"Beyond Blunderdome" is the eleventh season premiere of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 26, 1999, and was watched in around 8.1 million homes during the broadcast. In the episode, the Simpsons are given free tickets to a preview screening of Mel Gibson's new film, a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Gibson laments his current non-violent role and wants someone to give him criticism. When Homer sees Gibson talking with Marge, he gives him a brutal review, leading Gibson to believe that Homer is the only man brave enough to give suggestions. As a result, he hires him to create a better ending. However, when the ending proves to be too controversial, Gibson and Homer end up on the run from studio executives with the film.
The episode was written by then-showrunner Mike Scully and directed by Steven Dean Moore. The story was a parody of the film industry and its practice with test screenings and overly violent films. It featured several references to various films as well as other popular culture. Gibson guest starred as himself, and Jack Burns voiced a film studio executive named Edward Christian. Since airing, the episode has received generally mixed reviews from critics, but Gibson was praised for his performance. It was released on the DVD collection The Simpsons Film Festival in 2002, and The Simpsons – The Complete Eleventh Season in 2008.
Homer test drives a new electric car so he can get a free gift. After destroying the car by driving into an ocean, the family returns to the dealer to receive the gift, which Homer forgets to open until he is in bed with Marge. It turns out to be free tickets to a preview screening of a new Mel Gibson film, a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The audience members are given comment cards to fill and the filmmakers can change the film based on their reactions. The film is enjoyed by everyone but Homer, who only likes comedy or action movies. During the screening, Gibson, having come to the test screening unannounced, is assured by the producers that the film is wonderful. When Gibson flirts with Marge after the showing, Homer writes a negative review of the film. While reading the mostly positive comment cards after the movie, Gibson is certain that everyone loves him too much to tell him how to improve the film, but when he reads Homer's comments, he is convinced that Homer was the only person brave enough to tell him the truth.
Gibson shows up at the Simpsons' door and invites Homer and his family to come with him to Hollywood to change the film, while Homer thinks that he is out to take Marge from him. Homer and Gibson begin work on the film while the rest of the family explores Hollywood. When Homer's ideas prove to be stupid and pointless, including giving a random dog a close-up of its eyes shifting back and forth to show that he is evil, Gibson begins to wonder whether he made a mistake. However, he is enthusiastic when Homer tells him his ideas for the famous "filibuster" scene at the end. The next day, they present the new ending to the producers. In the new version, Mr. Smith goes berserk and slaughters every member of the United States Congress and the President in a mindless action movie sequence. The producers are horrified at this, saying that the film was meant to be the studio's prestige picture. They attempt to burn the film reel, but Homer and Gibson, determined to save their film, run away with it.
They meet up with the rest of the family at a car museum. They steal a replica of the main villain's car from The Road Warrior and engage in a ludicrous car chase through the streets of Hollywood, with the film executives on their trail. Homer, taking an idea he believes to be from Braveheart, moons the executives along with Gibson so that they will stop their car out of disgust, but this fails and Homer's buttocks is caught in the car's hood. Homer and Gibson then attend the film's premiere back in Springfield, but the entire audience walks out disgusted by the new ending, and the two men are even threatened with legal action from Jimmy Stewart's granddaughter. Homer then tries to apologize to Gibson, but he does not blame him, arriving to the conclusion there is no place for violence-lovers like them in Hollywood; however, as soon as Homer suggests more nonsensical film ideas, Gibson kicks him out of his limousine and he lies on the ground shouting towards him that he fell out. The episode ends with a random dog given a close up of his eyes shifting back and forth.
Production and themes
"Beyond Blunderdome" was written by then-showrunner Mike Scully and directed by Steven Dean Moore, airing as part of the eleventh season of The Simpsons (1999–2000). It was Scully's first writing credit since he took over as showrunner for the show. In comparison with other episode scripts, the staff writers did not change much of the original writing. The plot revolves around Mel Gibson doing a remake of the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Karma Waltonen and Denise Du Vernay analysed the episode and wrote in the book The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield that "the episode is able to critique the practice of test screening, violence in film, and one of movies' favorite standards – the car chase", calling it "a ridiculous parody of an action-film violence orgy". Staff writer Tom Gammill came up with the idea for the violent version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Gibson throwing his Senator badge away at the end of the film, is a reference to the ending of the film Dirty Harry from 1971. The idea for the set piece with electric cars at the beginning of the episode came from Kevin Nealon, who was a friend of former showrunner David Mirkin. One day, he came by and demonstrated his electric car for the writing staff.
The episode featured Mel Gibson as a guest voice. Scully had previously met him while writing jokes for a school fundraiser along with his wife Julie Thacker. Gibson and Daniel Stern were the hosts and needed jokes for the event. It turned out that Gibson was a fan of the show and watched it with his children. With that knowledge, it did not take Scully long to invite him to do a part. Gibson was willing to do the job and even came in on three separate occasions to do retakes – mostly because he knew his children would be watching. Unlike most guest voices, Gibson recorded the show along with the cast. On one occasion, it turned out that a joke written for Gibson actually did happen in real life. The writing staff wanted Gibson to say that he would urinate behind a dumpster, because it sounded like it would not be a classy thing to do for a movie star. He had, however, already done that during a couple of film premieres because he can feel trapped in a public toilet with a lot of fans. Gibson was surprised the writers knew about the story, but it turned out to be a coincidence. Otherwise, the episode frequently references films Gibson appeared in. After the studio cart crashes, Gibson says to Homer, "I'm getting too old for this crap," a reference to a line said by Danny Glover's character Roger Murtaugh to Gibson's character Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon film series. A poster for his film Braveheart is on the wall in the editing room and the Road Warrior car from the 1981 film Mad Max 2 is also featured. In addition to Gibson, Jack Burns guest starred in the episode, voicing a film studio executive named Edward Christian. His frequent use of the terms "Huh?" and "You know what I mean?" is a reference to a comedy routine performed by Burns and Avery Schreiber.
