“Right now, I want each of you to try something interesting. There’s no trick to it. It’s just a simple trick!” – Brad Goodman
Happy birthday Albert Brooks!
By Mike Zanna
There was a time when The Simpsons was the best show on TV. The show that currently calls itself “The Simpsons” has little resemblance. It’s not nearly as good. It’s not even good compared to the rest of the stuff on television. It’s like The Simpsons, but without everything that made The Simpsons so amazing. The show has become a hollow shell, a shadow of itself, a ghost of its former greatness. I’m sure there’s another supernatural metaphor I could use.
So what the hell happened? At some point, The Simpsons went off the air and was replaced by its evil twin, Zombie Simpsons. I’m not sure when this happened, but it was at least a decade ago, maybe even a decade and a half. I started wondering if I could pinpoint the exact moment that the change occurred. If I could find one episode that killed the show, what would it be? When exactly did The Simpsons jump the shark? I came up with an answer. Personally, I think The Simpsons died on February 13, 2000, with the death of Maude Flanders.
Maude wasn’t the only one who died that day.
“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” isn’t the worst episode ever, but it had the longest lasting negative effect on the series. Most bad episodes can be safely skipped or ignored. Even “The Principal and the Pauper” restores the status quo at the end of the episode. Whether you like the revelation about Principal Skinner or not, it doesn’t affect the episodes that aired afterwards. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” was what TV Tropes would call a Wham Episode. Afterwards, the show would never be the same.
Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and after eleven years, I can see why the producers would want to shake things up. It’s just that this particular change was a bad idea that was poorly handled. The show had made some changes before, and many of them are lampshaded in this episode. For example, the Van Houtens had split up. Zombie Simpsons would later have them get remarried. Killing Maude Flanders was the first change the producers had made that was irreversible.
The Simpsons had never killed a recurring character before. Bleeding Gums Murphy had died back in Season 6, but he hadn’t been seen on the show in years, outside of the opening title sequence. He wasn’t played by one of the show’s regular voice actors, so the producers couldn’t use him without bringing in Ron Taylor or recasting the part. Maude Flanders was played by one of the regulars, Maggie Roswell, who had played many parts before leaving the show. She would later return, but Maude would not.
I suppose the producers could have resurrected Maude if they’d wanted to. They are the gods of the show’s universe, after all. They can do whatever they want. But there’s no way they could bring her back without destroying the show’s reality. Then again, this episode ran the week after “Saddlesore Galactica,” which might be the least realistic show ever. The producers could have pressed the reset button, but they didn’t. They made their choice and stuck with it.
Maude Flanders wasn’t the most interesting person in the world, but one of the things that made The Simpsons great was its large cast of diverse characters. It had an entire universe full of people who seemed like real people, but funnier. She had played a key role in great episodes like “Bart of Darkness” and “Home Sweet Home-Diddily-Dum-Doodily.” And she lived next door to the title characters. But Maude Flanders wasn’t the only character who died in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” The episode also basically killed the character of her husband, Ned.
He’s just not Ned.
Before he became a conservative Christian stereotype, Ned Flanders was just a nice guy with a perpetually cheerful attitude. Even when times were tough, he at least tried to keep a smile on his face. See “When Flanders Failed,” “Homer Loves Flanders,” or “Hurricane Neddy.” His religion was a part of his character, sure, but I think his most prominent character trait was his positive attitude. After this episode, he couldn’t be that guy any more. There would always be some sadness in him. There would have to be.
I guess the producers thought making Ned single again could lead to some interesting stories, but it really didn’t. And I think Ned dating other women so soon after losing Maude was kind of out of character. I don’t think he would be so quick to look for a replacement. There could have been some humor in Ned trying to date again, but there really wasn’t. There were a couple of episodes, two with that Christian singer girl whose name I can’t remember, and one with Marisa Tomei. And then there’s that strange Zombie Simpsons plot line where he dated Mrs. Krabappel and they later got married. Now she’s gone too, and he’s a widower twice over. That’s just depressing.
Then there’s effect that losing their mother would have on the kids, Rod and Todd. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” basically skips over their reaction, and I guess it would have to. It’s kind of hard to make that funny. But I think it shows that the producers of this episode did a really half-assed job. They wanted to kill a character, but they didn’t want to deal with the consequences that it would have. The characters on The Simpsons were characters. They seemed like real people. On Zombie Simpsons they’re just props for delivering bad jokes. It’s kind of hard to feel sympathy for them, because they don’t act like people would.
