“I specifically requested no romantic music!” – C.M. Burns
I don’t know if it’s just a natural slowdown at the end of the year or what, but I just didn’t come across the usual volume of Simpsons related stuff this week. Fortunately, I quoted liberally from what I did find and gave this the appearance of substance rather than the substance of substance. Uh oh, maybe Zombie Simpsons is rubbing off on me. Anyway, there is some neat stuff this week, including stories about Groening, Simon, and some humorously erotic fan art.
[Note: After I decided to use this image for the header I checked to see if I’d used it before. Turns out I used almost the exact same scene for the very short Reading Digest from the same time last year. Either I’m seasonally slacking off alone, or the rest of the internet is doing it with me.]
Simpsons creator to make desi comic – Groening took a trip to India and a comic book may be the result.
DOUG ELFMAN: Players critique Reid plan for poker – Sam Simon is something of a poker player, and he doesn’t like the cronyism behind the latest push to legalize on-line gambling.
Humor Chic Exclusive – Anna Wintour and Homer Simpson, Erotic Tips – More fan made art from Humor Chic, this time with Homer in various tastefully done poses.
Hey, you want the day off from school? Think again! – We’ve got two from In 10 Words this week . . .
Tron: Legacy…In 10 Words – . . . and as usual the alternate image text is Simpsons heavy.
I Love the Simpsons – I usually roll my eyes when I read things about the show written by serious Christians. It’s almost always the same pabulum about how Flanders is a good role model and how the show is secretly really Christian because they go to church. This, on the other hand, has a much less blinkered view of the show, doesn’t view all criticism as blasphemy, and keeps a sense of humor. And, naturally, I agree with this:
I am speaking here of the early seasons of the show, lately it has sadly lapsed into a model more centered on garnering laughs than speaking to the important issues of the day.
Random Musings: THE VAMPIRE DIARIES Marathon, THE SIMPSONS & DEXTER’s Not-So-Killer Ending – I could do without the pointless self flagellation at the beginning, but this is pretty solid:
As much as we hate to further perpetuate the “blogger” stereotype, last night’s episode of THE SIMPSONS leaves us with choice but to channel our own inner comic book guy as we type the words, “Worst. Episode. Ever.” Okay, not really. But as someone who has watched every single episode of the iconic animated series, not to mention, fully appreciates that at 22 seasons and counting, original ideas may be more than a little hard to come by, we do find ourselves scratching our head over last night’s episode. Which is to say, we wouldn’t have so much of an issue with last night’s poorly timed Goodfellas/Donni Brasco homage if it was the least bit funny.
’16 TV Dads (& What Makes Them Awesome)’ – I like this list because it tells you a little about each guy, for example:
• Fred Sanford
WHO? Junk yard owner, heart attack faker, Lamont’s father on Sanford & Son.
Here’s Homer’s entry:
• Homer Simpson
WHO? Homer fucking Simpson.
Bart Simpson Grows Old and Dies, Over and Over Again – I’ve been told that this is cool, but I have no idea since, for technical reasons I won’t go into, Quicktime and my computer do not get along. (Who uses Quicktime these days? Isn’t everything on YouTube or Vimeo? Shit, HTML5 would’ve been fine.)
Breaking Up is Hard to Do – This is a comparison that’s been made before, but this is certainly a good way to put it:
Many of us longtime fans of “The Simpsons” have broken up with the show to some degree, there’s hardly anyone over the age of 25 that considers it a must-watch show each week.
Danny Elfman – The Simpsons Theme (1989) – And finally, in honor of Simpsons Day, let’s end with an Italian orchestra debasing themselves with American trash:
For some more Simpsons Day YouTube fun, here are a couple of very old behind the scenes videos. This first one is really cool. It’s a home video tour of Klasky-Csupo studio back at the very beginning of the show. I have no idea where it came from, and it isn’t really informative per se, but it is fascinating. These are the rooms those early episodes were drawn:
There are a lot of familiar names, plus late 80s fashions and gizmos, on display. And, wow, David Silverman looks like Unfrozen Caveman Director.
For a slightly more polished – albeit much more garbled – look at the early years of the show, we turn to Oprah. Courtesy of a very old VHS tape and our friend simpspin, comes this amazing behind the scenes bit:
This looks to have been done during the fourth season. (You even get to see this exchange more or less as it was recorded.) After that, Part 2 is a short segment where Oprah, in the words of Groening, goes to Springfield:
Celebrities voicing themselves works so much better when it’s a dedicated promo and they, you know, cram it with jokes.
On Simpsons Day last year I posted an old video of Groening on Letterman right before “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” premiered. He wasn’t exactly camera comfortable then. Here’s an interview with him from The Tonight Show in 1991 (this must be Leno guest hosting for Carson), and he’s got his shtick down much better.
This has to be shortly after the premier of the third season when the show couldn’t get a bigger, and even then Groening only rates as the third guest. What’s funny is that Leno asks if that really was Michael Jackson’s voice, and Groening has to demur. It’s kinda hard to remember now, but The Simpsons really was a subversive show that a lot of people were genuinely nervous about. How quaint.
