Archive for the 'Compare & Contrast' Category

23
Oct
14

Compare & Contrast: Treehouses of Horror Ending in “V”

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“This sandwich tastes so young and impudent.  Seymour, what’s with the good grub?” – Mrs. Krabappel
“Well, perhaps I ought to let you folks in on a secret.  Do you remember me telling Jimbo Jones that I’d make something of him one day?” – Principal Skinner
“Are you saying you killed Jimbo, processed his carcass, and served him for lunch? . . . Ha!” – Mrs. Krabappel

This year’s Halloween special had three segments: one about a hellish version of Springfield Elementary, one about a Kubrick movie, and one about the Simpson family co-existing with different versions of itself.  Twenty years ago, the Halloween special also had three segments, one a Kubrick movie parody, one about Homer traveling between different versions of his family, and one about a hellish version of Springfield Elementary.  Except for the order, they match up perfectly.  Since The Simpsons always takes precedence over Zombie Simpsons, we’re going to follow the order from “Treehouse of Horror V”.

“The Shinning” vs. “A Clockwork Yellow”

Like most big name directors, Stanley Kubrick made some great movies and some crappy movies.  From a parody and satire point of view, however, what made his films great was the sheer number of iconic and memorable characters, images, and lines.  Whether it’s the Monolith, Jack Nicholson hacking his way through a door, or Malcolm McDowell and his gang strutting down the street in suspenders, bowler hats, and cod pieces, Kubrick movies are full of moments that stick in the audience’s mind, which makes them perfect for comedy.

The Simpsons exploited that all the time.  There’s Homer at the “Dawn of Man” in Lisa’s Pony; there’s Bart reaching for the cupcakes in “Duffless”, there’s Frink with the Strangelove glasses in “Homer Defined”.  “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” not only features R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket, but even has a complete war room from Dr. Strangelove.  None of those defined an entire episode, they were just quick little things put in there for fans who cared to notice them.

“The Shinning”, the first segment from “Treehouse of Horror V”, was different in that it retold an entire movie.  All the major plot points and characters from the 144 minute film are condensed into just seven minutes of screentime.  All by itself that’s damned impressive, but what turns it into a Simpsons masterpiece is the way that each thing they reproduce is recognizable as the original yet still creative and funny in its own way.  The blood spilling out of the elevator isn’t a moment of gore soaked terror, it’s a ho-hum hotel regularity, no more interesting than fresh towels or the luggage carts in lobby.  It just usually gets off at the second floor.

The hedge maze, the ghostly bartender, Homer getting locked in the fridge, the typewriter being a window into madness, even Bart’s titular “shinning” and Willie’s failed rescue attempt, these are all recognizable to anyone who has seen the film and each is given its little twist.  But, and this is crucial, no one needs to have seen the movie to get any of them.  It helps, sure, but you don’t need it.  Homer declining his Nicholson destiny (“Can’t murder now, eating”) is funny all on its own.  The references to the film augment the story and the jokes, not the other way around.

The same cannot be said for “A Clockwork Yellow”, which reads like mismatched excerpts from a Kubrick film guide.  This is plenty apparent right at the beginning, where pretty much everything is a weird and senseless reenactment of A Clockwork Orange.  Moe has a gang just like Malcolm McDowell did.  But where McDowell’s gang turns on him for being a crappy leader; Moe’s gang turns on him just because that’s what’s supposed to happen.  Not only is it reductive rather than creative, but weak references are left to stand alone.

ReferenceParttheInfiniti

Remember this part of that one movie?  Yeah.  Cool.  Well, good talk.

Consider what is maybe the most famous scene from A Clockwork Orange: McDowell with his eyes propped open, forced to watch terrible things so that he won’t ever do them again.  In “A Clockwork Yellow”, Moe wears a similar contraption, but he’s doing it for no discernible reason:

Moe: These eye clamps are the only way I can tolerate today’s TV.
Announcer: Tonight on FOX!
Moe: Ahh, turn it off, I’ll be good.  I’ll be good!

If there is a joke in the final line (debatable), its premise is completely negated by the first.  If he’s wearing it voluntarily, it makes no sense for him to beg to have the TV turned off.  The sad reality is that he’s only wearing them because you can’t use A Clockwork Orange as your source material without someone getting their eyes propped open; setups, punchlines, and common sense be damned.

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See, Zombie Simpsons?  It’s not hard to work this in and have it make sense.  It’s really not.

This complete dependency on making references is shaky enough early on, but the segment collapses completely at the end when the show just blows through references as fast as it can.  There’s the guy from Full Metal Jacket, there’s a thing that – again for no discernible reason – looks briefly like the Monolith, there’s some dudes dressed like they’re in Barry Lyndon, there’s a bunch of naked people like in Eyes Wide Shut.  And that’s it.  There’s no coherence, no jokes, no indication whatsoever that the writers have taken something, parodied it, and made it their own.  They’re just showing you stuff you’re supposed to recognize.  It’s less a television segment than it is a police lineup.

“Time and Punishment”  vs. “The Others”

Despite the fact that one of these is about time travel and the other is about ghosts, the basic concepts here are very similar.  In each case, we see different versions of the Simpson family.  Like the Kubrick mess, however, the transparent thinness of Zombie Simpsons is immediately apparent.

In “The Others”, the old ghost-Simpsons just stand around and don’t really do anything.  Ghost-Marge gets the hots for Homer, and they spend basically the entire segment stretching that piece of nothing far past its breaking point.  Ghost-Homer eventually gets around to killing regular Homer, but not until after he’s stood around and not done anything for a good long time.  Once Homer is dead, ghost-Homer goes back to not doing anything.

Their habit of having most of the family just sort of stand there (ghost-Lisa literally doesn’t get even a single line) carries all the way through to the end when, in a desperate bid for internet attention (and how sad is that?), they create more versions of the family to stand there.  For starters, this has nothing to do with the rest of the segment we just saw.  The house was haunted, so older versions of the family appeared.  Now a bunch of randoms show up because . . . well, just because, that’s why.  If this was funny or joke filled, that’d be one thing, but it’s just more unsupported references.

CryForHelp

They can’t stand this any longer.  Somebody please pay attention to them!  

“Time and Punishment” takes the idea of multiple different versions of the Simpsons seriously.  We see them not only as rich and perfect (in a world Homer doesn’t know rains donuts), we see them as obedient to Flanders (the unquestioned lord and master of the world), we see them as giants and with lizard tongues.  Each incarnation is very brief (much shorter than the “The Others”), yet the whole family is given things to do, lines to say (even Maggie!), and we get a glimpse of each world Homer visits in just a few seconds.

