Archive for May, 2011



26
May
11

Compare & Contrast: Cliffhangers & Cultural Relevance

“This past summer, all of America was trying to solve the mystery of who shot Mr. Burns, then they found out it was the baby.” – Troy McClure

Twas the summer of 1980, and America was atwitter over a television cliffhanger about who had shot a character named J.R. on a primetime soap opera called Dallas.  T-shirts were produced, bets were placed, and, if the Wikipedia article titled simply “Who shot J.R.?” is to be believed, that year’s presidential contest even got into the act with jokes and buttons.  When the shooter was revealed that autumn, it became one of the highest rated events in television history.  Dallas was already a hit, but after the shooting stunt it would reach new heights, becoming the #1 show in America for three of the next four seasons.

I Married Marge6

Fifteen years later, The Simpsons ran a parody cliffhanger, replacing J.R. with their own Charles Montgomery Burns.  The summer of 1995 saw the country flooded with advertising sporting the image of Mr. Burns and his potential assailants, though the ads themselves had basically nothing to do with who had shot him.  (The late 1990s advertising boom for collect calling services remains puzzling to me.  I’ve never been able to figure out who was making so many collect calls that national ad campaigns were worth the expense.)  The parody, though just an echo of the original, was big enough to merit its own exhaustively footnoted Wikipedia page

Sixteen years later, Zombie Simpsons has brought us a different kind of cliffhanger, one that doesn’t manage to parody anything and is altogether more boring, more hapless, and less interesting.  Instead of cooking up a satire or turning the whole endeavor into a joke, they plopped down an improbable romance and a half assed web page (which I will not link).  Their marketing tie in isn’t a series of nationwide commercials, it’s a handful of downloadable images that a few people will put on their Facebook pages for a day or two.  How the mighty have fallen.

Worse, Zombie Simpsons has bumbled into the desperate trap of so many flailing comedies: manufactured romance.  Teasing audiences with unresolved sexual tension, even the comedic kind, has been a survival instinct of television shows since the days of vacuum tubes and Newton Minnow.  Vicarious frisson and suggestive endings are trotted out in the hope that they’ll create the kind of curiosity that can withstand an entire summer’s worth of commercial interruptions.  So what Zombie Simpsons has done is take two worn concepts and attempted to rub them together, hoping for a little spark of attention, or at least a fleeting second of pop culture relevance.  But the cliffhanger and the contrived love story they’ve produced are too threadbare to do anything but disintegrate against one another. 

The problem isn’t that Zombie Simpsons is engaging in a publicity stunt.  The shootings of J.R. and Mr. Burns were just as shameless.  The problem is that Zombie Simpsons is engaging in a publicity stunt that’s doomed to fail and be instantly forgotten.  The people who cooked up “Who shot J.R.” succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and the parody of it on The Simpsons is probably remembered by even more people than the original here in 2011.  Both were noticed, and commented on, and talked about by people far outside the scope of the usual audience.  In these nosier times, this far more timid and cliched stunt doesn’t stand a chance.  There will never be an – ugh – “Nedna” Wikipedia article, at least not one that isn’t swiftly nominated for deletion for falling pathetically short of even the most generous definition of notability. 

26
May
11

Quote of the Day

Bart's Friend Falls in Love2

“We just moved here from Phoenix.  My dad owns a home security company; he came to Springfield because of its high crime rate and lackluster police force.  All my friends are back in Phoenix, and this town has a weird smell that you’re all probably used to, but I’m not.” – Samantha Stanky
“It’ll take you about six weeks, dear.” – Mrs. Krabappel

25
May
11

Crazy Noises: The Ned-Liest Catch

“I’m surprised you don’t remember, son. It was only eight years ago.” – Homer Simpson
“Dad, thanks to television I can’t remember what happened eight minutes ago.” – Bart 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 (surprisingly enough, not on “aneurystic”, which I just made up and therefore can’t be spelled wrong).

For a single sequence of events that epitomizes the sloppiness of “The Ned-Liest Catch”, we need look no further than Edna’s escape from the rubber room. First, Bart magically enters the building and shows up to help her escape. It’s not explained why he would care or how he got there. He then climbs through the ceiling to allow himself to be attacked by a possum. Once that’s over we find them in the bathroom for a series of scenes that make the possum look downright brilliant.

First, Bart has replaced Edna with a dummy. We never see him do this, nor did Krabappel notice it when she was just in the same room, it simply appears (whatever). Second, after Bart climbs out the window, we see this:

Where Are the Other Two Stories

Edna Krabappel: not that far off the ground.

Bart’s next line describes this as a “three story drop”. This is another one of those pieces of apathy or contempt that would make Michael Bay proud. They could’ve drawn a three story shot, they could’ve changed the dialogue, they did neither (whatever 2x). Third, the ladder breaks with Edna on it. Despite the fact that the previous shot made it look like she’d be about six inches off the ground if the ladder broke like that, it’s played for suspense before we see:

Oh, There They Are

(Whatever 3x)

Fourth, without saying a word, Bart runs off. This is the same Bart who, just a second before, cared so much about Krabappel that he broke into this building, left a dummy of her, and showed her the exit. All of a sudden, without so much as a stab at a joke, he abandons her completely (whatever 4x).

