19
Apr
12

Compare & Contrast: March-April Romances

New Kid on the Block14

“She’s beautiful.  Say something clever!” – Bart’s Brain
“I fell on my bottom.” – Bart Simpson
D’oh!” – Bart’s Brain

There are a lot problems with “Beware My Cheating Bart”.  For starters, it’s kinda sexist and disturbing.  Beyond that, it’s further evidence that Zombie Simpsons has turned its kid characters into empty, anti-human nobodies.  And, of course, it manages to lack any kind of story coherence while doing all those things.  What makes it all more glaring than usual is the way “Beware My Cheating Bart” so closely follows the plot, structure, and even jokes of the boundlessly superior “New Kid on the Block”.

One of the most handy things anyone ever told me about sexism was that the easiest way to gauge how sexist something is or isn’t was by reversing the gender roles and seeing how weird or fucked up it would seem.  Applying that little rubric, “Beware My Cheating Bart” fails miserably compared to “New Kid on the Block”.  In the latter, it would mean a ten-year-old girl developing a crush on the fourteen(ish)-year-old boy next door, showing him that his girlfriend was bad news, and then ending with them bonding as friends by making a prank call.  A little unusual, maybe, but certainly not creepy.  In Zombie Simpsons, it would mean a fourteen(ish)-year-old boy flashing a ten-year-old girl, then making out with her repeatedly, hanging around with her in little kid pizza joints, and running about town late at night.  That is creepy, no two ways about it, and that means you might not want to be doing it at all.

Felonious

Uh . . . yeah, please don’t do that again.

Leaving that unpleasantness behind us forever, the best way to shake off the weirdness of having a character the episode identifies as a “total pre-puber” getting hot and heavy in the privacy of the principal’s office is to remember that it’s been a long time since Bart was anything like a normal kid, and the same goes for Jimbo and everyone else in this episode.  Just in that first scene in the movie theater, we get sitcom-tastic clunkers like this:

Dolph: We’re gonna to be checking out a delightful Hong Kong horror remake known as ‘Crawlspace’, based on Paxing Kongjian.

And this:

Jimbo: Shauna, food for thought, if we don’t watch movies about torture in crawlspaces, how will we know what to do if someone puts us in a torture crawlspace?
Kearney: Not if, when.
Shauna: Nah.  I’m gonna go see one of those Jennifer Aniston movies where she rolls her eyes on the poster.

This kind of stilted, formulaic dialogue is hacktacular on a couple of levels.  First of all, what little humor they’re trying to wring out of these fake movies dissolves away when you have your characters basically explain the jokes as they’re saying them, not to mention the movie posters behind them that do the same thing.

We'd Better Make Super Sure the Audience Gets These

Ha!  That’s what s/he just said.  I get it now!  I get jokes. 

More importantly, nobody talks like this except comedy writers.  None of the characters here act like actual characters, instead they’re little more than animated loudspeakers.  The things they’re saying don’t work in the context of where or who they are; they only make sense if you’re sitting in a room with a bunch of people constantly hurling punchlines at one another.  Zombie Simpsons may not have a laughtrack, but it’d be awfully easy to insert canned laughter into that.  Observe:

Jimbo: Shauna, food for thought, if we don’t watch movies about torture in crawlspaces, how will we know what to do if someone puts us in a torture crawlspace?
[Short laugh]
Kearney: Not if, when.
[Longer laugh]
Shauna: Nah.  I’m gonna go see one of those Jennifer Aniston movies where she rolls her eyes on the poster.
[Long laugh, with subtle amounts of “ooh”]

Each line is its own self contained piece of cheap fluff, and there’s hardly any interaction between them.  Now, consider the first time we see some of the same characters in “New Kid on the Block”.  Bart and Laura are sitting on the curb in front of Laura’s new house while their moms are inside talking.  They don’t spit ungainly cultural references back and forth, instead they actually get to know each other as Bart tries out his little pranks and Laura impresses him by already knowing them.

Similarly, when Dolph and Kearney walk by, they don’t immediately crack some joke that’s intended for the audience instead of the other people who are supposedly right in front of them.  They speak like there really is a girl sitting there, with Kearney trying one of those hideous pick up lines that only seem like good ideas to very naive teenage boys:

Kearney: Hey, baby, how ’bout putting your finger in my ear.
Laura: Well, I don’t know, your boyfriend looks like the jealous type.
Kearney: Hey, what the?
Dolph: That chick’s messing with our minds.
Kearney: Let’s get out of here!

