I’ve tried to write an intro to this interview about 6 times. Shayne Mathis is a guy I respect more than I can put into words. Between his writing for Metal Injection and his Full Metal Hipster podcast, Shayne has turned me on to some rad bands, especially He Whose Ox Is Gored. You should follow Shayne, read his writing, and listen to his podcast. I back all of his work 100%.
Shayne was nice enough to have me on his podcast when I first started this blog, so I’m really excited to finally have him on here. You can check it out HERE!
What is your first memory of The Simpsons?
I discovered The Simpsons when it was still a crudely drawn series of animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. My brother and I would stay up and watch the show on Saturday nights just to see the segments. At that time there wasn’t anything else on television like The Simpsons and I remember being drawn to it because the kids, who were the focus of the segments, were ill-behaved brats who mouthed off to their parents. I don’t remember many of the live-action skits on The Tracey Ullman Show, but the Simpsons segments have stuck with me for decades.
There is a pretty diverse cast of characters in Springfield. Who do you relate to the most? Why?
I imagine this is going to be the standard answer for any male who grew up watching the show, but I identified most with Bart. I really responded to a television character who was near my age and also hated going to church, wasn’t great in school and constantly mouthed off to his parents. When the show first premiered there weren’t characters like that on any of the multi-camera sit-coms that dominated prime time aside from Married…with Children – which I also loved much to the chagrin of my mom. Aside from Bart, most of the male adolescent characters on television at the time were lovable scamps like Mike Seaver from Growing Pains. These characters were mischievous but ultimately good at heart, where as Bart Simpson and Bud Bundy were borderline miscreants. Not that I was a budding criminal when I was young but I’ve always been bit anti-authoritarian and my parents would definitely describe me as a “hand-full” at that age. It was exciting to see character on tv who wasn’t afraid to give his parents and teachers backsass.
What is your favorite episode?
Oh man, this is a hard question to answer. I seriously had to make a list of all the episodes I love and rank them by joke density so I could come up with a reasonably objective choice. The first episode that sprung to mind was Treehouse of Horror 3 because Homer’s, “Flanders was a zombie?” line is possibly my favorite joke in the history of the show. I also love You Only Move Twice and The Springfield Files from season 8. But my all-time favorite episode is Last Exit to Springfield. Last Exit is the from the fourth season which aired in 1992-93 and it’s quite possibly the best season of The Simpsons. At this point in the show’s history it was still airing on Thursdays and my friend Jeff and I used to sit in study hall every Friday regurgitating jokes from the previous night’s episode. Season 4 gave the world the aforementioned Treeehouse of Horror zombie episode, Mr Plow, Homer the Heretic, Lisa’s First Word (this very nearly tied for my favorite episode), and I Love Lisa. Every episode from this season is a classic but Last Exit is essentially a perfect representation of The Simpsons. It’s full of memorable jokes (“Dental plan! Lisa needs braces,” “back door shenanigans”) and smartly done cultural references (The Godfather 2, Lisa’s nitrous oxide-induced Yellow Submarine hallucination, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas). Season 4 is peak Simpsons and Last Exit to Springfield is a distillation of everything that made the show great.
My first exposure to vegetarianism was from the episode Lisa The Vegetarian. Has the show ever exposed you to an idea that impacted your life? (Lisa become veg, Barney quitting drinking, etc.)
I wish I had a good story for this question but the extent of The Simpsons’ effect on my life was that I prank called my local grocery store a few times and got them to page Amanda Hugnkiss, I.P. Freely, etc over the PA system.
Do you have a favorite guest star?
Some stand-out guest stars for me are Michael Jackson, Spinal Tap, Leonard Nimoy, and Sonic Youth performing the Simpsons theme (I’m counting that as a guest appearance damn it!) Albert Brooks as Hank Scorpio is my favorite though. I loved how he was a business-casual, Silicon Valley-style Bond villain.
Who is someone you would like to see guest on the show?
Keeping with the theme of this blog and the fact that the show established early on that Bart is a metalhead, I was originally going to pick Metallica but apparently that already happened. I quit watching new episodes in the very early 2000s so I’m pretty out of touch. My second choice would be Danzig because he’s awesome and already sort of cartoonish. He could move into the neighborhood and catch Bart toilet papering his house or something. As punishment Danzig would make Bart move all the bricks off his lawn and send him to the store to pick up kitty litter. Danzig would also have to perform a Simpsons-themed version of one of his songs at some point.
The Simpsons have had some classic musical numbers. Do you have a favorite?
The short Dr. Zaius musical number with Phil Hartman from A Fish Called Selma. I’d gladly watch an entire episode of nothing but that musical.
You said on the podcast that you used to buy the Simpsons action figures. Do you have any other cool collectibles?
These aren’t really collectibles but I had a Simpsons trivia game, a few of the Simpsons video games for the NES and SNES including Bart’s Nightmare which was infuriatingly difficult, the aforementioned toys, and some bootleg shirts. I always wanted the shirt that said “Crack Kills” and had a picture of Bart Simpson stuck between an obese woman’s butt cheeks. I seem to remember a shirt with Bart flipping off Saddam Hussein, too, which would be awesome to have.
There is a fan theory on the internet that claims that Homer has been in a coma for 20+ years. In the season 4 episode ‘Homer The Heretic’, Homer has a conversation with God asking about the meaning of life. God tells him he’ll find out one day. Homer says he can’t wait that long to find out and God replies “You can’t wait six months?” Cut to six months later to the episode ‘So it’s come to this: A Simpsons Clip Show.’ Bart plays an April Fools day prank on Homer causing him to fall into a coma. In the episode, Homer wakes up. But some people think he’s been in a coma ever since and everything since then has been happening in Homer’s imagination. This explains why the characters don’t age, later episodes contradicting things like how Homer and Marge met. The episodes even get zanier following the coma episode including things like Mr Burns capturing the Loch Ness Monster, secret land of jockey elves, and non-Treehouse Of Horror appearances of Kang and Kodos. Thoughts? (Showrunner Al Jean has said this theory isn’t true, but it’s definitely intriguing.)
I’ve heard that theory. It’s fun to think about, but I think the shift has more to do with a change in writing style that favored an increase in surrealism and absurdity over realism and adherence to canon. As far as characters not again, I chalk that up to the nature of animation. It’s easier to draw characters exactly the same all the time and the voice actors don’t have to worry about developing slightly different voices every season.
How would you like to see the series end?
I’d like to see either a flash forward that shows where the Simpsons and the major supporting cast are in 20 years or an ending that references those ‘it was all a dream” plot lines from 80s TV shows. Maybe the entire series could wind up being a fantasy Ralph Wiggum invented in his head a la the series finale of St. Elsewhere. I’m sure the current writers will have Homer blow up the planet or something equally ridiculous, though.
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