“When cat burglaries start, can mass murders be far behind? This reporter isn’t saying that the burglar is an inhuman monster like the Wolfman, but he very well could be. So, professor, would you say it’s time for everyone to panic?” – Kent Brockman
“Yes I would, Kent.” – Professor
Archive for March, 2012
“Go away! There ain’t no monorail and there never was!” – Monorail Cafe Woman
The monorail in Sydney, Australia is being dismantled. Clearly the town is doomed, and since the word “monorail” has been used, people have been invoking Lyle Lanley and his cheerful brand of fraud to prove it. We’ve got two links about it, including a spectacular parody video. On top of that, we’ve got awesome donuts, I nitpick several pieces of usage, there’s a possible sighting of the very first time Bart Simpson was on television, Lenny’s trying out a couple of new things at her blog, there are alumni updates about Cartwright and Groening, and there is a truly half-assed attempt at making a real Flaming Homer.
Monorail, Monorail, MONORAIL! – Smooth Charlie’s Link of the Week is this excellent monorail song parody from Australia. The map is a very nice touch, and while I didn’t get most of the local references, bored looking kids in the Rammstein and Evanescence t-shirts require no localization. Here’s some background on the video and the impressively quick way they put it together.
Prima Simpsonis: The First Television Appearance of Bart Simpson – I will leave it to people better versed in the obscure early days of the Simpsons to determine if this is true or not, but there is a suspiciously Bart-looking background image in an animated episode of Amazing Stories that was written and directed by Brad Bird. It was broadcast in February of 1987, two months before they hit the air as part of The Tracey Ullman Show.
The Simpsons in Chernobyl – Awesome:
A muralist by the name Combo created a very appropriate Simpsons family portrait power plant scene inside a building at the Chernobyl disaster sight. The artists also created a power plant landscape mural as well.
They’re really well done, too! Good work, Combo, whoever you are.
Baking With SparkleGirl | Mmmm… Forbidden Donuts – Complete and simple instructions for making pink sprinkle donuts, with drool inducing pictures. The only thing that’s missing is an incantation so that you can sell your soul to Flanders for one of these.
You Know You’ve Arrived When You’ve Been Simpsonized – A nice review of Rear Window with a couple of screen grabs from “Bart of Darkness” thrown in for good measure. Bonus points if you can figure out what the blog’s banner image is without looking at the About page.
My Life is Complete: Boo Urns! – Attention California residents, you cannot get “BOOURNS” as your license plate, because someone already has it. Here’s photographic proof.
Embiggen your vocabulary: 10 coinages from ‘The Simpsons’ – There’s only one thing from Zombie Simpsons on here. Bravo.
The Simpsons Puzzle – A look at some Simpsons puzzles. I’ve got to give the Krusty Brand Seal of Approval department credit for the one with Bart writing “I Will Finish What I Sta__” on the front of the box.
Lisa Simpson – I must pick nits, even when I agree:
I was watching and old episode of the Simpsons yesterday, “Mr. Lisa goes to Washington.” It was aired in 1991 and Lisa goes to DC, there is a line in the show where a senator says “One day you might even grow up to be a senator, there are women senators you know.” To wit Lisa replies, “I know, there are two, I checked.” That made me sit up, I knew there were more female senators now, but didn’t know how many. Out of 100 senators 17 are female. In over twenty years we went from 2, to 17. Now the growth rate is tremendous and I applaud that, but when you think about it, 17 out of 100 isn’t that many, especially if you consider that there are more women in the population than men (marginally, sure.)
The “honorable” Bob Arnold actually says:
“Lisa, you’re a doer. And, who knows? Maybe someday you’ll be a Congressman or a Senator. We have quite a few women Senators, you know.”
To which the ever astute Lisa replies, “Only two, I checked.” I’m calling that one moderate usage.
OU Announces Undergrad Commencement Speaker – On June 9th, Nancy Cartwright will be giving the commencement address at Ohio University. That is all.
Jillian’s Bart Simpson Tee – Your chance to own a real 1990 Bart t-shirt, the proceeds of which also buy a new shirt for charity.
From the Inside: Michael Bay, Ninja Turtles, Star Wars and the Nature of Fandom – More excellent usage from Michael Bay’s latest troll masterpiece:
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Apparently Michael Bay has been reading a lot of Shakespeare lately; too bad he can’t learn anything constructive from The Bard. I also like how Homer Simpson put it: “There’s nothing wrong with crabgrass. It just has a bad name, that’s all. Everyone would love it if it has a cute name, like, uh, elf grass.”
Homer actually says “had a cute name” not “has a cute name”, but that’s close enough for excellent usage.
Diary of a Cork football fan: Part 5 – Well done:
There is an episode of the Simpsons where Marge is at a ‘pee wee’ ice hockey game between Bart’s team and Lisa’s team and after seeing Bart get tripped, she roars ‘vengeance, I want vengeance!’
Well that is exactly how I felt on the road up to Mayo. The heartbreak of last year’s All-Ireland quarter final defeat was still fresh in the mind of Cork supporters.
Marge actually says, “He tripped my boy! I demand vengeance! I want vengeance!”, but all the words are in the right order so it’s definitely excellent usage.
Simpsons Sums Up: Gossip Girl, Season 5 – Since I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than about five minutes of Gossip Girl, I can’t judge the image, but the quote is right, so I’m calling this excellent usage by Lenny.
Lenny & Steve’s Excellent Adventure Through the 100 Best TV Episodes of the Past 20 Years: Part 1 – Lenny’s other new project has “Homer at the Bat” as the 92nd best episode of anything.
MonoFAIL – Sydney fell for Lyle Lanley’s scam a long time ago, and now they’re going to tear it down, but no without YouTube of the original song. No word on the popsicle stick skyscraper.
The Future, as Predicted by ’90s Cartoons – There’s plenty of “Lisa’s Wedding” here, even though that is now technically in the past.
100 Best Comedy Characters Currently On Television (30-21) – The countdown continues with Itchy & Scratchy sharing the honors at #23, and . . .
100 Best Comedy Characters Currently On Television (20-11) – . . . Bart at #14.
Homer Simpson Stargazer fish found buried in seabed by divers in the Lembeh Strait – This strikes me as a bit of a stretch, but whatever.
