The Mansion Family
"The Mansion Family" is the twelfth episode of the eleventh season of the American animated sitcom The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 23, 2000, and was watched in around 11.3 million homes during the broadcast. In the episode, Mr. Burns goes to the Mayo Clinic for a check-up after being declared the oldest man in Springfield at an awards ceremony. He leaves the Simpson family to house-sit his mansion for him. When Homer throws a party on Burns' private yacht in international waters, the party goers are captured by Chinese pirates.
American pop singer Britney Spears guest starred in "The Mansion Family" as herself. She appears as the host of the awards ceremony. The episode, which was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Michael Polcino, features several cultural references. Many parts of the story were inspired by real-life events experienced by some of the staff members of the series. Since airing, the episode has received generally mixed reviews from critics. It was released on the DVD collection The Simpsons Gone Wild in 2004, and The Simpsons – The Complete Eleventh Season in 2008.
At the annual Springfield Pride Awards hosted by Kent Brockman and Britney Spears, awards are given to prominent Springfield citizens for their achievements. They present the award for the oldest man in Springfield to Cornelius Chapman, who is 108 years old. Chapman comes up to accept his award, but when Spears gives him a congratulatory kiss on the cheek, he dies of a heart attack. The award is therefore given to the now oldest Springfieldian in the crowd, Mr. Burns. After Burns wins, he realizes he is not a young man anymore, so he and his assistant Smithers go to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for a check-up. Burns decides to give the Simpson family an opportunity to house sit his private mansion while he is being tested for various diseases.
After enjoying life as a billionaire for a few days, Homer decides to throw a party before Burns returns. He heads to Moe's Tavern to buy some beer and invite his friends to the party. However, Moe informs Homer that he can not sell him alcohol on account of it being Sunday before 2:00 PM. After Homer is told the only way he could buy alcohol would be to sail out to international waters where there are no laws, he and his friends (including his son Bart) set sail in Burns' private yacht to throw the party there. Back at the Mayo Clinic, Burns discovers that he not only has all previously discovered diseases, but numerous new diseases the doctors have just discovered in him. However, the sheer number of diseases prevents any one disease from actually doing harm to him. This leads Burns to (incorrectly) conclude that he is indestructible, even though the doctors protest that even a slight breeze could disrupt the balance in his body.
Meanwhile, the party continues and the party goers force Burns' monkeys into having a knife fight. The yacht is eventually boarded by Chinese pirates who take the ship hostage. The pirates rob everyone on board and tie them up in a net which they then toss overboard. But to the luck of Homer and some of the other guests who happen to be above ocean surface level, it floats and they avoid drowning. Eventually Homer and Bart make it back to the mansion where the family returns the house to Burns after Marge and Lisa have scrubbed all the rooms clean. Back at the Simpsons home, everyone is glad to live a normal life again—with the exception of Homer, who is upset that he does not live the lifestyle of rich people. The episode ends with Homer wailing about how rich all the persons in the closing credits are (except Richard K. Chung, whom he dismisses as poor) and threatening to report them to the Internal Revenue Service and telling the Gracie Films woman not to shush him.
"The Mansion Family" was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Michael Polcino as part of the eleventh season of The Simpsons (1999–2000). It was the first of many episodes of the series that Polcino directed. Executive producer Mike Scully was the one who received the idea for the first part of the story. He explained on a DVD audio commentary for the episode that his grandmother was the oldest citizen of his hometown West Springfield, Massachusetts, and "they had a ceremony where she was awarded a cane that had a golden head on it. And the weird thing of the ceremony is her name wasn't on the cane, and the mayor of the town stood up and he says: 'And now, of course as soon as Hazel passes away, her name will be engraved on the cane.' So she would never live to see it happen. But nonetheless, she was given the cane."
The subplot of "The Mansion Family", where Mr. Burns gets a medical examination, was inspired by Swartzwelder's own visit to a Mayo Clinic. George Meyer, an executive producer on the series, has said that "John, I don't think is a guy who goes to the doctor very often. And every 20 or 30 years, he decides he needs to get a tune up. So he went to the Mayo Clinic, had them give him an entire battery of tests. And as John [jokingly] tells it, they said that his constant smoking had done no harm to him whatsoever. Might even be benefiting him." While writing the parts of the episode that involve international waters, the writers did research and found that the actual laws of international waters are more complex and ambiguous compared to what they had already written in the story, but they decided to ignore that.
