The Front (The Simpsons)
"The Front" is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons' fourth season, and originally aired in the United States on the Fox network on April 15, 1993. In the episode, Bart and Lisa decide to write an episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show; after their script is rejected, they resubmit it under the name of Abraham Simpson, resulting in Grampa being hired as a staff writer. Meanwhile, Homer returns to high school to retake a failed science course.
After being disappointed by a new episode of Itchy & Scratchy, Bart and Lisa decide that they can write a better one themselves. Inspired by the sight of Homer accidentally slicing Marge's hair off with hedge shears, they write a script titled "Little Barbershop of Horrors", but their episode is rejected by Roger Meyers Jr., head of Itchy & Scratchy International. Correctly guessing that Meyers did not take them seriously because they were children, they resubmit the manuscript under Grampa's name, leading Meyers to hire Grampa as a staff writer. Bart and Lisa inform Grampa about what they did and the three of them conspire to continue passing off Bart and Lisa's scripts as Grampa's own, splitting the money three ways. Grampa then confesses to Meyers, but is ignored.
For his work on Itchy & Scratchy, Grampa is nominated for an award for Outstanding Writing in a Cartoon Series (presented by Krusty the Clown and Brooke Shields). When Grampa sees Itchy & Scratchy for the first time in a clip show introducing the award, he is appalled at the violent humor, and turns his acceptance speech into an assault on both the cartoon and the audience amused by it. He storms off the stage amidst boos and thrown vegetables. Grampa gives the award to Bart and Lisa, and Bart swears never to watch an award show again, unless Billy Crystal is featured.
In the subplot, Homer and Marge attend their "Class of 1974" high school reunion, where they have a great time and Homer wins a variety of humorous awards. However, Principal Dondelinger interrupts the ceremony to announce that Homer never graduated high school because he failed a remedial science course, leading Dondelinger to revoke Homer's awards. Determined to win back the accolades, Homer retakes the course and passes the final exam, finally graduating.
The conclusion of the episode features a brief segment, complete with its own theme song, entitled "The Adventures of Ned Flanders". In the sketch, Ned scolds his sons for failing to get ready for church, until they inform him that it is Saturday and the family laughs together.
"The Front" was written by Adam I. Lapidus and directed by Rich Moore. In the early 1990s, Lapidus saw a news report on television about some children who had written a script for their favorite show, Tiny Toon Adventures. The show's executive producer Steven Spielberg liked the script so much that he brought the children to Hollywood to work with the show's writing staff. Upon seeing the report, Lapidus thought, "That would really be a neat idea for Bart and Lisa." He wrote a spec script, which made its way via executive producer James L. Brooks to the Simpsons staff, who hired Lapidus to write the episode. "The Front" is the only Simpsons episode written by Lapidus, causing some dispute among the show's fans as to whether he actually exists or was perhaps a pseudonym. Lapidus' mother-in-law came upon one such debate on an Internet forum.
The initial running time for "The Front" was "way, way short", and the writers had to use "every trick in the book" to make the episode reach the minimum length. Even after greatly expanding the original script and adding an extra-long couch gag during the opening sequence, the episode was still one minute too short; "The Adventures of Ned Flanders" was added to address the problem. The segment, which plays at the end of the episode, was designed purely to fill time and had nothing to do with the other events of the episode. Showrunner Mike Reiss later commented, "As always, when we try something bold and new the general reaction is, 'What the hell was that?'" The scene was also an homage to Archie Comics, which sometimes used a similar technique to fill a final page; the font used in the scene's title card is similar to the font used by Archie. The short inspired writers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein to produce the season seven episode "22 Short Films About Springfield".
The Fox network censors had two objections to "The Front". The first issue was with a dream sequence in which Bart points a machine gun at Santa Claus and hijacks his sleigh. The second objection was to a scene not included in the finished episode, in which Itchy & Scratchy animators are seen observing a cat, and then putting a stick of dynamite in the cat's mouth and lighting it. As Meyers, Bart and Lisa continue down the studio's corridor, an explosion emanates from the room. The scene was cut because of the implied animal abuse, but is included as a deleted scene on the show's The Complete Fourth Season DVD boxset.
