Archive for the 'Company Eating Rules' Category

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

25
Jul
13

The Simpsons in Australia: A Fan Remembers (And Rambles)

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By D.N.

The Simpsons has been such a massive part of my life – probably more of an influence on my sense of humour and my pop-culture savvy than anything else I can think of – that it almost feels strange to recall a time before I became aware of the show’s existence. My very first Simpsons-related memory hails from before the series made it to Australian television – during a front-yard cricket game in 1990 (I was about 8 or 9 years old). One of my next-door neighbours, who had recently visited America, talked about something he had seen over there. My mind was more focused on the cricket, but I did overhear some vague details about a TV show involving something called “Do the Bartman.” This was confusing to me at the time, but it made a lot more sense in 1991, when The Simpsons began its run in Australia. In proportion (i.e. taking into account the difference in population), The Simpsons might be as popular in Australia as it is in America. Certainly, we latched onto the show years before the UK did. (The Simpsons didn’t really take off in Britain until the mid-1990s.)

Some background: Prior to the arrival of cable (and later, digital) television, Australian TV in general consisted of five channels: the three commercial networks (Channels 7, 9, and 10), and the two public broadcasting networks (ABC and SBS). All five “free-to-air” channels, still in operation today, have a prerequisite amount of (mostly lousy) local content, but 7, 9, and 10 screen a lot of American stuff, the ABC screens a lot of British stuff, and SBS screens a lot of non-English-language stuff. At the dawn of the 1990s, The Simpsons was poised to be scooped up by one of the commercial networks. That Channel 10 acquired the show is, in hindsight, not surprising – in the 1990s, 10 had a reputation for screening the “edgier” American shows, including Roseanne, Seinfeld, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and The X-Files, although Seinfeld started out late-nights, and largely unwatched, on Channel 9, before becoming a hit on 10. (Channel 9 kept hold of Married…with Children, though.)

So Australia got The Simpsons, albeit a full year after the series began its run in America. Why the wait? These days, to compete with the internet and DVDs, Australian networks tend to “fast-track” episodes of US shows and screen them fairly close to the US air dates (“Express from the US!”, as the promos go). This is a relatively recent innovation. Australian television’s big ratings period excludes summer (December-February), and before the advent of fast-tracking, imported US material was made to abide by the traditional structure.

This meant we’d get first-run episodes quite a while after they screened in the US. Since we couldn’t get The Simpsons at the same time America did, and we couldn’t have a new series premiere mid-year, we had to wait until the beginning of 1991. (And I suspect the powers-that-be wanted to wait and see how the show played out in America – had The Simpsons been cancelled after its first season, I doubt this country would have seen it at all.) So, by the time we got season 1, America was halfway through season 2. (I don’t know if The Tracey Ullman Show aired in Australia prior to 1991. It definitely aired years after that, in a late-night timeslot.)

In those barbaric, pre-internet days, it would’ve been difficult for folks here to know much about The Simpsons until it got close to the show’s premiere. Amid a blaze of publicity (commercials, magazine and TV Guide front-covers), The Simpsons premiered in Australia on Sunday, 10 February 1991, at 7:30pm with a double-screening of “Bart the Genius” and “Homer’s Odyssey.” Subsequently, Channel 10 screened the season 1 episodes in a unique order (it wasn’t the US broadcast or production order). I missed the opening double-header, and I didn’t tune in for the next two weeks’ episodes, “Bart the General” and “Call of the Simpsons.”

(I don’t know why I missed them. I can’t imagine that I had anything better to do. I was 9 years old. What the hell was I doing on Sunday evenings? Doing my homework? Pretending to do my homework? Playing with my Ninja Turtles action figures?)

My first, real experience of The Simpsons was watching the premiere of “Moaning Lisa” on Sunday, 1 March 1991. What an amazing introduction it was. The Simpsons was funny and smart, it looked and sounded weird, and it was totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. For an animated show, it was funny in a way I was not familiar with. (I grew up on 1980s animated fare, but of the non-comedic kind – Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Dungeons & Dragons, Thundercats, etc. I wasn’t really a fan of Hanna-Barbera – I liked Scooby Doo, but I didn’t find it especially funny. The only “funny” cartoons I liked were the old Warner Brothers shorts.) The fact that The Simpsons was a cartoon that screened in the evening made an impression on me; I was also impressed by the fact that the characters blinked. (This might seem like a weird thing to latch onto, but was little touches like that helped to rapidly endear the show to me – I don’t think I’d ever seen animated characters blink like real people before.) I also loved how the show referenced stuff like religion and movies, and how it had a massive supporting cast of characters that expanded with every episode. (The number of locales in Springfield – the Simpsons’ house, Springfield Elementary, the nuclear plant, Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart, Burns Manor – also gave the show an added dimension.)

So, I was a Simpsons convert (even if it took me four weeks to tune in). I fell for Bat-Mania in 1989, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fad in 1990; The Simpsons was my next craze. “Moaning Lisa” hooked me, and the following week’s episode, “Some Enchanted Evening,” reeled me in even further. (Seeing kids being terrorised and tied up by a larcenous babysitter, and it being funny, blew my 9-year-old mind.) Over the next three weeks, I caught “Krusty Gets Busted,” a re-run of “Homer’s Odyssey,” and “The Telltale Head.” (The mixed-up episode order made the opening of “The Telltale Head” even more disturbing. At the end of “Krusty Gets Busted,” I saw Bart receive heartfelt thanks from Krusty for trusting him. Two weeks later, I saw an enraged Krusty baying for Bart’s blood.)

I dug The Simpsons. But how popular was The Simpsons in Australia at the time? Looking back now, I’m not really sure. It seemed to me that the show was incredibly popular, because I watched it, as did my family and my friends, and we all talked about it. But beyond my limited sphere of perception, it took a while for The Simpsons to become a ratings hit in Australia. Maybe the show was too damn unusual to become an instant success, but it eventually did catch on, thanks to the power of re-runs and word of mouth (not to mention the fact that with only five channels, television viewing options were relatively limited). In Australia, The Simpsons, as it had done in America, dealt with negative publicity on its way to becoming a mainstream hit. There was a fair bit of tut-tutting in the media over the show’s, and more specifically, Bart’s, supposed bad influence (There were kids at my school whose overprotective parents banned them from watching the show, and teachers who would sneer contemptuously at ‘The Bart Simpson Show’ [sic]).

It was easy for non-fans to be cynical about the show, what with the rampant merchandising: this county got hit with all, or most of, the predominantly Bart-centric Simpsons merchandise, repeating the Ninja Turtles onslaught of the previous year. There was even an Australian edition of Simpsons Illustrated. (I don’t know how many issues it lasted for, though – I got the first three, and I don’t believe there were many, if any, after that. Man, that that magazine was a godsend while it lasted – in those pre-internet days, it was my only source of info about the show and intriguing upcoming episode plots. Lisa goes bad! Mr Burns sells the nuclear plant to foreign businessmen! This was manna from heaven.)

The first four seasons of The Simpsons aired on Channel 10 between February 1991 and August 1993 (bouncing between Sunday and Tuesday evenings), but season 5 didn’t premiere until February 1995. For a year and a half, Australia didn’t get any new episodes of The Simpsons! Instead, 10 screened re-runs of seasons one to four, 6:00pm Monday to Friday (replacing re-runs of M*A*S*H). This had the effect of fans of the show becoming really, really, really familiar with those episodes. (Having seen those episodes so many times in that period, combined with my pre-pubescent age at that time, means it’s difficult for me now to remember the first time I saw them, although I definitely remember the very first time I saw Homer plummeting down Springfield Gorge, and thinking it was the single funniest thing I had ever seen in my entire life. I also remember the first time I saw “I Love Lisa” – well, not the episode itself, but I recall laughing the next day with my fellow seventh-graders over Skinner’s tragic ’Nam flashback, which we agreed was one of the most hilarious things the show ever did.) There weren’t many official Simpsons VHS releases at the time – only a smattering of season one episodes – but of course, there was the magic of the VCR. That said, it almost felt like there was no point in recording any episodes, because it wouldn’t be too long before they aired again.

The lack of new Simpsons episodes in 1994 meant that it was a massive deal when season 5 finally premiered the following year. And boy, did Channel 10 hype the advent of new episodes. The long wait was over! (And that long wait delineated the show for me: I tended to look upon seasons one to four as “old Simpsons,” and seasons five onwards as “new Simpsons.” Of course, these days, I regard about the first ten seasons as The Simpsons and everything after that as “Zombie Simpsons.” Thanks, DHS.  [Ed note: We do what we can.]) In 1995, season 5 was screened every Wednesday evening. This was followed by season 6 (which – oddly – continued through the 1995/1996 non-ratings period). Channel 10 still kept the weekday seasons one-four re-runs going, this time at 7:00pm (the 6:00pm slot went to old episodes of The Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch?! This seems weird now, but at the time, Ten tried to capitalise on the release of The Brady Bunch Movie). Also, “Treehouse of Horror IV” and “Treehouse of Horror V” premiered together on one night, on 1 November 1995. I remember that, after “Bart Simpson’s Dracula,” there was a commercial break, followed by “The Shinning.” We were deprived of the opening credits of “Treehouse of Horror V” for some years. Other noteworthy occurrences included the screening of “Bart vs. Australia” (it didn’t go down well, but that’s a whole other story), and the revelation of who shot Mr. Burns getting leaked here a while before “Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 2” actually aired. (I remember lots of people at school mentioning that Maggie did it. Turns out that radios DJs were spilling the beans, although I imagine the nascent World Wide Web played its part.)

For most of the 1990s, Channel 10 was the sole dominion of The Simpsons in Australia, with a combination of weekly first-runs and weekday re-runs. The arrival of the cable channel Fox 8 in the late-1990s meant there was another outlet for Simpsons episodes. (For the most part, Fox 8 only showed episodes that 10 had already screened, although there were several season 6 episodes that received their first run on Fox 8.) The Simpsons content on both channels was considerable – around the turn of the millennium, the combination of 10 and Fox 8 meant that viewers got somewhere in between 40-50 different Simpsons episodes a week!

Another massive Simpsons event was Fox 8’s alternative programming to the Sydney Olympics in 2000. For the duration of the games, Fox 8 screened a Simpsons marathon consisting of all the episodes that had been shown here before – roughly, the show’s first ten years – an almost total non-Zombie Simpsons run. (Fox 8 has continued its tradition of animation marathons during the Olympics, although said marathons have expanded to include not only The Simpsons, but also Futurama and the shows of Seth MacFarlane.)

Today, The Simpsons is probably about as well-regarded (or disregarded) in Australia as it is in America. I remember reading an article in 1999 that claimed that The Simpsons would end in 2001. That sounded about right to me – some lame episodes had already creeped in, and I thought it would be good for the show to bow out before the overall quality declined. Of course, the show didn’t end then, and, technically, it hasn’t ended since. For the last dozen years, Zombie Simpsons has lumbered around with a counterfeit claim to be The Simpsons…but I’m sure that there are plenty of people in this big sunbaked country who appreciate The Simpsons enough to recognise Zombie Simpsons when they see it.

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.

Loss of Mourning1

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."

Loss of Mourning3

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.

Loss of Mourning2

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.]

20
Jun
12

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play: Enjoyed By All

By Hank Pumpkins

Let me start out by saying this: I both love to pretend, and am horrible at, being a journalist, a profession where my egocentrism is at odds with my sheer obliviousness. Which explains why I showed up to the Wooly Mammoth Theatre haughty with lofty perceptions of how I would craft my review-de-resistance—and also why I showed up looking like a sweaty bum, wearing a White Sox cap, my trusty Toms loafers, and a t-shirt of Boba Fett if he were a dog (“Boba Fetch”, a bartender explained to me later—like I said, oblivious). Were I a more conscious human being, I probably would have given half a thought to bringing a date, and dining with her there at the theatre (they had delicious looking food, surprise surprise), but I didn’t. So, instead, I pretended to be a journalist all night; which is to say, I grabbed beer as fast as possible and hid my awkwardness under the veil of "fly on the wall" integrity, to try and catch a slice of both play-house Americana as well as Simpson-neck-beard-fandom in the surprisingly funny and poignant Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.

There was much less of the latter group than the former; I was a bit disappointed I didn’t spot any Geniuses At Work, as it were, though there were several people in the audience that had that decisive “I remember this episode and quote it fondly” loud laugh (which matched my own). The rest of the audience were the seasoned play-goers, people who were “down on the scene”, “with the haps”, and whatever other 60’s slang I can think of. The kind of people that don’t come in buzzed off their ass, whipping out their camera phone and snapping pictures until a friendly, though scared, attendant begs me to stop taking photos. Alas, I lost my only chance of someone saying “sir” without adding, “You’re making a scene.”

During intermission, the various different play-going demographics—suits, the elderly, cute girls in sun-dresses—parsed out the play with various success: they chattered about the meaning of The Simpsons in our society, pop-culture’s place in the future, and sometimes, rather simply, “Side-what Bob?”  I found it cute. 

The playwright, Anne Washburn, mentions in the booklet that The Simpsons was a serendipitous, though later obvious, symbolic pop-culture choice which the survivors of an unnamed apocalypse cobble together as a means of bonding and survival. Her play is at once hilarious and a bitter pill, as Washburn’s characters find light and grace in possibly the only piece of pop-culture that would survive a nuclear holocaust. Dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s likely The Simpsons may be the cockroach that shakes off the radiation and survives us all.

It’s clear as the play progresses, however, that time changes us all, and particularly our memories. For Post-Electric is not just an excuse for actors to quote Homer, but also a rumination on memory and story-telling, and a thought-provoking perspective of a future where the hand-me-down stories of each generation were given to us from a boob-tube.

In the first act, the characters, days out of said apocalypse, hilariously string together “Cape Feare” as best as they can, and I have to admit, it was hard not to join in with these people palling about onstage sorting out the episode’s first sequence like a bunch of drunk friends on a couch. The writer mentions that these bits were fleshed out from bull sessions between the cast—and the light-hearted, real conversation shows. What made Act I such a draw for me was the genius in the simplicity of it all.  Of course, this is how I would react if the Apocalypse happened.

All The Simpsons talk works in great contrast with the dire circumstances of the world around the characters, which grows even more desperate and doomed as the play progresses. The characters’ understanding of The Simpsons—and television, and pop-culture, and, well, the past—all starts to fall apart, and the melting-pot of pop-culture references is a hilarious, but dark, game of roulette.  There’s a very prevalent sense that not even The Simpsons might be able to carry on to the next generation—at least in the form that we know it. As no TV and no beer make society something-something, the earlier “Cape Feare” bull-sessions whisk away into something unfamiliar: purple-monkey-dish-washer territory.

The show takes a turn for the melodic in the strange third act, which works as a giant equals sign to the thoughts and build-up beforehand. The play shoots forward several decades, where The Simpsons as we know it has been deconstructed and smelted together with other lingering fragments of pop humanity, baked under the context of a world barely breathing after 80-some years of devastation and ruin. The final act was my least favorite, as we’re shoved down the rabbit-hole in this dream-like Simpsons facsimile. The whole thing is pretty much set to song, and deftly presented, but didn’t have the gritty punch the earlier acts did. Still, the steady dilution of “Cape Feare” into its end-of-the-world futuristic counterpart is an amazing trick to nail, and all hands on deck of the Pinafore do a remarkable job (as far as my understanding of critiquing plays go). I was clapping pretty hard at the end, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because I had been drinking.

What’s most surprising to me, though, is that it seemingly took as long as it did for someone to use The Simpsons in such a clever way. Directors like Quentin Tarantino are known for their ironic use of cotton-candy pop-culture conversations that belie the amorality and violence that bubbles around the chatter. Finally there’s a similar conversation happening with something so near and dear to me, a Gen-X variant on the ol’ post-apocalyptic “what makes us human” yarn—and a sci-fi future that accepts that The Simpsons is really effin’ important, damn it. After all, when the grids do go down, what’s humanity going to talk about? The Denver Broncos? Feh.

NOTE: I want to send a very hearty thanks to Charlie and especially the Wooly Mammoth, who all so graciously decided that me entering a place of culture and writing about it would be a good thing. I had an amazing time—if you’re in the DC area, check it out. If you’re not, be jealous, chummmmmmm…p.

Hank Pumpkins doesn’t just have the best nom-de-plume on the planet, he also writes miserable fiction and even more miserable personal accounts of his shlubby life over at Love in the Time of Sausage (www.littosonline.com). Love, Hank Pumpkins.

13
Jun
12

“English? Who Needs That?”: The Simpsons in the United Kingdom

By Wesley Mead

On Sunday 2nd September 1990, The Simpsons premiered in the UK, on a channel called Sky One. Sky One knew it would be a hit, surely. Advance press had been exhaustive and excited; buzz from the States was phenomenal. But I doubt even the most faithful of Simpsons fans at Sky in 1990 had any idea it would go on to be the show that saved the channel and defined their service for decades to come.

Maybe that’s a little hyperbolic. But it is difficult to overestimate the impact The Simpsons had on British multichannel television. To understand this, a bit of history is required. Let’s flashback to mid-1990 in the UK: Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting operate two competing satellite services, each with an array of exclusive channels. Most notably, BSB has Galaxy, and Sky has Sky One.

Original programming wasn’t really an option for either network, given the budget constraints of such niche channels, so both invested in repeats and imports. Galaxy acquired China Beach and Murphy Brown; Sky nabbed Moonlighting. So far, so good, though Sky were losing out in the (admittedly miniscule) ratings battle. But Sky’s savvy deal to acquire The Simpsons for a British audience – as Murdoch stablemates of Fox, this wasn’t too difficult a task – completely turned the tables. Garnering masses of attention in the mainstream media, including national newspapers and Sky’s own Sky Magazine, the show was almost certainly the highest-profile satellite acquisition to date, and the audience was clearly intrigued.

Thanks, Magazines Galore! Your JPEGs may be rat-like in appearance, but you are truly kings among men.

That first airing delivered tens of thousands of new viewers to the heretofore obscure channel. Given Sky’s extremely limited reach, the ratings had lived up to the hype. Its Sunday teatime scheduling undoubtedly contributed. The 6pm timeslot ensured the widest possible audience could tune in; particularly children, who would prove to comprise a significant component of the show’s viewership in the UK (arguably moreso than in the USA). But what really helped was the hype. Critics and commoners alike were raving about the show; magazines dedicated spreads to Bartmania; TV aficionados were spreading the word about the first “cartoon for adults” in decades. Everyone had heard about the show, and those with the means simply had to check it out. It was rare for a quality television show to be restricted to a niche, subscription channel on its first run; it was even rarer that said quality show was a cartoon about a yellow American family. The curiosity of the populace was piqued, and they found themselves enthralled and entertained in significant numbers. It was clear that the show was living up to the hype, as ratings consistently increased, and the British public really seemed to connect with the universal satire.

They may have been promoted with lousy commercials, but The Simpsons were on TV!

Within two months of its first episode airing, Sky One’s overall channel ratings had seen a double-digits percentage rise – amazingly, beating out those of BSB’s Galaxy. In a stunning turnabout, BSB merged with Sky by November – crucially, keeping the Sky branding. Pre-Simpsons, BSB had looked the inevitable winner of the UK satellite race, commanding higher advertising rates and drawing greater audience. But once The Simpsons had premiered? Sky were the clear winners, home to the highest-rated scripted show on satellite, and driving that Simpsons audience to the rest of their lineup while they could.

Buzz about the show reached fever pitch in the subsequent months. “Do the Bartman” made it to number one in the UK singles charts in January 1991, at a point when only a tiny – but increasing – percentage of the audience had access to the show. (The video’s airing on BBC1′s “Top of the Pops” was the first real free-to-air taste of the show.) Buzz among everyone from the media elite to the school playgrounds was that The Simpsons was the defining reason to upgrade to satellite or cable TV. T-shirt sales, as in the US, were through the roof; two-episode videotapes sold by the shedload, allowing non-satellite viewers their first access to the show proper.

