superdumb supervillain: The Simpsons + Portlandia: The Day The Earth Stood Cool

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Simpsons + Portlandia: The Day The Earth Stood Cool

Did you know the Simpsons is in its 24th season? Almost a quarter of a century. It's hard to believe but it's also hard to imagine a world without them. They have managed to stay in touch with trends for longer than most people remain cool. Which is why this week's episode, The Day The Earth Stood Cool, is particularly amusing. It guest stars the voices of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein from Portlandia (among many, many other things- those two are everywhere nowadays…) as a hipster couple from Portland who move to Springfield and have the Simpsons questioning their je ne sais cool. Even Bart, who is usually pretty secure in his coolness, is knocked askew by the eyerolling hipsterdom of the couple's son T-rex, voiced by the most excellent Patton Oswalt.

For some inexplicable reason, I was allowed to participate in a conference call with Armisen, Brownstein and Matt Selman, the writer of the episode, although my coolness is debatable. Selman says The Day the Earth Stood Cool took about three years to come to fruition– par for the course in The Simpsons universe, where ideas get pitched and hammered out and then written and cast and animated and voiced and edited. He wanted to do an episode where Lisa found her utopia in Portland, before realizing that you can't move away from your issues.

Animation is a pretty involved process, obviously, and by the time Selman started working on the episode, Portlandia had begun to air and was "such an amazingly smart and funny and well-observed portrait of Portland that I immediately became depressed and thought 'Oh, well, so much for that idea…' We had to find kind of a new theme, a new emotional theme because the old theme was sort of about can you escape your problems by moving somewhere else. The new theme, which I like even better, is the idea of if you're a parent, do you have to give up being a young person, do you have to give up being cool? So Homer is thrilled to meet a cool couple, played by Fred and Carrie, and it's about Homer trying to be the kind of parent that can have it all."

Carrie's character, Emily, is such a natural, crunchy earth mother that she makes Marge feel insecure about using formula instead of breastfeeding her baby. For the record, both of my kids nursed well past their first birthday…not that I'm claiming superiority or anything. Ahem.

This episode is particularly hilarious to me because it makes fun of not only hipster baggage (which I have plenty of, from Austin, Olympia and Seattle) but of parenting and identity. Everyone can relate, I think. 

I won't paste in the entire transcript but here's what happened when I asked Fred and Carrie about their favorite Simpsons episodes:

N. Shapiro Hi, this is Naomi from Superdumb Supervillain and I was wondering what your favorite Simpsons episodes are.

F. Armisen All of the Halloween ones are amazing. I think when Jeff Goldblum’s character has to do the Planet of the Apes musical.

M. Selman That was “A Fish Called Selma.”

C. Brownstein Isn’t there one where Homer smokes weed and at Camp Krusty? Yes, I like those.

M. Selman Yes, we legalized pot and Camp Krusty.

F. Armisen There’s one Homer has this really spicy chili and he goes on a trip. I think Johnny Cash is in it. All of the Treehouse of Horror ones are just so incredible. Always.

C. Brownstein One I really like was “War of the Simpsons.” I don’t know, there’s a lot. A lot of them I remember from the early 90’s, like where Moe gives Homer an idea for a new drink and it becomes rich and famous, I love that one.

M. Selman In my mind, you guys were on tour in your early '90s bands watching old VHS’s of The Simpsons between shows. I don’t know if that was true or not, but in my mind –

C. Brownstein I was still in high school in the early '90s.

M. Selman Okay, mid '90s. How am I the oldest person on this call?

C. Brownstein Also, in the mid '90s I would unfortunately not have been on a tour bus yet. It would be a van without any VHS players. What were those things called? VCRs.

M. Selman If you can still hear us through these strange noises, I’m super proud of this episode. I’m finishing up the last audio mix tonight. I’ve worked on the show for 16 years and this has to be one of the things I’m most excited about over 16 years of the same crazy job. I hope that will be reflected in the audience’s mutual appreciation.

C. Brownstein I’m really excited to see it, for sure.

F. Armisen We’re so psyched about it.

M. Selman I could literally go on forever about it. For me, what’s most exciting about it, The Simpsons have a realistic relationship – I was writing these characters secretly hoping Fred and Carrie would do them and they did and I think this brought a realism to the show. Even though the show is silly, there’s a realism that I think real parents will be able to connect with. They’ll feel like “Oh I felt the way Marge and Homer felt in this episode, like I’m not cool enough,” and how they have different reactions to it.

Watch The Simpsons "The Day The Earth Stood Cool" on FOX Sunday, December 9th. Portlandia returns to IFC with all new episodes starting Friday, January 4th.

In accordance to the FTC Guidelines and the WOMMA Code of Ethics, I am disclosing that no compensation was provided for this post although I would probably kill to be on The Simpsons. Or Portlandia. I do own a bottle opener that says "Mmm, beer!" in Homer's voice when you use it but I did not use it during this conference call or while writing this article. As usual, all thoughts are my own.


  1. I remember when Homer smoked weed? LOL!

  2. I had this teacher who could recite just about every line from every single episode! ha!!

  3. I'm ashamed to admit that I never got into the Simpsons. I think Homer just really turns me off. Portlandia is another story though.


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