Then there’s the way “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” changed the character of Homer. He had become more of a jerk during Mike Scully’s tenure as show runner, and this episode shows him at his absolute low point. He actually causes another person’s death. He is responsible for the death of someone that he has known for years. A real person would feel at least a little guilty about that.
Okay, it wasn’t actually his fault. It was an accident. Maude Flanders’ death was like something from an Itchy and Scratchy episode. Slapstick violence isn’t really funny if we’re supposed to care about the people who get hurt. I guess you could blame the girls who shot the t-shirts that knocked Maude off the bleachers. This kind of begs the question of why they were at the funeral. But really, the girls only shot the t-shirts because of Homer. He provoked them, so he has to take some responsibility for the fact that a person died. It’s the first time his antics caused another person’s death.
This is a pretty crappy way to send off a longtime character.
I know some people might mention Frank Grimes, but that’s a different situation. Homer doesn’t actively antagonize his co-worker. He tries to be a nice guy to him. He tries to make friends, but it doesn’t work. Frank ends up going crazy out of jealousy and basically kills himself, by doing something too stupid even for Homer. And that episode was basically The Simpsons criticizing itself. It was almost a self-parody.
Homer wasn’t a jerk in “Homer’s Enemy,” but he really was in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” There’s a line where he says he parked in the ambulance zone preventing any possible resuscitation. What the hell? First off, that doesn’t even make sense. I don’t think you can resuscitate someone with a broken neck. But second, it just makes Homer seem more like a callous bastard. It also makes the producers look like jerks too. It’s possible to be tasteless and funny, but I think this episode is just the first one.
I think my least favorite joke is when Bart changes the cake from “Rest in Peace” to “Rest in Pee.” This is too juvenile for even a 10-year-old. The fact that the producers think this is funny is just really telling, and the fact that they think Bart would find it funny shows how little they get his character. Then there’s the scene with Rod and Todd playing “Billy Graham’s Bible Blaster,” which is actually a little funny. But I don’t think the kids would just be playing video games after their mom died. Maybe they’d be happy because they think she’s in heaven. I don’t know.
Death is a hard subject to make funny, but The Simpsons were able to do it. Take “’Round Springfield” for example. This website has already done a Compare and Contrast with that episode, so I don’t want to be redundant. It’s just amazing how much better that episode is than “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” “’Round Springfield” managed to be funny while still taking the death seriously. It managed to be sad but also had some great jokes. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” doesn’t do either of those things. The death is treated like a joke and the attempts at humor are just sad.
“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” was a terrible episode, but it was more than that. When Maude Flanders died, a part of the show died. The characters stopped behaving like actual people, so it became really hard to care about them. The show had lost its sense of humor, and with this episode it lost its heart. Yes, it’s kind of arbitrary, but I think that’s the episode where the show crossed the line from The Simpsons to Zombie Simpsons. It was the day the series died.
“Maggie is allergic to strained pears and she likes a bottle of warm milk before nap time.” – Marge Simpson
“A bottle? Mrs. Simpson, do you know what a baby’s saying when she reaches for a bottle?” - Ms. Sinclair
“Ba ba?” – Marge Simpson
“She’s saying, ‘I am a leech!’. Our aim here is to develop the bottle within.” - Ms. Sinclair
Happy birthday Jon Lovitz!
“The way I see it, if you raise three children who can knock out and hog tie a perfect stranger, you must be doing something right.” – Marge Simpson
A few months ago I stopped resisting and finally got a smart phone. It’s very snazzy and does lots of things my beloved old flip phone couldn’t do, including play video. Naturally, this got me to thinking about how I could get The Simpsons on there. Way back in 2006, I ripped all my DVDs to .avi files that came in at ~183MB each. (These are the files from which I get pretty much all of the screen grabs on this site.) For the 203 episodes that comprise Seasons 1-9, that’s a total of 37.2GB. My new phone, snazzy though it is, has only 32GB of space, a mere 26.8GB of which is available for media storage. To paraphrase Hermes Conrad, if I know anything about which number is bigger than the other number, those files won’t all fit on the phone. Ergo, time to re-rip the DVDs to smaller files.
