Posts Tagged ‘A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

03
May
12

Compare & Contrast: Existential Crises in Childhood

“I’m still trying to figure out what’s bothering Lisa.  I don’t know, Bart’s such a handful, and Maggie needs attention, but all the while, our little Lisa’s becoming a young woman.” – Marge Simpson
“Oh, so that’s it.  This is some kind of underwear thing.” – Homer Simpson

Beneath the unvarnished cruise line agitprop, the hastily dropped money saving plot, and that bizarre encounter with penguins in Ant-fucking-arctica lies what may be the most half-assed aspect of “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”, its blisteringly simplistic and incomplete handling of Bart’s serious melancholy.  Though the episode doesn’t really get around to what Bart’s actually feeling until past its midpoint, the Bart we see here is floundering among the deep and unanswerable questions of life.  Is this all there is?  What should I be doing with my life?  Since Zombie Simpsons always – always – follows in the footsteps of The Simpsons, it’s worth looking at the first time the show handled a youthful crisis of self doubt and existential dread, Season 1’s “Moaning Lisa”.

The driving idea of “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again” is Bart’s unhappiness, his belief that because he doesn’t have enough “fun”, his life is a total waste.  To its surprising credit, Zombie Simpsons actually portrays this rather grimly, by having Bart imagine himself on his death bed, looking back on a life wasted at school and work, the only real accomplishment of which was to produce a son capable of wheeling him into the hospital to die.

Bleak Future

It’s more bleak than funny, but I’m almost impressed.

Of course, being Zombie Simpsons, they viciously undercut this rather depressing concept in a number of ways.  Not only do they place it right after their pathetic song-vertisement, but they actually have Bart say out loud exactly what he’s feeling three (3!) times in succession.  First, young Bart laments that vacation will end and fun with it.  Then old Bart says the same thing.  Then they cut back to young Bart who repeats it again.  You can make a case for the third one, because it does have Bart resolving to keep the cruise going forever, but the first two are 100% unnecessary filler.

In Case You Forgot What Was Going On

Being aware of how full frontally bad your writing is doesn’t make it okay.

As poorly and as late in the episode as Zombie Simpsons is presenting it, however, this is some heavy shit Bart is dealing with.  (And no, the montage at the beginning doesn’t count, even as foreshadowing.  It’s fluff that gets discarded as soon as the cruise commercial comes on.)  Even though he’s only kinda sorta still a kid, to have a ten-year-old imagine his unhappy death is both sad and morbid.  It’s a meaty enough concept that you could, were you so inclined, base a decent episode around it.

Moaning Lisa6

Now that’s foreshadowing.

Naturally, “Moaning Lisa” is better than just “decent”, and that’s due in no small part to the fact that it takes her feelings seriously enough to introduce them at the beginning of the episode and then show us why she feels that way.  Lisa is unhappy because her father is a terrible parent, her brother torments her night and day, and her mom doesn’t understand her, and we see each of those happen.

Homer doesn’t mean to make things worse, but that’s exactly what he does:

Homer: Why don’t you climb up on Daddy’s knee and tell him all about it.
Lisa: I’m just wondering, what’s the point?  Would it make any difference at all if I never existed?  How can we sleep at night when there’s so much suffering in the world?
Homer: Well, uh, eh . . . c’mon, Lisa!  Ride the Homer Horsey!

That’s followed by Marge telling her to take a bath, Bart yelling at her, Maggie declaring her love of the TV, and then Homer telling her to stop playing her saxophone in the house.  Even at this early stage of The Simpsons, everything is interspersed with jokes and comedy (and there’s the great video boxing B-plot), but the story takes precedence because without it, nothing else matters.

Consider the scene with Bart, Lisa, Maggie and the television.  Bart’s mad at Lisa, Lisa’s sad, and both of them are doing everything they can to get Maggie on their side.  When Lisa gives up, and Maggie heads for the television, it works not only because she chose the box over her siblings, but because the stakes have been raised so high.  Loving television over people wouldn’t be nearly as funny if it weren’t so serious.  It’s the difference between slapping some unrelated jokes into a story, and telling a story that is itself both poignant and funny.

Moaning Lisa7

Teacher.  Mother.  Secret Babysitter.

Of course, that distinction is totally lost on Zombie Simpsons.  They’ve got this profoundly ominous cloud hanging over Bart’s head, but instead of making use of it, for comedy or story, they tuck it off to the side so they can continue with their hyperactive gibberish.  After Bart manages to convince the ship that the entire world has been destroyed, itself a plot twist that makes no sense on any level whatsoever, all the things he had been loving about the cruise vanish.  No more good food, no more water slides, no more endless amusement.

