“They are all against you, Bart. You must kill them all. They all must die.” – House
“Are you my conscience?” – Bart Simpson
“I-…yes, I am.” – House
Happy birthday Nancy Cartwright!
“I’m going to write a figure on this piece of paper. It’s not quite as large as the last one, but I think you’ll find it fair.” – C.M. Burns
“I think we should take it.” – Lionel Hutz
There were two big Simpsons news stories this week. First, the “Simpsons World” app/website finally launched. I took a quick look, but it spent lots of time buffering and seemed to be struggling under launch-day loads, so I’ll come back to that next week. (We do have quite a few links about it, however.) The second was that an actor who played a minor character in Goodfellas is suing the show for [Dr. Evil pinky] two-hundred-and-fifty-million-dollars [/Dr. Evil pinky] because Legs looks like him. It doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, and even if they someone convince FOX to pay them (which would be very un-FOX like), it’ll be a teeny tiny fraction of that. Yet for some reason this hopelessly longshot lawsuit got tons of press. It was linked all over the place, with plenty of them just mindlessly repeating the big scary number. We’ve got a link, but there’s basically nothing to it.
More importantly, Halloween is next week, and the annual crush of costumes (and tattoos!) has begun. There are some really good ones in our first link, and there’s more where that came from. And, of course, there’s lots of other random items as well: the Homer computer doll with infrared eyes, Harry Shearer just being himself, Jean dutifully slogging through another interview, a decidedly unlicensed music video, and much more.
Classic Simpsons Trivia Chicago Costume Contest 2014 – I put this up on Twitter, but it’s really worth a look. I can see why the Clown Bed won, but Dr. Hillbilly and the Iron Yuppie should’ve at least gotten some kind of couples or group costume award. Ashley Grant and the Luann in her jacuzzi suit are also pretty damned awesome.
Never miss an episode with smart Homer Simpson – This is awesome. Someone took a Homer doll, slapped some electronics into it, and now it automatically turns on the doll’s eyes whenever the show is on. Bravo, tech geeks. Bravo.
The appearance of the Simpsons characters as the originally appeared in animated shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” is proof that even “The Simpsons” is nostalgic for the pre-dull “The Simpsons.”
The Simpsons in Retrospect – A thorough breakdown of the decline of the show that includes a chart of the ever declining popular opinion of the show.
How Harry Shearer Discovered the Soul of Richard Nixon – There’s a little bit of Simpsons stuff in here, Shearer calls Burns more purely evil than Nixon, but this is my favorite part:
MJ: Is there any other president you’d like to play?
HS: Well, I’ve, on my radio show I’ve played every one since—
MJ: How’s your Garfield?
HS: Poor. But who’s to know?
Ha! Shearer is the best.
Counting Down To Halloween With The Simpsons #1 – These are a series of posts about just what makes the Treehouse of Horror episodes so great.
Counting Down To Halloween With The Simpsons #2 – This one’s about Marge’s warnings before the first ones. It’s good to remember this:
What few people realize however is that in the very first Treehouse of Horror this warning was not a gag or gimmick as it became later but was meant to be taken seriously. In 2014 The Simpsons have pretty much become part of the furniture in western society so its easy to forget that when it first aired in 1989 it was a highly controversial show.
I’d say it’s still a gag, even if, yes, it was meant to actually deflect anger. But that speaks to the brilliance of the show: they knew they were going to piss people off, so why not pre-ignore them as well?
Counting Down To Halloween With The Simpsons #3 – Amusing tombstones.
Counting Down To Halloween With The Simpsons #4 – Scary credits.
DisfiguredStick – Milhouse – That is a great Milhouse costume, and the backpack is a nice touch.
It’s Never Too Late to be Marge Simpson – Husband and wife go as Homer and Marge. Great wig.
Essential Halloween Viewing – “Treehouse of Horror V” makes the list here, along with several other old cartoon specials. I actually remember that episode of Ghostbusters.
Top 10 TV Halloween Specials – V and VI make this list.
Goodfellas Actor’s $250 Million Lawsuit Against The Simpsons – This looks like a hopeless attempt to squeeze some money from FOX. The headline number is just there for press attention, which it got a ton of. (Thanks to Rob K. for sending it in.)
Poochie? That you? – An ad for hot dogs with a serious Poochie look alike. Nice find.
Do You Even Stretch Bro? Stretching and the gym. – Exercise advice for when you go to the all night gym.
Top Man Simpsons Prints – High fashion Simpsons stuff is no longer just for the ladies.
On this day in history… – Celebrating the anniversary of “Rosebud”. Go to hell, you old bastard.
