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In Defense of the Simpsons Episode That Matt Groening Disowned

The Simpsons episode that reportedly enraged series creator Matt Groening is actually a hilarious entry in the FOX show’s sixth season.

FOX’s The Simpsons has aired over 725 episodes, and because of the sheer number of them, fans have constantly debated the show’s quality. There are constant debates over when the Golden Age of the series ended, or if the show should have been canceled years ago. The discussion has gotten to the point where cast members have weighed in. But there’s one episode that stands out when it comes to controversy.

Series creator Matt Groening has remained a vocal champion of the series even after stepping away from the day-to-day production, appearing on DVD commentaries for almost every episode — except for one installment that he famously couldn’t stand. Groening hated one episode of The Simpsons and what it represented so much that he publicly complained and refused to have his name put on it. That’s a shame, because Season 6’s “A Star is Burns” is much better than he gives it credit for.

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“A Star is Burns” is the 18th episode of The Simpsons‘ sixth season. The plot focuses on the citizens of Springfield deciding to hold a film festival after Marge suggests it could help improve the town’s image. Placed on the jury for the event thanks to his connection to Marge, Homer finds himself in a unique position of breaking a deadlocked vote — with the ability to award the top prize of to the villainous Mr. Burns’ grandiose celebration of himself, Barney’s soulful rumination on his alcoholism or Hans Moleman’s self-explanatory short titled “Man Getting Hit by Football.” The episode is most remembered for featuring Jon Lovitz as Jay Sherman, a movie critic from New York who is invited by Marge to sit on the jury and stays with the Simpsons while he’s in town.

Sherman was the central character of The Critic, an animated series produced by Simpsons veterans Al Jean, Mike Reiss and James L. Brooks. After the show was canceled on ABC and picked up by Fox, a crossover episode with The Simpsons was suggested as a means of promoting the younger show. Groening was entirely against the idea, claiming it was a 30-minute advertisement. His efforts to get the episode pulled from the production schedule failed, so Groening removed his name from the episode’s credits — making it a unique entry in the series. However, “A Star is Burns” did damage serious to Groening and Brooks’ relationship, and its legacy remains a mixed bag to this day.

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The installment — written by Ken Keeler and directed by Susie Dietter, with former showrunners Jean and Reiss returning to executive produce — is a consistently funny entry that features some emotional highlights. The film festival concept is a quick and silly excuse for The Simpsons to indulge its eclectic cast of weirdos, who all present themselves in surprising lights through the use of film. Moe casts himself as a song and dance man, Bart and Lisa craft a straight-faced mockumentary about Homer trying to fit into slacks and the Flanders family attempt to create a religious epic that quickly goes wrong. Each film feels in-character but breezes by quickly for a good laugh. Burns’ attempts to become popular by winning the festival are all so over the top and flawed that they can’t help but elicit chuckles.

For all of Groening’s problems with the concept, the charming but put-upon Sherman does make a solid contrast to the more bombastic and emotionally-driven Homer. More than anything, the episode stands the test of the time thanks to “Pukahontas,” Barney’s genuinely affecting short film that employs impressive animation, startling filmmaking techniques and truly tragic introspection to turn the typically oafish character into one of the show’s most somber figures. While it may not be a perfect episode, “A Star is Burns” is a solid entry to the season that doesn’t deserve the scorn it received.

Brandon Zachary is an Associate Writer with Comic Book Resources and has written for CBR since 2018. He covers breakouts on comics, film, television, video games, and anime. He also conducts industry interviews, is a Rotten Tomatoes certified film critic, and knows SO MUCH about the X-Men. For requests, comments, or to hear his pitch for a third Avatar series that incorporates robots, you can contact him through bs.zachary@gmail.com.

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