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'Simpsons' Producer Discusses Controversial Opening

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Every Simpsons fan can agree that the show is not what it once was. It's not necessarily worse -- though many would argue it is -- it's just different. A show that focused on American culture first and animation second now regularly sacrifices realism for cartoony gags. We viewers may never get a chance to relive the quality and tone found in the show's pitch-perfect fourth and fifth seasons, but considering The Simpsons' rich and fertile universe, we can still find for a gem or two. (Homer as a paparazzo was a particularly fine later episode.)

But The Simpsons saw a return to its acerbically satirical roots with a couch opening so grim that it might be the darkest sequences ever contained in its 30 minutes.

Helmed by politically-motivated graffiti artist Banksy, the opening depicts the hellish working conditions faced by Korean animators to produce each episode of America's favorite yellow family. The dank sweatshop flows into a cavernous dungeon where Fox merchandise is manufactured by shredded kittens, panda slaves, decapitated dolphins, and decrepit unicorns. From there, the scene pulls back to show the workshop nightmare is contained within a structure shaped like the 20th Century Fox logo, surrounded by barbed wire and searchlights.

With the suicides at Apple's contract manufacturer Foxconn fresh in our minds, this couch opening is incredibly morose yet poignant. So how could it ever pass standards and practices at a notoriously egocentric studio? Seasoned executive producer for The Simpsons Al Jean explained the situation to the New York Times.

"I saw the film Banksy directed, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and I thought, oh, we should see if he would do a main title for the show, a couch gag. So I asked Bonnie Pietila, our casting director, if she could locate him, because she had previously located people like Thomas Pynchon. And she did it through the producers of that film. We didn't have any agenda. We said, 'We'd like to see if you would do a couch gag.' So he sent back boards for pretty much what you saw."

The sequence gave Jean some pause, but Simpsons creator Matt Groening pushed it through. According to Jean, the footage retained 95% of what aired, with a few more depressing bits -- which he didn't specify -- getting scrapped.

Despite the exceptionally harsh tones, Jean stressed that the sequence does not reflect the working conditions for Korean animators. It may, however, reflect the humor that The Simpsons were known for in its heyday. Witness a screen cap from the season four episode "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" where newscaster Kent Brockman visits the Korean animation studio where "American cartoons are made."

Guess South Park was right. The Simpsons have done everything.
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