Archive for January, 2011



27
Jan
11

Quote of the Day

Colored Chalk

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user graphia. 

“Uh-oh, two Independent Thought Alarms in one day.  The students are over stimulated.  Willie, remove all the colored chalk from the classrooms.” – Principal Skinner
“I warned you!  Didn’t I warn you?  That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself!” – Groundskeeper Willie

26
Jan
11

Crazy Noises: Homer the Father

Assassins (Then & Now)

“You know they got the Velcro straps, a water pump in the tongue, built in pedometer, reflective side walls, and little vanity license plates!” – Ned Flanders

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  “suitors”).

In the chat below, we briefly mention the differences between the two images above. In addition to the names, the situations are almost identical: an expensive item in a window is coveted by a character. The difference between the two is small, just a few words, but indicative of why The Simpsons was such a great show and Zombie Simpsons is merely ordinary television.

For The Simpsons, just calling the super shoes “Assassins” wasn’t good enough. The show made that very brief shot more than it needed to be by adding in a little joke tagline. But they weren’t so impressed with their handiwork that they lingered over it, and they certainly weren’t going to break the flow of the episode by trying to make more of that little joke than it deserved.

Bart's Imaginary Statue For Zombie Simpsons, calling the dirt bike “Street Assassin” was good enough. But even then they couldn’t leave good enough alone, cutting to an extended fantasy sequence directly afterwards. It’s only after we’ve seen Bart ride his bike for twenty seconds that they finally get to what could have been a decent little joke, the statue at right.

Bart probably would like a statue of himself that shoots fire from his eyes and his ass, but he could’ve envisioned such a thing immediately upon seeing the bike. The stadium riding wasn’t necessary to get to the statue, and the result is that the episode has been doubly damaged. Not only has the pacing been badly disrupted, but the statue isn’t the kind of gag that is worth such a long buildup. As a quick joke, it could work; as a payoff, it doesn’t.

“Homer the Father” has a lot of things like this. So even though, credit where credit is due, it has more potentially decent ideas than your average Zombie Simpsons episode, it still sucks.

[Note: Again, Dave was unable to join us. He’s hoping his schedule eases up soon, though if it does we’ll just suck away his free time by making him watch a show he doesn’t like anyway, so I’d say he’s screwed. Coincidentally, No Homers member Zombies Rise from the Sea e-mailed in and asked if he could sit in some time, so we had a trio anyway.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we get started?

Mad Jon: Sounds good.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Let’s get it started

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t have any initial thoughts other than that I’m having a hard time thinking of another episode that took such a giant turn in the middle. There have been giant turns before, but this one was a real doozy.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, I mean Chinese spies. WTF were they thinking?

Mad Jon: Good point Chaz, I actually have a couple of things in my "like" category, however all but one is from Act 1.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even having read the episode promo text, knowing that Bart was going to be a spy, it still surprised me by just how far out they ended up.

Even when Homer was talking with the Chinese spies and they were plotting to take him back to China, I didn’t think they were really going to do it.

Mad Jon: But here we are.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yup. I thought it was a joke when they wrote that.

I guess the only joke was that the Russians didn’t appear.

Mad Jon: Well, it wouldn’t be a Zombie Simpsons if they didn’t travel somewhere.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Ahh. Glorious China…

  It just seems that Homer can make a nuclear plant explode and not have to suffer the consequences.

  If it happened in real life then thousands of people would of died.

Mad Jon: The whole episode was pretty well summed up with the writer at the end that said "That’s about right."

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree with you Jon.

Mad Jon: I was actually surprised how little nuclear material was in that ribbon Homer cut.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Apparently.

Charlie Sweatpants: Honestly, I think the whole "To China!" thing was an excuse for that Tiananmen Square joke with Homer in front of the cab.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Just another joke they think is clever.

Mad Jon: Was the cab driver supposed to be an American?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Oh hey I’m just going to block the cab before I fall down because I’m tired…

  No, I’m guessing Chinese maybe?

Mad Jon: Perhaps I wasn’t paying very good attention, but my ADD really kicks in around the third act…

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, he didn’t speak, and we didn’t really see him.

Mad Jon: We got a pretty good look at the back of him…. Wow, check out this tangent we’re on…

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah a little, but when you make jokes about the World Trade Center and Tiananmen in one episode, tangents are to be expected.

