Author Archive for Unpaid Guest

24
Jul
14

Debunking the Zombie Simpsons Apologists (Part 2)

By Calvin

[You can check out Part 1 here.]

So-called “fans” have always criticized the show, even in its glory days. Al Jean says so.

Charlie Sweatpants effectively debunked this argument, but it bears repeating. During the classic years of The Simpsons in the 1990s, Internet access was not even close to being as widespread and democratic as it is now. Many of us relied on dial-up modems at schools and libraries to access the Internet through now-outdated programs like America Online and Prodigy, which were slow and expensive to use from what I remember.

I didn’t know Simpsons message boards existed. Even Simpsons writers like Bill Oakley thought it was a hassle to get online and engage with these techie fans, whom he ignored anyway.

These so-called Simpsons fans’ disparaging comments about the classic episodes can be found in The Simpsons Archive at snpp.com, proving that Internet message boards have always been havens for snark and trolling, even in the early years. But as Charlie writes about the SNPP crowd:

“Their opinions have outsized prominence because they were amongst the first people to discuss popular culture on-line, but the population that generated those reviews is extremely non-representative of Simpsons fans. It’s highly skewed towards the techiest of the early 1990s nerds who were, to put it mildly, an abnormal set of people … that said criticism is ridiculously harsh, should NOT obscure the fact that in this day and age, indeed since the turn of the century at least, there has been a solid and growing contingent of Simpsons fans who feel the show has badly lost itself.”

I sympathize with Zombie Simpsons writers to some extent in that I work for a news website that allows online comments. Some of the nasty, unfair things readers write about my work and my colleagues’ work makes me despair for humanity. That’s still no excuse for us to churn out an inferior product; regardless of the comments, I’m inspired to work harder and be better.

As Charlie explains:

“When the real grumbling about the show started, it wasn’t because disliking the show was cool, or because the most involved fans all have mean streaks.  It was because the show got worse, a gradual process that had precisely nothing to do with the internet and everything to do with the show itself.”

You’re older, crankier and more cynical. Of course (Zombie) Simpsons no longer appeals to you.

I’ve never understood this argument. Even former Simpsons writer Jay Kogen (co-writer of episodes like “Bart the Daredevil” and “Last Exit to Springfield”) used this to defend the show in a Reddit Q&A.

When asked if he thought the show’s quality had declined over the years, Kogen responded:

I keep thinking that maybe people feel that way because THEY’VE gotten older. I loved the first star wars movies and hated the later ones because I saw the first ones when I was 12 and the later ones when I was 30. Kids who saw the later ones as kids, loved them.”

The Star Wars movies Kogen viewed as young boy (Episodes 4-6) debuted to critical and commercial acclaim and made a significant impact on pop culture, much as The Simpsons have. Decades after their initial release, people still can’t get enough of Star Wars and all the comic books, TV shows, clothing and toys. Some people have turned Star Wars into a lifestyle.

In contrast, the Star Wars prequels (Episodes 1-3), which came complete with the latest film technology and big-name actors, received much scorn and mockery, and George Lucas was excoriated. Even Zombie Simpsons poked fun at how disappointing the Star Wars prequels were (they were years late to the party, but still).

Kids who only saw Episodes 1-3 loved them because they didn’t have the originals to compare them with. (Plus, why are you placing so much faith in the opinions of children?)

By Kogen’s logic, he should hate the original Star Wars movies and older Simpsons fans like myself should hate those old episodes. Yet he doesn’t follow through with this argument. Instead, it seems he suggests that Zombie Simpsons only appeals to young children who have never seen the earlier seasons. That’s not a defense but an admission that Zombie Simpsons is not what it used to be, as well as a mockery of its adult fans.

(Zombie) Simpsons has evolved with time, as have you. Of course it’s not as funny/relevant/impactful to you as it once was.

This is a variation of the argument above, and it also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Do Zombie Simpsons writers really not care about making a show that makes an impact or holds up well with time?

Yes, apparently. Zombie Simpsons writer Dana Gould made this argument, as did Zombie Simpsons writer Michael Price, who brings up the silly Star Wars comparison. (Mike, do you really compare your work to the dreaded Star Wars prequels?)

I started watching The Simpsons when I was about 7 or 8 years old; I’m now a 20-something adult. (Yikes!) When I watch classic Simpsons episodes, I find they are still as funny to me at this age as they were when I was a kid; in fact, I appreciate these episodes on a different level because I understand more of the jokes and references that probably went over my head when I was a child. As a writer myself, I appreciate the story structure and character development of episodes like “Marge vs. the Monorail” and “You Only Move Twice,” which should be studied in English and creative writing courses.

Besides, can anyone really argue that The Simpsons has “evolved”? No character has really changed: Bart and Lisa are still ageless in elementary school; Maggie is still a baby; Homer and Marge are still married; Diamond Joe Quimby is still mayor; 99.9 percent of the original characters are still alive. They’re the same people, but less likeable and relatable.

Regarding our changing world, Zombie Simpsons has never really dealt with how major events like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Barack Obama’s election, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, or wars in the Middle East have affected the citizens of Springfield, aside from the occasional heavy handed or forgettable episode. Zombie Simpsons never even parodied George W. Bush!

True, I’m not the same person at this age as I was when I was 9: I’m older, more educated, less naïve, more realistic, a beer drinker, not as lazy or easily amused. So why does The Simpsons hold up so well for adult me, while Zombie Simpsons (and the cartoons I used to enjoy as a child) do not? It’s not nostalgia.

If you don’t like the show, don’t watch it.

This is not a defense of the show, but thanks for the advice, Confucius. I’m already ahead of you.

It’s worth noting that if you listen to the DVD commentaries for Zombie Simpsons, not even the writers, producers and voice actors seem to like the show. Now compare those to commentaries for classic episodes, and it’s like the difference between night and day. When your own priceless voice actors can’t get excited about the show, it’s time to end it.

But The Simpsons is still capable of one or two funny jokes per episode

The worst episodes of Family Guy, a shameless joke factory, can still have one or two jokes that make you laugh.

Dane Cook probably has at least one routine that makes me smile.

Sean Hannity might say something I agree with on occasion.

Is it really worth spending 22 minutes of your time watching a mediocre Simpsons episode in hopes that Homer Simpson will say something — anything — that makes you chuckle?

But The Simpsons team want to keep making money the show going. Matt Groening said so!

If the prolific Seth MacFarlane can admit that Family Guy should have ended a few years ago, then Matt Groening can do it too.

At this point, it’s completely disingenuous to insist that The Simpsons should keep going because the cast and crew are dedicated to putting out a quality show for us lucky fans – especially when they have essentially admitted that the show is a shameless merchandising tool.

Here’s a sample of the dialogue from the June 18 update of The Simpsons Tapped Out game (which, by EA’s own estimates, has generated $130 million since its debut), written by Zombie Simpsons writers:

Blue-Haired Lawyer: Krusty, if you’re jaded about being rich, there’s only one solution to your spiritual crisis — get even richer … What you need is to start making new Itchy & Scratchys.

