|"Behind the Laughter"|
|The Simpsons episode|
|Episode no.||Season 11|
|Directed by||Mark Kirkland|
|Written by||Tim Long|
|Original air date||May 21, 2000|
|Chalkboard gag||"I will not obey the voices in my head".|
|Couch gag||Simpsons sit at the couch as normal. Bart puts a coin in a slot on the arm of the couch and the couch vibrates away, taking the family with them.|
"Behind the Laughter" is the twenty-second and final episode of The Simpsons' eleventh season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on May 21, 2000. In the episode, a parody of the VH1 series Behind the Music, the Simpson family are portrayed as actors on a sitcom, and their dramatic inner turmoil and struggles are detailed. Told in a mockumentary format, the episode presents a fictional version of how The Simpsons began.
The episode was directed by Mark Kirkland and written by Tim Long, George Meyer, Mike Scully and Matt Selman. The idea was pitched by Long, and the writers wrote the episode quickly without a draft. VH1 and the producers of Behind the Music allowed the crew to use the show's visual graphics package, and Behind the Music narrator Jim Forbes recorded narrations. In addition, country musician Willie Nelson guest stars as himself.
The episode received critical acclaim, with many reviewers noting it as a highlight of the season and the series itself, and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming less than One Hour) in 2000. In addition, composer Alf Clausen won an Annie Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Television Production".
The episode is a parody of the VH1 biography series Behind the Music and shares its narrator, Jim Forbes. It begins with the Simpson family history and how they got into show business: believing that families depicted in the numerous TV shows they watch together bare no resemblance to their comparative dysfunctionalism, Homer writes and directs an inadequate video "pilot" that fails to attract the attention of the major networks except for Fox, as its president happens to be Marge's hairdresser. After much fine-tuning and on-set mishaps produce many of the show's running gags, The Simpsons' resounding ratings and merchandising success makes the family extraordinarily wealthy; having moved out of their house on Evergreen Terrace to live in MC Hammer's former mansion, "Hammertime" (renamed "Homertime"), they expand their scope to include a series of Grammy-winning, "mega-platinum" novelty albums.
Problems begin to arise as the Simpsons' fame continues: they become reckless spendthrifts, alternating between buying their colleagues extravagant gifts and paying them to perform embarrassing acts for their amusement. After a funny stunt (the plummet into Springfield Gorge from "Bart the Daredevil") causes him injury, Homer becomes addicted to prescription painkillers; Marge blows much of the family's fortune on licensing her likeness for use on diaphragms, and Bart goes into rehab after attacking flight attendants, being temporarily replaced on the show by Richie Rich. Following a tip from Apu, the IRS discovers that the Simpsons are evading tax payments and repossess Homertime. As tensions mount in the family, the show's writing and production team resort to gimmicky, nonsensical plots and shameless guest star appearances to maintain ratings. Finally, while performing with Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair, the family gets into a big dispute and splits up.
Fox puts the show on hiatus since none of the Simpsons will talk to each other. The members pursue independent endeavors: Homer follows a career as a hammy character actor in stage productions such as Rent II: Condo Fever; Bart replaces Lorenzo Lamas as the star of the syndicated action show Renegade; Marge creates a nightclub act performing Bob Marley's song "I Shot the Sheriff"; and Lisa writes Where Are My Residuals?, a tell-all book about her negative experiences from working on the show, such as Homer's spiking of her cereal with anti-growth hormones. Bringing the family back together seems impossible, until Dr. Hibbert tasks his old fraternity brother, country singer Willie Nelson, with reuniting them. Nelson puts on a phony awards show in order to reconcile the family, who hug and forgive each other for their past wrongs. They look with hope to the many years of episodes of The Simpsons to come... or not.
The episode ends with an epilogue, in which Forbes states, "...the future looks brighter than ever for this northern Kentucky family".[a] Following the epilogue, the Simpson family is shown in a video editing room, viewing a scene from an upcoming episode from the next season, which shows the family talking about winning a trip to Delaware.[b] Seemingly in response to the stilted and unfunny quality of the proceedings, Homer quietly assures the editor that the next season will be the last. The final scene shows a mock teaser for an "upcoming episode" of Behind the Laughter about Huckleberry Hound, in which he reveals that he is gay.
Guy Rosenthal, a friend of executive producer Mike Scully, was producing the VH1 series Behind the Music, which was very popular during the episode's production. Tim Long was the one to pitch the idea for the episode. The idea for the episode was a drastic departure for the series to try something so different. It took the writers a long time to conceptualize the show, as they were unsure whether to make Homer a filmmaker or make the characters unaware they were being filmed. Selman recalled that there was no draft for the episode, instead the writers just sat down and "pounded it out." He noted that one of the disadvantages for producing an animated show that takes up to a year in advance to create was that many other comedy shows, most notably Saturday Night Live with their "More cowbell" sketch, had already done Behind the Music parodies. Although the final episode only features one bleeped curse word for Marge (for comedic effect), Meyer recalled the writers spent many weeks just "pitching Marge filth."
The writers had particular fun writing over-the-top, melodramatic "tortured metaphors," many of which were penned by producer David Mirkin. Although not credited, Scully has noted writers Tom Gammill and Max Pross for making significant contributions to the episode. The crew used actual early Simpsons promotional posters in the episode. VH1 and Guy Rosenthal Productions were both "extremely cooperative" regarding the episode, letting the team use the entire graphics package. Larina Adamson drove over to the VH1 headquarters in order to compile most of the video graphics package. Part of the imitating of Behind the Music was using the "corny, stock interstitial footage to amp up the drama of the situation."