“Human roaches, feeding off each other’s garbage, the only thing you can’t buy here is dignity.” – Mayor Quimby
It is the stated position of the Dead Homer Society that the fount of filthy lucre that is crappy Simpsons merchandise is a major reason behind the continued existence of Zombie Simpsons. Merchandise generates twice as much cash as the television show, and the continued production of new episodes has been explicitly linked by people at FOX to licensing revenue. And while one person’s purchasing decisions wouldn’t even register as a rounding error on that mountain of money, why buy things that support Zombie Simpsons, especially when they tend to be cheaply manufactured garbage?
With that in mind, here is the official Dead Homer Society Xmas Gift Guide. These are all homemade or repurposed Simpsons items that won’t put a penny towards next season’s production budget. And if you’re wondering if I got all of these by searching Etsy for Simpsons stuff, you would be correct. All prices are in US Dollars, though most items have non-US/Canada shipping available. Isn’t this better than clock radios that can’t be plugged in and horribly deformed Krusty dolls?
5 pc Simpson Hand Painted Russian Nesting Doll – $55 – For some reason Bart, not Homer, is the largest one here, but these are actually from the Ukraine so who cares?
Homer Simpson framed original pop art, Neil Jam style – $13 – Homer is staring back at me with his dead eyes:
Limited edition signed numbered audrey hepburn simpson fine art print – $45 – Time for breakfast at Margie’s:
A Homer Simpson Christmas Tree Reusable Bag/ Tote – $7 – Homer stands with a Christmas tree made of Duff on the side of this all purpose reusable bag.
Homer Simpson Not-so-Handyman – $7 – Another Simpsons bag from the same source as the one above. This one isn’t Christmas themed, but it would make a nice gift.
The Simpsons/Groundskeeper Willie Mini Duct Tape Wallet – $7 – A compact wallet that just wants to know if you’ve got any grease.
Simpsons Trifold Wallet – $12 – This wallet has plenty of space for your membership cards in the Elks, the Masons, the Communists, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, and the Stonecutters.
Naughty Bart Simpson drawstring bag for library, toys, sheets, cotton – $9.50 – Nice little Bart Simpson bag.
Where’s Bart Wristlet – $4 – A small Simpsons zippered pouch.
Simpsons Coin Purse – $6.50 – That’s right, a purse!
ipod blackberry itouch cell phone case SIMPSONS – $12 – A small Simpsons case for your small electronic device.
Simpsons Wallet – $22 – From merry old England comes this impressive use of recycled materials:
This wallet is made from recycled Simpsons caramel biscuit packets, encased in a super sturdy vinyl. Lisa, Bart and Homer also feature on the inside.
There are 5 inside pockets made from the same clear vinyl, allowing the features of the wrappers to show through.
Marge & oo Homer SIMPSONS Wedding Cake Topper Simpson 1 – $98 – If you’ve got a wedding cake that needs topping you could do a lot worse. I don’t think they come to life and have little parties at night, but I could be wrong.
Clothing & Such
Bart Simpson inspired Flannel Blanket – $30 – Bart looks like undersea explorer Bart Simpseau here.
Adult size full apron made with vintage Simpsons bed sheet by Kiss Me Designs – $20 – That is a very vintage Simpsons bed sheet alright, and the apron looks great to boot.
Hand Felted Wool Slippers. Can be made in 2 days. Bar(t) Simpson – $56 – That looks more like Homer in the picture, but I guess you can get whatever you want. Holy crap do those look warm.
Stonecutters ID Reel – $9 – I would love to walk into one of those buildings where you need to wear ID at all times with this clipped to my shirt:
Have you always wanted to belong to a secret society? Perhaps one that participates in the failure of both the metric system and the electric car? The Stonecutters might just be for you. Now shhhhut up. It’s a secret.
8 Simpsons Pinback Buttons – $7 – Some classic quotes, though I continue to wonder why people spell Jebus with two “e”s.
The Simpson’s – Bart Simpson – Guitar Pick Earrings – $2 – Not exactly the height of fashion, but that’s not why you’d wear these, is it?
Donut stud earrings (pink sprinkles) – $20 – Mmmm, earrings.
Cartoon Skateboard Sk8 Charm Pendant Necklace Skater Chain – $12 – With skateboard lingo, no less:
Cartoon figure and his red and green signature striped skateboard is so sick! A 1.25" metal charm pendant on a chrome-finish silver-tone 23" ballchain necklace. He is throwing down mad skills on his board! He’s got on a fierce-cherry-red tshirt and some blue shorts with matching blue hightops.
Child’s apron and chef’s hat set with utensils – $35 – From Australia comes this Bart Simpson apron and hat for ages 4-10.
Skater Bart I Spy bag – $15 – A homemade toy for your tiny Simpsons fan in training.
The Simpsons Oversized Baby or Toddler Bib – $4 – Speaking of children, how about a bib with the whole town of Springfield on it?
BART SIMPSON KIDS/TRAVEL Pillowcase – $5 – Pretty much what it says.
Baby Simpsons Shoes – Elastic Fit – $15 – Cute little Simpsons shoes for infants.
12 Crayon The Simpsons Caddy Roll-Up – Crayon’s Included – $9 – On the go crayon coloring.
Naked Homer Simpson,with added bits – $60 – A standard Simpsons doll, denuded of clothing and given that which man has always had but dolls usually lack. A little pricy, but just imagine the look on someone’s face when their eyes first alight on Homer’s dong.
