Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
400th Episode Embiggens The Simpsons
2007-05-17 11:31
by Jon Weisman

I supervised a package of stories on The Simpsons for Variety in honor of the series' upcoming 400th episode, and contributed this feature on mastermind Matt Groening focusing on his pre-Simpsons years.

As a child and into his college years, Matt Groening was a sponge -- yellow, if you like, to match the dominant color of his most famous creation, the Simpson family.

He soaked up everything -- television, music, popular culture, unpopular culture.

And then, when Groening arrived in Southern California in 1977, fresh out of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., he just started squeezing. It would be nearly a decade before he wrung out "The Simpsons," but the show nevertheless was more a product of Groening's youth and innate passion than any life experiences he absorbed as a grown-up. ...

* * *

I'm pleased to say that readership of Screen Jam has jumped dramatically since the latest revival attempt. Thanks to all who have participated.

Every thread at Screen Jam is an open chat thread.

Comments (64)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2007-05-17 11:46:30
1.   bhsportsguy
Andy Griffith Character - Simpsons Character
Otis (Town Drunk) - Barney (Town Drunk)
Goober and Gomer - Apu
Old Skinflint Store Owner - Mr. Burns
Barney Fife - Chief Wiggum
Floyd the barber - Moe the bartender
2007-05-17 11:51:29
2.   blue22
I'm in a Simpsons revival mode; it's replaced AD as my syndicated sitcom I watch several times daily now (thank you Tivo!). The local affiliate has been broadcasting the seasons from '94-'97. Just great, great stuff. You forget how wonderful they were, on account of the last 10 years of so-so material.
2007-05-17 13:01:09
3.   Frip
"When I sat down," Groening recalls, [the producer] said, 'I'm a completely duplicitous a**hole, and nothing I say can be trusted.' "

That may be funnier than anything Groening ever wrote on his own. I think the producer's opening line should be customary when meeting a new date...or anybody, for the first time. After 800 years of chivalric nonsense, something more reality-based and substantive than "pleased to meet you" is now in order.

2007-05-17 14:05:57
4.   Benaiah
Alright, no spoilers obviously, but does anyone want to guess what is going to happen tonight on the season finale of "The Office"?

I haven't seen or read anything other than the title of the episode ("The Job"), but my prediction is Karen gets the promotion that Michael is gunning for, she asks Jim to move with her, he declines, the season ends with him and Pam hanging out, as friends. Michael attempts to fire Karen, only she outranks him and he is chastised but certainly does not learn his lesson.

2007-05-17 14:14:27
5.   Kevin Lewis
Continuing the LOST conversation:


I really liked Charlie's flashbacks "top five" sequence in the show. I think it was a way for Charlie to come to grips with what he needs to do and to put others before himself. As much as I like Charlie right now, I will be a bit disappointed if he does not die at the end of this season. I loved the way he said goodbye to Claire. It seemed realistic and not some forced love scene. But when he came up for air in the Looking Glass I was yelling at him to shut up if he wanted to live.

I have stopped watching the Simpsons since the 10th season. I guess the genius of seasons 5-7 made me think I would never experience it again from the show. I am looking forward to the movie.

2007-05-17 14:15:10
6.   Kevin Lewis

I think you have nailed the obvious set up for the end, but I hope there are some surprises in there for us.

2007-05-17 14:35:10
7.   Benaiah
6 - Yeah, that is definitely the obvious ending. Since last season ended on such a surprise, I guess they have to do it again. Still, the ending I expected (Pam approaching Jim) is out the window after last episode, so I don't even have a good off the wall prediction. My prediction is this: either way, Jim and Pam won't be together at the end of the episode. They will be closer, but I predict no kiss, no "I love you" and generally just a slight step down from last season's finale.
2007-05-17 14:36:50
8.   Benaiah
5 - Yeah, I guess it was a nice way way to usher Charlie out. I like that they have been playing with the flashback structure more and more, hopefully they will consider getting rid of it altogether next season.

Jack is the worst at this point. He isn't going anywhere, but he really detracts from my enjoyment of the show.

