A couple of things I learned while reading Alan Siegel’s piece
for The Ringer about the nearly twenty-year-old(!) episode.
Albert Brooks improvised a lot of his lines as villain Hank Scorpio:
“Albert Brooks is a brilliant, insane ad-libber,” Weinstein said. “We knew that we didn’t have to get the jokes perfect.” During the marathon recording session, Brooks was hard on himself in a way that may sound familiar to those who know his work. “No, that’s not good,” Weinstein recalled him saying. “That’s not funny. Let me try something else.” Weinstein, who has a fantasy of finding the two-hour tape of Brooks as Scorpio and making an extended version of “You Only Move Twice” with it, said that 80 percent of the lines the actor came up with were funny.
“By the end of that session, I don’t think I had another comedy thought in my head for a month,” Brooks said in 2012. “I said every funny thing I had as Hank Scorpio.”
Brooks delivered an all-time great performance, but what made it even better was that while he repeatedly went off script, Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, riffed off of him in character. So in the episode, Homer’s reactions to Scorpio are real.
Secretive, possibly mythical Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder is on Twitter. (He’s the guy behind so many of those classic early episodes.)
Swartzwelder’s frame of reference often fell outside of the television age. His comedy was informed by all sorts of old-timey entertainment — W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Preston Sturges, radio crime dramas. In a New Yorker article published in 2000, fellow Simpsons writer George Meyer described one great Swartzwelder joke as “a horrifying idea juxtaposed with something really banal — and yet there’s a kind of logic to it.”
A Swartzwelderian juxtaposition can be found early in “You Only Move Twice.” After Homer is offered the job from Globex, he shows his family a short film promoting the company town of Cypress Creek. The movie begins with shots of dilapidated buildings and a man saying, “Somebody oughta build a town that works!” The narrator then responds with, “Somebody did!” At that moment, parking meters magically become trees, four different storefronts transform into coffee shops, a dumpster morphs into a coffee cart, and finally — and most disturbingly — a homeless man turns into a mailbox.