“Sorry kids, but this is the one event I want my darling wife by my side.” – Homer Simpson
“Oh, well thank you, Homer. But take one of the kids.” – Marge Simpson
“Marge, they can’t carry enough candy! They have puny little muscles, not big ropey ones like you.” – Homer Simpson
Like last week, there are quite a few aspects of “The Food Wife” which were done better on actual episodes of The Simpsons. There was the family trying out ethnic food, which made more sense and had more to do with the rest of the episode in “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”. There was Homer’s now advanced woodworking skills, which were probably intended as a callback of some kind but which only reminded me how little Zombie Simpsons is like its predecessor. There was especially the way Marge becomes afraid that she’s no fun, which was infinitely funnier and more believable in “Bart’s Inner Child”. For sheer simplicity though, nothing really beats the way “The Food Wife” and “Homer Badman” both open: with the family going to a convention.
The differences in the things Zombie Simpsons cares about and the things The Simpsons cared about are massively apparent right in the opening scenes. As “The Food Wife” begins, Lisa and Bart have earned a reward of some kind and are going to get a “Saturday Surprise Dad Day”. As soon as Marge announces that, the kids cheer and Homer lets us know that this is something that happens quite often. In just this one scene we can see how much the family has degenerated into characterless, one dimensional nobodies.
Nothing says “The Simpsons” like a prosperous family that loves spending time together!
Homer, the man who used to routinely avoid doing anything with his kids, is excited to take them somewhere on his precious Saturday. Bart and Lisa are thrilled at the prospect of some of Homer’s half assed over-parenting (and Bart has somehow been behaving well). And Marge, despite the jealousy that the audience will repeatedly see her go through for the rest of the episode, is just peachy keen on all of this. Not only do none of these things fit with who these people are supposed to be, but since Homer rattles off two things he’s done before it means that it’s been going on like this for a while. This is particularly jarring when it comes to Marge, since “cemetery paintball” and “go karts on real roads” don’t sound like activities she’d want her ten-year-old son or eight-year-old daughter doing. The entire scene is pure Zombie Simpsons, apathetic towards the characters and generally nonsensical (and we haven’t even gotten to the convention yet).
Compare that with the opening scene from “Homer Badman”, which also takes place at the kitchen table. This one opens with Bart picking the non-marshmallow pieces out of his cereal, Lisa calling him on it (revealing her own hatred of the non-marshmallow pieces in the process), and then Homer talking about the candy convention to which he’s gotten tickets. But he doesn’t give his mouth watering description of the convention because he’s planning to take his kids, though they immediately beg him to do just that. Instead, he wants to take Marge. She’s flattered by this but doesn’t really want to go, and it’s only then that it comes out that he actually wants to take her because Bart or Lisa won’t be able to carry as much candy as she can.
Everyone in this scene is perfectly in character. Bart and Lisa are acting like kids who just want sugar, with Lisa being the less lazy and more conscientious of the two. Marge is acting like the responsible adult. And Homer is at his best: unthinkingly disappointing his entire family (the kids because they can’t go with him, Marge because she’s being used as a pack mule), but only doing so because of his well established love of candy. And, of course, every part of the setup is a joke, from Bart picking at the cereal to Homer’s reasons for wanting to bring Marge. You’d need a transcript to include all the gags (and even that wouldn’t do it justice). The Simpsons cares about its story and its characters, Zombie Simpsons just plunges ahead into nonsense.
You can see that directly once the respective kitchen scenes are over. Zombie Simpsons jumps immediately to the video game convention, where Homer has somehow acquired VIP tickets. How did that happen? Well, they don’t say, but my immediate guess would be that the writers are so used to being VIPs that they’ve forgotten that Homer isn’t one. By contrast, The Simpsons shows us Homer getting his regular tickets by taking advantage of Apu.