Krusty: But we’ve already got hundreds of them, and the characters don’t change or age. What innovative stories could any writer wring out of those characters?

Blue-Haired Lawyer: From what I can tell, none. But it doesn’t matter. No one needs to watch the new episodes. They just need to know they’re being made and remember the old ones fondly… and voila, the brand is still relevant! Then you can start merchandising T-shirts and action figures, slot machines and beer… maybe even develop a freemium game!

Krusty: Would the game have to be good?

Blue-Haired Lawyer: Not at all!

If that’s not a cynical admission of them turning this once-beloved show into a zombie cash cow, than I don’t know what is.

23
Jul
14

Debunking the Zombie Simpsons Apologists (Part 1)

By Calvin

[You can read Part 2 here.]

One of the reasons I enjoy visiting Dead Homer Society at least once a week is reading the articulate breakdowns and critiques of latter-day Simpsons episodes, from the show’s desperate efforts to be relevant by bringing in celebrities and making clumsy pop culture references, to the poor and disjointed writing, lame new characters, odd character development, bad animation, and lack of actual, you know, jokes. As a longtime Simpsons fan who reveres its glory years, it was devastating to find myself joining the ranks of its fans-turned-critics and agreeing that it should have ended years ago.

Yet I’m intrigued by fans of Zombie Simpsons, who lack an equivalent website like DHS but pop up in nearly every online discussion to defend the show. Sure, it’s difficult to engage with people who dismiss your arguments with, “Well, I still like it,” but it’s gotten annoying to see them trot out the same arguments and half-hearted defenses of Zombie Simpsons that can easily be debunked.

For the record, I favor ending Zombie Simpsons with a proper sendoff, as the writers on Futurama were able to do when that show was canceled. I believe it’s ridiculous to keep defending a bad show with vigor that these “fans” would never give to any other show, as if Zombie Simpsons is more sacred than the Catholic Church or Prophet Muhammad.

Here are my responses to some of the most common (and silly) defenses of the show. In keeping with the theme of this website, I refer to latter-day Simpsons (post-season 9 episodes) as Zombie Simpsons.

Even at its worst, (Zombie) Simpsons is still better than most crap on television

I still hear this claim from the most devoted fans, even though they typically preface it with a caveat like, “I don’t rush home and watch it like I once did” or “I watch it On Demand when I have the time.” Can you imagine Simpsons fans saying this when the show was in its prime? “I didn’t have time to watch ‘Lisa’s Pony,’ but I recorded it and will see it later this week if I have the time.”

The problem with making this claim, especially in 2014, is that The Simpsons is no longer the best show on TV. Heck, it’s not even the best show on Sunday.

You’ve probably read those articles about how we’ve entered the golden age of television, when cable and broadcast networks are attracting the best and brightest writers, actors and directors, and TV shows are surpassing movies in the quality of their acting and writing. Famous Hollywood directors and actors are jumping on the bandwagon and forgoing movies in favor of television (and being rewarded for it).

On Sunday nights, Americans have the option of tuning in to a range of popular, critically acclaimed shows such as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Detective, Veep, The Walking Dead, Silicon Valley, Boardwalk Empire, Cosmos, True Blood, British imports like Sherlock and Downton Abbey, and many other shows I’m forgetting. Even the other shows on the Fox’s Sunday cartoon block like Bob’s Burgers and American Dad! are earning critical and fan acclaim. In contrast, I can hardly find an article about Zombie Simpsons’ latest ratings gimmick without a variant of the “It’s not as good as it used to be” line.

The next day, these shows become the hot topic of conversation with family, friends and co-workers. Yet I can’t remember the last time I discussed the latest Simpsons episode with coworkers and friends – which would have been inconceivable to me 15 years ago.

Perhaps if you live in a country with state-run television that relies on U.S. imports to fill the schedule, than Zombie Simpsons may still be better than 99 percent of everything else. Still, don’t most people watch everything online anyway?

Shut up, Comic Book Guy. The Simpsons owe you nothing. If anything, you owe them for all that free entertainment they gave you.

My, what a timely Simpsons reference dating all the way back to … 1997, in season eight. Could you not think of any line from season 20-something that delivers an equally clever jab?

Regarding your overall point, I agree that I owe The Simpsons a lot for the years of entertainment it provided to me. This is why, 20 years after my first viewing, I remain an outspoken fan of those classic seasons, and why I engage with fellow fans, including those of you who continue to convince me that its inferior seasons are somehow worthy. Heck, I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t care about it.

You can’t end The Simpsons. It’s a popular, critically acclaimed show, and an American institution! People would lose their jobs!

Folks, are you familiar with how television works? All in the Family, M.A.S.H., Seinfeld, Cheers, I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show were TV royalty in their heyday. Guess what happened to them?

TV shows get canceled all the time for any number of reasons. There are websites dedicated to informing viewers when their favorite shows are canceled. Zombie Simpsons is no different.

I know the disappointment of seeing a favorite show get canceled. Freaks and Geeks, Carnivale, The Critic, Rome, Boomtown, Arrested Development, and Futurama are favorite shows of mine that were axed by heartless network executives. (Note how two of those shows were created by Simpsons alumni.)

I’m frustrated when my favorite shows get the chop but I adjust, as do the people behind these shows. Cancelation is not a career death sentence. Producers, writers and actors go on to do other things. Matt Groening & Co. are big boys (and big girls) with clout in the industry; they’ll be fine and may go on to create other great shows.

As I stated above, I would like Fox to give Zombie Simpsons advanced notice to end the show so that the writers could give it a proper sendoff, just as the writers of Futurama were able to do. Subsidizing a show with diminishing ratings for the benefit of a few vocal fans is not how TV should work (unless you’re a Communist or something).

But if I still haven’t convinced you, let’s imagine the alternate world in which The Simpsons ended its run after Season 8. What could have happened?

  • The Simpsons cements its status as the greatest show of all time and is admired for ending at the height of its popularity, while subsequent criticism from critics and fans (like me) never happens
  • Matt Groening goes on to create Futurama and several other TV shows that earn critical and audience acclaim
  • A Simpsons movie comes out every few years
  • Simpsons writers, voice actors and crewmembers get jobs at other sitcoms and cartoon shows, and drive the overall quality of those programs up (it’s worked out for Brad Bird and Greg Daniels)
  • Mike Scully doesn’t become a hated figure among fans
  • The Simpsons still gets a lucrative syndication deal where two to four classic episodes are aired back to back, five days a week, on Fox or on one of those cable channels like TBS or Cartoon Network
  • We don’t get to see Homer take 50+ new jobs as an acrobat, hair stylist, Super Bowl choreographer, Mexican wrestler, paparazzo, and grunge musician
  • Awful episodes like “Saddlesore Galactica,” “That ‘90s Show,” “Strong Arms of the Ma,” “Donnie Fatso,” “Large Marge,” and the episode where Homer gets raped by a panda never get made

The horror, the horror!

