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Recap / The Simpsons S11 E22 "Behind the Laughter"

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"Son, let's go out for Frosty Chocolate Milkshakes."
"Cowabunga, dude!"

Original air date: 5/21/2000

Production code: BABF-19

In a parody of VH1's Behind the Music (and other cable documentaries that chronicle the rise and fall of celebrities and casts of famed TV shows, like E! True Hollywood Story), this episode of The Simpsons depicts The Simpson family as actual celebrities whose egos, addictions, feuds, and run-ins with the law are jeopardizing the future of the show. The episode had four writers, one of them being Tim Long.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Catchphrase: The scene depicting the "origins" of the Running Gag where Homer strangles Bart uses two of these in rapid succession (Homer's being from the Tracey Ullman Show shorts) to make the point that the show is very early in its run.
    Homer: Son, let's go out for frosty chocolate milkshakes!
    Bart: Cowabunga, dude!
  • Actor Allusion: The Episode's narrator states that Bart is good friends with Richie Rich. This is a nod to Bart's voice actor, Nancy Cartwright, who previously provided the voice of Richie's girlfriend, Gloria Glad in the 80's series.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of Behind the Musicnote  and other celebrity documentary shows.
  • All Part of the Show:
    • Lisa tries to reassure the audience during the Simpsons' argument at Habitat for Hilarity, but everything goes to hell from there.
    • Earlier, when Homer strangles Bart during rehearsal, hearing the crew laugh at this prompts Homer and Bart to work it into the series.
  • Animated Actors: The Simpsons and their fellow Springfieldians are presented as such.
  • Ascended Meme: There's a joke about Huckleberry Hound being gay but not able to tell anyone. The Hanna-Barbera Beyond comic, Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles had the blind being closet gay.
  • As Himself: Willie Nelson does his own face.
  • As You Know: Parodied in the Rent 2: Condo Fever scene, where the first line is one character saying to a friend, "As a young female artist, I really love living in this East Village loft."
  • Audience-Alienating Era: In-universe, the period when Richie Rich stood in for Bart.
    Narrator: Fans reacted to these slapdash episodes with yawns. (audience yawns) Angry yawns. (audience yawns angrily)
  • Award Category Fraud: "Simpsons Christmas Boogie" somehow manages to win the "Best Hardcore Thrash Metal" award, much to the disgust of Ozzy Osbourne.
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: The episode is full of Lampshade Hanging. One particular example ties in with a Mythology Gag where Bart criticizes Homer's script for making him say "Cowabunga, dude!" (which winds up also being the incident that created the "Why you little!" Running Gag).
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: Plenty at Fox's expense, including the idea that president Rupert Murdoch has to moonlight as a hair dresser who can barely write his name, their main offices are in a closet, and Fox temporarily having to replace the show with footage of changing rooms in an Ann Taylor store (Peepin It Real).
  • Bland-Name Product: The big screen on Times Square in New York is marked as Sorny. A Call-Back to a TV brand in "Scenes From A Class Struggle in Springfield".
  • The Cameo:
    • Huckleberry Hound appears in a teaser for a "future" episode of Behind the Laughter admitting he is a closeted homosexual.
    • While Bart is briefly in jail for assaulting a flight attendant, his role is covered by Richie Rich.
  • Catchphrase: In the very cheaply-produced "My Funny Family" pilot, Homer's catchphrase is an exaggerated "Mamma-mia!" in place of his signature "D'oh!"
  • Celebrity Paradox: Lisa says Meryl Streep spit on her during an Oscars ceremony. Streep had played Jessica Lovejoy in Season 6's "Bart's Girlfriend".
  • Chewing the Scenery: Literally, as Homer reveals with a prop with a bite taken out of it.
  • Christmas Songs: "Simpsons Christmas Boogie", which is really just "Simpsons Boogie" with "Christmas" and jingle bells added on.
  • Clip Show: Midway through the episode, the episode shows a series of clips of Homer getting hurt as the narrator goes on to explain about how Homer became addicted to painkillers while performing these stunts. Both the opening and ending credits show more of the stunts, the ending credits set to "Simpsons Christmas Boogie".
  • Couch Gag: The family sits down, and Bart puts a coin in the "Magic Fingers" slot on his side of the couch. The couch vibrates away, taking the family with it.
    • One scene features a failed couch gag that apparently involves the Simpsons dressing up as cowboys; it's ruined when Bart doesn't get into the scene due to being called to partake in another sequel to Teen Wolf.
  • Courtroom Episode: Richie Rich replaces Bart in the episode "Disorder In the Court", where "Bart" has Jury Duty.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Comic Book Guy is subtitled as "comic book guy" by the show.
  • Dinner with the Boss: The plot of Homer's pilot for the show, with Bart as the boss.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Apu snitched on Homer's tax evasion because he abused the Kwik-E-Mart's Take a Penny/Leave a Penny tray.
  • Documentary Episode: This episode is presented as a Behind the Music-style mockumentary.
