“It’s not your fault, Homer, it’s those lousy writers. They make me madder than a, um. . . yak in heat.” – Marge Simpson
As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another. More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things. The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud. So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises. This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (shockingly enough, not on “pastiche”).
In comments and on Twitter there have been more generous appraisals of “The Book Job” than is usual for Zombie Simpsons, as well as some eye rolling at my typically harsh appraisal of it. And while I don’t want to speak for anyone else, I do think I understand that. “The Book Job” had a bit more life to it than most Zombie Simpsons episodes, but I’m also of the opinion that most of that was the same kind of cheap pandering that we got last week, the only difference is that it was fiction books in place of video games and celebrity chefs. In other words, the package here is a little shinier than usual, but there’s still a turd under the wrapper.
Consider this exchange near the end between the gang and Neil Gaiman (who, let us not forget, is voicing himself and just showed up out of thin air):
Patty: How could they do this to our book?
Skinner: It was the singular vision of seven people.
Moe: No way!
Gaiman: What you’re feeling is called ‘pride of authorship’. You thought you only cared about money, but you actually care more about what you’ve created together.
Homer: British Fonzie is right, our story is actually more important than money.
This is them literally restating the plot and telling us (not showing us, but telling us) how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling it. This is exactly the kind of hacktacular crap they were mocking in “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” when Marge says that those lousy writers make her feel madder than “a yak in heat”. Or, to grab from another show for a moment, this is what the Robot Devil was talking about when he told Fry his opera sucked because “You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel!”.
And that is far from the only example. Here’s the scene where they plot out their book:
Patty: The heroes are all orphans.
Skinner: And they’re set in a place kids relate to, say, a school, but it’s actually magic.
Frink: And, the protagonist always discovers that he is supernatural.
Homer: Okay, our book will be about an orphan who goes to a magical school where he discovers he’s a vampire.
From there they repeat the word “vampire” about seventeen times, with Frink actually saying “So many vampires!”. This is the book equivalent of “Gamestation” and “Guts of War”, they’re not poking fun at anything, they’re just restating things. From there we’re treated to their exposition-tastic creation of their troll idea, which is basically the exact same thing as the above. This includes the poorly animated thought bubble background which is just to make super-duper-sure that the audience gets it:
I’m so glad they were able to find clipart of bridges and trolls.
Nor was the shoddy animation limited to their shared dream sequences. Check out Homer in the bookstore, here:
So many blank books!
For an episode that clearly took a lot of pride in its background stuff, making all the books single color with no evidence of writing on them is all the more revealing. They don’t even look like books, more like kids play blocks. Then there’s the mysteriously appearing printer. Here’s Lisa in front of her desk:
Nice laptop, shame it’s about to be sucked into another dimension.
And here’s Lisa just a few seconds later:
Is fifteen seconds of object permanence too much to ask?
The laptop is gone, the printer has appeared, Lisa managed to move to the other side of the desk, and the entire room shifted. This isn’t one or two small mistakes, this is them drawing the room completely differently for shots that are only a few seconds apart. But wait, there’s more! Note the pages streaming off the printer:
Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V are everyone’s friend.
Notice that not only do the pages behave nothing like actual paper, but they are also identical to one another. They couldn’t be bothered to move the text around or even just rotate the damn images.
The entire episode is filled with bland, expository dialogue and wildly uneven animation like this. And that’s before you even get to things like the story not making sense, the characters acting nothing like themselves, and all the usual Zombie Simpsons crap. That Dan Castellaneta and Nancy Cartwright were doing decent impressions of George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s repartee isn’t nearly enough to save this.
Charlie Sweatpants: Where do you want to start?
Dave: Near as makes no difference. It was a haze of mediocrity.
Charlie Sweatpants: Indeed it was. And while there were a lot of small problems, the overarching one is that this was just so damn gimmicky.
Dave: Yeah. Just a pastiche of dumb shit. Though I did chuckle at Ralph wanting to go back into Sarah’s womb.
Charlie Sweatpants: I was okay with the Ralph thing until he actually, you know, climbed under her dress.
Dave: Well yeah.
Charlie Sweatpants: The whole dinosaur opening was annoying. Did we need to get to the screaming and the running so fast?
Dave: No, we did not. But they didn’t waste a second.
Charlie Sweatpants: It’s just another example of how they can’t go even a few seconds without not making any sense.
And that was before Homer and the kids just walked backstage like they owned the damn place.