2007-05-17 15:43:24
9.   Mark T.R. Donohue
5 I really liked the flashbacks in the Charlie episode too. It was about time they did some "real world" flashbacks that weren't just a mounting series of colossal bummers. I get it, everybody's dad is an a-hole.
2007-05-17 17:08:45
10.   Agronox
I've never really liked Charlie as a character, but that was a very good episode for him.

I've always liked Jack, and especially Locke. Maybe I just don't get annoyed as much as other people; I even liked Ana Lucia.

I agree with everyone saying that it's time for the flashback structure to change. There aren't many loose ends left to explain. Sawyer's backstory is finished. So is Locke's, for the most part Kate's, and for the most part Jack's.

Really the only truly interesting flashbacks I could see among the main cast are Desmond's (in particular dealing with Libby). That isn't to say a Mira Furlan ('cause I can't spell her character's name) flashback wouldn't be cool though.

2007-05-17 17:35:32
11.   Jon Weisman
I'm not eager for the flashbacks to go away. Think about it - on any other show, the flashbacks are the show. They're a drama onto themselves. Maybe I'm being naive, but while some flashbacks are better than others, I've never tired of them. To me, the blend of the past and the present is fundamental to what makes Lost great.

I'm glad to find one other person who liked Ana Lucia.

2007-05-17 17:44:13
12.   Greg Brock
Ana Lucia was okay.

Great ep for Charlie, character I could have always done without. If they would have conjured this inner strength and decency in him earlier, maybe I wouldn't have found him such a sniveling pain in the neck. But it was a fantastic episode for him, and very emotional.

2007-05-17 17:45:19
13.   Andrew Shimmin
How does Karen get the promotion over Jim? Accepting that rank can't mean everything if Michael isn't getting it, Jim's been promoted twice this season, and Karen's job is the same, right? Unless it was Jan pulling strings for him both times (which could be, but I don't remember taking that impression), and that Jan's out of the loop (which could be, but I don't think they've set her up as being that far out of the loop), wouldn't Jim have to pull out of the race for Karen to win?
2007-05-17 17:50:29
14.   Andrew Shimmin
Reading Bob's big news about Rashida Jones's pilot getting picked up, in the last thread, would seem to auger well for her character's getting the job, if they would have known about that in time. What's the turn around time on show production?
2007-05-17 17:58:32
15.   Benaiah
Um, the perfect episode. Hilarious. See you guys in what, three hours? Four hours?
2007-05-17 18:00:14
16.   Benaiah
Oh, and make sure that your Tivo films late because there is an extra segement after the break.
2007-05-17 18:10:27
17.   Jon Weisman
14 - Bob's big news?

15 - I don't start watching until the wife gets home at 10:30 PST, so I'll have to stay out of here after 9.

2007-05-17 18:17:43
18.   the OZ
15, 16. Thanks for the heads-up.

I think Karen gets the job, too.

Regarding LOST, I thought the episode was strongly written and acted but the narrative was barely advanced at all. A synopsis of the hour could succinctly read "The Losties decide what to do when the Others arrive at the beach" and you really wouldn't be missing anything. You could probably distill any episode down to something that singular, but you'd be leaving out a lot of nuance. I don't think that's true with "Greatest Hits".

2007-05-17 18:18:46
19.   Andrew Shimmin
17- New nickname I was trying to get started. No good?

Jon's big news. Bob had the Rashida Jones as Tonya Harding joke, which I found amusing. My bad.

2007-05-17 18:48:26
20.   Hallux Valgus
13 Did you perhaps answer your question with your last statement? Given the way Jim left Scranton in the first place, it seems reasonable that he might stay if he sees hope with Pam.
2007-05-17 18:55:33
21.   Jon Weisman
Of course I'm at a disadvantage to Benaiah right now, but it never occured that anyone was going to get the new job until you guys started talking about it. When I watched last week's episode, I assumed it was just a way to launch the events of the day.

I feel it would have to be a pretty peculiar job that would allow Karen to leapfrog everyone, especially when people from other branches are involved. Karen has not been portrayed as a particularly standout salesperson. The two occasions I can remember were 1) overwhelmed by Dwight's client load and 2) Phyllis being the key to a tag-tam sale. Karen seems very much a junior employee to me.

But maybe I'm just supposed to assume those were isolated incidents, and she's really a comer.

