Archive for September, 2010

30
Sep
10

“Sweets and Sour Marge” Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Lisa's Rival5

“But the grocery store sells sugar for thirty-five cents a pound.” – Marge Simpson
“And it doesn’t have nails and broken glass in it.” – Lisa Simpson
“Those are prizes!” – Homer Simpson

This episode is terrible, no two ways about it. It begins with Homer attempting to win a world record (including a bit where all the townspeople roll through town in a giant ball), has a middle with Marge as a moral crusader against sugar, and ends with Homer as a smuggler. It makes no sense, and what few jokes exist are basically stapled to the story as it races along from one dull idea to the next. Nor will this commentary enlighten you at all as to why they thought any of this was funny. So far, that’s all very standard, for Season 13 and its commentaries.

However, this is one of the rare commentaries I can recommend. It’s basically the Mark Kirkland hour, and he’s great. Kirkland’s directed plenty of both The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons, and he talks a lot about both old fashioned and modern animation, how they shoot things, and what kind of gear they use. There is some downside, as you’ll see below. But Kirkland (who, based on the crosstalk, sounds like he’s not in the same room with the rest of them) is easily half of the commentary.

Seven people here, including Caroline Omine as the token female.

0:10 – Jean gives the original airdate here as 20 January 2002, then adds “President Bush had been in office for a full year” with a sort of menacing tone in his voice. Too bad the show never made fun of him.

0:25 – This was the first episode they did after the voice cast re-signed, and there was a lot of talk about how they wanted to refocus the show on the family. Which is naturally why this one involves international smuggling.

1:30 – This episode was born of a mixture of smokers suing the tobacco companies and a realization of how many fat characters they have. That leads to a long discussion about how many fat characters they have.

2:15 – Still discussing fat people in Springfield.

2:25 – Someone, sounds like Selman, brings up the fact that the show is now in the Guinness Book of Records and all but begs Jean to expound upon it. I have never met Matt Selman, I do not know Matt Selman, and the voices aren’t always easy to tell apart on these commentaries so I may be confusing him with someone else. But somebody who sounds an awful lot like him spends a lot of time on these commentaries kissing up to Jean.

2:30 – Heh. Tom Gammill, who has one of the most distinctive voices on here, sneaks in a genuinely funny aside as Jean is beginning his Selman requested monologue. As Jean starts talking about the real records the show holds, Gammill offers “Fattest writing staff.” Jean ignores him and continues, but it was funny.

3:00 – Jean tosses things to Mark Kirkland, who directed this, asking him about the effects they used on the giant pyramid of people and the giant ball of people. On-screen, Homer is freaking out pretty much this entire time.

This goes on for the next four odd minutes and is pretty interesting. To do the ball of people, Kirkland took an old globe from his house and painted it white and then they put the town on it and photographed it sequentially. I’m not going to even try and transcribe it all, but if you’re interested in outdated spherical animation techniques, this is your one stop shop. It goes almost without saying, but it ends with the usual statement of how doing it on a computer nowadays would be a snap. Painted globes are cooler.

7:45 – Still talking about how it’s not hand colored anymore.

8:25 – Talking about how many cels they used to have and how much they were theoretically worth.

9:10 – Reminiscing about the fact that they make a Butterfingers joke in this episode and how ungrateful they are since Butterfingers helped keep them in business those first shaky years.

10:15 – Oh crap, Selman and Warburton (I think) are joking about how when they had Ben Stiller in they gave him the ideas for all his subsequently successful movies. They’re just riffing back and forth and, wow, they are terrible.

11:00 – This was the debut of Count Fudgula.

11:30 – Still talking about breakfast cereals.

13:15 – Warburton identifies himself before asking Kirkland a question. I guess Kirkland is in another location. Anyway, he asked what’s still difficult even with difficult animation and Kirkland replied simply, “Making computers work.” This leads to thrilling tales of calling tech support.

14:00 – Still talking about how even with digital animation things can still be hand drawn on those Cintiq tablets and the software involved. As per usual, little to nothing of what’s going on in the episode is being mentioned.

15:15 – See above.

15:40 – Drawing pupils is apparently hard on the computer.

16:10 – Another interesting animation tidbit: with digital it’s very hard to pull out from a close up because the lines on the background will get fuzzy and not look right. They’ve actually stopped doing a lot of those kinds of shots for precisely this reason.

