Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2020 by Fred Topel
It’s time for our twice annual interview with Al Jean, showrunner on The Simpsons. Jean is such a reliable attendee to Fox’s Television Critics Association that I now think of questions every week while I watch the show and unleash them when we have a chance to talk.
This batch of questions covers The Simpsons’ inclusion on Disney+, the new Disney ownership, Aquaman Jason Momoa’s voice cameo, and recent episodes, like the return of Artie Ziff and “Thanksgiving of Horror.” The Simpsons airs Sunday nights on Fox.
Has having The Simpsons on Disney+ been different than having it on FXNOW?
Disney+ has just got this enormous reach. There’s just a lot of people seeing it that is amazing. They may not have seen it before and they’re getting a chance to catch it so it’s great. I love being on Disney+.
And they’re still doing Simpsons marathons on FX?
FX is also owned by Disney so it’s like a combination marathon/promoting Disney+ and I love those too. It’s great to see your whole career flash before your eyes.
Did it mean a lot to you that the fans wanted the original 4:3 aspect ratio episodes on Disney+?
Oh, absolutely. We’re always in favor of giving that option and they’re going to do it early this year. People want to see what they saw the way they saw it.
Has Disney expressed any interest in another Simpsons Movie?
I would say yes although we’re just in the very, very early stages. We would love to do one for Disney but it’s not like it’s happening next week or next year.
That’s different than it was under 20th Century Fox when you’d usually say maybe one day you’d do another movie.
At D23 Matt said, “I think it’s gonna happen” and I agree with that. So I agree with that statement. I believe it will happen.
Knowing how hard it was to break a story for the first Simpsons Movie, would you have a better handle on it the second time?
It’s never easier. This I’m sure of. We would only do it if it was an idea that we thought deserved being made into another movie. We certainly don’t need to have more Simpsons out there just for the money or to have additional material. We would do it if we thought it was a great story and we wanted to tell it.
A standalone story, not a sequel?
Danny Elfman told some site I’d never heard of called Joe.ie that The Simpsons was ending after season 32. That can’t be right, is it?
If it was ending, I don’t think Danny Elfman would be the first person they would call. So no, we’re definitely doing season 32. We’re reading it this year. I’m optimistic there’ll be more. I can’t say for sure but definitely nobody has said, “Shut it down.”
I don’t think Disney bought The Simpsons just to end it.
No, I don’t think so either. They’ve been great so far.
I should probably know this but does Dan Castellaneta do Homer as a kid too?
Oh yeah, Dan does Homer as a kid or as a teenager or older. Same thing with Nancy as Bart. Any time you see one of those characters, the person doing the voice, whatever age is always them.
The couch gag with Nelson getting hit by a train was pretty violent.
Well, guess what? He’s not dead. He’ll come back.
I know, but in the same episode it says Bart dies at age 17 so were you going through a morbid phase?
He’s never going to turn 17.
Except we’ve seen him past 17.
I would say that Bart isn’t going to die at age 17.
Was Jon Lovitz the voice of the rabbi at Artie Ziff’s wedding too?
Was coming up with Thanksgiving pun names easier or harder than Halloween names?
That was actually done by Megan Amram who loves puns and is a really brilliant writer. So she came up with them.
Was “Thanksgiving of Horror” a success and worth doing again?
It was definitely a success. I think we would want to just do things that are original and unique, so I’m not sure we’d do it again but I thought it was great.
Who is the Bachman Turner Overdrive fan because this was the second time they made an appearance on The Simpsons?
We just love “Taking Care of Business” and there was that great joke in an early episode where Homer says, “Get to the working overtime part.” So gotta love Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Was the Bohemian Rhapsody Wembley couch gag started as soon as the movie opened?
Yes, it was when we saw it. I had never seen the Live Aid Queen before. Of course it’s a showstopper so we thought it would be great to give our animators the opportunity to animate this enormous crowd.
Does San Castellaneta have more derived from Dan than just his name?
No, I just thought it would get a laugh at the table and I hope from the viewer.
Did Jason Momoa really blow a conk shell for you?
No, it was really funny when we were trying to record him. He’d be like, “You can’t get him. He’s at the top of a mountain. Oh no, he’s under the water.” He was always at some crazy location so he did it via skype.
“The Flanderses” episode was really emotional and deep. What motivated that one?
Well, we thought we had never really explored the real emotion that these kids would feel that they lost their mother. I think it’s a great topic and I thought Nancy, who does Todd’s voice, did a tremendous job.
I love that Sideshow Bob has a “Die Bart Die” Christmas ornament. Is he keeping that going from his tattoo?
Well, I like that Sideshow Bob has this lighthouse that he’s king of exiled to and he’s sort of thinking about the life that he wasted.
Was incorporating SD flashbacks into an HD episode challenging?
No, no, we just didn’t want to change it, for the same reason I said earlier. So we just put it in standard definition.
Homer rented Roma on DVD. That is a Netflix only movie. Are you saying something about physical media with that statement?
That’s a good point. I love physical media which gives me a great opportunity to plug the season 19 DVD is out. So now you can get every year from one to 20, no gaps. I’m very proud of that.
Has Disney expressed any interest in doing season 21?
There’s nothing imminent with 21. My biggest goal was just to get the whole thing where you had no gap in the middle so I’m happy about that.
Was it hard to pick only six things that Fox News was burning on the Yule log?
Yes, we had many more.
Was Portland happier about their portrayal on The Simpsons than New Orleans was?
Well, we apologized to New Orleans. We had that thing where Homer was eating his way through it and there were these two Swiss women that did a video where they copied it. They imitated Homer. You should check it out. It’s really fantastic. So Portland, they’ve always been really proud of the show.
I used to say “Coming to Homerica” was my favorite later Simpsons episode and that’s 10 years old now, so it’s middle now.
I know. I’m glad you liked it. It was a great episode. To me, we won the Emmy last year which is pretty amazing for a show in its 30th season. I like to think we’re working harder than we ever have and taking nothing for granted.
You’re working harder but is it also new writers come in and work to prove themselves?
Oh, everybody, writers and directors, everybody knows A, it’s this great product and B, you’re going to be on forever. So everybody wants to make it good.
What’s coming up?
Well, we have Cate Blanchett playing a dog whisperer. She’s great with dogs and does this kind of nonsense talk. I think she was speaking elvish. We have David Harbour from Stranger Things. Mr. Burns has a doppelganger. He has a suit so he can go undercover boss inside the plant and David Harbour plays the voice that he uses when he’s in the disguise. So he was great and Pete Holmes wrote and appears in a two parter.
Is that the season finale and next season premiere?
One week apart but there’s a cliffhanger and we have a surprise ending to it.
Is that very different than doing “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” between two seasons?
Yeah, it wasn’t something where we were going to go oh, this is something we want people to be thinking about for three months but it’s really good and I think works as two weeks’ episodes. It’s like Batman used to be when I was a kid. You’d have a show on Monday and a show on Thursday.
What’s the season finale?
The season finale is Olivia Colman so she’s done a guest shot as well. She plays a woman that every man falls in love with except Homer, and she falls in love with Homer.
Have you started work on next year’s Halloween?
We’ve definitely recorded next year’s. Number XXXI is being animated.
What are you spoofing?
One part is this really fantastic “Into the Homerverse” where you see all different versions of Homer from different dimensions.
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