Audiovisual Rosetta Stones: 15 foreign words and phrases we learned from film and TV – Grampa’s failed German burlesque show is in here. I bet no one thought of that scene as educational when they were putting it together.
1996: A SPACE ODDYSSEY – This one goes out to our Australian readers, where there was apparently a Simpsons tie-in with a Pog knockoff in 1994. If we had those here in the States, I sure don’t remember them.
Wil Wheaton Speaks the Truth – Via Twitter:
Some days, you’re just going to be Sideshow Bob, and the world is going to be a dozen rakes.
A GIF(t) just for you 31 – Animated .gif of Ralph smiling and waving.
I cannot say that I’ve ever had this drink, nor do I want to try it. However many people are curious about it. The key is to use a plain children’s cough syrup, nothing too flavorful. Be careful when making any flaming drink and extinguish before drinking. I’d be curious to hear comments about it.
- 1 oz brandy
- 1 oz peppermint schnapps
- 1 oz sloe gin
- 1 oz blackberry liqueur
- 1 oz strawberry juice
- cough syrup
Other than the cough syrup, none of those are in the episode (though one of the bottles Homer grabs is a Schnapps of some kind). And I doubt very much there’s enough booze in that to actually get it to ignite, certainly not at room temperature. And now, the punchline:
Be the first to write a review
The Shatterer of Myths – Exploring the real meaning and definition of “myths”, with a nice assist from “Lisa the Iconoclast”.
Planet of The Aches – Animated .gif of the Itchy & Scratchy where Itchy walls up Scratchy and then dices him in the future.
Jamming with Matt Groening – Groening did some impromptu sketches for charity at the Shanghai International Literary Festival.
Top 10 Great Television Comedies – A great list with quite a bit of YouTube, and you know who comes in at #1. He’s easier on Zombie Simpsons than I am, but I wholeheartedly agree with this:
But when it was in the highlight of its years, it is the best comedy that was ever on television. Seasons 3-8 have so many classic moments and are just as funny today as they were when they aired.
Those episodes have aged so well that it’s genuinely frightening. Just look at the monorail video up top.
“Welcome to Enchantment Lane, where all the parts come together and Malibu Stacy is born. Some folks say there’s a little touch of fairy dust in the air.” – Tour Lady
“Aw, crap, there’s a clog in the torso chute! Leroy, get your ass in gear!” – Assembly Line Worker
“Shut your hole.” – Leroy
On Monday this week, Mike Reiss gave a speech at Virginia Tech. This comes from an interview conducted by the student paper in advance of that:
CT: What is your involvement with the show?
I’m currently a consultant. I go in every Wednesday, I fly in there – there’s nothing special about Wednesday, it runs like a factory and its always in production. Every Wednesday I just come in and sort of step onto the assembly line and help out. The show is written by 8-10 people sitting in a room just throwing out ideas and jokes. Every Wedneday I’m just one more guy who goes in to help it.
CT: Are you considered something of an elder statesmen around there because you were since the show’s inception?
Reiss: Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I feel like they’ll put in one of my jokes just because I’m an old man and not because its particularly funny. I’ll get embarrassed sometimes, like I’ll throw in a joke where I know its not that good and they’ll put it in. People are very nice to me, it’s just a nice job. I think people – it’s the rare show on tv where the average tenure there is about 10 or 12 years. People like it, we all get along on, we all respect each other.
I don’t have any direct experience with what does or does not make for a truly great television writing room, but that kind of polite comity doesn’t exactly scream “high standards”. The only other piece of interesting not-quite-news was about a possible movie sequel:
CT: If you do make another one do you think you’ll wait until the show has finished its run on TV?
Reiss: I think that’s the general plan, I think the day the show finally goes off the air, like a year later we’ll all going to miss it and I think then we’ll be a little more interested to do the movie.
I’d be fine with that. The first movie wasn’t very good, but FOX is going to do something with these characters after the show goes off the air, and another movie done without the background pressure of the ongoing series would be about the best we can hope for.
There’s more at the link. He talks about how it was easier back in Season 3 and 4 because, “we had all the tricks and all the architecture in place but the show was new, it wasn’t like we’d done 10,000 ideas like we have now where it’s hard to find things to write about”. But it was the part about the assembly line nature of the place letting in embarrassingly weak jokes that caught my attention.
“Hey, thanks everybody. You know, I’m here today as Luke Skywalker, but I’m also here to talk about Sprint. As you can see, you stand to save up to seventeen cents a month over the more dependable providers.” – Mark Hamill
“Ahh, talk about Star Wars!” – Data
Here’s your fun trivia fact of the day: Harry Shearer did voice work for the original Star Wars movie! He’s not sure who he was, but he did come in and record a few lines for them. I had never heard this before, and it’s not on his IMDb page, but confirmation comes from the man himself:
Image shamelessly yoinked from the link above.
In case you can’t get the image, blogger Drew Stewart asks Shearer:
I just heard a rumor that you dubbed 1 of the Imperial Officers in the original Star Wars. True?
Shearer says “Yes.”; Stewart then asks:
Did you also voice some Rebels? How did you get involved?
To which Shearer replied:
Not clear on what-all I did. Just some words on paper. They called me in, I did it, I left.
This all got started when Stewart saw a forum post on a Star Wars site and decided to run it down via Twitter. Well done. There’s some speculation at the link about which lines may have been his. None of their suggestions seem implausible, but I don’t think they’re exactly conclusive either (via).
[Programming Note: There’s no new Zombie Simpsons for two more weeks, and while I can usually fill in the gap well enough, things are likely to be sparse around here for at least this week. Hopefully I’ll come across more easy stuff like this. Maybe Dan Castellaneta was a background Klingon in Star Trek III or something.]
“She’s wonderful. I could feel her sweet country soul in every digitally encoded bit.” – Lisa Simpson
“Country music sucks. All it does is take precious airspace away from shock DJs whose cruelty and profanity amuse us all.” – Bart Simpson
“Shut up, boy.” – Homer Simpson
Happy 20th Anniversary to “Colonel Homer”! Original airdate 26 March 1992.