Ian Maxtone-Graham directed the voice actors during the recording sessions for the episode. Jim Forbes, narrator for Behind the Music, came in to the studio and did the narrations, which George Meyer called "fantastic". When Scully went to the studio to record Willie Nelson's guest appearance, he was running late and had to wait, as Nelson was recording a duet with B.B. King. Meyer recalled that Nelson said to the producers that he enjoyed The Simpsons, and watched it on his tour bus before he went to perform. Mark Kirkland called the episode one of the "oddest he'd ever worked on." He attended the table reading for the episode with knowledge he was to direct the episode, but was surprised to find that the story was "not a linear story […] it was all chopped up." In the direction aspect, the episode was deemed to be very challenging, but also easy because the animation team did not need to look for continuity errors as the episode "jumped around so much." The animators and Kirkland watched multiple episodes of Behind the Music in order to get the feel of it, as did the writers.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the renewal of the show in season 23, showrunner Al Jean discusses what episodes that have previously aired might serve well as a series finale. He regards "Behind the Laughter" and "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind" as the strongest candidates, and further elaborates: "I don’t think we’re a serialized show and I don’t think we’re going to have a Lost finale where we reveal some truth about the world that nobody ever suspected. Whenever we do a last episode, we just hope that it would be sweet, true to the characters, funny, and give you a nice feeling for where the Simpsons would be headed."
The episode contains many references and allusions to Behind the Music, and one line the staff thought was humorous was pulled straight from the actual series.
- During Comic Book Guy's interview, a statue of the Giant from The Iron Giant can be seen, as a nod to former Simpsons director and creative consultant Brad Bird, who left to direct the film.
- The teenage fans of Bart Simpson screaming to the song "Twist and Shout" is a Beatlemania reference.
- Bart and his parachute pants are allusions to M.C. Hammer, which was inspired by the Behind the Music episode based on his life that the staff watched during production.
- Bart, while getting pampered by assistants, agrees to take a role in Teen Wolf 3, a reference that Scully later considered to be dated.
- Richie Rich replaces Bart's role on the show while Bart is undergoing rehab; the animators colored his suit green to avoid copyright infringement.
- When The Simpsons is put on hiatus, the fictional Fox replaces it with Peepin' It Real!, which consists of hidden camera footage from Ann Taylor women's dressing rooms; Scully noted that the retailer was "not happy about" this joke.
- The episode is also knowingly self-referential. A series of T-shirts are shown sporting a number of Bart Simpson "catchphrases", such as "You bet your sweet bippy, man" and "Life begins at conception, man." These are parodies of both officially licensed and bootleg Simpsons-themed T-shirts in the early days of the series, usually revolving around Bart.
- The famous scene of Homer plummeting into Springfield Gorge on Bart's skateboard from the season two episode "Bart the Daredevil" is shown; the sequence in which Homer falls from the jagged cliffs was reanimated. "Behind the Laughter" then shows the "unfunny aftermath" of Homer going through physical rehabilitation and becoming addicted to painkillers.
- The episode states the series turned to "gimmicky premises and nonsensical plots" as ratings dipped, and uses a clip from the episode "The Principal and the Pauper" to get that point across, as it was a highly controversial episode that many fans and critics panned.
The episode was ranked as the fourth best The Simpsons episode by askmen.com. In 2012, Johnny Dee of The Guardian listed the episode as one of his five favorite episodes in the history of The Simpsons, noting The Simpsons is "good at self-parody". The Simpsons writing staff voted this in their list of Top 15 Simpsons episode becoming the newest episode in the list. Screen Rant called it the best episode of the 11th season.
- In keeping with the long-running joke of Springfield's unknown and unidentifiable location, the writers did not want to "pin [the location] down for the fans," and with knowledge that the episode would rerun twice, had Forbes record several alternate locations aside from the original version's "northern Kentucky" (such as "southern Illinois"), which were seen on Fox reruns. Each of the alternate locations, including "southern Missouri" and the unused "small island of Lanai," can be found as an easter egg on the eleventh season DVD set.
- This plot device, as well as the dialogue from this scene, would actually be used in the final episode of the next season, "Simpsons Tall Tales".
- "Behind the Laughter". The Simpsons.com. Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- "The Simpsons". offthetelly.co.uk. 2004-05-07. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
- Scully, Mike (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Long, Tim (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Kirkland, Mark (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Meyer, George (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Selman, Matt (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Maxtone-Graham, Ian (2008). Commentary for "Behind the Laughter", in The Simpsons: The Eleventh Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Snierson, Dan (October 8, 2011). "'Simpsons' exec producer Al Jean on renewal: 'This isn't an end but a beginning' -- Exclusive". EW. Retrieved October 10, 2011.
- Canning, Robert (August 18, 2008). "The Simpsons Flashback: "Behind the Laughter" Review". IGN. Retrieved April 22, 2011.
- Weir, Rich. "Simpsons quotes". Retrieved 30 November 2017.
- Dee, Johnny (2012-01-13). "The Simpsons at 500: what are your favourite episodes?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-01-14.
- "15 Writer Favorites". USA Today. February 6, 2003.
- Sim, Bernardo (2019-09-22). "The Simpsons: The Best Episode In Every Season, Ranked". Screen Rant. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
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