17:00 – Backgrounds have to be more detailed in HD because everything shows. Also, Homer’s about to become a smuggler with three minutes left in the episode.

18:00 – The animators work mostly in black and white and then it gets colored. This leads to a discussion of digital coloring, which is easier, but not as easy as it was advertised as being.

19:20 – Further discussion of Count Fudgula with more spontaneous genius between Warburton and Selman. Maybe they just got out on the wrong side of the bed that morning, but listening to this you would not peg either one of them as a professional comedy writer.

20:15 – Al Jean endorses Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

21:00 – Still discussing hand drawn animation and Disney.

21:30 – Discussing Cal Arts as an animation school.

22:00 – And it ends with a little playful animator vs. writer banter.

30
Sep
10

Quote of the Day

“And who are you little boy?” – Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby
“I’m one of your nephews you don’t see very often… Bart-Bart.” – Bart Simpson

29
Sep
10

Compare & Contrast: Camp Songs

Kamp Krusty5

Someday I may run out of examples of how Zombie Simpsons is watery gruel compared to the hearty, nourishing comedy stew that was The Simpsons, but not today.  I’d like to compare the camp song in “Elementary School Musical” to the one in “Kamp Krusty”.  Both songs take about fifty seconds of screen time, with the one from Zombie Simpsons being a little bit longer.  Here are the complete lyrics of the song from Zombie Simpsons:

Lea Michele: I, I love the elegant pearls you wear.

Cory Monteith: And the starfish shape that constitutes your hair.

Amber Riley: You’ll be staying in cabin twelve

Cory Monteith: And we think that you’ll be very happy there.

All: You’re gonna like arts camp, Lisa.  Marge paid with her debit Visa.

Lisa:  Arts, arts, arts, and education.

Lisa and “All” then repeat their lines for the next twenty five seconds, or half of the time the song takes.  This may be a bit reductive, but let’s count the jokes.  I see one, and only one.  Line by line:

I, I love the elegant pearls you wear. [Not a joke.]

And the starfish shape that constitutes your hair. [Almost a joke, but recycled from Season 7 so it doesn’t count.]

You’ll be staying in cabin twelve [Again, not a joke.]

And we think that you’ll be very happy there.  [See above.]

You’re gonna like arts camp, Lisa.  Marge paid with her debit Visa.  [The one joke.]

Arts, arts, arts, and education.  [Not a joke.]

While Lisa and a cast of thousands repeat the harmony over and over again, are there any visual gags?  Not really, there’s just a bunch of animated choreography:

Spontaneous Choreography

I said “Step pause turn pause pivot step step”, not “Step pause turn pause pivot step pause!”

Aaaaaand scene.  Now, let’s look at the song from The Simpsons.  Again, lyrics first:

Hail to thee Kamp Krusty, by the shores of Big Snake Lake

Though your swings are rusty, we know they’ll never break

From your gleaming mess hall to your hallowed baseball field

To your spic and span infirmary, where all our wounds are healed!

Hail to thee Kamp Krusty, below Mount Avalanche

We will always love Kamp Krusty, a registered trademark of the Krusty Corporation, all rights reserved

First of all, this is much better, musically.  All the lyrics work within the rhyme scheme and nothing gets repeated ad nauseum.  It also actually sounds like a camp song, and is a much denser piece of writing.  Let’s count the jokes:

Hail to thee Kamp Krusty, by the shores of Big Snake Lake [“Big Snake Lake” doesn’t exactly sound friendly, and you could argue that it’s a joke, but I’ll let this one pass.]

Though your swings are rusty, we know they’ll never break [Joke.]

From your gleaming mess hall, to your hallowed baseball field [Two jokes, for a total so far of three.]

To your spic and span infirmary, where all our wounds are healed!  [Joke.  Total = 4.]

Hail to thee Kamp Krusty, below Mount Avalanche  [Joke.  Total = 5.]

We will always love Kamp Krusty, a registered trademark of the Krusty Corporation, all rights reserved  [Joke.  Total = 6.]