“Our license renewal is on the bubble. We need educational programming, fast.” – Channel 6 Executive
“What about that Mattel and Mars Bar Quick Energy Chocobot Hour?” – Krusty the Klown
“That’s barely legal as it is.” – Channel 6 Executive
“Look Scratchy, it’s our new friend, Poochie.” – Itchy
“What’s that name again? I forgot.” – Scratchy
Thanks to its relentless insistence on being both bland and repetitive, Zombie Simpsons manages to be incredibly forgettable despite its long run on television. Earlier in the week, I joked about “Them, Robot” swarming with magic robots, but I’d completely forgotten that they already did an episode swarming magic robots this season, “Replaceable You”. In case you also forgot (though not everyone did), that was the one where Bart and Martin build an army of robot seals who turn evil and then good again.
If Zombie Simpsons has a virtue, it is that it is easy to forget most of it, and this week we’ve got two links about exactly that, one with great imagery. In addition to that, we’ve got an excellent variety of fan made stuff in mediums as diverse as sand and yarn, an interview with Alf Clausen, some Lego ads, a YouTube video that makes me want to sit down, and several people who agree with us.
Noiseless Chatter Spotlight: “AWESOM-O,” South Park season 8, episode 5 (2004) – Smooth Charlie’s Link of the Week is this thorough look at the “AWESOM-O” episode of South Park, the process that created it, and how that stacks up against The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons. He makes one point in particular that I want to agree with:
If you think I’m going to bring up The Simpsons again as a point of comparison, you’re right. After all, there’s no better reference point for either of the two shows than each other, and whereas The Simpsons has been recycling plots and echoing itself in gradually deteriorating whispers for the sake of remaining familiar to whatever small audience still chooses to follow it, South Park has been ditching characters and ideas since season two, scrambling up core dynamics and introducing new regular characters in order to explore avenues that they previously couldn’t reach without stretching characters beyond their scope of believability.
South Park has benefitted tremendously from its ability to shift its format and focus between different characters. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but they aren’t stuck repeating things because they’re wedded to a specific template. The only thing I’d add is that they can do that because Parker and Stone have all the leverage vis-a-vis them and Comedy Central. That show is the two of them, including the bulk of the voices. On Zombie Simpsons, no one person has the ability to say “That sucked, we’ve got to try something new”. Even if Brooks, Jean and Groening all walked off the show, you know what would happen? FOX would keep making episodes with whoever stayed. On South Park, Parker and Stone have the kill switch; on Zombie Simpsons, FOX has it.
I highly recommend the whole thing.
Drinks’ On Simpsons – A nicely photo-documented project to create customized, homemade Simpsons coasters. If I had any furniture that needed coasters used, I would want those. They’re fantastic.
Homer Simpson Crochet Toy – Check out this amazing foot tall, fan made Homer doll. All the details are there, right down to the eyelids.
Watching 130 Episodes of “The Simpsons” Simultaneously – That guy who put up all the Itchy & Scratchy videos also did this:
Here’s what you’re watching:
-Top to bottom: each row shows a season (from season 1 to season 10)
-Left to right: each column shows an episode (from episode 1 to episode 13)
A total of 130 episodes is displayed, framerate is 25fps, thumbnails have been captured at 80x60px
That’s fun and all, and bonus points for no Zombie Simpsons, but I kind of feel like Chief Wiggum watching the monorail race around the city.
All Kids out of the Pool: The Best Adult Cartoons – A look at some adult animation going all the way back to 1943, with lots of YouTube. And it agrees with us:
The Simpsons is a classic cartoon, and it is extremely unlikely that anyone hasn’t heard of it. It has severely declined in quality since the first few seasons, and the jokes most people remember as hilarious are actually from the first few seasons.
In all the times I come across poor, moderate and excellent usage (not all of which I post about), it is amazing how infrequently people mention anything from Zombie Simpsons. Whether it’s someone writing a blog post about being pregnant or going on vacation, a reporter opening a story, or anything else, it feels like I see a hundred or more references to The Simpsons for every one I see for Zombie Simpsons. I don’t keep count or anything, but it’s overwhelming. Speaking of remembering jokes . . .
Simpsons then and now – This is from Springfield Springfield on Twitter (click to embiggen):
That image has been kicking around on-line for a while now, and obviously the right hand side is nothing but crappy celebrity appearances and desperate cries for attention like Marge kissing Lindsey Naegle. Here’s the second one (again, click to embiggen):
They called this one “Fixed”, and I agree. Unless you’re a particular fan of this or that celebrity or band, they’ve had so many people on as themselves now that they all just fade into one incoherent fog. I’m not sure who created the first one or fixed the second one, but if you want credit just let me know. Kudos to both.
National Treasure Director Jon Turteltaub, The Simpsons former Producer Jay Kogen, and New York Times Bestselling Author of Midwives Chris Bohjalian, and Pulitzer Prize winning author James B. Stewart are among the headliners for the SCCE’s 11th Annual Co – As you can tell from this monstrous (yet cutoff) headline, Jay Kogen will be speaking to a group called SCCE, which stands for the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics. The conference isn’t until October, and there’s no real news here, I just thought it was amusing that they put “Compliance” ahead of “Ethics”.
Santa Cruz X The Simpsons 500th Episode Slasher Deck – An eyes-out, wheels-off Bart skateboard design.
¡Ay Caramba! Interview with “The Simpsons” composer Alf Clausen – There’s not a lot of new information in here, but Alf seems like he’s having a good time, and this is cool as hell:
At the 500th session, you took time to make special mention of some musicians with whom you’ve worked for decades. In what other capacities have you worked together?
“Trombonist Bob Payne, trumpet player Gary Grant and recently retired percussionist Jules Greenberg were all part of my ‘Donny & Marie Show’ band in 1976. They have been an integral part of every show I’ve recorded since then. Many other members of my ‘Simpsons’ orchestra have worked for me for over 25 years.”
250. Lego Imagination – Much was made this week about these new Lego ads that are minimalist renditions of famous cartoon characters. Here they are all scrunched together.
Writers for "The Simpsons," "M*A*S*H" among panelists for Aspen Shortsfest – Mike Reiss will be judging a short film festival that runs April 10th-15th in Colorado.
Deciphering opposition to health care reform – Excellent usage:
One of my all-time favorite episodes of "The Simpsons" was aired way back in 1992. It was called "Homer the Heretic," and towards the end of the episode, there’s a serious fire in the Simpsons’ home.