Each line leads directly and necessarily into the next, so not only is this funnier, but it also works naturally with who these characters are and what each of them is trying to do.  Laura continues to demonstrate how cool she is by effortlessly annihilating Kearney’s hapless pass at her, while Kearney and Dolph fail, panic and flee from a girl who’s clearly smarter and tougher than they are.  On top of all that, the audience sees Bart’s crush on Laura deepen after he watches her defeat his tormentors.

New Kid on the Block12

Sigh.  She’s dreamy. 

This sort of thing can be seen throughout both episodes.  In “New Kid on the Block”, Bart and Laura both act like kids their age.  Laura babysits, plays video games at the Kwik-E-Mart, and completely overlooks Bart’s puppy love because she has no reason to notice it.  Meanwhile, Bart falls head over heels, but has no idea how to go about it (in no small part because Homer gets drunk while failing to explain the facts of life to him).  The jokes and humor (Two Guys from Kabul, Escape from Death Row) are inserted into natural interactions for two kids like them to have.

In “Beware My Cheating Bart”, the opposite happens.  What jokes there are get blasted into weird situations, while Bart, Shauna, Jimbo, Lisa and everyone else act like dating weary adults.  They give each other sophisticated relationship advice, know every cliche, and generally act like the same kind of one dimensional characters you’ll find in those eye rolling Jennifer Aniston movies.  They couldn’t be less like real kids if they were played by hard bodied, thirty-something movie stars:

Shauna: I want to find out who I am.  And that’s something only an inappropriately older man can tell me.
Bart:  Well, that is one lucky, creepy guy.

By this point in the episode, I have no idea who these people are supposed to be, or even if they’re still people at all.  When this happens, Jimbo has apparently been patrolling Bart’s back yard for hours on end, Shauna has realized out of the blue that she wants something else, and Bart drops his entire infatuation as though it never happened.  There’s no connection between events, things happen because everyone’s been through this so many times before that, when it comes to what should be the climax of the story, they already know what to do.

By contrast, in “New Kid on the Block”, Bart thinks Laura is finally taking a shine to him when she confides in him that she’s started dating Jimbo.  Bart doesn’t see this coming, and Laura doesn’t realize how much she just hurt him.  Neither of them is really aware of what’s going on with the other because – again – they’re just kids.  Check out Laura’s swooning description of what she likes about Jimbo:

Bart: How can you like that guy?
Laura: I don’t know.  Maybe cause he’s an outlaw.  You know that dead body they found behind the mayor’s house?
Bart: Jimbo killed him?
Laura: No, but he poked him with a stick.

New Kid on the Block13

Hey look!  Characters emoting. 

Just as with Laura’s dismissing of Kearney, everyone here is perfectly in character, and they sneak in that joke about Quimby murdering someone while keeping the dialogue very kid-like.  On top of that, none of them knows where things are going to go from here.  Laura likes Jimbo because she thinks he’s a good looking rebel who plays by his own rules.  Jimbo likes Laura because she’s a cool chick who doesn’t mind when he takes his shirt off.  And Bart schemes to break them apart because he knows that Jimbo is bad news.  Instead of romance veterans who go through the motions, Laura, Jimbo and Bart all act like themselves right up to the end. 

Zombie Simpsons took a bad romantic comedy template, grafted their characters onto it without the least bit of consideration as to why any of them would act like that way, and figured a few semi-clever asides would be enough to redeem it.  The Simpsons knew how to create something better than that, because on that show they understood that having kids act like kids isn’t an impediment to having them be funny.


31 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: March-April Romances”


  1. 1 Anonymous
    19 April 2012 at 5:06 pm

    My god, do I love this blogpost. After watching the episode, I could not just stop thinking about how New Kid on the Block” handled the same themes but with such more realism in terms of characters. Thank you for detailing the dichotomy between these two episodes.

    Also, you’re totally right about the canned laughter. Re-reading the dialogue evoked a feeling of Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men. I fear to think that might be a compliment to the current writers.

    • 19 April 2012 at 6:25 pm

      Although I haven’t seen this new episode, this is a very good post. The point about the shot of the movie posters repeated reminded me of point #8 in this 2006 criticism of Zombie Simpsons: http://qntm.org/stock – “Statement X is true!”/[something instantly happens to prove that statement X is true]”

      However, I have to disagree with the way both Charlie Sweatpants and the above Anonymous commenter have conflated the terms “canned laughter” and “laugh tracks” (they might be aware of the distinction, but it comes across in a way that’s a bit of a peeve of mine):

      > Zombie Simpsons may not have a laughtrack, but it’d be awfully easy to insert canned laughter into that.