There aren’t any orphaned references, either.  When the episode runs through all those versions of the Simpson home, including underwater, the Flintstone’s house, Sphinx-Bart, and a fairy tale inspired giant shoe, not only is it lightning fast, but it fits with what Homer’s doing.  Because the writers bothered to show us several fleshed out parallel worlds already, the quick references to others add to that instead of being something tacked on to fill screen time (like a bunch of other Simpson families standing on the lawn for no reason).

“Nightmare Cafeteria” vs. “School Is Hell”

The main axiom of Springfield Elementary on The Simpsons is that it’s a waste of time and nobody wants to be there.  The students don’t learn much (even the likes of Martin and Lisa learn and excel more out of the classroom than in) and the teachers don’t care, but everyone has to show up, so they do.  In its own way, it’s already a kind of hell, so making it somehow worse for Halloween takes some imagination.

“Nightmare Cafeteria” pulled it off by taking the grim realities of normal episode Springfield Elementary and taking them to insanely logical Halloween episode extremes.  It’s one of the only Treehouse of Horror segments that doesn’t involve anything supernatural and that’s part of what makes it so great.  The faculty crosses over from merely being apathetic and passively hostile towards the students into murderous cannibalism . . . but they do so because of budget cuts.  Authority figures devouring children because they couldn’t make decent sloppy joes any other way, it’s hard to think of a more Simpsons concept than that.

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Sloppy Jimobs are pretty damned horrifying.

By contrast, Zombie Simpsons not only doesn’t do that, they actually make Springfield Elementary nicer and more pleasant than it normally is.  I’m going to repeat that because it is an unusually clear example of just how witless and unmoored this show is.  They made the school in Hell more fun and enjoyable than the one on Earth.

As with so many Zombie Simpson ideas, it could’ve actually been interesting if it wasn’t done in the shallowest imaginable way.  But they didn’t go for “Earth is Hell” style irony, or even a particularly inventive version of Hell.  They just recreated Springfield Elementary with funkier looking students and flames outside the windows.  Even the Skinner-Chalmers monster is less evil than the two of them usually are.  Can you imagine the real Chalmers saying this?:

Hell Chalmers: As educators, our job is to gently nurture your child’s passion.

It’s sincere, it’s genuine, and it means he actually cares about Bart!  It’s antithetical to everything Chalmers is and does.  Again, had they made that sort of the point (Hell Chalmers is a better educator than real Chalmers), it could’ve worked, but two layer thinking is way too deep for Zombie Simpsons.  Instead, we get a montage before Homer shows up to be tortured for some reason.  There are a couple of chuckles in there (Yankees class, for example), which makes it the strongest segment of an anemically weak episode, but even in Hell the bright and sunny attitude of Zombie Simpsons makes everything simple, shallow, and harmless.

Halloween will always be better served by the Skinner who condemns a kid to suffocation for a paper airplane (even before he starts eating them) than by one who wants Bart to achieve his full potential.  The same goes for Simpson family members who are twisted and weird rather than still and silent.  Ditto thoughtlessly repetitive Kubrick references vis-a-vis full blooded (and full bodied) satire.

Twenty years on, there are reasons “Treehouse of Horror V” often tops Halloween lists.  “Treehouse of Horror XXV” will be lucky to even be remembered.

15
Oct
14

Compare & Contrast: Marge’s Competitors and Failure Generally

The Twisted World of Marge Simpson14

“I was wrong to have a dream.  Wrong as usual.  I mean, if you’re nothing special, why kid yourself?” – Marge Simpson 

The obvious choice for comparing and contrasting Marge’s sandwich shop in “Super Franchise Me” is her pretzel wagon in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson”.  In both episodes, we see Marge not only strike out on her own a bit, but into the food industry, and with eventually poor results.  Of course, in Season 8, we get into the story right away, instead of wading through an unrelated opening (montage included); and it makes a lot more sense that she’d be able to open a garage-based franchise with $500 instead of the never mentioned five or six figures required for a full blown retail store; and the endings are vastly different, with one tying nicely into the rest of the episode, while the other involves another random incident in an episode that already had way too many of them.  (Oh, and they needlessly repeat Cletus listing his kids.)  Instead of getting into all that, however, I’d like to take a closer look at Marge’s competition and, more broadly, what it says about how Springfield itself is presented in The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons.

The first scene in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” is a meeting of the “Investorettes” over coffee.  In addition to Marge, we’ve got Helen Lovejoy, Luann van Houten, Maude Flanders, Edna Krabappel, and, of course, Agnes Skinner (It means Lamb, Lamb of God!).  The setup doesn’t require any explanation because we can tell right away what they’re doing: they’re a group of women with a few extra dollars who are getting into business.

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“Children are so fat today!  Isn’t there some way we can make money off that?”

The conflict that will eventually escalate into a mob war is all set up right here in the opening scene.  It’s Marge versus her erstwhile partners, and it’s strong enough to carry an entire episode without any assistance from a B-plot.  After their initial falling out, we see each side countering the other a couple of times, and it builds on itself all the way to the little guy asking for “forgiveness, please”.

Moreover, the Investorettes are clearly the stronger party.  They get the sleek, looks like it doesn’t even need your business, Fleet-A-Pita truck, while Marge is left hauling pretzels around in the back of her beat up station wagon.  They kicked her out, they go after her business when all she’s doing is trying to work, and they hire even more vicious mobsters than Homer does.  They are a strong and worthy foe for Marge, and the episode reflects that in everything from Marge only buying a franchise to spite them all the way to Chief Wiggum and Helen diving away from the exploding truck.

The story is well built enough to both fill the time and add emotional heft, which means that the show is free to crack jokes and cram in as many funny scenes as possible.  There’s Jack Lemmon’s terrible introduction video (where he has to walk away from the camera before he sits down, check for millipedes, and extol the futuristic virtues of working in a garage).  There’s the franchise saleswoman allaying Helen Lovejoy’s nativist suspicions by calling a pita a “Ben Franklin”.  There’s Homer guilting Fat Tony, Skinner’s “boaking” accident, and the barrage of pretzels knocking Whitey down.  The combat between the two groups gives a purpose to all the mayhem.

Compare that to the complete lack of friction between Marge’s sandwich shop and the one that the Cletus clan opens across the street.  They have no history with Marge and aren’t even in the episode before Bart points out their competing franchise.  We don’t see why they’d want to do this, why the franchise lady would set them up next to Marge, nothing.