The show remained a significant draw for Sky One throughout the early ’90s. The Sunday-evening episodes were must-watch events. Backlash from wary parents was limited, and the backlash that did take place only heightened popularity among kids. By 1993, Sky began to see the value in “stripping” the show across multiple days of the week – similar to syndication in the USA – and these saturation repeats played a key role in heightening its popularity here, as viewers just getting interested in the show could catch up on past editions more readily.

By 1993, Sky One had invested in a copy of cloud.jpg.

But as Sky and Fox aired its fourth, fifth, sixth, even seventh season, the majority of the country – the 50 million without subscription TV – were wondering when they’d get their chance to catch up on this yellow American family. Sky and cable had increased market share significantly – and it’s fair to say that The Simpsons played a reasonable role in that takeup – but penetration had only gone from 4% to 20%. That left a whole lot of viewers without The Simpsons in their lives. In 1996, though, that majority finally got their answer, as the BBC – the UK’s public service broadcaster, funded by public money and airing no commercials – announced they’d acquired the terrestrial rights to the show. (In the ’90s in the UK, “terrestrial” referred to the four or five main channels accessible to anyone with a TV: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4, and later Channel 5.)

The Simpsons finally got its long-awaited terrestrial debut on Saturday, November 23rd, 1996. The channel: BBC One. The time: 5:30pm. The episode: There’s No Disgrace Like Home. The ratings: …actually, surprisingly underwhelming. Only five million viewers tuned in. Naturally, this was orders of magnitude greater than the ratings on Sky One, but BBC was available to everyone in the country; considering the great British public had been waiting over six years for this free-to-air, commercial-free premiere, it’s hard to say these results were a success.

To be fair, 5:30pm Saturday wasn’t the greatest timeslot. It had the benefit of being kid-friendly, but it was rather earlier than most Saturday-evening high-profile programming. (It had previously been home to repeats of ’70s sitcom Dad’s Army – not exactly prestigious.) But when ITV started airing new episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch opposite it, and drawing greater viewership, it was clear something wasn’t right. Could consumer demand have died off prematurely? Could most of those interested in the show have converted to Sky long ago? The Sky episodes were still drawing relatively good numbers, so it was hard to blame the show itself. The BBC couldn’t really risk burning off the sixty-one episodes they’d made a deal for (every show through early season four) with such relatively poor ratings, so they pulled the show, and had a strategic rethink.

The Simpsons returned, after six weeks’ hiatus, in March 1997. This time, though, things were a bit different. It was airing on BBC2. BBC2 had already played home to an array of US hits, from The X-Files to Ren & Stimpy, and it seemed like a logical home for the show. Mondays at 6pm saw new episodes air, followed by new-to-terrestrial airings of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (a combination so potent that 70,000 Facebook fans still remember it); Fridays saw a double-bill of classic episodes, airing until 6:45pm. This time, the ratings were stronger: not in raw terms, as BBC2 weekdays was more of a niche slot; but proportionately, The Simpsons was quite a hit, garnering ratings around 4 million during this period. Its positioning against news on both BBC1 and ITV saw younger and more tech-savvy audiences gravitate towards it, while its early-evening timeslot also allowed children of all ages to tune in, too. Internet buzz among diehards about censorship drew some criticism to the slot (older fans naturally wanted unedited episodes in later timeslots) but the cuts were generally minimal (a “bastard” here, some bloody Treehouse of Horror violence there) and ensured the show could retain the crucial child audience.

None of your fancy store-bought fonts for the BBC.

The late ’90s and early 2000s saw the show peak in audience reach in the UK: between strong ratings for new episodes on Sky and great performance of terrestrial premieres on BBC, The Simpsons was at its commercial zenith in Britain. Perhaps the most telling evidence of this is in BBC2′s move, in March 2002, to strip the show across five nights a week. They’d dabbled with three nights before – Mon, Wed and Fri – in 2000 and 2001, but every weeknight? Terrestrial saturation of an American show was uncommon at this point; some were concerned that the general audience would begin to suffer Simpsons burnout. Typically, there would be an episode at 6pm on BBC, then two or four on Sky One; add in the occasional dabbling with morning and post-watershed slots for the show on Sky, as well as its regular presence on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and some weeks in 2000 saw thirty-plus episodes of the show air. But critics be damned: the figures held up, the eyeballs continued to tune in, and the BBC’s 6pm weeknights slot remained permanent for the next four years. With a healthy catalogue of classic episodes that still hadn’t been aired on terrestrial, the BBC were in a great position, as they were able to “premiere” multiple seasons within a single calendar year (though as a condition of Sky’s contract, they remained at least four seasons behind the US at all times).

Domino’s Pizza sponsored The Simpsons on Sky One for many years. Alas, in 2008, the partnership came to an end, as UK regulations made it more difficult for fast food companies to sponsor shows that lots of children watch. (In a bid to recreate the successful partnership, Pizza Hut sponsored the show on Channel 4, too. That didn’t work out. So now, Shockwaves hair products sponsor the show. Yeah, I dunno either.)

Sky were experimenting with expanding the show’s foothold on their schedule, too. Double-bills had been the order of the day for a couple of years; in late 1999, they looked to use the show as the launchpad for “Skyrocket” (please, forgive the pun), a three-hour Saturday evening animation marathon. Alas, the project was doomed, as Futurama and Family Guy had not yet grown into the cult sensations they would become, and The PJs and King of the Hill lacked a strong UK fanbase. Nevertheless, Sky persevered, trying out Simpsons-only marathons on every Bank Holiday they could find; Christmas 1999 saw six episodes on Christmas Day, seven on Boxing Day, and a seven-episode “Viewer’s Choice” on Christmas Eve. They ran the show at 7:30 and 8am on weekdays for a period; weekend mornings also saw the occasional jaunt. In 2000, they toyed with a pre-King of the Hill 10pm slot for the show, which they occasionally used to show uncut versions of more risque episodes (“Natural Born Kissers”, “Grampa vs Sexual Inadequacy”). It was plain to any observer that The Simpsons was the lynchpin of Sky One’s schedule during this period.

And who could blame them? The show was a seriously hot cultural property in Britain during this period. Dozens of four-episode VHS compilations were released here between 1998 and 2002, typically at a rate of four per year. My data is incomplete, but I understand that each and every one landed in the UK top 10 video chart. The Simpsons video games released during that period were strong sellers, despite oft-derisory critical reception (“The Simpsons Wrestling” got a very weak 5/10 score in the Official UK Playstation Magazine, but it still sold by the shedload here). The comics, rebranded for the UK, sold excellently. Citing heavy appeal to kids, BBC One aired season one episodes of the show as part of their Live & Kicking Saturday morning strand (usually home to Rugrats). Multiple UK-targeted unofficial episode guides were published – compared to the USA, which hadn’t seen any such references printed since the early part of the decade, it was clear Simpsons mania was enjoying a second wind in Britain. As the tenth anniversary of the show’s UK premiere loomed, The Simpsons had greater cultural penetration in the UK than ever before.

I paid £12.99 for these four episodes on video. (Still better value than £12.99 for a whole season of Zombie Simpsons, mind.)

Both BBC and Sky saw fit to celebrate a decade of the UK’s favourite family. The BBC actually got in on the game first; their celebratory evening on 23rd June 2000 included two strong documentaries and a plethora of episodes classic and new (well, new to terrestrial). But from a scheduling perspective, Sky’s weekend-long celebration in August was more revealing, as the weekend culminated in the UK premiere of Malcolm in the Middle, a show they would dub the “live-action Simpsons”.

Some questioned the logic in concluding a Simpsons weekend with a completely unrelated show, but it actually worked effectively. As Sky continued to pair Malcolm with The Simpsons, Malcolm became a breakout hit here in its early years, retaining a significant percentage of The Simpsons’ audience, and actually remained a more consistent performer in Britain than it did during its later years in the USA.

Throughout the 2000s, new episodes of The Simpsons typically declined in performance, despite continued uptake of Sky and cable services ensuring more and more viewers had access to the show. Maybe it was a case of over-saturation; maybe it was a case of Zombie Simpsons beginning to dilute the odds of finding a classic. But as cultural elder statesman, the show remained an integral part of the Sky brand. In deference to the key role it played in defining their brand – and playing a key role in their subscriber stats – thousands of Sky engineer vans across the country were plastered with images of the Simpson family throughout the latter half of the 2000s and early 2010s. As the decade came to a close, The Simpsons, still a steady performer among an increasingly fractured viewership, was used to lead off Modern Family, The Middle and Raising Hope, turning them into moderate hits for the station. It’s perhaps in this way that Sky now gets the most value from the show: it’s no longer the pop-culture behemoth it was in the 1990s, driving potential subscribers to choose Sky; instead, it’s a utility player that’s earned its face on the walls – and vans – of fame. Repeats don’t air quite as much these days – there are none on Saturdays, sometimes only one on Fridays – and Sky spend far more on advertising for Modern Family than they do for OFF. Regardless, though, it’s an integral part of the Sky lineup.

They didn’t even get the blackboard font right. Damn you, Sky!

But what of terrestrial? The most significant event of the show’s scheduling in the ’00s was its move from BBC2 to Channel 4. In terms of audience share and target audience, the two networks were quite similar, with BBC2 perhaps slightly more upmarket. But significantly, Channel 4 was a commercial network: while it had public service responsibilities similar to BBC, it had to earn its own money, through advertising. It was this key difference to allowed Channel 4 to pick up the show when BBC could no longer afford to; as ratings plateaued, BBC could no longer justify spending increasing amounts of public money on the show. (By this point, even terrestrial runs commanded a stunning £700,000 per episode.) It was with clear regret that the BBC had to give up on the show – it contributed towards a shocking 10% drop in their 2004 ratings compared to the year prior – but it seemed the sums were unworkable. So, in November 2004, after a six-month break from terrestrial (BBC had concluded their run back in spring), The Simpsons were back on terrestrial TV.

Channel 4′s scheduling of the show over the past eight years has proved relatively uneventful. After early dalliances with new episodes airing between 9pm and 10pm on Friday (similar to their previous flagship US import Friends), C4 soon found that the comfortable 6pm repeats – scheduled in the same way as the BBC’s had been for the previous four years – were actually out-rating the prime-time episodes; in later years, new-to-terrestrial seasons simply aired in those same 6pm slots. In the early days, the channel attempted a few “events”: alongside the expected “Simpsons Night” on the day they acquired the show, they used The Simpsons as the hosts of their 2004 “Alternative Christmas Message” – an offbeat alternative to the traditional Christmas Day’s Queen’s Speech in Britain, which rated well.

So yeah, according to that Christmas message, Lisa is a Cornish nationalist. Yeah.. I don’t really know why they did that either.

In recent years, the channel has settled into a comfortable, but successful pattern of the stripped 6pm weekday slot sitting alongside a Sunday afternoon double-bill. They remain four years behind Sky (and Fox), premiering season 20 later this year. Viewing figures have been unexciting but fair; typically around the 1.5 million mark in summer and 2 million in winter, down around 500,000 on five years ago. That doesn’t sound so impressive on paper, but it comfortably outrates the shows C4 had previously had in that slot (including Futurama and Home Improvement in the late ’90s) and most episodes end up in Channel 4′s weekly top 20. Increased penetration of Sky and cable should also be taken into account – nowadays, the majority of people can see new episodes four years before they air on Channel 4 – and with so many more channels now available even on the free-to-view Freeview platform, viewership has fractured significantly.

While the new episodes may lack the “event” feel – and the corresponding viewership figures – the punters, the loyal fans, are still willing to fly their fan flag high on special occasions. Case in point: The Simpsons Movie. It earned a phenomenal £13.6 million in its first weekend at the UK box-office, accounting for a staggering 2.6m admissions. According to box-office analyst Charles Gant, a movie typically generates in British pounds one-tenth of what it earns in US dollars; based on those rough guidelines, The Simpsons Movie did disproportionately better in Britain by nearly 80%. (That £13.6m opening figure? Only 15% less than barnstorming four-quadrant megahit The Avengers in its first weekend – and taking into account ticket price inflation and 3D uplifts, The Simpsons Movie almost definitely saw greater numbers turn out to watch). Between that performance, the series’ continued role in shepherding new US imports to cult-hit status on Sky, and its now-permanent 6pm Channel 4 slot delivering consistent figures every day of the week, it’s perhaps interesting to note that in its autumn years (boy, do I hope they’re autumn years), The Simpsons is holding up – commercially, at least – much more resiliently than in its homeland. Yes, there have been ratings declines, and DVD sales have decreased – when you’re talking about a show that’s creatively declined as much as Zombie Simpsons, it’s inevitable – but on the whole, the franchise remains a significant player over here. It often seems like Britain continues to embrace the show even more than the USA.

Considering the fact that the show wasn’t even available to eighty percent of the country during its seven greatest seasons, I’d call that a success.

23
May
12

Crazy Noises: Lisa Goes Gaga

Homer's Phobia7

“Come on, Homer, join the party.” – John

As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another.  More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things.  The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud.  So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “sappiness”).

We discuss the pathetically lame Marge/Gaga kiss below, and the fact that this isn’t the first time Zombie Simpsons has employed this cheap attention stunt.  (And there’s the way it apparently turned Marge on so much that she immediately needed to fuck Homer like they’d never fucked before, which adds to the stupidity and incoherence.)  But more generally, it’s further evidence of just how far behind the times Zombie Simpsons has fallen, especially compared to The Simpsons.

Gay characters were basically non-existent on television in 1990, and yet The Simpsons hinted that Smithers was gay and had Karl (who self evidently was gay) kiss Homer full on the lips.  In 1994, Homer visits a lesbian bar and thinks the only thing wrong is the lack of a fire exit.  Three years after that, they did “Homer’s Phobia”, which was broadcast two months before the famous “Ellen comes out” episode.  However important or not important those things were or weren’t, there’s no denying that The Simpsons was way ahead of its time in terms of portraying gay characters and stories.

Fast forward to today, and Zombie Simpsons is lagging behind on the exact same things.  There was Patty’s it’s-not-really-a-woman marriage, Marge kissing Lindsey Naegle (in a Homer fantasy, no less), those pathetic gay bars, and now this hapless stab at relevance.  It’s remarkable not only for how culturally tone deaf it is, but for how far they’ve regressed from where they used to be.

[Note: Our old friend Zombies Rise from the Sea joined us again this week, and we got into what may be the longest Crazy Noises ever.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, we’ve got everybody. Shall we begin?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Let’s do this!

Charlie Sweatpants: So, this episode, memorably bad or just regular bad?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Terrible.

Charlie Sweatpants: (i.e. is this so bad that it stands out by their standards)

Mad Jon: This was so bad it stood out.

Dave: It was tremendously obnoxious. End-to-end.

Mad Jon: This was mega bad, I was in serious danger of doing some damage to the TV on Sunday night.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Who’s idea was it to put Lady Gaga on the show?

Charlie Sweatpants: At this point, they seem to regard guest voices as sort of awards that they give out to people they like or admire.

Mad Jon: I dunno, but I imagine it was the same person who agreed to let her have 51% of the lines in the episode too.

Dave: And superpowers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Tim Long?

Mad Jon: I don’t even know where to really begin.

Charlie Sweatpants: Think of Jebediah, and the words will come.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well… I think we should.

Wait, hold on!

I think a psychic force is telling me something.

Mad Jon: I am not even sure I could coherently describe the INTENDED plot.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That’s what my psychic force is telling me, the plot.

The Lisa plot that tries so hard to be emotional but ends up sappy.

Charlie Sweatpants: The psychic force was certainly terrible (and there was even less need for it twice), but since the whole thing was apparently some kind of off-season, no-rules-apply, Halloween episode, I don’t know that it was even in the Top 5 bad things here.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: How did they think it was a good idea?

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d say it was part of their overall “exaggerate everything about Gaga” theme.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Gaga is clearly going to Springfield, why have some unexplainable force that isn’t even satirized or joke about tell her about Lisa?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, the whole she has to cheer up the town AND cheer up Lisa thing seemed very redundant.

Dave: I think the Halloween episode parallel is pretty apt; they more or less threw their own minor rules out the window and went for it.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Agreed Dave.

Cheering up the entire town she did easily because Springfield has basically turned into a bunch of people who would cheer at any celebrity coming their way.

Especially Lady Gaga.

Mad Jon: And even when they were trying to have a progression, they just fast forwarded it. I cite how quickly Lisa dropped the notebook that outed her as the Truth Teller.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: My god the town of Springfield has lost their personality.

That scene pissed me off Jon.

I mean why do they have people suddenly become clumsy to serve the plot? Hell, why even have the notebook with her.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed, Jon, the plot was very stop and start. It would move rapidly, then pause so Gaga could interact with random people, then zoom forward again (Lisa’s angry outburst and instant reconciliation come to mind).

Mad Jon: It should.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: If I were Lisa I would have held onto the notepad or even just left it at home hidden or even stored the information on a computer.

Mad Jon: I would have done anything but what happened.

Charlie Sweatpants: What’s more, and this may be attributable to the overall Halloween vibe, they had people acting weird and out of character even by their standards.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: More then usual?

Charlie Sweatpants: The school actually doing these awards, Flanders talking with Gaga out of the blue, all those people who shouldn’t have been there at the concert (Grampa in particular).

And yeah, I think it was more than usual. Think about Skinner and Hoover here. They’re both aiding and abetting the children taunting Lisa mercilessly.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Who else has to be at the concert, without someone they wouldn’t be able to showcase how super big Lady Gaga is?

Mad Jon: Agreed. CBG wipes his face with Superman #1, Flanders was anyone but Flanders.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And yeah, Skinner was unusually mean.

Charlie Sweatpants: Marge and Homer were the same way. It was like neither of them had ever dealt with Lisa before.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well it’s a consequence of trying to have an emotional sappy plot.

You know, Lisa moping, acting sad, isolated…

It isn’t even done in a way that’s substantial but people ate it up anyway.

Mad Jon: Back to Marge real quick, why was she afraid to be touched?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I don’t know, I instantly blocked that scene out when I saw Gaga kissing Marge.

Charlie Sweatpants: I kind of felt bad for Lisa after a while. I mean, she’s basically being stalked and harassed by a celebrity with the active complicity of her parents and all she wants to be is left alone. It was creepy.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Terrible!

Charlie Sweatpants: The kiss was atrocious.

Dave: So they could work in a lesbian kiss. Duh.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And don’t forget the twitter hashtag the network put up to showcase the scene.

Charlie Sweatpants: What’s worse, they did the same thing like three seasons ago.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Not the show, but the FOX network.

This isn’t even funny.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really? I didn’t know that.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I recorded the episode, it was clearly from the network.

Dave: What was the hashtag?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: #GagaKissesMarge

I mean WTF?

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s really desperate.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The network must want it’s now super low rated show to succeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: I mean, using an always heterosexual female character kissing another woman as publicity? That’s so low and old that it’s actually a cliche:

http://deadhomersociety.com/2009/08/24/zombie-simpsons-in-the-land-of-tv-tropes/

Dave: Huh. The twitterverse ate it up. https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23gagakissesmarge

No surprise there, I guess.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The internet in general is stupid.

Charlie Sweatpants: Doesn’t surprise me, though I wouldn’t take it as an indictment of the internet generally. The kind of people who are going to care enough to add that to their Twitter feeds are probably going to be enthusiastic rather than bored.

Remember, we’re the weirdos, not them. Most the people who watch this show probably actually like it.

It’s only the real die hards who watch it in spite of never finding it good.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Getting back on topic, just how sappy was that emotional content?

Charlie Sweatpants:  Honestly, the emotions were so clumsy that I’m not sure they even qualified as sappy.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It’s like Tim Long read a book about how to write and read a chapter that described how a character can be emotional.