The Simpsons – Homer, Smithers, Lenny, Mr. Burns, the Ace of Clubs and the Ace of Hearts Playing Cards Organic Upcycled CAT TOYS with Feathers – $5 – Six cat toys for one low price, and they know their market:
Is your cat sick of all the time you spend watching The Simpsons when you could be feeding or petting him?
Well now your cat can have it his way with these six fun toys!
Superior Intellect (SALE) – $1 – If you’ve got to send out holiday cards, why not quote Kang & Kodos on something done on an old fashioned letter press?
Choo Choo Choose You 8 x 10 Matted Print – $25 – Tell someone you love them with a Ralph Wiggum quote that will last.
Simpson Corkboard – $50 – You could hang a lot of D- tests on that.
Custom Itchy & Scratchy Simpsons Coffee Table – $379 – And finally, this thing ain’t cheap, but look at it. Just look at it:
“Alright, are you willing to go undercover to nail this creep?” – Kent Brockman
“No way, man! No way, man! Get yourself another patsy, man! No way am I wearing a freakin’ wire!” – Homer Simpson
“Alright alright alright, would you be willing to wear a hidden camera and microphone?” – Kent Brockman
“Oh, that I’ll wear.” – Homer Simpson
In our ongoing mission to bring you only the shallowest and laziest analysis of Zombie Simpsons, we’re keeping up our Crazy Noises series for Season 22. Since a podcast is so 2004, and video would require a flag, a fern and some folding chairs from the garage, we’ve elected to use the technology that brought the word “emoticon” to the masses: the chatroom. Star Trek image macros are strictly forbidden, unless you have a really good reason why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk. This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “electrocution”).
To start “Donnie Fatso”, Zombie Simpsons once again had their FOX News helicopter spin by during the opening. After the initial joke at the beginning of “The Fool Monty” caused a little press stir, they’ve now put the helicopter in two subsequent openings, each time with a bland, five year old jab at FOX News on the side. This is beyond day late and dollar short territory, this is years late and millions short. Ohhh, milquetoast FOX News jokes, take that 2003!
Note: Dave couldn’t make it this week, so it’s just Mad Jon and I.
Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to go?
Mad Jon: Yes
Charlie Sweatpants: Let me start by saying that I thought there was some small redeeming value to the overly long couch gag this time.
Mad Jon: What was that, the value?
Charlie Sweatpants: Not much, mind you, but doing all that for Christmas and then having the episode pick up right after New Year’s at least kinda fit in.
It was still far, far too long, with very little in the way of creative content, but if there’s going to continue to be super long couch gags at least they can tie directly into the episode.
Mad Jon: Ok, I can see that. It was more boring that bad, and I can see the lead in.
Charlie Sweatpants: Well, it didn’t help the rest of the episode.
Mad Jon: No, it was downhill from the opening.
A steep, steep hill at that.
Charlie Sweatpants: It hit rock bottom pretty fast and stayed there, if that’s what you’re getting at.
Mad Jon: I am. The scene where Moe started looking for privacy, ended up in the Wizard of Oz was probably the entire hill. Especially since it took me a few seconds to figure out that when Moe was explaining to Homer about how to get out of the tickets, it was actually supposed to be a continuation of the search for privacy scene.
Charlie Sweatpants: Even the hangover stuff was lame. Was it supposed to be funny to have Marge yelling about the Fiesta Bowl?
And then doing it again?
Mad Jon: And there isn’t anything funny about the Fiesta bowl mind you.
Charlie Sweatpants: No, there isn’t. But there could’ve been. I mean, you could’ve called it the Tostitos Lime with Coconut Restaurant Style Fiesta Salsa Bowl, or something.
Mad Jon: That would at least have shown effort.
Charlie Sweatpants: Just repeating the words “Fiesta Bowl” doesn’t do anything but tick a few more precious seconds off the clock.
Mad Jon: And remind me of a few hungover New Year’s Days.
Oh how me and my wife used to fight about the fiesta bowl….
Charlie Sweatpants: Really? I can’t detect sarcasm through my laptop as well as I can in person.
Mad Jon: Touche my friend. You had me for a second there, I almost frantically typed in all caps about how obscenely dense you is.
Charlie Sweatpants: To back up for a second, is there any explanation for all of Moe’s back doors? And was the whole point of putting a stage there just so they could use the word “Chimpanmee”?
Mad Jon: Also the dance.
Don’t forget the 25 second dance.
Charlie Sweatpants: And it kept going.
Mad Jon: Yes it did.
And then there was a non-transition back to the same place they were more than a minute ago.
To talk about what they were going to talk about elsewhere.
And during that time, zero actual jokes, or reasonably acceptable physical comedy took place.
Charlie Sweatpants: The whole sequence was really bizarre. This one didn’t have a B-plot and only had about 40% of an A-plot, so I guess those sorts of things are inevitable, but still.
Mad Jon: It felt hurried, and I felt anxious.
Charlie Sweatpants: And we haven’t even gotten to the real horrorshow, Homer’s immediate sentence to prison, then becoming and undercover cop, then a mob insider, and finally . . . some kind of guilt ridden something or other.
