121. A Star is Burns

(originally aired March 5, 1995)
I remember as a kid, I thought Jay Sherman was a real person. Considering all the celebrity guests on the show, I just figured he was real. It wasn’t until later in middle school I saw The Critic late night on Comedy Central and discovered Jay was merely a refuge from another show. The story with this episode was The Critic was starting its second season on FOX, premiering right after The Simpsons, and James L. Brooks proposed this crossover episode to help launch the show. Matt Groening was upset at this for sorted reasons, mainly that he felt the crossover defied the rules of the Simpsons universe, and that he felt fans would be upset that the episode would basically be one big commercial for The Critic (which ultimately, it kind of was.) Whether he didn’t want to raise a big stink, or he just had no real power to halt production of this episode, he chose to just remove his name from it, the only Groening-less episode to date. Now, The Critic is an absolutely fabulous show in its own right, and the idea of a crossover doesn’t feel too alien a concept. I think it works perfectly well as a Simpsons episode, just featuring a character from another show.

How do you bring Jay Sherman to Springfield? Host a local film festival and invite him as a judge, obviously. It’s a fair enough premise, paired with Homer feeling undermined in his own house by an intellectual Jay. Even with an acknowledged nod to the cheap nature of the crossover (“I really love your show. I think all kids should watch it! Eww… I suddenly feel so dirty,”) the show is pretty unremarkable up until the middle mark, where Burns attempts to submit a movie to improve his heinous image. The result is an absurd fluff piece, aping off classic films like E.T. and Ben Hur to elevate Burns to sainthood. The prize film of the night comes from Barney, an incredibly heartfelt and artfully produced film of his alcohol-induced sorrows. With it getting Marge and Jay’s vote, and Quimby and Krusty paid off by Burns, it’s up to Homer to break the tie. He, however, is enthralled by another film, Hans Moleman’s “Man Getting Hit By Football,” whose name pretty aptly reflects the content.

The various films from our beloved Springfieldians are pretty much the only thing of note here, but they’re so strong that they make up for any slack the episode might have carried. There are other select funny bits, but not quite a strong Simpsons episode, perhaps because it had to cater to its specific purpose of promoting The Critic. Was it a bit shameless? Yeah, maybe. But Jon Lovitz had done so many voices on the show, Jay just feels like another one of them, so it’s not so jarring to see him here. I think I’d probably feel differently if I’d have seen this first run and got the full effect of the cross-promotion; instead I saw this episode first before I even knew about The Critic. But how could I be mad at an episode that gave us George C. Scott getting hit in the crotch by a football? It’s a pretty fine show. So is The Critic. You should watch that. Like right now, go watch it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Simpsons characters and references popped up on The Critic from time to time. My favorite is probably when a disgusted family switches off Jay spouting intellectual platitudes in favor of Homer stepping on a rake (“Now this I understand.”) Can’t find that clip though, but here’s another good one.
– I like the Eye on Springfield opening; it’s reused footage with new bits sprinkled in, but it feels like something a local news station would do, cycle in new news clips with the old. The new bits are hilarious too: Brockman in the winning locker room getting dumped with Gatorade… then with cement, and Krusty leading hoards of wild animals into Krusty Burger, presumably to slaughter.
– I love Krusty performing as FDR; not only does he get out of the wheelchair, but he’s still in full clown make-up as always. What kind of a production is this?
– The scene with Ned’s movie gone awry with Todd getting caught up down stream is pretty insane, as God again takes a physical hand in human affairs (literally, as he gives an A-OK sign to Ned from the heavens: “Okily-dokily!”)
– The “Coming Attractions” segment really does feel straight out of The Critic, almost as if Rainier Wolfcastle was a guest on the show. “McBain: Let’s Get Silly” looks like a fantastic film (“The film is just me in front of a brick wall for an hour and a half. It cost eighty million dollars.”) Rainier later confronts Jay on subtly insulting him on the show, only to be tricked into believing his shoes are untied as Jay makes his escape (“On closer inspection, these are loafers.”)
– It’s really really dumb, but I always laugh at Homer erasing and re-writing “Simpson” over and over at the airport.
– Once Burns gets in the episode, the jokes really kick in: his response to market research showing people see him as an ogre (“I ought to club them and eat their bones!”), his liking toward the idea of making a film (“a slick Hollywood picture to gloss over my evil rise to power like Bugsy or Working Girl,”) and of course Steven Spielberg’s non-union Mexican equivalent Senor Spielbergo.
– I like Homer’s belching contest trophy, just an opened muzzle belching on a stand. We also get Jay’s famous burp, as performed by Maurice LaMarche.
– Great performance by Jon Lovitz singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song. Homer is dumbfounded (“That’s it, Marge: he knows the whole hot dog song! Go ahead, sleep with him. I’ll just take a lock of your hair to remember you by.”)
– Of course, great how Spielbergo is impressed by Bumblebee Man’s audition (“Es muy bueno!”)
– What more can be said about “Man Getting Hit By Football”? It’s perfect; the title card and jangly piano intro feels like something someone as old as Moleman would include, and the premise itself is like an old slapstick bit. And Homer’s over-reaction is priceless of course, reminiscent of the similar incident in “Homer Goes to College” (“The ball! His groin! It works on so many levels!”)
– Smithers does damage control when everyone boos Burns’ film: They’re actually saying “Boo-urns.” He consults the crowd about it, who then boos him further. Hans, however, was saying “Boo-urns.”
– Great newspaper headline (“Incontinent Old Man Wins Miss Teen America” with an equally disturbing picture.
– Hilarious reading from Krusty when asked why he voted for Burns’ movie (“Let’s just say it moved me… to a bigger house! Oops, I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet.”)
– Homer watches Barney’s film a second time, and is so moved he vows not to ever drink again. Then of course, a man walks by selling beer and he takes ten. Very easy joke. Why was he there in the first place when Homer was having a private screening. Then we get basically the same joke later when Barney wins and vows to be sober, and the prize is a life supply of Duff. The reading of “Just hook it to my veeiiiins!” saves it though.
– Minor stupid quibble: Itchy & Scratchy wins for best animated short, but this was a film festival for local residents. Why would a studio production be eligible?
– Really great biting goodbye when Jay starts to propose if the Simpsons ever want to come on his show, Bart cuts him off, “Nah, we’re not going to be doing that.”

