Day 6

'D'oh!' What happens when The Simpsons gets too ambitious

This week, Fox TV will air the first-ever hour-long Simpsons episode, an ambitious parody of The Great Gatsby with a hip-hop theme. Jack Picone and Dan Mulhall, the hosts of the Simpsons-themed Worst Episode Ever podcast, run down the best and worst of what can happen when The Simpsons tries to get ambitious.
The first-ever one-hour episode of The Simpsons features Taraji P. Henson, Snoop Dogg, Common and RZA as guest voices. (FOX)

The Simpsons have thwarted super villains, gone to space, befriended a psychiatric patient who thinks he's Michael Jackson and destroyed Australia's ecosystem. Plus a whole lot more. 

But when you think of all The Simpsons episodes - all 618 of them - there's one constant: all their misadventures have been contained in a tidy 22 minutes. Until this Sunday night.

On January 15th, FOX will air the first ever hour-long Simpsons episode.

That's something considering the show is in its 28th season. It's also significant because of the content. The episode, titled The Great Phatsby, will riff on the great and similarly named F. Scott Fitzgerald novel but with a hip-hop theme. This is not only ambitious, it is a rarity for The Simpsons to tackle black culture.

Snoop Dogg, Rza and Common will lend their voices to The Simpsons hip-hop-themed hour-long episode called The Great Phatsby. (FOX)

It's worth noting that ambition doesn't always lead to success for The SimpsonsRemember the movie and the Who Shot Mr. Burns cliff-hanger?

Jack Picone and Dan Mulhall are the hosts of the Worst Episode Ever podcast. They've made it their job to wade through the hundreds of episodes and argue over what works and what doesn't. They join Day 6 host Brent Bambury to break down Springfield's most ambitious hits and misses.

HIT: 22 Short Films About Springfield

DAN: This was the first Simpsons episode that played with the form of a 22-minute sitcom. They chopped it up into short pieces about all the supporting characters in the town of Springfield in a riff of the Canadian film about Glenn Gould called 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

22 Short Films About Springfield, based on the NFB's 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, originally aired in April 1996 as part of season 7. (FOX)

The episode is considered a success on the strength of the pop culture references (there's a Pulp Fiction gag) and the disastrous dinner storyline involving superintendent Gary Chalmers and Seymour Skinner.

JACK: If you don't like 12 of the 22, there's something wrong with you. 

MISS: The Man Who Came to Be Dinner

JACK: The 562nd episode finds The Simpsons shuttled to Rigel 7, the home planet of Kang and Kodos. The aliens put Homer, Bart, Maggie, Marge and Lisa in a zoo and inform them that they plan to eat one of them.

The Simpsons visit Rigel VII, the home planet of Kang and Kodos, where the inhabitants try to eat Homer in a giant fondue. (FOX)

DAN: The Simpsons creators say they held on to the plot for a few years because they thought it would be a good plot for a second Simpsons movie. Maybe it would be, but it doesn't work crammed into 22 minutes and takes the characters so far outside the realm of everyday American life. These characters just aren't built for this kind of humour. 

HIT: Treehouse of Horror VI

DAN: This episode plays with the form in a different way. Instead of the regular 2D animation, it is 3D animation. It works because The Simpsons creators make use of the form to tell a story about a different reality.

In Homer3, the third part of The Simpsons sixth Halloween special, Homer finds himself trapped in a three dimensional world. (FOX)

The Treehouse of Horror episode is a parody of a famous Twilight Zone episode where a little girl goes into another dimension. The Simpsons had fun with it, calling it the third dimension - something only a flat, animated character could do.

HIT: Brick Like Me

DAN: Brick Like Me is a Philip K. Dick-type episode in which Homer wakes up in a different reality altogether and slowly pieces together that he doesn't belong there.

The Simpsons' 550th episode finds Homer in a world where everyone and everything in Springfield is made of LEGO pieces. (FOX)

DAN: The Man Who Came To Be Dinner was set in a different reality but it has no emotional hook and there was no basis for them to be there. In Brick Like Me, Homer and Lisa are playing with toys together but now she wants to hang out with older girls and go see a Hunger Games-like movie and she leaves Homer behind. 

Homer says he likes the LEGO fantasy more because everything fits and no one can get hurt.

To hear Brent Bambury's conversation with Jack Picone and Dan Mulhall, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.