After everyone is safe and the fire is put out, an insurance agent asks Homer, "Any valuables in the house?" He replied, "Well, the Picasso, my collection of classic cars…"
The agent replies, "Sorry, this policy only covers actual losses, not made-up stuff."
“Well that’s just great.”
100 Best Comedy Characters Currently On Television (40-31) – Continuing the list from last week, here we have Flanders checking in at #40.
I’m suddenly having flashes of the network executive from the “Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie” episode of The Simpsons: “We at the network want a dog with attitude. He’s edgy, he’s ‘in your face.’ You’ve heard the expression, ‘let’s get busy’? Well, this is a dog who gets ‘biz-zay!’ Consistently and thoroughly.”
I’m beginning to think Michael Bay is the greatest troll in the history of the internet (at least the pop culture part of it). There’s an alternate universe where he’s the assistant manager of a surf shop who spends most of his time posting inane comments on blogs and message boards.
Jason Reitman to stage The Big Lebowski – They’re doing a live reading of The Big Lebowski, which is challenging because there are a ton of small, one or two scene characters. Enter Azaria:
Luckily, three actors known for their diverse voices have signed on to ensure that worries about the size of the cast don’t drag any negative energy into this tournament.
From the Jesus to pornographer Jackie Treehorn to the irate neighbor who “kills” the Dude’s car, most of the small-but-memorable roles will be handled by a versatile trio. Nick Kroll and Patton Oswalt, two veterans of the live-reads, will be joined by The Simpsons’ Hank Azaria to “cover the field” of different characters in The Big Lebowski, Reitman says. “There will be a moment when the three nihilist will be played by Patton, Nick, and Hank, and we’ll be getting each of their German accents,” he laughs.
I mean, say what you want about the tenets of Zombie Simpsons, Dude, at least its an ethos.
Muppets return to the big screen with family fun, laughs – The Clarksdale Press Register is one of those self defeating local papers that requires a subscription to read it; fortunately, the excellent usage is right in the first sentence:
When asked what a “Muppet” was, Homer Simpson once said, “Well, it’s not quite a mop and it’s not quite a puppet, but maaaaan! (laughs) So to answer your question, I don’t know.”
Custom of the Week: Ralph – Last week we had some ponies redone as the Simpsons clan. Here’s one of Ralph Wiggum.
Cool Party Trick – Animated .gif of that Irish bartender from “Pygmoelian”.
Scooby Doo Fan Art # 3 (Mash-Ups) – Drawings of the Scooby Doo gang in other franchises, including Simpsons. The Ghostbusters and Ghost World ones are particularly good.
Handheld Classics: Bart Simpson’s Escape From Camp Deadly – A review of a Gameboy game I had completely forgotten about.
Eat More Bikes: Post Apocalyptic Bart Simpson. – A four pane comic. I chuckled.
17 reasons to feel proud today – A St. Patrick’s Day list for Irish pride messes up this quote slightly:
The place of Ireland’s national day in popular culture was neatly summed up by that great sage Homer Simpson: "It’s been St Patrick’s Day for hours, and I’m not drunk yet."
It’s actually “I’m still not drunk yet”, but that’s close enough for excellent usage.
Canada News, Commentary, Analysis, Blogs – Excellent YouTube usage about the amount of food that gets thrown away every year.
FORTUNE – "Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. Fourteen percent of people know that." – Homer Simpson
… He’s Real! – Herschel, pie is for noshing, not for throwing.
Inside The Simpsons’ "Life on the Fast Lane" – Splitsider apparently now has a regular feature where they watch old commentaries. Huh.
Need a Hangover Cure? Try Itchy and Scratchy! – Another link to that huge YouTube video of Itchy & Scratchy from last week contains this nice piece of Zombie Simpsons snark:
P.S. If you’re not a fan of The Simpsons in their halcyon salad days of consistent greatness, (roughly Seasons 1-10, before a team of writers who sound like snooty grad students fresh out of college started working for the show) then I’m not sure we can stay friends.
Simpsons: Them Robots, Them Robots – We weren’t the only ones who didn’t like last week’s episode of Zombie Simpsons either:
At this point, I wonder if the current writers have seen the previous seasons of the show. Maybe it should be required viewing so that they can be reminded of how great things used to be and what our expectations are, instead of just trotting out the same ideas in lesser forms. But clearly that is expecting too much.
Dylan Plays The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Dies Inside – And finally, I get to end with someone who agrees with us, and does so in an enjoyably harsh review of that new game:
Long ago, the show had stripped away the humanity of everybody living in Springfield, and The Simpsons: Tapped Out is just another reflection of this trend. The show’s not going anywhere soon, and if the success of the app is any indication, neither is Tapped Out. The characters no longer feel human; they feel like work mules. In the show, they’re plodding through the same tired storylines (oh, the Simpsons are being kicked out of Springfield again?) with none of the same heart. In the game, it doesn’t matter that Milhouse spends his entire day flying the same model airplane in four hour intervals, or that Krusty spends eight hours “Inflating His Own Importance.”
These characters are happy to recycle the same actions again and again without question. Maybe utilizing these things for their money-producing powers is for the best. I have nine levels until I reach level twenty, and these pretend friends won’t impress themselves.
Just Don’t Forget, Citizens of Springfield: You’re Here Forever.
Got that right.
“Well, that’s the miracle of the franchise. You get all the equipment and know-how you need, plus a familiar brand name people trust. You’ll be on a rocket ride to the Moon! And while you’re there, would you pick up some of that nice, green moon money for me, Royce McCutcheon?” – Royce McCutcheon
“No deal, McCutcheon! That moon money is mine!” – Homer Simpson
“Wow, this is so much like my dreams, it’s scary.” – Bart Simpson
The robot apocalypse has been a staple of fiction literally since “robots” were first imagined. According to Wikipedia, the word “robot” was first coined for a Czech play about robots who, you guessed it, rise up and defeat us squishy humans. (Apparently, it’s a translation of the Czech word for “slave”. I learned something today.) That idea has been the foundation for who knows how many works of fiction, and has so thoroughly penetrated mainstream culture that making jokes about it is more or less obligatory every time some new advance in actual electronics is announced.