      > Also, you’re totally right about the canned laughter. Re-reading the dialogue evoked a feeling of Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men.

      “Canned laughter” (pre-recorded laughter) and “laugh tracks” (live studio audience laughter) are different things. The former doesn’t really exist outside of The Flintstones; the latter is not the inherently bad thing that a lot of people seem to think of it as these days. The anonymous poster above picked Two and a Half Men as a disparaging example of laugh tracks, but could equally have mentioned Cheers or Frasier or Father Ted or Fawlty Towers or any one of the other classic TV comedies that employed studio audience laughter to great effect.

      There are a couple of entertaining rants on this subject here:

      http://whythatsdelightful.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/canned-laughter-my-least-favourite-urban-myth/

      http://www.dirtyfeed.org/2011/01/miranda-catherine-and-andrew/

      So, pacing dialogue for a laugh track is not an inherently bad thing in TV comedy – the problem is using the structure of between-the-lines laughter without actually including the laughter, and from your description it sounds like the Shauna/Jimbo/Kearney dialogue does exactly that. In contrast, the Laura/Dolph/Kearney dialogue is entirely appropriate to the studio-audience-free style that The Simpsons has always used.

  2. 5 Stan
    19 April 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Good reading, Charlie.

    If I may, I’ll throw in a handful of dirt on that coffin. I wouldn’t say that both mentioned episodes treat about the same subject. In “Beware”, the point of the writers was that Bart has never really been into Shauna, he just saw her boobs and got a boner he didn’t understand. Ever after, it’s him trying to cope with his feelings while Shauna either plays with him like with a pet or just plainly falls for him out of her own reasons. Then Bart gets caught and hell breaks loose thereafter. Of course, seeing them make out in the principal’s office doesn’t help the comprehension.

    In “New Kid”, the point was that Bart fell for Laura, miserably tried to convince her and ended up proving his point. While he did mean “Jimbo is bad news” in both of the episodes, you can clearly see him care for Laura but practically don’t give a shit about Shauna.

    What I do deplore is the way “Beware”‘s writers handled the whole plot, which was once again clumsy, awkward and boring. It seems that they do have ideas, but cannot quite turn them into complete episodes, yet are too lame to leave them as simple jokes. When it comes to writing 22 minutes of script, all they can do is parody sitcoms is a way that is neither clever nor natural. The result is very close to a sketch show (I’ve hard time saying it IS a set sketches, but it is definitely NOT a continuous storytelling).

    P.S. Not to be a bitch, but… why the requote?

  3. 6 jazzmanjazzman
    19 April 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Join us next week when Homer simpson attempts to become head of a Casino! or when Lisa joins PETA to outlaw animal eating! FOX will provide you with laughs, thrills for generations to come! (no they won’t)

    • 7 Patrick
      20 April 2012 at 12:08 am

      Or when Maggie ends up joining the baby mafia on FUX where we fuck up all the good shows and keep clinging onto crap for years on end.

  4. 8 PEPITO! The Biggest Cat In The Whole Wide World!
    19 April 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Bart’s 10.

    And besides I prefer the effeminate Bart of old (he’s such a bitch!)

  5. 9 Patrick
    19 April 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Slightly off topic but is there a picture of the cast of Friends in Simpson style?

  6. 10 Patrick
    19 April 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Hmm also I just noticed 2nd Jennifer Aniston reference this season, the “writers” really have a thing for her at the moment…

  7. 12 Patrick
    20 April 2012 at 12:12 am

    Even tho I’m a fan of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory i will happily say this, if Fuck Lorre had confidence in his shows he would be able to have a studio audience come in during the recording of each episode…. my 2 cents and i will end the Fuck Lorreness with this, Bill Hicks ripped shreds out of Full House, imagine if he was alive to see Dharma and Greg AHHHHHHHHHHHHH?! the stuff he would say about that god-awful show.

    • 20 April 2012 at 9:45 am

      Hey man speaking of Hicks, I just finished reading BILL HICKS: AGENT OF OBLIVION last night, the book written partly by Kevin Booth. I couldn’t put it down, it was amazing. Really fucking dark, but hilarious. Kinda like Bill’s rants! Honestly, has there ever been a better comedian? Oh, Patrick, have you seen the fx show LOUIE? I think you’d like it given your tastes.

      Speaking of canned AND fake laughter, they both suck. There are always these pauses for people to laugh, so thats half the jokes and half the character development and etc, because of all the pausing for entrances and laughter. That’s one of the many reasons I prefer Curb to Seinfeld (well, that and the show is just funnier). And I love Seinfeld but the constant laughter annoys me.