Mad Jon: Also the real horrorshow contained copies of 4 separate Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons episode plot lines.
Charlie Sweatpants: Episodes have covered a lot of ground in the past, but this was two kinds of terrible. First, they didn’t have enough story to fill the episode, they went from cliched scene to cliched scene and once they’d done the bare minimum they moved on. Second, it took itself relentlessly seriously.
Mad Jon: All these things are true.
Charlie Sweatpants: Homer spent a good minute agonizing over torching Moe’s, even though no reason is given for why Fat Tony wanted him to, then all of a sudden it’s like “nevermind, Moe did it”.
Mad Jon: That was convenient.
Also it had no immediate or long term consequences.
Charlie Sweatpants: The whole thing with Homer getting made was similar. Uh-oh, he’s got a bag over his head, oh nevermind, just another unrelated set piece.
Mad Jon: Did Fat Tony’s voice seem really, really off to you?
Charlie Sweatpants: It did.
But it’s been nearly twenty years, and Mantegna is no spring chicken, so that makes sense.
Mad Jon: Yeah, I guess.
Charlie Sweatpants: Speaking of voices, we got the first line from Patty or Selma in forever, and Kavner really can’t get those going any more.
I understand why, even with her naturally raspy voice that’s gotta be kinda hard to do, but she really can’t get that deep smoker’s lung that made their voices so funny in the first place anymore.
Mad Jon: Clearly not.
But hey, Hank Azaria is still going strong with Wiggum!
Charlie Sweatpants: So, then “Fit Tony” and Burns showed up for some reason.
Mad Jon: Seriously. That couldn’t have been more random
Fat Tony’s cousin, a gym and Burns.
Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I know the reason, they were three minutes short, but what the hell was Burns doing there.
He doesn’t exercise!
Mad Jon: Random number generators seem fixed compared to that scene.
Charlie Sweatpants: Nor did he have any lines that were really his style.
Mad Jon: Agreed.
This is the man who shuns family, religion and friends to make a dollar.
Charlie Sweatpants: If you’re dead set on having that joke about being the best boss ever, they could’ve had the other gangster there. Or someone from Homer’s past. But they’re so locked into their paper thin templates they went with Burns.
Mad Jon: I think the whole scene was all but un-savable. Even Scorpio in his prime couldn’t have righted that train.
Charlie Sweatpants: You’ve got a chance to pick some boss Homer disappointed, it’s a totally blank canvas you can put anything on, and they settle for what they already know.
This whole episode was a complete train wreck.
Mad Jon: Lord knows he’s had enough bosses.
Charlie Sweatpants: The only thing I’m really curious about was why they played this one this week instead of last week. Were they worried that the hour long Family Guy would overshadow Katy Perry or something?
Wait, did I just assume they put thought into things?
Shame on me.
Mad Jon: That was a close one.
Charlie Sweatpants: Phew.
Mad Jon: The only other think that really bothered me was the text at the end that said “Homer would never again work for the FBI.”
They spit in your face, and tell you it’s raining.
AND when they DO do it in 2 or 3 seasons from now, it will be like “that was the joke!”
Charlie Sweatpants: Now you’re giving them credit for thinking. I thought the title cards were just that last desperate push to get over the finish line.
Mad Jon: I don’t mean that they are setting us up for the FBI again, I am just saying they’ll do it, and then if anyone points it out… Oh fuck it.
Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, that’s I’ll agree with.
Their defenses about being old and crazy aren’t even subconscious now, they’re just nervous reflexes. Anything else?
Mad Jon: No, I can’t even get into the “Killing Tony and replacing Tony” shit. Seriously. Bush league. Move. Mother. Fuckers.
So no. nothing else from me.
“We have places your family can hide in peace and security: Cape Fear, Terror Lake, New Horrorfield, Screamville.” – FBI Agent
“Ohh, Ice Cream Ville!” – Homer Simpson
“No, Screamville.” – FBI Agent
Like a lot of Zombie Simpsons episodes this season, there is more than one Simpsons episode to which I can compare “Donnie Fatso”. As has been pointed out in comments, the similarity to “The Trouble with Trillions” is uncanny, and not in a good way. There’s also the epic fail of Homer’s catchphrase toupee camera, something that the hat from “Homer and Apu” would consider far beneath it. For my money though, the most damning comparison is Homer’s previous interaction with FBI agents in “Cape Feare”.
“Donnie Fatso” has a ton of problems, and many of those have to do with the rather serious way it takes its idiotic premise. Agent Don Draper walks and talks like a straight ahead FBI agent, yet what he’s doing is unfathomably stupid. Worse, it works; his brain dead idea to use Homer as an undercover agent actually gets Fat Tony. Instead of using his foolishness for comedy, to show how bad he is at his job, he wins. Inspector Clouseau and Frank Drebin won too, but they won despite their foibles, not because of them. Of course, Clouseau and Drebin also had stories, which Agent Draper clearly does not.
Contrast that with the Comedy 101 of the Witness Relocation Program agents in “Cape Feare”. They’re playing the straight men to Homer, whose stupidity – as sincere as it is unrelenting – manages to fluster even the the kind of FBI guys who are so clean cut that they never leave the house until their shoes shine like mirrors and every hair has been carefully put in its place. None of which means the agents themselves aren’t funny. The list of what surely must be the most horrifyingly named cities in America would be good on its own, but it’s honed into genius level comedy by the dry, perfectly even delivery of a man who not only isn’t in on the joke, but may not be aware of the existence of humor.