Charlie Sweatpants: Other than my sympathy for Lisa wanting to be left alone, barely any of this was coherent enough to even get at where they were coming from.

Mad Jon: I didn’t see as much of what I would call emotion as I did what I would call manic reactions.

Charlie Sweatpants: Gaga at the end is exactly that.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I mean they force her into a situation that is contrived (Lisa telling lies about herself, being popular) then they have the parents try to sympathize with her, the bullies tease her and even Lady Gaga try to cheer her up all while she acts mopey, lies down in bed, cries without tears, says stuff a teenager would say.

For me to emote with a person, the situation has to matter and the moments during that situation have to be involving.

None of these moments were involving.

Mad Jon: Nobody was really ‘feeling’ anything. Almost every situation makes me think that any doctor nearby would be handing out bottles of Xanax.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Most people who voted 3/5 on NoHomers felt something.

They actually fell for the whole “Lisa” shtick.

Charlie Sweatpants: Again, that doesn’t entirely surprise me.

Mad Jon: Neither I.

Dave: Ok guys, hate to do this but I gotta run. Enjoy the rest of your chat.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay Dave, have a good evening.

Mad Jon: Peace Dave.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Sad to see you go Dave, but have a good evening.

Nice to meet you.

Dave: Likewise. Later guys.

Charlie Sweatpants: The kind of sappiness that they went for was real lowest common denominator stuff. That will always play with fans.

“Friends” stayed on the air for like four seasons longer than it should have on that alone.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: But the way it’s portrayed, it seemed like it was trying to go for that 8-year old being sad but failed.

The acting of Yeardley Smith is better then usual but I don’t want to emote based on acting, I want to emote based on the situation.

Charlie Sweatpants: But that’s part of the problem with how sloppy it was.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It annoys me because if people keep falling for this then people are going to do the same thing over and over.

Charlie Sweatpants: Literally no one in that situation (sad little girl having minor, childish crisis) would make as big a deal out of cheering her up as they did.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Agreed.

But still, who needs an emotional moment with proper buildup and proper investment when you can just have someone act sad? And I’m talking about all of the series here.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right, pretty much everyone harasses Lisa at some point (they eve had Maggie do it for fuck’s sake) and they have their little sad moment. There is no buildup, it starts with her depressed and stays at a flat line for most of the episode.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: All while Gaga tries to be Michael Jackson.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even the end was like that. Lisa actually gives two different reasons why she’s suddenly fine.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It just sets a poor standard for the production of TV series everywhere, Zombie Simpsons I mean.

Charlie Sweatpants: Was it because Homer’s incompetence as a parent is now endearing to her, or was it because she had a “great sneeze”?

Mad Jon: How does one define “little monster”?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I couldn’t understand a single word Homer said.

Nor could I understand what Homer had to do with Lisa’s revelation.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon: Gaga fans call themselves “little monsters”.

Mad Jon: Ah.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly, Homer’s chat with Lisa didn’t do anything.

Mad Jon: So Gaga keeps telling people they can be little monsters, meaning they are allowed to be her fan?

Charlie Sweatpants: Meaning they’re allowed to let their true, weird selves fly free. Concurrent album purchases are not required, but not discouraged either.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: No, I’m not a superfan of hers but I’m guessing it all sort of has to do with the inner beauty and desire they hold inside.

I’ve listened to ‘The Fame”, I have yet to listen to her recent work.

Maybe that’s a good thing…

Mad Jon: I see. So it’s like an apathetic version of music scientology. I have heard plenty of Gaga, but I know almost nothing of the culture.

Not that it really matters.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So let’s talk about what Lady Gaga is trying to be, “Michael Jackson”.

Anybody remember “Stark Raving Dad”?

Charlie Sweatpants: The fact that they had Lisa saying “I denounce thee” like it was musical scientology was just part of the overall “fluff Lady Gaga” thing.

Then she comes back and is a superfan at the end. It was practically a commercial.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Or their interpretation of who Gaga is, trying to inspire people, achieve dreams they cannot achieve.

Mad Jon: The end was horrific.

Charlie Sweatpants: And yeah, they really didn’t leave me with any choice but “Stark Raving Dad” for today’s Compare & Contrast.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I don’t associate that with Gaga but I can understand why other people would.

Mad Jon: I associate it with hilarity.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Just imagine Gaga and her terrible voice acting trying to bond with Lisa.

Charlie Sweatpants: That was something that bugged me right from the start. She cannot act for shit.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: She isn’t even aware she’s on an animated show, it’s more like one of those cheesy PSA’s from the 80′s.

Mad Jon: Is that what her actual voice sounds like? I’ve never heard her talk before.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well maybe but she’s trying to “act” so any normalcy is thrown out the window.

I imagine that when she talks she’s good.

Acting, not so much.

Charlie Sweatpants: Her delivery on “We’ve got to cheer up a whole town. Where’s the dress I wore when I met . . . the Pope” was solid wood from end to end.

And yeah, the required skill sets of “singer” and “actress” don’t actually have much overlap.

Some people can do both, but most of them can’t.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It doesn’t seem like she knows what to do or is willing to portray herself as a character, she sounds as if she’s trying to make a voice and emote it but ends up with the opposite effect for lack of better words.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s like Lisa’s story line, her readings were just flat.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Maybe she’s unable to immerse herself in the character or something, I don’t know.

Heh, the irony of it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Whatever the reason, it was bad.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Maybe she should have sung her lines, it wouldn’t have been acting but it would have been better then what we got.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d say there was more than enough singing.

Mad Jon: Yep, more than plenty.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Speaking of songs, is Tim Long even trying with these songs anymore?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t know, but some of those lyrics wouldn’t have been out of place in an elementary school production that doesn’t have a lot of help from the teachers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The song she sang in the beginning felt like it came off from one of her studio albums.

It didn’t even feel like it was created for a Simpsons episode, it actually felt like a song written for one of her albums.

Charlie Sweatpants: The credits had both big songs with lyrics by Tim Long and music by Rex Promise.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Ah.

Charlie Sweatpants: A quick Google search is unclear as to who or what “Rex Promise” is.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Possibly someone hired off the street to produce these songs.

It’s funny, this is like the first time a song on the Simpsons felt like a promotional effort.

It wasn’t satirical, it was subconsciously promoting an upcoming album from her even though it was written for this episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t know about first time, but it was definitely a promotional event.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I will admit that the lyrics are decent, if Tim Long leaves The Simpsons then he could easily join up with Lady Gaga’s entourage and write songs for her.

The lyrics are not decent for the Simpsons however…

Charlie Sweatpants: Yes, the lyrics weren’t even trying to be funny.

Mad Jon: I wasn’t even paying attention to them.

Charlie Sweatpants: I mean, “When they’re young, all little monsters learn that they are scary/ Ugly, stupid, shunned by cupid, overweight, and hairy.

“But every monster needs to find that secret deep inside.

“That transforms doctor Jekyll into sexy mister Hyde.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That song could easily fit onto “Born this Way 2″

Charlie Sweatpants: Christ that’s bad. That sounds like Up With People modernized so they could use the word “sexy”.

Mad Jon: That’s pretty bad.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Agreed.

The fact that it can be placed into a Gaga album makes it worse.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, but at this point we’re pretty close to the bottom anyway.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: At this point they should just sell the show to Pixar since they praise it so damn much.

Mad Jon: “It can’t possibly be bottomless” – “Well, for all intents and purposes….”

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Including in this episode, with the terrible mention of Cars.

Charlie Sweatpants: Forgot about that.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The Simpsons tries so hard to be Pixar material but it’s not Pixar, it will never be Pixar.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I missed that too, but I’m not surprised by myself for that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, Brad Bird left, what do you expect?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: You do have a point there.

Mad Jon: Meh, I think they are just trying to get by, one profitable day at a time.

Charlie Sweatpants: Pretty much. Any final thoughts about this episode in particular?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: There’s still so much about this episode to talk about.

We haven’t even got to how shallow the satire is.

Charlie Sweatpants: There was satire?

Mad Jon: There may be more to talk about, that doesn’t mean that it’s worth talking about.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well, the only satire in this episode was how extravagant she was, how many costumes she was in and how she’s a superstar.

Charlie Sweatpants: I wouldn’t call what they did satire.

Mad Jon: I dunno, I got nothing productive to bring up.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s exaggeration. Like things Lady Gaga would have if physics, chemistry, and biology didn’t apply.

Birds won’t actually fly around you (well, outside of Hitchcock movies, anyway), but in here you can have anything your heart desires.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I know it’s common but it just seems like they’re honoring her rather then truly mocking her.

Even that scene where Homer eats Gaga’s meat suit seems like it’s honoring it rather then mocking it.

God how I hate scenes like those.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly. Though I’d go with “sucking up to” instead of “honor”.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: If your meat suit gets eaten by Homer, it’s instantly an institution.

Charlie Sweatpants: Something like that.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Honestly, I felt weirded out listening to the Gaga music, seeing the Gaga train, the black guy…

It felt like an episode of “The Cleveland Show” rather then The Simpsons.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s no denying that Zombie Simpsons has taken more than a few cues from MacFarlane (especially since his triumphant comeback) of late, but this was extreme even for them.

That opening and closing narration is the real giveaway.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I forgot about that; what did that have to do with the episode anyway?

Charlie Sweatpants: They know they can’t just do it crazy, so they include this disclaimer.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I was a dancer for Lady Gaga, bleh.

Did we already mention Lisa’s “Elementary School Musical” like song or is that not worth talking about?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think it’s worth examining in detail or anything. Every complaint I have about the first song applies to the second.

Especially the “Up With People” part.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I feel the same, but I will say that Yeardley Smith’s vocals felt auto-tuned.

And the way it ended the episode undermined everything it tried to do.

Charlie Sweatpants: No arguments here. Anything else just on the episode? After that, I’d like to get a quick opinion from each of you about Season 23 overall.

The only thing I’ll say is that the couch gag wasn’t terrible. It was five years later than it should’ve been (struggles with Wii-motes are so 2007), but it was short.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: There were some decent gags like Lady ZhaZha (for the reference) but then again, “Trash of the Titans” had decent jokes and that episode is terrible.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon? Anything else?

Mad Jon: Nothing else about this episode.

As far as season 23, I can’t say that I could distinguish it from any of the last few.

Not that this is a surprise to anyone, but what can you say? There is nothing relevant or intelligent about the show. Again, this isn’t new.

I don’t see any point in trying to sparse out what went more wrong this year as opposed to last year. What does it matter if the splattered mass of carbon on the road was a squirrel or a raccoon?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Season 23 is by far the worst modern Simpsons season yet. It only has like two really good and memorable episodes compared to the other episodes which are either bad or bland, hell even Season 22 had some episodes I enjoyed; Season 23 doesn’t even seem like they’re trying anymore, they’re just parodying movies, sticking Simpsons characters into situations that they think are funny and let’s not forget about the terrible ToH episode this season.

The only thing exciting was Matt Selman show running a few episodes, but only one of them turned out good, the rest were just an alternate version of what would happen had he show ran rather then Jean.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think 23 felt much different than the last few. The lowlights are always a little memorable (the bar rag this year, Katy Perry last year, I think that slavery episode was Season 21), but you could have broadcast pretty much anything after the HD switch and it would probably take me until the first commercial to figure out it was a rerun.

Mad Jon: Good call.

Charlie Sweatpants: The one thing I have noticed in the last two years, and even more this year, is that the number of voices that have moved past “off” and into” barely recognizable” is increasing.

There have been multiple times the last season where I was astonished at how much even characters like Marge and Lisa have changed recently.

But that’s about the only thing change I can really say seemed to pick up this year.

Mad Jon: That’s probably enough thinking for this season anyway.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I may dig more into this into my review of it, but Season 23 proves to the writers themselves that they don’t need to put in the extra effort as long as they have some way to gain publicity or appease the Simpsons fans that they have. They can stick Bart together with Chalmers and no matter how unbelievable and undeveloped it is, people will still eat it up. They can put Lisa Simpson in a Facebook like situation and it’ll get publicity all because it has Lisa Simpson with Facebook. I can’t say I’m surprised about the critic sites but these sites and the fans are influencing the behavior of The Simpsons, making them think that this is acceptable. They tried to do an emotional episode and have a “Stark Raving Dad” like plot but they got caught up in their own world and they thought that the script they had was good when in actuality it wasn’t.

I know it’s commonplace and I’m not getting anywhere with this but this proves that they’re not going to get out of their world anytime soon, as long as they have the media, internet, and the people who still manage to trick themselves into thinking this episode is good; they’ll keep making Simpsons.

Mad Jon: Ok, well, if there isn’t anything else, I have been traveling for most of the last two weeks, and this is my first night home since last Thursday. I am going to bed.

Thanks Taylor, Thanks Pants,

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay Jon, sleep well.

Mad Jon: Good night.

Charlie Sweatpants: You’re largely right about them slipping into their own little world.

Springfield doesn’t really resemble much of anywhere anymore.

And they seem fine with that.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: People should really demand more from The Simpsons.

And going even further, everything really…

Springfield resembles LA more then anything else.

Charlie Sweatpants: More than anything else, I’d agree, but it’s too weird to be any place anymore. Witness that scene last week when the whole town and the camera crew barged into Flanders’ hospital room to report on him and Krabappel.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I witnessed, you’re right about that.

Charlie Sweatpants: The show has fallen a long, long way from a time when Grampa and Homer could gossip about Brockman dating the weather lady or Flanders was just a well liked guy.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I miss the days of characters, decent plots, decent satire, hand-drawn cell animation.

Charlie Sweatpants: You and me both.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Hell I miss the days we didn’t have Facebook.

Charlie Sweatpants: Given the way their stock offering went, those days may be coming again.

Any further thoughts, Simpsons wise?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Though this may go against your mission, I think that The Simpsons with some fresh blood can go on, though that is increasingly becoming a pipe dream because there is barely anybody who can both make it fresh and not be susceptible to being sucked into a fantasy world like the one the writers are currently in.

Charlie Sweatpants: I gave up hope a long time ago.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: This show really needs to end.

The declining numbers will make it more certain that Fox will cancel it by Season 25, I mean what purpose would Fox have to continue making the show when the episodes that are already produced will make them millions.

It’s becoming an ever increasing reality day by day, The Simpsons time is finally coming to a close.

Even though a lot of the episodes in the modern era suck, they’re still worth something to Fox.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, the financial incentives for FOX are very complicated, and FOX doesn’t do anything to make them clear to the public.

This show anchors a major (and profitable) Sunday night lineup for them, they’ve got the syndication rights to consider, and there’s the merchandise. All of these things are inextricably tied up with the continuation of the show. If low quality and critical apathy were going to cancel it, it would’ve happened by now. To some extent the same is true of the ratings. They go down every year, sure, but they’ve been going down every year for a decade now.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: This is the lowest that they’ve gone.

Charlie Sweatpants: True, but I don’t know nearly enough about the television business or FOX’s internal thinking to even be able to guess if it’s close to low enough.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And there is only so much they can do to cheapen the show before Fox decides to pull the plug and just make the money off the cable rights which they gain when the show ends.

Charlie Sweatpants: I guess all I’m trying to say is, it wouldn’t surprise me if 25 is it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s still going at 30.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Though there are people who don’t want to see it go away because it’s been a part of their lives for so long but we’ll get over the loss sooner then we think.

I guess you have a point Charlie, all we can seemingly do is just point out the flaws.

Hoping…

Charlie Sweatpants: Pretty much.

I want to thank you again for joining us this evening (even if Dave and Jon conked out early).

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Always appreciated.

Even though I’m hotheaded at times, it’s always nice to let out the flaws an episode has.

Charlie Sweatpants: It is cathartic, I’ll give it that.

21
Feb
12

Crazy Noises: At Long Last Leave

Cape Feare6

As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another.  More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things.  The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud.  So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (embarrassingly enough, including on “Thunderdome”).

When the splattered mishmash that passed for a plot in “At Long Last Leave” finally got the family to the “outlands” halfway through the episode, Zombie Simpsons came back from commercial with a derivative of the opening credits.  We see clouds part, hear the familiar chorus saying “The Outlands” instead of “The Simpsons”, and spend the next thirty seconds panning over the bizarro community that will (sort of) be the setting for (some of) the rest of the episode.  This is obviously a naked repeat of “The Thompsons” opening from “Cape Feare”, but if you take a closer look you can see how weak a repeat it really is. 

For starters, Zombie Simpsons calls its place “The Outlands”, which isn’t a joke and sounds like the rejected title of a World of Warcraft expansion.  “Terror Lake”, by contrast, is both original and funny.  Season 5 also set up the family’s move far in advance.  We already know that the FBI has given them new identities, that this is their destination, and that Sideshow Bob is stowed away under the car.  All of the main elements of the plot come with them in one neat little package.  Season 23 has Homer pull the car over in a random spot that just happens to be next to a bizarre squatters camp, and then has an unnamed guy with a gun come out of the bushes for no reason and invite them to stay. 

For the openings themselves, not only does Zombie Simpsons take much longer, but they also drop in a ton of random crap.  We pan over their new home town (which we know nothing about at the time), see Bart spray painting a wall (lotta destroyed buildings for a wilderness encampment), then follow him them to their (entirely built) shack where they park their rather impressive fleet of vehicles, including a helicopter.  Huh?  The last time we saw them they were in their station wagon with all their worldly possessions, now they live better than the Lord Humungus.  The Simpsons doesn’t have to do anything that strange or unexpected because it has enough going on at that point that it makes sense for the family to pull up in car they got from the FBI and get on the houseboat. 

The real capper, though, comes in how each one ends.  “The Thompsons” ends with a normal couch gag before cutting to the first real scene of the family in Terror Lake.  The mechanics of it are the same as a regular opening.  Them scrambling into the houseboat and getting a net full of fish dumped on them didn’t really happen, it was just a playful way to introduce their new location.  Zombie Simpsons, on the other hand, had them go through all that, including the helicopter and Homer getting run over by a team of horses, and then just started the regular scene as though all that stuff was real. 

Granted, this scene did contain the “sick of watching fox” joke, the first time in a long time that I’ve liked a joke, waited for them to ruin it (by having the fox attack Homer or something), and then had them not do that.  But it undercuts the entire concept of having a second opening in the middle of the episode if it isn’t actually an opening.  At full speed this isn’t the greatest problem in the world, especially in an episode like this one that expects the audience to forget anything that happened more than a ninety seconds ago.  But it’s another example of how The Simpsons gets better the more you think about it while Zombie Simpsons get worse. 

[This week No Homers member Zombies Rise from the Sea joined us.  You can read his detailed rebuttal to Michael Price (who wrote this episode) here.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, ready to get started?

Mad Jon: Yep

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah

Mad Jon: Where do you want to begin?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The 500th episode.

The extravagance of it.

  Bleh.

Charlie Sweatpants: You thought so? I thought there was a surprisingly small amount of "hooray, anniversary!" stuff. Besides the couch gag and the "go outside" title card, it seemed pretty typical.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Let’s not forget the opening sequence where it said "the most meaningless milestone of all".

  Why even do it like that if it’s meaningless?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, forgot that one. Still pretty minor, though.

Mad Jon: To make meaningfullness out of it?

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought it was a callback to the chalkboard in "Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song".

Mad Jon: I agree that it wasn’t as over the top 500 as I thought it would be.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The most often referenced callback of all time, for good reason

  But still, celebrating it in the form of an extravagant couch gag calls for some concern; I do like that they referenced their history though.

That’s the positive thing about it.

Mad Jon: Also the gag killed some time.

  So they got that going for them as well.

Charlie Sweatpants: That definitely occurred to them.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yup

Charlie Sweatpants: And while it wasn’t bad, couch mashups like that have been on YouTube for some time. (See yesterday’s comments, for example.)