Dave: Yeah. But how else could they have started the whole crime heist nonsense?
Logically started, anyway.
Charlie Sweatpants: That’s my overarching problem that spoiled the whole thing for me. Maybe I’m overreacting, but after last week’s food blogger thing and now this Ocean’s Eleven thing I’m sick and tired of one-note episodes.
Not only are they unimaginative, but they’re so transparently pandering. Food blogging, people like that right? Ooh, teen lit, there’s something that’s been in the New York Times style section lately.
Dave: The alternative is 2-3 plots that collectively don’t make any sense. Pick your poison. In this case teaming up Homer, Bart, Skinner, Moe, etc. and tossing in a celebrity felt just about right.
But teen lit is so topical. And werewolves, c’mon.
Charlie Sweatpants: That’s the problem. They’re so completely bereft of actual ideas that they’re leaning on cheap topicality. Except it takes them a year to make an episode so by the time they get around to something it’s usually already played out.
South Park does a lot of topical episodes, and they tend to be the ones that don’t age very well because they’re only really funny in that moment. But for South Park you at least get that moment. Making fun of Harry Potter-Twilight-Etcetera was current, what? Three years ago when the first Twilight movie came out?
Dave: Something like that. I tend not to pay attention to those sorts of things.
Charlie Sweatpants: Look at it this way, they can’t figure a way to just do something with the Simpson family or with Lisa loving a series of books. So they have to set everything to 11, make a boring and predictable caper plot, and end up having Homer break into some heavily defended skyscraper.
Dave: Are you sure you’re not secretly moonlighting for them?
Charlie Sweatpants: Ouch. What did I do to deserve that accusation?
Dave: That was harsh and unnecessary. I take it back.
Your summary was just very on point.
Charlie Sweatpants: Like I said, I may be overreacting because they’ve done two of these in a row now, but all of the annoying things that were there last week are here this week in spades.
Characters acting unlike themselves, lame “parodies” that amount to little more than misspelling things, a story that doesn’t make any sense, all they want to do is make some bad pop culture jokes and the rest of the episode is poorly done window dressing around that.
They actually had Moe say he didn’t want to get involved with another of Homer’s “hare brained schemes”. If that’s not an admission of, like you said, mediocrity, I don’t know what is.
Dave: So what’s to be done?
They could stop. But they won’t.
Charlie Sweatpants: Well, bitching on the internet is something, isn’t it?
Dave: Better than the alternative, which is pretending the show’s still good and/or relevant.
Charlie Sweatpants: Better than nothing, I suppose.
As for individual problems this one had, where to begin?
I was sick of that music and title card thing by about the third one, and then they kept on coming.
There was an excess of their usual pointless and boring bloodshed.
Homer being super slick and competent all of a sudden. Props and characters appearing and disappearing at random.
There were also a couple of times where the animation really seemed phoned in. Like last week they had a lot of background stuff in some scenes (though most of them were lame for the previously discussed reasons), but when they weren’t showing a bunch of book titles, everything was really stale and repetitive.
When the printer in Lisa’s room starts spitting out pages, all of them are identical. The books in the bookstore are just flat, monochromatic rectangles.
Dave: I didn’t even notice that, honestly.
I was more put off by the poorly done homages to the Oceans movies.
Charlie Sweatpants: I generally only notice the animation if it’s really bad or really good, and this was really bad.
It really was Homer Simpson and the Springfield Variety Players bring you Oceans 15 or whatever.
Dave: They may as well have had Duck President.
Charlie Sweatpants: Did you notice that Marge didn’t have a role in the caper, so she basically disappeared right after the opening?
Dave: Now that you mention it, yeah.
Charlie Sweatpants: There just wasn’t any space for her, I guess.
Dave: Well, last week we had too much of her. Maybe they thought a break was in order.
Charlie Sweatpants: It’s also possible they just ran out of time with all of the flashbacks and thought bubble expositions.
They had to keep explaining what things were going on and illustrating the story with crappy animated icons.
Dave: The show is layered beast, too dense for the average television viewer. Be glad we had our hands held.
Charlie Sweatpants: Maybe you’re right and I should be grateful they only explain things three or four times instead of five or six.
Dave: That’s what they’ll resort to next season.
Charlie Sweatpants: I can’t wait.
Anything else here?
Dave: Nope. I can’t believe we’re only 6 episodes in. Feels like an eternity already.
Charlie Sweatpants: I know the feeling.