LateArrival

Oh, look, the antagonists have arrived . . . fourteen minutes into a twenty minute episode.

Compounding the stupidity is the way that, as soon as they open, Marge’s shop is simply assumed to be kaput.  If anyone should be able to compete and win against Cletus – in food, no less – it’s Marge.  But Zombie Simpsons doesn’t so much as entertain the idea.  Instead, they cram a bunch of weak redneck references in there because . . . well, because that’s what they think is funny with Cletus.  It sucks for the same reason that there’s a difference between Skinner getting his hand broken, and Skinner getting his hand broken so that the mob can force him, at laser targeted gunpoint, to use school money to buy pretzels from an unsuspecting Marge.  Goofy shit is a lot funnier if it has a reason to be goofy, or, as Krusty once put it, the pie gag only works if the poor sap’s got dignity.

Beyond just the plot flimsiness, however, Cletus and family showing up out of nowhere to succeed for no reason is another manifestation of the many ways Zombie Simpsons has hollowed out the wonderfully bleak premises of The Simpsons.  Opening a national fast food franchise costs a lot of money and, if it works, is a ticket to serious prosperity.  By contrast, paying five hundred bucks for a poster and a bug infested bag of “ingredients”, or even opening a food truck, is the kind of low-rent adventure the citizens of a small and poor town might actually do.  It fits with who we know the characters are, which not only makes it easier to believe in the story, but also opens the rest of it up for satire.

Frank Ormand isn’t a bad guy, but he knows how hard and humiliating it is to hang off one of the lowest rungs in American capitalism.  He’s a good natured and well meaning hustler, but a hustler nevertheless.  The mystery lady who only shows up when the plot demands it, on the other hand, is just another Lindsey Naegle clone, with no motivation, no backstory (implied or otherwise), and nothing to do but spit out exposition and shallow punchlines (mostly exposition, though).  To wit:

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Frank Ormand:  Ooh, you sound like me.  Well, the old me, which was, ironically, the young me.  I was once like you were, young lady, like all these people, lost in a sea of flashy gimmicks and empty promises.  Then God tossed me a life preserver, a tasty, golden brown, life preserver.

That’s how he starts his pitch: homey, friendly, and encouraging.  In just his few brief scenes, we see a guy who’s not trying to scam anyone, he’s just locked into a shitty business that, despite decades of evident failure, he even still believes in.  The earnesty and desperation are what makes his cornball pitch funny, like a used car salesman who’d be personally hurt by anyone who thinks his overpriced jalopies aren’t quality automobiles at bargain prices.  Then there’s this:

BlinkLady

Trudy Zengler:  Marge, see this face?  It’s opportunity.  Blink and you’ll miss it. . . . Just kidding, I’m right behind you.  I’m Trudy Zengler, vice-president of development for Mother Hubbard’s Sandwich Cupboards.  How would you like to run your own business, take control of your financial future?

We don’t know who she is or why she’s there, but she’s got a zany pitch and a helpfully expository question that just happens to apply to some worries that neither we nor she knew Marge had at that moment.  Ormand’s is great because it’s a Simpsonized version of what a guy like him would actually say.  Hers falls flat because it’s a rote recitation of facts that don’t make any sense.  Frank Ormand’s desperation is genuine; Trudy Zengler, on the other hand, has about as much personality and depth as the cardboard cutout they later have Burns fall in love with.

On The Simpsons, trying is the first step towards failure.  So when Marge tries her best, she indeed fails miserably.  (If you want some butter, it’s under her face.)  But on Zombie Simpsons, cool stuff just happens all the time.  The sandwich shop is a hit and only gets stopped because someone else’s is an even bigger hit.  In the Springfield of The Simpsons, neither Marge nor Cletus would ever have had the money to even open the store.  But in the Springfield of Zombie Simpsons, money is no object and even the dirt poorest are rich when they need to be.  Cloying optimism was never part of The Simpsons, but it’s hard to imagine Zombie Simpsons without it.

08
Oct
14

Compare & Contrast: Bonding at Sea

Boy Scoutz 'N the Hood15

“Dad, I know I’ve been a little hard on you the last couple of days, but if I had the strength to lift my arms, I’d give you a hug.” – Bart Simpson

As is often the case with Zombie Simpsons episodes, it’s easiest to understand the many, many horrible problems of “The Wreck of the Relationship” by looking at a single moment and pulling all the loose threads that dangle from it.  And, since Zombie Simpsons literally always repeats The Simpsons, we can also see how the exact same thing was done vastly better many years ago.  The screamingly obvious choice is Homer and Bart’s reconciliation out at sea, something handled much faster and funnier back in Season 5’s “Boy Scoutz ‘N the Hood”.

Before getting to that shared moment, however, take a minute to consider just what it is that Bart and Homer are fighting over in each episode.  In Season 5, Bart joins the Junior Campers in the midst of a squishy bender.  He tries to bail, but is sucked in by his desire to play with knives, and then stays because of all the cool skills he acquires (“ooh, floor pie”).  He doesn’t want Homer on the rafting trip because he knows (quite correctly, as we see) that Homer would be an unmitigated disaster and a total embarrassment.  There’s a complex and dysfunctional relationship at work, with Bart trying to escape Homer.

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Bart knows his father well.  

In Season 26, Homer and Bart get into a spat over whether or not Bart will eat a piece of broccoli.  Then they argue about it for days.  Then they get mysteriously kidnapped.  And then, after all that time spent doing so very, very little, we see something similar to what happens in “Boy Scoutz ‘N the Hood”: Bart starts learning new skills and actually likes it.  The closest Zombie Simpsons can come to showing us this is a montage followed by one of their trademark expository conversations,* but for the briefest of moments there’s something akin to a real character moment.

*(Sample dialogue: “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?/So what if I am?”, “You’re my son and you will hate what I hate.”, “I like being a sailor.”)

The problem (well, one of them) is that this lasts approximately five seconds before Homer and Bart revert to what they were doing before.  The twist, if it can even be called that, is that now Homer is the one being disobedient since Bart is now (for whatever reason) an officer.  And just like that we’re back to one note scenes that repeat the same argument over and over again.  If this was studded with killer jokes, that’d be one thing, but it’s mostly people dancing around, an octopus jumping on Homer for some reason, and other one off nonsense.  And that’s before the ending, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

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This is the promo picture they released.   It’s a static image and it still overstates what actually goes on.