Mad Jon: I thought about that. But this show has forsaken public opinion for quite a while now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that thought raised a "meh" in the writers’ room.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: True, I mean preceding the 500th episode was an interview by the episode’s writer Michael Price which showcases how bizarro the show’s people have gotten.

Mad Jon: Hmm, I didn’t know that guy existed.

Charlie Sweatpants: They broadcast that? I didn’t see it.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It was a web interview.

Mad Jon: Ah.

Charlie Sweatpants: I read that long interview he gave last week. I like how they always talk about how they’re careful not to do things they’ve done before. Then you have things like last week’s Itchy & Scratchy and this week’s "The Outlands" intro that make that little piece of bullshit as inoperable as one can be.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That is ironically hilarious.

  I’ve written replies to most of the comments he made; you know that post right?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, someone on our site linked it. I’ll admit that I skimmed most of it, you have more stamina for that stuff than I do, but I agreed with most of what I read.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It just turns me off, praising cleaner HD animation as a better thing, insisting that they care for the characters, insisting that the show is as good as ever.

  Have they even realized there are some legitimate criticisms out there on the internet?

  Sorry to go off topic but that interview had me somewhat mad.

Charlie Sweatpants: I know what you mean. It’s the quintessential don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining type stance.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I do "Babar" reviews on NoHomers that point out animation no one has ever seen before; granted there may be better examples but those examples are ones no one has seen before and they’re beautiful.

Charlie Sweatpants: The old Babar? Man, I haven’t seen that since I was a kid.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Hand drawn animation is like an art, to insist that people want cleaner HD animation is just shameful. It’s like we don’t appreciate flaws in work, we want everything to be robotic.

At least I’m getting through to people who have heard of Babar and watched it as a kid but didn’t watch it recently.

Charlie Sweatpants: Might have to look that up, for nostalgia purposes if nothing else.

Mad Jon: I didn’t look for this in this episode, but that is an especially angering point when you see some of the scene disparities that that have happened since the change to HD. I think this has come up several times in the last year or so.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree, it’s like a consistent talking point when talking about Zombie Simpsons.

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought that was something the couch gag did a good job of (sorry, pun) illustrating.

  There’s a lot more life to the earlier ones, and you can actually watch them get more sterile.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: At least the 500th episode couch gag serves a purpose, to show how they declined.

Charlie Sweatpants: The only animation note I had from the episode proper was to wonder about Wiggum’s uniform

  In the park he wasn’t wearing his usual one and then at the house he was. I don’t know if that was a callback to something, but it looked odd.

Mad Jon: I didn’t even notice

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I didn’t pay much attention to that; it does prove you are the master at noticing animation differences many people don’t.

Mad Jon: He does have an eye for that.

  If for nothing else.

Charlie Sweatpants: I wouldn’t have thought so, and yet, here were are.

As for the episode itself, I’m just baffled.

  Why did they all come out to the Outlands at the end?

Mad Jon: Why not.

Charlie Sweatpants: Why would Homer advertise for the people he calls jerks to come there?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: You have every right to be, there are so many things to be baffled at.

Mad Jon: The attempt at continuity for its own sake I assume.

Charlie Sweatpants: Why did they sneak into the middle of the city and then discuss their disguises?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Poor attempt at humor I guess…

Charlie Sweatpants: The last half of the episode is just one hanging plot thread after another.

Mad Jon: How was that a plot?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That perplexed me too, I mean I guess the episode writer wanted to end the episode on a sweet, emotional and grand note but it just raised more questions then it satisfied.

  I mean why not ask them to come back, why not have a speech that makes Springfield realize they’re jerks.

That would be a better ending then what we got.

Mad Jon: It was just Homer and Bart doing random things with random Springfieldians showing up.

  Except random means familiar show characters.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They were even doing random things before they showed up, none of which worked.

Mad Jon: Like Super Nintendo Chalmers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That’s true Jon.

The ending may be worth talking about but the outlands themselves; barely shown.

  It’s like the most hyped up part of the episode yet they only spend a few minutes showing it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I mean where’s the community, where’s the people? It’s like this place only exists so that the Simpsons can move and have some stuff to do; cartoony stuff no less.

Charlie Sweatpants: And what they did show was just odd. If I got a free Mad Max helicopter for moving to the middle of nowhere, I’d be there tomorrow.

Mad Jon: It was a place to store the Simpsons for 10 minutes while they did some physical comedy before the clock ran out.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I miss the days when "You Only Move Twice" and "Cape Feare" had actual cities with actual people.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even the way they got there was weird. They pull over and there’s a crazy guy with a gun, and they’re just like, "Let’s live here!"

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Exactly, convenience.

Mad Jon: In the vibrant hobo city they could see from outside the car but not from inside it.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: convenience = piss poor writing

Charlie Sweatpants: There was no effort to make it even remotely interesting as a place, like so you said, unlike Terror Lake or Cypress Creek.

Mad Jon: Ohhh! Ice Creamville!

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The only interesting thing it had with the lawlessness but even that is wasted.

They could of taken out the useless guest appearance by the WikiLeaks guy but then they wouldn’t have a famous guest star!

Charlie Sweatpants: At least we were spared another meth joke.

Mad Jon: I think the worst part of the wasteland was the complete lack of character development among even ONE of the other occupants

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That’s true.

Charlie Sweatpants: Very much including Assange.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The Simpsons acted not as a family, but as cartoon characters.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yep. Check out the new clothes, for example.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: There were some people on NoHomers who praised the acting of the family but I couldn’t see any of that, Homer and Marge barely had a connection; Bart wasn’t into it and they all seemed to transition from role to role pretty effortlessly.

  The clothes thing is the most obvious thing in the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: There could have been something to the "Marge is more homesick than the rest of them thing", but they didn’t even bother.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Marge was the only one homesick.

  And they didn’t even use that properly to transition into the romantic scenes in Springfield.

  I admit, I liked those scenes but placed in the context of a plot with barely any buildup and barely any involvement; it’s a waste.

It’s like those scenes are standing out to make the episode better and more charming then it actually is.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right. You need a better reason to break into the bowling alley than wearing costumes that make them look nothing like Burns and Smithers. And I’d further note that when the town shows up at the house, they’re right back in their normal clothes.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Consistency be damned.

It’s like the entire thing is designed to be plotted in a way that seems epic but it just collapses on itself.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s a good way to put it. They had this big story, but they’re constantly undercutting themselves and sabotaging their own story because, hey, we’ve got to get Homer’s head sucked into a jet engine, we’ve got to have everyone show up for no reason.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Why is it that they got to put wacky humor into the show and explain the jokes?

  We’re intelligent, we can understand smart humor and smart things.

Mad Jon: Foreshadowing be damned! We like our joke transparent nowadays.

Charlie Sweatpants: They could’ve done that in so many ways: the town gets bored without the Simpsons, the town gets jealous that the Simpsons are living better in the outlands and makes them move back. Anyone worth their salt could’ve made this work, but they didn’t even try.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I’m surprised they didn’t even show that.

Charlie Sweatpants: The mystery and secrecy committee is a good example. That wasn’t a terrible idea, but it. just. kept. going.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Personally I was expecting the Simpsons to sneak back into Springfield and witness their lives without them but it doesn’t happen.

  So finally, someone mentions the courtroom scene.

It’s not a bad idea per say but the execution is majorly flawed.

Charlie Sweatpants: If we’re willing to spot them that the Simpsons are superstars and no longer even kind of a regular family, then yes, it wasn’t a terrible idea.

Mad Jon: Good point

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The entire courtroom thing could’ve had impact but they had to point out the obvious things and they had to do the worst thing of all.

  Portray The Simpsons as this family who does wacky things, circa the Scully era of course.

Charlie Sweatpants: Don’t forget having Sideshow Mel apparently rip out an ulna.

Mad Jon: Or radius, I guess we’ll never know.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They had a chance to portray them as a family that while doing some major damage, was just as one of them, though dysfunctional.

The criticisms could of been common, they could of been exaggerated, they could of been even ridiculous but instead they’re focused on the damage and the money spent on the damage.

  Bleh.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right. Instead they have Moe screaming that Marge is the monster queen, or whatever.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That joke wasn’t exactly funny per say.

Charlie Sweatpants: That one bugged me, if for no other reason than Moe is supposed to have that creepy crush on Marge.

Mad Jon: Was the Homer driving through the school from the episode where the kids and adults have the musical standoff?

Charlie Sweatpants: I think it was supposed to be.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah.

Mad Jon: Didn’t he get away with that? Oh whatever.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Probably, I mean the kids were blamed for it.

  Just goes to show they don’t do the proper research anymore.

  I mean have we seen Bart flood the school before in a cartoonish way?

Mad Jon: I dunno, probably. There have been 500 of these things.

Charlie Sweatpants: That episode with Lisa and the whale I remember, but I don’t remember the gym flood.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Think the gym flood was put in there to exaggerate how "trouble" they are.

Charlie Sweatpants: Of course, Zombie Simpsons is very easy to forget.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I mean it’s like; hey "The Simpsons are this wacky, crazy family who does damage everywhere they go."

Not even in the Zombie Simpsons did The Simpsons do a lot of damage.

  This unfair representation of them gets to me and ruins the episode.

Mad Jon: But without that unfair representation, we wouldn’t get to watch Maggie go Thunderdome, or Homer and Bart ride around on 4-wheelers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Who needs that, when you can have a proper adventure with proper actions and proper characters.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Maggie Thunderdome thing was bizarre. It’s like they couldn’t quite decide if the Outlands were awesome, or if they were actually a Mel Gibson hellscape.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The Maggie thing was due to the outlands, even Le Jake had no problem with it.

  You do make a good point Jon.

Charlie Sweatpants: I was also disappointed when Maggie had the knife to Carl’s throat. That sucked on its own, but then they didn’t even have the care to show Carl with a bandage on his ear afterwards.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Definitely.

Charlie Sweatpants: You want to make a joke about a baby with a big ass knife? Fine. Just don’t pretend it didn’t happen seven seconds later.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Sorry to go off topic here but in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Caesar had the potential to be multi-dimensional, understand the good and the bad side of the humans, but instead they made him one dimensional, which sucks. The Simpsons are done the same way, they’re one dimensional, they sprout out certain traits and they show no personality.

  Even during the scenes when they defend themselves.

As I said before Charlie, consistency is key.

Charlie Sweatpants: That movie was disappointing, but funny you should mention Planet of the Apes. That’s tomorrow’s quote of the day.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I’m glad other people agree, my review on the movie got a lot of flack despite its immense detail.

Back to the episode at hand…

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d agree in general that the characters are one dimensional, but in this episode Lisa was almost zero dimensional. They had her spout "back to nature" type stuff to be happy, but the place they were in wasn’t exactly an environmentalist commune. She should’ve been miserable, but they didn’t want her to be so, in spite of everything we know about her, she wasn’t.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Not only that, but Lisa’s addiction to technology is not like her at all.

  She has basically transformed into the adult version of a child.

Mad Jon: Agreed. She was praising the remoteness, but was the first one to embrace the return of connectivity.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Whatever happened to the Lisa with integrity?

Mad Jon: And that was pretty much her only two scenes this episode.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Totally.

Charlie Sweatpants: She has it from time to time, but like the rest of them she jumps from personality to personality so quick she could be diagnosed as manic.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I did like her personality in "The Book Job" somewhat, she was somewhat consistent there…

  But you’re absolutely right Charlie, Lisa is inconsistent.

So let’s talk about the episode writer Michael Price; how is it that a guy with a theater background is able to write episodes with are either mediocre and bad; and how did me manage to mess up the 500th episode?

  I thought guys with theater backgrounds went on to make quality stuff?

Charlie Sweatpants: Good questions. I know basically nothing about him, however.

Mad Jon: Neither I

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Me neither but from the interview I read, it looks like he had some talent, some potential.

  Here he feels the need to pack every cinematic trick into the book, raise the stakes, focus on emotional moments, make the moments as big as possible.

It’s like he’s trying to make the plot huge to compensate for the lack of content in the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: The sense I get from these episodes is that there is basically no difference in authorship. These are so heavily crammed with stuff that I don’t get the sense that any one writer can keep a lasting mark on something.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: You’re right about that in that the interview said 3% of content remains from rewrites.

  But still…

Charlie Sweatpants: Is that where that was? I remember reading that at some point last week but all that stuff has kind of blurred together.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah.

Charlie Sweatpants: If you’ve got twenty minutes and four acts and you want them to get expelled from town before reconciling things, you can do that. This wasn’t even attempting to do that. I wonder if the first draft did?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Possibly but then again, the four act structure was forced upon them.

Regardless, even with the idea that they have no idea where to go and what scenes to use when they start up acts; they couldn’t make a good script for squat.

Charlie Sweatpants: Their apathy for story is impressively total. They really couldn’t care less. If something sort of works, cool, if nothing works, that’s cool too.

Bring on the bomb shelter and Homer eating talcum powder!

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It’s like a comedy club, their purpose is to showcase all forms of comedy that makes them laugh.

  Whether we like it or not.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve compared them to a sketch show more than once.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So I’m not alone here…

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s hard to tell how these pieces could ever fit together.

Mad Jon: The Fart Machine has too much farts!!!!

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: That’s the problem, the episodes can be romantic, can be dramatic, can even be nothing, but the consistent feeling is that it’s a comedy club.

These people aren’t focused on making a plot that’s engaging and relatable, these people are focused on making a plot that crams as many jokes/weak satire/gags as possible.

Mad Jon: Which would explain the slate at the end.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right. The Assange thing is a perfect example. I don’t know the genesis of it, but it had nothing to do with anything in the episode and didn’t even make sense.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It’s just another thing they do to be relevant.

Mad Jon: Meh

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Soon they’ll have the girl from the GEICO commercials on The Simpsons; I have a source that guarantees it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

Mad Jon: GEICO? or Progressive?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Progressive, apologies.

  Got my car insurance companies mixed up.

Mad Jon: Well, they are pretty much all the same. Flo could be working for any of them and I wouldn’t notice anymore than I didn’t notice Wiggum’s uniform.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Don’t worry, they’ll make you notice.

Mad Jon: Thanks for the encouragement.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The ultimate problem is that despite the poor plotting, despite the failed attempts at plot despite the lack of anything memorable; people still watch.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, they aren’t much for sneaking in celebrity guests, Kelsey Grammer and Jackie Mason this week notwithstanding.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The people who are giving this 5/5 and 4/5 without looking into the episodes are the ones who are justifying their material; I mean I can understand if it entertains you but in no way this episode is a classic.

Charlie Sweatpants: No, definitely not. It’ll disappear down the memory hole just like everything else.

Mad Jon: Jackie Mason was the one that bothered me the most. Krusty’s dad has a problem with the Simpsons?

Charlie Sweatpants: Why not, so, apparently, do Moe, Barney, and a bunch of other people you wouldn’t figure.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The products that entertain you for a while and then you forget about later on is a product; which The Simpsons has become. I don’t know what these people are finding in this episode that are making them give 5/5 but there is nothing in there that’s 5/5 worthy; it’s yet another overrated episode.

  Agreed Charlie.

Mad Jon: There is no point in trying to explain insanity. This is of course assuming those 5′s weren’t given by employees or the family of employees of FOX.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: No, actual members of NoHomers gave this 5/5; I respect their opinions but still.

Additionally they even gave me flack for being overly harsh on the episode, despite the detail of the review.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s the internet. It happens.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I guess…

Mad Jon: Well, I will never stop being paranoid.

Charlie Sweatpants: On that note, I’ll just leave this here: http://xkcd.com/1019/

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I think we all have to live with the obvious statement; as long as The Simpsons is on, they will keep producing stuff that the public will love and that the critics will eat up.

  The people on the Simpsons will keep accepting pay cuts and soon, they’ll be working for free.

Mad Jon: Merchandising baby

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve given up trying to even guess when the show will end.

  Though speaking of endings, I did like the hillbilly version of the theme over the credits.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Eh.

Mad Jon: Didn’t even notice.

But I am much less patient than you Pants.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I’m kind of a sucker for different renditions of the theme.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I don’t understand everything, maybe I should move to the industrial district of LA; I hear the air is cleaner there…

  I can understand Charlie.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anything else here? The only thing I don’t think we’ve hit is the voices, because in this one Brockman, Quimby, and Marge all sounded off to me. But they’ve all done so before, so that ain’t exactly news.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The voices are always off…

  I do remember the drill in the beginning being weak and the cringe-worthy Lisa and Homer dialog.

That seemed like something Family Guy would do.

Charlie Sweatpants: You could say that about a lot of this episode.

  They did manage to get Homer naked, tarred and feathered.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They also managed to show a Braniff Airways jet in a way that seemed cartoonish and pathetic.

Mad Jon: That’s a first eh? I remember Grandpa being so, but Homer?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Grandpa wasn’t even in the episode, his ghost was there in the town hall meeting though.

Charlie Sweatpants: Heh.

Mad Jon: Touche

Zombies Rise from the Sea: In closing. "Look out Gunsmoke, we’re about to prove that entertainment can be as cheap and lazy as possible and people will still love it. Who needs to make a quality product when you can just sit back and half-ass it? That’s the American way!"

Charlie Sweatpants: Sounds about right. The Gunsmoke thing always amuses me because, really, does anyone think that show was high quality television?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well people did love it and watch it en masse right?

In a time where there was no internet to add

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, when there were three channels and no internet.

  Beat me to it.

  Okay, well, Zombies, many thanks for joining us again.

Mad Jon: Indeed.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Always a pleasure Charlie; always a pleasure.

02
Nov
11

Crazy Noises: Treehouse of Horror XXII

Homer the Heretic7

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to appear in a tortilla in Mexico.” – God

As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another.  More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things.  The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud.  So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “irrelevantly”, but not for many of our guest’s British variations.).

In our longer than usual conversation below we touch briefly on the animation, and while I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this, I think it’s worth a couple of pictures.  Specifically, take a look at the shoddier treatment the divine gets in Zombie Simpsons than it did in The Simpsons.  Here’s how God looked in “Treehouse of Horror XXII”:

Zombie God

And here’s how God looked in Season 4:

Simpsons God

Instead of those often odd looking shadows HD Zombie Simpsons is so fond of, we get a fantastically better looking robe and that awesome glowing effect.  In Season 4 God looks like a god, in Season 23, God looks like a headless schmuck in a bathrobe.

Here’s Satan in “Treehouse of Horror XXII”:

Zombie Satan

And here’s Satan in “Treehouse of Horror IV”:

Simpsons Satan

Scarier, yes?  Better animated, yeah?  Okay, I’m cheating a little bit there because that’s Satan when he’s pissed off.  Here he is in more conversational forms, from “Treehouse of Horror IV” and “Bart Gets Hit By a Car”:

Simpsons Satan (Conversational)

I stand by “scarier” and “better animated”.  Not only do these Satans actually match the character model, but they keep with the best traditions of Satan-as-a-character.  He isn’t nearly as menacing when he’s some huge, muscular Fabio of the Netherworld as he is when he’s just a little guy, offering you a deal.  The one from Zombie Simpsons looks like the cheap cartoon you’d see on a pair of plastic devil horns, the ones from The Simpsons look like a guy who really does want to see you burn forever.

Note: Our old friend Stephen “Friz” Frizzle stayed up late and joined us all the way from England. 

Friz: Good evening sir. Good morning sir. It passed midnight when I was speaking so that was technically accurate.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha. I love it when technology actually works.

Mad Jon: Very nice

Charlie Sweatpants: Friz, thanks for joining us here tonight/this morning.

Friz: You all look lovely this evening. Have you decreased in mass?

Shall we go in order of segments, or just attack it from all sides?

Mad Jon: Normally I would say attack wherever, but THOH is always the oddball when we chat.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, let’s start with the opening and see where things go.

Mad Jon: I would like to say that I missed the couch gag and the first10 seconds of act I, so if there was anything worth mentioning, I’ll need to be brought up to speed.