Now, ripping teevee show DVDs is boring, repetitive and time consuming, so I put it off a good long while. But on Friday I finally got off my duff and figured out the right settings in HandBrake for a good balance between quality and file size. For the curious, I settled on H.264 at 320kbps video and 96kbps audio in a .mkv file to preserve the DVD chapters. More importantly, each episode runs just ~73MB, and once I’m done they should come in just under 15GB total. These won’t look or sound great on my television, but on a tiny phone screen with headphones, they’re just fine thank you.
One of the annoyances of all this is making sure each file gets named correctly. HandBrake can’t automatically add the titles to the filenames (you have select “Title1″ and so on), and after each disc is done I’m left with something like this:
Simpsons – 401 – .mkv
Simpsons – 402 – .mkv
Simpsons – 403 – .mkv
Simpsons – 404 – .mkv
Since I’ve never watched these files before and it’s always possible that I goofed and picked the wrong part of the disc or made some other mundane mistake, I check them after I add episode titles. I don’t need to watch the whole thing, just play the file real quick, skip to the somewhere past the credits, and make sure that the file I’ve just called “Simpsons – 403 – Homer the Heretic.mkv” is, in fact, “Homer the Heretic”. I finished through Season 4 yesterday, and I just started ripping Season 5 today. So I have popped open and seen a few random seconds from a lot of episodes this weekend.
Doing so has served as yet another reminder (not that I needed one) of how astonishingly dense this show is. You can skip to almost any part of an episode and see something that is laugh out loud funny. Boop, there’s Bart thinking they can’t afford all the library books in “Dead Putting Society”. Boop, there’s the casino reverend handing Homer ten dollars worth of chips and telling him to kiss the bride. Boop, there’s “The Erotic Adventures of Hercules”, with Normal Fell as Zeus! Whether you land in an A-plot, a B-plot, or even just a cutaway or flashback, there’s something memorable and funny.
I have no real point here, it’s just amazing, especially when you remember that these episodes are all 20+ years old.
“I think it’s nice we’re doing something Maggie will enjoy for once. Besides, I’m sure Storytown Village is also fun for everyone, from eight to . . . God only knows.” – Marge Simpson
There are more than a few things that make The Simpsons unique, even when compared to other hit programs. Close to the top of that list, and this is borne out more and more with each passing year, is the damned near agelessness of it. At some point, the world is going to tire of the Simpsons family and it’ll become a part of history, but that point seems to keep receding into the future rather than coming closer. This week we’ve got a couple more links about that very adult play positing that the culture of the show would survive the apocalypse, and in a nice contrast to that we’ve also got glowing write ups of old episodes from a teenager (who wasn’t even born when the episodes he’s watching were made) and even younger kids who dress up and act out the show. We take that persistent interest for granted, but it’s pretty damned mind blowing when you take a second to think about it.
In addition to that we’ve got a couple of people who agree with us, the most detailed Lego breakdown yet, Lego Gorilla the Conqueror, shameless Buddha merchandise, and some excellent usage. Enjoy.
The Simpsons Lego House - I’ve linked a few people assembling the Simpsons Lego set before, but nobody’s taken this many pictures and gone into this much detail. If you want an up close look at what’s in that box, this is the link for you.
The Simpsons: “Dog of Death” - Young, soon to be college student takes a look at some of Season 3 that he’s never seen before and comes away impressed . . .
The Simpsons: “Colonel Homer” - . . . particularly with this one:
Hilarious, emotional, and wonderfully paced, it doesn’t get more classic The Simpsons than “Colonel Homer.”
The Simpsons: “Black Widower” - These episodes were made before he was born, hard to see anyone doing the same for Season 23 in two decades or so.
Truro school celebrate end of summer term with unusual school production - And speaking of the kids being alright, here’s some even younger ones dressed up as the “Sampsons” for a play.
Producers Endorse New Fox Presidents: ‘They Really Know What They’re Doing’ - Al Jean knows where his bread is buttered:
“I’ve worked with them both for a while, and they really know what they’re doing,” said “The Simpsons” executive producer Al Jean, who pointed to their long string of successes with comedies like “How I Met Your Mother.” “I think of the 23 network presidents ‘The Simpsons’ have had, they’ll be the best.”
Meet the new monkey bosses, same as the old monkey bosses.