Back in the halcyon land of Season 5, not only do we actually get to see Bart both learn and apply the new talents that make him love the Junior Campers, but the rafting trip they go on actually follows from what we’ve seen instead of involving a bunch of kidnappers breaking into the house.  The trip itself is Homer at his unthinkingly destructive best.  He’s the one who loses the map, sending them down the wrong fork in the river.  He’s the one who confidently asserts that the current will take them back to land, getting them stranded.  He’s the one who botches the flare gun firin’, loses the last cheese doodle without tying off his fishing line, and even gets the raft punctured.  None of it is malicious or willful, he’s just being his inadvertently catastrophic self.

We can laugh at all these things because the show itself never insults our intelligence by pretending that there’s any real danger.  Mixed in with all of that are dolphins taunting them about their forthcoming demise, the police calling off the search because their boat doesn’t have beer and cold cuts, and, the savior of the day, a Krusty Burger on an unmanned oil rig.  All of these are perfectly absurd, but they aren’t random flights of fancy or weird one off gags, they’re natural extensions of the show’s reality.  In Springfield, the police really are that incompetent and selfish, the animals tend to be very smart, and Krusty is exactly the kind of autocratic buffoon who would open a burger joint where there’s no one to buy any burgers (and over the objections of his employees, no less).

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Ugh. He’s taking a bath on this.

By contrast, the crap at the end of “Wreck of the Relationship” is a grab bag of “huh?” moments and weird tangents.  The captain suddenly becomes a juggling drunk.  A net full of “therapy bears” we hadn’t seen before takes out the radio we also hadn’t seen before.  Even the storm itself descends out of nowhere.

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Homer goes overboard for the third time, then comes right back. This is their climactic ending.

Everyone gets suddenly panicked and scared, except for Homer who becomes instantly sober and decides that he’s going to lower the anchor (huh?) until Bart magically produces a piece of broccoli that convinces him to abandon the plan.  I suppose it’s nice that they’re at least trying to tie the story together (Jebus knows they often don’t bother), but they’ve constructed such a one-note conflict that the end is almost written for them.  Homer and Bart spend most of the episode basically yelling the same thing at each other over and over, so when it comes time to patch things up, the only move they’ve left themselves with is to have both of them just reverse their positions from earlier.

The ending of “Boy Scoutz ‘N the Hood” both fits their characters better and has enough room in its story to let Bart and Homer reconcile without black and white declarations of respect and admiration.  Not only do we see Homer and Bart in far more extreme circumstances (without the useless drama), but Homer has a reason to produce his little item.  (He stole it from that Borgnine guy.)

Even better, Bart and Homer don’t have to have a manufactured moment of out-of-character respect for one another.  They think they’re going to die and then, at long last, Homer finally proves himself useful by sniffing out the Krusty Burger (which he initially calls “the foul stench of death”, one of those jokes you don’t even notice until a subsequent viewing).  When they do get to Krusty Burger, Bart admits he’s proud of Homer for saving them, but is brushed off because Homer is eating, which Bart promptly begins to do as well.

“The Wreck of the Relationship” has father-son reconciliation that’s dumb, nearly joke free, nonsensical, requires Bart to pull a piece of broccoli out of nowhere, and seems to indicate that Homer and Bart now respect each other, even though that’s anathema to their entire relationship.  “Boy Scoutz ‘N the Hood” has a reconciliation that’s bursting with gags, perfectly fits both the story and the characters (including leaving them in their default antagonism), and doesn’t rely on magic broccoli.  When Homer brings out Borgnine’s knife, it’s a joke (two, actually, after the cutaway to Borgnine himself), it makes sense, and it calls back to something Bart had wanted all along.  It’s the opposite of schmaltz, and it certainly doesn’t need Marge showing up at the end to ask them how they both feel.

01
Oct
14

Compare & Contrast: Krusty’s Struggles

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“Hi, kids.  Today’s show is gonna be the funniest, side-splittinest, cavalcade of . . . ah, the hell with it.  Roll the cartoon.” – Krusty the Klown

There are a lot of big, flashing similarities between “Like Father, Like Clown” and “Clown in the Dumps”, most prominently that both are about Krusty and his father, and, even moreso, about Krusty missing his father.  But there are also a lot of small, individual scenes and jokes that are very similar.  So let’s consider one of the former and then one of the latter.

For our overarching theme, just look at how each episode handles Bart and Lisa.  In Season 3, Bart and Lisa have a reason to meet Krusty (their saving him in “Krusty Gets Buster”), and then we follow them as they set out to help him.  We see them asking Reverend Lovejoy how to find a rabbi, we see them meet Rabbi Krustofsky, get rejected, and then their attempts to win him over.  (The Simpsons being The Simpsons, Sammy Davis Jr. succeeds where the Talmud fails.)

Meanwhile, the episode checks in on Krusty as we see him wallowing in depression: watching a TV movie in a bus station, cracking up on his own show, and dialing his father over and over again.  It’s genuinely sad, but it’s still funny because the movie is Hercules vs. the Martians and Krusty’s on-air break down is his touched response to a particularly brutal and gory Itchy & Scratchy.

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“And didn’t Scratchy Jr. look happy playing with his Dad until they got run over by the thresher.”

By contrast, in the blasted wasteland of Season 26, Bart and Lisa are just sort of there for the ride.  Lisa because she was shunted off to an unrelated (and very repetitive) B-plot; and Bart because we don’t see him do anything except show up and explain to us the stuff we didn’t see him do.

In addition to this not making sense, it sucks out a lot of the fun.  Instead of getting to see Bart and Lisa as active characters who get to do things like lie to Reverend Lovejoy about liking his radio show and dress up in curls and a hat to argue Jewish philosophy, we watch Bart talk to Krusty, talk to Krusty, and then talk to Krusty again.

ThrillingConversation

Great, good conversation there.

And it’s not like what we do get to see is any better.  Krusty bounces from one manic episode to the next, but they fall flat over and over again, which brings us to our individual scene of wretchedness, Krusty hosting his show and airing what I almost hesitate to call an “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoon.

Things open with Sideshow Mel helpfully expositing everything that’s happening:

“Boys and girls, you know that we’ve been dark for a couple of days because of a tragic loss in the Krustylu family.  Now, put your hands together for the man who’s falling apart before our eyes, Krusty the Klown!”

That is quintessential “tell don’t show”: not a single word of that needs to be there.  It’s filler from start to finish.  We already know what’s going on, and while there’s something to be said for a dry description of the obvious from time to time, Zombie Simpsons uses it so much that it’s impossible to tell if they’re even trying to be funny with it.