Friz: Well, I’ll state my main point. James L Brooks’ scary name was James L “what isn’t scary?” Brooks. And that seemed to be the main driving force behind it

As if any suggestion would be appropriate for Halloween.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon, there wasn’t a couch gag, near as I could tell anyway.

Friz: “Avatar parody? Yeah… I guess that’s scary-ish. That’ll do”

Mad Jon: Oh good.

The first one was somewhat a parody of that movie I didn’t see with James Franco right?

Friz: 127 Hours. Yup.

Charlie Sweatpants: I know it’s common shorthand, but I don’t think “parody” is the right word there.

Mad Jon: Well please correct me sir.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, he bit his arm off, but he spent most of the segment driving through Springfield and running over rocks.

Friz: Kids went trick or treating, Marge dressed as a witch to swipe their candy for toothbrushes, Marge gave the candy to Homer, who climbed on top of a mountain, who fell down a canyon.

And, boy, I’m not even halfway through

Mad Jon: Important part being that he spent a solid two minutes chewing off random body parts and then reattaching them somehow for a vegetable prize.

Friz: Didn’t even mention the Hitchcock music that was left over from THOH XX.

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought they’d used that before.

Mad Jon: I can’t tell the THOH apart after the first half dozen or so.

Friz: I have a soft spot for THOH XX. But we’re not talking about that one.

Charlie Sweatpants: We’ll stow that for another time then.

Friz: Weirdly, when Homer screams “Noooo” from the canyon, the perspective is god awful.

It’s as if he’s as big as the canyon itself

[Ed note: Image goes here:

Giant Homer, Tiny Canyon

.]

Charlie Sweatpants: For this opening however, I thought a telling problem was the way he first bit off his other arm, then his leg, then they actually had to do a quick jump in time to get things moving again.

Friz: Not to mention that joke was done in the Saw parody bit of Scary Movie 4

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll admit that I did not make past Scary Movie 2, but I’ll take your word for it.

And I noticed that weird transition when he fell down the canyon. He just sort of shrank, it didn’t look right at all, even on a first viewing.

Friz: Were they trying to mimic the gorge fall from Bart the Daredevil?

Mad Jon: I didn’t notice that, but I only watched it once.

Charlie Sweatpants: Definitely.

Mad Jon: Although it did seem to be a shallow canyon, now that I think of it…

Friz: Aron Ralston’s cameo was well worth the nine words he got paid.

He’s the guy who actually fell down a canyon and had to saw off his arm. He was the 911 operator in the segment.

Mad Jon: Did not know that. So I have learned something here. Good for me.

Friz: And the phone call wasn’t even a joke. “an ambulance is on its way”

Charlie Sweatpants: I figured that was him on the 911 call when I first watched it. I don’t like the product Zombie Simpsons puts out, but let is never be said that they aren’t gracious when it comes to guest voices.

Friz: Not even a “please hold” gag followed by an inappropriate song

Everybody loves a clown, so why don’t you…

Mad Jon: Well, they needed a reason for Homer to freak out about not eating candy for 20 minutes.

Charlie Sweatpants: That would’ve helped.

Mad Jon: Agreed.

Friz: Why would Homer climb a mountain to eat candy anyway?

I mean, I know THOH isn’t canon, but that seemed weird.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s best not to ask those questions. The writers certainly didn’t.

Friz: Oh. To get him to fall down the canyon. Obviously.

Mad Jon: Even in Zombie THOH, I can usually find something worthwhile, but this segment did not have it for me.

Friz: THOH VII opens with Homer lighting a pumpkin. Then on fire. Bam, episode starts.

Mad Jon: Unless there was a good line in the first minute that I missed. But I doubt it.

Charlie Sweatpants: For them, the whole getting-to-the-canyon thing was a twofer: it gave them their tenuous connection to Halloween and killed two minutes in an episode that fairly reeked of coming in well short.

Friz: VI has Krusty throwing his head to the screen. Bam. Episode starts

Shall we get on to the actual episode itself?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, we’ve already spent more time on this intro than they did.

Friz: Doesn’t feel like it

So… Paralysed Spider Farts, or whatever the segment was called

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m not sure the Paralyzed Spiderman segment was really one segment though. Even for Zombie Simpsons, bringing in a second spider was a hell of a curve.

Mad Jon: Something about a diving bell. I didn’t get it, but I am not all that cultured.

Charlie Sweatpants: But, you can only have Homer farting for so long.

Friz: I did a surprised guffaw at Homer farting out a web. But in the same way I laugh at Terrence and Philip. The humour was in the surprise

Charlie Sweatpants: It was a movie called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly about a guy who got paralyzed and could only communicate by blinking or something. He wrote a book, they made a movie, my Dad said it was boring, and I never saw it.

Friz: I also did like “my brain still brains” from his letter

But, yes. Boring.

Mad Jon: I liked Homer’s line about it being a normal Sunday morning when he woke up on the ground.

Charlie Sweatpants: That wasn’t terrible, but it doesn’t speak well of your less then five minute segment when you have to cut almost immediately to a flashback like that.

Friz: I did some research. The first time the word “fart” is said in the show is “Girlie Edition”. And we don’t hear a fart until Season 11.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

Friz: Unless I missed something

I’m sure someone in the comments will prove me wrong

Mad Jon: Interesting research.

Friz: It was basically me typing “fart” into SNPP

Charlie Sweatpants: I didn’t do any research other than thinking about it, but the first fart joke I could think of was “Smells like one of van Houten’s” from “Who Shot Mr. Burns Part I”.

Even if we’re missing something though, I think it’s fair to say that this was more fart jokes than Seasons 1-9 combined, and it’s not even close.

Friz: There was also a Season 15 episode where Homer played a Spiderman-esque character.

Charlie Sweatpants: Was that Pie Man? I’ve never bothered to watch that one.

Mad Jon: Oh god, that pie man crap?

Friz: Yup

Even had a kissing Marge scene

So that’s “Bart the Daredevil” and “Pie Man”. Two past episodes being ripped off for Halloween.

Also, where did the second spider come from? The fucking sky?

Charlie Sweatpants: Was there a point to the Spiderman thing other than their “Turn Off the Dark” joke?

Friz: I saw the pic from Compare and Contrast post earlier.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, that bothered me. The spider, totally different from the first, just descends. Maybe its special radioactive power is sensing a plot losing momentum?

Mad Jon: They should keep that spider around then.

Charlie Sweatpants: They could name it Roy.

Mad Jon: I regretted that as soon as I hit enter…

Friz: The animation of the second spider crawling around was just…ugh

Homer’s orifices appear to have Portal-esque portals

Mad Jon: That’s just zombie animation. I’d say you get used to it, but I haven’t yet.

Friz: I miss the animation of Homer going crazy in The Shinning.

Having Homer paralysed just gave the excuse to animate even less

Mad Jon: True enough.

Friz: So, shall we move onto Radio Bart?

Shit! A third episode plot point!

Charlie Sweatpants: The next segment was where I really noticed the animation’s shortcomings. I don’t know if we want to move on already or not, but the complete lack of blood or anything even vaguely lively in the Dexter thing really bugged me.

They don’t even bother to animate God or Satan well anymore.

Friz: Yes. Flanders’ decapitated head was a very good contrast.

I have one line I liked from this segment, which is when God is referred to as “the star of the Bible”.

But, sadly, that’s it. Why Homer would have a grudge against Quimby, I’ve no idea.

Mad Jon: I was partial to the scene where Ned drops a boulder on Patty and Selma, but I sure love Looney Tunes.

Friz: But, it’s been done so much better. “Homer Alone”.

Charlie Sweatpants: I disliked that, mostly because I thought it was disrespectful to Looney Tunes.

Friz: “Bart’s Inner Child”.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yes to both.

Friz: “If this were a cartoon, the cliff would break off right now”

Mad Jon: Noted, but don’t care.

Friz: Ha

Charlie Sweatpants: That always cracks me up.

Friz: This segment simply ends.

Mad Jon: Yeah, in that it didn’t really end.

Another Zombie hallmark.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s a lot like the Spiderman thing like that. They’re completely out of steam, so they just drop whatever popped into their heads in as an ending.

Friz: It’s like they envisaged the Dexter segment to be the driving force of the whole thing.

And then wrote around that.

Charlie Sweatpants: It would’ve been better if they’d made it more like Dexter, quite frankly.

If Flanders wanted to kill Homer for his own reasons or something, that could’ve worked.

Mad Jon: Agreed. I thought that even for a zombie THOH, a Dexter thing may have had some promise.

Friz: Yeah. If Dexter killed seven people every episode, I’d get bored.

Charlie Sweatpants: Instead we got the whole “Bible with a radio transmitter in it” thing.

Friz: Flanders has fallen for something similar. “Keep Gaming”.

Mad Jon: But then a speaker that needed no wires or anything appeared in Ned’s most beloved belonging.

Friz: But at least that transmitter was actually above his fucking head.

Mad Jon: It means gambling. Keep gambling.

Friz: Which is why he might have thought it was from God.

Apologies for swearing.

Mad Jon: Not necessary, but thanks for your candor.

Fuck Shit Piss.

Charlie Sweatpants: But even the brief chronology was weird. Was the seedy underbelly of Springfield supposed to be a prologue before the opening, before he kills Burns? Because they make it seem like Burns is the first person he kills, which makes no sense as you see him stuffing that corpse in a bag.

Hell. Damn. Bitch. (Sorry, wanted to fit in.)

Mad Jon: Wasn’t that Quimby in the bag first?

Very nice.

Charlie Sweatpants: Maybe?

Does it matter?

Mad Jon: No, I guess not.

Friz: It’s all bloodless hacking.

Charlie Sweatpants: He got all conflicted about offing Burns . . . but that was after we’d already seen him with a body.

Mad Jon: Especially after he seemed so content to murder for wholesome reasons.

Charlie Sweatpants: They cannot sustain a story, plot or idea for more than about a minute fifteen. I know I complain about this a lot, but that’s because they do it a lot.

Friz: Aye. They decide to end the story, and have two minutes of God vs Satan.

Mad Jon: Maybe their synergy research tells them that’s a good time limit.

Friz: They know that THOH isn’t canon, so they decide to just try and work any plot and any story and any scene.

Charlie Sweatpants: Wouldn’t surprise me. But the God and Satan thing was so bizarre. Why did Satan reheat his coffee? Was there any reason besides misguided fan service to put Maude there?

Friz: Flanders seemed awfully calm that his wife was with Satan, but, you know, it’s not canon or anything.

Mad Jon: And that God worked for Satan as well. But whatever.

Friz: It’s like they’re trying to mimic Nightmare Cafeteria.

Mad Jon: I don’t know what that is.

Friz: It turns out it’s a dream, but there’s still a virus hat turns yo inside out

Mad Jon: Oh, the THOH Segment.

Gotcha.

Friz: Let’s end the segment without an ending and cut to something different.

Mad Jon: Perhaps some sort of Avatar deally?

Friz: Oh god, I have a big problem with this segment, but I’ll save it till the end unless one of you starts talking about the subject.

Mad Jon: My biggest problem was the segment itself.

Charlie Sweatpants: My biggest problem was that it wasn’t funny, had almost nothing to do with Avatar, and took too damn long.

But I guess that’s three problems, can we combine those into one or did we leave God back in the Dexter segment?

Friz: I liked the squirrel grenades.

Mad Jon: I as well.

Friz: But that was a 3 second joke in a go knows how many minute segment of animals doing things.

Charlie Sweatpants: Before we get to Friz’s big problem, does anyone have any idea what was up with Krusty’s head?

Mad Jon: It appeared to be on a strong body for some reason.

Friz: Is that in the film? I’ve not seen Avatar.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nope. The main bad guy is buff as hell, but he doesn’t have someone else’s head, and Chalmers was playing his part anyway.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I don’t get it.

Friz: Huh. Maybe a commenter can field that.

Mad Jon: I doubt even the writers have a good explanation.

Friz: Now, it’s not my big problem, but shall we discuss Bart having sex?

Charlie Sweatpants: Sure, but I didn’t really have a problem with that.

I mean, I guess when I think about it it’s weird, but that’s so minor compared to everything else I can’t really care.

Friz: The writers seem to love a good testicle joke in Zombie Halloween Simpsons

Mad Jon: Didn’t even notice it. But I guess the girl monster was pregnant.

Charlie Sweatpants: For about sixty seconds, yeah.

Then they forgot all about it.

Friz: And that’s where my problem lies.

Mad Jon: Yep

Friz: The girl monster.

Charlie Sweatpants: Hey, we guessed it! Good work, Jon.

Friz: One of the best jokes from all of The Simpsons is in THOH VII, Citizen Kang. Homer is beamed aboard. Kang introduces himself, as well as “my sister, Kodos”, who says hello in an equally booming voice.

And that is brilliant.

Charlie Sweatpants: That is hilarious.

Friz: So why, why, have Tress MacNeille do one of her three voices?

It was the grand midwife from Futurama this time.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s who it was. Nice catch. I knew it sounded familiar.

Mad Jon: Yeah good call.

Friz: So, apart from the 40-minute animal fight segment, anything else from this?

Or shall we skip to the ending straight out of THOH IV, sans Snoopy ending.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d like to complain for a second about the animal ending, if I may.

Friz: Go nuts.

Mad Jon: Please do.

Friz: (Oh – and another thing – Milhouse hitting his head and saying “stupid, stupid, stupid”. I know this has happened before but cannot for the life of me place it.)

Tell a lie – I do. Last year’s THOH.

Is that a new in joke?

Mad Jon: Not that I am aware, but I mainly keep to myself.

Charlie Sweatpants: The last quarter of this segment is the exact same joke over and over again. You both mentioned the grenade-squirrels, and that was probably the best one, but it was definitely of a kind. Whether it was the gun animals shooting shit out of their noses, the rabbits thumping the ground, or that goofy bulldozer that didn’t kill Chalmers, the entire fight is one joke: here’s a animal that’s kinda weird doing it’s weird thing to people you don’t know.

When Chalmers gives his little briefing, it’s all Springfield characters there, including some of the kids, Cletus, etcetera. But when the battle comes, in addition to the generic animals, we get generic soldiers.

Friz: This is kind of fitting in with a theory I had a while ago.

Mad Jon: I thought you hate the fact they never use generic characters Charlie?

Friz: Since, I’m going to say THOH 13, one segment is always practically “do some cool designs”.

Charlie Sweatpants: They just wanted to have their little bloodless, flash game looking fights, and leave it at that.

Friz: Whether it be Springfieldians as animals, Springfieldians as their costumes, giant board games or avatar-esque animals, and all of them appear in a not-particularly-Halloween story.

Charlie Sweatpants: Just create things and hope people use them on Facebook or message boards? Jebus that’s lame. I don’t think you’re wrong though.

Friz: “Design things for Flanders’ hell house” “animate some transformers”

Or quick toy designs

Charlie Sweatpants: That too.

Friz: I saw The Island of Dr Hibbert Playset in Forbidden Planet.

Mad Jon: Quite insightful, but scary indeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, and Jon, I do hate the lack of generic characters in crowd shots. But a) this is a Halloween episode so it’s okay to put the characters out of character, and b) they just used generic designs here because all of their focus on their dumb action sequence was on their animals.

Friz: You mentioned it in the C&C, but Milhouse accidentally hurting things on the planet… I knew it’d be three times.

They always do things three times on Zombie Simpsons.

Homer chews a limb off three times

Marge has three hilarious replacements for candy

Spiderman Homer tries to get the robbers three times

Mad Jon: That’s the cycle eh? Again, more insightful than I am.

Charlie Sweatpants: They don’t care enough about making things funny to challenge the Rule of Three.

Friz: Sideshow Bob got raked via a rule of eight, no?

Charlie Sweatpants: Something like that. But that was in the before time, in the long long ago.

Friz: So. THOH IV ending, sans Snoopy?

What’s their obsession with ending on a note?

Mad Jon: Gotta end somewhere, unless you are one of the earlier acts.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think it was that. I think they had a few jokes they couldn’t work in and thought that was a good way to use them.

Friz: Oh, and Jackie Mason appearing

Charlie Sweatpants: Meh.

Friz: Congratulating Bart on the sex.

Charlie Sweatpants: The funny thing about that is that it wasn’t the “you are holding your own tentacle” or whatever line that was on all the promos I saw during football.

I guess they were just dead set on him knocking that femalien up.

Friz: I like how none of us have mentioned that none of the segments were really Halloween-related. I think we just accept it now.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, the intro kinda was.

Not much, mind you, and completely irrelevantly, but it did start with them in costume.

Friz: Yeah, that’s like saying Homer vs Patty and Selma is Halloween related

Charlie Sweatpants: True enough.

Mad Jon: Stupid THOH, wish we was trick or treatin’!

Friz: Haha

Charlie Sweatpants: I already bitched about it in Compare & Contrast, but I think it has a lot to do with the source material. At this point, they’ve basically exhausted everything that’s spooky, horror movie related, etcetera.

That’s not an excuse, it’s another reason this show should go off the air.

Friz: The costume one was a nice homage to Buffy. They should do more Buffy plots.

Mad Jon: I agree Pants. I agree.

Friz: I look forward to next years THOH, featuring parodies of The King’s Speech, Tintin and 30 Rock

Actually, there has been a plot leak of next years. Back to the Future parody.

That famous scary film, Back to the Future.

Mad Jon: Jebus.

Charlie Sweatpants: Tintin will have to wait, I guess.

Mad Jon: The autoplot writer forgot to password protect eh?

Friz: Don’t praise the machine…

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha.

Okay, anything else here, or can we declare this one dead until next year when the Doc and Marty travel back in time to warn Sam Simon about the future?

Mad Jon: Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll step on something.

Friz: I’ve said everything I can

So, who wants to steal some Ferraris?

Charlie Sweatpants: Sounds good. Stephen, thanks for staying up and joining us.

Friz: You’re very welcome. Homer sleep now.

Charlie Sweatpants: With that, I shall bid you fine gentlemen good night.

Mad Jon: Same to the twos of you.

Friz: Tata, folks.

20
Sep
11

Crazy Noises: They Saved Lisa’s Brain

They Saved Lisa's Brain4

“Do I detect a note of sarcasm?” – Lindsey Naegle
“Are you kidding me?  This baby is off the charts!” – Professor Frink
“Ooh, a sarcasm detector, that’s a real useful invention!” – Comic Book Guy

For the third summer in a row, we at the Dead Homer Society are looking to satisfy your off-season longing for substandard commentary on substandard Simpsons.  This summer we’ll be looking at Season 10.  Why Season 10?  Because we’ve already done Seasons 8 and 9 and we can’t put it off any longer.  Prior to Season 10, we watched as the show started falling over, this is when it fell over.  And while the dust wouldn’t settle completely for another season or so, there is no bigger gap in quality than the one between Season 9 and Season 10.  Since we prefer things to remain just as they were in 1995, we’re sticking with this chatroom thing instead of some newer means of communication that we all know just isn’t as good.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (happily not on “Plopwell”).

Today’s episode is 1022 “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”.  Yesterday was 1021 “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”.  This week we’ve also got a special guest, our old friend Bob Mackey.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Mensa one, on the other hand, is one of my favorites in Season 10. It’s not without its flaws, none of them are, but this one I do watch with some regularity.

Bob Mackey: I agree it’s much better.

  There are a few rough spots, though. I’m not sure about the whole gross-out contest thing.

Mad Jon: ‘Lisa learns a lesson’ episodes have been giving me second thoughts by this point, but I liked how they handled this one.

Charlie Sweatpants: I was okay with the gross out contest for the first two minutes or so, but it definitely goes on too long. Though I’m always up for the "Planet of the Apes" type music for a riot.

Both the contest and the B-plot are stretched, but they’re stretched between an actually coherent plot, which I appreciate. Especially just having sat through "Monty Can’t Buy Me Love".

