Behold! The Simpsons' 500th episode is upon us! The show, titled “At Long Last Leave,” entails the Simpson family being evicted from Springfield. When Marge and Homer try to sneak back into town, they're shunned by former neighbors and friends. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stars as himself, and Alison Krauss sings a special theme song for the landmark moment.
With 23 seasons in the making, the show is bound to bring out the super-fan in countless bloggers who will list, dissect, and debate their choices for best episode, greatest musical guest, and most hilarious Homer quotations. Here, artists, writers, and crew (past and present) talked about their favorite personal contributions to our beloved Simpsons (the show, the Movie, even the comics).
The Simpsons airs its 500th episode on Sun., Feb. 19, 8 p.m. on Fox.
David Silverman is an animator, director and producer with The Simpsons since 1987. He also plays the tuba. Fun fact: Silverman gives a lesson for drawing Bart at the end of “Goo Goo Gai Pan.”
David's “pivotal contribution” in animating Homer was in the season two episode “Blood Feud,” where Homer goes off in a sarcastic rant (“Marge, you're my wife. I love you very much. But you're living in a world of make believe, with flowers and bells and leprechauns and magic frogs with funny little hats”). Silverman knew Homer's moves had to be just right, so he created various appropriate poses. After that, Silverman became the go-to for Homer's “rants, freak-outs, and heart attacks.” And yes, the Olmec head in “Blood Feud” was also designed by Silverman. Is it authentic? “I took liberties,” he said.
Any Simpsons fan knows Silverman animated “The Land of Chocolate” sequence in the season three episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk,” but what you might not know is that when Silverman first read the script (in particular, bunnies hopping by and Homer skipping after them) he laughed aloud and thought, “I should really animate this.” Because he was only directing one episode that season, he had the time so he asked to do it. “The opening had to be just right,” he said.
The ending of “Mother Simpson,” while not the most challenging sequence he's animated, is nonetheless the most beautiful. He agrees: “It made me cry,” he said. Homer, sitting on the car looking at the stars . . . it still makes me cry.
Dana Gould is a standup comedian, writer, and actor. Before he worked on The Simpsons for seven years (including providing many voices), Gould exercised his humor on The Ben Stiller Show. Now he writes screenplays, makes short films, and produces a podcast, which you should listen to. Grab the Dana Gould Hour podcast on iTunes or at DanaGould.com It was easy for Dana to pick his favorite contribution to The Simpsons. He said,
I wrote the episode 'Goo Goo Gai Pan,' which told the story of the Simpsons' trip to China to adopt a baby for Marge's sister, Selma. The story was based on our experience adopting our daughter Liu Liu. The design for Selma's baby, Ling, was based on Liu Liu's baby picture. Hard to top that.
Fill Marc Sagadraca was born in Hawaii and grew up defying his parents' wishes to be a doctor by pursuing a career in animation. He graduated from CalArts in Character Animation and attended the UCLA Animation Workshop. He has worked in video games and is currently working on The Simpsons as a character layout artist and as a storyboard artist on Cartoon Network's Generator Rex and the upcoming Ben 10: Omniverse. He consumes an unhealthy amount of pop culture including movies, TV shows, comics, music, and video games. In his free time he snowboards and sleeps.
One of my favorite personal contributions is the scene I animated in The Simpsons Movie where Plopper runs to Homer when they first meet at the Krusty Burger. I was new at the time and didn't want to disappoint, so I went overboard and studied pig locomotion and hung up Eadweard Muybridge photos like these in my cubicle so I could get it right. Oh to be young and so enthusiastic . . .
Marc Wilmore joined The Simpsons' writing staff in 2000, but was no newbie to TV: He was a writer and performer on In Living Color and writer and performer on The PJs, too, both for the full lengths of their runs. Somewhere in there, Marc also managed to write, produce, and perform on The Tonight Show. But before any of that, Marc was a standup comedian for five years. Fun fact: He listened to Frank Sinatra and Count Basie Live at the Sands before every performance. Because of this ritual, he wore out several cassettes.
Marc's written several episodes (including an upcoming episode with guest star Bryan Cranston), but his favorite contribution is a single joke, Rip Taylor's comeback, that he provided for TOH XIX in the segment “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising.”
Comic Book Guy: Rip Taylor? You're not even dead!
Rip Taylor: Someone needs to check my apartment.
Eric Rogers has scripted over 30 published stories for Futurama Comics, The Simpsons Comics, and Bart Simpson Comics. He is a 2011 Writers Guild of America nominee for Outstanding Animation Script for his work on Futurama.
My favorite contribution to The Simpsons' world has been the honor and pleasure of writing for the comic series these last 13 years. To have any hand in being able to write for those characters and the world they inhabit is just one of the great blessings of my life, and one I never ever take for granted.