      • 16 Patrick
        20 April 2012 at 10:15 am

        Bill Hicks was a fan of Seinfeld just to point out and does it talk about Hicks admiring Roseanne Barr? Also I live in the U.K. so our FX might not air that show here yet, how new is Louie?

        • 17 Patrick
          20 April 2012 at 10:17 am

          i’ve got two and a half men on my tv right now and i’ve only just noticed the pauses, this is why shows without laughter is better and are you a fan of friends by any chance as according to the producers in a behind the scenes video they have to change the laughter used as some of the laughter covers up the audio from time to time.

          • 18 Patrick
            20 April 2012 at 1:59 pm

            Also it seems that Chuck Lorre and Roseanne Barr did not get along, well there’s clearly a good reason for that…

  8. 19 Chris
    20 April 2012 at 3:06 am

    I don’t watch the new episodes, but I’m always amazed by how bad the dialogue reads on paper.

    Shauna: I want to find out who I am. And that’s something only an inappropriately older man can tell me.
    Bart: Well, that is one lucky, creepy guy.

    Who talks like this? Is she 40 and suffering a midlife crisis? No kids that I know talk like this. And since when did Jimbo uses phrases like “food for thought?”

    • 20 Patrick
      20 April 2012 at 7:43 am

      The real question is how the hell do they table read these episodes, i can’t imagine many laughs coming out of these…. :/

      • 21 Patrick
        20 April 2012 at 7:45 am

        And ZS is full of weird lines like these, Charlie you and your team should make a complication of worse ZS lines.

  9. 23 Anonymous
    20 April 2012 at 10:13 am

    As dreadful as this week’s undead mess was (“Extracting lunch money from a cashless society” as Jimbo so uncharacteristically and ham-fistedly put it), everyone needs to save their bile for the April 29th episode.

    The Simpsons are too poor (Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire? Dog of Death? Homer’s Triple Bypass? Homer Vs. Patty and Selma?) to go on vacation (Thirty Minutes over Tokyo, maybe?) so Bart convinces them (somehow) to each sell one possession of theirs to raise the money, after which he (for some reason) never wants to go home. After all, why would the “writers” treat financial difficulty with anything more than blatant disregard in 2012? Captain Wacky needs another backdrop.

    • 24 Patrick
      20 April 2012 at 10:19 am

      errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr as krusty would put that dreck of a “plotline”: “what the hell was that?”

    • 25 Thrillho
      20 April 2012 at 10:23 am

      I’m especially going to dread the Lady Gaga episode. Here’s the description:

      “Lady Gaga makes a pit stop in Springfield after learning that it is teeming with low self-esteem, and winds up trying to cheer up a dejected Lisa through the power of speech, song, and a flash mob.

      1. The easiest episode to compare this to is Stark Raving Dad, but that plot almost sounds like a retread of Moaning Lisa.

      2. Read that description again and tell me it doesn’t sound like a rejected Care Bears special.

      3. If Lady Gaga’s primary goal is to make Springfield feel better about itself, shouldn’t she be out helping some third world countries?

      • 26 Stan
        20 April 2012 at 10:34 am

        you’re way off. It’s going to be Gaga who says a couple of lines about her butt, hugs Burns or Moe, and maybe sings a 10 sec line. The rest will resume in a 2-min-long couch gag, Lisa being a liberal douche (as always) and something about Springfield being a hellhole (which we never knew btw!).

      • 27 Chris
        20 April 2012 at 1:08 pm

        “Lady Gaga makes a pit stop in Springfield after learning that it is teeming with low self-esteem, and winds up trying to cheer up a dejected Lisa through the power of speech, song, and a flash mob.”

        Is it just me, or is it obvious they write these episodes working backwards? Meaning, they get the guest star first, then later try to figure out a way to fit them into the episode. Is this how Oakley and Weinstein worked? Did they first get Donald Sutherland, then decide he should be curator of a historical society where Lisa uncovers Jebediah Springfield’s sordid past? Did they first get Kirk Douglas, then decide he should be the true creator of Itchy of Scratchy? If you want to know why these episodes have no continuity within themselves, this might be a reason why. They worry more about getting the guest star than they do writing a good script first.

    • 30 Stan
      20 April 2012 at 10:31 am

      I think it’s going to be similar to “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”. Except for the consistency of the plot, good jokes and the hoyvin-glavin.

  10. 31 Mr. Snrub
    20 April 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Even though I didn’t mind this episode, you are definitely right about the dialogue.


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