Agent Draper is like that too, but he’s never given anything nearly as absurd to say. Instead, his investigation plods monotonously forward in spite of itself. Even this doesn’t really elicit a reaction, humorous or otherwise. Here he is when we first meet him:
And here he is later, after Homer has infiltrated Fat Tony’s organization:
Finally, here he is when we last see him:
Notice a difference? I sure don’t. He certainly doesn’t look like a character who just went through any kind of story. Of course, that’s because he didn’t go through any kind of story. He was just a prop, a one dimensional set piece so that Zombie Simpsons could put its star attraction into a half assed mob plot.
Compare that with the agents from “Cape Feare”:
Here they are when we first meet them, forthright, button down Bureau men straight from central casting: dark suits, tightly knotted ties, no nonsense expressions. Here they are a mere minute and a half of screen time later:
Even without the dialogue you can tell exactly what’s happening. The agents have taken off their jackets, their sleeves are rolled up, and their ties are loosened; the ashtray is full of cigarette butts. The guy on the right even has a coffee mug so we know they’ve been there awhile. The straight men have been broken by Homer. Even better, he did it completely unintentionally. No crazy outbursts were needed, no screaming, no megalomaniacal declarations. Their brief, nameless appearance has far more personality and comedy than the dried out windbag Zombie Simpsons used as an excuse to let Homer kick, scream, cry, and generally freak the fuck out for most of an episode.
“Listen guys, I was thinking, um, unless you feel weird about taking money from a kid, I thought maybe . . .” – Bart Simpson
“I wouldn’t feel weird, would you?” – Bum #1
“No, I’m comfortable with it.” – Bum #2
Happy Birthday Greg Berg!
(At least, I think it’s his birthday. It’s been removed from his Wikipedia page, but on the old revision it says December 14th.)
“Father McGrath, I thought you were dead!” – Soap Opera Babe
“I was!” – Father McGrath
In addition to taking up an enormous amount of barren screen time, last night’s death and immediate resurrection of Fat Tony was so blisteringly stupid that I’m not even sure which TV Trope applies. There are a lot of them about death and hacktacular resurrection, but a quick search didn’t turn up one where a long lost relative shows up, does nothing, and then becomes the replacement. The closest similarity that came to mind was Beerfest (which is the only non-Super Troopers movie from the Super Troopers guys that wasn’t half bad). In Beerfest, one of the main characters dies, but is immediately replaced by his brother who, winking at the camera the whole time, also takes the deceased’s name and wife while he’s at it. It was deliberately stupid in a movie where drinking beer is a blood sport and death can be the penalty for failure, so in context it made sense.
The same cannot be said of “Donnie Fatso”, which is shot through with horns of suspense and a vaguely melancholy tune. It invests a great deal of time in trying to get us to care about . . . well, it’s never really clear, but somehow deep emotions are supposed to be involved. As with so many Zombie Simpsons episodes, the story is so poorly constructed that not only is there no resolution to what happens, but the main plot peters out with four minutes of screen time still to go. That led to the time killing resurrection . . . segment? I’m not even sure what to call that.
Anyway, the numbers are in and without football to protect it, Zombie Simpsons’ ratings plunged. Last night’s meandering mobster episode was used to sweat snitches by a mere 7.31 million people. That’s the third lowest number all season, and leaves the fall segment of Season 22 with an average viewership of just 8.11 million. That makes it the lowest rated fall half of the season ever, and keeps Season 22 on pace to be the least watched in the history of the show by a pretty big margin.
You thought you could saunter off into the holiday season without another episode of Zombie Simpsons, didn’t you? Well guess again. As if last week’s Katy Perry nonsense weren’t enough, tonight we’ve got a gritty, guest star-filled crime drama called “Donnie Fatso.” Okay, maybe it won’t be gritty, but it definitely has Jon Hamm and Joe Mantegna. From Simspsons Channel:
Donnie Fatso airs tonight in North America. Homer spends New Year’s Eve in the Springfield Penitentiary after getting caught bribing an official. An FBI investigator (Jon Hamm) offers to reduce his jail time if Homer agrees to go undercover as an informant to investigate Fat Tony. When Homer forges a special bond with Fat Tony and his family, he becomes conflicted between his obligation to the government and his loyalty to his new family. After an unexpected turn of events, Fat Tony’s cousin Fit Tony (Joe Mantegna) seeks to settle a score with Homer, but winds up teaching him an important lesson.
Homer was previously a rat in “The Trouble with Trillions“, but I’m more perplexed by the notion that this could be an episode of Zombie Simpsons with one distinct plot, instead of a hodgepodge of tangents and perfunctory fan service bits cobbled together for the kiddies. I not optimistic it’s going to be a winner on that basis alone, but it does somehow make it seem intrinsically less shitty. There’s something unsettling about that…
“Homer, I’d like you to remember Matthew 7:26, the foolish man who built his house on sand.” – Rev. Lovejoy
“And you remember . . . Matthew . . . 21:17.” – Homer Simpson
“‘And he left them and went out of the city into Bethany and he lodged there.’?” – Rev. Lovejoy
“Yeah, think about it.” – Homer Simpson
I greatly enjoyed Splitsider’s “Classic Simpsons Week” series. On the whole, it was a nice look back that didn’t sugarcoat just how far the series has fallen from grace. I didn’t agree with every opinion presented, but such is the nature of opinions. One piece I read, however, is factually inaccurate and perpetuates a longstanding Simpsons myth, one that even very knowledgeable fans will repeat without thinking.
