“Can you say David Hasselhoff?” – Bart Simpson
“David Hassahof.” – Lisa Simpson
“Can you say Daddy?” – Homer Simpson
“Homer.” – Lisa Simpson
The Simpsons did its first flashback episode way (way) back in Season 2. “The Way We Was” introduced us to Homer and Marge as high school kids who had never even met; and along the way answered one of the fundamental questions of the show: why, exactly, is Marge with Homer? Over the next four seasons they flashed back three more times, each time showing the birth of one of the Simpson kids. “I Married Marge” showed us Bart’s accidental conception inside a mini-golf decoration. “Lisa’s First Word” put the family in now their iconic house and showed the beginning of Bart and Lisa’s never ending rivalry. “And Maggie Makes Three” completed the set and showed us that there was no sacrifice too painful for Homer to make for his kids (well, not the boy, but you know what I mean).
Genuine character development, a concept unknown to Zombie Simpsons.
These episodes do not, strictly speaking, fit chronologically. If Bart was conceived after his parents saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater, there’s no way he can be two years older than Lisa, who was born in the summer of 1984. Similarly, if Homer and Marge were leaving high school in 1976, Homer wouldn’t be twenty-four-years-old in 1980. But it doesn’t matter because background numbers that only the dedicated will ever put together aren’t the point.
By spacing events a little further apart, they gave themselves more defined cultural targets than just borderline meaningless shorthand like “The 70s” or “The 80s”. So not only do these four episodes form a coherent whole while filling in the background of our favorite family, they do so while making pointed fun of distinct slices of American culture.
Homer and Marge are in high school in the mid 1970s, then Bart’s birth is the early 1980s, Lisa’s the mid-1980s, and Maggie’s the early 1990s. Poking fun at Ms. and “makeout music” becomes Yoda and John Anderson, which becomes the 1984 Olympics preceding an hour long episode of Mama’s Family, which finishes up with the “clear beverage craze” and “information superhighway”.
Homer Simpson, early pioneer of the sarcastic t-shirt.
That level of specificity is missing from “The Kids Are All Fight”, as is any meaningful background on the family and/or general cultural coherence. They tell us Lisa and Bart are two and four, but neither of them acts anything like a two-year-old or a four-year-old. They use film development as a justification for looking back, but it’s not like many people were still using film in 2009. The flashback idea that used to be so carefully handled has become just another excuse for a weird, semi-magical adventure in a “past” Springfield that is indistinguishable from the one they usually use.
They do make a stab at showing us a little family development, but it’s pretty halfhearted. You see, Bart and Lisa used to fight a lot (and they will make sure you understand by stating so explicitly many times), and now they don’t. The eventual story reason they offer for this is that Lisa “gives in”. There are large scope problems with that (we’ve seen them fight countless times, and Lisa clearly hasn’t given in), and there are small scope problems with that (the wacky adventure they go on is more about Bart bolting than Bart and Lisa fighting). But what really makes the kids’ story ring hollow is the way that conclusion glosses over Lisa’s surrender.
A show with characters who are faintly recognizable as human beings, or even one with just a little heart, could do a lot with a younger sibling resigning herself to years of dangerously crazy behavior from her brother. There’s a plenty of material there for emotion, comedy, and fun generally, but Zombie Simpsons brushes any of that off for action scenes of Bart riding a big wheel through traffic and cutesy title cards announcing each new wacky scene.
For proof of this, look no further than Ralph Wiggum’s brief cameo. Since this is Zombie Simpsons, he appears out of nowhere, then gets into the wheel of a semi-truck, then is shipped off on a boat. They put him next to Lisa, but he hadn’t been there the last time we saw her and the two of them don’t interact at all. He just pops in and then starts talking.
Hi, Ralph! Uh, how did you get here?
Here’s the entirety of his dialogue:
Your brother is stupid. Bye bye. The wheel I’m inside goes round and round, round and round, round and round. The boat I’m aboard goes up and down, up and down, up and down.
It isn’t even a good Ralph-ism. He just tells us what we’re seeing, and it goes on so long that he uses more than twice as many words as “Super Nintendo Chalmers”, “I bent my wookie”, and “Me fail English? That’s unpossible” all put together. Even if you don’t care about him materializing and not having anything to do with what was happening, that’s just awful.
The final evidence that story coherence and relatable characters don’t even enter into the thinking at Zombie Simpsons comes one scene later, when we see Chief Wiggum for the first and only time. The whole second half of the episode is about Lisa and Bart getting into trouble unsupervised and Homer and Marge’s panicked search to find them. Ralph Wiggum is doing the exact same thing as Bart and Lisa, but all we see Chief Wiggum do is interview Gil (for some reason).
Wiggum doesn’t know that his kid is roaming the streets, and the episode seems to have forgotten it completely as well. There isn’t even a blithe, expository explanation because, as far as Zombie Simpsons is concerned, the Chief and Ralph are just one scene props.
There isn’t even any connection to the fact that this is a flashback. Like most of the people, places and events we see in “The Kids Are All Fight”, both of them could just as easily be doing and saying the exact same things in the show’s regular timeframe. When The Simpsons went to the past, it went with a purpose and made fun of everything it saw. When Zombie Simpsons goes to the past, it trips backwards, stares blankly for a bit, and then continues stumbling around like always.