By Stacey Harrison
Contrary to initial announcements (and its title), the documentary commemorating the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons will not be in 3-D or on ice. It will, however, be the latest project of provocateur filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who shot to fame with by chronicling his monthlong McDonald’s-only diet in Super Size Me and conducted other sociological experiments in the weekly FX show 30 Days. He was at Comic-Con in San Diego (where just a few Simpsons fans have been known to gather) over the weekend auditioning superfans and grand impersonators to take part in the project.
Spurlock took time for a quick chat between auditions to tell me his plans for the special, why he wishes he could be more like Mr. Burns, and even broke off a couple of impressive impersonations of Otto and Apu.
What are your plans for the documentary?
“It’s going to be a look at the way The Simpsons sees the world, and the way the world sees The Simpsons. It’s had a global impact at the way we look at other countries, other people, pop culture, so we’re really going to travel around the world to all these different countries, because it’s not just an American phenomenon, it’s an international phenomenon and we’re going to go to a few of the many countries it’s played in and tell stories from those places of people who have been deeply affected by this show. It’s changed the way they see the world. We’re trying to make something that’s funny and different and isn’t just a gladhand strokefest, which they don’t want anyway.”
Will we see your stylistic touches, like your quirky graphics and humorous narration?
“Initially I think that’s why they contacted me. They didn’t want it to be some sort of typical reflection show. I mean, there’ll be a ton of clips, and a lot of interviews … it’ll have a lot of our stylistic trademarks. I’ll be in it, traveling around to meet the people who are in the piece.”
What exactly are you looking for in the auditions today?
“One of the things that we talked about … 20 years is huge. Where do you even start? I really believe the only reason the show is still here is the fans, the people who love this show, the people who are passionate about it, and somehow we have to talk to them, find out what it means to them. So that’s what we’re doing today, we’re casting for superfans, and real-life Simpsons and there’s plenty of — whether it’s Barney or Mr. Burns, that they have the same trademarks or outlook on the world. We were speaking to one of the directors, and he said that’s what’s really unique to The Simpsons is everybody on that show has their own view of the universe and believes in how it works, whether it’s right or wrong, and they stand by them all the time, and we want to find those kind of people.”
What is your experience with The Simpsons?
“I watched them with my mom back during the Tracey Ullman days. My mom, who has a fantastic sense of humor, brought me up on a great diet of Monty Python, Black Adder, Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones, and I remember when this show came on, The Tracey Ullman Show, we just loved it and all the interstitial material. So when it became its own show, I was at college at that point, and I just started watching everything. It was like my college date night. Me and all my friends, we had our own little drink-beer date night, where we would sit and eat Top Ramen and pizza and watch The Simpsons.”
What’s your reaction when people say the show isn’t as good as it used to be?
“I think when a show’s been on for 20 years, there are always peaks and valleys. Saturday Night Live‘s been on forever, and has had amazing seasons and some seasons it’s not so good. But [The Simpsons] is a show that’s been consistently funny, and, even when it’s bad … we spoke to a fan yesterday and he said, ‘I would rather have a mediocre Simpsons than no Simpsons.’ And he goes, ‘Even a mediocre Simpsons is better than half of what’s on television.’ Which is true. Because even then, the writing is so smart and so solid, people are led to think that it’s just one script gets written and it’s done. [But] literally it’s a script gets written, and then it goes into a room with 15 people and gets rewritten, and all those jokes go into another room where they get rewritten again, so there’s probably like 50 drafts that go into one script. And sight gags and everything that goes into the storyboarding, I mean, it’s a bear to make, but it’s meticulous. It’s not just thrown away, and that could have easily happened with this show and I think it didn’t. There’s been a real attention to detail from day one that’s continued all the way through year 20.”
You’re asking people today which Simpsons character they identify with most. How would you answer that question?
“If I had to look at the whole world, I think as a parent, you can’t help but see bits of Homer in it. I think every father in America sees a little bit of Homer in himself. While we may not actually choke our kids, there’s just a part of us that wants to. (laughs) There’s a part of Lisa in me, I think. Because I really like her, I love who she is and her humanity and her outlook on the world. She is such an optimist all the time, and a realist, which I like. I wish there was a little more Mr. Burns in me. Sometimes I really need it. If only I could be a little more conniving, that would be great. And then of course there’s Declan Desmond, who is the official documentarian in Springfield who came out a couple years ago.”
Spurlock’s documentary special, The Simpsons’ 20th Anniversary Special In 3-D On Ice, is scheduled to air Jan. 14 on FOX.