Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein Bring Portlandia to The Simpsons
The Simpsons is getting a healthy dose of IFC’s Portlandia with Sunday’s episode “The Day the Earth Stood Cool” as guest stars Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and Patton Oswalt lend their voices to the Fox comedy.
“The Day the Earth Stood Cool” follows Homer Simpson as he tries to become trendier after he befriends Terrence (Armisen), his new neighbor from Portland. Brownstein portrays Terrence’s wife Emily, while Oswalt plays their son T-Rex. They also have a daughter named Corduroy.
Spinoff Online caught up with Armisen, Brownstein and writer Matt Selman during a conference call in which they discussed the episode’s Portlandia influence. To hear Selman tell it, he’s wanted to take the Simpsons to Portland for a while, but that had to change once Portlandia made its successful debut. Instead, he had to come up with a new idea, and Armisen and Brownstein were entirely on board.
“What if the Portland vibe came to Springfield? We could always do the story in reverse, do it the opposite way,” Selman explained. “That way you’re not doing Portlandia, you’re doing more of a — you’re not going against Portlandia, you’re going with Portlandia. That was my philosophy. Have Portlandia come to you instead of going to it.”
It didn’t take much convincing to get Armisen and Brownstein on the show. Armisen admitted he’s been a lifelong fan of The Simpsons and that the duo was thrilled to be asked to join the show.
“I was so blown away that we were even asked to do it at all,” Armisen said. “Then the more we kept finding out about the script and reading it, it was just even better because it was so funny and so good. ”
Brownstein added, “I distinctly recall in the email exchange between Fred and I following us being asked that it was just full of exclamation points. We were very excited and flattered and everything was just only hyperbole and ecstasy. We were very honored. It was just really fun.”
The Portlandia stars recorded their voices a year ago, and later found out that Oswalt and the indie-rock band The Decemberists were also involved. Oswalt plays their pretentious son who comes into conflict with Bart.
“Fred’s character is very nice and open to Homer, but unfortunately their son — they’ve exposed him to so much cool stuff that he’s become kind of a pretentious dickwad and an unpleasant and judgmental and nothing is cool enough for him,” Selman explained. “So that’s kind of the unfortunate byproduct of giving your kid everything cool.”
The Portland-based Decemberists also didn’t hesitate to become involved with The Simpsons. The band had already participated in Portlandia, so it was just the logical next step to have them lend their talents to The Simpsons.
“They composed some original scoring for it,” Selman said. “They kind of scored part of the episode, they wrote us original songs, original orchestral songs. That’s pretty Portland-y, right? The Decemberists?”
Just because this episode borrows heavily from Portlandia doesn’t mean it’s a rip-off of the IFC series. Selman said he made an effort to ensure The Simpsons wasn’t making the same jokes Portlandia already had.
“We were really just trying to find fresh areas. We were trying not to do the things that they’d done. No putting birds on it,” he said. “They had an indoor hide-and-seek league in the library and we have a reference to a kickball league, so we were trying to find area they hadn’t covered yet. We were trying to make a harmonious rip-off. ”
With that being said, there are parts of the show that fans of Portland will recognize.
“There’s a place in Portland called Voodoo Doughnut, which is sort of a tourist Mecca, a local Mecca as well, with these incredible doughnuts are such a huge part of it,” Armisen explained. “As I was reading the script, the character who I get to do, he runs this place and it made so much sense that, of course, that’s what Homer connects to right away. I think the doughnut that he gets is a beer keg doughnut and it just made so much — I’m like of course, of course that’s what connects him to Portland.”
This might not be the last fans see of Terrence and Emily. When asked during the call if they’d be interested in returning, Brownstein quickly answered, “We’re already saying ‘Yes.’ We’re saying ‘Yes’ right now.”
“The Day the Earth Stood Cool” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. Portlandia returns for its third season Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. on IFC.