[Ed Note: Part 2 coming tomorrow!]

21
Jul
14

The Day the Laughter Died

By Mike Zanna

There was a time when The Simpsons was the best show on TV. The show that currently calls itself “The Simpsons” has little resemblance. It’s not nearly as good. It’s not even good compared to the rest of the stuff on television. It’s like The Simpsons, but without everything that made The Simpsons so amazing. The show has become a hollow shell, a shadow of itself, a ghost of its former greatness. I’m sure there’s another supernatural metaphor I could use.

So what the hell happened? At some point, The Simpsons went off the air and was replaced by its evil twin, Zombie Simpsons. I’m not sure when this happened, but it was at least a decade ago, maybe even a decade and a half. I started wondering if I could pinpoint the exact moment that the change occurred. If I could find one episode that killed the show, what would it be? When exactly did The Simpsons jump the shark? I came up with an answer. Personally, I think The Simpsons died on February 13, 2000, with the death of Maude Flanders.

Alone1

Maude wasn’t the only one who died that day.

“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” isn’t the worst episode ever, but it had the longest lasting negative effect on the series. Most bad episodes can be safely skipped or ignored. Even “The Principal and the Pauper” restores the status quo at the end of the episode. Whether you like the revelation about Principal Skinner or not, it doesn’t affect the episodes that aired afterwards. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” was what TV Tropes would call a Wham Episode. Afterwards, the show would never be the same.

Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and after eleven years, I can see why the producers would want to shake things up. It’s just that this particular change was a bad idea that was poorly handled. The show had made some changes before, and many of them are lampshaded in this episode. For example, the Van Houtens had split up. Zombie Simpsons would later have them get remarried. Killing Maude Flanders was the first change the producers had made that was irreversible.

The Simpsons had never killed a recurring character before. Bleeding Gums Murphy had died back in Season 6, but he hadn’t been seen on the show in years, outside of the opening title sequence. He wasn’t played by one of the show’s regular voice actors, so the producers couldn’t use him without bringing in Ron Taylor or recasting the part. Maude Flanders was played by one of the regulars, Maggie Roswell, who had played many parts before leaving the show. She would later return, but Maude would not.

I suppose the producers could have resurrected Maude if they’d wanted to. They are the gods of the show’s universe, after all. They can do whatever they want. But there’s no way they could bring her back without destroying the show’s reality. Then again, this episode ran the week after “Saddlesore Galactica,” which might be the least realistic show ever. The producers could have pressed the reset button, but they didn’t. They made their choice and stuck with it.

Maude Flanders wasn’t the most interesting person in the world, but one of the things that made The Simpsons great was its large cast of diverse characters. It had an entire universe full of people who seemed like real people, but funnier. She had played a key role in great episodes like “Bart of Darkness” and “Home Sweet Home-Diddily-Dum-Doodily.” And she lived next door to the title characters. But Maude Flanders wasn’t the only character who died in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” The episode also basically killed the character of her husband, Ned.

Alone2

He’s just not Ned.

Before he became a conservative Christian stereotype, Ned Flanders was just a nice guy with a perpetually cheerful attitude. Even when times were tough, he at least tried to keep a smile on his face. See “When Flanders Failed,” “Homer Loves Flanders,” or “Hurricane Neddy.” His religion was a part of his character, sure, but I think his most prominent character trait was his positive attitude. After this episode, he couldn’t be that guy any more. There would always be some sadness in him. There would have to be.

I guess the producers thought making Ned single again could lead to some interesting stories, but it really didn’t. And I think Ned dating other women so soon after losing Maude was kind of out of character. I don’t think he would be so quick to look for a replacement. There could have been some humor in Ned trying to date again, but there really wasn’t. There were a couple of episodes, two with that Christian singer girl whose name I can’t remember, and one with Marisa Tomei. And then there’s that strange Zombie Simpsons plot line where he dated Mrs. Krabappel and they later got married. Now she’s gone too, and he’s a widower twice over. That’s just depressing.

Then there’s effect that losing their mother would have on the kids, Rod and Todd. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” basically skips over their reaction, and I guess it would have to. It’s kind of hard to make that funny. But I think it shows that the producers of this episode did a really half-assed job. They wanted to kill a character, but they didn’t want to deal with the consequences that it would have. The characters on The Simpsons were characters. They seemed like real people. On Zombie Simpsons they’re just props for delivering bad jokes. It’s kind of hard to feel sympathy for them, because they don’t act like people would.

Then there’s the way “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” changed the character of Homer. He had become more of a jerk during Mike Scully’s tenure as show runner, and this episode shows him at his absolute low point. He actually causes another person’s death. He is responsible for the death of someone that he has known for years. A real person would feel at least a little guilty about that.

Okay, it wasn’t actually his fault. It was an accident. Maude Flanders’ death was like something from an Itchy and Scratchy episode. Slapstick violence isn’t really funny if we’re supposed to care about the people who get hurt. I guess you could blame the girls who shot the t-shirts that knocked Maude off the bleachers. This kind of begs the question of why they were at the funeral. But really, the girls only shot the t-shirts because of Homer. He provoked them, so he has to take some responsibility for the fact that a person died. It’s the first time his antics caused another person’s death.

Alone3

This is a pretty crappy way to send off a longtime character.

I know some people might mention Frank Grimes, but that’s a different situation. Homer doesn’t actively antagonize his co-worker. He tries to be a nice guy to him. He tries to make friends, but it doesn’t work. Frank ends up going crazy out of jealousy and basically kills himself, by doing something too stupid even for Homer. And that episode was basically The Simpsons criticizing itself. It was almost a self-parody.

Homer wasn’t a jerk in “Homer’s Enemy,” but he really was in “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” There’s a line where he says he parked in the ambulance zone preventing any possible resuscitation. What the hell? First off, that doesn’t even make sense. I don’t think you can resuscitate someone with a broken neck. But second, it just makes Homer seem more like a callous bastard. It also makes the producers look like jerks too. It’s possible to be tasteless and funny, but I think this episode is just the first one.

I think my least favorite joke is when Bart changes the cake from “Rest in Peace” to “Rest in Pee.” This is too juvenile for even a 10-year-old. The fact that the producers think this is funny is just really telling, and the fact that they think Bart would find it funny shows how little they get his character. Then there’s the scene with Rod and Todd playing “Billy Graham’s Bible Blaster,” which is actually a little funny. But I don’t think the kids would just be playing video games after their mom died. Maybe they’d be happy because they think she’s in heaven. I don’t know.

Death is a hard subject to make funny, but The Simpsons were able to do it. Take “’Round Springfield” for example. This website has already done a Compare and Contrast with that episode, so I don’t want to be redundant. It’s just amazing how much better that episode is than “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily.” “’Round Springfield” managed to be funny while still taking the death seriously. It managed to be sad but also had some great jokes. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” doesn’t do either of those things. The death is treated like a joke and the attempts at humor are just sad.

“Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” was a terrible episode, but it was more than that. When Maude Flanders died, a part of the show died. The characters stopped behaving like actual people, so it became really hard to care about them. The show had lost its sense of humor, and with this episode it lost its heart. Yes, it’s kind of arbitrary, but I think that’s the episode where the show crossed the line from The Simpsons to Zombie Simpsons. It was the day the series died.

12
Jun
14

Zombie Simpsons Should Go and Die With a Heated Coathanger In Its Bum

By Connor Dunphy 

Yo, it’s Dead Homer Society. You know how it is, you ain’t here if you don’t. Let’s get straight to it, because I got something to rant about.

Charlie and his accomplices have done a real fine job of utterly deconstructing Zombie Simpsons. And it deserves every single bit of it, because watching it is like seeing your beloved Grandma contract dementia and then proceed to start being really mean and horrible for no reason. Everything they’ve mentioned: the dialogue, the storylines, the characterization, lack thereof of all three, it’s all grade A, 100%, farmer’s dream bullshit. Today, though, I’m here to properly shed some light on something else. I’m gonna scoop some of that bullshit from a corner of the bottom of the barrel which I don’t think has been properly examined: the animation of Zombie Simpsons.

Ever since I started thinking about how this show has declined other than “eh it’s not as good, I guess”, since I read the very first word of this site’s manifesto, what’s pissed me off the most, got me to pause whatever platform I’m watching the show from, made me draw characters on my toilet paper to properly represent where their shenanigans can go, was the way the animation has gone.

Think back to all the classic Simpsons episodes that you know. You got your “You are Lisa Simpson”s, your “Do it for her”s, just all the amazing seasons you see people on Tumblr, Twitter, anything quote. They had amazing animation. Everything felt human. If I could refer to a specific example, it would be the scene where you can pinpoint the exact moment Ralph’s heart breaks in half.

1

 

You can sense, just from how this specific frame is drawn, what the characters are feeling. Lisa feels regret, sorrow, sadness of some kind, and Bart, in his amused indifference, is rubbing it in. You don’t need to watch the entire episode to sense that. You don’t need overwhelming [SOMBER TRUMPET NOISES] to know that they’re feeling that, because you know who the characters are, what their personalities are. If someone came up to me and said “hey dude, I never seen the Simpsons can you show me a quick sum up of the characters”, then I’d take pity on them for being denied a right as entitled to him/her as freedom of speech, and show them this picture. Everyone knows the barest thing about the Simpsons. Hell, I used to listen to this square-ass radio station where middle-aged people would get asked “who is the mischievous person in the Simpsons” and they’d just instantly say Bart.

You look at this picture, and you have the 0.003333333% of Simpsons knowledge that everyone who’s never watched it does, you know what’s going on. This is the beauty of old Simpsons animation, it fit the characters and the storyline. A truly great producer has their music fit the vocalist, whether it’s a rapper or a folk singer, they use the right sounds, samples and all of that to make sure that it all comes together. They may have created them, but the people behind the Simpsons managed to perfectly encapsulate the essence of the characters in every frame.

Sadly, this is the end of the good. The good that makes the bad just a little bit badder. Now we move onto my grievances. The Simpsons died in an unspecified date between 1997 – 1998, and it happened too slowly for us to properly evacuate the premises before being revealed to it’s rotting form, so we could only stiffen our bodies in shock as it began spewing acidic vomit piles such as “Saddlesore Galctica”, “The Principal and the Pauper”, and “Lisa the Skeptic”, just awful episode after awful episode as we stood in front of this now monstrous, decaying creature, our forearms eroding off of our bodies from the acid, nervously thinking “It’s only a little burn, it’s still good! It’s still good!”. Speaking of “Saddlesore Galactica”, I might as well use it as Exhibit A.

2

Does anyone care how this is drawn?
Zombie Simpsons animators: No!

I want you to look real closely at the above picture. If possible, line it up with the previous picture that I so affectionately praised. Remember the whole thing about being able to see what the characters are feeling, having some rudimentary look into their motivations? If you can honestly look at that picture, especially in comparison to the previous one, and see that, then I will personally come over to your house and let you make me watch Season 21, Clockwork Orange style.

Anyways, my point is that you can’t. You can’t see what the characters are feeling, you can’t have an idea of what the story is. Probably the only thing that I can say about this type of animation is that it’s consistent with everything else in the episode.

Just glance at everyone in the picture. Homer has the only actual expression, and even without context it’s a disgustingly-OOC face that spits on the personality built up for him in the past 7 seasons. Everyone else, from the formerly three dimensional main characters, to the background characters, all have blank looks like they just got lobotomized. Chief Wiggum is redundantly inserted into the scene, sans purpose. The three people beside him look like that puppet Krusty brought in to compete with Gabbo (you know, the one whose mouth fell off and terrified all in attendance). The three people in the foreground have no eyes. [Ed note: Eww.]  All of them look like they’re in stasis, waiting to be used, to be actually in some semblance of a sensical story. They aren’t, of course, because this episode prioritizes edgy horses and here today, gone tomorrow jokes about Bill Clinton, but I digress.

It really baffles me how the animators, the writers, the network, could look at frames like this, where basically the minimum amount of effort has been put in, and think “Yes, this is as good as the previous episodes, let’s release it.”. What used to be relatable human beings became a bunch of zombies with thumbs stuck up their collective ass, existing only to provide the most masturbatory and dismissive of jokes.

Now, it’s all well and good to curbstomp “Saddlesore Galactica”, and I’d like to do it a bit more (maybe later, if you’re up for it), but that is not the extent of my problems with this style. Let’s take it 10 years forward. Zombie Simpsons has now achieved Lisa Trevor status, and is shuffling around the Earth, surviving all attacks against it whilst desperately calling out for a remnant of it’s past. Homer’s a high-pitched noise machine now used in Guantanamo Bay interrogation sessions, everybody says how they feel a lot, Bob’s your uncle.

By this time, the Simpsons had converted to HD animation. I wanna precede the following fancy version of saying “Fuck this show” by noting that the problem does not lie with the use of HD. Basically everything other than Zombie Simpsons has shown us that HD can be used to create beautiful works of art. It lies with the fact that the format was not only misused, but also had a hand in revealing just how homogenized the show had and has became.

3

You probably saw this in the most recent Compare and Contrast. This is an example of how crap the Simpsons has become. Sterile as the reconditioning dystopia led by Flanders, as awkward-looking as a guy wearing a fedora with a trollface T-shirt, I believe the layman’s term is “awful”.