Marge and Homer's high school classmate Artie Ziff makes a brief appearance in the episode; his conversation with Homer inspired the season 13 episode "Half-Decent Proposal". Artie's usual voice artist Jon Lovitz was not available, so regular cast member Dan Castellaneta provided the voice instead. The school principal, Dondelinger, was named after someone Sam Simon knew.
The episode focuses on animation and includes several in-jokes about The Simpsons and the animation industry in general. In a scene depicting the Itchy & Scratchy writer's lounge, each of the writers shown is a caricature of someone working on The Simpsons at the time. The joke was conceived by the show's animators. Later in the episode, Roger Meyers fires a Harvard alumnus who resembles Simpsons writer Jon Vitti. At the awards ceremony, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening is shown in the audience. Lisa is also seen reading a book titled How to Get Rich Writing Cartoons by John Swartzwelder, a Simpsons writer credited with nearly sixty episodes of the show. The credits at the end of Bart and Lisa's Itchy & Scratchy episode (shown in very small print) are a copy of the credits at the end of The Simpsons.
At the Annual Cartoon Awards, the clip from the nominated The Ren & Stimpy Show is merely a black screen with the text "clip not done yet". This was a counter attack against Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi, who had attacked The Simpsons staff by saying that "the show succeeded despite the writing", and similarly derogatory comments. However, an clip from Ren & Stimpy appeared early on in the season in the episode "Brother from the Same Planet". Another industry reference is the "Animation Wing" door at Itchy & Scratchy studios; the door is identical to a door at the Disney animation building.
Besides copying the Simpsons credits, the Itchy & Scratchy credits also parody the sequence seen at the end of the credits of many TV shows produced by Stephen J. Cannell, where Cannell sits at the typewriter in his office and throws a sheet of paper into the air, with it forming of part of his production company's logo. In the episode, Itchy and Scratchy are seen at a desk; Scratchy pulls a sheet from his typewriter and throws it into the air, where it forms an "I & S Productions" logo. Mike Reiss later met Cannell, who was so pleased with the homage that he hugged Reiss. The title of the episode is a reference to The Front, a 1976 film about writers fronting for blacklisted writers in the 1950s. The Simpsons writers considered trying to make the episode plot resemble that of the film, but in the end decided against it.
In its original broadcast, "The Front" finished 21st in ratings for the week of April 12-18, 1993, with a Nielsen rating of 12.5, equivalent to approximately 11.6 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, beating Married... with Children. Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised "The Front" as "an ironic look at the animation industry, with a higher than average Itchy and Scratchy count. The episode is followed by The Adventures of Ned Flanders with its own, rather wonderful, theme tune."
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "The Front". BBC. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
- Groening, Matt (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt; Lapidus, Adam; Moore, Rich (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Lapidus, Adam (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- ""The Front"". The Simpsons.com. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
- Reiss, Mike (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Moore, Rich (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Oakley, Bill (2006). The Simpsons, The Complete Seventh Season audio commentary for the episode "22 Short Films About Springfield" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Moore, Rich; Groening, Matt (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Jean, Al; Reiss, Mike (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Groening, Matt; Jean, Al; Reiss, Mike; Moore, Rich (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- 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. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-00-738815-8.
- Jean, Al; Moore, Rich (2004). The Simpsons, The Complete Fourth Season audio commentary for the episode "The Front" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Associated Press (April 22, 1993). "CBS nudges ABC to triumph in end-of-season ratings war". The Orlando Sentinel. p. E6.
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- "The Front" at The Simpsons.com
- "The Front" episode capsule at The Simpsons Archive
- "The Front" at the Internet Movie Database
- "The Front" at TV.com