The really bad part, though, is that they’ve become so bad at showing things, they almost have to resort to this sort of thing.  After Krusty appears and tells them to roll the cartoon, we see a very short Scratchy cartoon (Itchy isn’t in it), and then this:

MildlyUpsetKrusty

Krusty, looking a little miffed.

Krusty is kind of upset, but he looks completely normal, and his dialogue is just him setting up a rimshot worthy punchline:

Oh, my God, who made this monstrosity?

Which is immediately followed by a recording of him on the TV claiming credit (rimshot), then more exposition:

Kids, I’m experiencing a crisis of conscience.

It goes on from there while he explains each joke as it happens and tells us what he’s going to do.

Compare that to Krusty also barely holding it together in “Like Father, Like Clown”.  For one thing, we get a real Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, one of the bloodiest and most violent ever, “Field of Screams”.  Just like in Zombie Simpsons, it starts with Scratchy playing with Scratchy Jr..  Since Zombie Simpsons ends it right there, that’s where the similarities stop.  “Field of Screams” has Scratchy and Scratchy Jr. run over by a mechanized thresher driven by Itchy and Itchy Jr., whom we then see playing catch with Scratchy’s head.  There’s a lot of blood, Bart and Lisa (watching from home) laugh uproariously, and then we see Krusty:

Like Father, Like Clown11

 Now that’s sad, and he didn’t even need to tell us what he’s feeling.

Take a look at those two images.  In one, we see Krusty acting perfectly normal (or what passes for it for him), in the other one, we see a broken man just barely holding it together who chokes up and starts crying as he desperately tells them to go to commercial.  The Simpsons doesn’t need to have Krusty tell the audience how he’s feeling because we can see it plainly on his face.

Both episodes have the exact same scene (Krusty bombing his show because he’s upset about his father), but the version from The Simpsons has no gratuitous exposition, a much better Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, and enormously more emotional punch, all while letting the jokes speak for themselves instead of explaining or pre-explaining them.  Furthermore, that incident is what prompts Bart and Lisa to go in search of Rabbi Krustofsky.  They can see Krusty is in pain, and they try to do something.  In Zombie Simpsons, Bart just kinda shows up from time to time.

It’d be one thing if Zombie Simpsons was just repeating things.  Twenty-six seasons is a lot of stories, after all.  But they can’t even repeat things competently, and the way they bungle characters, scenes and even jokes over and over again gives the distinct impression that they don’t care enough to try.

22
May
14

Compare & Contrast: Homer and 4th of July Fireworks Disasters

Summer of 4 Ft 2(15)

“This baby’s sure to kill something!” – Homer Simpson

There is little doubt that a man who famously likes his beer cold, his teevee loud, and his homosexuals flaming, is a big fan of the thundering light show that is Fourth of July fireworks.  Of course, Homer is also the exact opposite person who should ever actually be involved with them.  He is thoughtless, careless and impulsive, and those are not traits that mix well with gunpowder.  In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Zombie Simpsons played with that combustible mixture and blew itself up.  In “Summer of 4 Ft. 2″, The Simpsons used the same ingredients to put on a masterful display.

To see the difference between that crowd pleasing spectacle and the kind of disaster that makes people run away screaming, there’s only really two things we need to consider: 1) getting the fireworks and 2) using them.  For the first, Zombie Simpsons makes things easy because they barely bother to show us anything.  Homer and Not Don Vittorio initially go to Cletus’s farm (why? who cares?) where they fail to buy anything.  The very next scene with the two of them is this:

Homer: Okay, let’s make some fireworks.

InstandGunpowder

Uh, I guess they found some?

There’s no explanation of where it came from or how they got it, and certainly not because of time constraints.  After this we get the interminable and mechanically narrated “drive around with gunpowder” scene, which is nothing but the two of them telling us what they’re about to do and then doing it: cobblestone streets, a rickety bridge, gaslights . . . it just keeps going.  So not only did they skip over something important, but they did so with forty-five seconds of filler.

Compare that to Homer’s immortal attempt to act casual like he buys illegal fireworks all the time.  Text is a weak excuse for Castellaneta’s exquisite delivery, and can never hope to reproduce that blithely misplaced confidence that he’s being smooth, but here it is anyway:

Homer: Hi, um, let me have one of those porno magazines, large box of condoms, bottle of Old Harper, couple of those panty shields, and some illegal fireworks . . . and one of those disposable enemas.  Nah, make it two.

This is lunatic insanity of the absolute best kind.  Homer is precisely himself: clueless and utterly incompetent.  The items he thinks are innocuous are the kind of thing that might get a real convenience store owner to tip the police off to this weirdo in his store.  Better yet, the Apu stand-in doesn’t even flinch, calmly explaining that he has no fireworks right up until the coast is clear, whereupon he instantly takes Homer back to his storeroom/arsenal:

Summer of 4 Ft 2(14)

Hey, look, multiple sign gags in just one shot.  I’m particularly fond of “Tang Tse Doodle”.

Once there we get to the M-320 (“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”) and Homer’s quick and happy response: “Alright”. Coincidentally, the entire scene, from the time Homer walks into the store until he purchases the M-320, takes almost exactly the same amount of time as the pointless gunpowder driving scene in “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”.  This is the entirety of the dialogue from that fiasco:

Not Don Vittorio: Now drive slowly and carefully to my workshop.  It’s in the cobblestone district.
Homer: Oh, thank God, a rickety bridge.
Not Don Vittorio: Don’t worry, we’ll be safe in the gaslamp district.

That’s it.  In the time The Simpsons showed us Homer’s hilariously moronic attempt to be smooth and gave the world the M-320, Zombie Simpsons managed three lines of hapless exposition. The comparison doesn’t get any better for Zombie Simpsons when we move along to the actual using of the fireworks.

Befitting the sudden nonsense that got Homer and Not Don Vittorio the gunpowder in the first place, we see the two of them get into an argument on the fireworks barge over whether July 2nd or July 4th is the right day to celebrate.  The barge then instantly tilts over somehow and points its fireworks at the crowd. This is yet another example of the complete apathy Zombie Simpsons has for even the tiniest bit of story cohesion.  Not Don Vittorio is supposed to be a retired fireworks expert, so it’s not like it would’ve been hard for him to have shown just a little impatience with Homer leading up to this part.  Instead, the two of them just start battling it out over nothing with no warning whatsoever.

Compounding matters, the barge they’re on manages to (again with no warning, no foreshadowing, no nothing) conveniently tip over in way that barges like that are physically incapable of doing.  It’s one thing to have a rubber band reality where things can be stretched a bit from what physics allows here in the real world.  It’s quite another to toss weird, unexpected and just plain stupid events into scenes because you need to cut a very big corner.  This particular one is even worse than usual because this odd break with the audience’s expectations is immediately followed by people screaming in fear, as if we’re meant to take the danger posed by the fireworks seriously.