2007-05-17 19:02:11
22.   Benaiah
21 - I have both hands tied behind my back so I don't have much of an advantage. If it was simply about sales expertise than Dwight, who is the best salesman in the company, would be getting calls to interview. Clearly they are looking for more than that. Karen dresses like Jan for example.
2007-05-17 19:03:34
23.   Hallux Valgus
21 were we ever told what the job was? It could be that she's a stellar manager even though she's a sub par salesperson (admittedly, I've seen no evidence of that, either).
2007-05-17 19:10:14
24.   Penarol1916
All I will say is that I was mildly disappointed in some of the things in this episode. I probably won't stay up late enough to discuss tonight.
2007-05-17 19:22:37
25.   Andrew Shimmin
Michael was told to bring his stats for the quarter (along with a recommendation for his replacement), but no more was said about the job than that it was a "position at corporate."

Jim could decide to forgo his ambition to be with Pam, but the Jim/Pam story line would have to advance in a serious way, quickly, for him to do that, I think.

2007-05-17 19:27:55
26.   Benaiah
24 - I would pull a CuckDodger after someone just said that Kershaw and Logan White were overrated, but I need to pack up my entire room before I come back here at 11 (central time) to see what everyone else thinks. Remember, if you don't stay until after the commercial then you are missing something great.
2007-05-17 20:09:38
27.   trainwreck
So are we allowed to comment on the Office during the show? Or wait till it is over?
2007-05-17 20:23:35
28.   Marty
I so want a CreedThoughts t-shirt.
2007-05-17 20:29:06
29.   overkill94
I think my DVR screwed up. I attempted to click the "start recording from beginning" button after only about a minute of the show and it froze up, so now when I try to go back and do the same thing it still freezes on a black screen. Will it be okay once the show's finally over? Please tell me it will...
2007-05-17 20:30:43
30.   Kevin Lewis
I liked Ana Lucia's character a lot, and I was pretty bummed when she took herself out of the show, or at least I think that is what happened. I too like the flashbacks. I have not tired of them yet, and I have loved the parallel themes of the flashbacks and the present day situations. Part of the enjoyment for me is that I have begun to think back on past experiences to see how I have been shaped in certain ways. This is the only show that has made me do that. Except, of course, for my long lost love, Winne Cooper...until she completely changed at the end. Kevin should have stayed with the girl in his French class, Becky, I think.
2007-05-17 21:00:55
31.   Hallux Valgus
28 "What do you guys think is the best kind of car? To me, you can't beat motorcycles. They're small, and dangerous."
2007-05-17 21:06:15
32.   Andrew Shimmin
Hail to the temp!

Wow. I don't know what Penarol was talking about, I thought it was great. And I completely lose on the Jim/Pam thing. Everybody else was right about what Jim took from it.

2007-05-17 21:06:19
33.   Benaiah
This is easily the most important episode to date in the show's brief history. It wraps up the biggest grounding, dramatic plot and replaces it with two (possibly three) new focuses. The first one is the new Ryan and Michael dynamic, given their history this is going to be a very interesting role reversal. Second, Jan has now collapsed in on herself like a dying star, and Michael dealing with this will be an interesting change of pace. A third possible plot is the jilted Karen, but I think there is a strong possibility Karen will bow out (Rashida Jones's show got picked up).

As happy as I am that Jim and Pam are finally together, I worry that the show will lose its centered reality and become silly, like "Scrubs." Jan's meltdown was funny, but it also felt like it bent the rules of the game. Even though "The Office" was inauthentic to the extreme, there was a feeling that within the diagetic world of Dunder Miflin the people behaved realistically- for their established personalities anyway. Now any character might be a secret Dwight or Michael under a thin vinear of civility. Compared to the often depressingly real, and thus incredibly poignant, Season 2, I worry that Season 4 will be flat and artificial.

Perhaps I just want to eat my cake and have it too, but after years of wishing Jim and Pam would get together I worry that the show will lose its Je ne sais quoi.

2007-05-17 21:08:46
34.   Benaiah
Funniest line of the show:

"It will hurt my feedback rating on ebay, but I guess I could back out of the sale."