Under the headline “The Bart Show: When The Simpsons Were Almost Much Worse”, Mike Drucker falls for the old saw that there was a “Bart” era at the beginning of the show. Briefly put, this is the idea that at the dawn of The Simpsons the show was mostly about Bart, and that it then transitioned into being a show about Homer. It is completely false, albeit very understandable. The article opens:
With all this jibber-jabber about The Simpsons not being as good as it was when the writer was 12 (see: The Saturday Night Live Effect), it’s easy to forget that there was an early period in the show’s popularity when it was ready to take a turn for the much worse. Catchphrase-filled bumper stickers, key chains, video games, and music albums all pointed in one direction: The Simpsons was becoming the “Bart Show.”
That’s as good a description of why this myth exists as any. “Bartmania” was very real, for a while there you couldn’t get away from the Simpsons generally – and Bart specifically – in the form of everything from tchotchkes and t-shirts (official and less so) all the way up to hit songs and national commercials. That alone would’ve been noteworthy enough, but it was made even more pervasive by the enormous backlash. From local PTAs all the way up through the sitting President of the United States, hidebound guardians of America’s youth roared their opposition in every medium available. When FOX announced that the second season of its subversive hit would go head to head against The Cosby Show, at the time America’s favorite wholesome family sitcom, all bets were off. The Simpsons was a genuine phenomenon, politically, culturally, and economically, and Bart was literally the poster child for it.
The show itself, however, never got swept up in the hysteria. As I’ve pointed out before, when you actually look at the first four seasons (1 & 2, 3 & 4) there’s no evidence of Bart dominating. Bart and Homer were always very evenly matched in terms of how often each of them got the big storyline, and there were always plenty of episodes where neither of them was the main character. The people writing all those magazine articles and television segments were obsessed with Bart, the people writing The Simpsons never were.
Since it’s operating on a badly flawed premise, the Splitsider article has nowhere to go but down:
But Bart Simpson the character and Bart Simpson the hit television show character are two different animals, and in the first few years of The Simpsons, the latter threatened to take over. The marketing focus of the show fell almost entirely on Bart (or, at least, Homer reacting to Bart). “Eat my shorts!” became a catchphrase on the level of “Yeah, baby!”
Right here we can see the article confusing the marketing of the show and the show itself. Yes, the promotional focus fell on Bart, but so what? Drucker is assuming that the marketing had an influence on how the writers wrote the scripts, but he doesn’t present any evidence that his assumption is accurate. It’s an easy mistake to make, everybody “knows” that the show was all about Bart, but this particular axiom doesn’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny.
If this article was just about the way people remember the show’s debut or the way people felt about it at the time, then this wouldn’t be a problem. It really did take a while for Homer and the others to reach the level of cultural fame that Bart achieved almost overnight. But that isn’t where it goes from there, instead it talks about how the show itself took the focus off of Bart. After a bit about Family Guy and South Park, it continues:
The danger in this pattern wasn’t just that America had more “Do the Bartman” cassettes than it needed. Rather, there was less space to consider the comedy merits of Marge or Homer or Lisa or anyone else on the show.
Here we can see the crack in the article’s fundamental premise widening into a grand chasm filled with confused premises, inaccurate statements and solid waste. What does it mean to have “less space” to consider the comedy merits of Marge or Homer or Lisa? If you’re talking about articles in Newsweek, yes. If you’re talking about screen time on the show, no. Continuing:
The audience had been told that Bart was the funny one. The jokes were coming from Bart. Bart would be saying the thing you’d talk about on the playground the next day. And with Bart taking the spotlight from the other main characters, the side characters such as Moe or Lenny had no space at all.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with the first and third sentences there, but the second and fourth ones are just flat out false. The counterexamples are so numerous that trying to list even a quarter of them would take hours. Even in Bart-centered episodes like “The Telltale Head” or “Bart Gets an F” the rest of the family and the town is always there ripping off punchline after punchline. “The Telltale Head” has everything from Homer’s immortal mid-church field goal celebration to the first inkling we get that Smithers sees more than a boss in Mr. Burns. “Bart Gets an F” shows us the whole range of dysfunction at Springfield elementary, from the gullibility of the nurse to the wild side of Martin Prince. And then there’s this:
This is the antithesis of The Simpsons that fans came to know and love.
That doesn’t make a lick of sense. If the early episodes aren’t what made the fans love the show, then what was? How did all that Bart-centered publicity get started in the first place if not because people loved the show right from the start? But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming:
At its heart, The Simpsons works so well because it’s a television show about a community. Much like South Park, many of the best episodes of The Simpsons deal with the town overcoming their differences to stop a ridiculous threat. Marge vs. The Monorail is much bigger than Marge herself: it’s about Springfield. Even the Treehouse of Horror episodes celebrate the diverse cast and the many comedic possibilities they provide, not just Bart or Homer putting on a mask.
