Hello? Is Anybody Still Out There?

I think I hit a little slump there. Now I can better appreciate what writers and columnists who write for a living must feel when they have to write on demand, make it engaging, and turn it in on time.

When I got into post-production on the “final four” four this season, I just couldn’t quite focus on writing. There was a lot of work to do on these last four episodes and before I knew it six weeks had passed by without a new blog post. Sorry about that. I’ll try to not let that happen again.

Before I get into my SIMPSONS part of the blog, I wanted to include a very personal request. My wife and I have a beautiful granddaughter who is nearly two years old. She was born sixteen weeks prematurely (known as a micro-preemie) and had to stay in the hospital for the first nine weeks of her life. Today, thanks to incredible advances in preemie and micro-preemie medicine and care, she is a thriving, happy, bouncy toddler. On Saturday, May 19, 2012 my family and I will be walking in the March for Babies to raise funds and awareness for micro-preemie research and education. If all my readers would donate just $1 that would be a blessing and a gift for which I would be forever grateful. Please take a moment and visit my donation web page and give whatever you can. Thank you so much.

When last we met out here on the Interwebs, I was working on PABF11 “Beware My Cheating Bart”, written by Ben Joseph. One of the highlights of the episode was the extended couch gag, guest-animated by Bill Plympton. What a flight of fancy to imagine Homer having had a “relationship” with the couch before he met Marge. Clever story, trademark Plymptoon animation, and, of course, a suitably quirky and emotional cue to score it.

I want to give a shout-out to one of our regular cast members, Tress MacNeille. She provided the voice for Jimbo’s girlfriend Shauna in this episode. This could have been another great guest-casting opportunity for one of Bart’s crushes (like Meryl Streep or Natalie Portman) but Tress gave (and always gives) a wonderful, nuanced performance that goes way past the stereotypical “valley girl” inflection of the character. Shauna is sincerely attracted to Bart, but knows it’s ridiculous because he’s only ten years old. She likes the attention Bart gives her that Jimbo doesn’t and is able to bring a wistful quailty to her scenes. Really well done, I thought.

The “B” story was Homer’s newfound obsession with a recently canceled TV show called “Stranded”. This story line actually had a 1-2 punch for me in that it poked fun at “Lost” and at Netflix. Homer has had a love affair with televsion since the beginning and I think his discovery that he can watch old shows 24/7 on the Internet is like finding his own personal Shangri-La. No matter what fans or detractors of THE SIMPSONS thought about this story line, “Lost” co- creator Damon Lindelof tweeted this about the episode.

Then it was on to PABF12 “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”, written by Matt Warburton and Executive Produced by Matt Selman. In a surprising turn-of-character, Bart wants to go on a cruise to spice up his humdrum life in Springfield and ends up wanting the cruise to last forever because not only is he having fun, but he sees how much fun the rest of his family is having.

The episode has its genesis in a 1996 Harper’s Magazine essay by David Foster Wallace. I’ve cruised many times in my life and I have always felt melancholy at the end of the voyage because life aboard a luxury liner is wonderfully (almost sinfully) pampered.

British actor and comedian Steve Coogan provided the voice of the Cruise Director and got to belt out a Broadway-style tune called “Enjoy it While You Can” with music by Tony-winning composer Robert Lopez (“Avenue Q” and “Book of Mormon”). The song sums up all of Bart’s fears – the cruise is great, but when it’s over it’s back to normal life. Robert Lopez wrote & produced the song in New York with a “synthesizer band” and Steve Coogan also recorded his singing in New York. The tracks were sent to me, then Alf added  a Vegas-style house orchestra arrangement for the final version. Great work all around.

The episode also had two more “classical” works in it to add to our growing list of “legit” musical works being slipped into the show. This time all credit for the choices goes to writer Matt Warburton who wrote the selections into the script. For the first time we see the massive cruise ship with a flyover shot, the music is “Concerto for Harp and Strings” by Francois Boeildieu. This piece got a second, more dire and dark treatment later in the episode when we see the same flyover, but the ship is now in ruins after Bart’s “virus” scam. Harpist Gayle Levant gave a fantastic- albeit very short – performance of the solo part. The second work was a snippet of the overture from “Ruslan and Ludmilla”, an opera by 1800s Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, which scored the sequence of Bart running all over the ship while he enjoyed all the cool activities. The orchestra got a kick out of playing these works and the cues fit their respective scenes perfectly. Nice choices, Matt! Great playing, orchestra!

Finally the show earned some “indie cred” according to The Hollywood Reporter when we used songs by Hot Chip and Animal Collective during the episode. The show opens with Bart going through his very mundane weekly routine to the song “And I Was a Boy From School”. The show ends with Bart and the family sliding down snowy hills with penguins and then old Bart looks back over the happy times in his life to the song “Winter’s Love”. Once again, these song choices were written into the script by Matt Warburton. Well done.