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6 responses to “121. A Star is Burns

  1. Little Thin Man Accused in Robbery

    ‘I ought to club them and eat their bones!’ is one of those lines that just thinking about it makes me crack up. You don’t realise how much classic material is crammed into individual episodes; I see Let’s Get Silly, Senor Spielbergo/’non-union Mexican equivalent’ and Man Getting Hit By Football referenced online on an almost daily basis, and they all come from the same episode! Still, that’s what I get for hanging around on the AV Club all the time.

  2. A layer of the Krusty/FDR gag seems based on Caesar Romero’s portrayal of the Joker in the 60’s Batman television show. If you look closely, you can see that Romero didn’t shave his moustache for the role, so they painted over it.

  3. Not gonna lie to you, but this is my favorite episode of the entire series and you handled it with another fine example of your exquisite writing. I actually do remember watching this first-run, then checked out The Critic and never looked back. What a great show that was.

    But no mention of “And you must be the man who didn’t know if he had a pimple or a boil.” It was a gummy bear. So stupid, but so great at the same time thanks to Dan’s delivery.

    “Great newspaper headline (“Incontinent Old Man Wins Miss Teen America” with an equally disturbing picture.)”

    Gotta love the headline writer taking the time to describe Burns as “Incontinent.”

  4. “Excuse me, did something crawl down your throat and die?”
    “It didn’t die.”

    Utterly perfect joke. Even if this episode had been season-20-level awful, I would watch the whole thing over and over for that one line.

  5. Best. Episode. Ever.

    I know this post is old but thanks for all the interesting background. A Star is Burns is my favourite episode of all time. From ‘Eye on Springfield’ to “…and the Oscar goes to…” I just think it’s perfect. You didn’t reference ‘how do you sleep at night!’ ‘On top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies,’ McBain’s very literal answer to Jay’s rhetorical question…brilliant.

    Basically, if I ever feel sad, I just think about Krusty getting out of the wheelchair during his portrayal of FDR: “Eleanor! We’ve just got to do something about this Depression. So I propose…ohh, that’s right, I’m crippled…” That and “TO A BIGGER HOUSE!” are possibly Krusty’s finest moments.

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