A Classic ‘Simpsons’ Episode Was Written as a Tax Write-Off

Lisa finding an angel skeleton was tax deductible for one writer
A Classic ‘Simpsons’ Episode Was Written as a Tax Write-Off

The ninth season of The Simpsons found Lisa inadvertently digging up what appears to be the skeletal remains of an angel in “Lisa the Skeptic.” Naturally, the surprise discovery sparks an intense theological debate/multiple violent riots within the town of Springfield. In the end, the whole thing turns out to be a publicity stunt for the new “Heavenly Hills” shopping mall, but no one’s all that upset because, after all, what’s religion compared to Pottery Barn and 20 percent off rat spray?

So what inspired this oddly specific plot line? An old movie? A classic TV show? Perhaps some obscure real life incident where a Holy relic was later revealed to be a sketchy corporate ruse? No, apparently the seeds of the idea came from good old fashioned not wanting to pay taxes. 

According to writer David X. Cohen, “Lisa the Skeptic” is one of the few episodes in which he has an “extremely precise memory” of where the idea came from. “It was following a trip back to the East Coast where I visited my family,” Cohen explained on the episode’s DVD commentary. “I went to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. I had a really bad cold, and I almost passed out in the museum.”

But on the flight home, as Cohen’s “brain started to recover,” he figured out a way to make his visit tax deductible: “I suddenly thought, ‘wait a second, I can make this into a business trip by thinking of an episode about the museum!’” As Cohen points out, there’s actually a Simpson-ized version of the American Museum of Natural History in the episode. 

The original idea that Cohen thought of didn’t involve an angel corpse, but rather, Lisa excavating a “missing link skeleton,” at which point a “big Scopes monkey trial ensues in Springfield.” The Scopes trial, of course, was the 1925 case involving a Tennessee school teacher who was arrested for teaching evolution, later dramatized in the play (and movie) Inherit the Wind.

After the idea was pitched, producer George Meyer suggested that they change the fossilized primate to an angel skeleton, purely to “spice things up.” But Meyer later realized that his idea wasn’t totally thought through, confessing, “Now that I think about it, the angel skeleton makes almost no sense. Angels don’t die. They don’t really seem to have skeletons. And when you look at the wings, they don’t look like the kind of wings that you see angels have, at least in Hollywood movies.”

While the evolutionary aspects of the story were ultimately dropped, the Scopes-esque “science vs. religion angle” remained a part of the show. Most importantly, the theme of ancient skeletons and museums stayed intact — although Cohen didn’t say whether or not he had to mail a VHS tape of the episode to the IRS with his tax return. 

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