No, sadly, I’m not there. But Karma is. She presented on teaching with The Simpsons Friday and will speak on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a paper called “The Whedonverse Graphic Novels: The Newest Television Genre”on Sunday. Also there all weekend is my pal Lonnie Millsap, who is sitting at a small publisher table right now with some copies of his two cartoon collections, I Hate My Job! and My Washcloth Stinks!
Last week on The Simpsons, Marge and Lisa bonded over some brownie sundaes and sad horse movies, so I thought, hey, what a fun idea for a contest. The episode, “Love is a Many Strangled Thing” is available for viewing on Hulu– it was a good one, including a controversial Precious parody and guest stars Paul Rudd and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. In fact, I was so annoyed by people ragging on the Precious parody that I wrote a piece for Splitsider about it.
Surely, by now you know that my best friend Karma and I co-wrote a book on teaching with The Simpsons called The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield; Karma and I have the contest rules and the clip you need to see in order to enter on our book’s website.
For those of you not in the know, my BFF Karma and I wrote a book called The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. It was published last year by McFarland Publishing. Not only is this the gleaming accomplishment in my life so far, but it has also led me to meet some amazing people.
In July, I received an email from Josh Weinstein, who used to be a Simpsons writer and show-runner, telling me he had just ordered our book from Amazon and was excited to read it after seeing the course syllabus (adapted from the actual syllabus Karma uses at UC-Davis in her Simpsons course) that was printed in Pop Candy, where I was a guest blogger for Whitney Matheson while she was on vacation. Josh and I have been emailing since, and he hopes to be able to visit Karma’s Simpsons class in Davis in the coming months. Josh Weinstein might be the nicest, humblest, awesomest TV writer on the planet.
A couple months later, Karma and I both received an email from Chris Ledesma, music editor for The Simpsons, telling us he loves our tweets. (You, too, can follow Chris on Twitter). You can’t imagine how that made us feel! He said he hadn’t bought the book yet, but he planned to, and if we ever wanted to be his guests for an orchestral recording session for the show to let him know. (We found out later that Grammar Girl podcaster and author Mignon Fogarty told Chris about us over email, so we thank her in part for this wonderful opportunity).
What do you think we did? We let him know that we would LOVE to be his guests. Who would turn down such a generous offer? Since MLA was planned for Los Angeles in 2011, we decided to double up our trip to Los Angeles with business and pleasure (tax write-off, babies!) — MLA (we are both part of the Margaret Atwood Society, whose business meeting is held during the MLA conference every year) and a Fox visit. And I sent a book to Chris as a pre-thank you that I signed for him. In my inscription, I apologized that the book doesn’t talk all that much about music, but, in the words of Marge Simpson, “Music is none of my business.”
Finally, after a nice visit to my parents’ place in Arizona (I know, I know, I thought I was boycotting AZ, too) it was L.A. trip time. Karma and I landed at LAX within an hour of each other, and my very good friend Justin picked us up. He and his fiancee, Kathy, allowed us to stay over at their place. We had a fun dinner with an adorable server who we overtipped. I was still blissfully ignorant of the fact that I was getting sick (I was telling myself that my sore throat was simply due to the dry Arizona air and not drinking enough water).
That night I slept terribly and Friday morning I awoke to a full fledged cold. I took handfulls of the cold medicine Karma always brings with her, and we got in the car. Our visit began by meeting Josh Weinstein at 10:00 at the Futurama trailer (where we swiped authentic Matt Groening doodles off the table in the re-write room).
With Josh, we walked around the lot a bit and saw such highlights as Conan’s old office door and the outside of Matt Groening’s office. Karma was certain she got a smile from Shia LeBeouf, and I believe her, even though I didn’t notice him at all.
Outside the Simpsons buildings, we bumped into Ian Maxton-Graham (ridiculous fans will know him as a very tall man who inspired a character from “22 Short Films About Springfield”) and Bill Odenkirk.