Most stories about robot uprisings occur in the realm of science fiction for the obvious reason that, as Linda Hamilton so eloquently put it back in 1984, “They cannot make things like that yet.”. Indeed, they cannot. This presents a problem for shows like The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons, which have contemporary settings but still want to have some fun at the expense of our would be overlords.
Since this is fiction (and animated fiction at that), no problem is really insoluble. Whether you’re broadcasting in 1994 or 2012, if you want to have rebelling robots, you can have rebelling robots. The important question is how you go about it. You can work the robots into the larger framework of the episode, making them and their characteristics part of the setting and satire. Or you can just conjure them out of nowhere, strip them of all characteristics save the most grossly basic outline of a “robot”, and have them traipse around with no discernable rhyme or reason. The former is what The Simpsons did in “Itchy & Scratchy Land”, the latter is a roughly accurate description of whatever the hell it was Zombie Simpsons did in “Them, Robot”.
The Simpsons always had its share of improbable plots, but murderous robots was pretty far out there, even by their standards. Consequently, the episode is very deliberate about how it introduces the concept that will eventually be crucial to its ending. The first act is all about the family going on vacation, and doing so in very familiar terms: marketing gets kids to pester their parents, the parents eventually cave, and there’s a long and not terribly pleasant car ride. All of it is given that specially ludicrous Simpsons touch (Homer having a trunk full of fruits and vegetables, AM radio’s love of “signs of evil”, the shortcut), but there’s nothing that isn’t relatable to anyone who’s ever spent slow hours in the front or back seat on a family road trip.
The turn comes right before the first commercial break, when they go from the Itchy Lot to a helicopter that has a Jurassic Park style logo on the side and a pilot who confidently informs them that nothing can “possi-ply” go wrong as the Simpsons nervously glance at one another. It’s an obvious allusion to a massively popular science fiction movie, and the last shot before the ads is a rather terrifying looking island. Those last few scenes not only foreshadow the rest of the episode, they also subtly prepare the audience for the kind of events that are more often found in big budget science fiction.
I think Dr. Wily might be in there somewhere.
As an amusement park, Itchy & Scratchy Land is another great example of the way the show parodied ideas rather than brands. There’s plenty of Disney in the place (and Homer saying that he “kicked a giant mouse in the butt” remains a great dig), but it’s also mocking amusement parks more generally and the way that they have a narrowly controlled idea of what fun is. Disney World, Universal Studios and the like bill themselves has happy places, but underneath the gaudy surface are miserable employees, command systems that make them more like police states than parks, and a never ending hustle to make sure that there is no money left in your pocket when you leave the place. Anybody who has ever been to one can easily recognize all of these things, which makes suspension of disbelief about animatronic robots (another well known amusement park staple) that can walk upright and brutally attack each other that much easier.
When the audience is first introduced to the robots as part of a typical amusement park parade, we’re already primed to accept them as part of a recognizable (albeit exaggerated) landscape. And the show doesn’t waste any time either. Right in that first scene, we learn everything we need to about the robots: they’re armed, they don’t react well to flash photography, and they are programmed only to attack each other. These three characteristics remain constant throughout the episode, so when the revolt comes and they override their safety features (part of the ongoing Jurassic Park theme), no further explanation or exposition is necessary. The rules of this strange but familiar place have already been laid down, and the ending works within them.
You can draw a straight line from those first hints of danger right through to the end. As the story progresses, additional elements are seamlessly picked up so that when it does come time for a robot to go after Homer with an ax, there are no questions in the audience’s mind about why the robot is attacking or why it has an ax. The whole thing is so well constructed that they can actually have Homer make an exposition joke (“What are you, the narrator?”) without even slowing things down.
To compare with that intricate and comprehensive build up, Zombie Simpsons has some generic robots from somewhere, a power drill, and nothing else. The robots simply appear from behind a curtain with no reason or explanation given for how they came to be or how they got there. For the better part of the episode they stand idly by while Homer kills them in rather gruesome ways, forces them to play baseball, kills some more of them, and then sets a big pile of their twisted remains on fire. During all this, the robots alternate between being super strong and being incredibly fragile. The effect of all those manic actions, unannounced changes, and empty carnage not only undermines each scene, but the story as a whole.
For most of the episode, Homer’s been able to destroy individual robots with little more than a hard shove. The very first one he kills simply collapses to the ground after he bumped into it. Then he sticks a power drill into their heads and all of a sudden not only have their hands changed shape, but they’ve become frightfully capable of violence, including breaking through doors and windows and swatting away guard dogs with ease. The episode proceeds as though they are now all but invincible killing machines . . .
. . . right up until . . .
. . . they’re easily defeated by things which they would’ve torn through in the previous scene. The rampage ends just two minutes after it began by abruptly changing – yet again – the nature and capabilities of the robots.
Zombie Simpsons is no stranger to weak, illogical, or outright non-existent plots, of course. But it hurts them worse than usual in this context because the entire plot, as opposed to a scene or two, is predicated on something so strange and unbelievable that it kills any kind of flow or humor. All they’re left with is cheap silliness like corn dogs and squeegees. There’s nothing wrong with silliness, of course, but Homer didn’t defeat the robots when he threw his underwear at them.
The Simpsons pulled off their robot apocalypse because they treated it carefully, building up to what would’ve been head-exploding, laugh-killing nonsense had they introduced it earlier. Zombie Simpsons dove head first into that nonsense and never came up.
“We’re prepared to offer you an impressive salary, plus health benefits for you and your life partner.” – Globex Executive
“The answer is no! What’s wrong with this country? Can’t a man walk down the street without being offered a job?” – Mr. Smithers
“Crush, kill, destroy.” – 100% Loyal Robot Workers
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 (especially on “poisoning”).
Zombie Simpsons makes no secret about the way the front of the episode is often completely unrelated to the rest of it. (It’s the sort of thing they’ll nervously joke about on commentaries.) Things often take rather severe turns at or around the first commercial break, usually because the opening is more of a self contained sketch than setup for the rest of the plot. For the most part I’ve grown numb to that, but “Them, Robot” took this to a new level of story indifference.
