Outsourcing "The Simpsons"

The brilliant Banksy "sweatshop" couch gag opening where Bart meets art is a sign the show’s irreverent edge is making a welcome comeback

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    NEWSLETTERS

    See what "The Simpsons" and Sideshow Bob have in store to celebrate the show's 20th anniversary. Plus, Stewie on "The Family Guy" finally gets his chance to talk to the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." (Published Saturday, Mar 28, 2009)

    To paraphrase Comic Book Guy, it was the best couch gag – ever.

    We're still rolling off the sofa with laughter upon repeated viewings of Sunday's brilliant opening sequence of "The Simpsons," devised by the British guerrilla graffiti artist Banksy, spotting new visual jokes each time.

    In Banksy's twisted vision, the Simpson family's weekly collective plop on the couch leads to a dank, underground maze of a sweatshop in Asia. Women slave over animation cels of the iconic couch image that are dipped by a boy into a vat of toxic goo that could have oozed from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

    Rats scurry amid human skeletons as workers feed kittens into a wood chipper and stuff the fluffy remnants into novelty Bart dolls. The horn of a sad unicorn is used to punch holes in the middle of "Simpsons" DVDs. The sequence ends with the 20th Century Fox logo, set behind a barbed-wire fence.

    The provocative opening is in keeping with the mysterious, never-seen Banksy, whose politically charged work turns up in unexpected places.

    The sequence also marks the latest sign that early in its 22nd season "The Simpsons" is sharpening its irreverent wit, which hasn’t been consistently pointed in recent years.

    The show, never shy about recruiting guest stars, has been seeking some edgier help as of late. The season’s opening episode, with comedy music duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as camp counselors who show Lisa the dire side of the artistic life, played like an installment of the late, lamented "Flight of the Conchords."

    Clement and McKenzie enjoy a strong cult following, as does Banksy, who is known for plastering giant images of rats on London walls and opening a Greenwich Village "pet shop" that employed animatronics displays to make a statement on the treatment of animals.

    “The Simpsons” reached out to Banksy, and Fox brass signed off on the sequence – including the barbed wire shot, executive producer Al Jean told The New York Times. While part of “The Simpsons” is animated in South Korea, Banksy’s rendering of the process is “very fanciful, far-fetched. None of the things he depicts are true," Jean told The Times.

    Still, the artist captured the show’s old comic anarchy spirit, as embodied by Bart, whose blackboard punishment Sunday – “I must not write all over the walls” – sounds like a penalty that might have been given to Banksy at 10.

    Check out the case of Bart-meets-art below:
     

    Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.