As you can see from inside the car, the blank expression thing has returned, albeit evolved. Now, the only expressions a character can have when they’re not explicitly the focus of whatever half-baked storyline they’re putting out is either the aforementioned “Stare into the distance blankly, often with mouth slightly agape” or the brand-new “Stare into the distance blankly EXCEPT NOW YOU SMILE WOAAAAH”. Homer looks like he’s in a goddamned Mr. Men book, like he’s about to tell Mr. Greedy that he’s greedy. Because of that, all this is, sans context, is just Homer and some guy driving around with a bunch of weirdly-shaded gunpowder containers. This could be some one-off joke; it could be a pivotal point in the storyline; it could be it’s climax; shit, it could probably pass for those time-consuming couch gags. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Everything is technically sound, but what it misses is the actual substance behind it. A corporate executive who basically is the embodiment of everything Frank Zappa despises can perfectly replicate something, whether it be music, a book, a video game, anything, but it will always lack the appeal that brought it to their attention in the first place. The emotion, the meaning, the life behind it, they will never be able to replicate that. Simpsons gave us emotional, inspiring moments and the criticisms of a system we all hated, Zombie Simpsons gives us coldly-animated, poorly composed frames and a yellow hand holding a can of Axe body spray.

This show was once a living legend. If it had died in 1997, we would be celebrating it like Tupac. Now that it’s still alive, the entirety of it’s viewership is slowly beginning to sour on it like Jay-Z. All of this animation only contributes to the decline in quality of Zombie Simpsons, and it just starts to get sad. I’ve found there are two stages to this life that you, I, Charlie, and others live. First is the catharsis of criticizing this cascade of crud, then comes the disappointment you have in the show, the show you grew up on, the show that taught you about some parts of the world by making you laugh and making you feel. The show that you no longer have. Believe me, man, I wouldn’t be so expansive in my rage if I thought the Simpsons was okay.

That’s about it. I don’t have anything to plug, I’m just a young Scottish boy on the grind. Shoutout to Charlie for giving me the opportunity to write this. One love. [Ed Note: Aww.]

05
Dec
13

Bart vs. the Space Mutants

By Conor Lastowka

Hey folks, Conor Lastowka here. Long time reader/DHS evangelist. I’m writing today because I just published my first novel. It’s called Gone Whalin’ it’s about a college student who starts waking up on a whaling ship in the 1800s every other day, and is full of pirates, dogs wearing sunglasses, rum guzzling, ukuleles, sea shanties, and stadium seating couches. It’s guaranteed to be the funniest, least accurate novel about whaling you’ve ever read. You can read the first three chapters and watch the trailer at http://gonewhalin.com and then buy it on Amazon (Just 2.99 on Kindle!) http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd

Anyways, after I published the book, I realized I had to find a way to get people to read it. I debated several tactics: an all out media blitz, Google AdWords, Today Show appearances, sending copies to famed literary agents, shamelessly recording attempts at viral videos…But they all seemed like a lot of effort, so I decided to reach out to my favorite Simpsons blog and see if they’d let me write something about Bart Vs The Space Mutants. Charlie said yes, so here I am! Last Friday, November 15th, I sat down at 6:27 to play Bart Vs. The Space Mutants. [Ed note: It took me two weeks to post this because lazy.]  I loved this game when I was nine, but then again I also would have loved an instant read thermometer if the Simpsons faces had been slapped on it. I kept a running diary of the experience, and I hope you enjoy it!

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6:27 To start, the family is sitting on the couch watching TV. Maggie’s dress is bright green. Its usual shade of blue is present in Homer’s pants and Marge’s hair, directly next to her on the couch. So right away we’re off to a great start.

6:28 The named alien who is chuckling about earth’s demise is “Zorbo” who never really went on to do much in the Simpsons universe. He’s cracking a beer with Herman somewhere.

6:29 And we’re off! The goal is to collect all the purple objects. Right away, we see a trashcan that we can jump on to get an extra life. A simple enough task, yet it reveals the game’s horribly flawed mechanics. To cover extra ground with a running jump, you have to jump first, since it is also the run button, then hold it to run then press it again. BVTSM took something that was pretty much universal in NES games and managed to needlessly complicate it. It’s like if Ford released one specific type of car that switched the clutch and the brakes for no apparent reason, or if Google decided to completely overhaul or get rid of a perfectly good product that everyone was happy with to for no reaso—Oh…

6:31 The theater showing Space Mutant 4 has showtimes at 2 and 4. I remember that if you wait until the game timer hits these times, a guy in purple leaves the theater and you can spraypaint him. As there are plenty of other purple objects easily available throughout the level, there is no reason to do this unless you are insane.

6:32 Prank calling Moe’s. Asking for Mr. I.M. Adope. Essentially this is an early version of a video game cut scene, and it accurately predicted all the aspects about that convention, namely that it’s making me furiously mash the button to try to skip it. It’s odd to think that one of those HA’s coming out of the wall is probably Homer inside the bar. I know Charlie has thoroughly disproved the “Series shifted to be about Homer” myth, but at least in these early days, the merch and video games actually did seem to be Bart by the barrelful. Not sure if nine year old me would have been as into this game if it had starred Homer.

6:34 The first of many opportunities to buy items that have no use. I may have wasted a coin on the key as an nine year old, but you won’t fool me now, proprietor of Tool World!

6:36 Just realized Bart’s shoes and shorts are purple. He’s pretty much just waving them in the alien’s faces. That’s a good way to get probed.

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6:38 Blasted a bird off the Jebediah Springfield statue’s shoulder, and he compliments you. I can’t be the only one who was very confused and a little frightened at that moment in The Telltale Head when Homer talks to Bart about how he “pulled a few boners” back in his day, right?

6:39 Pausing to write these is complicated by another strange interface decision. Select (possibly used most in this game than any other NES game?) picks an item, and start uses it. So you have to navigate to ‘pause’ with select, then start to pause. Fortunately, the emulator on my Wii uses the “home” button as a pause as well, and it’s in a fairly natural spot to reach for as I type these. You can wipe your brow and issue a sigh of relief if you were at all concerned that I was expending a ton of effort every time I paused.

6:40 I have already passed a cop who is not Wiggum, dogs who are not SLH, and the mysterious man on the street who looks like nobody who has ever appeared in a Simpsons episode ever. Fortunately, I just fired a rocket into the sign of “Barney’s Bowlarama”, which is another great mystery of the Simpsons universe. What the hell was Barney’s uncle thinking, naming his bowling alley after his slovenly nephew? I could understand if it was a tribute to a nephew who died young, but Barney was even employed at the alley for a while. Seems like a high tribute for a mere pin monkey who he fired at the first excuse.

6:42 Just unlocked Maggie’s assistance by jumping on alien’s heads. Three goals to go, haven’t taken a hit, five lives. It gets harder.

6:43 Great joy as I remember you can shoot a rocket into the E in Kwik E Mart, then utter despair as it falls to the ground a half inch in front of me and disappears.This must have been how Hank felt in the desert when he thought he had Walt before the Nazis showed up.

