Warning: Spoilers for The Simpsons season 34, episode 13.
While The Simpsons season 34 tried to break the fourth wall with a nod to a largely-forgotten earlier episode, the long-running animated comedy made a rookie blunder in the process. The Simpsons is no stranger to self-referential comedy. Since its inception, the series has mocked the tropes of family sitcoms and, at its most ambitious, The Simpsons has lampooned the conventions of television itself with ambitious, fourth-wall-breaking jokes. However, while the experimental impulse behind these gags should be commended, that does not mean all of them have worked.
While The Simpsons season 34 parodied its own decline successfully with an episode about the titular family becoming dispassionate sellouts upon gaining fame, this clever outing was soon followed by a meta-joke that fell flat. To be fair to The Simpsons season 34, episode 13, “The Many Saints of Springfield,” the joke featured in the episode was a clever one. The only problem is that its reference to a piece of behind-the-scenes minutiae was wrong, and the writers of The Simpsons did not seem to catch this error before the episode was broadcast.
The Simpsons Referenced A Non-Existent Episode
In “The Many Saints of Springfield,” Flanders reminded Marge that he was once Bart’s substitute teacher, and claimed that the mnemonic “CADF12” was all Marge needed to remember his brief time on the job. While The Simpsons season 34 swapped Bart and Lisa’s roles when Bart collaborated with Skinner, Ned remembered that Marge’s son was still a hellion during his time teaching. “CADF12” is supposed to represent Bart’s grades and the days he missed, but the repeated phrase was transparently a reference to the relevant episode’s real-life production code. The problem is, that episode of The Simpsons does not exist.
No episode of The Simpsons bears the production code “CADF12.” There is, however, an outing with the code XABF12. The Simpsons season 29, episode 19, “Left Behind,” is the episode where Ned works as Bart’s teacher, and, not coincidentally, XABF12 is the production code of that episode. While earlier mistakes almost killed The Simpsons, this misstep is unlikely to cause any dramatic fallout. However, it is funny that The Simpsons draws attention to the code, only for the code itself to be meaningless thanks to an altered letter.
Was This Simpsons Season 34 Screw-Up Intentional?
As it turns out, the creators of The Simpsons added this mistake to the show intentionally. Getting a real-life production code not quite right would be an easy way of trolling long-time viewers, but the actual explanation for the gag is much more mundane. As noted by the episode’s writer, Al Jean, in a tweet, Ned’s comment needed to begin with grade letters in order to make sense, and even Bart could not get an “X” in school.
While The Simpsons season 34 breaks its own rules constantly, this is usually in service of a surprising twist or a clever gag setup. This time, however, The Simpsons season 34 narrowly missed a real-life reference thanks to the show’s relative fidelity to reality. Weirdly, the joke might have been even funnier if Ned had used the proper XABF12 code. Not only would the Easter egg make more sense, it would beg the question of what Bart Simpson actually did to deserve an X grade.
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