2007-05-17 21:09:40
35.   Hallux Valgus
yeah, the Pam/ Jim thing has always been a double-edged sword for me, because on one hand, I want them to get together, and on the other hand, I've seen every single other sitcom that uses this plot device go stale very very quickly.
2007-05-17 21:13:52
36.   overkill94
As long as Jim and Pam go back to pulling pranks again, I'll be happy. It will definitely be interesting to see how their situation is handled since you don't want the show to become a lovey-dovey schlockfest (which I doubt it will), but they have to be honest about how they would act in the work setting. When's the season 4 premiere?
2007-05-17 21:17:27
37.   the OZ
Geeeez. My DVR didn't record The Office tonight. I have no idea why, either.
2007-05-17 21:20:30
38.   Benaiah
36 - September.

There are 3 other versions of "The Office." "The British Version," which is brilliant and started it all, a French version and a German version. In the French version, the Jim and Pam characters are dating from day one and they are frequently seen hooking up around the Office.* This is not to say that is what Jim and Pam will do, but there is a precedent. I don't know how much I want to see trouble in paradise, so I hope they don't go down that route to keep it interesting. The day Jim and Pam break up is when I officially give up on love (TV love anyway).

*I have not been able to find "Le Bureau" on DVD, but I read a review online.

2007-05-17 21:21:20
39.   Marty
There's a lot to resolve. Karen didn't get the job and Jim went back to Scranton alone, even though nothing seemed to go wrong between Jim and Karen. It will be interesting to see how the writers work that out.
2007-05-17 21:23:39
40.   Hallux Valgus
37 itunes is your friend!
2007-05-17 21:25:26
41.   Greg Brock
Jim and Pam would work fine. This isn't Moonlighting here...A show predicated on sexual tension between two characters. It's about the paper company in Scranton, and the wacky antics that ensue. Jim and Pam were always really together anyway, in spirit. The shenanigans can go on with those two dating.

Of course, Karen didn't get the job. So, there is a lot to resolve. But she's off to Fox in the fall, so it should be interesting to see how they end that.

2007-05-17 21:28:19
42.   Andrew Shimmin
39- How can they not be done? "It's a date." No way does Karen stick around for that. I can't believe Jim would try to balance it; I'm just taking for granted that they have to be through. I don't know how Karen leaves, but she said tonight that she couldn't stay in Scranton.

Karen plus the temp leaving means they need new office staff.

2007-05-17 21:29:53
43.   Benaiah
39 - I bet that will be resolved in a 30 second wrap up after the credits of the next episode. The Office wrapped up the cliff hanger of all cliff hangers last season just like that. I expect the next time we see the gang, everything will be back to a new normal and Karen will either a) not be on the show at all, b) be working out of New York or b) have a talking head where she says she hates Jim Hallpert and Pam, but after keying Jim's car and getting Pam to take away the restraining order she is back at work in Scranton.
2007-05-17 21:32:49
44.   Marty
Oh, they are through I'm sure. I was just wondering how they will write her out. If it's a 30 second wrap up I'll be disappointed. Not the first time.
2007-05-17 21:34:33
45.   Benaiah
43 - the second b) should be a c), obviously.

How about all of the Pam talking heads, where she made it more and more clear that her speech to Jim was not just friendly in nature. Plus, Karen became less and less likable as the show went on.

Jim's haircut was bizarre, to my eyes anyway. It was better than the wings he had, but he looked like a 1950's schoolboy.

2007-05-17 21:35:15
46.   Benaiah
44 - I bet she will at least get a talking head, but I doubt it will be more than that.
2007-05-17 21:36:55
47.   Hallux Valgus
45 to me, Karen was barely a character at all. She just kind of was. If I was going to describe her, I doubt I could come up with more than "Jim's girlfriend."

yeah, that haircut looked odd.

2007-05-17 21:44:08
48.   Benaiah
47 - I think she was an awesome character. The scene in Stanford when Jim throws the fake grenade and she throws the paper clips in the air, her makeover with Phyllis and the frank admission: "I don't know whether he is in to me, but, I think I am into him. So yeah" all really did it for me. There was an ever so brief Pam versus Karen debate, though the conclusion was inevitable, just sparking the debate shows Karen has serious chops.
2007-05-17 21:52:52
49.   Greg Brock
I think that National Bingo Night is going to be huge.