OK, I’m half-way to catching up. I’ll cover the final three shows of the season next time. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

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30 thoughts on “Hello? Is Anybody Still Out There?

  1. Dear Chris,

    I only recently discovered your blog. I have been a superfan of The Simpsons since the very beginning, and this is in part because of the fantastic music in every episode. It is so wonderful of you to write this blog for those of us who love to know more about what goes into the creation of the show. I once had the privilege of meeting Alf Clausen and attending a recording session for an episode; it was an unforgettable experience. Thank you for your hard work and I hope that you continue the blogging.

  2. Wow just stumbled across the blog after searching around to see if any of the instrumental music/cues had been released commercially. What an entertaining and informative insight into the world of music editing, and through the lens of my favourite show! As a composer, the use of music in the Simpsons has been a real role model to me so its fascinating to learn more about the process beyond writing the cue itself. Thanks and keep up the awesome work!

    • Hi Vincent,

      Thanks so much for the nice compliments.

      I’m taking advantage of a little down time while the show is on hiatus, but I’ll still be posting from time to time and will return full strength in mid-to-late August when we begin working on season 24.

  3. Great to be readin’ from you again. I hope you keep doing it for at least 2 more seasons, it’s very interesting

    I adored the Plympton couch gag! Lovely of Matt & the rest of you to give him such a big mainstream podium to show his stuff. I hope it results in good things for him.

    Now for a little something for you, in case you haven’t heard it yet. I came upon another commentary (I like to listen to them while cleaning up animation) anecdote about you . This time it’s from a celebrity guest star…

    [audio src="http://matte-nande.nl/sound/AnotherLedesmaAnecdote.mp3" /]

    PS is it still possible to donate, or have I missed the deadline for it?

    • Thanks for the props. I’ll keep going as long as there’s an audience and as long as I can keep it fresh.

      I really enjoyed everything about the Plympton couch gag. I really hope the “guest animator” thing continues.

      Thanks so much for the sound bite. I haven’t had time to listen to them all. What a treat.

      The walk was last weekend, but March of Dimes will gladly accept your donation any time you’d like to give. How generous of you. I really appreciate it.

  4. Hi again,
    just finished watching Lisa Goes Gaga and have noticed two people claimed to be guest stars who haven’t appeared this season. Patton Oswalt tweeted that he would guest star. Also, Karl Pilkington was thought to be guest starring. Can you tell us if these were misteaks or if they will be next season?

    Thanks,
    Solar Dragon

    • Patton Oswalt will be in an episode that will air next season, most likely in the fall. Karl Pilkington made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in PABF02 “The Ten-Per-Cent Solution”. If you’d like me to tell you where, I will. Or you can search the episode and tell me if you can find him. Where’s Karl?

      • Ah, yes, I saw that. However, the way many websites and other news sources were saying, it sounded like he was guest starring rather than making a small cameo. I saw the cameo by the way and was hoping that wouldn’t be it.

      • As far as I know (and what I know along with a dollar will get you thrown out of Starbucks) that is the extent of his appearance. I’ll publish more news if any becomes available.

  5. I love the fact that classical music is making an appearance into the show. Would it be possible to identify what the piece is in The Spy Who Learned Me at 19:10 when Homer is delivering his special ops line to the guy who wants to shoot him?

    Thanks for this blog, it’s been great discovering new music through this.

    • “Claire de Lune” by French impressionist composer Claude Debussy. One of the most beautiful uses of this piece in a film comes at the end of the George Clooney remake of “Oceans 11″ during the penultimate scene when he and his gang watch the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel.

      • Thank you, it’s a beautiful piece I shall add to my music collection. I only ever saw the original Oceans 11, but perhaps it’s time to see the remake.

  6. Thanks as always for the fun posts. I’ll check out your donation page and contribute a little something.

    So, how much do things slow down for you now before you have to get ready again for Fall?

    • Thank you SO much for the donation. How kind of you.

      It’s like being back in school … summer vacation, off for about 3 months. We go back mid-to-late August. In the meantime, I’ll do some teaching, try to rattle the trees for a TV movie or feature film, but also enjoy a little down time with my wife and the rest of my family.

      Production and writing continues all through the summer, so we could get called in at any time to pre-record a song for a future episode.

      • Is it really necessary to create the music so close to air date? I would think everyone would be able to do better if it weren’t crunch time nonstop. Were there incidents in the past where a lot of work on music was wasted because of a later plot revision?

      • Traditionally in animation, the music is composed and recorded first, then the artists animate to the music which makes the marriage between the two very tight. But that only works when the schedule allows for a long production process including time for the music to be rewritten if necessary. A weekly episodic TV schedule simply doesn’t allow us this luxury. Scenes are being rewritten and reanimated up to one week before air.

        Even on this very tight schedule, we’ve never missed a scoring deadline or been unable to provide all the music requested of us. Granted, 100% of the recorded score doesn’t always make it into the show, but that’s not because of lack of time.

        Great question. Thanks.

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