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"The Front"
The Simpsons episode
Thefrontsimpsons.PNG
Bart and Lisa type up their idea for a cartoon
Episode no. 78
Prod. code 9F16
Orig. airdate April 15, 1993
Show runner(s) Al Jean & Mike Reiss
Written by Adam I. Lapidus
Directed by Rich Moore
Chalkboard "I will not sell miracle cures"
Couch gag The family forms a chorus line, which turns into a large production number.[1]
Guest star(s) Brooke Shields as herself
DVD
commentary
Matt Groening
Al Jean
Mike Reiss
Adam I. Lapidus
Rich Moore

"The Front" is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons' fourth season, which originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on April 15, 1993.[2] In the episode, Bart and Lisa decide to write an episode of Itchy & Scratchy, but their script is rejected, so they resubmit it under the name of Abraham Simpson. The episode was written by Adam I. Lapidus and directed by Rich Moore.[3] Initially, this episode ran extremely short, and Lapidus had to "Pad like crazy" to complete the episode. It was also the only episode that Lapidus ever wrote.[4]

Contents

Plot

Bart and Lisa watch a terrible episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show and decide they can write a better one themselves. Inspired by the sight of Homer accidentally cutting Marge's hair with hedge shears, they write "The Little Barbershop of Horrors", but the episode is rejected by Roger Meyers, head of Itchy & Scratchy International. Correctly guessing that Meyers did not take them seriously because they were children, they resubmit the manuscript under the name of Abraham Simpson. As a result, Grampa is given a job as staff writer. Bart and Lisa inform him that they were submitting the scripts under his name, and they develop a plan whereby Grampa will show up for work at the writer's office and continue to secretly pass off Bart and Lisa's scripts as his own, while they split the money three ways. Grampa confesses to Meyers that he didn't really write the scripts, but is ignored.

Meanwhile, Homer and Marge are invited to their "Class of 1974" high school reunion. They have a great time, with Homer winning numerous awards (all of them of a dubious or negative nature). However, the school principal, Dondelinger, reveals that Homer never graduated because he failed a science class. Dondelinger revokes Homer's awards, and Homer vows to retake the class he failed in determination to win them back. Homer later takes the final exam and passes, finally graduating.

Later, at a ceremony called the "Annual Cartoon Awards", Grampa is recognized for outstanding writing in a cartoon series. Krusty the Clown and Brooke Shields present the award for Outstanding Writer. After watching the clip shown to introduce the award—the first time he has ever seen the show—Grampa is appalled, both at how violent it is and at the audience for being amused by it, and directs his acceptance speech as an assault against the cartoon and against the audience attending the ceremony. He then storms off, as the crowd boos and throws vegetables at him. Grampa gives the award to Lisa and Bart, and Bart swears never to watch an award show again, unless it has "that delightful Billy Crystal".

At the conclusion of the episode, a brief segment—complete with its own theme song—entitled "The Adventures of Ned Flanders" is shown. In it, Ned Flanders scolds his children for not wanting to go to church. They then tell them that it is in fact Saturday, and they all laugh as the episode ends completely.[1][5]

Production

A scene from the writer's lounge at the Itchy & Scratchy studios. The writers pictured here are based on real-life people who were part of The Simpsons writing staff at the time. From left to right: John Swartzwelder, George Meyer, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Roger Meyers, Abraham Simpson and Sam Simon.[6]

Around the time that production was starting on the episode, a news report was aired about some children who had written the script for an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures. Steven Spielberg, the creator of the show, received a copy of their script and liked it so much that he bought their ideas and took the children to Hollywood so that they could contribute ideas to the show's writing staff. Adam I. Lapidus had seen the report and thought: "Boy, that would really be a neat idea for Bart and Lisa."[4]

Lapidus wrote a spec script and called Dave Davis to see what he thought of it. Davis liked the idea, and passed it on to James L. Brooks, who also liked it and contacted the staff of The Simpsons who agreed to hire Lapidus to write the whole episode.[4] This was the only episode that Lapidus ever wrote, and as a result there have been disputes amongst Simpsons fans as whether Lapidus is a real writer. Lapidus' mother-in-law found a debate on an Internet forum about whether he actually existed or not, since his name does not appear on any other episodes.[4] This issue has also been raised with long-term writer John Swartzwelder. As he is a social recluse and does not appear on any DVD commentaries, fans have theorized that "John Swartzwelder" is merely a pseudonym the writers use when they do not want their names on a script.[7]