Mad Jon: Fair enough sir.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So, what about the folks back at Springfield?

Mad Jon: Going back to the beginning, I was pretty disappointed that the mini-bike was called the Street Assassin.

Charlie Sweatpants: Too close to the sneakers for you?

Mad Jon: It hit a little close to home.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well it comes awfully close to being called tacky.

Mad Jon: You know, being the same name and all.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I guess they want us to think of it as cool. They got Bart in his imagination doing cool tricks to waste time.

Charlie Sweatpants: But lacking that cool tagline, "Join the Conspiracy". Or any tagline, for that matter.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Boy how it makes me want to watch "Lemon of Troy".

Mad Jon: Yeah the ad guys must have been on break.

I did like how Bart mentioned he just met the thing he was going to die on.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: "Join the Conspiracy." Now that would of been an awesome tagline!

Charlie Sweatpants: There were several time killing dream sequences here. The Bart one just seemed to go on forever, especially after they did the exact same thing with the dodgeball sequence two weeks ago.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They must like to flex their budget by going all out on us.

Mad Jon: Yea, well once again the decent lines are surrounded by the constant attack of mediocre time killing devices.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I have to admit, at least Bart was acting as a child in this episode, and it was nice to see Homer bond with Bart, but that’s about it…

Mad Jon: The unmentioned Cosby sweater went over well with me.

Charlie Sweatpants: There were a couple of things to like here, but as often happens they get ruined by taking too long.

  The sweater was just one of them.

Mad Jon: I figured they would devote at least a 20 second rant about that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I liked Willie getting into the dumpster bathtub with floating candles, but then his scene just . . . kept . . . going.

Mad Jon: And the sitcom was pretty dead on. Although I guess that wasn’t that hard to do…Especially when you plan on doing it for several minutes.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Did you notice how the logo looks like it came from modern times…

Charlie Sweatpants: I didn’t, but you’re right.

Mad Jon: I think the ghost from that scene was a composite of Harry Potter and Waldo.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The ghost just appeared out of nowhere, to Willie no less…

Willie has been neglected to Springfield Elementary School’s Ralph in my opinion.

Charlie Sweatpants: There were a lot of things like that. Why were the Flanders kids watching Marge and Homer screw?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Because the writers wanted them to watch them have sex.

Mad Jon: So Ned could turn Maude’s picture around I suppose.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Otherwise they can’t include a hilarious Ned scene in there.

I swear, I was watching Modern Family last Wednesday and they did the whole thing better then The Simpsons.

Charlie Sweatpants: Peeping neighbor kids, you mean?

Mad Jon: Well, Julie Bowen was part of that scene, so you can’t really go wrong.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree.

Mad Jon: Back to the episode, it’s been a while since they’ve had a good I&S, but I was pretty happy with this one.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree as well, they didn’t try to force a parody on us this time.

Mad Jon: Short, inventive, to the point, and it didn’t drag on.

Charlie Sweatpants: Unfortunately, it was the only thing in the episode that didn’t drag.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Like the Chinese spy plot.

  Which dragged on forever

Mad Jon: Yes, but I’ll take what I can get. I can’t name an episode since we started doing this that hasn’t felt like a complete chore to watch.

Charlie Sweatpants: Homer’s fourth wall act break thing, the three different spy agencies with misleading acronyms, the Homer and Bart together montage, even that goofy Behind the Actors Studio thing, which was transparently tacked, on took too long.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah. French Bureau of Investigation, A-Team of Finland?

Mad Jon: James Lipton must have lost his mind. What possible benefit can he get from being on this show again?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They even got the A-Team theme playing at the end.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, and why did Bart have to infiltrate every room in the power plant with the string music of suspense?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Because it’s suspenseful, get it?

Mad Jon: The Behind the Actors thing with the cast from the sitcom took me almost the whole time to figure out.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I just love how the Chinese have USB drives that automatically download information without you having to search for the data.

  It’s so easy a caveman can do it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, when Adil had to steal information he had to actually do it himself.

Plus Homer didn’t know where the plutonium isolation unit was until Lenny told him it was by the candy machines.

Mad Jon: They needed a reason to make sure homer could get shot in the eye and nipple with lasers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Sad thing is, people thought that scene was funny.

  I guess people love to laugh at people in pain.

  Especially Homer.

