Q & A With Simpsons Exec Producer Matt Selman: The Food Wife, Food Blogging + Dining at Jitlada With Matt Groening
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Just a few weeks ago Fox Studios and the voice actors and producers of Simpsons were engaged in a financial tug-of-war that threatened the existence of the long-running animated series. If you need to remind yourself why we should celebrate the resolution (two more years!), watch The Food Wife this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.
Early in the episode, Marge, Bart and Lisa start a food blog called The Three Mouthketeers, an act then followed by a culinary reference tornado that is so unrelenting that to catch them all requires DVR slow-mo or, barring that, multiple viewings. If neither are possible, pay very close attention when Marge, Lisa and Bart's blog profiles are revealed -- (on Bart's list of grossest foods eaten? "Blood Cheese") -- and for fleeting cameos by every food world celebrity from Paul Prud'homme to The Muppets' Swedish chef as well as a pointed reference to our own Jonathan Gold's Essential 99 L.A. restaurants.
If you want to sing along with the foodie rap belted out by Amuse Bruce and Fois Garth (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job), it is printed in its entirety on Grub Street. If you'd like to read our conversation with the writer of The Food Wife, Simpsons executive producer and food blog scourer Matt Selman, turn the page.
Squid Ink: Food blogs take many forms - the eating diary blog, the recipe blog, the restaurant gossip blog, the "I'm-in-it-for-the-free-food" blog... What category does The Three Mouthketeers fall into?
Matt Selman: The kind where people take pictures of everything and write non-professional reviews. But the show isn't really about the content of the blog. It's more about how Marge uses it as a way to bond with the kids emotionally. It's more like a new activity for them to share and how Homer is excluded. For Homer, blogging about food is pointless because you've already eaten it and you're full.
SI: What do Marge, Bart and Lisa find appealing about exotic food?
MS: Bart likes it because it's weird, has squid tentacles and is super spicy. Lisa likes it because it's global and interesting and multicultural. Marge likes it because it's fancy and a bit interesting. Marge has a little bit of social insecurity and it makes her feel like she's smart. Homer, the most famous glutton in the universe, is actually the one against it.
SI: Is that how you pitched the episode? Did you say, "Marge, Bart and Lisa start a food blog. Homer thinks it is dumb."?
MS: I just said to everyone, "Wouldn't it be cool to do a show about this world that's so interesting and funny?" One of the strengths of the show is that you can say to your creative partners, "Here's a cool idea: Let's figure this out." The big realization was that we shouldn't make Homer the foodie because it's the obvious way to go. We decided, "Let's keep Homer this classic, regular blue-collar guy." Homer loves food and is greedy, but he's more about eating bad food and being full all the time. You know that thing where you eat as much as you can really fast before your brain sends a signal that you're full? There was actually a scene that we wrote where we tried to show that but it was cut. Homer thinks that being a foodie is lame and would rather stuff his face with a Krusty burger and pizza.
SI: What food blogs do you follow?
MS: I like Squid Ink, of course. I read Grub Street and Eater for up to date gossip and information. Jonathan Gold is still my hero.
SI: Before every Simpsons episode, the actors get together and do a table read. It is almost like a stage play with guests in attendance. What got the biggest laugh of your episode?
MS: There's a really cool story turn at the end. I don't want to spoil it so I'm not going to tell you. But when people realized what the big twist at the end was, that was the biggest moment of the read.
SI: We get it, no spoilers. What was the second biggest laugh?
MS: Homer's regular-guy rants against foodie-ism. People really liked Homer saying, "Guess what? My kids don't eat pine needle sorbet. They eat sherbet and pronounce it sherbert and wish it were ice cream." When Homer rants in a way that is easy to relate to, that's something people always think is really funny. They secretly agree with him.
SI: When it comes to the world of foodies, what do you consider comedy gold?
MS: The idea of taking something like food and making it competitive, something you can brag about. Like, "I ate there first..." or "I was the one who discovered this..."
SI: ..."You ate the beef roll at Noodles 101 in Culver City? I suggest you try the branch in Irvine."
MS: ...[in a sniffy voice] "You still think salted caramel is cool? That is so three years ago." The idea of taking foodie minutiae and trying to one up each other? That's funny. It's funny when people take something fun and make it petty. [laughs]
SI: How is this addressed in "The Food Wife"?
MS: These foodie characters played by Tim and Eric of Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job, they're too cool for school and a little judgmental and snotty. They think they discovered Korean food before Koreans did.
SI: Let us go slightly off-topic: Have you ever been to the Thai restaurant, Jitlada, with "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening?
MS: Yes, a couple of times.
SI: And was it not like going into a shoe store with a Kardashian?
MS: Yes. Now whenever I go there I just shamelessly drop "The Simpsons"' card and Jazz comes to life.
SI: Of the entire "Simpsons" writing staff how many of them are interested in the consumption of delicious food? Please be numerically specific.
MS: I would say that there are 25% hardcore foodies and the rest just like to eat a lot. One of them went to El Bulli. He doesn't have kids yet so he has the freedom to really go nuts. Whereas I have two girls, 7 and 5, and am sort of stuck in a 5-mile radius.
SI: Anthony Bourdain has a guest spot in this episode. Is the animated Bourdain as fearlessly and unapologetically brusque as the living, breathing man?
MS: His bad boy persona is not fully explored, I would say. The show was very long and we had to cut it down. There was a lot of food nerdiness to jam in. Gordon Ramsey is also in [the episode] and he is sort of a crazy character which was useful for the story. Mario Batali has one line; I wish we could have given him more. [deep sigh] You just can't fit everything into a 21-minute show. There's also lots of visual shout-outs to other chefs.
SI: Such as?
MS: Jose Andres. [Marge, Lisa and Bart] go to a molecular gastronomy restaurant and there's an expansive Spanish chef that we don't name, but [the character] is inspired by Ferran Adrià and Jose Andres.
SI: What is your idea of an exciting dinner?
MS: For me the most exciting dinner is having someone say, "Hey, let's go to San Gabriel. I speak Chinese. We're going to eat all this crazy stuff." I love an adventure. To me, the most exciting restaurant is the one you haven't been to yet.
SI: We live in an age where everyone has the ability to express their opinion be it spot-on or totally crackpot. Do you think that food blogs have made it easier or more difficult to get a good meal?
MS: The world is definitely better [since the ubiquity of food blogs]. Now when you go to a new city or a new part of the world or even a new part of L.A. all this work has already been done for you. You can find out about all these interesting places that you might not otherwise know about. It's funny: Something "The Simpsons" often does is take something they like and are fond of and then poop on it.
SI: And you have done that many times on the show?
MS: I have done that many times on the show. I have taken something that I love, found the one little weird, bad thing about it and harped on that. The same thing with foodies: You can make fun of them for being pretentious or snobby or taking the fun out of eating. That you'd rather photograph something than taste it is a funny nuance of the phenomenon. That it's more about sticking your flag in something than actually enjoying it. We kind of make fun of foodies, but in real life we actually love them.
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