BargeoftheImagination

Somehow it manages to stay like this, and we’re supposed to be worried.

You can have physically impossible craziness, or you can have serious physical danger; you can’t have both.  The Simpsons, of course, understood that, and that understanding is crucial to making Homer’s disastrous attempt to light the M-320 pitch perfect.

Having purchased all of his fake items anyway despite not needing or wanting them (because he really is that dumb), Homer heads back to the Flanderses beach house, excited to play with his new toy.  Bart not having any matches, Homer heads into the kitchen for another scene that cannot be described in text.  What’s important to remember is that from the time he lights the middle of the fuse all the way through his casually walking away from the grotesque, brackish sewage that comes burbling up from the sink, there’s never any attempt to treat the danger seriously. Instead, we’re treated to Homer’s panic:

M-320

A .gif, is a poor imitation, I know, but you get the idea. 

There’s no attempt to make this serious, it’s just pure, uncut fun.  And while Homer is scared, he’s still Homer; so he’s willing to risk life and limb to save the beer once he realizes it’s in the fridge with his gargantuan firecracker.  Having destroyed the dishwasher and trashed the kitchen, he calmly walks away.  After all, it was like that when he got there.  (And, of course, the episode later shows them using broken dishes and Marge cleaning up Homer’s mess, because unlike on Zombie Simpsons, events on The Simpsons are actually connected to one another.)

In “The Yellow Badge of Cowardage”, Bart eventually saves the day by driving a bus in front of the fireworks Homer and Not Don Vittorio have managed to fire at the crowd.  It’s a cheap ending for the same reason so many of the stories on Zombie Simpsons are cheap: it comes out of nowhere.  Bart conveniently sees the bus, conveniently finds the keys, conveniently drags Milhouse (who’s supposedly furious with him) along, and conveniently wraps everything up with some more of their oh, so helpful exposition.

Homer’s fireworks disaster wasn’t his own doing, it was just a thing that happened because the story needed to be wrapped up.  It was dumb; it was weird; and it was ultimately hollow since the Homer we know and love, the doofus who adores fireworks but it far too dimwitted to know how to use them, didn’t have anything to do with it.  By contrast, the Homer who destroys his neighbor’s kitchen and leaves his wife an unholy mess to clean is the destructive but malice free idiot who can make us laugh with nothing more than a frantic flailing of his limbs.

15
May
14

Compare & Contrast: Adult Game Night

A Milhouse Divided17

“Oh, I hate having parties.  The toilet always gets backed up.” – Homer Simpson
“I don’t care if the sink shoots sludge, we’re having a party!” – Marge Simpson

There’s an inescapable lameness to those adult games that get broken out after dinner parties.  When kids get together, they can easily make up games on the fly (you’ve got to reach home base at the couch, the lava starts at the edge of the carpet, etcetera), but grown-ups tend to need a little more structure, especially if they’re playing against people they don’t know that well.  Trivial Pursuit, Scattegories and similar games provide a blandly safe sense of fun to social situations that might otherwise be too uptight, awkward or flat out boring.  Carefree kids don’t need that help, but adults do, and that’s uncool and old any way you slice it.

The proof of that is the fact that so many of these games get bought, maybe used once, and then stuffed onto some shelf where they might as well have a sign on them that says “Break Glass In Case of Extreme Boredom”.  That inherent lameness, however, does have the benefit of making them nice, soft targets for comedy.  And while Zombie Simpsons swings and misses at just about everything, The Simpsons smacked those games dead square in the Parker-Brothers logo.

In “A Milhouse Divided”, Marge and Homer throw the quintessential middle class dinner party.  The house gets gussied up a bit, the dinnerware is a cut above normal, and everyone’s dressed just a little nicer than they’d normally be.  Things end badly when the van Houtens boil over at each other over Pictionary, but from Marge’s initial desire to throw the party through Kirk’s awkward goodnight, the entire thing feels like something she would have done with the best of intentions.

By contrast, in “Pay Pal”, the evening is preceded by whole scenes worth of exposition from Marge and quickly devolves into a fight between Homer and John Oliver that comes right out of the blue.  Aside from the initial setup, no part of it makes any sense and most of what passes for jokes are weak one-liners instead of actual dialogue.  Like so much of Zombie Simpsons, they aren’t really concerned with satirizing anything or even telling a story, they’ve just got a short list of things they hope are funny, and they would appreciate it if you would sit still for a half-an-hour while they read it aloud.

The two at least start similarly.  In both cases, Marge is trying to be a little more social.  But even at this early stage you can see an immediate difference in how solid her character and motivations are.  Season 8 Marge wants to inject a little class into her life after seeing too many of the dinners she cooks pass in silence in front of the television.  In bed the night after having her son suggest that they start eating dinner out of a trough, Marge remarks to Homer:

Marge:  Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?
Homer:  Yeah, pretty much, except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.
Marge:  Well, I pictured cocktails and candle lit dinners.  I pictured napkins!  Homer, I want to throw a dinner party.

A Milhouse Divided16

A married couple having a conversation in private and no one bursts into their room.  Huh.

Homer and Marge aren’t talking to the audience, they’re talking to each other.  And within that dialogue we have jokes that fit seamlessly into their back and forth.  Homer’s inane Scooby Doo fantasy and Marge demanding the civilizing touch of napkins aren’t setup-beat-joke sitcom punchlines, they’re Homer being his doofus self and Marge, the master of repressing her own desires, just wishing for the barest level of class in her own home.

Compare that with pretty much the exact same scene in “Pay Pal”:

Marge:  Why don’t we have any couples friends?
Homer:  Because, couples friends are a myth, started by restaurants with tables for four!

This is a setup-beat-punchline sitcom joke, and a very poor one at that.  It’s aimed at no one and makes no sense (are there any restaurants that don’t have “tables for four”?), so much so that you can practically hear where the recorded laughter would go.  Continuing:

Marge:  I want friends!  Any friends.
Homer:  Okay, sweetie, I’ll call the van Houtens.
Marge:  Not the van Houtens!  They’re always bragging about their trip to Rome.  It was twelve years ago, and it was a layover.  I want new friends.