Not only does the song work better, but it’s also got a joke pretty much every line.  And that’s if you don’t count the meta joke of the kids (who already hate Kamp Krusty) being forced to sing the camp’s praises as a recreational activity.  Then, of course, there’s the accompanying imagery.  The “gleaming mess hall”, “hallowed baseball field”, and “spic and span infirmary”:

Summer Wonderland

Which is followed immediately by the triple visual gag of “Mount Avalanche”:

Mount Avalanche

Which is followed by the finale, when the one semi-wholesome camp image in the whole song literally collapses:

Kamp Krusty6

Nothing’s funnier than injured children.

And, of course, there’s the further joke of the bullies making them sing, including Kearney shouting at them to be “Louder! Faster!”.  Depending on how you want to count, that means that in the same amount of screen time, in the same format, and in a very similar setting, The Simpsons fit in roughly ten times as many jokes as Zombie Simpsons.  Zombie Simpsons isn’t watery gruel, it’s imitation watery gruel.

29
Sep
10

Crazy Noises: Elementary School Musical

Moaning Lisa4

“Now, Miss Simpson, I hope we won’t have a repeat of yesterday’s outburst of unbridled creativity.” – Mr. Largo
“No, sir.” – Lisa Simpson

There are two horrible, glaring problems with this episode that we didn’t cover at all in the discussion below.  The first is that while the Conchords provide what little levity this episode has, they also make no sense, and that’s before they fly off the roof at the end.  (Lucy Lawless did that, let me check, eleven seasons ago . . . in a Halloween episode.  Bravo for originality.)  The idea is that they’re poor artists, fine; but aren’t they also camp counselors?  Maybe they made an aside about how that’s their other job or it doesn’t pay the bills or something and I missed it (and there’s no way I’m watching it again to check), but I don’t think so.  Once again, plot problems that could be solved by the insertion of a joke or a quick aside are simply ignored because they just don’t care. 

The second massive problem here is the numerous missed comedy opportunities that demonstrate just how little they’re really trying.  They go to all that trouble to pack Krusty’s trial with as many European stereotypes as possible, and then when they show him in prison it’s not some nice, cushy Euro-jail, it’s a boring old regular prison yard.  (The fact that it took them about a minute to make a DVD region joke didn’t help either.)  They bothered to create an arts camp, and then did basically nothing with it.  There isn’t all that much of the real Brooklyn left that looks like Not Brooklyn, but instead of satirizing gentrifying artsy types, they went with the thirty-year-old ghetto stereotype and even dropped that pretty quick.  It’s almost like they think developing ideas is beneath them.

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we get on with it?

Mad Jon: Sure.

  Do either of you or have either of you ever watched Glee? I have not and have no idea about the show.

Dave: I’ve not watched it; I’ve heard enough about it to know I’d hate it.

Charlie Sweatpants: I also have not watched it, so I don’t really have an opinion. But the Glee kids were hardly in this episode. Like most of the non-Simon Cowell judges from the American Idol episode, they were here for the briefest of cameos and then they vanished.

Mad Jon: So the ‘artists’ weren’t glee cast members?

Dave: They played some of the other campers I think.

Mad Jon: Ahh.

Dave: The whole episode felt like a bad Flight of the Conchords episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, they were those other kids.

I was never a big Conchords fan for the simple reason that it always felt very hit and miss. A lot of the time you’d be bored for eighteen of the twenty two minutes. Those other four minutes could be hilarious, but they were capable of missing entirely, which they surely did here.

Dave: Fair enough. It was a love or hate it kind of thing.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even having said that though, they were easily the best part of this episode.

Mad Jon: Who? The Glee members?

Charlie Sweatpants: No, the Conchords.

Mad Jon: Ahh.

Dave: They were, basically because they stayed in character and did what they always do.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Glee kids, like pretty much the whole camp scene, were so fleeting that it’s hard to have a strong opinion.

Dave: Yeah, it didn’t turn out to be the Glee-lovefest I thought it’d be.

Mad Jon: They didn’t really do anything except sing about being at camp did they?

Charlie Sweatpants: That was it, and then they were gone.

So that Lisa could . . . do what, exactly?

  Lisa feels creatively stifled at school is not something you can hang a plot on in your twenty second season.

So they invent this whole Not Brooklyn thing, where she does . . . nothing.

Dave: Except pout.

Mad Jon: Doesn’t she learn a lesson about artists and how you shouldn’t be one, but then you do?

  And work at Not Subway?

Dave: There was a singing falafel sandwich.

Mad Jon: That is true.

  There was a lot of singing, but no Lee Marvin. Not that he could have done anything, at least based on our discussion a few months ago.