That last sentence is a real doozy, particularly in an article that’s claiming to reveal hidden truths about the progression of the early years of The Simpsons. Remember, he’s arguing that the early years of the show were somehow Bart-centric. But the first Treehouse of Horror was in Season 2, and all three of its segments (the demonic house, the alien abduction, and the poem) revolve around the whole family. Bear that in mind as we continue:
If the show had stayed exclusively focused on Bart, we might never have had episodes like “Homer Loves Flanders” or “Sideshow Bob Roberts.” The flavor of Springfield, and many of the non-family characters fans love would’ve stayed in the background for quick cut-a-aways and sight gags – just as they still do on Family Guy now.
Again, the counterexamples to this are so numerous that you could spend days listing them. For the sake of brevity, I’ll confine myself to blatant, episode-scale counterexamples from Season 2 only: “Dead Putting Society”, “Principal Charming”, “Bart Gets Hit By a Car”, and “Three Men and a Comic Book”. The first three are heavily focused on non-family characters, Flanders, Skinner, and Burns, respectively (“Bart Gets Hit By a Car” also gave us Lionel Hutz in his first star turn). Besides the involvement of Milhouse and Martin, the last one introduces us to Comic Book Guy as a real character and driver of the plot, not someone in the background or used in “cut-a-aways”. I could go on, but I’d like to finish this before dusk:
So what changed that saved The Simpsons?
Nothing? Sorry, I’m interrupting. Please, continue:
According to some accounts – and the NBC Page tour if you took it before 2009 – then-writer Conan O’Brien lead the charge to shift the focus of the show from Bart onto Homer and Marge. And there is some merit to the claim.
It’s not a good sign if the only source you can cite is the NBC Page tour. They aren’t exactly known for their rigorous academic standards and copious footnoting. The next sentence is truly a wonder, and needs to be considered on its own:
If you look at the episode list of Season 4 (often considered the Golden Age of The Simpsons) and compare it to Season 3, there are far fewer Bart-themed episodes and infinitely more based on Marge, a previously-boring nag character.
Wait a minute, weren’t you just talking about Conan O’Brien? Because he came aboard full-time in Season 3, not Season 4. His name is on every every single episode in Season 3. And while it’s true that there are more (though hardly “infinitely”) Marge episodes in Season 4 than in Season 3, there are just as many in Season 2, before O’Brien arrived, as there are in Season 4.
Season 2, after all, contains both “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” and “Brush with Greatness”, not to mention episodes like “The Way We Was”, “The War of the Simpsons”, and “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”. That last one, which was written and produced at the height of America’s obsession with everything Bart, hardly has Bart in it and lets Marge thwart Mr. Burns. Season 4 certainly has more episodes with Marge’s name in the title, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that she was a bigger part of Season 4 than she was of Season 2.
I don’t mean to be unduly harsh or mean here, but when the central premise is little more than an urban legend, it isn’t going to be hard to poke holes in the supporting arguments. Conan O’Brien did wonderful things on The Simpsons, but he didn’t personally reorient the show away from Bart. Marge, Lisa, and all the many denizens of Springfield were never relegated to the background, they were always right there on center stage. It’s easy to think otherwise, to remember the hype instead of the substance, but the show’s only use for all those catchphrase infused key chains and bumper stickers was as comedy targets.
“I’d like twenty-five copies on Goldenrod.” – Lisa Simpson
“Right.” – Copy Store Clerk
“Um, twenty-five on Canary.” – Lisa Simpson
“Canary.” – Copy Store Clerk
“Twenty-five on Saffron.” – Lisa Simpson
“Mmm-hmm.” – Copy Store Clerk
“And twenty-five on Paella.” – Lisa Simpson
“Okay, one hundred yellow.” – Copy Store Clerk
Last summer, I wrote a post demonstrating that the idea that The Simpsons had once been Bart centric and then became Homer centric was nothing more than a myth. I went through Seasons 1 and 2 and tallied the episodes as either Bart centered, Homer centered, or centered around neither or both of them. Obviously such categorizations reflect my opinion, but you’d be hard pressed to tilt more than an episode or two this way or that. Take “Principal Charming” for example. I counted it as Both/Neither because while Homer has to search for a man for Selma, Bart’s the one who takes advantage of the love struck Skinner, and neither of them is the subject of the main plot. Episodes like “Bart the General” and “Homer’s Odyssey” are also easy to classify. The results:
Season 1: 6 Bart – 4 Homer – 3 Both/Neither
Season 2: 6 Bart – 7 Homer – 9 Both/Neither
In total, that’s 12 for Bart, 11 for Homer, and 12 Both/Neither through the first two seasons. As I said above, you could quibble with some of these and produce a few more one way or the other, but it would be very hard to say that the early years of the show were heavily tilted towards Bart. Of course, just because the show was never Bart centric doesn’t mean that it didn’t become Homer centric after those first years. So let’s take a look at the next two seasons, when this transition is supposed to have occurred.