Bob Mackey: The B-plot seems like it was intended to completely clash with the tone of the Lisa story, just in case anyone was bored.

Mad Jon: For a Homer does something crazy plot, I was just fine with it.

  It wasn’t that funny, and he was a little obliviously jerky, but I can live with that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Judging by the ending, I don’t think they had quite enough A-story, so they plugged this in.

It did give us "Light is not your friend", which always gets me. The photographer in general is underused, but her constant grimaces to make me smile.

Mad Jon: Agreed.

Bob Mackey: I do like the first shot of Bart peering in the window in complete shock.

Charlie Sweatpants: And Homer saying "But I was gonna score" only to get shot down by Marge with a very blase "No you weren’t" works as well.

  The first Bart shot is a decent shock laugh, though that’s where it feels stretched. I mean all that really happens is that the photographer comes over twice.

Bob Mackey: They did pick a good group for MENSA though.

Charlie Sweatpants: Still, for a B-plot in episode number 225, things could’ve been a lot worse.

Mad Jon: Agreed on both of your points.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed. The Mensa gang works, especially how you can tell they already know and slightly dislike each other.

Like how they argue behind the door before Lisa gets there, or how Naegle yells at Comic Book Guy for unsubtly staring at her chest.

Mad Jon: It is a pretty tight knit group for a town large enough to have 13 stores that start with ‘Le Sex’

I also like the gazebo reservation form scene.

  "How many gazebos do you she-males need?!"

Bob Mackey: Didn’t Quimby just flee in terror at the mention of those reservation forms?

Charlie Sweatpants: The fact that Wiggum mistakes their Renaissance costumes like that is exactly the kind of unintentionally horrible thing he would say.

Quimby jumps ship because he can’t see that it’s about the gazebo reservation thing. He runs just on one line about deserving that lottery money.

It’s not the world’s must subtle turn, but it’s quick and it moves.

Mad Jon: Yes, it does get out of its own way. Which is better than it dragging on.

Charlie Sweatpants: Most of the A-plot is like that. It’s not a brilliant satire or anything, but it doesn’t linger over anything too long.

Bob Mackey: Yeah, every scene moves the story somewhere.

Charlie Sweatpants: It gets out of the way of the many truly inspired lines, which goes a long way in my book. In addition to “Light is not your friend”, there’s the “traditional Santa Claus”, “that’s too clever, you’re one of them”, the sarcasm detector, Grandma Plopwell, and the “municipal fortress of vengeance”.

In theory, Homer and Marge are in the crowd that threatens to crush Lisa in the gazebo, and there’s no real reason for Stephen Hawking to have to save her, but they don’t dwell on it. There’s no shot of Marge screaming over the horns of suspense.

Mad Jon: The end was very "It started falling over, then it fell over"

Charlie Sweatpants: I can overlook things like that for a quick Willie/Scottie joke about not having the power.

Bob Mackey: Was this hawking part pre-Futurama?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, this episode was pre-Futurama.

Mad Jon: oh sure.

  Although it did have the doughnut shaped universe.

Bob Mackey: Okay, they seemed to use him in the very same way.

Charlie Sweatpants: No wait, I stand corrected, this one premiered two months after Futurama started.

The Hawking one wasn’t until the next year, though.

  (Oh, epguides.com, how would I get along without you?)

Bob Mackey: I don’t really hate this one, but I bet there was a much, much better Futurama airing that night.

Charlie Sweatpants: Apparently "A Big Piece of Garbage" aired two days later.

  FOX never did give that show an actual time slot. Bastards.

Anyway, Hawking is good here. His whole presence is a bit gratuitous ("Stephen Hawking!" for the entrance isn’t my favorite), but most of his lines work well.

Bob Mackey: Larry Flint is right! is a good line.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, I’d forgotten about that one.

Anything else here? I always find there’s less to talk about when the episode is better.

Mad Jon: True that. I don’t have anything else to add really.

Bob Mackey: Uh I wrote a paper about this episode in grad school?

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

Bob Mackey: The whole episode is an allegory about academia, and that’s all I’ll say.

Charlie Sweatpants: I could defend that for maybe five pages, beyond that it’d get thin.

Bob Mackey: This paper has an asking price of $50.00, by the way.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ha.

And with that well placed plug, I guess that’s it. Bob, thanks again for joining us.

Mad Jon: Thanks Bob

Bob Mackey: Not a problem, we should do this more often.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s a whole season of Zombie Simpsons coming up. Believe me, you’re always welcome to share the torment.

Mad Jon: Agreed

Bob Mackey: Excellent.

19
Sep
11

Crazy Noises: Monty Can’t Buy Me Love

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“Ooh, I hear this really sucks.” – Lisa Simpson

For the third summer in a row, we at the Dead Homer Society are looking to satisfy your off-season longing for substandard commentary on substandard Simpsons.  This summer we’ll be looking at Season 10.  Why Season 10?  Because we’ve already done Seasons 8 and 9 and we can’t put it off any longer.  Prior to Season 10, we watched as the show started falling over, this is when it fell over.  And while the dust wouldn’t settle completely for another season or so, there is no bigger gap in quality than the one between Season 9 and Season 10.  Since we prefer things to remain just as they were in 1995, we’re sticking with this chatroom thing instead of some newer means of communication that we all know just isn’t as good.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “cellophane”).

Today’s episode is 1021 “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”.  Tomorrow will be 1022 “They Saved Lisa’s Brain”.  This week we’ve also got a special guest, our old friend Bob Mackey

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we get started with the unscheduled trip to Scotland?

Mad Jon: Oh sure.

Bob Mackey: Yeah this episode brings up particularly bad memories.

Charlie Sweatpants: I was still trying to defend the show when this was broadcast. It wouldn’t last much longer.

Bob Mackey: I worked a really depressing temp job at a bank for a month, and my Simpsons calendar featured an image from this episode for most of that time

So I might be even more biased.

Mad Jon: You have every right to be.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ouch, that’s a bad association for sure.

Mad Jon: I know I have seen this episode before, multiple times. But I have never watched it with any kind of critical eye at all. Now that I have, this may be the laziest, most un-explicable episode so far.

Bob Mackey: This one kind of proved that no one in that era knew how to write for Mr. Burns.

  Which is why they practically retired him after this.

Charlie Sweatpants: My defense at this point was that I often liked them more on a second viewing when the shock of the weird plot twists had worn off. But when Season 10 hit syndication I found myself not even making it through the reruns. This one is a prime example of why.

Burns is out and out painful here.

  He’s very un-Burns-like in every way imaginable, from his thin skin and never before seen need to be loved to his bizarre reliance on Homer for everything.

Bob Mackey: I haven’t pried open this DVD set since the one time I watched it. And when I noticed it’s themed after the Simpsons movie, and I got a little sad.

Mad Jon: Didn’t even notice that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nor I.

Mad Jon: But to be fair, the cellophane only came off when it was time to start chatting about this season….

Bob Mackey: Yeah he and Burns are way too buddy-buddy in this one. I liked their previous character dynamic much more.

Even when he was completely dependent in "Homer the Smithers", he was still vicious; now he’s a second version of Grandpa Simpson.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s a depressingly accurate way to put it. He can’t figure out *anything* anymore.

Mad Jon: The only Burns line I can remember is when he says that the orphanage isn’t going to demolish itself.

  Which is followed by him cattle prodding every recognizable face they could draw.

Charlie Sweatpants: The cattle prod thing goes on forever, they really thought they were onto something there.

Bob Mackey: I did want to mention their Howard Stern parody.

Charlie Sweatpants: By all means.

Bob Mackey: It’s not even a parody! It’s just someone writing Stern material. There’s absolutely no twist or different take on that character.

Charlie Sweatpants: The same can be said of Michael McKean’s other part as Not Richard Branson.

Both are so mild as to not even be satire.

Bob Mackey: And then Burns says something like "Stop all the farting!" and you start wondering if you’re watching the right show.

Mad Jon: Ah yes, followed by his desperate pleas to the listeners that most of the noises aren’t coming from him.

Bob Mackey: Real Burns would have had that guy murdered horribly!

Mad Jon: Just like the Rolling Stones.

Bob Mackey: Yeah, you don’t hear from them anymore.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nah, real Burns would’ve had hired goons precede him and make the show go perfectly for him.

Bob Mackey: Ooh, even better. Like when he took over the TV station in Rosebud?

Charlie Sweatpants: But you’re right, the last thing he would do is show up and make a fool of himself. Then again, at that point he’d already showed up at the Simpsons house for dinner by himself, tossed silver dollars off a roof, and punched a statue for no reason.

  He’s pretty much the polar opposite of himself from "Rosebud" here.

Mad Jon: Then he rode home in Homer’s beat the fuck up car.

Charlie Sweatpants: There he knew what he wanted and got it, everyone and everything else be damned.

Bob Mackey: I noted that — it was weird to see the show cut to a new scene with Burns just standing in their dining room.

Mad Jon: Compare this Burns to the one from the German episode.

  Burns from the German episode demanded fear from the common folks, now he just wants cuddles.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s a direct contradiction.

  And not an improvement.

Bob Mackey: True, most of the Burns episodes take power away from him in some way, but he’s still ruthless regardless.

  Not in this one, though.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even beyond Burns, this episode flies apart at every seam it’s got. Act 2 alone starts with Burns surprising Homer in the plant and ends with them flying to . . . wait for it . . . Scotland.

  Where, and this gobsmacked me at the time and did again today, they actually find the Loch Ness Monster.

Bob Mackey: And Groundskeeper Willie is there for no reason.

Mad Jon: In the random cutaway from the car ride. Also Willy is there.

Bob Mackey: Right!

Charlie Sweatpants: How desperate for an ending were they?

Mad Jon: Desperate enough not to really have one.

Bob Mackey: I will admit that the reverse King Kong joke at the end was inspired, but it would be even funnier without Nessie there.

Charlie Sweatpants: I try to avoid playing Monday morning script doctor, but wouldn’t the more satisfying ending have been a failure to find the monster, a subsequent humiliation of Burns, and his regressing back to hating everyone?

Mad Jon: Not a bad idea.

Charlie Sweatpants: Instead, they put a real life damn monster in the episode. My head shakes every time I think about it.

I’ll agree the flash bulb thing kinda works, but it’s not nearly enough.

Mad Jon: I am sure you noticed this, but the monster followed your animation failure from the Screaming Yellow Honkers episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: I noticed.

Bob Mackey: And a purple monster at that — apparently it was a cel-painting error they were too cheap to fix.

Charlie Sweatpants: It gets bigger and smaller at random. One minute it’s four stories high, the next it’s standing next to Burns in a damn casino.

  This whole thing is a hot mess.

Mad Jon: I am pretty sure it just gets smaller. It is almost like each time they divided by three, until it is only a few feet taller than normal humans.

  It was frickin’ huge in the loch, which, by the way, was only about 2 feet deep on its own.

Bob Mackey: I guess the writers had so few Scotland jokes that we get part of Act 3 instead of an entire episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Scots are about the only part of this one I really like.

  It’s just the one joke about them having horrible lives and taking them with barely a complaint, but it’s kinda funny when Homer twirls in his kilt, when their town drowns, and when Willie talks with his parents.

Bob Mackey: This also has a continuity error everyone likes to complain about

Charlie Sweatpants: Just one?

Bob Mackey: Well, the thing about Willie’s father having been hung for stealing a pig

Charlie Sweatpants: I could see that. It doesn’t rate for me though. I’m pretty apathetic about inter-episode continuity. Intra-episode making the least fucking sense however, that I care about.

Bob Mackey: Doesn’t bother me, but I thought it should be mentioned.

Mad Jon: Well this has plenty of that, or plenty of not having it… I guess.

Charlie Sweatpants: This one does it in spades. Why is Homer’s ass on every TV in the mega store? How do those silver dollars cover an entire block? How did they pump the giant lake dry? How did the hospital think it was Homer’s money? Why, for that matter, did Burns give Homer the damn check? Oh, and the damn Loch Ness monster.

Sorry, I don’t mean to rant, but this one is nonsensical and hyperactive in a way that few in Season 10 are. That’s something that’s gotten much more prevalent, and watching it today I was really struck by how much of a resemblance it bears to Seasons 20+.

Mad Jon: Most agreed.

Bob Mackey: I was pretty supportive of the show at that point, but this episode left me feeling kind of sick.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even the Antiques Roadshow thing at the beginning is like that. Instead of it being a real PBS satire like at the beginning of "Marge on the Lam", it’s Moe and Skinner and Homer and the gang.

Mad Jon: My favorite line came at the end anyway. When the re-dubbed Lisa’s earlier quote over the production credits "Ooh I hear this really sucks…"

Bob Mackey: You guys mind if we move on to the next one?

Charlie Sweatpants:  By all means. The quicker I stop thinking about this one the better my blood pressure will be.

Mad Jon: Let’s do it.

15
Sep
11

10 Heartbreaking Simpsons Moments

- By Andreas

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“Don’t cry for me; I’m already dead.” – Barney

Back in June, I composed a list of “10 Scary Simpsons Moments.” This is a companion piece of sorts, demonstrating the show’s emotional breadth with ten of the sweetest, tenderest, and most touching moments of the show’s run. Although renowned for its cynicism and satire, The Simpsons always had powerful, James L. Brooks-influenced emotion at its core. It was never just about hollow laughs; instead, each episode was invested in relationships, families, and the oft-painful quirks of human behavior.

But it also never took the typical sitcom shortcut of cheap schmaltz: its emotional arcs were steeped in character development and real-life resonances. The Simpsons, at its best, was about well-rounded human beings with foibles, feelings, and heartbreaks. Here are ten tear-jerking, heartstring-tugging examples…

10) “Dog of Death”

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This episode has a twofer: its first act confronts the agonizing facts of pet mortality (and middle-class penny-pinching), while the rest is devoted to Bart searching for the lost, brainwashed Santa’s Little Helper. It climaxes with a montage celebrating pet/child rapports and the merciful restoration of the status quo, reaffirming the lesson of Old Yeller and all those Lassie movies: few emotional forces are more potent than the relationship between a boy and his dog.

9) “Lisa on Ice”

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Bart and Lisa’s sibling rivalry was a staple of the show’s B-plots, but no other episode exploited their love/hate relationship as skillfully as “Lisa on Ice.” Most of the episode teeters toward the “hate” end of that dynamic, but as with “Dog of Death,” all that conflict leads to a hug-it-out climax and an adorable montage of Bart and Lisa’s shared childhood. This being The Simpsons, though, their heartfelt reconciliation plays out with a hockey riot raging in the background.

8) “I Married Marge”

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The flashback episodes are gold mines of masterfully orchestrated sentiment. “And Maggie Makes Three,” with its “DO IT FOR HER” ending, nearly made this list, as did “The Way We Was” for Homer’s closing monologue. But “I Married Marge” has Homer and Marge’s tragic separation as newlyweds when Homer goes off to become a man, and their reunion in the Gulp ‘n’ Blow drive-thru with the words “Pour vous.” It’s a note-perfect, bittersweet back story for Our Favorite Family.

7) ” ‘Round Springfield”

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Poor Lisa, condemned to lose every positive male role model (see #2). The loss of Bleeding Gums Murphy really hurts; he’s such a gently paternal presence, and he’s Lisa’s only mentor as a jazz saxophonist. (Mr. Largo, his passion dulled by years in the public school system, could never come close.) Unlike a certain gimmicky, ratings-grabbing death from Season 11, Murphy’s passing is handled with tact and humor, making it all the more painful.

6) “Bart Sells His Soul”

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This episode topped my “scary” list, and the same spiritual fears that feed its horror also make it an emotionally heavy experience. Bart’s prayer at the end is a tour de force for Nancy Cartwright; she cuts right through his “underachiever and proud of it” schtick, revealing the lost little boy underneath. “Bart Sells His Soul” delves into the anxiety and loneliness that constitute dark side of childhood, and the redemption that lies just beyond.

5) “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”

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After a diabolically brilliant first act that degenerates into a nightmare, “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” tests the Simpson family’s mettle like no episode before or since. But the intensity of their trial by social services fire makes the resolution that much more gratifying (and emotionally overwhelming), and Marge’s climactic line can still bring tears to my eyes: “Oh, Maggie, you’re a Simpson again!”

4) “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”

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When Homer ingests some potentially deadly sushi, he gets put through the existential wringer: as Dr. Hibbert informs him, he only has 22 hours to wrap up his life on earth. His attempts to do so are tragicomic, as he earnestly carries out some tasks while botching others; however, the episode goes all-out emotionally for Homer’s last night. Sitting awake in the living room, he’s no longer a wacky TV dad. He’s just a working stiff, staring into the abyss. Powerful stuff.

3) “Like Father, Like Clown”

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You’d think that estranged parents and Jewish culture, thorny topics for any show, would prove impossible for an animated sitcom. But leave it to The Simpsons to entangle the two in its hilarious, heartfelt riff on The Jazz Singer. The ending is utterly moving, as Krusty and his father join in singing “O Mein Papa”—just the kind of big, emotional finale you’d expect from a larger-than-life showbiz figure like Krusty.

2) “Lisa’s Substitute”

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“You are Lisa Simpson.” Such a simple sentence, but it rings so true. Coupled with Dustin Hoffman’s understated performance as Mr. Bergstrom, it’s enough to put a lump in my throat every time I watch the phenomenal “Lisa’s Substitute.” A touchstone for brainy kids everywhere, the episode makes the tragic acknowledgment that loss is part of personal growth, but no easier for it. We’ll miss you, Mr. Bergstrom.

1) “Mother Simpson”

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The other episodes on this list tell some pretty heartrending stories about loss and reconciliation, but nothing can match the emotional scope, gravity, and finesse of “Mother Simpson.” Homer’s long-lost mother may disappear again, but he learns that she loves him, and that’s enough. The ending, with Homer pensively stargazing, is both a model of restraint and a signal to start crying. It’s a sobering reminder of how powerful silence can be.

01
Sep
11

They’ll Never Stop “The Simpsons” (But Someone Really Should)

From Nightmare to Reality

- By Matt Mackinnon

Everyone is aware of the vast difference in quality between the first ten seasons of The Simpsons and the ten seasons of Zombie Simpsons that followed. But you don’t have to reach as far back as Season 5 to find huge dips in the quality of the show. No. In fact, you can see a huge drop off in the quality of the show within Zombie Simpsons itself. In fact, it might be time to divide Zombie Simpsons into two different categories. A zombie divided against itself, cannot stand! (That’s a George Costanza reference . . . anyhoo.)

In “Gump Roast” (Season 13), The Simpsons was already in full swing Zombie mode. But little did we know just how bad it was going to get in the years to come. So bad in fact, that one particular recent episode makes “Gump Roast” look like it was part of the golden era. At the end of “Gump Roast”, there is a song called “You’ll never stop the Simpsons”, a parody of the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. Despite this being an episode of Zombie Simpsons, the song parody was good — very, very good. Van Johnson good.

Near the end of the song they list a bunch of gag stories that could be coming in years to come, such as Marge becomes a robot, Moe gets a cell phone, and Bart owns a bear. This was back when Zombie Simpsons was still hip enough to have a sense of humor about itself and would occasionally poke fun at the fact that they had perhaps stayed on the air one or two years too many. One joke in particular stands out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.

It features Grampa, Patty and Selma involved in a “crazy wedding”. At the time this was clearly meant to be a jab at the series’ many attempts to find Selma a man. And that eventually, if the show stayed on the air long enough, they would run out of potential husbands for her and would be forced to pair her up with Grampa. The very idea of Grampa, Homer’s father, being romantically involved with Selma, Marge’s sister, was considered “crazy”.

Well, fast forward five short seasons to Season 18′s “Rome-Old and Juli-eh”, and you’ll find that, lo and behold, Grampa and Selma are romantically involved. I didn’t see this episode when it first aired, but I happened to catch it recently and instantly thought of that Billy Joel parody. (So I am fully aware that I may not be the first to pick up on this.) At first I thought, there’s no way the writers could have forgotten that they made fun of this very premise just a few short seasons ago. This had to be an inside joke aimed at fans who nit-pick everything to death. But it wasn’t.

