a special Simpsons Scriptnotes theme just for having you on.
If you have an outro you can send us a link to email@example.com. That’s also the place where you can send questions that we answer on the episodes. But on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Matt, you are?
John: So simple and basic. He will have already live-tweeted this episode, but you can go back and look through his Twitter feed to see what he wrote about this episode as he’s watching it.
You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there leave us a comment. It helps people find the show.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That is also where you find transcripts. We try to get them up the week after the episode airs.
You can find all the back episodes of the show at Scriptnotes.net, including Duly Noted, the Scriptnotes after show.
Matt: Got to do another one.
John: There’s good stuff coming, so there will be a reason why you’ll want an after show here soon. Matt Selman, thank you so much for coming on the show and talking about your episode.
Matt: Oh my god, John, you honor me by letting me run on and on about this. It makes me so happy and it is such an indulgence. Thank you so much.
John: My pleasure. Thanks Matt.
- The Simpsons, Season 30, Episode 40:The Clown Stays in the Picture
- Duly Noted, the official Scriptnotes Aftershow hosted by Matt Selman.
- The Defender Shield
- John’s One Cool Thing
- You can now order Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon
- Submit entries for The Scriptnotes Pitch Session here.
- T-shirts are available here! We’ve got new designs, including Colored Revisions, Karateka, and Highland2.
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Matt Selman on Twitter
- Find past episodes
- Scriptnotes Digital Seasons are also now available!
- Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can download the episode here.