Episodes are labeled either Bart, Homer, or Both/Neither for ones where they’re relatively equally matched or episodes where other characters predominate. Here’s Season 3 (24 episodes):
The tally for Season 3 is 9 for Bart, 10 for Homer, and 5 for Both/Neither. A little bit more Homer than Bart, but not much. Let’s go to Season 4 (22 episodes):
The Season 4 tally reads 5 for Bart, 6 for Homer, and a whopping 11 for Both/Neither. Combined, Season 3 and 4 have 14 for Bart, 16 for Homer, and 16 for Both/Neither. Finally, the combined tally for Seasons 1-4 is 26 for Bart, 27 for Homer and 28 for Both/Neither. While the show was never really Bart centric, it did have a slight shift to Homer episodes, but it started happening in Season 2 the emphasis needs to be on the word “slight”. Neither Homer nor Bart was ever the exclusive center of the show.
Like the concept of the show once focusing on Bart, the widespread idea that it later did the same to Homer can probably be blamed on the fads of the time. As the initial mania over Bart t-shirts and the like faded, Homer became the natural face of the show in the public’s mind. After all, he’s the dad on a family comedy, and family comedies have long been defined by their dad characters. The show itself was always remarkably consistent; the only thing that really changed was the way people thought about it.
“Bart, you really shouldn’t be looking through other people’s things . . . find anything good?” – Lisa Simpson
“I said it before and I’ll say it again: aye caramba!” – Bart Simpson
As expected, the appearance of Katy Perry in the flesh on Zombie Simpsons sent the signal-to-noise ratio of Simpsons content on the internet plummeting. And, just like last time, the number of euphemisms for mammary glands in the English language continues to impress. You will find none (well, almost) of that below. Instead we’ve got some fan art, some excellent usage, a homicidal looking Lisa doll, and an epic anti-Zombie Simpsons essay demanding an apology from FOX.
Ars HTPC Guide: December 2010 – Linked solely because Troy McClure is on the example screen.
Lego Homer Simpson mini bust – I put this up on Twitter on Wednesday, but it’s too awesome not to link again.
Morning Minutes for Friday, December 17 – Get your news from the future right here! The town of Herkimer, New York appears to have fallen into some kind of time warp. Because while it is true that next Friday is Simpsons Day, it’s still next Friday. Today’s the 10th.
Breasts, Katy Perry coming to The Simpsons – This is the only Perry link this week. He didn’t like it.
Maggie Simpson – Awww, Maggie fan art.
Ten Great Animals from The Simpsons – This is a pretty good list. It dabbles in Zombie Simpsons territory, the latest episode cited is from Season 11, but never goes over.
Shit Kits: Southend United 1996-98 – The Bart Simpson ‘Custard Splat’ – That is indeed a horrific looking uniform.
Vintage Lisa & Maggie Simpson Plush Rag Dolls ~ 1990 – This is just a typical eBay sale of old Simpsons stuff. But is it just me, or does Lisa look a little too happy? You know, the kind of “happy” that becomes “stabby”?
Student protesters in London use Google Maps to outwit police "kettling" – The Thames appears to be experiencing some Godzilla related turbulence.
Daily Batman: Teevee Time, “The Simpsons” – You can’t get the quote wrong with the subtitles on.
Bernstein: Smith “Tirade” What Bears Needed, Fans Seem To Want – This is excellent usage:
Ned Flanders had finally had enough.
His house destroyed, his business in ruins, his bad fortune making a mockery of his boundless faith and optimism, he exploded on Springfield townsfolk after his last bit of self-control wore away.
“Awww…hell. Diddely ding-dong crap! Can’t you morons do anything right?!”
He then immediately checked himself into a mental hospital.
Nobody’s saying the same destination awaits Lovie Smith after his halftime talk yesterday, but reports are that his words echoed those of Flanders in that eighth-season episode of The Simpsons.
A fan-tash-tic charity effort – Men with moustaches, including a very yellow Flanders.
Ribbon Candy…In 10 Words – Check out the excellent usage in the comments. “It is a candy dish, Ned. Ninety dollars.”
a female deer – Fan art playing on “Bart Gets an Elephant”.
Technical Difficulties – The show always had great technical difficulty signs, Brockman in the straight jacket, the drunken cameraman. Here’s another one.
The Simpsons: Updated – Dec 7 – The Simpsons gingerbread house from last week is progressing nicely. No roof yet, but the walls are up and the outline looks dead on.
Please Stop Making Me Hate The Simpsons – And finally, I get to end the way I like to, with someone who agrees with us. Elizabeth Grunewald writes:
I want to make this very clear: I love The Simpsons. Two Simpsons episodes, "You Only Move Twice" and "Cape Feare," rank in my top ten episodes of all television. The show could plumb the depths of human experience while splitting sides, and has been recognized for its brilliance by critics, academics, and just about everyone I consider a friend.
I say "could" because The Simpsons should have been canceled about twelve years ago.
She goes on to list five shows (with YouTube!) FOX shouldn’t have cancelled, and demands apologies in exchange for forgiving them for Zombie Simpsons. Preach it, sister! Preach it!
“It’s not my nature to complain, but so far today we’ve have three movies, two filmstrips, and an hour and a half of magazine time. I just don’t feel challenged.” – Lisa Simpson
“Of course we could make things more challenging, Lisa. But then the stupider students would be in here complaining, furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation.” – Principal Skinner