Dead Funny
The Simpsons has long wrought laughs from bizarre subjects, but it's latest episode is truly dead funny. BROOKE WILLIAMSON reports.

       You can call Homer Simpson anything: a moron, a genius, an anarchist, a pillar of society shirking behind the picket fence, a philosopher, a fool, a baby, a booby and blubbering, drivelling dribbler. But a killer? Now you can. After a decade of prime-time, high rating TV, there's a funeral and Homer's neighbor Maude, wife of the "okily-dokily", Bible-loving Ned Flanders, is put to rest. And it's all Homer's failt. "D'oh!"
       Screening tomorrow on Ten, it's one of the more shocking (but incredibly funny) plot lines to come out of the show (which some critics have regarded stale) in the past few years.
       "It was a pretty shocking development, to say the least," says the show's consultant, Antonia Coffman, from Los Angeles. Maude's voice, actor Maggie Roswell, left the show after a pay dispute with the show's producers.
       "But it just happened to be an opportunity to take the characters and do something different and have them deal with the death.
       "It was also a great opportunity to write some great story-lines for Ned Flanders to be single again.
       "Ned has his two boys, Rod and Todd, and he has to help them cope with their mother's death. He also has to doeal with Homer, who's trying to set him up with babes."
       Homer Simpson has become an icon of pop culture, along with his family and the many weird and wonderful inhabitants of Springfield.
       Coffman, along with a core group of people who have been with the show since it's inception, has lived and breathed The Simpsons for the past 13 years. She says she still pinches herself to make sure she's not just imagining her good fortune.
       "It's just such an amazing show," she says. "We're constantly amazed at how long it has kept going and how many of us have actually hung in there.
       "But how could you leave? How could you go off and work at something that might not work out?
       "We all say it's like working on a piece of history and the odds of ever working on something of this calibre again, in any of our careers, will be rare."
       Coffman's generic title underscores the huge role she plays in the success of the animated series. She serves as creator Matt Groening's "right-hand man", manages the copyrighting of all things Simpsons and complies all The Simpsons books.
       "It's funny but Matt says I know where all the bodies are buried," Coffman says. "But when a show has been around this long, and when it is as huge as The Simpsons is, it's certainly helpful to have been through so much."
       Coffman, who has a background in publicity and promotions, started on The Tracey Ullman Show in the mid-1980's, when Groening's early incarnations of The Simpsons were shown as fillers during the program.
       She moved full-time to The Simpsons before is debuted on United States television in 1990, and now also works with Groening on his other cartoon, Channel 7's Futurama.
       "In the past few years, most of Matt's time has been spent on Futurama, so working so closely with him I have to be across both shows," Coffman says. "Matt still comes to The Simpsons' table reads but that's about it. He leaves it to the team, or what he calls 'the well-oiled machine', and trusts the writers because they are so brilliant."
       Coffman says it is getting increasingly hard for the writers to come up with fresh ideas for the world's favorite dysfunctional family.
       "It is getting tougher for the writers, because it is hard after 250 episodes to not repeat yourself," she says.
       "But they manage to keep it in check, they just get fresher ideas and a few new writers, and they just keep producing great stuff because they're brilliant, they really are."
       And Coffman also has a response for those fans who have criticised the show on its web site. "Our head writer, Mike Scully, has noticed the same people writing in again and again and he gets frustrated by it," she says.
       "I've told him to stop, because there's always a handful of doubters compared to the multitudes of those who obviously keep us going."

The Simpsons screens on Ten at 7:30pm on Thursdays and Sundays, and at varying times on Foxtel and Austars FOX8, including 6pm and 7pm weekdays.


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