“Bart, I don’t want you to see me cry.” – Milhouse van Houten
“Oh come on, I’ve seen you cry a million times. You cry when you scrape your knee, you cry when they’re out of chocolate milk, you cry when you’re doing long division and you have a remainder left over.” – Bart Simpson
A few episodes ago, Zombie Simpsons had Krusty point out that because of the lead time of their animation they come off looking like cheap, late-to-the-party hacks when they try to do topical shows. That fundamental problem was all over last night’s year late Glenn Beck-Tea Party episode. The subject matter was stale and the satire was stuff that has been done better elsewhere, but the place you can see it most is in the little tricks they use to make this expired milk seem fresh. They ran current jokes in a news ticker, they had static images of the Republican presidential field on a table, with Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain’s photos crossed out with easy-to-add-late graphics. They know that these episodes don’t work well, but they went ahead and did it anyway because if you can take some potshots at Glenn Beck a year after he was dumped off television and add in some political jokes no one will care about two months from now, then you have to do it.
Of course, problems with stale topicality were accompanied by other typical Zombie Simpsons problems. There was a main story that did not manage to make sense for more than two minutes. Characters appeared and disappeared at will, most egregiously when Nugent showed up at the breakfast table immediately after Lisa was talking as though he wasn’t there. And there was plenty of really pointless slapstick, including Homer getting hurt, kids lining up to be randomly fired into an archery target, and Homer dumping paint on his own head.
Watching this, I really can’t help but think the staff would rather be writing for Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. Sketch comedy is clearly what they like doing, politics provides and endless supply of cheap jokes, and things like Homer’s airplane freakout at the beginning are right in that four or five minute sketch show sweet spot. After that one we got Homer on someone else’s talk show, Homer on his own talk show, and Homer thinks he travels to the past, among others. Of course, all that was supposed to be happening against a background story of a national political movement, but they didn’t pay much attention to that so I don’t see why the audience should have to.
Anyway, the numbers are in and they are really, truly awful. FOX didn’t have a late football game, but CBS had Pittsburgh-Denver going to overtime at 8:00pm, which meant that a mere 5.11 million people remembered Ted Nugent after the Steelers came back to tie it late. That’s easily the lowest so far this season and is tied with Season 21’s “Million Dollar Maybe” for the second lowest number of all time. This was the shows 496th episode, and 493 of them were seen by more people. Giants-Packers will be the late game next Sunday, so Zombie Simpsons is likely to get a one week bounce from that, but Season 23 is now all but assured of being the least watched season ever. The only question now is how far it sinks.