Fifth, Flanders arrives out of nowhere. He wasn’t summoned by Bart; he wasn’t introduced into the scene in any way. He was just there (whatever 5x).

Finally, once the impromptu date is over and Edna is back in the bathroom comes the scene that ignores everything that just happened. Bart left a dummy of Krabappel in the main room so she could sneak out, but once she’s back in the bathroom the other teachers yell at her for being in the bathroom for three hours. Well, which was it? Was there a dummy so they all thought she was still there, or did they think she was in the can? This isn’t a continuity error that requires retconning of decades old episodes or events, this is a continuity error that requires a short term memory with a capacity of less than three minutes (whatever 6x).

[Note: Dave ditched us again this week. I’m beginning to think he doesn’t like watching Zombie Simpsons.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to get to it?

Mad Jon: I think that is best.

  The sooner we start, the sooner this season is in the books.

Charlie Sweatpants: Got that right.

  Where to begin?

  The poorly teased romance, the obstacle courses, the scene with all the hallucinated faces?

Mad Jon: My biggest problem, and this isn’t the first time that Zombie Simpsons has done this, although it is the worst offense, is that Ned Flanders is not a man in the sense necessary to start picking up woman on the street.

It is super convenient that the Ned’s super conservative views on relationships completely contrasts with Edna’s history, but that doesn’t mean you get to completely change both characters, especially Ned, to make the plot work.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ned’s dating life has always been something they’ve had trouble dealing with. In this case they solved that by having her literally fall into his arms . . . in that alley . . . that he just happened to be walking down.

Mad Jon: That he just happened to be walking down.

Charlie Sweatpants: The stranger thing is, Flanders and Krabappel know each other! I’ve seen them in scenes before, Rod and Todd are students at the school!

Mad Jon: Yeah, Ned is the president of the PTA or something.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, that was a long time ago, and the writers have a, shall we say, selective memory about the past of the show.

Mad Jon: He wants to put the pal back in principal.

Charlie Sweatpants: That too.

But they made a huge scene of the introduction, and yet we know they know each other, not as a one off story in some past episode, but just based on the general structure of the show and who each of them are.

Mad Jon: All very true.

Charlie Sweatpants: I could see Ned and Krabappel hooking up. I mean, why not? They’re both single. But to pretend that they don’t know each other so you can jam in a meet-cute that wouldn’t pass muster in a January romantic comedy was pissing right in the audience’s face.

Mad Jon: Couldn’t agree more. Even if you ignore the chance encounter that rewrites what we obviously know about them, and even if you ignore the ex-husband/soccer dad manner in which Ned picks up Edna, you can’t ignore the fact that every scene with Ned and Edna was more uncomfortable and embarrassing than the one before it.

  Ned doesn’t think and feel these things, he praises Jesus and raises his kids like happy little Mormons. Even though they aren’t Mormons.

Sorry, that’s been eating me up all day.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right. Their scenes together were painfully awkward because they never really gave us a reason why they’d get together.

They moved immediately into a montage, like that’s going to explain things.

  But that wasn’t even the most absurd pairing in the episode. Why the hell did Flanders go to Moe’s with Homer? Why was Bart – BART! – alone at the house with Rod and Todd?

Mad Jon: Both excellent questions.

Charlie Sweatpants: This episode was filled with moments like that, where Bart and Homer were just instantly involved in other people’s shit. Not only was there no reason for that to happen, it’s completely against both of their characters.

Mad Jon:  Homer went out of his way to help Flanders, he even wrestled a fucking octopus.

Charlie Sweatpants: Precisely, why did Bart show up to get his enemy out of the rubber room? Why did Flanders and Krabappel knock on Homer’s door for no reason?

Why the hell were Comic Book Guy and Skinner (not to mention Joey from Aerosmith) just hanging out at Moe’s?

Mad Jon: Oh god, the Joey Kramer thing was death. He must have finally got his drumsticks back.

Charlie Sweatpants: Which led to the face hallucination thing which went on for forever and a day. Sometimes you can pull off one of those jokes where something that isn’t funny becomes funny when it goes on for a long time, but this wasn’t even trying. It was a rehash of a scene at Moe’s that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Mad Jon: Right, but they have to keep going or they can’t get CBG in the episode like ten times.

Also Santa’s Little Helper can do triple digit subtraction.

Charlie Sweatpants: And the jack-in-the-box thing.

So few bad ideas, so much time . . .

Mad Jon: Well put.

Also, Bart’s face, is um, indifferent to possum attacks. So he’s got that going for him too!

Charlie Sweatpants: Alright, I think the only thing I think we haven’t mentioned yet is the aneurystic way they started the episode.

  Remember when Bart used to torment the teachers by painting the parking lines close together, or creating fake candy hearts? What the hell was all that about?

Mad Jon: How much damage can one boy do in 35 seconds? Let’s find out!