The opening of the episode is Homer on an alcohol free weekend because the plant is having a drug test on Monday. When the drug test finally got around to happening, after Jerkass Homer went to a nice restaurant and spat in other people’s food (naturally, they applauded), I thought that was going to be the reason Burns used to fire all the employees. After all, if every employee flunks the drug test, why not hire robot workers? Zombie Simpsons being Zombie Simpsons, they didn’t do that. Instead they had a guy we don’t know suffer from radiation poisoning and die, a plot element that wasn’t mentioned again, and which had nothing to do with the finale when Burns rehires all his old workers.
That kind of rank plotting isn’t unusual for them. (And, as you can see above, The Simpsons managed to do this whole story better in three words, two scenes, and ten seconds.) But in this instance they had a simple way to make the story (such as it was) kinda work, and they still didn’t do it. From my humble vantage point at the receiving end of the chattering cyclops, I have no idea how they manage to produce episodes this consistently sloppy. But things like this do make one wonder if they don’t need to put some caffeine in the water cooler down there at 1 Zombie Simpsons Plaza.
Mike: So Charlie, you wanna kick off, or what?
However you normally do this.
Charlie Sweatpants: I’m ready to get started if you two are.
Mike: Yeah, I’m ready.
Charlie Sweatpants: Okay then, anyone want an opening tirade?
Lenny: The worst part for me was the brunch scene.
Mike: Wait, before we get to the episode
Can someone explain to me what the point of that couch gag was
Charlie Sweatpants: More self congratulation, I think.
Lenny: That’s what I thought. I felt like you should either try to be political or make it all about you, but both? It was weird.
Charlie Sweatpants: Might have just been a leftover idea from the 500th episode.
Mike: It was political "commentary" with a random Simpsons timeline thrown in.
Mike: With appearances of such classic characters as Lisa’s dance instructor and that weirdo Willy Wonka guy who sold Bart’s T-shirts
And it was only every other year for some reason.
It kind of set the stage right there that the writers seem to not give a shit anymore if things make sense.
Charlie Sweatpants: I just assume that, these days.
The brunch scene being a case in point. That was Jerkass Homer to a T.
And yet everyone else there treated him like he was normal or something.
Lenny: Everyone besides Homer was just completely vacant.
Marge and Lisa apparently just sat there while he ordered and drank six mimosas?
Mike: Yeah. Patty and Selma just sat there, no commentary at all.
Lenny: Patty and Selma not saying anything is annoying enough in of itself, but it’s especially terrible when you consider that them being their usual selves would be an organic way to drive Homer to drinking.
Charlie Sweatpants: It went beyond them as well. All those other people, staff and customers, actually applauded him.
Mike: Exactly. They could have built a little bit of tension, but instead stuck to dumb jokes.
Lenny: And Marge just sat there when Homer drank either five or six mimosas (the animation wasn’t consistent), but then suddenly she has the all-knowing power to tell that coffee has alcohol in it just from glancing at it.
Charlie Sweatpants: I’d say they were more antics than jokes, but I may be splitting hairs.
Mike: Yeah, jokes imply there’s humor present.
Charlie Sweatpants: And then they ran that into the ground by repeating just about anything that involves alcohol, more or less as a list.
Lenny: Yeah, I don’t know if let’s-see-how-many-things-with-alcohol-in-them-we-can-name quite counts as a joke.
Charlie Sweatpants: Right. There wasn’t so much as a comment about how all these brunch foods have booze in them.
Mike: But let’s go bigger picture here: apparently this is a science fiction universe where there are these hyper sophisticated robots.
That Burns bought from God knows where.
Charlie Sweatpants: That would be the episode’s Achilles everything, all right.
Mike: That and for some reason it spring boarded to the entire town being unemployed.
I thought I spaced out and missed a few scenes.
Does everyone in Springfield work at the nuclear plant?
Charlie Sweatpants: Just to make things consistently annoying, the episode can’t even be consistent about what the robots can and can’t do. They go from tough to fall apart in no time flat.
Lenny: That was annoying because even throwing in a quick line from Smithers like "one solution that’s very popular" would give you some warning that this would affect more than just the plant.
Mike: There was absolutely no connection between the robots and the unemployment.
Charlie Sweatpants: It’s like they’re trying to do both too much and not enough at the same time. The town falling apart because of robot workers is a rather big story, but it barely rates more than a couple of scenes, probably less screen time than Homer playing baseball with the robots.
Mike: Well that was a laugh riot.
Especially when all those robots got hit by traffic.
Charlie Sweatpants: That just kept going.
Mike: There’s just so much padding… That, the loud "D’oh," and the endless "working hard or hardly working"
Which features Homer at his loudest and most obnoxious.
And getting hurt.
A veritable Jerkass trifecta
Charlie Sweatpants: Indeed.
Lenny: Another moment that stuck out to me as being particularly bad was Homer slicing his head, because it was simultaneously too violent and not violent enough.
Him actually getting his head sliced open seems like overkill, but then the fact that there’s no blood or even a noticeable scratch afterwards made it absurdly tame.
Charlie Sweatpants: Good way of putting it. He had a pretty big chunk missing, but there was no blood, nothing. It was just off-putting.
Lenny: Same with him getting part of his mouth ripped out by the paperclip.
Mike: I forgot about that.
Holy shit, man.
Charlie Sweatpants: Of course, the robots’ buzzsaw hands disappeared shortly thereafter, so who knows?
Speaking of that paperclip scene, Homer can apparently turn off power to the city while asleep now. It’s yet another thing that’s been done before (Colonel Homer) that has no impact here because of how poorly it’s done.
Mike: And it’s treated as a goof by Marge and Lisa.
Lenny: This episode had a lot of admitting that Homer’s the only person in the universe who matters. The power’s out so Marge knows it’s him, the robots who are programmed to preserve life endanger drivers to save Homer, etc.
Everyone besides Homer is a prop in this universe.
Mike: Yeah, right.
If it had been treated with some severity, it could have springboarded to Burns wanting to eradicate human incompetence by getting the robots.
Lenny: That would make a lot more sense than "the federal government considers alcohol a drug."
Mike: I mean, Smithers could have taken the only human position.
Charlie Sweatpants: Or the fact that the drug test itself was dropped like a hot potato. The actual reason Burns hired the robots was because the random guy got radiation poisoning.
Mike: So Homer’s sobriety meant nothing.
Just more filler.
Great jokes like Homer reading the voter’s guide and Gil getting killed.