Things Get Violently “Simpsons”-Like In Girl Talk’s New Video – Indeed they do:
“Suicide (Remix)” is the latest video to come from the collaboration between mash-up artist-turned-beatmaker Girl Talk and journeyman rapper Freeway. In it, artist Lisa Ramsey unleashes a violent stream of animated mayhem that was clearly, ahem, inspired by The Simpsons. The colorful pastiche puts shotgun-toting Bart Simpson and Milhouse van Houten on skateboards–and the skateboards themselves are about as far as the faithfulness goes. By the time a fully grown and blessed out Lisa makes the scene, sway-dancing while puffing on a joint–it’s clear that we’re worlds away from Springfield. Still, it’s mandatory viewing for anyone who has ever wanted to see the sailboat painting from the Simpsons’ living room attain sentence and spit bars.
Don’t forget the daggers that come out of Krusty’s eyes. Video at the link.
How Do I Get The Simpsons World FXX App? Everything You Need To Know. – I’d quibble with “Everything”, there, but the main outline seems solid.
Simpsons World: A Streaming Archive of American History – A hands on look at the site.
‘Simpsons’ go streaming: Al Jean talks new site – Jean doing a publicity interview. No real news, but he was talking to CNN, so that goes almost without saying.
How ‘Simpsons World’ Went from Deal Point to Immersive App Via FX Networks – Apparently Brooks insisted that if they were going to sell streaming rights, the streaming had to be something special. Of course, this is Variety and it uses phrases like this, “The app…allows lean-in users to customize their searches”, so take it with ten thousand grains of salt. (I’m not sure what marketing dictionary “lean-in users” came from, but please put it to the torch immediately. Thank you.)
Catching Up With The First Family Of TV – This is a nice writeup of how one guy came back to the show through the marathon. It’s also yet another example of how gun shy people are about bringing up Zombie Simpsons. Every example he cites is from early in the show, and there’s even this:
Every episode ever. Whatever you want to watch. Not sure if your in the mood for season 3 or 17? Hit random and maybe you’ll get something nice from season 6.
Season 17 is a wasteland, Seasons 3 and 6 are not, but to say so explicitly is to invite trouble when all you want to do is relax and laugh. I get it. I just wish it wasn’t so prevalent.
Embiggened: Here’s a Look at “Simpsons World” From A-Z (GQ) – An alphabetical list of stuff on the site, like the above link, mentions only stuff from non-Zombie Simpsons seasons.
Some Changes Need to be Made to Simpsons World – Seems like they’ve still got some kinks to iron out:
However, there is one change that needs to be made and it needs to be made immediately.
The placement of commercials is goofy. Last night while watching “A Star is Burns” I was awaiting my favorite quote from the episode when Hans Moleman says “I was saying boo-urns.” I love that quote and say it all the time.
What I got was Moleman saying “I was saying boo” cut to a commercial “oo-urns”.
Now while watching “You only move twice” I was greeted with a commercial, in the middle of the opening title sequence.
During “Lard of the Dance” I saw a commercial in the middle of a sceen.
Get your spook on: Hallowe’en flash sheets in Brighton and beyond – Some cool Simpsons Halloween themed tattoo designs.
Tattoo Artist Turns Bart Simpson Into Horror Icons! – These are from a different source, and they’re all Bart. Candyman and Beetlejuice are pretty cool. More at his website.
Stark Raving Dad Episode #036 – Ash starts in on Season 3.
The 10 Greatest Simpsons Horror Movie Parodies – There’s one from Zombie Simpsons at #10, almost out of pity.
When you get the last slice, you be all like… – Animated .gif of Bart laughing after Homer brings him pizza in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie”.
New trending GIF tagged tv the simpsons eating… – Homer snacking while watching football.
New trending GIF tagged horror cartoon simpsons marge… – Marge’s hair exploding into bats.
The Simpsons has now officially been bad for longer than it was ever good – And finally (via @dailysimpsons), I get to not only end with someone who agrees with us, but it’s even in a real publication:
The first segment took the Simpson family to Hell: a city, it seems, very much like Springfield. It was amusing to begin with, but soon pointlessly repeated itself. The last segment had the family confronted by doubles of themselves: a comment, I think, on the endless proliferation of Simpson images and on the repetition compulsion referenced above. The middle segment — well, I can’t tell you about the middle segment because I’ve forgotten it already. Honestly.
The Simpsons has now been bad for longer than it was good, but when it was good it was great. Television has never provided as many inspired jokes per minute, sometimes per second, as The Simpsons did; has never been as consistently, ruthlessly, creatively
irreverent as The Simpsons was. It taught a generation to revere wit and to distrust authority, two hugely important achievements. Now the irreverence has shrunk to mere random rudeness, and the jokes are flabby and far between. Everything’s gone slack.