Mad Jon: Usually I agree with that, but I don’t think Zombie Homer actually feels pain. Injuries just get him back to normal.

Charlie Sweatpants: If there’s one thing I learned listening to those commentaries from the movie, it’s that electrocuting/smashing/otherwise hurting Homer got a laugh out of the test audiences every time.

Mad Jon: That will happen when you circulate opiates in the ventilation system.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Or laughing gas.

Charlie Sweatpants: If I can get back to the Actors Studio thing for one second, isn’t that an example of how sadly kiss ass the show has become to Hollywood? The cast of an old television show reuniting should be easy to make fun of without actually going out and getting James Lipton. When you include him like that, it loses all of its bite.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I didn’t care for the scene at all, but I agree with you 100% Charlie.

Mad Jon: Zombie Simpsons has definitely become the town bicycle.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And the vehicle for celebrity guest stars.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly, I mean, compare that washed up sitcom scene, that goes on for about forty-five seconds and is transparently tacked on to the end of the episode to little, in character jokes like Krusty not knowing the name of the girl who played his daughter in the short lived sitcom "President Clown".

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I think the only inspiration they got for those sitcom scenes were parodies of other sitcom scenes.

I mean why take the effort to watch a sitcom from the 80s when you can take the easy way out?

I do admit, they at least spent some effort creating the song.

  So props for that.

Mad Jon: It’s night and day, but you’ll probably be even more depressed, Charlie, when you learn that most of that 45 seconds was Lipton talking about the girl’s hair, which was a complete parody of Rachael from "Friends".

Charlie Sweatpants: But the song was a little too straight on. It wasn’t mocking sitcoms at all.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I have to agree with that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon, I did not know that, and rather than ask you to elaborate, I will simply drop the subject.

Mad Jon: I assumed you didn’t, but it just backs up your point further. So dropping is probably the best idea here.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah. I don’t even know if I can type about the other countless 80s shows parody from "Tube Town"

Charlie Sweatpants: The one about a detective whose title is MFA got a chuckle out of me, the rest, not so much.

Mad Jon: Well with a pool that large you can’t miss from the diving board.

Charlie Sweatpants: True.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So, shall we get to Bart and his plot?

Charlie Sweatpants: He had a plot?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well I don’t know if it’s a plot.

  As much as Bart trying every method in the book to get that bike and moving the plot forward somewhat.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve seen Bart need money before, I’ve seen Bart study before, the whole thing was presented in such an odd way, both rushed and too drawn out to mean anything, because there was both not much too it and they wanted to get to the hot spy action.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Homer taking his actions from an 80s sitcom did nothing to help at all. He just transformed into a sitcom fan who just happens to be a dad.

"Three Men and a Comic Book" had Homer at least be a genuine father then the gag machine he is now.

Mad Jon: But the sweater!!….

Anyway. Well, I’m running out of ammo here. Other than applauding the Detroit Lions envelope amongst the list of nuclear theft suitors I don’t have much else to say…

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I still got something to say.

  What about the Chinese stereotypes in Springfield?

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought the spies were a little, uh, reductive, if that’s what you mean.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I just loved the scene in the van where they trade nuclear secrets for a dirt bike I mean, who trades a dirt bike for nuclear secrets? Bart should of demanded all the money in the world.

  The Chinese must be getting desperate.

Charlie Sweatpants: I did like the joke about the flag being made in China, but other than that the whole scene and subsequent plot was so head spinning as to be boring.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, I mean they even had to include Apu so they could introduce that plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: In another thing that went on too long.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: With yet another list gag…

Charlie Sweatpants: Yup.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Which Bart wrote down on envelopes.

  I don’t get why they take characters like Apu and devolve them to a state where their only purpose is to advance the plot forward.

Apu is the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, he deserves better then that.

Charlie Sweatpants: They do that a lot, someone in comments [Ed note: It was Lovejoy Fan] last week was talking about how at this point Comic Book Guy is basically stalking the Simpsons. He, and plenty of others, just randomly show up whenever they’re needed and then disappear.

Mad Jon: It’s the life cycle of the extra.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Just take all the character traits and throw them in the trash.

  Where they think it belongs.

Mad Jon: It’s just that this show has gone on for about a decade too long. It was a forgone conclusion.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yup, gotta get with the times and make as much money on your product as you can.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, anything else on this one, positive or negative?