Charlie Sweatpants: Right. Same with Homer’s attempts to bond with the robots. It’s all filler because the only thing they know how to do is wind up Homer and let him loose to act like an asshole.
Mike: I just really don’t understand where there were going with a lot of this stuff.
Homer befriends the robots, but why?
Charlie Sweatpants: I would be curious to read the first draft of one of these scripts some time. Did it make sense once upon a time and all that got stripped out in favor of Luigi standing there with pizza boxes, or was it always this messy?
I honestly have no idea.
Mike: I have no clue.
I just need to reiterate: there was NO connection between the robots and the town becoming unemployed.
There has to be a version of this episode where there was.
Lenny: Yeah, I mean, they highlighted unemployment with…Barney? Like him being underemployed is this big shift?
Mike: Here, it makes no sense.
Also, his voice sounded off. His and a few others.
Lenny: That might be why Patty and Selma didn’t have any lines, actually.
Mike: I haven’t watched new episodes in a few years, is this common?
Charlie Sweatpants: I thought Kavner was having a really hard time with Marge in this one.
Mike: Burns was off at a few points. Smithers sounded fine.
Charlie Sweatpants: And yeah, I’ve long suspected that we see much less of Patty and Selma (and nothing of their mother) because she just can’t do that rasp any longer.
Mike: Speaking of Burns, I guess it’s a joke that he’s reading Tina Fey’s book.
Lenny: The Tina Fey book and the fact that they made their third or fourth Angry Birds joke made me feel like they’re just desperate to be cool.
Mike: You really think that’s it? A desperate attempt to seem relevant and modern after all these years?
Charlie Sweatpants: I’d say it’s more of a reference than a joke. For it to be a joke they’d have needed to make up something that was like Bossypants but not actually it.
Lenny: Maybe I’m misreading it, but stuff like that always makes me feel like my high school teacher is trying to prove he’s still with it or something.
Charlie Sweatpants: That’s definitely the feeling I get.
It was like that Chris Christie thing a few months ago, they try to stay relevant by putting in things that can be done late in the process. The book title could’ve been anything.
Mike: Yeah. It’s just Insert Reference Here.
Charlie Sweatpants: Precisely.
Though even then they screw things up. They made a joke about Rudy not being that inspiring a story, but failed to note that he got convicted of bilking investors in a stock scam.
Mike: Then we end with Burns and Homer teaming up against the robots, for some reason, and the townspeople miraculously being there to save the day.
Lenny: After the robots somehow know where Mr. Burns lives and go straight there because Homer messed with them using a screwdriver.
Mike: Well they followed Homer, to be fair.
Lenny: Oh, guess I missed it.
Charlie Sweatpants: But why did he go there?
Did he know he’d be able to get in?
Mike: Because he bought the robots.
I guess he thought it was his only option.
I won’t gripe that point, it was one of the few things here that made sense.
But Burns would absolutely not let him in.
Charlie Sweatpants: I know I mentioned this above, but the ending was another place where they really expect you to not remember anything from even just a minute or two before. The robots were ultra-deadly, and then all of a sudden, they had no buzzsaw hands and were easily defeated by basically unarmed people.
Lenny: And it drove me crazy that Homer assumed he’d be able to reprogram sophisticated robots by shoving a screw into them and it somehow worked.
And Mr. Burns then learned he needs human employees even though his only human employee was the one who screwed everything up.
Charlie Sweatpants: To be fair, this is like the fourth time they’ve shown Homer tinker with robots since about Season 12.
None of those made sense either, but they are being consistent.
Lenny: I just remember "See all that stuff in there? That’s why your robot never worked."
Mike: Linguo, the battle bots one…
Charlie Sweatpants: Wasn’t there one he threw out of his garage half built, as well?
They kinda blur together.
Mike: Oh yeah, right.
Lenny: Well, obviously I am out of my element after season 8. That is weird.
Charlie Sweatpants: But Lenny’s right, Burns had no real motivation to hire everyone back except that it was the end of the episode.
Lenny: And because they beat the scary robots with corn dogs, which is impressive.
Mike: Yeah. Those robots are total weaksauce, man.
Charlie Sweatpants: And about half of their lines were pointless exposition that even Cmdr. Data himself couldn’t sell.
I mean they actually had him say, “Our programming restricts our movement to yellow guidance lines”. They had half a dozen chances to show us that, then they told it to us instead, then they ignored it for the rest of the episode.
Mike: They ignored it immediately when they showed Homer painting the baseball diamond, then we immediately see robots standing off the line.
Lenny: I guess the animators did their best with a script that called for completely contradictory visuals.
Mike: I suppose.
Charlie Sweatpants: They stick the animators with a lot of impossible tasks.
Mike: Poor bastards.
Wishing they worked for Bob’s Burgers instead.
Charlie Sweatpants: It’s not their fault the script called for Homer to pick up Mr. Burns and swing him around for a second before putting him back down like nothing happened.
Lenny: Or called for Luigi to use pizza boxes like a flip book.
I hated the scene where Mr. Burns uses the robot as a foot rest because I thought I knew where it was going and then not only did they not do what I thought, they didn’t really do anything.
Charlie Sweatpants: And it took them a long time to not do it, as well.
Mike: What did you expect?
Lenny: I thought it would be about Smithers being like "I could do that!" and being way too giddy about being Burns’s foot rest, leaving them both uncomfortable.
Mike: Oh, I see.
Lenny: Which would at least be a joke based on character instead of…visual gags seems too strong, but visuals, I guess.
Mike: Harry Shearer making orgasm noises. That would have at least been interesting.
Lenny: Haha. And would have been a better and more subtle sex joke than Barney holding that hat up, which they thought was way funnier than it was.
Charlie Sweatpants: Forgot about that. Guh.
Mike: Forgot that too. In front of children, no less.
Let me just ask, was there anything about the episode you all liked?
Lenny: I thought some of the robots’ material was okay.
Charlie Sweatpants: I did like Spiner’s delivery on "We do vent nitrogen once a year. You do not want to be around for that."
Mike: I think I smirked at the Rudy line, but that’s it.
Lenny: Yup, those are the two that got me.
Mike: Like, honestly, I was stunned at how poor this episode was.
I’ve seen maybe four episodes in the last three years.