Chris Ledesma has been the music editor for The Simpsons since day one, and has worked on several films as well, such as Pure Country and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Check out Chris's blog, Simpsons Music 500. Chris couldn't name just one contribution (after 500 episodes, can you blame him?) Here's what he said:
WOW . . . how to narrow that down? Recently, I liked pitching Mahler's first symphony for a couple of scenes in NABF08, “The Scorpion's Tale” and having it well-received by Al (Jean) and Alf (Clausen). They put it in the show.
But the contribution that still jumps out at me after all these years goes all the way back to the spotting session for 7G11, “Life on the Fast Lane.” In the final scene of the episode, Homer carries Marge out of the SNPP in a parody of An Officer and a Gentleman. The scene had a temp score using the music from the corresponding scene in Officer. I asked for the name of the cue so I would have it when it came time to prepare the cue sheet. The answer I was given was “Up Where We Belong.” I said I didn't think that was right. I said that was the name of the SONG that plays over the end credits of the movie, and that there was a hint of that melody in this cue, but I explained that they were not one-and-the-same. I was told that they had cleared “Up Where We Belong.” I told them they had better contact Paramount Pictures to see if that was right. Sure enough, a week or so later, I got a phone call telling me that the correct name of the cue was “Zack Gets Paula” and that I have saved the Fox music/legal department a lot of hassle by catching it before the show aired.
Josh Weinstein, with writing partner Bill Oakley, worked on The Simpsons from seasons three through eight. The duo were show runners for seasons seven and eight (with some Oakley-Weinstein-produced episodes spilling into season nine). During their tenure, Oakley and Weinstein were responsible for numerous fan favorite episodes, such as “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” “Sideshow Bob Roberts,” and “Bart vs. Australia.” Weinstein is currently co executive producer for Futurama.
Josh is proud of all of the episodes he wrote and show ran with Bill Oakley, but when pressed for one single contribution, he cited a line he contributed to TOH VII, “The Thing and I.” About Hugo, Bart's twin, Dr. Hibbert says he was “too crazy for Boys Town, too much of a boy for Crazy Town.”
Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein became best friends in eighth grade but moved to opposite coasts for college. Oakley went to Harvard, where he was vice president of the Harvard Lampoon. After years of paying his dues, Oakley was hired by The Simpsons in 1992. Oakley now lives in Portland with his wife, Rachel Pulido (Barbie enthusiast and writer of “Grade School Confidential”) and their children. Oakley is consulting producer on the hilarious IFC show Portlandia. His favorite contribution? “It's definitely the Skinner/Chalmers segment from '22 Short Films.'”
I had heard that he enjoyed Chalmers, so I wasn't surprised, but I asked him to explain anyway. He did:
I love it because Chalmers was always my favorite character and he specializes (or did) in mainly that one type of joke where Skinner offers a mild lie and Chalmers either believes it or just doesn't care enough to purse that line of questioning any further.
Chalmers is (or was) the only pretty much sane person in town and I love it that he was just too weary of this type (i.e. obviously phony lies) of thing to really pursue it. He's like Eddie Albert in Green Acres, which was my favorite show as a kid.
The Simpsons is the only show in history where I could have been allowed to indulge my fascination with this one minor character and one type of very specific joke for several minutes and have it be broadcast (and liked!) rather than being fired.
[Erika Isabel Vega began as a P.A. on The Simpsons Movie in June of 2006. She stayed on to work on The Simpsons Ride at Universal and joined the TV show crew in season 20 as scene planner, which is her current role. She feels very lucky and blessed for the opportunity and experience. Erika offered two favorite contributions, one from the Movie, one from the show:
On The Simpsons Movie, I was working on the camera move panning down from the shattered dome to Milhouse looking up at the sky as the shards fell. As I was showing the test to the director they thought the shards looked like snowflakes so we had an artist add a few quick poses of Milhouse sticking out his tongue to catch a piece. I thought it was cool that my work had inspired a new visual gag that made it into the movie.
The way we set up both the video game POV shot in the opening of NABF20,”The Food Wife,” and the Ratatouille parody later was some of the most complicated stuff I've ever done. It really challenged me and I felt we were pushing the boundaries of how we technically handle these shots with our digital capabilities; I think it has allowed us to be more ambitious with shots in the future.
Ken Keeler is another of those notorious Harvard-educated writers. He holds a PhD in applied mathematics, so we assume many of the math jokes that I don't get on The Simpsons and Futurama come from him. He has written numerous episodes of The Simpsons, including “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer” and “Two Bad Neighbors.” He is currently an executive producer of Futurama, where he has more than a dozen writing credits to his name.
Whether it's for its sheer funniness or its ubiquity (or both) I'm not sure, but Keeler names his phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” from ” 'Round Springfield” as his favorite contribution to The Simpsons. (Don't know how ubiquitous the line is? It's even got its own Wikipedia entry).