  • Don't Answer That: The dinner with the lawyers has this.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: During the family's break up at Habitat for Hilarity, all the family tear into each other, but only the Simpson girls are shown landing blows. By the time they are restrained, Bart in particular has been beaten unconscious by Lisa.
  • Expressive Hair: Willie Nelson's pigtails.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: The entire episode's format is a parody of Behind the Music, and it takes a sledgehammer to the fourth wall in the process.
  • From Bad to Worse: After the incident at the Iowa State Fair, here is how the narrator described the situation.
    Narrator: The Simpsons' TV show started out on a wing and a prayer. But now the wing was on fire, and the prayer had been answered by Satan.
  • I'll Kill You!: Exclaimed by Homer during the Iowa State Fair.
    Homer: I'll kill you!
    Marge: (prods him in the chest) You don't have the guts, little man!
  • In-Character Commentaries: Homer provides commentary for his famous gorge jump from "Bart the Daredevil":
    Homer: Everything was going great at first. I felt like I was king of the world. Right about here, I realize something's wrong. Yep, there I go. Then came the rocks — jagged rocks, hitting me with their jags.
    • Bart says that he would've done the stunt as originally planned if he hadn't been up all night paying people to kiss; Homer volunteered to do it in his place.
  • Incredibly Lame Fun: The final joke of the episode is a gag about the show's many Vacation Episodes in which the family edit an upcoming episode set in Delaware, where the kids are excited to see Wilmington and visit a screen door factory.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: At the end of the episode, the narrator declares, "Whether choking their son or poking some fun, the Simpsons will keep on gagging for years to come!" The scene then cuts to the Simpsons in an editing room watching an upcoming episode, with Homer telling the editor, "This will be the last season." The editor nods in agreement.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: In a manner parodying other celebrities that have done the same, the Simpsons get busted for tax evasion and the IRS agents are shown literally carting off their mansion.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Inverted with Moe.
    Moe: Oh, Homer was spending money like a teenage Arab. (chuckles) He bought me a Rolex and, uh, Cashmere jeans. I felt kinda guilty 'cause I was always trying to score with his wife. So, when do we start filming? (beat) Oh.
  • It's the Best Whatever, Ever!: Homer's opinion on the Thanksgiving the family had with their lawyers during their falling out.
    Homer: I mean, emotionally, it was terrible, but the turkey was so moist!
  • Lemony Narrator: Using such odd metaphors as:
    • "The Simpsons began on a wing and a prayer, but now the wing was on fire, and the prayer had been answered... by Satan."
    • "The dream was over. Coming up: Was the dream really over? Yes it was. Or was it?"
    • "Would Willie's fence-mending eggs bear fruit? Or would his olive branch be torn apart, by woodpeckers of mistrust? That night, fate wore a cummerbund... of suspense."
  • Let's See YOU Do Better!: Homer set about the show's creation when he wanted to make a sitcom more relatable and down to earth than those seen on TV. The result is a very cheap, wooden pilot which uses practically every standard 50s sitcom cliche.
  • Metaphorgotten:
    Homer: Why did I take such punishment? Let's just say that fame was like a drug, but what was even more like a drug was the drugs.
  • Musical Nod: "Dr. Zaius" is briefly heard at the awards ceremony arranged by Willie Nelson.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: The "real" Marge Simpson has much more of an edge than the sweet-natured Wet Blanket Wife we know from the show, apparently having told Homer to "either (bleep) or get off the pot" when he was contemplating creating a sitcom, and responding to an I'll Kill You! from Homer with "You don't have the guts, little man!"
  • Noodle Incident: Lisa once hosted the Oscars and did such a bad job that Meryl Streep spat at her afterwards.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Lisa alleges in a tell-all book that she was given anti-growth hormones.
  • Not Helping Your Case:
    • Homer gives this gem:
      Homer: I want to set the record straight: I thought the cop was a prostitute. (gives a satisfied smile)
    • Another one:
      Homer: Then we figured out we could park them in front of the TV. That's how I was raised, and I turned out TV.
  • Not Hyperbole:
    • Ned recounts seeing the Simpsons sitting down and watching TV, referring to what they were watching as "Hollywood hogwash". Cut to Homer:
      Homer: Our favorite show was Hollywood Hogwash.
    • Homer has to pull out a set piece with a bite in it to show that he was literally Chewing the Scenery during his theater stint.
  • The Other Darrin: In-universe, when Bart gets replaced by his friend Richie Rich.
  • Parent-Induced Extended Childhood: Lisa writes a tell-all book about the show and reveals that she was secretly given anti-growth hormones as a way of prolonging the series' run.
    Homer: That's ridiculous! How could I even get all five necessary drops into her cereal? (beat) What?
  • Parody Assistance: Jim Forbes guested as the narrator, and the Behind the Music producers let the Simpsons animators use their graphics package to get the look just right.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In-Universe, "Bart the Daredevil" was supposed to end with Bart actually jumping Springfield Gorge, but Homer decided to do the stunt for him because he was exhausted after spending the whole night paying people to kiss. Homer made a serious attempt to clear the gorge and his unintentional tumble launched his famed career in physical comedy but also caused him to develop an addiction to painkillers.