“It’s probably nothing, but we just wanted to be sure.” – Marge Simpson
“Ahh!” – Dr. Hibbert
“Is there anything you can prescribe, doctor?” – Homer Simpson
“Fire. And lots of it.” – Dr. Hibbert
“Oh, that’s your cure for everything.” – Marge Simpson
“This sandwich tastes so young and impudent. Seymour, what’s with the good grub?” – Mrs. Krabappel
“Well, perhaps I ought to let you folks in on a secret. Do you remember me telling Jimbo Jones that I’d make something of him one day?” – Principal Skinner
“Are you saying you killed Jimbo, processed his carcass, and served him for lunch? . . . Ha!” – Mrs. Krabappel
This year’s Halloween special had three segments: one about a hellish version of Springfield Elementary, one about a Kubrick movie, and one about the Simpson family co-existing with different versions of itself. Twenty years ago, the Halloween special also had three segments, one a Kubrick movie parody, one about Homer traveling between different versions of his family, and one about a hellish version of Springfield Elementary. Except for the order, they match up perfectly. Since The Simpsons always takes precedence over Zombie Simpsons, we’re going to follow the order from “Treehouse of Horror V”.
“The Shinning” vs. “A Clockwork Yellow”
Like most big name directors, Stanley Kubrick made some great movies and some crappy movies. From a parody and satire point of view, however, what made his films great was the sheer number of iconic and memorable characters, images, and lines. Whether it’s the Monolith, Jack Nicholson hacking his way through a door, or Malcolm McDowell and his gang strutting down the street in suspenders, bowler hats, and cod pieces, Kubrick movies are full of moments that stick in the audience’s mind, which makes them perfect for comedy.
The Simpsons exploited that all the time. There’s Homer at the “Dawn of Man” in Lisa’s Pony; there’s Bart reaching for the cupcakes in “Duffless”, there’s Frink with the Strangelove glasses in “Homer Defined”. “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” not only features R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, but even has a complete war room from Dr. Strangelove. None of those defined an entire episode, they were just quick little things put in there for fans who cared to notice them.
“The Shinning”, the first segment from “Treehouse of Horror V”, was different in that it retold an entire movie. All the major plot points and characters from the 144 minute film are condensed into just seven minutes of screentime. All by itself that’s damned impressive, but what turns it into a Simpsons masterpiece is the way that each thing they reproduce is recognizable as the original yet still creative and funny in its own way. The blood spilling out of the elevator isn’t a moment of gore soaked terror, it’s a ho-hum hotel regularity, no more interesting than fresh towels or the luggage carts in lobby. It just usually gets off at the second floor.
The hedge maze, the ghostly bartender, Homer getting locked in the fridge, the typewriter being a window into madness, even Bart’s titular “shinning” and Willie’s failed rescue attempt, these are all recognizable to anyone who has seen the film and each is given its little twist. But, and this is crucial, no one needs to have seen the movie to get any of them. It helps, sure, but you don’t need it. Homer declining his Nicholson destiny (“Can’t murder now, eating”) is funny all on its own. The references to the film augment the story and the jokes, not the other way around.
The same cannot be said for “A Clockwork Yellow”, which reads like mismatched excerpts from a Kubrick film guide. This is plenty apparent right at the beginning, where pretty much everything is a weird and senseless reenactment of A Clockwork Orange. Moe has a gang just like Malcolm McDowell did. But where McDowell’s gang turns on him for being a crappy leader; Moe’s gang turns on him just because that’s what’s supposed to happen. Not only is it reductive rather than creative, but weak references are left to stand alone.
Remember this part of that one movie? Yeah. Cool. Well, good talk.
Consider what is maybe the most famous scene from A Clockwork Orange: McDowell with his eyes propped open, forced to watch terrible things so that he won’t ever do them again. In “A Clockwork Yellow”, Moe wears a similar contraption, but he’s doing it for no discernible reason:
Moe: These eye clamps are the only way I can tolerate today’s TV.
Announcer: Tonight on FOX!
Moe: Ahh, turn it off, I’ll be good. I’ll be good!
If there is a joke in the final line (debatable), its premise is completely negated by the first. If he’s wearing it voluntarily, it makes no sense for him to beg to have the TV turned off. The sad reality is that he’s only wearing them because you can’t use A Clockwork Orange as your source material without someone getting their eyes propped open; setups, punchlines, and common sense be damned.
See, Zombie Simpsons? It’s not hard to work this in and have it make sense. It’s really not.
This complete dependency on making references is shaky enough early on, but the segment collapses completely at the end when the show just blows through references as fast as it can. There’s the guy from Full Metal Jacket, there’s a thing that – again for no discernible reason – looks briefly like the Monolith, there’s some dudes dressed like they’re in Barry Lyndon, there’s a bunch of naked people like in Eyes Wide Shut. And that’s it. There’s no coherence, no jokes, no indication whatsoever that the writers have taken something, parodied it, and made it their own. They’re just showing you stuff you’re supposed to recognize. It’s less a television segment than it is a police lineup.
