A Star Is Burns
"A Star Is Burns" is the eighteenth episode of The Simpsons' sixth season. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 5, 1995. In the episode, Springfield decides to hold a film festival, and famed critic Jay Sherman is invited to be a judge. Homer, feeling that Marge does not respect him, asks that he be put on the jury panel and ends up voting for the stupidest movie.
The story involves a crossover with the short-lived animated series The Critic. Jay Sherman was the main character on the show. The Critic was created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who had previously written for The Simpsons but left following the fourth season, and produced by James L. Brooks, who was also a producer for The Simpsons. The show had premiered on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) network in January 1994 but was canceled despite positive critical reception. The series was switched over to Fox, and put in the timeslot directly after The Simpsons. Brooks pitched a crossover episode as a way to promote The Critic and decided that a film festival would be a good way to introduce Sherman.
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, reacted negatively when he heard about this episode, feeling that it was just an advertisement for The Critic, and that people would incorrectly associate the show with him. When he was unsuccessful in getting the program pulled, he had his name removed from the credits and went public with his concerns, openly criticizing James L. Brooks and saying the episode "violates the Simpsons' universe." In response, Brooks said "I am furious with Matt, [...] he's allowed his opinion, but airing this publicly in the press is going too far. [...] his behavior right now is rotten."
The episode was directed by Susie Dietter and was the first episode to be written by Ken Keeler. Jon Lovitz, the star of The Critic, guest stars as Jay Sherman, while Maurice LaMarche (who was also a regular on The Critic) has a few minor roles. Sherman later became an infrequently recurring character on The Simpsons. The episode received mixed reviews from critics, many of whom felt the crossover was out of place on the show although Barney's film festival entry was well received.
News anchor Kent Brockman reports that Springfield is the least cultural city in the United States. In response, a town meeting is held to decide a course of action, where Marge proposes that Springfield host a film festival showcasing films made by the townspeople. Marge is made the head of the festival's judging panel, and invites New York film critic Jay Sherman to be a special guest critic. Upon his arrival, Sherman stays with the Simpson family, which becomes problematic as his popularity with the family makes Homer feel inadequate and overshadowed. Fearing that nobody respects his intelligence, Homer persuades Marge to put him on the festival's judging panel. Meanwhile, when Mr. Burns learns that his profits have dropped due to his bad image, Smithers informs him of the film festival, and Burns decides that an epic biographical film will endear him to the people. He hires Steven Spielberg's "non-union, Mexican equivalent," Señor Spielbergo to direct, deciding to play himself in the film after the auditions to have an actor (even Homer) portray him fail screen test.
The film festival commences at the Aztec Theatre, with entries including Apu Nahasapeemapetilon's Bright Lights, Beef Jerky (security footage from the Kwik-E-Mart), Moe Szyslak's musical number, Moe Better Booze (little more than a song-and-dance advertisement for Moe's Tavern), Bart's The Eternal Struggle (a home video of Homer attempting to squeeze into a pair of undersized pants), Ned Flanders' film about Moses, and Hans Moleman's, Man Getting Hit by Football, which only features Moleman getting hit in the groin by a football. His movie makes Homer laugh, but Marge is displeased with him when she hears him announce that he should get the grand prize. She and Jay both remind him that it is not America's Funniest Home Videos and that Homer cannot quickly judge on one movie. Festival attendees are particularly touched by Barney Gumble's artistic introspective film about alcoholism, Pukahontas, which Jay (later a victim of football in the groin) foresees to be the eventual winner. Burns' film, A Burns for All Seasons, is screened last, and is met with a negative audience reaction.
In the judge's room, Jay and Marge vote for Barney's film, while Mayor Quimby and Krusty the Clown vote for Burns' movie after heavy bribes. Left with the tie-breaking vote, Homer quickly and enthusiastically votes for Man Getting Hit by Football. A frustrated Marge confronts him for voting for the wrong movie, even after he bribed her to let him join the judging panel. Homer tries to defend himself, but she manages to convince him to change his vote. Later on, he views Pukahontas again while reflecting on the two films' qualities. Eventually, he sees the heart and soul of Barney's film and makes his decision. At the awards ceremony, Jay announces that Barney is the grand prize winner, and Marge tells Homer that he voted for the right film.
Flashing forward six months, Burns is at the Academy Awards, where despite having "bribed everyone in Hollywood," he loses out on an Oscar to George C. Scott in a remake of Man Getting Hit by Football. Marge laments that maybe it is time that Burns learn his lesson that he cannot bribe everyone.
The Critic was a short-lived animated series that revolved around the life of movie critic Jay Sherman. It was created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss, who had previously written for The Simpsons but left after the fourth season, and executive produced by James L. Brooks. Jon Lovitz (who had previously guest starred in several episodes of The Simpsons) starred as Jay Sherman, and it also featured the voices of The Simpsons regulars Nancy Cartwright, Doris Grau and Russi Taylor. It was first broadcast on ABC in January 1994 and was well received by critics, but did not catch on with viewers and was put on hiatus after six weeks. It returned in June 1994 and completed airing its initial production run.
For the second season of The Critic, James L. Brooks cut a deal with the Fox network to have the series switch over. The episode was pitched by Brooks, who had wanted a crossover that would help launch The Critic on Fox, and he thought having a film festival in Springfield would be a good way to introduce Sherman. After Brooks pitched the episode, the script was written by Ken Keeler. Although David Mirkin was executive producer for most of the sixth season, the episode was executive produced by Al Jean and Mike Reiss. Jay Sherman's appearance was Simpsonized: he was made yellow and given an overbite.