There is nothing in the episode that points in that direction. They could have had any character use the phrase “crazy wedding” and we would have all instantly known what they were going for. But there was nothing like that. So what was originally considered a crazy throw away gag in a parody song became, a few seasons later, a full episode. Which means in the years to come we can all look forward to Marge becoming a robot and Bart getting a bear. Wait. Scratch that. In fact, they actually did that episode recently. Just replace bear with cow.

I’m sure I’m not the first to notice the Selma-Grampa goof. So I’m sorry if this is not the most original article. But have no fear, we’ll have essays like this for years.

25
Aug
11

Simpsons Go Canyonero: The Indifference of Selling Out

- By Hank Pumpkins of Love in the Time of Sausage

“I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s”. That one line, delivered by Sherri—or maybe Terri—worked wonders on my young, impressionable mind, and only nearly eight years later, on a dare in college, did I finally try Arby’s. It turns out, the fries are pretty good. There’s a secret shame in admitting that The Simpsons held such political sway over my taste-buds, but in the years since, I’ve come to see I haven’t been the only one—which makes me wonder if there was a marginal dip in sales after “Das Bus” came out.

It’s probably overstated that The Simpsons has always had a cache of consumer power, both as an economic consumer power and as a commentator of consumerism. From its early days the show has been keenly aware of dual-life it led as a biting satire on American economics while also being prostituted out on everything from t-shirts to “blues” records to Butterfinger bars. For a show with such sheer size and success, unparalleled with, well, pretty much any other television show, ever, they did a fine line of playing both roles, though looking back at the last thirteen years, it seems inevitable that the show would eventually teeter, then topple on one side.

It’s not surprising which side that ended up being.

Season 9 is about as good a place as any to see the axis tilt on The Simpsons for a variety of reasons, but what concerns me are the ominous signs that point to the philosophical sea-change which, to me, signaled the point where The Simpsons lost their bite and settled down into somewhat inspired, but mostly mediocre entertainment filler.

Season 9’s plots seem to constantly revolve around battles for integrity. Homer needs to choose between buying a saxophone or an air conditioner; Lisa fights the town on the angel; Homer gets into a brawl over a sports car while Marge struggles to make a sale; Bart burns down the Christmas tree, including the sausage for little Homer; Homer and Bart become carnies and learn their wicked carnie games; Movementarians; and, to cut basically a list of all of the season’s episodes short, “The Last Temptation of Krust”, which literally revolves around Krusty realizing he is, has been, and always will operate not as a comedian, but as a shill. In a season rife with issues of integrity, and a show already feeling the strain of its own success and legacy, “The Last Temptation of Krust” feels like a breaking point where the show seemed to run completely out of steam. Krusty’s conflict was his battle with integrity, and his resolution is a quiet, somewhat disconcerting acceptance that he is a whore. Doubtful that the writers were mirroring their own show, or being prescient about the lazy, belabored comedy to come in years hence, but as The Canyonero commercial plays, and drags on and on, it’s difficult for Future Me to watch and wonder, “Oh. That explains it.”

Compare Krusty in season 9 with another episode dealing with integrity over money: “Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy”, aired four years prior, where in the end, Malibu Stacy seemingly wins—except for the one girl who takes the Lisa Lionheart doll and cherishes it. We get the usual cynical Simpsons nod that our world is run by money, and baseless corporate greed which slakes its thirst on the naïve and unwitting, but at least there’s a sentimental twist to the end (which is pretty well earned, I’ll add).

There aren’t many times I bother to check in on The Simpsons anymore, but when Banksy’s guest couch gag went viral, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. True to Banksy form, it had a nasty anti-consumer bend, but it felt out of place as a Simpsons gag. The show had long ago lost its teeth, and instead of being a purveyor of biting satire, it felt like an outsider was just doling out a blow, and the show could care less, as long as it got the ratings boost. In the past thirteen years, The Simpsons lost a lot of credit and value it once so richly earned. When the tight walk between sharp consumer satire and consumer salesman gave way, the show gave a weary, resigned “meh”. And now, it’s just a truck with four wheel drive, smells like a steak and seats thirty-five.

Lisa Lionheart is dead; all hail Malibu Stacy.

18
Aug
11

Anyone But Steve Allen OR 10 Gifts The Simpsons Gave To Comedy

- By Django Gold, head curator at mcgarnagle.com

The Simpsons was a special show, and like any other popular creative work that found a large audience, it was only a matter of time before its influence started popping up elsewhere. It’s been over twenty years since the show debuted, and in that time a generation of comedy writers who grew up watching, re-watching, and quoting the show has made their own bones in show business. What follows is a sampling of certain aspects of The Simpsons that have since shown up in countless other comedy bits.

I’m not claiming The Simpsons actually invented any of the following ideas. I’m no historian, and people were of course telling jokes a long ways before Groening & co. got to work. But I will argue that the show’s creators advanced and modernized these joke-telling methods better than anyone else, and in crafting them so well inspired others to adapt them to fit their own ideas (or just flat-out steal them). So, like I was saying…

1. Repetition/Extra Beats (Sideshow Bob and the rake)

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Airtime is expensive, and in 1993 it was a risky move to blow 30 seconds of it for the sake of a repeated slapstick joke that might not hold up. Luckily, in “Cape Feare”, it did, mostly because of the enduring funniness of Sideshow Bob’s dry grimaces of pain (“Hey Hal, pie job for Lord Autumnbottom there!”). As literary review Entertainment Weekly put it: “If ever there was a gag genius in its repetitive stupidity (progressing from funny to not so funny to the funniest thing ever), this is it.” Years later, many shows have attempted to replicate this type of extended joke whose humor draws on the audacity of its length, to varying degrees of success. Family Guy, of course, pulls it off constantly (the bruised knee scene, et al), but anytime I see a comedian attempt to stretch a sprint into a marathon, Terwilliger’s scowl comes to mind.

2. Guest Stars Making Fun Of Themselves (“Now I’m gonna grab me something sweet.”)

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Though you could argue that Dick Nixon started this trend on Laugh In in ’68, The Simpsons perfected the idea of bringing on guest stars so that they could send themselves up. While celebrity cameos don’t generally go beyond allowing a photogenic guest star to preen for the camera, Leonard Nimoy, George H. W. Bush, Sting, several major leaguers, Ernest Borgnine, Gerry Cooney, Rodney Dangerfield (doesn’t really count), and, of course, Dennis Franz weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Examples of this are too numerous to list, so I guess I’ll go with Neil Patrick Harris (“Where do you want it, Skinner?”) in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle and move on.

3. Writers Making Fun Of The Network (“We are watching Fox.”)

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Similarly, The Simpsons was never afraid to bite the hand that feeds when it came to pointing out how desperately crappy Fox Broadcasting Co. was in the 90s. This is of course easy to do when your show is pretty much the only thing holding the network up. You see this same sort of gentle ribbing on Comedy Central pillars The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and Family Guy also continues the proud tradition now that The Simpsons is off the air.

4. “By X, I Mean Y” (Judge Snyder’s dog/son)

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I have not managed to find any concrete examples of the Judge Snyder construct in recent comedy, but if my own personal experience is any judge, it is ubiquitous. The Simpsons generation (that’s us) has taken an excellent Lionel Hutz line and turned it into a device for sarcasm; by substituting whatever zany mad-libs you like into an otherwise straight-forward expression, hilarity results. Though the X becomes Y construct pops up on the Internet constantly, I couldn’t possibly solve the mystery of coming up with any mainstream examples. Can you?

5. Intentional Monotony (Canada Stalls On Trade Pact)

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Television is a flashy, fast-paced medium, so its rare moments of silence can do a lot to change things up. The Simpsons creators were masters of using intentionally tedious pacing to get laughs, and the box factory manager’s uproariously uninteresting speech in “Bart Gets Famous” is a perfect example of this. Though he got started in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein made a career out of this after being a hack economist didn’t work.  Notable post-Simpsons examples include South Park (when Cartman is forced to watch the serial killer’s slide show) and, naturally, Family Guy’s occasional burst into deliberate boredom (Conway Twitty).

6. Old-Timey References (the onion and the belt)

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Here, I’m specifically looking at any pre-Great Depression references that the Simpsons writers so enjoyed tossing in, usually through Monty Burns or Abe Simpson. As in the previous example, the use of antiquated, often-misremembered cultural references in The Simpsons succeeds largely because it goes against context. Instead of being entertained with the latest and greatest, the audience is presented with the ridiculous, largely irrelevant relics of a bygone era. Modern-day humorists love poking fun at our country’s creaky past: Conan O’Brien’s beloved “old-timey” baseball game sketch, for example.

7. The Selfish Assumption (“Like people, some of them are just jerks.”)

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As The Itchy & Scratchy Show demonstrated in its brief period of docility in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”, kindness and camaraderie are all well and good when it comes to lemonade consumption, but it just isn’t funny. No, selfishness and needless cruelty pay the bills when it comes to good comedy, and the Simpsons writers understood this. Now, I want to emphasize that I’m not claiming The Simpsons invented the notion of meanness being funny. But I will make the argument that they did the best job of casually imbuing the Springfield citizenry with the kinds of character flaws that gave rise to laughs. Carl’s answer to how the pastry spinner works, Quimby’s muscle-memory embezzlement, Marge’s cryptic theft of Milhouse’s teeth…these and constant other acts demonstrate how much funnier it is when someone behaves badly. Tons of modern shows pull off this kind of casual meanness, but shows like Strangers With Candy and Children’s Hospital take it to a new level.

8. Freeze-Frame Jokes (“where the buyer is our chum”)

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One of the reasons for The Simpsons’ rewatchability is the sheer volume of its jokes makes it impossible to catch and process everything in a single sitting—it takes time to appreciate what the writers are laying down. I remember one of the show’s creators calling The Simpsons the first-ever VHS show (or something like that), as it was the first show that rewarded re-viewings (hence the show’s immense success in syndication). From an artistic standpoint, packing the jokes in like this is just good common sense; but it’s also a valuable commercial tool, as it makes people more likely to watch again, buy the DVDs, etc. Many, many shows have tapped into this joke-a-second type of pacing. Archer, Futurama, Parks and Rec, you name it.

9. Film Homages (Debbie Does Springfield)

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Once the show’s artists found their groove, The Simpsons was able to pull off the kind of animation tricks that no other show could dream of at the time. This included the ability to capture scenes much in the same way that filmmakers did with different “camera” angles and framing techniques…which also allowed the writers to throw in homages to their favorite films. Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and various Hitchcock films got their due, and the shot-for-shot remake approach is now a comedic trope, in animated and live-action shows alike.

10. A Cast Of Thousands (“We’ve given the word ‘mob’ a bad name.”)

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Large casts are expensive to maintain for a live-action show, but it’s a pretty thrifty option for a cartoon, especially if most of them are voiced by the same six people. The huge ensemble cast that filled Springfield allowed the show’s writers to move beyond the core Simpson family members and flesh out those minor characters that we the viewers would eventually come to know just as well. Apu living with the Simpsons? It happened…and shows like Arrested Development and The Office took advantage of the example.

Agree? Disagree? Got some other examples to give? Sound off in the comments.

11
Aug
11

Queer Simpsons

- By Lenny Burnham

I’m guessing everyone reading this knows the main thesis of Dead Homer Society: The Simpsons was a smart satire with developed, interesting characters. Zombie Simpsons is a stupid mess with only a shallow resemblance to The Simpsons. But, while the extreme decrease in quality in the double-digit seasons is a bummer for any Simpsons fan, it creates a particular problem for queer Simpsons fans—half of the show is great in quality but has fairly little in the way of representation, half has lots of gay characters and storylines but doesn’t have the same quality. It’s hard to watch an episode like “There’s Something About Marrying” without longing to see what the people who made episodes like “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” could have done with the same subject matter. It’s nice to dream of a world where the years of smart satire overlapped more with the years that were flush in references to gay life, but it will always just be a dream. But, my question is—what show does a better job with queer representation, The Simpsons or Zombie Simpsons? On sheer number of characters and screentime, Zombie Simpsons wins hands down. They added in Julio and Grady, explicitly outed characters whose sexuality had only been hinted at previously and they’ve had three episodes (“There’s Something About Marrying”, “Three Gays of the Condo” and “Flaming Moe”) dedicated to gay subject matter, while The Simpsons only had one (“Homer’s Phobia”).

References to homosexuality in The Simpsons were quick and relatively subtle. Look no further than the town meeting in “Bart After Dark.” When Marge, Maude, Ned and the Lovejoys hold a town meeting to discuss Springfield’s burlesque house, they show a slideshow that reveals many of the Springfieldians that have visited the place and we hear their loved ones react with shock. The fourth person we see is Patty and Selma cries out, “Patty?!” In a lesser show, this would have been the punchline—far too many shows think that the very existence of gay people is a punchline. But here gay life is just an accepted part of the world and we quickly move on to Brandine’s reaction to the picture of Cletus before we get to the actual punchline, which, because this is The Simpsons, consists of four quick jokes in a row (no one cares that Barney is a sleazebag, Wiggum sounds like a child whining that they did him twice, Smithers’s parents insisted he give it a try and Quimby claims that you can’t identify him by his very obvious “Mayor” sash because that could be any mayor). In a very short sequence we get four jokes and two acknowledgements of gay life, without any of the humor being at the expense of the gay characters.

In “Treehouse of Horror III Patty sees Homer naked and says, “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” It clarified that Patty is gay—and comfortable referencing her sexuality—quickly in the form of a joke and then moved on. Back in the days of The Simpsons they could let a character just be gay without a long, jokeless episode about their emotional struggle because they weren’t desperate to be relevant.

By the time, “There’s Something About Marrying” aired, it was no longer enough for The Simpsons to have funny references from characters whose homosexuality was just one dimension of their character. They had to dedicate entire episodes to begging people to watch them for their politics, not for their humor. And they even screwed that up. You’d think that an episode dedicated to supporting same-sex marriage would be, if not actually good, at least positive for gay people, but they had to have Patty’s fiancé turn out to be a man. This episode might claim to support gay marriage, but it undercuts its own point completely by focusing on a relationship in which one of the partners is so oblivious that they didn’t even notice their partner’s gender. They have so little respect for lesbians’ sexuality and relationships that they dare us to accept the idea that Marge noticed Patty’s fiance’s large Adam’s apple before Patty noticed that or any other telltale signs. If you’re going to make an episode about how homosexual relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships, it might be a good idea to focus on a couple that at least took a cursory glance at each other’s bodies before jumping into getting engaged.

In another gay issue episode, “Flaming Moe”, Moe converted his bar into a gay bar and then every gay character in Springfield became a regular (except Dewey Largo, who had left town as part of another plot in that episode). Group shots were populated by every gay character, including Patty. Every time I got a glimpse of Patty I wondered why she wasn’t at home, watching TV and avoiding social interaction. The episode just decided that every gay person spends every night at a gay bar. This isn’t even an instance of them milking a stereotype or oversimplification for the sake of a joke, this is them mindlessly and needlessly accepting that all gay people have the same habits for absolutely no story or comedy purpose.

Even though Zombie Simpsons tries and tries to win over gay audiences with issue episodes like “There’s Something About Marrying” and “Three Gays of the Condo” and The Simpsons only had a handful of references in its run, I’d still pick The Simpsons over Zombie Simpsons every time. Because every character in The Simpsons, even minor ones, were thought through and developed, we got great characters like Smithers, Patty and Karl. Even though Zombie Simpsons has much more room to be explicitly inclusive, they’ve only added a few extremely one-dimensional gay guys and still haven’t bothered creating another lesbian. For me, Zombie Simpsons’s policy with representation can be summed up by the end of “Homer Scissorhands.” When Marge said she found a new hairdresser besides Homer, I immediately thought, “It’s going to be Julio” even though I’d never seen him portrayed as a hairdresser before and it had been established that he’s a photographer. Indeed, I was right. They had plopped Julio into the role of hairdresser for a plot point. Because Smithers and Patty were created early in the series, they have firmly established jobs at the power plant and the DMV. If Patty had been created now her job description would be “maybe she makes leather vests or maybe she plays in the WNBA or something like that.”

04
Aug
11

Where Al Jean Went Wrong: A Closer Look At The Last 10 Years Of The Simpsons

- By John Hugar

2001 was the height of my Simpsons obsession. That might sound odd when you consider it’s 10 years later and here I am writing a post for a blog dedicated to dissecting every flaw of the show’s later years, but trust me, back then it was different. These days, while I still love The Simpsons and I still love talking about them, I am, in fact, capable of carrying on conversations about other subjects. For 11-year-old me, that was quite a challenge.

I had been into the show since 1997, but my love for it was pushed into the stratosphere primarily due to the internet. Instead of just watching the show, I could now glean every bit of information there was to glean about the show. Episode titles, production numbers, animation goofs, and thanks to SNPP, full transcripts of nearly every episode.

Of course, the internet didn’t just exist for facts about the show, but opinions. Long, rambling opinions like this one. That’s where I was a bit flustered. As someone who thought the show could do no wrong, I was stunned at how many people thought the show had gone downhill in the recent years. This was right around the end of Season 12, when Mike Scully’s reign of terror, stupidity, and jockey elves was coming to an end. Everyone seemed to agree on two things: 1. The show wasn’t what it used to be. 2. It had a chance to get better under its new executive producer, Al Jean.

I didn’t really I think the show had gotten worse (11-year-olds have an unfortunate tendency of finding Jerkass Homer amusing), but I understood that other people did, and I could recognize what traits they didn’t like. As a result, when the Jean episodes started airing, I found myself rooting for all the ugly Scully traits to vanish so that everyone could go back to agreeing that The Simpsons was the greatest show in the history of the universe.

Of course, that never occurred. A lot of things have happened during Al Jean’s now 10-year reign as Executive Producer of the show, but a return to the quality of the early years is not one of them. Now, that isn’t to say Al Jean didn’t do anything right (although I’m sure some would feel that way). If anything, I look at his all-too-lengthy run as a bit of a mixed bag.

For me, the Jean era can by divided into two categories. Seasons 13-16, which were either a noble failure, or a minor success, depending on how generous you want to be, and everything after that, in which the show gets more generic and less recognizable from The Simpsons each year.

When Al Jean took over the show, it seemed like his goal was to fix some of the errors that had occurred in the Scully era (the wacky third act twists, the ultra-stupidity of Homer, etc) and bring the show back to what it was in the early days. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for a variety of reasons. One was that rather than trying to break new ground and reach new creative heights, the show was engaging in a self-conscious effort to seem like The Simpsons.

That sort of thing rarely works. Whenever something tries to imitate itself, the results almost always end up seeming like an inferior version. Like when the Rolling Stones made Steel Wheels. Sure, it was a decent album, and it was better than, say, Dirty Work, but the band was obviously trying to imitate the standard Stones sound, rather than create something original, and as a result, it wound up being vastly inferior to classics like Let It Bleed and Exile On Main St.

The same problem plagues early Jean era episodes. You can tell they’re trying to tap into what made the early years great, but they don’t quite get there. Take “Sleeping With The Enemy” from Season 16. It’s a well-liked episode on the internet, and really, it’s not too bad. It does, however suffer from a lot of attempts to imitate better episodes that don’t quite work.

Both the main plot and the subplot in this episode are surprisingly emotional for such a late-period episode. The main story involves Nelson coming to live with The Simpsons after Marge discovers how lonely and neglected he feels, while the subplot involves Lisa struggling with body image issues, and bordering on anorexia. Both plots have potential for emotional resonance, and naturally, they both go for the gusto.