Nikki Isordia has worked on The Simpsons for six years, starting out as a P.A. in the design department, then coordinating audio. Last year she was promoted to Production Coordinator. She is also a freelance makeup artist. (Check out her blog that has some cool pics of her makeup work). She said that her first official episode (NABF21, “Replaceable You”) as Production Coordinator has extra special significance for her:
As everyone I know and work with knows, I am a HUGE David Bowie Fan, and this episode ends with 'Golden Years' by David Bowie. When I saw this in the script for the first time I was so excited, and I hoped it wouldn't be cut! It made it in the episode and it was just icing on my cake!
And in another upcoming episode from season 23, 'Them Robot'– I can't give away too much but there is a little reference to me; it has to do with one of the robots. (Keep your eyes open for robot N33).
David Cohen co-created Futurama with Matt Groening, but before that he wrote some of our favorite episodes of The Simpsons (like “Lisa the Skeptic” and “Much Apu About Nothing”) and before that, he earned a master's in computer science from Berkeley, and before that, he went to Harvard where he was president of the Harvard Lampoon and earned a degree in physics.
Cohen's favorite contribution is to the episode “Lisa On Ice” because the scene in which Bart and Lisa fight (“I'm going to be kicking air, like this, and if any part of you should fill that air it's your own fault”) is based on how he and his sister fought as kids. But, as well he should be, Cohen is also proud of this line sung by Troy McClure from a rather memorable in-episode musical: “I hate every ape I see/From chimpan-A to chimpan-Z.”
Luis Escobar has worked on The Simpsons for 18 years. He started as a character layout artist, later became a story reel artist, and is currently a storyboard artist. You can follow him on Twitter and read his illustrated blog to learn about what all of that means. He thought answering my question would be difficult, but it ended up being a easy, in part because he worked on the 500th episode:
I happen to have storyboarded Act 1 and a small part of Act 2 on the 500th episode. It was the very first full act I've ever had to storyboard and was one of the most difficult assignments I had ever been given to work on, mostly because they gave me less time to do it than they usually give the storyboard artists. This was in part due to the circumstances surrounding the 500th episode. They were planning to show part of Act 1 at the San Diego comic con that year, but at the last minute they decided not to. Nevertheless, in spite of all the complications that came with doing the assignment, I managed to finish the storyboard on time. I'm very happy and proud of the way it turned out.
Michael Price penned the 500th episode, “At Last Long Leave” and the Annie award winning “Yokel Chords,” along with several other episodes. Price likes the Mets, is married to the writer Monica Holloway, and is remarkably tall (possibly taller than Ian Maxtone-Graham). He also wrote >Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace.
Price said that his favorite contribution to the show is Homer's summation of what Christmas means in a speech he wrote for “'Tis The Fifteenth Season” (“Let's just say that on this day a million years ago, a dude was born who most of us think was magic–but some don't, and that's cool . . .”). He wrote the episode, and although scripts tend to change significantly from start to finish, Price said this speech “pretty much stayed that way through all drafts of the episode.”
Taylor Allen has worked on The Simpsons since 2006 when he got a mysterious Deep Throat-esque phone call asking if he was interested in PA'ing on the then unannounced Simpsons Movie, which made him feel like he had discovered plutonium by accident. When not editing The Simpsons, he writes and shoots short films, resulting in two IMDb pages. (By the way, if anyone knows how to fix that, he would like this one and this one joined into one).
Most people on the show would say my biggest contribution ever came the day that I 'accidentally' hit reply all to an email regarding the building owners turning off the A/C every weekend, and I argued how that was both energy inefficient and hellish for those of us working overtime on weekends. But outside the intangibles of all the better artwork that come out of a well climate-controlled building, I'd say my proudest contribution to The Simpsons has been the time I decided to add a song of my own choosing to a montage in an upcoming episode– when the re-write came back there was a script note from Al Jean saying 'please clear.' I felt like I had influence over how the budget was allocated on the episode and it was intoxicating.
Liz Climo, a native of northern California, is a story reel artist currently working on The Simpsons. She lives in Eagle Rock with her husband and two little dogs. She posts illustrations and comics regularly on her blog.
My favorite personal contribution is probably the acting I get to do on the show. I know that may sound strange, but while my job on the show is as an artist, my drawings are not really what end up standing out since the final product always looks more or less the same. When I get a scene, I have the freedom (with the guidance of my director, of course) to act out a scene as I please. I listen to the voice track (which is recorded beforehand) and figure out what acting will work best. When I get a really funny scene, this is especially fun because it's always a challenge to make the acting as funny as possible to help sell the joke. The same applies when doing a scene with a lot of action or physical comedy.