The last being that Xmas show from this season, since everyone was jizzing their pants over it.
At least on No Homers
Lenny: Ah, I’ve seen everything this season and I think I would put this towards the top. The Christmas one is definitely at the top for me, being a solid 4/10.
Mike: But man, I’m dumbstruck.
I’m not even trying to be funny, are they always this bad, Charlie?
How would you rank this with the rest of the season
Charlie Sweatpants: This was par for the course, yeah.
Lenny: I thought the last two we’ve had were worse.
Charlie Sweatpants: Honestly, I’m consistently amazed people can differentiate these that much. There are notably worse things here or there, but was this overall any less nuts than the magic bar rag, or Lisa’s overnight social network? Or Homer becoming a famous talk show host and political power broker? None of them make sense.
Mike: Yeah, that’s the overriding feel I got.
Nothing made sense.
No overarching theme, no consistent character stuff, no emotional arc
Just a bunch of random shit that sort of related to each other. Sometimes.
Lenny: For me there’s just a slight difference between the ones that I can’t stand while I’m watching them and the ones that I’m able to stomach and then upon reflection I realize how bad they are and I’d put this in the latter category, which puts it towards the top of this season.
Charlie Sweatpants: Low bar, huh?
Lenny: Oh yeah.
Mike: Those are some standards.
Lenny: For instance, this one didn’t have a scene where Homer tried to have sex with Marge while wearing a diaper, even though everyone in the history of adult diapers has realized there’s a pretty simple system of have sex, then put on a diaper, then go to sleep. Low points like that are what make the difference for me.
Mike: …I don’t even want to know what that’s about.
Lenny: It was terrible.
Charlie Sweatpants: Last week. And yeah, don’t bother.
Mike: But in summation, I can at least say this episode makes me appreciate season 9 a hell of a lot more.
I was bumming a little bit rewatching the season, but this…
Lenny: That’s exactly how I feel about looking back on 9 and 10.
Mike: My goodness.
We could only be so lucky to get that quality again.
At least they told stories. And had humor.
Charlie Sweatpants: I had the same experience with Season 10 last summer. Season 10 is unbelievably good compared to these. Plenty of them suck, but there’s still some heart, logic and good ideas, even if they don’t work.
This is just a bunch of random crap that hardly seems to have had any thought put into it.
Mike: So anything else to be said about this pile? I have to go pour bleach on my mind after visualizing Homer having sex in a diaper.
Lenny: Yeah, you’re lucky you didn’t get the actual visual from the episode. I think that’s all I got for this one.
Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think we’re going to get lower than giant diaper.
Let me just say thanks to both of you for joining me this week.
Lenny: Thanks for the invite!
Mike: Wait, let’s end on a positive note.
With Barney in a diaper on the street.
A man of quiet dignity.
Charlie Sweatpants: He knows you can hear him!
Lenny: That is fine hardcore nudity.
“And how are the little kids doing? I mean, really how are they doing? Any disabling injuries, something, say, that the gambling community might not yet know about? C’mere, let me see those knees.” – Moe
“Moe, I think you should leave.” – Marge Simpson
“But Blanche, you gotta help me out here, please! I’m sixty-four grand in the hole! They’re gonna take my thumbs!” – Moe
“I suggest you leave immediately.” – C.M. Burns
“Or what? You’ll release the dogs, or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you? Well, go ahead. Do your worst! . . . He locked the door!” – Homer Simpson
Zombie Simpsons frequently repeats things from The Simpsons, but every once and a while they come up with a perfect confluence of failure, where all of the show’s many flaws combine into a single, memorable scene. The most recent one I can think of came last year, when they tossed Milhouse off a cliff to have a giant magic eagle save him so they could have him repeat, word for word, his declaration from “Mom and Pop Art”. Yesterday, Zombie Simpsons put together another one, as it managed to bungle Burns releasing the hounds.
We’ve seen lots of people come to the doors of Burns Manor over the years, and just as many have turned right around and fled to avoid becoming dog food. Burns does not like other people, and he hates dealing with them so much that he trains his dogs to attack Girl Scouts. He’s released the hounds on do gooders, on small children, and even on his own employees after the company picnic. It’s a perfect character trait for him because it is every inch of his contempt and cruelty wrapped up into one casual gesture he orders without a second thought.
Near the monotonously boring end of “Them, Robot”, Homer runs to Burns Manor while being chased by killer robots. Burns opens the door without even looking, he then tries – and fails – to release the hounds before having them turn on him instead. Then, against everything Burns used to stand for, he helps Homer escape. Now, this isn’t the first time they’ve made Burns incompetent and kind. But it is the first time they’ve had him fail so utterly at what was once one of his signature moves.
On top of that, and this goes almost without saying, none of the story that led Homer, the killer robots, or the unemployed people who eventually save the day to his door made any sense. Burns hires all these robot workers, and then ignores them while Homer runs amok, and none of the workers would know to go help there. And let’s not even get started on the extended segments of town wide destruction and robot car crashes.
I did actually laugh out loud at the robot fart joke, which is the first time Zombie Simpsons has gotten that out of me in a long while. Of course, I’m a long time fan of robot fart jokes, dating back at least to that Futurama episode where Bender and the rest of the robots save the Earth by “venting”. Other than that, this episode can rot in a burning pile of corpses . . . oh, wait. They did that too, didn’t they?
Anyway, the numbers are in and they continue to be humiliatingly low. Last night’s remarkably dull apocalypse was mechanically endured by just 5.24 million viewers. That’s up slightly from last week, but still good for tenth on the all time least watched list. There have been eight new episodes of Zombie Simpsons since New Year’s, six of them are among the ten least watched ever. Yes, Zombie Simpsons has more lucrative demographics than most shows so lowly rated, and yes those are overnight numbers, not the ones that include a couple of days of DVR viewers. But there’s no escaping the fact that Season 23 is notably lower than any previous year.
I’ll do a more detailed analysis after the season finale, but for now just know that from Season 20 through Season 22, Zombie Simpsons was on a ratings plateau, averaging slightly above 7 million viewers per episode, and only declining a little from year to year. Season 23 is currently just above 6.5 million per episode; and unless it scores some unusually big numbers in the next few episodes, it’s going to end up well below that for the season.