Woof, here we’ve got Marge repeating the same piece of exposition twice, with another hapless (and overlong) sitcom joke smashed in the middle.  But things are about to get so much worse, because Zombie Simpsons is about to have Lisa appear in the door for no reason other than the shallowest form of plot expediency:

Lisa:  Can I make an observation?  I’m okay with no friends.  It’s easier to focus and it’ll give me great material for whatever art form I choose.  Right now I’m thinking long novella.  Good night.

Hacktacular!  Let’s have a character show up quickly, spout some expository nonsense, and then depart before even waiting for a response from the people she was supposedly speaking to!  Along the way they have Lisa tell the audience exactly what she’s thinking (even though it’s not something we’d normally hear from her), then explain the joke she’s about to make, then make that joke, then disappear as quickly as she arrived.  But wait, there’s more!:

Marge:  Okay with no friends?  That’s the saddest thing I can imagine my daughter saying to me.

Note that Marge is now also basically talking to no one except the audience.  She’s not interacting with anyone else around her, she’s repeating things Lisa just said and then telling us precisely how she feels.  And because two hapless monologues deserve a third, Bart then shows up just as suddenly as Lisa did:

Bart:  I can think of worse.  The saddest thing would be if you were driving and texting Lisa, and you hit her, and the last thing she texted before she died was, ‘I got your message’.  Good night.

One last time: this isn’t dialogue.  These characters aren’t discussing anything, they’re spouting lines that bear no resemblance to conversation while physically appearing and disappearing at random.  Bart’s little sad scenario isn’t even trying to be funny.

Open Door Policy

Come, children, monologue at your parents before bed.

From there, the two episode continue in their own way.  Season 8 takes us briskly to the flagrantly false advertised Stoner’s Pot Palace and shows us Marge’s insanely detailed dinner party preparations, which include glazing the ham to the point of luminescence and putting the toilet seats through the dish washer.  Season 25 staggers forward by having Marge spend the next few scenes in yet another extended monologue, this time admonishing Homer about what he should and shouldn’t do for half a minute.  Once again, this is them butchering the single simplest, anyone-can-understand-it, fundamental tenet of good screenwriting: show, don’t tell.

After that we finally get to the respective parties see once more how a poorly constructed, nonsensical one is a hell of a lot less fun than the opposite.  In “Pay Pal”, Homer and Marge show up, get greeted by John Oliver, and then stand there and listen to yet another monologue, the longest yet.  Even John Oliver can’t make this laundry list of mediocrity funny:

Oliver: That’s the spirit.  Wallace and I have found this game to provide a full evening of divertissement, building in suspense to a masterful climax.  We’ve rented costumes you’ll find accurate to period and conducive to character.  We will serve food and wine appropriate to period and palate.  We’ve programmed music to cover every dramatic event.  Hired a foley artist . . . I believe the mare has a slight limp . . . yes, yes!  So, for the next three hours, I welcome you to the moors of-

At that, Zombie Homer cuts him off, so for once at least his jerkass nature came in handy.  Then the fight starts and the scene comes to a mercifully abrupt end.  Literally the only other characters to speak do so with one liners (Sideshow Mel, Wiggum) or yet another monologue (Oliver’s wife).

Bored Foley Guy

The foley guy appears to be accurately representing both the audience and the animation staff.

Beneath the feeble stabs at humor lies the fundamental problem: they aren’t making fun of anything.  They aren’t even really trying.  Instead of satirizing the enforced make believe and jollity of a murder mystery party, they seem to think it’s rather cool, and wouldn’t it be cooler with someone like Oliver around to rent costumes and hire a sound effects guy?  Most of the scene, if it can even be called that, is one long speech about how awesome it’ll be; then it stops.  They can’t make fun of it because they don’t have any real people attending.

On the other hand, by the time “A Milhouse Divided” has its characters playing Pictionary, we’ve seen them be their normal, hilarious selves.  Hibbert has laughed at a couple of his own typically inappropriate jokes; Flanders, clueless as ever, said he likes Woodsey Allen movies except for “that nervous fella”, and Kirk and Luann are starting to reach the boiling point.  There’s no need for monologues and unexpected one-liners because the characters who sit down to play that game are capable of being funny without them.

So when it comes time for the Flandereses to correctly get “corn starch” based on six dots, there’s no need for them to look at the audience and explain what it means when they nuzzle over it being good for “keeping down the urges”.  If there’s one thing Maude and Ned would do, it’s eat something as bland and sinless as corn starch to keep themselves from getting horny.  We don’t need shouted punchlines or pre-joke explanations because we know who these characters are.  All they have to do to be hilarious is act like their normal, believably oddball selves.

After that, we see Luann finally lose it with Kirk over him being an asshole about his wonderfully incomprehensible rendition of “dignity”.  They’ve been sniping at each other literally since they walked in the door, and, as sometimes happens in real life, those harmless looking adult games provide just enough stress to push two people into an outright shouting match.  Sprinkled in there are gems like “Gudger College”, “Allied Biscuit” and Homer’s lightning quick misreading of the word “impotence” in “managerial impotence”.

Everything, from the party itself and the guests to Marge’s motivations and that divorce causing game, is treated as a source of comedy because in the right hands that’s what they are.  Zombie Simpsons just draws some people into a room, nevermind anything else, and hopes that the delivery on a word like “divertissement” brings a slight smile.

08
May
14

Compare & Contrast: Comic Book Guy As Villain

Treehouse of Horror X3

“Tonight’s episode: Enter . . . The Collector.” – TV Announcer

There are basically no characters on the show who haven’t undergone a serious dumbing down in the Zombie Simpsons era (Gil, maybe?).  Some of them gradually devolved, others had sudden changes in a single episode; either way, there’s often a moment when you knew that the original version was never coming back.  For Comic Book Guy, I’ve always thought that moment came in Season 11 when he materialized out of nowhere to complain about the Simpsons getting a horse again.  Homer asks if anyone cares what “this guy” thinks, and the assembled crowd shouts “No!”.

He’d been used as a stand-in for the audience before, of course, but that was them dropping all the subtlety and treating this strawman approximation of their audience seriously.  They knew people were going to bitch because they were nakedly repeating something, and instead of thinking “maybe we shouldn’t repeat things”, they thought “haters gonna hate”.  Comic Book Guy has been a way for the show to paper over its own shoddiness ever since.

The difference between the two is on full display when you consider the ways they used him in very similar positions in “Brick Like Me” and as “The Collector” in “Treehouse of Horror X”.  (Which aired, incidentally, just a few months before the second horsey episode.)  In both cases he’s playing a science fiction bad guy who knows how cliched his actions are, but in one that’s the basis of a wide ranging satire, in the other it’s a contradictory and expository excuse.