More than that, “Homer Badman” also shows us a second scene at the house that sets up the rest of the episode. First we see Marge reluctantly getting sewn into the many pocketed trenchcoat that Homer’s going to use to smuggle candy out of the convention. Then our main guest character, graduate student Ashley Grant, arrives to babysit. She doesn’t just pop into the episode for no reason, she shows up because Marge can’t find anyone else to sit for her kids.
Even better, she immediately joins the joke parade while we find out who she is. She’s smart, capable, and, crucial to the sexual harassment plot, believes that women don’t have to be second class citizens. Bart objects (“How can you leave us with this maniac?”) and prepares to destroy yet another babysitter, but Grant is unfazed and instantly disarms him with “Disemboweler IV”.
“The game where condemned criminals dig at each other with rusty hooks.”
On Zombie Simpsons they don’t have anything like those scenes and just cut instantly to Homer and the kids breezing into the video game convention with their VIP badges:
Come right in, Mr. Selman.
There’s a superficially similar scene when Homer and Marge arrive at the candy convention but, like Zombie Simpsons and The Simpsons more broadly, the similarities are only cosmetic:
Homer? Excited. Marge? Nervous. Story? Progressing.
In the scene from “The Food Wife”, Homer and the kids walk past a nice orderly line that looks like a pretty decent recreation of the entrance at something like E3. It is neither funny nor creative, and they’re doing so with VIP badges that Homer got from nowhere. Whereas in “Homer Badman”, we saw Homer get the tickets and the candy convention is so desirable that it hilariously requires a dozen police officers to guard its entrance. It makes more sense in terms of the story, it’s a joke, and it takes only a second; the arrival in Zombie Simpsons is nothing more than a reenactment of how nice it must be to have private security kiss your ass, but includes lots of exposition in case the audience didn’t understand.
Part of the reason Zombie Simpsons skips right into the video game convention is because, unlike the candy convention, the video game expo has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. More than that, however, is the way the vast majority of “The Food Wife”’s attempts at humor are pop culture riffs, and they want to get to those quickly. Even then most of them are references not jokes; “Guts of War” isn’t a parody of “God of War”, it’s just a wink and a nod to let you know that they’re hip and cool enough to know who Kratos is. The same is true of “YBox”, “Electronic Crafts”, “Medal of Duty”, and “Gamestation 3”.
It sure was nice of them to essentially repeat Apple’s slogan for them.
By contrast, the candy convention is filled not just with candy jokes, but with the kind of absurdist exaggerations that The Simpsons reveled in creating. Instead of a bunch of signs that are misspelled versions of “Hershey” or “M&M”, we get a sour ball so sour that it must be contained in a magnetic field. It’s not only funny, but it’s a hell of a lot more creative than replacing the word “Rock” with the word “Marching”. We also get “The front desk is looking for Mr. Goodbar”, the wax lips guy, and the security guard who insists that Marge put some sugar on her celery or get out. And, of course, there’s the precious gummy Venus de Milo, which is giddily insane, and which will soon drive the main plot forward and give us Homer’s Pop Rocks/Coke bomb.
At the video game convention, Homer goes into a lame first person shooter mode and beats up a bunch of people to get to another non-joke reference, the “Funtendo Zii”. After that, the “Funtendo” crap just ends; there isn’t so much as a callback after Homer and the kids go hopping over the fence. The Gummi de Milo, of course, is what gets Homer in trouble with Ashley Grant, what gets him looking like a drooling pervert on Rock Bottom, and what eventually exonerates him. It’s not just absurdly funny as an idea, it’s the lynchpin of the plot.
Zombie Simpsons puts its characters in a place they have no business being and likely wouldn’t want to be anyway if they were still even remotely themselves. Once there, they decorate it with a few cute signs and a couple of semi-clever takes on real video games before dropping the whole thing. The Simpsons keeps everyone in character, takes a few familiar notions and uses them to create a whole world of ludicrous candy inventions, and uses all of it to keep the plot moving and entertaining. The yellow hue is misleading, these two shows have nothing in common except it.