“Hey, Grampa, do you think I could’ve been a Flying Hellfish?” – Bart Simpson
“You’re a gutsy daredevil with a give ’em hell attitude and a fourth grade education, you coulda made sergeant.” – Abe “Grampa” Simpson
Since Zombie Simpsons has no choice but to copy the format and characters of The Simpsons, it’s basically inevitable that they have to repeat the same ideas and even story structures. Sometimes they’re at least a little clever about it, other times, as in “Gorgeous Grampa”, they basically just put an old episode on the copy machine and hope that the inevitable degradation in quality keeps people from noticing what they did.
Both “Gorgeous Grampa” and “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in ‘The Curse of the Flying Hellfish’” revolve around three main characters: Bart, Grampa and Burns. And both episodes have each character relating to one another in the same manner: Burns and Grampa delve back into something from their pasts, Bart gets caught up in it, and eventually helps Grampa defeat Burns. The specifics are, of course, a bit different, and even if you set aside the xeroxed nature of “Gorgeous Grampa”’s plot, they’re also where Zombie Simpsons collapses into incoherence while The Simpsons steams smoothly ahead all the way to seeing Kraftwerk in Stuttgart.
For starters, just consider the physical nature of the two. In “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson”, Grampa is depicted right up until the end pretty much as he’s always been: feeble, easily confused, and generally a mess. His pants fall down, he evades Burns’ assassination attempts mostly by tripping, and when confronted by Burns he gives up instantly and hands over the key. It isn’t until the end, when he’s first inspired by Bart and then fearful for his grandson’s life, that he becomes the great soldier he once was. Grampa is still Grampa, until the story and his character give him a reason to become a badass.
Compare that to “Gorgeous Grampa”, where hapless, feeble old Abe just up and decides that he’s going to start wrestling again and instantly slips right back into the ring to fly around like it was old times. As with so many episodes of Zombie Simpsons, there isn’t really anything compelling Grampa’s transformation, it happens just because.
This is the least wrinkled Grampa has ever looked.
Nor is the lunacy limited to Grampa. It’s easy to understand that Burns would be willing to kill Abe over priceless art. Not letting anyone get between him and wealth is the rock bottom foundation of Burns as a person. It’s not so easy to swallow Burns as a closet wrestling junkie who’s willing to put on an extravagant show so that he can see old guys pretend to battle one another.
Bart’s bizarre actions are perhaps even harder to take. Not only does he come to love being booed for basically no reason (and the fact that the episode wrings its hands and exposits about it several times doesn’t make it any more believable), but the things we see him do make absolutely no sense. Wrestling villains can be villains because wrestling is scripted. But Bart starts acting like a wrestler at a baseball game and in school, which isn’t going to get anyone to love-hate him the way people love-hate wrestling villains, it’s just going to get him kicked off the baseball team and given detention.
Worse, dropping his wrestling antics into Little League is the simplest kind of empty headed desperation humor. Watching it, I was reminded of nothing so much as Moe and his puzzlement at people booing his giant lollypop in “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”:
One of these is intentionally bad, the other is just bad.
Smashing two different things together with no regard for context, character, or anything else is about as lazy and hacktacular as scripted comedy can get. It’s also why they had Burns not know that wrestling is fake: it’s so out of character! Well, yeah, it is, but that doesn’t even make it clever, much less funny.
At the end, the whole thing collapses under the weight of its contradictions and shortcuts as Burns, who has apparently just been standing there, gets picked up and spun around the ring by Grampa. It has nothing to do with what we’ve seen so far, but they once again backed themselves into a completely predictable corner and needed a way out, and what better way that to have one old man hoist up another and spin him around?
“Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson”, however, didn’t need a last second turn to wrap things up. The fight between Burns and Abe has been brewing for the whole episode before Grampa defeats him and throws him out of the Hellfish. Its twist ending isn’t a nonsensical turn of events, it’s the rather cruel joke that the douchebag German aristocrat gets the loot, with Grampa even saying, “I guess he deserves it more than I do”. Things don’t need to be perfectly real-world believable so long as they’re going somewhere and you’re having fun along the way; too bad Zombie Simpsons forgot that while the copy machine was running.
—Begin Shameless Self Promotion—
Well, it finally happened. Six months behind schedule, and three days late thanks to some technical fun with Amazon, the spinoff site is finally ready to put on its big kid pants and head for the deep end of the internet. The Ann Arbor Review of Books has published its first Kindle issue, which you can acquire for the low, low price of just $2.99. Inside, our sometime guest bloggers Lenny and Wesley compliment excellent television shows while I compare Lincoln unfavorably to Django Unchained, and that’s not even the half of it:
You can purchase it directly from Amazon right now, but like the Zombie Simpsons mini-book, all of the words will eventually be free to read on-line. It worked for a book, so now we’re trying it with a magazine. If you enjoy my Simpsons bitching, I can assure you that this is just as half-assed.