At Moe’s Bar, Josh bought us coffee, who, in addition to being an incredibly nice guy, was co-writer of some of our favorite episodes, such as “Bart vs. Australia” and “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” Now he is co-executive producer of Futurama, and if you haven’t been watching it lately on Comedy Central, for shame! You’re missing out; they’re doing some of their best work.
At 11:00, Josh left us in the capable hands of Chris Ledesma, the music editor of The Simpsons and, after all, the reason we were there as he had invited us to observe a recording session for the show. We had a nice lunch with Chris and toured important points of interest to the Simpsons fanatic, such as the Marge Simpson ADR Stage (where Bones was being recorded at the moment, so we couldn’t enter). I quipped “You mean Angel could be behind that door?”
Chris also took us to the Fox store where we picked out swag (at very reasonable prices). Karma got her son a hoodie, I got a t-shirt, reusable canvas shopping bag, and some groovy Homer magnets (pictured below). Chris remarked “Oh, I need a new antenna topper” as if we were at Target and he was mentioned he needed paper towels. I got one, too, for the record. I chose Blinky.
Next, we stopped by the writer’s room, where we saw Bill again and met Joel Cohen, Rob LaZebnik, Brian Kelley, Matt Warburton, Mike Price, and finally Michael Nobori, who wrote the recent hilarious episode “To Surveil With Love.”
[Aside about Michael: I've been chatting with another pop culture lover, Matt, over Twitter. Matt knows Michael, so I took this opportunity to ask Michael if I might end up in a body bag or in pieces in the Pacific should I have lunch with Matt alone. "Nah," Michael said, "You should be fine." With that glowing endorsement, I did meet Matt and had a lovely time.]
While Karma and I were tempted to plop down at the writers’ table and pitch some story ideas and/or yank out our cameras and get super gooey fangirlish, we somehow restrained ourselves and exchanged pleasantries. As both of us have “Simpsonologist” on our business cards, we shared our cards, passing some out and leaving more on the table. Somehow the conversation veered towards hamboning. (I actually think Karma brought it up). At some point I asked, “Who in here are we NOT yet following on Twitter?” Mike Price announced that we weren’t following him, and he pulled out his smart phone and followed us on the spot. (We are now following him as well). Another question was answered: who writes the tweets for Homer Simpson? (There are several Homers on Twitter, but one of them is a verified account). The answer:
the tweets are mostly written by Joel. Joel Cohen, Mike Price,and Jeff Westbrook write them (but Mike says Joel’s posts are funniest).
We were touched at how absolutely kind everyone was to us– we’ve often worried that the minds behind The Simpsons might see us as bottom-feeders piggybacking on the popularity of the show for our own gain, but that has not at all been the case. Everyone we’ve talked to involved with the show (with the exception of Fox legal, of course, who one writer referred to as “the ruiner of all fun”) has been very cool to us. In the case of Chris, he told us with reverence and wonder about how everything lined up for him to have his job, (from way back before his Tracey Ullman Show days) and I think he is just as awe-filled about the whole organism that is The Simpsons as we are. I think when the people involved with the show learn about our book, they appreciate that what we’re doing with our book is out of a place of immense respect. Plus, our book is original educational material and is not simply a rehashing of all the movie references on the show like so many seem to be, or, in the case of John Ortved, writing a book that comes from a place of bitterness, gossip, and cruelty. (I hated the Ortved book. You can read my review of it on Amazon). Our book talks about how the show can and should be used in various classes, which is a huge compliment to those who write and create the show, and I think the writers get that. Josh definitely does, as so many of his episodes are on our syllabi. And the fact that my email address is a nod to one of his jokes helps, too. (My email address is “marzipanjoy” and Josh came up with Uter’s candy, Marzipan Joy Joys).