Charlie Sweatpants: Plus the whole Lisa comes out, Skinner calls things off, Lisa starts talking . . . the small riot was one of the least nonsensical things in the entire scene.

Mad Jon: Riots do seem to just start themselves, even in Classic Simpsons. That doesn’t mean they are funny when they end up with children doing impromptu floor routines.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ugh. Though that scene did lead to the only joke I liked in the whole episode, Chalmers saying that they had a zero tolerance policy when things occur in front of witnesses. That I laughed at.

Mad Jon: Yes, I almost forgot that. That was a good line.

Charlie Sweatpants: Do we have to talk about the bullshit cliffhanger, or can we do what they did and just call a halt to the season unfinished?

Mad Jon: I don’t want to address that at all. I think the voting is actually a government conspiracy to locate the IP addresses of idiots so that they can use their homes for UAV target practice.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s how they got me to vote for Lyndon LaRouche!

25
May
11

Quote of the Day

Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes7

“Except for huge gaps in the western states, Hands Across America was a complete success.” – TV Announcer

24
May
11

Idiot to Drunkenly Watch Teevee Again

Duffless5

“Do you ever drink to escape from reality?” – Marge Simpson

Ladies and gentlemen, we made it.  Season 22 is over, and the only confirmed casualties were humor, plot and enjoyable comedy.  In celebration, I’ll be undertaking another Simpsons-beer marathon this Saturday, the 28th of May.  For those who’ve found this blog since the last time I did this, the basic concept is that, starting at about 8:00am Eastern Time (US), I’m going to watch an entire season of The Simpsons and drink one beer per episode.  I’ll post running updates after each episode finishes, (a more detailed description can be found here).

Just like the previous times, the season I watch will be decided by the Simpsons fans with the good taste and penchant for self torture who deign to visit this site.  Seasons 4, 5, and 6 have been done, so the poll at right contains Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 7.  The poll will be open until midnight Friday (04:00 GMT Saturday), and I’ll watch whichever season comes out ahead. 

Update May 28: Season 7 put up a hell of a fight, but Season 3 prevailed.  Thanks to everyone who voted.

Season 3 Poll

24
May
11

Quote of the Day

Homer's Enemy6

“If you turn that security camera around, you can sleep and no one will ever know.” – Homer Simpson
“I don’t think we’re being paid to sleep.” – Frank Grimes
“Oh yeah, they’re always trying to screw you.” – Homer Simpson

23
May
11

If a Show Falls in the Woods and Nobody Watches It, Does It make a Sound?

Chalkboard - The Ned-liest Catch

“That crater is where your lousy cartoon crash landed.  It’s ratings poison!” – Krusty the Klown

You’ve got to give Zombie Simpsons one thing, when they want to really put on a tour de force of crappiness, they can still do it.  They had Bart and Homer acting manic and inserting themselves into other people’s lives just because.  They had plenty of pointless filler, including two different scenes with characters clambering over obstacles for no discernable purpose.  (And the second one wasn’t even a call back!)  They took characters appearing and disappearing from scenes to new heights.  And the story managed to be overwrought and nonsensical while still being tedious and needing tons of exposition.  On the absolute scale of dull and boring this is worthy of being their season finale, and I haven’t even mentioned the gimmick at the end.

I’m not sure if the conclusion, with Homer and Marge addressing the camera, actually qualifies as breaking the fourth wall; it’s more like shrugging at the fourth wall.  Breaking the fourth wall is when you address the fact that you’re in a teevee show, preferably with something clever.  This was the show saying, “Meh”.

Happily, the numbers are in and the audience replied with equal apathy.  Last night’s petty excuse for a bad date movie was not called back by just 5.29 million viewers.  That is the fifth lowest number in history, and pushed Season 22 below Season 20 for the title of least watched season ever.  As recently as March, Season 22 looked like it would avoid this fate; but where Season 20 averaged 7.12 million viewers per episode, Season 22 only made it to 7.10 million.

As much fun as that is to type, it’s worth mentioning that those numbers aren’t the kind of thing that can doom the show.  I use the quick and dirty overnights from TV By the Numbers, but advertising rates are calculated using not only live viewers, but anyone who watches it on DVR within three days.  Nor do my numbers account for demographics, and Zombie Simpsons does better among the impressionable youth that advertisers lust after.  So while it’s certainly embarrassing when your highly promoted, internet gimmick season finale loses in the ratings to a Family Guy special that was released on DVD last December, it isn’t fatal.

However, that doesn’t mean the low numbers aren’t fun to laugh at.  Season 22 managed only one episode with more than ten million viewers, and that was thanks to a generous lead in from the NFL playoffs.  Of the ten lowest rated episodes in the show’s twenty-two year history, one is from Season 20, four are from Season 21, and five are from Season 22.  Of the fifty lowest, all but one of them came in the last four seasons; and compared to just five years ago, when Season 17 averaged 9.46 million viewers, the show has lost a quarter of its audience.  So whenever you see someone talk about how the show’s still got it after all these years, you can truthfully say that the numbers don’t agree.

[Edited because I can't count to five, I originally thought it was the fourth lowest rated episode.]




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