  • Recycled Animation: Animation for an "aborted" 1992 Couch Gag was reworked from a Season 8 Couch Gag appearing in both "The Homer They Fall" and "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment".
  • Saying Too Much: When Lisa brings up being forced to ingest anti-growth hormones:
    Homer: How could I even get all five necessary drops into her cereal? ...what?
  • Self-Deprecation:
  • Shout-Out:
    • During a Grammy award show, the presenter Ozzy Osbourne announces that, somehow, "Simpsons Christmas Boogie" won a Grammy for Best Thrash Metal, a reference to the 1988 Grammy Awards, where people were stunned that Metallica lost to Jethro Tull for best metal recording. (The backing track on "Simpsons Christmas Boogie" comes from the 1978 disco hit "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste of Honey, meaning that it could also be a reference to how that year A Taste of Honey infamously won the Best New Artist Grammy Award over Elvis Costello, The Cars, Toto and Chris Rea.) Ozzy's reaction is a reference to Alice Cooper's similarly incredulous reaction to the award. Angered, he bites off the "head" of the Grammy, causing it to bleed, referencing a similar incident with a bat.
    • Homer talks about his return to legitimate theater and is shown in a performance of RENT II. He acts as the characters' new landlord, Mr. Stingely, who apparently dresses like Snidely Whiplash.
    • There's a statue of The Iron Giant in Comic Book Guy's office, as a nod to former Simpsons producer Brad Bird, who directed the film.
    • Krusty complains that the Simpsons' music album caused his own album, Krustophinia, to tank.
    • The host of the Grammy's briefly mentions a tribute to Falco by Taco, both of whom are One-Hit Wonders from the 80's. note 
  • Signs of Disrepair: Homer whacks MC Hammer's "HammerTime" sign to make it say "HomerTime".
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Both Marge and the narrator have a single contribution to the rare instances of censored dialogue in The Simpsons.
    Marge: Finally, I said, "So do it. Either (bleep) or get off the pot."
    Narrator: And (bleep), he did.
  • Special Edition Title: Oddly, averted. Despite the documentary pretense seemingly calling for it, and the Show Within a Show having its own intro sequence, the episode still plays out the standard intro in full.
  • Spiteful Spit: Apparently, Meryl Streep spat on Lisa after an award show; she does it on-screen to a Simpsons photograph.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Homer's various pratfalls throughout the show (Made of Iron or not) were not "truly" just shrugged off: he had lengthy hospital stays and became addicted to painkillers.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: After the breakup, Lisa writes a tell-all book revealing harsh behind-the-scenes events of the show, such as being fed anti-growth hormones. Homer responds as such.
    Homer: That's ridiculous! How could I even get all five necessary drops into her cereal? (Beat) What?
  • Symbolically Broken Object: The photograph of the Simpson family early on breaks into four pieces foreshadowing the disrupted relationship between the cast members.
  • Take That!:
    • The Simpsons mention televison shows they used to watch, which consist of terrible-sounding fictional shows - and Home Improvement.
    • A scene from an upcoming episode has this pot-shot at Delaware's supposed boring nature:
      Marge: I can't believe it! We won another contest!
      Homer: The Simpsons are going to Delaware!
      Lisa: I wanna see Wilmington!
      Bart: I wanna visit a screen door factory!
      Homer: (watching this scene with an editor) This'll be the last season.
      Editor: (nods in agreement)
    • Woody Allen finally gets awards, but they turn out to be no good.
  • Talks Like a Simile: A running gag with the narrator.
  • Tickertape Parade: We see one given for the family.
  • Throw It In: In-Universe, the Running Gag of Homer strangling Bart began as a real incident of violence when Bart complained about Homer's script.
  • A True Story in My Universe: This episode reimagines The Simpsons as a family starring in a Sitcom based on their own life.
  • Un-Installment: Apparently, there's an episode called "Disorder In the Court", in which Richie Rich substitutes for Bart while the latter is in rehab.
    Marge: Bart, what do you mean you have jury duty?
    "Bart": Don't have a cow, Mother.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Skinner: "Awards and honors are great, but they don't pay the pickle man."
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: After years of speculation as to what state Springfield is in, the narrator just casually calls The Simpsons "this northern Kentucky family"... at least, he did in the original broadcast (and the syndicated version). Both Fox repeats changed it to "southern Missouri". The intention was for it to change to a different state every time the episode ran — several more were recorded but not used and can be heard on the DVD's special features (including western Oregon, eastern Nebraska, southern Illinois and the small island of Lanai).
  • Would Hurt a Child: After the crew thinks Homer strangling Bart is All Part of the Show, Homer reflects on how "that horrible act of child abuse" became a trademark gag.
  • Writers Suck: Homer is the primary writer on the show, at least early on, and also writes the Sunday newspaper comic strip adaptation (about which Bart snarks, "So you know it's good").
  • Written By Castmember: Invoked; Marge mentioned that Homer writes the Sunday Simpsons comic strip.
    Bart: So you know it's good!
    Homer: Why you little... (chokes Bart)