6:44 “Goal achieved, proceed to the right.” The five sweetest words to a BVTSM player. Aside from perhaps “You can stop playing now”

6:46 Defeated Nelson without taking a hit. Even used one of Maggie’s bowling balls. I felt something of a measure of pride in this accomplishment until I remembered that I am 32 years old and playing Bart Vs The Space Mutants alone on a Friday night. After a deep sigh, now it’s on to Springfield Mall and the new goal: hats

6:47 The very first store in the mall? The mysteriously named “Pork Chop Shop”. No idea what the hell that means or if it’s even a joke but it’s still better than “Mapple.” In addition to the generic men from the first level we now have a lady who I believe is meant to resemble Patty/Selma. (Things I typed and then deleted to describe this woman: “slightly sexier version of”, “disturbingly attractive version of”, “way hotter”. I’m not proud, but I stand by it.)

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6:50 Took my first hit from a marshmallow that I thought was going to bounce over me. Must have been distracted by those sexy Patty/Selmas.

6:51 Oh god. The wet cement area. The BVTSM version of the turbo bikes in Battletoads. This could be the end right here.

6:52 Have died three times, including on the last spinning lollipop. Urge to kill rising.

6:53 And just like that, I’ve died, the aliens are praising a deity named Gleeba (Naming credit: George Lucas?) and I’m back to the start of the game. Let’s take a moment to think about how lucky we are in our modern video game cheating that save states exist. I did not use one of course, so it’s back to the start for me.

6:55 Prank call to Moe for Oliver Clothesoff. It’s even less funny this time around. Also remembered that there’s an extra life in the bushes beneath the clothesline but jumped the wrong way and missed it. It may be time for a beer.

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6:57 Bought the key from Tool World this time. You wanna get nuts??? Let’s get nuts!!!

6:59 I thought after disparaging the key, it might actually let you into the locked candy or pet store. Nope. It’s purely there to frustrate, in a game that absolutely needs no further built in frustrations.

7:02 Got the Kwik E Mart “E” extra life this time around. Of course I died a few minutes back and didn’t tell you about it so it’s a wash. Like gambling, the loss outweighs any sense of gain. On the other hand, you can tell they put a bit of effort into the music in this game. It’s not a bad version of the main theme song.

7:03 Noticed for the first time ever that the Springfield Retirement Castle is mistakenly presented as the Retirement Home and now I’m starting to wonder if anyone who was involved in this game that was hurriedly released to cash in on a media sensation as its popularity crested even cared at all. (NOTE: After the fact I watched the Thanksgiving episode and the sign actually says “Home” on it. My comic book guy-esque snark backfires horribly.)

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7:04 Didn’t have it earlier, but now have the “Sound Test” option in the select menu. There was nothing worse than when Nintendo Power would devote precious space in its monthly Secret Codes column to telling you how to access the fucking sound test in a game. On the flip side, I’ve managed to turn off the music, the one part of the game I’ve praised so far. (Other than hotter Patty/Selma.)

7:06 Beat Nelson without him throwing a cherry bomb. Back to the mall. But first a beer. No Duff on tap, so a Mosaic IPA from the closest brewery to my house, (which in San Diego pretty much means in my living room) Thorn Street Brewing. What a shameless plug…And speaking of shameless plugs, don’t forget about my novel, Gone Whalin’. It’s really funny and just $2.99 on Kindle! http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd

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7:08 Alright Pork Chop Shop. You still baffle me, but it’s time for round two. 7 lives this time, should be all set for the goddamn cement pit.

7:09 And then bafflingly, I make it across on try one. It’s like that Far Side cartoon about the cafeteria in hell. There’s a scorpion in your sandwich, but it’s not there every day. That’s what makes it hell.

7:10 Have now played this game for more time than I’ve spent watching Zombie Simpsons episodes from the past two seasons. (I will always check out the Halloween shows.) I’d like to point out that so far in this diary I’ve used the words hell, goddamn, fucking, frustration, insane, probed, less funny, & Nazis to describe playing BVTSM and I’ll still take it over a season 25 episode.

7:11 Defeated the miniboss after dying once. This must have been one of the first games to feature minibosses, no? This was a guy outside a store called Confections by Clyde, who is throwing what I just realized must be hard candies at you. It’s a good sign that subtleties from this game took 23 years to sink in. That’s the true sign of a job well done by the designers.

7:12 I know you can jump on some of these trashcans and get extras lives and stuff. Not sure which they are so I’ve been trying it on everyone. So far I’ve got a coin.

7:13 Just died jumping on a trashcan that kept shooting out coins but then a guy walked underneath me who wasn’t a space mutant and you lose a hit if you do that. I will stop trying to be cute.

7:15 The big boots that drop to the ground and shake the earth are unique in video games in that they don’t cause you to lose control of the character momentarily. Is that interesting? Would I have to ask if it was? Also, I deleted a “suck it Asheville” from the comment about beer in San Diego a few minutes ago. It seemed needlessly provocative. We can argue about what constitutes a great ‘beer city’ all we want, but the west coast indisputably has better beer than the East or the South. Unprovoked inflammatory statements! Now that’s interesting!

7:16 Moonwalking shoes cruise past. If you can do the Bart, you’re bad like Michael Jackson.

7:18 The second mini boss, a guy in a giant (Kuribo’s?) shoe outside a store called The Really Big Shoe, also does not stun you when he shakes the ground. Also, I just got that store name joke. Because what third graders wanted in their video games in 1991 was references to Ed Sullivan. One more floor, eight goals, and two letters of MARGE to go.

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7:19 First store on the third floor is Lap Top Shop. I guess I’m surprised they had laptops when this came out. And what maniac decreed every store in the mall would have a 52% sale?? It seems needlessly taxing on retail staff, not to mention customers’ mental math.

7:22 Goal achieved, proceed to the right. Also, if faced with a massive alien invasion, why wouldn’t Bart keep these X-ray specs on at all times? It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a downside, and the upside is the difference between life and death.

7:23 My god they put in another cement obstacle…

7:24 Died once on the cement, due to the previously unknown-by-me properties of floating magic wands to behave like a slippery ice surface in a Mario game.

7:25 On to boss two, the Babysitter Bandit. It’s kind of surprising that the references in the game are ultra episode-specific, Jebidiah’s head, Babysitter bandit. In a time when reruns were pretty rare and DVDs non existant, it banked a lot on you having seen them before the game. But everyone I knew had, thus proving the power of the non-zombie Simpsons.

7:28 Level three here we come. Krustyland and balloons. I have four lives and have been playing for an hour. I could easily be back to level one in five minutes. How the hell did we enjoy playing games on this system? I still refuse to believe anyone has ever actually beat The Adventure of Link. Speaking of save states, I apparently last played this game on Friday, January 29th. I have states saved in the last level, which I have never beaten. I’m pretty sure I saved all the way through this level in order to get there. This isn’t going to be pretty.