Initially, this episode ran "way, way short", and the writers had to use "every trick in the book" to make the episode reach the bare minimum runtime.[8] Even after greatly extending Lapidus' original script and adding an extra-long couch gag, the episode was still one minute short. To remedy this, the staff decided to try something different, by adding a short segment devoted to Ned Flanders at the end of the episode. It was designed purely to fill time and had nothing to do with the other events of the episode. Mike Reiss commented, "As always, when we try something bold and new the general reaction is, 'What the hell was that?'"[8] The scene was also a reference to Archie Comics, which would sometimes use a similar technique to fill up the last page. The font used in the scene is also a homage to the Archie comics.[9] The short later inspired Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein to produce the season seven episode "22 Short Films About Springfield".[10]

The censors had two problems with this episode: the dream sequence in which Bart points a machine gun at Santa Claus and hijacks his sleigh,[2] and another scene that was animated, but not included in the finished episode. It was an additional moment from Roger Meyers' tour of the studio, containing a stop at the art department. There, the artists are observing a cat and trying to design it; one of them puts a stick of dynamite into the cat's mouth and lights it. As Meyers, Bart and Lisa continue down the corridor, a large explosion emanates from the room. The scene was cut because the censors objected to the implied animal abuse. The scene is included in a collection of deleted scenes on the Simpsons season four DVD collection.[11]

In the scene at the Itchy & Scratchy writers lounge (pictured), each of the writers shown are caricatures of the people who worked on The Simpsons at the time. The idea for this in-joke was purely an idea of the animators. In another scene, where Roger Myers fires the Harvard writer, the writer pictured is a caricature of Jon Vitti, another Simpsons writer.[6]

Cultural references

Since this episode is about animation, there are several in-jokes included throughout the episode. One of these is the scene where Lisa is reading a book titled "How To Get Rich Writing Cartoons" by John Swartzwelder, a member of The Simpsons staff who has written just under sixty episodes of the show.[12] Another such joke is the door to the "Animation Wing" at Itchy & Scratchy studios, which is identical to the door at the Disney animation building.[13] At the conclusion of Bart and Lisa's Itchy & Scratchy episode, the credits (in small print) are a copy of the credits at the end of The Simpsons.[8] The credits also feature a parody of the Stephen J. Cannell production sequence seen at the end of many of his shows.[7] In the scene, Itchy and Scratchy are sitting at a desk using a typewriter. Scratchy pulls the finished sheet from the typewriter and throws it into the air, forming an "Itchy & Scratchy Productions" logo. The scene is an almost perfect replica of Cannell's sequence. Mike Reiss later met Stephen J. Cannell and asked him, "Did you see this episode?" Cannell in fact had seen the episode, and was so pleased that he hugged Reiss.[8]

At the award ceremony, the Ren & Stimpy cartoon is shown as merely a black screen with the text "Clip not done yet". This was a counter-attack by The Simpsons writers against John Kricfalusi, the creator of Ren & Stimpy. Kricfalusi had previously attacked The Simpsons by stating "The show succeeded despite the writing", and similar derogatory comments.[7] Artie Ziff made a short appearance in this episode, and his conversation with Homer laid the groundwork for a later episode, "Half-Decent Proposal". Artie's usual voice artist Jon Lovitz was not available for the recording, so regular cast member Dan Castellaneta provided the voice instead.[7] The title of the episode is a nod to The Front, a film about writers fronting for blacklisted writers in the 1950s. When the writers first heard the idea for this episode they considered trying to make the plot somewhat like the film, but in the end decided not to.[7] The school principal, Dondelinger, was named after someone Sam Simon knew.[12]

Reception

Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised the episode. They said that it is "An ironic look at the animation industry, with a higher than average Itchy and Scratchy count. The episode is followed by The Adventures of Ned Flanders with its own, rather wonderful, theme tune."[1]

References

  1. ^ a b c Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "The Front". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/simpsons/episodeguide/season4/page20.shtml. Retrieved 2008-04-01.  
  2. ^ a b Groening, Matt. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  3. ^ Groening, Matt; Lapidus, Adam; Moore, Rich. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  4. ^ a b c d Lapidus, Adam. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  5. ^ ""The Front"". The Simpsons.com. http://www.thesimpsons.com/episode_guide/0419.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-11.  
  6. ^ a b Groening, Matt; Jean, Al; Reiss, Mike; Moore, Rich. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  7. ^ a b c d e Jean, Al. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  8. ^ a b c d Reiss, Mike. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  9. ^ Moore, Rich. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  10. ^ Oakley, Bill. (2006). The Simpsons, The Complete Seventh Season audio commentary for the episode "22 Short Films About Springfield". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  11. ^ Moore, Rich; Groening, Matt. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  12. ^ a b Jean, Al; Reiss, Mike. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  13. ^ Jean, Al; Moore, Rich. (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  

External links

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