This is Lego Comic Book Guy’s first line in “Brick Like Me”, right after Homer asks him for the Lego princess set:

Lego Comic Book Guy: Ah, always good to meet a fellow AMFoP.
Homer: Huh?
Lego Comic Book Guy: Adult Male Fan of Princesses.

As a punchline, “Adult Male Fan of Princesses” isn’t bad, but to have Lego Comic Book Guy just explain it to the audience doesn’t do it any favors.  At least it’s got a punchline, though.

In Lego Comic Book Guy’s next scene, after some extended Homer freaking out scenes, he doesn’t even get a line.  He just stands there while Homer grabs the toy box to go back to regular Springfield.  After that, Homer returns and we get what may be the clunkiest lines in an episode that had an awful lot of them:

Lego Comic Book Guy:  Okay, apparently our whole world is a fantasy in the mind of an emotionally devastated Homer Simpson.
Marge:  One of the main questions I have about that is, why?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  The real Homer fears losing his daughter’s love so he invented this toy world where nothing will ever change.
Marge:  How can you be sure?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  I have devoted my life to second rate science fiction.  Trust me, that is what we are dealing with here.
Homer:  So if I don’t find my way out of here, I could be trapped in a fantasy forever?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  I’m afraid so.

That would be bad enough if we hadn’t already had that explained to us several times, including by Homer immediately preceding it (“I wish I lived in little Springfield, everything fits together and no one ever gets hurt.”).  But it gets worse when you remember that he’s supposed to be the damned villain.

Not only is he unnecessarily telling us things we already know, but if he really is supposed to be the part of Homer that wants him to stay in Lego land forever, then it’s 100% against Lego Comic Book Guy’s interests to explain everything.  The writers actually know this, because they tell us directly in yet another masterpiece of unnecessary exposition later in the episode:

Homer: Now tell me how to get out of here!
Lego Comic Book Guy: All you need to do is open the box back to your so-called reality.  But I can’t let that happen.
Homer:  You’re the bad guy?  I thought you were the rule explainer guy!
Lego Comic Book Guy:  As an adult who surrounds himself with child’s toys, I represent the part of your psyche that prefers this artificial world.

Sometimes villains don’t get revealed until right before the final confrontation, and that’s fine provided that the villain’s previous actions make sense in light of that reveal.  But literally telling the audience that Lego Comic Book Guy is the bad guy while offering no reason whatsoever for his behavior up to that point is hacktacular almost beyond comprehension.

As if that wasn’t enough, right before the final confrontation, Comic Book Guy quickly builds a castle to keep Homer from reaching the princess set:

Homer: How did you do that?
Lego Comic Book Guy: Because, as the ultimate collector, I have every playset ever made!

Here you can see the damage that their utter contempt for storytelling does to the rest of the episode.  As a villain in a Lego universe, Comic Book Guy makes perfect sense.  If there’s anyone in Springfield who’d have every Lego set, it’s him.  But instead of using his time in the episode to show us some of his sets, or maybe (heaven forbid) foreshadow it a little bit in his previous scenes, they just have him say why he did what he just did and then hold up the things he’s talking about.  The script is full of so much explanatory clutter that there’s no room for any kind of humor beyond “ooh, look at that”.

Video Exposition

Good thing this video program has live narration, or we’d never know what was happening.

And that’s how Zombie Simpsons portrays Comic Book Guy as the villain in their big budget, heavily advertised, and no doubt delicately negotiated Lego episode: as a manic narrator who can’t even be called one dimensional after they basically negated his already thin character with an unrelated and contradictory one at the end.

Now compare that to the regular budget, just another Halloween episode portrayal in “Treehouse of Horror X”.  Like the Lego episode, a Halloween episode lets them put their regular characters into way out and wacky personas.  Unlike the Lego episode, they gave Comic Book Guy’s “The Collector” everything that a good and funny character needs: motivation, foibles and weaknesses, jokes and a coherent story.

Consider this, from right after he kidnaps Lucy Lawless:

The Collector: Care for a Rollo, sweet Xena?
Lucy Lawless: Alright, Collector, stick this in your tweezers, I’m not Xena!  I’m an actress, you lunatic!
The Collector: Oh, please, I’m not insane.  I simply wish to take you back to my layer and make you my bride.

Eating candy while he drives a rusted out hatchback, he claims to not be insane while doing something clearly insane.  He’s not directly explaining anything because his actions and words convey the basics so the jokes can float on top.  He doesn’t need to say, “I’m caricature of a collector geek as an Adam-West-Batman cheesy villainy” because it’s written into the fabric of the episode.  Similarly, Lawless’s contempt for tweezers using collectors doesn’t need to be explained because we know her and can see it.

Treehouse of Horror X4

Characters doing stuff without concurrently narrating it.  Even Season 11 knew how to do this.

Even when the characters do talk about what they’re doing, it’s descriptive, not explanatory:

The Collector: I have here the only working phaser ever built.  It was fired only once, to keep William Shatner from making another album.

He’s describing the concrete thing in his hand right now, not explaining the overarching background of what’s happening.  And when he fires, he doesn’t explain what a phaser is or how it works.  The show trusts its audience to be know that already.  Moreover, calling it a phaser also acts as setup for the Shatner punchline, and who doesn’t love a good Shatner joke?

The rest of the segment is just like that.  When they describe something, they don’t explain what it is or how it works, they expect you to know it.  So when Lawless points out that he’s removed the light saber from it’s original packaging, she doesn’t have to explain why he’s suddenly distraught.  Ditto for when the Collector ends his death in “classic Lorne Greene pose” and when Lisa points out that Xena can’t fly.

The Collector is Comic Book Guy as a character within the show who’s been turned, for this one episode, into an exaggerated bad guy version of himself.  He’s still a person under there, though, so when he cackles about being “unbelievably amused” or whines that he fell for a “ruse so hackneyed it would make Stan Lee blush” it fits with who he is regularly as well as the character he’s inhabiting.  Lego Comic Book Guy, on the other hand, is a kind of stand-in proxy narrator for the writing staff who spends most of his time on screen explaining a very simple concept that had already been explained several times before.  Having used him as a crutch instead of a character right until the end, it makes a certain kind of lazy sense to just keep leaning on him and have him be the bad guy as well, coherent narrative be damned.

None of that is unusual for Zombie Simpsons, of course; nonsensical exposition, plot swerves, and bizarre character behavior are are in every episode.  But it neatly illustrates the fact that, for all the hoopla, “Brick Like Me” was just another episode.




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