- [Bart is watching television] Announcer: Coming up next, The Flintstones meet The Jetsons.
- Bart: Uh oh. I smell another cheap cartoon crossover.
- [Homer enters the room with Jay] Homer: Bart Simpson, meet Jay Sherman, the critic.
- Jay: Hello.
- Bart: Hey man, I really love your show. I think all kids should watch it! [turns away] Ew, I suddenly feel so dirty.
The joke was pitched by Al Jean.
Alongside Jon Lovitz, the episode guest stars Maurice LaMarche, a regular on The Critic, who voices George C. Scott as well as Jay Sherman's belch. Phil Hartman also makes a brief appearance as Charlton Heston. Rainier Wolfcastle's line "on closer inspection, these are loafers" was ad-libbed by Dan Castellaneta who was providing the voice of the character on a temporary track. It was later re-recorded by Wolfcastle's normal voice actor, Harry Shearer.
The Imperial March from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is played as Mr. Burns is introduced. The song the "Rappin' Rabbis" play in the opening moments of the episode is a parody of "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer. The opening of Bart's film The Eternal Struggle is a reference to The Amazing Criswell's narration in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Barney's film contains references to Koyaanisqatsi, and the music of the film, which was composed by Philip Glass. Barney's film also features musical selections from the aria "Un bel di vedremo" from Act II, pt. 1 of Puccini's opera "Madama Butterfly". When Homer insists on having a seat on the film festival jury, Marge scratches out Martin Scorsese's name and replaces it with Homer.
In its original American broadcast, "A Star Is Burns " finished 57th in the ratings for the week of February 27 to March 5, 1995. The episode was the third highest rated show on the Fox network that week, beaten only by Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210. The Critic finished 64th. On March 12, 2002, the episode was released in the United States on a DVD collection titled The Simpsons Film Festival, along with the season eleven episode "Beyond Blunderdome", the season four episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", and the season seven episode "22 Short Films About Springfield".
The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote, "Jay Sherman perhaps proves here, even more so than in The Critic, just why that show failed. He's too flawed to be likeable." They added, "Barney's film is magnificent, but it's easy to see why Homer wants Hans Moleman to be the winner." Adam Finley of TV Squad wrote "the episode, even if I didn't care for it as a whole, does have moments that are still very Simpson-y, and still very funny. Jay's appearance, however, casts a shadow over everything that tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth." Todd Gilchrist of IGN listed Barney's film as one of the best moments of the sixth season.
The A.V. Club named Hans Moleman's line "I was saying 'Boo-urns'", and Mr Burns' "Then get me his non-union, Mexican equivalent!" as two quotations from The Simpsons that can be used in everyday situations. IGN ranked Jon Lovitz as the eighth best guest star in the show's history.
Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, was a critic of the episode when it was first released. He felt that the crossover was a thirty-minute advertisement and blamed James L. Brooks, calling it an attempt to get attention for one of his unsuccessful shows. After unsuccessful attempts to get the episode pulled, he decided to go public with his concerns shortly before the episode aired. He stated that his reasons for doing so were that he hoped Brooks would have a change of heart and pull the episode, and that "articles began to appear in several newspapers around the country saying that [Groening] created 'The Critic.'" Groening had his name removed from the credits, so he does not receive his normal "created by" and "developed by" credits that air at the end of the opening sequence.
In response, James L. Brooks said "I am furious with Matt, he's been going to everybody who wears a suit at Fox and complaining about this. When he voiced his concerns about how to draw The Critic into the Simpsons' universe he was right and we agreed to his changes. Certainly he's allowed his opinion, but airing this publicly in the press is going too far. [...] He is a gifted, adorable, cuddly ingrate. But his behavior right now is rotten."
Al Jean and Mike Reiss, creators of The Critic, had previously worked on The Simpsons and had executive produced the third and fourth seasons. Brooks said, "for years, Al and Mike were two guys who worked their hearts out on this show, staying up until 4 in the morning to get it right. The point is, Matt's name has been on Mike's and Al's scripts and he has taken plenty of credit for a lot of their great work. In fact, he is the direct beneficiary of their work. 'The Critic' is their shot and he should be giving them his support." Reiss stated that he was a "little upset" by Groening's actions and that "this taints everything at the last minute. [...] This episode doesn't say 'Watch The Critic' all over it." Jean added "What bothers me about all of this, is that now people may get the impression that this Simpsons episode is less than good. It stands on its own even if 'The Critic' never existed."
Groening was criticized for going public with his complaints. Ray Richmond of the Los Angeles Daily News wrote "who's right? Well, Groening is probably correct in judging this an integrity issue. It's a fairly tacky bit of promotion, the kind generally beneath The Simpsons. But it's also true that little is accomplished by taking a gripe like this public. Quietly erasing his name from the credits would have been sufficient. [...] I admire the man's standing up for his creative rights. But I question the way he's gone about it."
As a result, Groening was absent from the episode's commentary for The Complete Sixth Season DVD boxset.
In the end, The Critic was short-lived, broadcasting ten episodes on Fox before its cancellation. A total of only 23 episodes were produced, and it returned briefly in 2000 with a series of ten internet broadcast webisodes. The series has since developed a cult following thanks to reruns on Comedy Central and its complete series release on DVD.
- Richmond & Coffman 1997, p. 156.
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