TV-on-DVD Notes'Simpsons' Writer David Mirkin Talks 'Get a Life' with Chris Elliott
By Zack Smith, USA Today
's 'Pop Candy' Blg - Nov. 2, 2012
The DVD set that's gotten me the most excited this year was the release of the complete series of Get a Life, the surreal 1990s Fox sitcom with Chris Elliott. Here's an essay I wrote on the DVD set when it came out in September.
Through Shout! Factory, I spoke with one of the show's creators, David Mirkin, who's also a longtime writer of The Simpsons and has directed such films as Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Heartbreakers. Mirkin loves recalling the show – check out Nathan Rabin's in-depth discussion of the series with him – and we had a great talk. Here's some highlights of our conversation!On Chris Elliott's character, 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson:
The great thing about that character is that you can put him in any situation, whether it's a grown-up job like Health Inspector or a teenage job like modeling, you got a very strange, specific take on it through not just the character, but the style of storytelling that Chris, Adam Resnick, myself and the other writers really embraced. It was a wide range of experience – there were all sorts of age-appropriate or inappropriate things he could be doing.
And that's the kind of show I love – the kind where you can go anywhere and do anything, and not only have the character and the reality changing all the time, but the storytelling style changing as well – a horror show one week, a romantic story another week, a competitive show another week.
Each time you tell the story, you never know what's going to be told, and in what style. That to me is the most exciting thing. And of course you can kill the main character every week, and he can come back unscathed every week, which to me is a very positive message – even death is not enough to stop this guy.On having the whole series on DVD with the original music, including R.E.M.'s "Stand" as the theme song:
I was able to put out about eight episodes around the turn of the millennium with Rhino, because that was all we could afford! They were very successful, and they were going to put out the whole box set, but then Rhino got taken over by Warner Brothers, and morphed into a different kind of company.
But then some of the people from Rhino created Shout! Factory, and the numbers finally worked – in a way, because DVD sales are down, we were able to get all the original music on there, and didn't have to change a note of it. And we're thrilled that that happened.
But some of that really horrible replacement music from when they tried rerunning the show on USA would have been a fun bonus feature! (Zack note: One of my favorites was when "Hey There, Georgy Girl" was replaced with a sound-alike that went, "Say There, Happy Guy").
One of the unsung heroes was R.E.M. – they are such great guys and such fans of the show, they cut us a deal on "Stand" (which was replaced with a generic alt-rock song in reruns). So we were able to use the song on every episode on the DVD.
The opening sequence with "Stand" came about by accident – we talk about this in the DVD commentary on the first episode – we had this montage, and then we realized that we had this great image for the theme song with Chris on his bike, and "Stand" went so well with it. The opening sounds like an organ grinder, which goes well with the pedals going around, and then there's a hit on a guitar, which is almost a reveal – you widen out on the bike to see Chris, and that's the joke.On why Chris moved out of his parents' house in the second season:
The rumor was that the network wanted Chris to move out of the house, but they never asked for that – they did want Chris to be more lucid, more sane. The real reason was Bob Elliott was in his 70s, and we were shooting until four in the morning often, and it was tough on him. So we had Chris move out of his parent's house, and we were able to shoot all his scenes at once. Bob – you never saw him happier!
The other idea was that I loved the idea of a show that changed every year. So if we'd done a third season, Chris would have moved out of Gus' garage and become a homeless drifter. And he would have traveled the country, in every place touching someone else's life and making it a little bit worse.
We were also always looking for a way to work with Brian Doyle-Murray (Gus) again, after using him in the second episode. Once we realized the new format, and that Chris and Brian would be a comic team, that was when we realized we wouldn't be able to service the great Sam Robards (Larry) any more. So we had that character move on, and it's a tribute to Sam that he came in and did one last episode, which he didn't have to do at all.
The network kind of accepted that this was the kind of show we were going to do, this very surreal show, by the end of the first season. Their reaction in the second season was mostly to leave us alone more…but also to put us in Siberia, Saturday at 9:30, when all the cool kids are home!On the bizarre episodes toward the show's end:
The episode "SPEWEY and Me" (where Chris meets a vomiting space alien he names "Special Person Entering the World, Egg Yolks") was actually the first episode we were told we couldn't air, after they saw how goopy and…well, spewey SPEWEY was. But Peter Chernin was in charge at Fox, and he thought it was the funniest episode.
Toward the end, we had prop lists for things like Chris' decapitated head, 50 records of "Alley Cat," the time juice, the exploding bed – we were filming all these episodes at once!On a Famous Fan – and Famous Alumni:
John Malkovich told me he was a great fan of the show, and I wanted to bring him in as some crazy older brother no one ever spoke about, or some weird uncle, but the show went off the air first. Charlie Kaufman (who went on to write Being John Malkovich), I hired him for his first job on Get a Life. "Quiet" is too loud a word for Charlie – he did brilliant work, but he worked mostly on paper, not in the room. He's gotten much more verbal, I think, since he won his Oscar.On "Deep Space Homer," the only Simpsons episode where he has a solo writing credit:
The line "Freedom! Horrible Horrible Freedom!", that wasn't mine, that was George Meyer. I did do the other line everyone remembers: "And I for one welcome our new insect overlords." That's definitely become an often-repeated meme! It's great when a really mediocre line finds its way into the public consciousness forever.On what he kept from the show:
My most prized possession, aside from the scripts, is the little Chris doll from the "Walletboy" episode, "The Big City." I have a stuffed Chris doll…it's often in bed with me. I should have kept the time juice, but Chris drank almost all of that. There was plenty of the "juice that makes you explode," but no one wanted that.On the final episode, where Chris falls out of a plane and lands on a bed made of plastic explosives:
We got about 5,000 letters asking to save the show, but that wasn't enough in the days before the Internet. I had special effects guys come in to make sure that was a really big, beautiful explosion – we had to reshoot it. I wanted it to be a big spark-y explosion like on those old Irwin Allen TV shows.On Chris Elliott's work on Adult Swim's Eagleheart:
He's back on a great series, which is great to see!On working on The Simpsons:
When I took over the show, I created a thing where people like me never leave –we can still come in one or two days a week. Even if I direct a movie, I can still go back in there and have some influence! We do that with a lot of writers, because it takes nine months to produce an episode – they can come in and contribute to episodes.On his most memorable contribution to The Simpsons Movie:
The joke was Homer had this pig and was walking him across the ceiling. And Al Jean said, "Spider-Pig!" And then I started singing the song – it probably took less time to write it than it did to sing it. That tune, which I obviously did not write, is one of the greatest earworms ever.On what's next for him:
I'm working as a writer-director on an adaptation of Richard Branson's wonderful Losing My Virginity. It's The Social Network, but with a nice guy – how to make a billion dollars, but still be a good person.
Get a Life: The Complete Series is on DVD now!http://www.usatoday.com/story/popcandy/2012/11/02/simpsons-david-mirkin-get-a-life-chris-elliott/1677585/