It was creeping up on 2:00, so Chris took us over to where the music happens. We got the see the orchestra area and noticed music stands with sheet music that the musicians were just seeing for the first time that day. This music was for the episode “Flaming Moe,” to air on January 16. (This was January 7– very fast turnaround indeed!) The episode will feature Scott Thompson (of The Kids in the Hall) reprising his role as Grady ["Three Gays of the Condo"] as well as Kristen Wiig as a substitute music teacher and Alyson Hannigan as her daughter). Next, Chris brought us up to the booth where we met the venerable and adorable Alf Clausen. Somehow, shaking the man’s hand seemed not enough, so I told him I just really wanted to hug him. Wordlessly, he opened his arms to receive my hug (the first of many that day).
Chris brought his copy of our book and showed it to people when he introduced us, and Karma had a chance to sign the book, too. Not many people have both of our autographs in the book — just people who were at our launch party and just a few that were mailed, such as Al Yankovic (who gave us permission to reprint his lyrics in the book). I don’t even have Karma’s auto in my copy!
The music began and we were stunned and impressed at how quickly the musicians got the music and how few takes it took for Chris and Alf (yes, “Alf.” I tried to call him “Mr. Clausen” and he wasn’t having it) to get what they wanted. We were also surprised the episode wasn’t quite done at that point– there were times when the footage on the screen was still in storyboards. The show is a machine; they know what they’re doing. Maybe you’ve never noticed the music before; if you haven’t, that means that the music is doing its job. Alf’s music suits the show so perfectly and works to create the feel of the scene that it’s actually perfect if it’s not noticed. Sometimes the music isn’t background but is part of the plot, and you will notice, I’m sure, the piano music in this episode that is made in the style of an old silent film. (At that point, Chris called down to the conductor that the music should sound more “upright and less grand.” And in the next take, the piano sound was definitely the brighter, looser sound that you expect to come from an old upright piano). An hour or so into the session, there was a small break and Alf asked if I needed another hug. I did. I didn’t want to let go, and he said, “You just let me know when we’re done.”
When the recording was over, Chris let us choose some sheet music that he signed for us. Karma brought her journal and had everyone sign inside her journal; I had brought the booklet from The Simpsons Season 7 (when Josh Weinstein was showrunner) for Josh to sign, and had Alf sign it as well. Karma and I were sad to go. We walked outside and turned our cell phones on (they had to be powered completely down so as to not interfere with the recording equipment) and I found a text message from David Silverman, the director of many brilliant Simpsons episodes (such as “Mother Simpson” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled”) and The Simpsons Movie.
[Aside about David Silverman: David was the first person involved with the show that Karma and I had contact with, thanks to Twitter. One day when I was working on the book, I tweeted “This linguistics chapter is kicking my ass” (or something equally eloquent) and David responded “I would so fail your class.” When I saw that David was following Simpsonology on Twitter (and after I stopped jumping up and down, squeaking, and was calmed down enough to call Karma to tell her to get online NOW), I sent him a DM and we began a friendship of sorts. He answered several questions during the book writing process. You may have noticed that he is thanked first on the book’s acknowledgments page.
David was not able to come to Fox during the day as he had meetings elsewhere, but he was able to meet all of us at a bar called The Tar Pit that evening. (David did the drawings for The Tar Pit’s menu, and because of that, he is welcome there anytime. But once you meet David Silverman, you’d welcome him to your place anytime, too. He is funny, warm, and remarkably handsome, you know, for an animator. Or whatever).
At the bar, Karma and I supplied him with paper and pens and he doodled for us. Below is the one he did for me, held onto my fridge by the magnets I bought at the Fox store. Sadly, his doodle did not stand up well to the chaos that is my purse.
I joked with David about my holiday card– he had sent one last year, so I was wondering why I didn’t get one this year. He said “I think it’s in the mail,” and I responded with “Yeah, my mom told me the big lies. It’s in the mail. The package is on the truck . . .” (I didn’t supply the third, which is R rated). When I got home Wednesday night, amongst the bills and junk, indeed, my new year’s card was there.
Karma left L.A. on Sunday evening, and I had a few more days in L.A. to spend with Justin and Kathy (both of whom, by the way, caught my cold. I am the best house guest EVER).