Charlie Sweatpants: True, but the songs sucked too, especially that one at the camp.

Mad Jon: They were at best forgettable, I can’t even think of the tune, let alone the words.

And I watched this thing like 2 hours ago.

Dave: 30 minutes. Beat that.

Charlie Sweatpants: This is a cruel comparison, but when you stack that song up against "Hail to Thee Kamp Krusty" it’s not even a contest.

The Kamp Krusty song is nothing but jokes, and it makes sense in context. The arts camp song was a full on musical number that had one joke that I can remember, the one about Marge paying with her Visa. The rest was just cartoon dancing and repeating the refrain.

Mad Jon: That would be a low blow. But it would be deserving. Although you are comparing a Ferrari to a broken down Pinto used as a toilet by drunken bums.

Charlie Sweatpants: And it goes on for, let me check, almost a whole minute.

The refrain is "You’re gonna like art camp Lisa". Is there a word that’s the opposite of clever? Because that lyric is that word.

Mad Jon: I was just asking my wife for the proper opposite of memorable.

Dave: Tedious.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, that would be forgettable.

Mad Jon: That’s what she said, and that’s what I typed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Which they could’ve made a joke with when they brought out the "Roofi" CD, but didn’t.

Mad Jon: Didn’t he get his own plot line like 5 seasons ago?

Dave: Yep.

Something resembling a baby-filled Woodstock.

Mad Jon: Wow, this is the show that keeps on giving!

Charlie Sweatpants: While I’m on the subject of pointless things that happened in the car, they actually got Ira Glass and they still couldn’t make fun of something that’s crying out to be made fun of, like "This American Life".

Mad Jon: They tried.

Mad Jon: Having actually heard a few "This American Life"s, it was pretty close to the truth.

Charlie Sweatpants: But that’s part of the problem.

You can’t get Ira Glass and make fun of "This American Life" in anything but the most gentle terms.

Mad Jon: Fair enough. That’s that intelligent humor I guess, "Oh look I’m a playful radio hipster who knows people think I have a monotone boring public radio show, but I’ll show them! I can laugh at myself!"

  Unless, it’s a meta-joke by Glass, about how even his jokes about himself are funny on the pretentious side.

  But now I’ve gone too far….

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, you did. That’s giving both him and Zombie Simpsons far too much credit.

Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh got skewered, Ira Glass got to make a cameo.

  Just saying.

Dave: Instead of talking about Ira Glass, let’s talk about the terrible Krusty b-plot.

Mad Jon: Please.

Dave: I didn’t expect the stupid twist, and it was just that and nothing more, stupid.

Charlie Sweatpants: The B-plot was a complete waste of time.

Mad Jon: Yes, with the Nobel prize that wasn’t

Dave: And the trial that wasn’t.

Charlie Sweatpants: It has nothing to do with anything, and isn’t even a plot, B or not.

Mad Jon: But somehow Krusty’s diva-crap ended apartheid?

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s an excuse for them to show Krusty clips that also weren’t funny. That Electric Company thing dragged on forever.

  And Bart and Homer were there in yet another, "Hey, we know this is stupid but we’re doing it anyway."

Mad Jon: They must have used their ‘A’ material in Israel.

Dave: Something like that.

Mad Jon: Or they’re saving it for New Brunswick, or where ever they’re heading in a week or two.

Dave: No more bringing up future episodes. It hurts my head.

Charlie Sweatpants: Actually, I think they used their A material twenty one seasons ago. What are the plots of this episode? Bart saves Krusty from jail, and Lisa is frustrated in music class during "My Country Tis of Thee"

Dave: Nailed it.

Mad Jon: Not in the mood for my not thought out sarcasm tonight are you Charlie…

  But you are very correct.

I wondered out loud how many frustrated Lisa episodes there have been already…as well as Bart saves Krusty… I can think of a solid handful of each, and they would all be in the first 12 or so seasons.

Charlie Sweatpants: The entire "Lisa is frustrated" thing at the school was completely phoned in. And yet another instance of them not giving a shit about anything. She’s at a summer camp, now she’s at school, Bart’s in Europe the whole time but it’s never mentioned.

Honestly, you could’ve showed Act 4 first and Act 2 third and it would’ve made just as much sense.