American pop singer Britney Spears guest starred in the episode as herself. According to Scully, she was seventeen to eighteen years old when she recorded her lines, and "She was a lot of fun to work with. She was a fan of the show, and she was willing to do all the lines. It was all the people around her that were crazy, the management and all that. We originally had her introduce herself [in the episode] as 'I'm teenage songbird Britney Spears.' And she recorded a few takes and they were fine. And suddenly, all these guys come rushing in [saying] 'She can't say songbird.' [We asked] what's wrong with songbird? And they were somehow convinced that it was some sort of slam or an insult." The staff members were therefore forced to change her opening line to "I'm teen sensation Britney Spears."
Many scenes in "The Mansion Family" were inspired by popular culture. For example, there is a painting hanging on one of the walls in Burns' mansion that depicts Burns playing poker with dogs, referencing the oil paintings series Dogs Playing Poker. Another painting, showing a nude Burns, is a callback to a previous episode of the series, "Brush with Greatness" (1991), in which Marge produced the painting for Burns. Featured in the episode is also a joke that makes fun of the Grammy Awards. During the awards ceremony, Homer complains, "Why won't anyone give me an award?" When Lisa points out that "You won a Grammy," Homer says "I mean an award that's worth winning." At this point the screen freezes and a message scrolls across the bottom of the screen reading "LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Mr. Simpson's opinions do not reflect those of the producers, who don't consider the Grammy an award at all."
The episode originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on January 23, 2000. It was viewed in approximately 11.3 million households that night. With a Nielsen rating of 11.2, the episode tied Becker (CBS) for the 14th place (compared the season average of 37) in the ratings for the week of January 17–23, 2000. The episode was the third highest-rated broadcast on Fox that week, following a NFC Championship post-game show and Malcolm in the Middle. On September 14, 2004, the episode was released in the United States on a DVD collection titled The Simpsons Gone Wild, along with the season one episode "Homer's Night Out", the season ten episode "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday", and the season thirteen episode "Homer the Moe". On October 7, 2008, "The Mansion Family" was released on DVD again as part of the box set The Simpsons – The Complete Eleventh Season. Staff members Mike Scully, George Meyer, Ron Hauge, Matt Selman, Tim Long, Michael Polcino, Donick Cary, and Pete Michels participated in the DVD audio commentary for the episode. Deleted scenes from the episode were also included on the box set.
"The Mansion Family" has received generally mixed reception from critics. Susan Dunne of The Hartford Courant described it as "debauched but hilarious." While reviewing the eleventh season of The Simpsons, DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson commented on "The Mansion Family", writing that "Although The Simpsons started out as moderately reality based, pretty much any grounding was gone by [the point this episode aired]. That doesn’t mean the show fails to depict funny bits, especially during the dark humor of Burns’ hospital visit. Nonetheless, [the episode] occasionally goes too far to the side of silliness; those gags are hit or miss."
In a review of the episodes featured on The Simpsons Gone Wild, PopMatters critic Stephen Haag wrote that "none of these episodes will end up in the Simpsons Hall of Fame", and that "The Mansion Family" is "hardly a classic episode, but Lord knows there are plenty worse from season 11 (paging 'Bart to the Future')." He further commented that "if anything, this episode should be included in the 'batshit-crazy endings' DVD," referring to the ending scenes with the Chinese pirates. David Packard of DVD Verdict was more positive in his review of The Simpsons Gone Wild, writing that "The Mansion Family" is "another all-around hilarious episode, with a nice swipe at the Grammy Awards, the Simpsons family running amok in the mansion and enjoying all it has to offer, and Burns' various tests at the Mayo Clinic (my favorite gag is when Burns is slid into an MRI machine, only to hear the thing grind to a halt with an error message reading 'Clear body jam in Area 1.')"
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