Wednesday night, I came home to cloudy, gray, dirty Chicago and cried. The only feeling I can compare it to is when I finally saw Bon Jovi for the first time. I had looked forward to it for so long, and then in the car on the way home, I was let down. Not because I didn’t love the concert, but because I felt like I’d never experience anything so awesome ever again. (Of course, I have experienced things at least as awesome as my first Bon Jovi concert, but do you know that feeling that life will never be that amazing again?)
The first week of October, my BFF and I submitted our book’s manuscript to the publisher, so now we play the waiting game. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately, and that is the reason why– during crunchtime of the book, I didn’t do much besides write, edit, and argue with Word ’07. Plus, on Sept. 8, classes started at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I am teaching humanities and speech this quarter. I have 75 engineering students relying on me! That’s a big job. But since the book has been FedExed (which coincided with fall [the most depressing time of the year] happening in Milwaukee), I have been able to check out some new shows and get reunited with some old favorites.*
Okay, obviously, as a Simpsonologist, I’m excited for the 21st season of The Simpsons. Matt and Co. have great treats in store for us, including a contest to create a a character and work with the creative types at the show to help design the character. Seth Rogan appeared and co-wrote the season premiere, and this Sunday’s Treehouse of Horror looks terrific. Also, Morgan Spurlock is directing a documentary to air in January that Karma and I have tried desperately to be a part of, but with no success. Yet.
PARKS AND RECREATION
I’ll admit, last year, I mainly watched Parks and Rec because because I really like that plucky Rachida Jones and it was on at a very convenient time– I can say it– The Office isn’t just a television show; it’s a part of my life. Surprisingly, the second season so far of Parks and Recreation is terrific, and gets my vote for most improved show. Although I can do without Saturday Night Live crossovers (Fred Armisen was on this week’s episode), the writing is clever and Leslie Knope is a loveable, clueless optimist.
As a proud product of a community college, I am compelled to like this show. Afterall, how many shows have there been where a community college was the main set? (The only one that comes to mind for me is The Parkers, but I’m not going to take the time to google it, I admit). But while it definitely has its moments, and Joel McHale is wonderful, this show is not super great. But it just might need some time to come into its own (and maybe they’ll ditch Chevy, who adds nothing to the show, IMO), so I’m going to keep watching, at least for a bit. It could just surpirse us in the future, like Parks and Recreation does now.
THE GOOD WIFE
Juliana Margulies is terrific as Alicia, the wife of a cheating bastard of a politician. She goes back to work to bring home the bacon while her husband waits for her to visit him in jail (played by Chris Noth). He seems flummoxed, by the way, that she is chilly towards him on her visits. But it’s understandable to the audience that she would be, knowing as we do that she found out on CNBC that her husband was cheating on her and their kids have seen the video of a hooker sucking his toes. The framing family story is compelling enough, but the juice of the show is that it’s a courtroom drama, with the mystery of interesting cases unfolding before the eyes and the intrigue and backstabbing we expect from our lawyer shows. Don’t be deceived by the title- the show is as much a chick show as Law and Order SVU is. And the supporting cast is nothing to scoff at– Chris Noth, as I mentioned, as well as Christine Baranzski, Matt Czuchry (who will always be Logan to me) and Josh Charles (from the beloved Aaron Sorkin show, Sports Night.
ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE
I admit, I have a soft spot for Jenna Elfman. I loved her as Dharma, and Keeping The Faith is one of my all-time favorite movies. So I really want to like this show. And it does have its moments, but it’s not rocking my socks off. I’m giving it one or two more chances, though, and we’ll see. I am really missing Samantha Who?, and I was hoping this would be a replacement. So far, I have no replacement.