Mad Jon: Not from me, it stated out much better than recent episodes, but, as you pointed out earlier, it went downhill fast and hard.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Negative, it was nice to see Homer & Bart bond but it was just went downhill fast.

  It also turned the Springfield Zoo into an unsecured place where anybody can enter and leave secrets.

And let’s not forget about the Chinese stereotypes, the ones that shouldn’t belong in The Simpsons to begin with…

Charlie Sweatpants: They dropped continuity like that a while ago. I did wonder how Bart got the dirt bike out after he picked it up, but then I remembered that they didn’t think about that, so I probably shouldn’t either.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, it must be wonderful to not think about stuff…

Mad Jon: Booze and drugs help.

Charlie Sweatpants: And, yeah, you’d think spies would be a little more suave.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree, in this episode they were obvious…

  As hell.

You think the Russians and Chinese would send out spies better then this.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d have thought big money television shows would require better writing than this too, and yet, here we are.

Mad Jon: Here we are.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And there’s nothing we can do but criticize and hope our words reach those writers that create "entertainment" such as The Simpsons.

Not to say they can’t do some good once in a while.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I’m spent. Zombies Rise, thanks for joining us.

Mad Jon: Yes, thanks.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It’s been a pleasure. I’ll be leaving now on my poorly CGI generated bumper car.

That doesn’t reach the roof…

Charlie Sweatpants: Heh.

26
Jan
11

Quote of the Day

Chippendale Carpool

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user istolethetv.

“How come no Chippendales dancers ever come in to renew their licenses?” – Selma Bouvier
“They carpool, that’s the problem.” – Patty Bouvier

25
Jan
11

Compare & Contrast: Mocking 80s Fatherhood

Saturdays of Thunder5

“‘Cosby’s First Law of Intergenerational Perversity: No matter what you tell your child to do, he will always do the opposite.’  Huh?” – Homer Simpson
“Don’t you get it, you gotta use reverse psychology.” – Homer’s Brain
“That sounds too complicated.” – Homer Simpson
“Okay, don’t use reverse psychology.” – Homer’s Brain
“Alright, I will!” – Homer Simpson

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how you couldn’t really understand where Season 1 was coming from without some grasp of 1980s American television, particularly the enormous number of cookie cutter family sitcoms.  The Simpsons, especially in Season 1, reveled in directly attacking those shows.  It was written by exceptionally talented guys who had worked in television and finally had a vehicle that allowed them to fire away with every joke they could muster at its expense. 

The shows The Simpsons was aimed at have all been off the air for twenty years or more at this point, so it’s no surprise that they’ve faded from the cultural scene.  Most of them were extremely forgettable in the first place, and even the ones that were big hits are now almost impossible to find on television.  The Cosby Show, a two hundred episode behemoth that was the #1 show in America for five straight years, is now only rerun on a spin off of BET that’s available in less than a quarter of US households.

This image is the one I created for the post I linked at the top:

80s Sitcoms

On the left is, of course, The Cosby Show; the right image is Family Ties, another enormously popular 80s family sitcom that, with the exception of Michael J. Fox, has fallen almost completely down the memory hole.  (Like The Cosby Show, these days it is only rerun on an obscure down guide channel, a Discovery Channel spinoff for kids called “The Hub” that is half owned by toy company Hasbro.)  The center image is of a show that was never as big as the other two, and is remembered these days mostly for producing Kirk Cameron, who’s since kept a toehold on fame by being very keen on Jebus (and bananas, no judgment, Kirk!).

Growing Pains was clearly the prime inspiration behind Zombie Simpsons’ agonizingly glacial “Thicker Than Water” filler segments in “Homer the Father”.  The show revolved around the dad, played by Alan Thicke (get it?), a psychiatrist who worked from home and spent most of the episodes dispensing oft ignored advice to his children.  Like most family sitcoms, the show featured low grade hijinks and usually came with a lesson at the end wherein it was revealed that, as usual, dad had been right all along.  I don’t know if he invented the term, but when Alan Ball (of True Blood and Six Feet Under fame) was writing on the equally reprehensible Cybill, he and the other writers called this the “moment of shit”.  I read once that they would start with that and then work backwards; that’s how predictable these shows were. 

Sweater Dad & Repentant Child

The 80s were a horrible time on television I prefer not to relive. 