7:30 On the plus side, there are insanely difficult games of chance that you still have to avoid enemies as you play. I won the first one, where you have to hit three targets in a row with a baseball, made all the more difficult by the weird jump timing and sudden perspective change. Next is roulette. I pick 6.

7:31 It was 8. “Fun.”

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7:32 The shooting gallery is probably the best and least frustrating of these games, but I still got hit by a mutant while playing it which is such utter bullshit. At least at a real carnival the worst thing that could happen is a carnie—Actually I don’t want to complete that sentence.

7:34 I have obtained a slingshot, climbed a ladder, then jumped off a diving board, fell four screens, and rung a bell. Then I sunk a jester in a dunk booth. Say what you will, this game did some weird, original things. It mixes mini games with sort of RPG/Sierra game ‘find an item and use it’ type of quests. It’s still infuriating and unfair, but at least it wasn’t The Adventures of Dino Riki.

7:37 First thing in the fun house is a door logic puzzle that you have thirty seconds to solve and I don’t think I could solve if I had all night. Again, probably still better than interacting with actual carnies. Less likely to contract a weird form of Hepatitis with a letter from the second half of the alphabet.

7:40 The cement pit of this level is a pipe organ that blows air to suspend Bart. It’s very frustrating, but I made it across the first two times flawlessly, only to die cheaply on the other side. Now I’m on the fourth time and hoping this isn’t the end. Three lives left.

7:42 More cool stuff, going up into a giant Krusty head. Which of course ends with a platform giving out beneath you in a manner that no other platform in the game had done so far. Got an extra life, so still at three.

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7:43 Out of the fun house. These clown type creeps that do somersaults may actually be worse than carnies. I think one of them just leered at a picture of my wife from the TV.

7:44 Two goals to go. Unfortunately, also how many lives I have left. I don’t even remember who the boss of this level is. Obviously, I didn’t get here much as a kid.

7:46 Last life, and there’s a ferris wheel that you have to jump on that is turning over a giant pit. I don’t see this ending well.

7:47 Nope, died on first attempt.

That is the end of my time with Bart Vs. The Space Mutants for now, and the foreseeable future, praise be to Gleeba. A powerfully nostalgic, at times very frustrating journey. Next time I’m using Game Genie. Thanks for letting me convey my hastily jotted down thoughts to you, and thanks to Charlie for running such an awesome site. I’d love to hear your own experiences with the game in the comments. Let me leave you with one last plug for Gone Whalin’: http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd

14
Aug
12

Mourning the Loss of Mourning

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By Philip J Reed

I love intelligent criticism.  As a writer, I’d be nowhere without it.  It’s important to identify flaws in the things we love — or in the things that, with some substantial revision, we might come to love — but anybody can do that.  What’s comparatively more rare is insight. It takes very little effort to point at the things we dislike and say, "Yeah…that sucked."  It takes a lot more effort — and perhaps some amount of jilted affection — to devote four posts to every new episode for the sole purpose of figuring out why those things sucked. That’s what drew me to Dead Homer Society, and that’s what keeps me here.

But what of my own dissatisfaction with the show?  To be fair, I could disagree with everything Mr. Sweatpants & Friends write here, and still come away from their articles enlightened.  In fact, I do often disagree with their final assessments of certain things…but that doesn’t mean I can’t find some value in their discussions.  That’s the mark of intelligent writing; agreement isn’t the endgame at Dead Homer Society.  Consideration is.  And, unfortunately, consideration isn’t the kind of thing that does modern-day Simpsons any favors.

My own concerns with the show honestly have very little to do with the state of the comedy.  Yes, I’ll unquestionably concede that I’m lucky to get one or two good laughs out of an episode today…but, as strange as it might sound to admit this, I’m okay with that.  Since season 9 or so, I’ve been looking elsewhere for my weekly dose of great jokes…and I’ve found them without a problem.  South Park, Futurama, King of the Hill, The Venture Bros., American Dad, Archer, Bob’s Burgers…and those are just the cartoons.  There’s no shortage of great animated comedies right now, and there hasn’t been for years.  It’s certainly sad that I can no longer number The Simpsons among them, but the torch has been passed so many times now that I think it’s almost foolish to look back.  The Simpsons isn’t a fond memory of yesterday…it’s a memory of yesterday’s yesterday’s yesterday.  It’s gone.  And, what’s more, it’s been gone longer than it was actually here.  It brought a lot of laughter in its time but, frankly speaking, we can find that elsewhere now.

However there is one loss — one truly tragic loss — that died with The Simpsons so many years ago, and for which we still haven’t found a suitable replacement.  That loss is heart.

While I miss the sharp, subversive satire of the show’s first decade or so on the air, we can now find that elsewhere.  What we can’t find — at least not as easily, or as frequently — are the cartoons that move us.

I grew up watching The Simpsons.  I was eight years old when it premiered, and I had seen the Tracy Ullman shorts before that.  My family made a big deal of The Simpsons Christmas Special, and I’m not sure any of us knew that it was going to be a regular show after that.  That debut felt — and still feels — like an event.  I remember even now the rough animation, which only served to cement the feeling that we were being thrust into a different world.  It was a world that looked like nothing we’d ever seen before.  It was new, it was exciting, and it was a place we wanted to revisit time and again.

It was funny — as overdone as Homer injuring himself is today, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard at it as I did when he struck his head emerging from Santa’s workshop — but it also had heart.  Not the TGIF-flavored heart my younger TV-watching self was used to…but real, honest, genuine heart.  The heart you find in a family full of imperfections.  The heart you find among social desolation.  That heart that comes when Christmas is here and everybody else seems to be having a far better time than you are.    The heart you find in the distance between perception and reality.  The heart you find in the desire to not only support your family, but to elevate them…and the difficulty or impossibility of actually doing so.  It was a naturally American sort of heart.

I don’t remember if I cried during Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire. I probably didn’t, however sweetly sour it may have been, but as I grew up and the show grew up alongside me, there were episodes that downright decimated me emotionally…and they always did so with honesty.  They didn’t yank at your heartstrings…they simply broke your heart from afar.

Moaning Lisa, for instance, is still — as far as I’m concerned — one of the most raw, brutally frank explorations of depression that we’ve ever seen on network television.  It’s right up there with A Charlie Brown Christmas in terms of the unforgettable quality with which it delves into unexplained — and inexplicable — childhood melancholia. It’s something I dealt with when I was younger, and it’s something I’ve dealt with as an adult.  It’s the familiar feeling that you don’t fit in, yes, but it’s deeper than that:  it’s the feeling that you can’t, and will never, fit in…that there’s something wrong with you for not fitting in.  Lisa’s depression isn’t just sad…it’s moving. She’s a young girl with more to offer than anybody around her realizes, and yet all she feels is broken and alone.

Eventually, like Charlie Brown before her, she learns to accept it. She finds something into which she can channel her feelings, and that helps her to regulate them, and to cope with them in a more healthy way.  It’s the perfect predecessor to the equally classic Lisa’s Substitute, whose simple "You are Lisa Simpson" moral remains one of the most heartbreakingly perfect moments in anything I’ve seen on television.