Mad Jon: I didn’t even pick up on that but you’re right again, absolutely no continuity for Lisa. How long was she in Sprooklyn?

Charlie Sweatpants: Long enough for the Conchords to kill some more screen time.

Dave: 2, 3 songs?

Charlie Sweatpants: About that.

Mad Jon: That’s probably a fault of the algorithm the ‘writers’ put into the iPad app they used to write the script.

  You know, to balance the equation. Or something.

2 songs probably equals homer laughing for 30 seconds.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nah, say what you want about Apple, but they take pride in their work. Zombie Simpsons, not so much.

Mad Jon: Well, I wasn’t trying to ding Apple. Just the writer’s laziness.

Charlie Sweatpants: I understand, I just don’t think Apple would be this apathetic about the quality of the finished product.

Mad Jon: I agree. You don’t get to wear a black turtleneck every day if you aren’t willing to put in the time.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha.

  I have only other thing to add, then I’d like to be done. Harry Shearer can’t do Otto’s voice any more. This is not his fault, he is in his late sixties, but it’s true.

Mad Jon: I was wondering about that.

It sounds too much like him not to be Shearer, but something was definitely wrong.

Dave: Time for a 23 minute episode to kill off Otto.

  I’m sure it will be miserable.

Mad Jon: Maybe they’ll let Katy Perry’s boobs do it.

29
Sep
10

Quote of the Day

Bart the Lover5

“We now return to ‘Two for Tunisia’ on Colorization Theater.” – TV Announcer

Happy Birthday Gabor Csupo!  (He did a lot of the early animation and character models.) 

28
Sep
10

Somebody Please Pay Attention To Us!

Krusty Gets Kancelled7

“So, you want ventriloquism do you?  Alright, watch this!” – Krusty the Klown

It has been a very long time since I was a regular Sesame Street viewer, even various junior family members I’ve babysat over the years have now outgrown it.  On top of that, I have an almost physical revulsion to celebrity “news”.  I go out of my way to avoid knowing about the latest brouhaha surrounding famous people of every stripe which, given the pervasiveness of such information, is itself something of a chore.  My apathy about this subject typically extends to announcements about the latest celebrity voices to make appearances on Zombie Simpsons.  I rarely report them because the cameos themselves long ago became indistinct and pointless and, besides, there are plenty of other Simpsons websites for that kind of second hand promotion.  So please understand that I have no insight or opinion about aspects of this story that do not involve this rather novel publicity stunt by Zombie Simpsons. 

That preamble concluded, singer Katy Perry has apparently been in the news lately because a guest spot she did on Sesame Street got scotched.  I’ll let The New York Daily News give you the details using one sentence paragraphs:

Perry, whose duet with Elmo was cut from Sesame Street after parents complained the singer showed too much skin, will get a second chance to sing with puppets this winter as a guest-star on "The Simpsons."

Though celebrities are usually given the cartoon treatment for "Simpsons" cameos, this time Perry’s much-maligned cleavage will be on full display.

The pop star will appear as herself in an unusual live-action segment, alongside the other Simpsons characters who will be transformed into muppet-like puppets.

In the episode, due to air Dec. 5, the "Teenage Dream" singer reportedly plays crusty bartender Moe’s girlfriend, and leads the gang in a rousing rendition of the "The 39 Days of Christmas."

If you want to see a picture of the puppets, you can click the link.  The whole family is there, plus Moe and, oddly enough, Burns; they all look very Muppet-like.  Much like the Kesha opening from last season, this will no doubt result in a very short Reading Digest the Friday before it’s broadcast.  It will then suffer the same fate as all obscure pop culture moments, popping up on-line from time to time until the heat death of the internet. 

In terms of what this means for Zombie Simpsons, all it tells us is that their desperation to stay relevant using the popularity of others is still redlining.  But we knew that already.

28
Sep
10

Quote of the Day


“This was the happiest time of my life. I’ll never forget you guys — especially you, Joey.” – Homer Simpson


“See you around, Mr. Homer.” – Joey


“Don’t worry Joey, we’ll make it to California someday.” – Homer Simpson


“Sure we will Mr. Homer, sure we will.” (coughs violently) – Joey

Loyal Stonecutter’s Note: No, they won’t. The pessimism of this exchange in Homer’s otherwise bittersweet parting moment is cruel, borderline cold, and entirely brilliant.




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