ELEVEN PARIS x The Simpsons x colette - Promoting the high fashion merchandise means opening up a Simpsons themed something or other in Paris for a little while:
If you are a Simpsons fan and in Paris over the coming weeks, do try and make the effort to go and see the fun and loud Simpsons lair lurking under the super chic glass, chrome interior of colette. It’s the closest you may get to Springfield on this side of the Atlantic, until they open a Euro Universal Studios
Hello? Euro Universal Studios open for business!
The Simpson Family & the Respective Strains of Weed That Match Their Characters (You’re Welcome!) - The weirdness of the Homer_Marijuana twitter account continue to echo.
WWLSR: Seasons 7-9 - The Lisa reading project rolls on, including through the book heavy “Summer of 4 Ft. 2″.
Bunch of bloody clowns… - Fan made collage that includes a rather Mr. Sparkle looking Homer.
The Simpsons - The “25 Years Comic Con” poster.
Flashback: ‘The Simpsons’ Turn ‘Planet of the Apes’ Into a Musical – Video - There’s video, and there’s this:
As awesome as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may be, it’s definitely not the best resurrection of the franchise. That honor still goes to the 1996 Simpsons episode “A Fish Called Selma,” which featured Troy McClure (voiced by the legendary Phil Hartman) reviving his stalled career by appearing in a musical adaptation of The Planet of the Apes entitled “Stop the Planet of the Apes. I Want To Get Off!”
And he’s starring as . . . the human!
Celebrate 25 Years of The Simpsons with 7″ Silver Homer Buddha - He is not forgetting the first two Noble Truths!
Tritone-Based Songs: The Devil’s Music - I did not know this:
It’s the very first notes you hear: “The Siiiiiimmmm-” form a tritone, before “-mmpsons” resolves back to a perfect fifth. The bass notes you can hear poking through now and again also follow a pattern that’s based around the Devil’s interval.
If you play the close credits backwards, there’s a recipe for a really ripping lentil soup.
Brilliant and Bonkers… ‘Mr Burns’ at The Almeida Theatre - The play’s got just over a week left in London, so here’s another happy review.
Review – Mr Burns by Anne Washburn at the Almeida Theatre - And here’s another “good, but…” review:
As a result, I’m not sure whether I’d recommend Mr Burns or not! If you prefer your theatre to be safe and comfortingly familiar, stay away. However if you’re willing to embrace something bravely different and take a risk, then give it a go. Although you have been warned about that third Act!
Futurama 3D - The Forrest Gump song is a little out of place, but that is very impressive visually:
The ad for Mom’s robot oil is a nice touch.
VIDEO: See The World ‘Futurama’ Rendered In 3-D - Some more stills and some extra video from the above.
Max’s Tavern named “best bar in the world” by Bar and Restaurant Magazine - It does bear a little resemblance to Moe’s, at least from the outside. Not sure how that would help in a ranking, Moe’s is a dump, after all, but I’m not in charge of “Bar and Restaurant Magazine”, so what do I know?
People, like animals, are sometimes just jerks - Excellent usage:
Eventually, for everyone’s sake he was moved on to an animal reserve where he immediately picked up where he left off in Evergreen Terrace.
“Why is he attacking all those other elephants?” Marge asked the head ranger.
“Animals are a lot like people, Mrs. Simpson,” he replied. “Some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks.”
Mick Malthouse was moved onto the game reserve we know as Princes Park at the end of 2012 and picked up where he left off at Collingwood.
The game preserve guy actually says “Well” before “Animals”, but that’s nitpicking.
My Top 10 Favourite Television Opening Credits - The show comes in at #4 here.
Marge Attacks - Not sure of the source here (comic book, maybe?), but it’s Marge as the victim of a Kang & Kodos experiment.
Gorilla the conqueror! - The granddaddy of them all in simple Lego form.
Who Still Watches The Simpsons? - And finally, I get to end the way I like, with some people who agree with us. A local sports radio guy in Kentucky asks:
Half a dozen of us would spend entire weekends watching episodes old and new on TV or DVD or VHS(!), bickering over which ones were funnier, cobbling together conversations entirely from Simpsons quotes. We played Simpsons boardgames. We destroyed local Simpsons-themed bar trivia nights. Yet all of us, every single one, stopped watching almost a decade ago. Come to think of it, literally not a single person I regularly speak with watches The Simpsons anymore.
No one in the comments watches it either.