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For The Simpsons — which was endlessly screamed about in the media as being anti-American, anti-religious and pretty much anti-everything we should stand for as a people — to devote such time and attention to things as simple as a little girl feeling sad…well, that was the real subversion.  This big, bad, society-destroying cartoon show was perfectly content to spend its time in the jazzy blue company of a little girl who doesn’t fit in.  There’s no greater subversion of expectations than that.

So compare this to Lisa Goes Gaga, the finale from this past season, or The D’oh-cial Network.  Lisa’s feelings of lonesome frustration used to be treated seriously.  They used to mean something…though you’d never know it from watching more recent explorations of that same theme.  Lisa still feels like an outcast, but now that’s a catalyst for outrageous plots and insultingly simple solutions. Compare the multi-car pileup nonsense of The D’oh-cial Network to Lisa feeling too depressed to participate in a game of dodgeball.  There’s no comparison…and yet they’re both, ostensibly, triggered by the same feelings in that episode’s protagonist.  Compare Mr. Bergstrom, who emphatically does not make everything better but simply serves as a fresh and intelligent perspective through which Lisa can view herself anew, to Lady Gaga, who chugs in on a magic rainbow train or something and telepathically saves the day.  It sounds silly, but the latter does actually make some attempt at heart…it’s just so far removed from the show that it used to be that it can’t recognize what it’s looking for.

It’s easy to chart the decline of the show just by looking at episodes like this, episodes with themes that worked so well in the past that now are being trotted out not only to diminishing returns, but to retroactively damaging returns.  Consider the flashback episode, which was first used in season two’s sweet The Way We Was.  That episode refused to wallow in sentimentality, and yet it ends up explaining exactly why Marge is with Homer, and why he — contrary to anything else we might have seen by that point — deserved her.  It was sweet, without being sentimental.  It was a flawed beginning to a flawed relationship, and it was easy to both pity and relate.  It was, in a word, perfect.

That was by no means the last of the great flashback episodes, but opinion is bound to differ on just when they became unnecessary.  I will say, however, that the ones that do succeed, succeed because they found the right way to blend the comedy with a lot of heart.  Comedy isn’t a reason to send us on a flashback — after all, there’s nothing you can’t show us in present day for a laugh — but it is a way to explore the heart beneath the characters…to see them in younger, more idealistic times, before they became the beaten and despondent individuals we know today.  Contrast this with That 90s Show, which exists as a flashback episode simply to make dial-up modem jokes and try to convince us that Homer invented grunge.  It’s difficult to believe in the face of pointless self-indulgence like this that the show used to be capable of such effortlessly gorgeous moments as "DO IT FOR HER."

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For a single character to follow along the downward spiral, from emotional triumphs to insulting mediocrity, take a look at what they did with Homer’s mother, Mona Simpson.  Her first major appearance, Mother Simpson, easily ranks among the all-time upper tier of Simpsons episodes.  It was funny, absolutely, but I’d be willing to wager that when asked to identify one single moment from that episode, most people would point to Homer, silent, sitting atop his car and staring into the night sky.  It’s a moment of profound restraint — nothing happens at all.  Everything is internal, and it’s unforgettably moving.  We don’t know what’s going through Homer’s mind in that moment, but we can certainly guess.  That moment is his.  We’re allowed to witness it, but we’re not allowed to invade it.  We’re kept at a distance for a reason…and so is Homer.  It’s beautiful.

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And yet, we weren’t allowed to remember the character that way. Homer, and we, were robbed of that perfect conclusion by bringing Mona back periodically due to writers not having any other ideas.  She came back once to reveal Homer’s middle name, and that was okay…though certainly unnecessary.  After that, however, we were beyond unnecessary, as Mona reappeared just to die and give Homer an excuse to act like James Bond while scattering her ashes, and then again as a ghost to haunt Homer and make him wet the bed, or something.  It’s getting harder and harder to remember Homer on that car, sadly reflecting upon the darkness around him, and all too easy to remember him as a mishmash of bland slapstick and unearned emotion.

That’s what disappoints me about the state of the show.  It’s not that the comedy isn’t as sharp.  It’s not that the satire is dull and toothless.  It’s not even that the voice actors don’t seem to care anymore.  It’s that the show, once so capable of reaching profound emotional plateaus, would now rather have Homer pissing himself and Lisa singing backup at a Lady Gaga concert.

It doesn’t mean anything anymore.  For all the talk of the boundaries pushed by The Simpsons in its early years, I truly believe the most impressive boundary it toppled was emotional.  Anyone who didn’t tear up at One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Bluefish, Bart’s Dog Gets an F, or I Love Lisa had something seriously wrong with them.  Now anyone who does tear up does so solely in mourning for the show long gone — the show that announced to the world that cartoons could be as affecting and insightful as anything else on television, perhaps even moreso…and then spent fifteen or more years proving itself wrong.

03
Jul
12

“Our Mickey Mouse Property” – The Moment a Fox Exec Told Me The Simpsons Were Doomed

By Bobak

When I was in undergrad in Los Angeles, I took classes in film/television at both my school (USC) and extension courses on the industry at UCLA.  (I’m now a lawyer in an unrelated field, so a lot of good that did.)  One of the UCLA courses I took was on marketing and always had a round table of execs from all the major Hollywood players, many from Fox which was just down the way in Century City.  A lot of times the execs would come in gushing about their latest productions–I remember the Disney people were all about Toy Story 2 and some really high up Fox exec was convinced Anna and the King was going to get a dozen nominations (lesson: movie execs are full of themselves and BS).

This was roughly 1999, and one day we had a Fox television marketing exec come in gushing about a major decision at Fox: she said the company had decided to take their embrace of The Simpsons to the next level and turn it into “our Mickey Mouse property” (her words, I will never forget how it was phrased). Fox wanted something as iconic as Mickey and went with the folks from Springfield. This was around the same time Fox began to seriously crack down on any unauthorized use of Simpsons clips or images on the web (I remember either the LA Times or Variety had an article about how they went after many fan sites).

At the time I heard this proclamation, I wasn’t sure what to think.  Mickey had been neutered by Disney in order to be their ultimate brand representative–how were The Simpsons going to fare?  As a fan since the Tracey Ullman days, I hoped the extra attention from the parent corp would help.  At the same time, that much additional investment could cause Fox to push forward with The Simpsons regardless of quality just to have their Mickey on the front line at all times.

Jump to 2000: I’m at a gathering with all my friends and someone says “hey, let’s watch the new Simpsons!”, so we do and no one laughed the entire episode. That was the moment I realized Fox’s commitment wasn’t for the better.

[Editor's Note: If you've got something Simpsons related on your mind and think it might make a good guest post, drop us a line at deadhomersociety at gmail.  Tiny amounts of internet fame can be yours.]




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