I don't know how to feel about that.

2007-05-17 21:58:01
50.   dzzrtRatt
33 I learned a new word tonight from you. "Diagetic." It's actually spelled "diegetic." A good example of diegetic music was the tape Michael played before he exited Scranton for what he thought was the last time. Another example: Dooley Wilson playing "As Time Goes By" for Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca.

Non-diegetic music is music the characters don't hear, but the audience hears. Other than the theme song, there is no non-diegetic music in "The Office."

Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2007-05-17 22:02:08
51.   Bob Timmermann
"It's an abomination to nature. I like them to sag. Swing low sweet chariots."

I greatly enjoyed the episode, especially Ryan's promotion. Amazing.

2007-05-17 22:02:36
52.   Benaiah
Alright, I am almost spamming at this point, so after this I am going to go to bed (or lurk, whichever). Whatever apprehensions I have about the new direction the show is going in, the ten seconds of Pam biting her lip and beaming through misty eyes makes this about the happiest television experience I have ever had. Jenna Fischer absolutely nails that scene, much like John Krasinki's tear last season was perfect.
2007-05-17 22:05:04
53.   Benaiah
50 - A film degree will teach me the term "diegesis" but didn't make me a very good speller.

51 - Great quote.

2007-05-17 22:06:03
54.   Bob Timmermann
I was fully expecting to see JoeyP's name in the writing credits.
2007-05-17 22:12:24
55.   dzzrtRatt
I have no worries if the writers decide to let Pam and Jim get together.

Dwight and Angela have been getting it on all season, and that hasn't hurt the show.

I also thought Jan's meltdown was completely in character. She's a whack job, and has been ever since she told Michael her shrink advised her she should just go ahead and do something self-destructive.

The only false note is, in real Corporate America, Jan should have been given enough warnings by this time to know her time was running out.

2007-05-17 22:26:09
56.   Greg Brock
The alternate title for Grey's Anatomy is

"Amazingly self-absorbed doctors and an infinite series of terrible life choices"

What a depressing finale.

2007-05-17 22:45:20
57.   dzzrtRatt
I've never watched Grey's Anatomy, but here's what they should do next year. The government commences an investigation into poor patient care at the hospital. All the randy behavior comes out in the audit, and the government holds hearings in which all the characters are forced to confess that they let patients die due to all their diddling. The hospital is closed, they are all stripped of their medical licenses and are forced to pick up new careers.

Sandra Oh leaves the show and is cast on a show worthy of her talents. The rest of the cast goes back to giving meaningful looks in soap operas.

Wouldn't that be cool?

2007-05-17 22:47:29
58.   Kevin Lewis

The obsessive narcissism of the show made me give up on it a long time ago. It is just way too depressing for me to watch. I have more hope for our world.

2007-05-17 22:55:22
59.   Bob Timmermann
Woo hoo, now I'm intrigued to watch it!
2007-05-17 23:02:17
60.   Bob Timmermann
2007-05-17 23:07:03
61.   Greg Brock
For those of you that missed it, Lost: The Anwers pretty much explained what the island is, what the Dharma initiative was really about, and how everybody gets off the island.

Or not.

2007-05-17 23:07:57
62.   Greg Brock
Lost: The Answers, that is.

They really didn't discuss anwers all that much, which disappointed me.

2007-05-17 23:19:37
63.   Jon Weisman
New stream of consciousness up top.
2007-05-17 23:56:30
64.   underdog
(I can't go above yet because I Tivo'd The Office and can't watch it til tomorrow.) Watched Lost tonight and don't have much to add to other people's comments other than at the end, my only thought, from Charlie's perspective, would have been (besides, "I'm alive!") - "Wow, who are all the hot babes with guns?" They certainly set it up as if it were Charlie's last, and then... maybe he'll die next week.

As for the Simpsons, they're still in the "every third episode or so is good" pattern but I watch it dutifully anyway, and look forward to the movie. (Maybe that's where all their creative energy went.) Nice piece on Groening, Jon. He's always been one of my role models - a cartoonist, screenwriter, and TV creator - what more could you want?

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