This happens in one scene when Bart, frustrated over having Nelson sleeping in his bed, comes into the living room and finds Nelson, crying over his estranged father. Except he’s not just crying, he’s also singing Barbra Streisand’s “Papa, Can You Hear Me”. This is where a potentially poignant moment gets ruined by overkill. For one thing, how the fuck is a 10-year-old boy so familiar with Streisand’s work? Especially one who was previously one of the toughest kids in school? Secondly, even if Nelson does have a secret penchant for 70s lite Adult Contemporary music, the scene would’ve been so much better if Nelson had just been crying, and maybe saying “I miss you, Papa”. Having him sing such a sappy song took an emotional scene and made it simply melodramatic.

Once this is over, a similar problem occurs in the scene involving Lisa that comes immediately after. Lisa decides to have one piece of cake to let herself know she still has self-control. Except it doesn’t work. She starts eating more and more until she dives into the cake and makes snow angels (cake angels?) in it. This just flat out makes no sense. It might be the single most out of character thing Lisa has ever done, and naturally, Jean is doing it to tug at the viewer’s heart strings. As with the Nelson scene, a lighter touch would’ve worked a lot better (maybe Lisa just eats a large portion of cake and then begins crying?), but he wants to let you just how serious the scene is, and as a result, it seems a lot less serious.

I use this episode because it’s the definitive example of how Jean’s attempts to revive the feel of the Golden era didn’t quite work. There’s plenty of good lines here (one favorite: Nelson saying his tadpoles “seem crude by comparison” to the hot dog Marge gives him), but he goes for schmaltz rather than true emotion, and it the episode suffers as a result.

I still think the first 4 years of Jean’s run did spark a minor improvement, because while episodes like “Sleeping With The Enemy” didn’t reach the heights of the best years, they also didn’t feature the ridiculous plot twists and zany-for-the-sake-of-zany silliness that dragged the Scully era into the ground (note: a few episodes did this, with “Helter Shelter” and “Strong Arms Of The Ma” being the worst examples, but it was no longer the rule).

If Jean’s run had ended after Season 16, I think we’d look at it as a lot more of success than we do now. “Maybe he didn’t completely save the show, but he did improve on a lot of the major problems,” we’d say. But no, that couldn’t be the case. He had to keep going, and that’s when the show to started to really go off the deep end.

For me, Season 17 marked the greatest decline from one season to another in the show’s history. Why? Because rather than become overly wacky like it did in the Scully years, it became overly generic. Episodes became indistinguishable from each other, and in general, it felt like the episodes were coming off an assembly line. This problem continues to this day, and is one of the biggest problems with Zombie Simpsons: the show lacks the traits that used to distinguish it form other shows.

Put it this way, even in the dregs of the Scully era, I can usually recognize an episode form its opening scene. The family at Costco? Oh, it’s “Simpson Safari”. Homer sets off the smoke alarm? Must be “Pygmoelian”. In the post-2005 episodes, things are so generic and indistinguishable that it often takes me until 5 minutes into episode for me to know which episode it is. And these are episodes I’ve seen multiple times. Far too often, the shows just blend into each other.

That, I’m afraid, is what Al Jean’s legacy would be. Rather than being the guy who didn’t quite save the show, but made it a bit better and put it on the right track, he’ll be known as the guy who seized the power and took away all the things that made The Simpsons what they were. Yes, Scully was responsible for that to, but at least his failures had personality, and he left when it was time to leave. Jean continues to act as the shows decidedly unbenevolent (nonbenevolent?) dictator with no end in sight. Being the Simpsons nerd I am, I’ll keep watching, hoping things get a little better (hey Season 22 was probably a little better than Season 21, maybe), and enjoying the one or two legitimately good episodes each year, but the show seems set in its bland, inferior ways now, and as much as I admire his superior work, it seems like Al Jean deserves the majority of the blame for that.

26
Jul
11

Guest Stars Then & Now

- By Gran2

The plethora of Season 22 guest stars filled me with rage. This show is bad enough already without Danica Patrick, Paul Rudd or Mark ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg turning up to dig it even closer to Earth’s core. I dreaded hearing Al Jean rattle off next season’s list at Comic-Con (spoilers: It included Michael Cera).

The point is: guest stars suck now. The really obscure ones suck because you have no idea who they are, or why they are there (pretty much every guest star from seasons 11 and 12 falls into to this category, or maybe that’s because I’m British). But the really famous ones suck as well.

Whoever they are, whether they’re a sportsperson, a singer or even a professional actor their acting is always so awful, reading the awkward dialogue that normal people would never actually say, and appearing to have been recorded on their first take. They have no reason to be there, yet they either have the episode built around them rather than a plot, or they appear for one line only. But all get to enjoy their own little ego-massage courtesy of Lisa ("Look, it’s J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. You’ve turned a generation of kids onto reading!"). They just throw them on because guest stars represent one of the very few times this show ever gets any press attention anymore. It was the only thing they discussed at Comic-Con last year. It’s literally all they have to say.

Guest stars didn’t used to suck. They used to be great. They belonged in the episode; they had a purpose to the story or, you know, voiced a character. Whether as themselves or as a character they felt like they belonged in Springfield, just as the episodes they were in belonged on television.

Their appearance first and foremost made sense: they were both relevant to the plot and their presence in Springfield wasn’t ridiculous. It makes sense for Springfield to have celebrities visiting. It’s home to Krusty the Clown, one of the most famous entertainers of all time. Why wouldn’t he be friends with Bette Middler and Johnny Carson? There’s a clear difference between that and people like James Caan just suddenly appearing there. Guest stars appear to present an award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence or to open a monorail and when they were there, they were funny ("A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on"). And they didn’t just then vanish. Most of them appeared in more than one scene, so actually have some kind of character progression. Guest stars rarely, if ever, actually were the focus of the plot as themselves. Instead, their most substantial parts were when they were playing characters. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, John Waters, Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman. All excellent performances and playing excellent characters.

The philosophy of guest parts has clearly changed since the good old days. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein picked most of their guest stars because they had unique voices which actually led to good characters. The fact that R. Lee Ermey and Lawrence Tierney were going to be appearing was never really going to draw viewers but they did a damn site more memorable job than big stars like Seth Rogen or Sacha Baron Cohen. Furthermore, they actually dropped guest stars if they didn’t fit. Collette the waitress from "Flaming Moe’s" was supposed to be voiced by Catherine O’Hara. She actually recorded the part but they replaced her with Jo Ann Harris because, in the words of Mike Reiss on the DVD commentary "Something about her did not animate correctly. The voice did not work for our purposes." And it wasn’t just her. Maggie Roswell was selected over Julie Andrews to voice Shary Bobbins due to her great reading, likewise Hank Azaria over William H. Macy for Frank Grimes. Hell, Bill and Josh said in their NoHomers chat that they wanted Robert DeNiro to guest star; in the end he didn’t, because they couldn’t find a good enough part for him. Nowadays they’d just shove him in.

Now to stop me rambling on, here are three clear examples of why guest stars used to be great. Robert Goulet. The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat". And the Ramones.

Robert Goulet’s appearance in "$pringfield" is a perfect guest spot. He doesn’t dominate the show, it makes sense he’s there (he’s flown in after being hired for a gig at Burns’ Casino) and he’s funny. But above all, they make fun of him.

Goulet: You from the casino?
Bart: I’m from a casino.
Goulet: Good enough, let’s go.

Goulet: Are you sure this is the casino? I think I should call my manager.
Nelson: Your manager says for you to shut up!
Goulet: Vera said that?

In six lines, they make Goulet seem unprofessional and then they tell him to shut up. Perfect.

The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat" are also a perfect example of good guest stars. Along with "Krusty Gets Kancelled" this episode shows that lots of guest stars in one episode doesn’t have to suck. Again, their presence makes sense. Why wouldn’t an evil old billionaire cheat in order to win a bet? But what really made them great was their performances, which are all much better than, for example, John C Reilly’s. Let’s just emphasise that: a bunch of professional baseballers give a better, more emotive and more believable performance than an Academy Award-nominated actor. Now, as said, I’m British, and have absolutely no interest or knowledge of baseball whatsoever, but that doesn’t affect my love for this episode. When these nine players die I won’t remember them for however many points they got (if that’s what you get in baseball?) I’ll remember because they were great in this episode. Particular praise to Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia and Darryl Strawberry.

And finally, a comparison between old and new guest stars, with very similar parts, which have vastly different results. First, the good one. The Ramones appearance in "Rosebud" is brief, but outstanding.

Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I’m sure are gonna go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I’d just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren’t —
Burns: Do as I say!

They are there for a clear, logical reason: to play for Burns’ birthday party. And every single line in that scene builds on the previous one to make it one of the most hilarious scenes ever.

And now Coldplay, from season 21′s craptacular "Million Dollar Maybe":

Chris Martin: [sings Viva la Vida]
Bart: Wait, I have to go to the bathroom.
Martin: So, where are you from Homer?
Homer: Here.
[They start again]
Homer: Wait.
Martin: Yes Homer.
Homer: Do you think you could use someone like me in your band?
Martin: Yeah come on up, you can play the tambourine.
Homer: I said someone like me, I didn’t say me.
[They sing again]

They are there because Homer paid them, because he won the lottery, for some reason. It’s sterile, humourless and they couldn’t even be bothered to write parts for the other band members.

In conclusion, mono means one, and rail means rail. Guest stars are yet another example of something that used to be great, but is now terrible. And that concludes our intensive three-week course. Good day and I apologise for wasting your time.

14
Jul
11

Growing Up with The Simpsons

- By Gabe Kagan

All evidence from the past points to my father being a big fan of The Simpsons. He watched the episodes, he had many of them on VHS, and his collection of Simpsons comics is comprehensive and remains mainly in mint condition with many of the more obscure series from the early ’90s. So it’s basically to be expected that this fandom would rub off on me. One problem, though: I was born in 1992. So while everyone at DHS was reveling in the early, golden seasons of the show, I was a small child learning the skills of life and watching the usual kiddie TV.

Fast forward to about 1997 or so. I’m not exactly sure when, but at this time, my father (an electrical engineer) was apparently working late shifts, so in the morning and early afternoon I would frequently see him pull out (if not a training video, most likely on advanced mathematics), a rerun of Simpsons or something. So at this point, I knew the show existed, and could laugh when Homer got hurt, or care for the inhabitants of Springfield when Bart’s comet was on its way to doom them all, but not much else. I do remember not being perturbed by Homer strangling Bart. Nothing like cartoon violence to warp one’s mind. Despite having the tapes, my access to early Simpsons was patchy at best. For the longest time, I thought the first episode ever made was "There’s No Disgrace Like Home", because I never paid much attention to the credits. In any given season, I’d probably seen about 3 episodes at best, and there was a huge gap from Seasons 4 to 6 where I basically saw no episodes of the show until many years later. Besides, shows like Beast Wars, Animaniacs, Pokemon were more to my liking early on, so I didn’t really make any effort to watch The Simpsons as it unfolded for quite a while. Even my exposure to the media at large was very odd. I read a great deal of the comic books and played a few of the licensed games (Everyone loves Konami’s arcade game, but they also published a good action adventure game on PCs called "Bart Simpson’s House of Weirdness"). Of course, they were mostly crap, but that was hardly abnormal by the standards.

It was about 2002 or so when a trifecta of events happened:

1. Our family started buying the full seasons on DVD (Only the first three, but still). I remember watching these religiously for a while – now that I was older I understood many more of the references and had a better attention span.

2. The local syndication had a good run of many episodes of the golden years, allowing me to fill in a few holes in that crucial Season 4-8 bracket.

3. We started sitting down and actually watching the episodes as a family. This lasted until about Season 17, then I stopped following the newest seasons.

Zombie episodes go down better when A: You’re a teenager with an immature sense of humor, and B: You watch the episodes with your family. With dim memories of the classic seasons and decaying VHS tapes removing their frame of reference, they found it laugh-out-loud funny. I found it laugh out loud funny, too. I can look back on these seasons and remember why I thought they were funny (especially Seasons 15 and 16), and it serves as a useful reference.

Eventually, I decided that, to seal the remaining cracks, I needed to watch every episode. I started with the early seasons (mostly, because I wasn’t watching them in any fixed order). It doesn’t bare repeating that I enjoyed those – more importantly, I became very aware of the gap between the older and the newer episodes. The key here is the wave of "edgier" shows competing with the Simpsons, because the landscape of television was obviously far different in 1997 than it was in 1991. Shows like Seinfeld, Beavis and Butthead, South Park, etc. count, obviously, but even outside TV, there was a market for extremity of a sort. If thrash, death metal, hardcore existed in the ’80s and had a small market, grunge and nu-metal were often far more tailored towards mainstream tastes while offering small doses of aggression and pain to a much larger audience. Had this not appeared, and the show’s writing declined in a similar fashion, the crappiness DHS writes about would probably tend towards the glurge of "Marge Be Not Proud" and similar. Extremity explains much of your hatred of the Simpsons. More importantly, extremity often appeals to the teenage demographic, so it makes sense that Season 16 Simpsons would have a hold on me at my age. It must be more zany! It must be more contemporary! It must be more subversive! It especially must be more profitable! Consider the episode "Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie", and the scenes that reveal the cartoon dog Poochie as nothing but an avatar of carefully plotted commercialism. Then again, that’s what happens when you rastafy your character 10% or so. Personally, I think it’s a fun, self-aware episode, but one must be aware that The Simpsons had relatively little executive meddling. Hence, the problems come from within.

I digressed there, but it’s the conclusion that continued watching has impressed upon me. The show is certainly, in a way, more extreme than it is now, but it’s basically made such a strong impression on me that I was able to enjoy or at least tolerate it for much longer than the people at DHS, and that it’s probably influenced me in more ways than it has them.

Visit my blog at http://invisiblesandwichtm.wordpress.com/

Note: In the process of writing, I was reminded of an episode of Stuart Ashen’s tech reviews in which the product in question is emblazoned with a horribly mutated Bart Simpson. Adequate visual metaphor? You decide. [Editor’s Note: I know we’ve linked this before, but I couldn’t find it just now.  It’s funny.]

30
Jun
11

Ten Scary Simpsons Moments

- By Andreas

“Cool, she’ll be a freak!” – Bart

To have an annual Halloween episode is one thing. To freely cram shocking, ghoulish imagery into otherwise normal episodes of a family sitcom is another. But then, The Simpsons’ writers and animators never had much interest in following formulas or obeying TV conventions, preferring to meld their own savagely satirical experiments with an emotionally naturalistic representation of family life. This, and the fluid nature of its animation, meant that the show could veer from mundane reality to nightmarish fantasy in the blink of an eye.

Here, then, are ten of the most WTF-inspiring, pants-wetting moments from Simpsons continuity. They’re all bizarre, deeply terrifying digressions, but each one still adds depth to its episode. I give you the crème de la crème of The Simpsons’ out-of-nowhere scares…

10) “The Day the Violence Died”

thedaytheviolencedied2
This episode’s ending introduces Lester and Eliza, doppelgängers for Bart and Lisa who save the day, ominously pass by the Simpson house, and are never seen again. They’re drawn roughly in the same style as the Tracey Ullman shorts, but their appearance isn’t nostalgic so much as an eerie, never-resolved non sequitur. As Bart says, “There’s something unsettling about that.”

9) “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer”

elviajemisteriosodenuestrojomer2
Homer’s visit to the land of the Space Coyote—a blocky, stylized version of the American Southwest—is probably the series’ most effectively sustained foray into the surreal. Most of his hallucination, however, is more psychedelically beautiful than it is scary. The exception is when Homer spots a faceless statue of Marge which, as he begs it to talk to him, blows away in the wind. It’s a disturbing visual metaphor for the failure to communicate.

8) “Lisa’s First Word”

lisasfirstword3
When Homer’s shoddy woodworking skills meet the automatically scary concept of “clown,” it’s no surprise that this monstrosity is the result. It’s such a dead-on evocation of how frightening the world is to a child and how oblivious parents can be, all summed up in one meme-generating sentence: “Can’t sleep… clown’ll eat me…”

7) “Itchy & Scratchy Land”

itchyandscratchyland2
Countless I&S episodes and their respective mutilations could’ve fit in this slot, but for some reason I find this excerpt from Scratchtasia to be the worst of all. When an army of microscopic Itchies hack Scratchy up from the inside, this grotesque diversion transcends its Fantasia-parodying roots and sends shivers up my spine. Eww!

6) “The Old Man and the Lisa”

theoldmanandthelisa1
On the whole, this is one of season 8′s weaker episodes, and its interplay between Lisa and Mr. Burns lacks any real subversive bite. Still, the finale is gross and traumatizing enough to compensate for all of that, as Burns perverts Lisa’s ecofriendly idealism into a plant that “recycles” all sea life into a repulsive slurry. His scheme is so vile and implausibly evil that it’s impossible to watch without a severe cringe.

5) “New Kid on the Block”

newkidontheblock2
Yeah, it’s just a quick cutaway to literalize Bart’s heartbreak, but it’s also scary in its own right between the narrowed palette of red, black, and blue and the malice in Laura’s voice as she says “You won’t be needing this!” It viscerally captures the power of preteen angst with, in effect, a very short and vivid horror movie. The heart sliding down the wall and into the trash bin is the perfect final touch.

4) “Selma’s Choice”

selmaschoice3
Nothing good can come of little kids visiting a beer-themed amusement park and, sure enough, Bart badgers Lisa into drinking the mysterious, hallucinogenic “water” of Duff Gardens. As Lisa descends into a hellish trip, her aunt transforms into something out of Ralph Steadman’s worst nightmares, complete with a monster growing from her shoulder. The finishing touch? The pale, naked Lisa shouting, “I am the lizard queen!” before being heavily medicated.

3) “Brother from the Same Planet”

brotherfromthesameplanet3
This episode’s whole opening sequence is a brutal glimpse into the emotional dynamics of abandonment and irresponsible parenting, as Homer forgets to pick Bart up from soccer practice. Homer lies in the bathtub, dreaming about finding his son’s skeleton, while Bart waits in the rain, seething with rage. Eventually Homer goes to retrieve his son, but by then he’s so intensely furious that he imagines his father melting amidst plumes of hellfire.

This brief fantasy goes straight into the deep end of unmitigated horror. I don’t think any other episode (Treehouse of Horror included) has a single image as disturbing as Homer’s flesh bubbling and his eyes turning back into his head as he leans in to say, “How ’bout a hug?” The image draws us into the depths of Bart’s resentment, motivating the rest of the episode while chilling us to the bone.

2) “My Sister, My Sitter”

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This is the rare Simpsons episode whose main goal is to inspire fear rather than laughter. It’s still very funny, but as it approaches its climax beneath the harsh Squidport lights, any comedy is overwhelmed by the raw terror of Lisa’s waking nightmare. It’s a precocious child’s worst-case scenario: saddled with a small responsibility, she (through Bart’s ADHD-exacerbated behavior) has lost control and is wandering down the highway—her unconscious brother in a wheelbarrow and her baby sister in a cat carrier.

And somehow, with every turn, this worst case grows even worse. When the hazy, mud-soaked Lisa gazes up at the judgmental townspeople, it paralyzes me with vicarious anxiety. Every childhood has at least one or two events this bad, and “My Sister, My Sitter” is a painful reminder of how easily they can come about.

1) “Bart Sells His Soul”

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I’ve written extensively about this episode over at Pussy Goes Grrr; suffice it to say that Bart’s dark night of the soul, as he scrambles through downtown Springfield in spiritual peril, is easily among the series’ scariest moments. It’s hard enough to see Bart quivering in fear throughout the episode, but when he begs a terrified Ralph for “a soul… any soul—yours!” it crosses over into another territory altogether.

It becomes deep, dark, and disturbing. It’s stomach-churning horror that organically emerges from the show’s perceptive vision of childhood. That organic quality is exactly why The Simpsons contained such great, spellbinding moments of horror. If you look hard enough into the minds and souls of its inhabitants, Springfield can be a very scary place.




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