Making fun of these kinds of shows really isn’t that difficult, they are rigidly formulaic and terrible, but Zombie Simpsons still managed to fall flat on its face.  In an episode that was already running way short of twenty minutes, they put a laughtrack infused simulacrum of Growing Pains on screen for more than a minute and a half.  (I’m not counting any of the behind the scenes stuff either, just the actual show itself and its jokeless theme song opening.)  In case that didn’t bludgeon the audience quite hard enough with what they were doing, they put Homer in a sweater for the entire middle of the episode. 

Right from the get go, The Simpsons was always more subtle when pulling these shows apart at the seams and and ridiculing them into obsolescence.  In Season 1 you have episodes like “The Telltale Head” and “Moaning Lisa” that openly subvert the usual television morality, in no small part by showing both Homer and Marge as being just as capable of petty, shortsighted foolishness as their kids.  In the same vein, Season 2 has “Bart the Daredevil”, “Bart Gets an F”, and “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment”.  But the most precise comparison here is Season 3’s “Saturdays of Thunder”. 

“Saturdays of Thunder” is one of those masterpieces of television that manages to be sweet and have a happy ending without ever dropping its cynical, borderline nihilistic mentality.  (“Martin!  Martin!  I’ll curse that name ’til the day I die!”)  More to the point, unlike “Homer the Father”, it manages plenty of 80s sitcom gags without turning them into the focus of its own episode.  I don’t even need to explain this, I can farm this out SNPP’s twenty year old Usenet comments:

>> Cosby references

David Hyatt {dh2}: One brilliant reference was the taking of the baby carriage wheels to make the go cart racers with. This is a blatant reference to a stand-up routine by Bill Cosby, in which all the kids in his neighborhood build go-carts from baby carriage wheels and ride them down Dead Man’s Hill. So in that one episode, you had “Bill Cosby saved the Simpsons”, “Fatherhood”, Dr. Hibbert, and a take-off of one of Cosby’s own old standup routines. [Don't forget the quasi-Cosby sweater Homer tried to wear. --rjc]

That, boys and girls, is sublime parody.  And how about that sweater?  Homer wears it in one scene and the show trusts the audience to get the gag.  It doesn’t need to be beaten into the ground by showing it over and over and over again; and it certainly doesn’t need to fill large chunks of the episode with straight ahead rehashes of shows that weren’t any good in the first place. 

(Incidentally, while searching for some of these old shows I came upon this recent A.V. Club piece about 80s sitcoms.  It’s less harsh on them than I am, but it’s also pretty thorough at describing what teevee was like when these shows dominated comedy.) 

25
Jan
11

Quote of the Day

Hurricane Neddy4

“You ugly, hate filled man.” – Ned Flanders
“Hey, hey, I may be ugly and hate filled, but I . . . um . . . what was the third thing you said?” – Moe

24
Jan
11

Leftovers

$pringfield4

“You gotta improvise, Lisa.  Cloves, Tom Collins mix, frozen pie crust . . .” – Homer Simpson

Have you ever stood in your kitchen, staring at bare cabinets and empty refrigerator shelves, and tried to cobble together one last meal before the next trip to the store?  You’ve got a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and hey, those two might work together.  Sometimes a bunch of scraps go down unexpectedly well.  Sometimes they do not.  “Homer the Father” is that disastrous third case where you find yourself trying to induce vomiting just minutes after sitting down to eat. 

This entire episode felt like it was made up of ideas from barely legible post-it notes that were found in the break room plus a couple of notional b-plots that were deemed too weak for any other episode.  Even having gathered every concept they could find on every discarded piece of scrap paper in the office, they still needed oceans of filler in the form of montages, dream sequences, and those less than fresh 1980s sitcoms.  When even that famine induced “waste not, want not” approach still left them several minutes short, they sent Homer to China and killed the last of the clock with an “Inside the Actors Studio” bit that was just as stale and outdated as the rest of the episode. 

The numbers are in and, with football once again dominating the evening, they’re bad.  A mere 6.50 million people choked down the cloves and pie crust on FOX last night.  That’s the second lowest number all season, a mere thirty thousand people behind last week’s “Flaming Moe”. 

24
Jan
11

Quote of the Day

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish6

“This is our karaoke bar.  Now it is empty, but soon it will be hopping with drunken, Japanese businessmen.” – Happy Sumo Hostess

Happy 20th anniversary to “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”!  Original airdate 24 January 1991.




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