|"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, which is 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 narrative format, the episode tells a fictional story 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 plot idea for the episode 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 Jim Forbes, narrator for the show, also came in to record narrations for the episode. 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. The episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming less than One Hour) in 2000, beating the Family Guy episode "Road to Rhode Island". In addition, composer Alf Clausen won an Annie Award for "Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Television Production".
This episode is a parody of Behind the Music, the VH1 biography show, even sharing the same narrator, Jim Forbes. It begins with the Simpson family history and how they got into show business. The first part of the documentary follows the family from their weak beginnings to their exceptional prosperity. A television show, a recording contract, a lot of awards, and countless wealth follow Homer's inadequate video "pilot".
However, problems begin to arise as the Simpsons' fame continues. After a funny stunt causes him injury (the cliff plummet from "Bart the Daredevil", after a montage of Homer injury clips), Homer becomes addicted to prescription painkillers, Marge makes some senseless business investments, and Bart goes to rehab after attacking flight attendants, being replaced on the show by Richie Rich. The IRS examines soon after and takes away their house (called "Homertime" as a parody of MC Hammer's house, "Hammertime"). As tensions mount in the family, the show's writing and production team resort to introducing gimmicky nonsensical plots and shameless guest star appearances in the episodes to maintain ratings. Then, the family gets into a big dispute and splits up at the Iowa State Fair.
Fox is forced to put the show on hiatus, since none of the Simpsons will talk to each other. The members go their independent ways: Homer follows a career in the legitimate theater; Bart replaces Lorenzo Lamas as the star of the syndicated action show Renegade; Marge makes a nightclub act performing Bob Marley's song "I Shot the Sheriff"; and Lisa writes a tell-all book about her experiences and how Homer would slip anti-growth hormones into her cereal, entitled "Where Are My Residuals?". Bringing the family back together seems hopeless until country singer Willie Nelson puts on a phony awards show in order to reconcile the family. They hug and forget past wrongs in a sensitive reunion. Again, 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 the narrator states, "...the future looks brighter than ever for this northern Kentucky family." Following the epilogue, the Simpson family is shown in a video editing room, viewing a scene from an upcoming episode, which Homer claims will be in the last season. The scene shows the family talking about winning a trip to Delaware, and was later used as an actual scene in the episode, "Simpsons Tall Tales". 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, 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, and was surprised to find that the story was "not a linear story […] it was all chopped up." In the direction aspect, the episode was very challenging, but also easy in the fact that the animation team were not looking 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 refers to the long-running joke of Springfield's unknown and unidentifiable location. The original version of Forbes' line at the end, "The future looks brighter than ever for this Northern Kentucky family," was changed multiple times. Scully said the writers did not want to "pin it down for the fans," and with knowledge that the episode would rerun twice, had Forbes record several alternate locations (e.g. "Southern Illinois"), which were indeed seen on Fox reruns. Each of the alternate locations, including the unused "small island of Lanai," can be found as an easter egg on the eleventh season DVD set.
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.
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.
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