In the episode, there are many references to popular culture. The character Rainier Wolfcastle is seen filming Saving Irene Ryan, which is a reference to the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan and actress Irene Ryan from the sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Homer says, "you had me at 'hello'," a quote from the film Jerry Maguire (1996), when Gibson asks for his help on his film. The airport is called "George Kennedy Airport", which is a reference to actor George Kennedy, and his role in the film Airport (1970) and its three sequels; Airport 1975 (1974), Airport '77 (1977), and The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979). When Homer and Gibson are being hunted by the executives they enter a car museum. The museum features the Batmobile from the television series Batman, General Lee from the series The Dukes of Hazzard, Herbie the Love Bug from the 1968 film The Love Bug and later films, the Monkeemobile from the series The Monkees, the Munster Koach from the series The Munsters, and the car from the series The Flintstones.
Release and reception
The episode originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on September 26, 1999, as the premiere of the eleventh season of The Simpsons. In its original broadcast, "Beyond Blunderdome" finished 48th in the ratings for the week of September 20–26, 1999, with a Nielsen rating of 8.0—equivalent to approximately 8.1 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, beating shows such as Futurama and King of the Hill. In comparison, the previous season premiere episode, "Lard of the Dance", drew a Nielsen rating of 7.2 points with 7.1 million households watching. The episode had a lower rating than the overall rating for the entire eleventh season, which averaged 8.2 million households. 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 four episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie", the season seven episode "22 Short Films About Springfield", and the season six episode "A Star is Burns". On October 7, 2008, "Beyond Blunderdome" was released on DVD as part of the box set The Simpsons – The Complete Eleventh Season. Staff members Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Matt Selman, and Steven Dean Moore participated in the DVD audio commentary for the episode. The episode had an alternate ending in which Apu suggests that they sell the failed film to India, since the people of India love violent, action-packed American films. This ending was included on the eleventh season DVD set.
Since airing, the episode has received generally mixed reception from critics. The day after the premiere, Mark Lorando of The Times-Picayune wrote that while it was "not the laugh riot The Simpsons have spoiled us to expect – our appetite for showbiz parodies is waning – the episode did have its moments." He further added that he especially liked "the sign posted outside the movie studio gate: 'No Artistic Integrity Beyond This Point.'" While reviewing the eleventh season of The Simpsons, DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson commented on the episode, writing that "Gibson actually does a good job here, and it’s amusing to see Homer’s terrible movie ideas. This isn’t classic Simpsons, but it starts the season on a pretty good note." However, an article in Salon magazine from 2000 points to "Beyond Blunderdome" as the greatest precursor to that Homer would be more predominant as “Jerkass Homer” in the Scully era as showrunner, a Homer who "is not only dumb, but [has also become] disgusting and semi-sociopathic. This is the Homer who, in the season opener ['Beyond Blunderdome'], showed Marge's wedding ring to Mel Gibson and stated, 'This is a symbol that as per our marriage, she's my property and I own her.'" Gibson's performance has generally been praised. Simon Crerar of The Times listed his performance as one of the thirty-three funniest cameos in the history of the show. Similarly, Total Film's Nathan Ditum ranked Gibson's performance as the seventh best guest appearance in the show's history in a list of twenty people, calling it "Another ace self-effacing appearance from a Hollywood high-flyer".
- Bates, James W.; Gimple, Scott M.; McCann, Jesse L., Richmond, Ray; Seghers, Christine, ed. (2010). Simpsons World The Ultimate Episode Guide: Seasons 1–20 (1st ed.). Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 520–521. ISBN 978-0-00-738815-8.
- Hauge 2008, 1:09-1:45 minutes in.
- Waltonen, Karma; Vernay, Denise Du (2010). The Simpsons in the classroom : embiggening the learning experience with the wisdom of Springfield. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-7864-4490-8.
- Scully 2008, 13:01-13:07 minutes in.
- Scully 2008, 1:49-2:10 minutes in.
- Scully 2008, 3:41-5:30 minutes in.
- Scully 2008, 8:19-8:28 minutes in.
- Scully 2008, 7:10-7:42 minutes in.
- Scully 2008, 5:34-5:47 minutes in.
- Associated Press (September 29, 1999). "Prime-time Nielsen ratings". Associated Press Archive.
- "Prime-Time Ratings". The Orange County Register. August 26, 1998.
- "Nielsen rankings for 1999-2000". San Francisco Chronicle. May 26, 2000. p. C17.
- Madden, Damian (March 31, 2002). "Simpsons: Film Festival". DVD Bits. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Jane, Ian (November 1, 2008). "The Simpsons - The Complete Eleventh Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Hauge 2008, 19:59-20:19 minutes in.
- Lorando, Mark (September 27, 1999). "With 'Friends' like these ... - and other observations on the new TV season". The Times-Picayune. p. D01.
- Jacobson, Colin (November 19, 2008). "The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season (1999)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Weinman, Jaime J. (January 24, 2000). "Worst Episode Ever". Salon. Archived from the original on December 22, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Crerar, Simon (July 5, 2007). "The 33 funniest Simpsons cameos ever". The Times. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Ditum, Nathan (March 29, 2009). "The 20 Best Simpsons Movie-Star Guest Spots". Total Film. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
- Hauge, Ron (2008). Commentary for "Beyond Blunderdome". The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Scully, Mike (2008). Commentary for "Beyond Blunderdome". The Simpsons: The Complete Eleventh Season (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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- "Beyond Blunderdome" at The Simpsons.com
- "Beyond Blunderdome" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "Beyond Blunderdome" at the Internet Movie Database