“Time and Punishment” vs. “The Others”
Despite the fact that one of these is about time travel and the other is about ghosts, the basic concepts here are very similar. In each case, we see different versions of the Simpson family. Like the Kubrick mess, however, the transparent thinness of Zombie Simpsons is immediately apparent.
In “The Others”, the old ghost-Simpsons just stand around and don’t really do anything. Ghost-Marge gets the hots for Homer, and they spend basically the entire segment stretching that piece of nothing far past its breaking point. Ghost-Homer eventually gets around to killing regular Homer, but not until after he’s stood around and not done anything for a good long time. Once Homer is dead, ghost-Homer goes back to not doing anything.
Their habit of having most of the family just sort of stand there (ghost-Lisa literally doesn’t get even a single line) carries all the way through to the end when, in a desperate bid for internet attention (and how sad is that?), they create more versions of the family to stand there. For starters, this has nothing to do with the rest of the segment we just saw. The house was haunted, so older versions of the family appeared. Now a bunch of randoms show up because . . . well, just because, that’s why. If this was funny or joke filled, that’d be one thing, but it’s just more unsupported references.
They can’t stand this any longer. Somebody please pay attention to them!
“Time and Punishment” takes the idea of multiple different versions of the Simpsons seriously. We see them not only as rich and perfect (in a world Homer doesn’t know rains donuts), we see them as obedient to Flanders (the unquestioned lord and master of the world), we see them as giants and with lizard tongues. Each incarnation is very brief (much shorter than the “The Others”), yet the whole family is given things to do, lines to say (even Maggie!), and we get a glimpse of each world Homer visits in just a few seconds.
There aren’t any orphaned references, either. When the episode runs through all those versions of the Simpson home, including underwater, the Flintstone’s house, Sphinx-Bart, and a fairy tale inspired giant shoe, not only is it lightning fast, but it fits with what Homer’s doing. Because the writers bothered to show us several fleshed out parallel worlds already, the quick references to others add to that instead of being something tacked on to fill screen time (like a bunch of other Simpson families standing on the lawn for no reason).
“Nightmare Cafeteria” vs. “School Is Hell”
The main axiom of Springfield Elementary on The Simpsons is that it’s a waste of time and nobody wants to be there. The students don’t learn much (even the likes of Martin and Lisa learn and excel more out of the classroom than in) and the teachers don’t care, but everyone has to show up, so they do. In its own way, it’s already a kind of hell, so making it somehow worse for Halloween takes some imagination.
“Nightmare Cafeteria” pulled it off by taking the grim realities of normal episode Springfield Elementary and taking them to insanely logical Halloween episode extremes. It’s one of the only Treehouse of Horror segments that doesn’t involve anything supernatural and that’s part of what makes it so great. The faculty crosses over from merely being apathetic and passively hostile towards the students into murderous cannibalism . . . but they do so because of budget cuts. Authority figures devouring children because they couldn’t make decent sloppy joes any other way, it’s hard to think of a more Simpsons concept than that.
Sloppy Jimobs are pretty damned horrifying.
By contrast, Zombie Simpsons not only doesn’t do that, they actually make Springfield Elementary nicer and more pleasant than it normally is. I’m going to repeat that because it is an unusually clear example of just how witless and unmoored this show is. They made the school in Hell more fun and enjoyable than the one on Earth.
As with so many Zombie Simpson ideas, it could’ve actually been interesting if it wasn’t done in the shallowest imaginable way. But they didn’t go for “Earth is Hell” style irony, or even a particularly inventive version of Hell. They just recreated Springfield Elementary with funkier looking students and flames outside the windows. Even the Skinner-Chalmers monster is less evil than the two of them usually are. Can you imagine the real Chalmers saying this?:
Hell Chalmers: As educators, our job is to gently nurture your child’s passion.
It’s sincere, it’s genuine, and it means he actually cares about Bart! It’s antithetical to everything Chalmers is and does. Again, had they made that sort of the point (Hell Chalmers is a better educator than real Chalmers), it could’ve worked, but two layer thinking is way too deep for Zombie Simpsons. Instead, we get a montage before Homer shows up to be tortured for some reason. There are a couple of chuckles in there (Yankees class, for example), which makes it the strongest segment of an anemically weak episode, but even in Hell the bright and sunny attitude of Zombie Simpsons makes everything simple, shallow, and harmless.
Halloween will always be better served by the Skinner who condemns a kid to suffocation for a paper airplane (even before he starts eating them) than by one who wants Bart to achieve his full potential. The same goes for Simpson family members who are twisted and weird rather than still and silent. Ditto thoughtlessly repetitive Kubrick references vis-a-vis full blooded (and full bodied) satire.
Twenty years on, there are reasons “Treehouse of Horror V” often tops Halloween lists. “Treehouse of Horror XXV” will be lucky to even be remembered.