I had read or heard or something that the critics weren’t liking it. I also heard it might not be on much longer. BUMMER! I love this show! Yes, it’s a chick show. Yes, it’s coming from a place that has been explored already. But it’s good, I swear! It’s well written, funny, clever, and has really, really likeable characters. I never realized until a couple of weeks ago that I like Rebecca Romjin. Who knew? Also, don’t think that I’m judgemental about love or anything, but I was watching one night and it occurred to me that Lindsay Price looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. So I IMDbed her, and check this out: her parents were siblings! Her mother had been adopted and her mom and dad got together as adults. Wow! Kind of blew my mind a bit. (Oh, and it turns out, it was Coupling, I think, that I remembered her from).
I’d been looking to scratch my ER itch, and I really can’t like Grey’s Anatomy (I’ve tried), so I thought I’d give Mercy a go. I’ve always liked a good hospital show. And this one has the added interest of a tortured Iraq vet. Plus, it has that adorable Michelle Trachtenberg. I like this show, too! (She likes it! She likes it!). I don’t quite look forward to it the way I look forward to The Good Wife, but the stories are poignant without being overly pathos-filled, and the heroine, Veronica, truly rocks.
Yeah, I’m watching it. Most of us Americans are, I think. Now’s the time to decide whether I have anything new to say about it . . . well, probably not, but let me say this: I encourage anyone who has not yet watched it to give it a try. Even if you think you hate glee clubs. The dialogue they give Jane Lynch is enough to make it worth your while; I promise you.
MONDAY NIGHTS ON CBS
If you’re not watching HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER and BIG BANG THEORY, what the HELL is wrong with you? These are two of the best sitcoms. Comon– don’t you miss scripted TV?
My guilty pleasure. I generally have a disdain for so-called reality shows. They’re not real at all, and I generally hate any show that has “I’m not here to make friends” as a mantra. But Top Chef rocks. Maybe it’s the foodie in me who wishes she’d gone to culinary school. I wish I could do those quickfires! Maybe it’s my massive girl crush on Padma, or hearing what snarky thing Toby will say next. But what it comes down to is that I really like rooting for someone, and for me, that someone is Kevin. Go, Kev!
*Yeah, that’s right. I’m a college instructor, I’ve co-written an academic book, I occasionally use big words just to annoy people, and I watch TV. I think there are few things more d-baggy than people who want to seem like academic types who say they don’t watch TV. Let me let you in on a little secret: Yes, they do. Most of us who read nonfiction and Margaret Atwood instead of beach novels are secure enough in our intellects that we can admit we watch and enjoy television. And if someone really doesn’t have a TV, they do sometimes miss out. Just ask Matt Selman, who has one of the best stories of stinging a non-television watching tool that I have ever heard.
The excitement begins on a chilly spring day . . . far, far away . . . at a nerd convention . . .
It all started a couple years ago in Toronto; Karma and I gave papers on using humor in the classroom at a conference. An editor asked us if we were interested in turning our idea into a book, and we said sure, but nothing came of it for a while. Then Karma got an email from her, asking us if we’d like to submit a proposal. So we put together a letter proposal. She liked it and asked for a table of contents and some sample chapters. We wrote. And waited. We addressed concerns. Wrote more. Then waited more. Karma called her last week to ask about it, and she responded to Karma in an email that included the sentence “we are planning to send a contract to you and Denise.”
Karma (my brilliant and amazing best friend) and I are writing a book and it will soon have a contract, which suggests it will be published. Holy frak! And the best part is that it’s on The Simpsons. It’s a book for teachers, really, on how to use the show in humanities classes, complete with activities and paper assignments. It’s quite clever, if I do say so myself. We have some stuff to hammer out, like permissions, royalties, and A TITLE would be good.
I’m full of hope. And beans. And sugar and spice. And soon, vodka. I’m hoping this high stays with me for a while. I’m so stoked on the idea of being published, and for Karma to get tenure-track. The idea of making any money off of it isn’t really in my head, but my friend Justin suggested we take it to Comic Con and the like, because, as he said:
you’re a GIRL, you have huge TITS, and you’re doing a book on the SIMPSONS
NERDS will buy your book just to be able to talk to you for a minute
And I heart Justin for many reasons, most of all that.