Bart doesn’t react to any of this; he, and he alone, is completely untouched by what’s going on.  Like so many other things, this could’ve been used constructively.  They could’ve had the family show Bart that it wasn’t the ship that he loved, but being with other people or some such nonsense.  Instead, Bart remains bafflingly immune to the horrors all around them while the show trots out whatever apocalypse gags were left over after the “Outlands” episode a couple months ago.

However, even that level of head scratching weirdness isn’t enough for Zombie Simpsons.  They decide to ratchet things up even further by stranding the family in Antarctica before finally, at long last, getting Bart to realize some kind of lesson about making the most out of life.  Even then, they have to club you over the head with it, though in this case the expository narration is necessary because what they’re showing you – trapped in Antarctica and freezing to death – is so wildly different than what they’re saying:

Lisa: Well, sure life is full of pain and drudgery, but the trick is to enjoy the few perfect experiences we’re given in the moment.
Homer: Yeah, stupid.  Stop thinking about fun, and have it!

By this point, the realization, and the depression that necessitated it, are hardly even footnotes to what’s happened and what’s happening.  Leave it to Zombie Simpsons to ask the audience to take emotional satisfaction in an ending after enduring the near seizure level mood swings between “triple upgrade”, Homer with an orange mohawk and spiked shoulder pads, and a survival situation that’s set to kill them all very soon.

By contrast, “Moaning Lisa” doesn’t end until the story wraps itself up by actually addressing the problem Lisa’s been having since the beginning.  In the car on the way to school, Marge makes another attempt to help Lisa:

Marge: Now, Lisa, listen to me.  This is important.  I want you to smile today.
Lisa: But I don’t feel like smiling.
Marge: Well, it doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know?  It’s what shows up on the surface that counts.  That’s what my mother taught me.  Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you’re almost walking on them.  And then, you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.

This is terrible, repressive and retrograde advice, but at this moment in the story it’s the best Marge can do.  She still doesn’t understand what’s wrong with Lisa, so she falls back on what she was told by her mother, which we in the audience already understand since we saw it earlier.

As soon as Lisa steps out of the car, she starts doing what her mother told her, and this is when the episode shows us both a) how disastrous it is, and b) Marge realizing how disastrous it is.  No sooner has Lisa opened her mouth than she’s being taken advantage of and letting her hopes and passions die.  That in turn prompts Marge to swoop in and tell Lisa what she’s needed to hear the whole time: that even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, Lisa is loved and valued for who she is.

Not only is Lisa’s emotional burden lifted, but we the audience get a fulfilling ending, with Marge and Lisa bonding and the whole family going to the jazz club to see Homer embarrassed by Lisa’s song.  By comparison, Zombie Simpsons brought up a lot of serious emotions, ignored them for its preferred pastime of lunatic zaniness, and then dropped in a glib and hollow ending at the last second because it had literally reached the end of the world.  One of these is thoughtful and funny, the other considered being thoughtful, but dropped it because penguins.

01
May
12

Crazy Noises: A Totally Fun That Thing Bart Will Never Do Again

Homer's Phobia6

“Well, I never thought it would come to this, but I guess we’ll have to sell Grandma’s Civil War doll.” – Marge Simpson
“Oh, Mom, are you sure you want to sell a family heirloom to pay the gas bill?  I mean, what would your Grandma say?” – Lisa Simpson
“I’m sure she’d be proud that her descendant’s had piping hot tap water and plenty of warm, dry underwear.” – Marge Simpson

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 “Antarctica”).

When Zombie Simpsons sets the stupid as high as they did with “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”, one of the side effects is often scenes that don’t make any sense in and of themselves, much less in the wider context of the episode.  To take but one example, before the episode gets to its main topic of showing off how awesome cruises are, Bart sells all of his worldly possessions to earn enough money to go on the cruise.  Here he is with his meager proceeds:

I Miss the Swear Jar

Good thing it says “Cruise” on there or I’d be lost.

After the scene at the dinner table, Bart goes up to his room and sleeps on his illogically bare floor.  Marge comes up and sees him.  In the next scene, which the show explicitly tells us is the following morning, Bart comes running into the living room with a jar full of money.  What follows is astonishingly hacktacular, even for this episode.

Starting with Bart and then moving to Lisa, Marge and finally Homer, each Simpson family member gets to monologue some terribly overwrought gag while the others stand by patiently.  The following transcript is complete, I’ve included everything they say:

Bart:  Mom, Dad!  I woke up and the money jar was full!  That means the Devil accepted my bargain, now to uphold my end of the deal.  Snowball II?

With Bart’s name safely marked off on the checklist, Marge exposits what’s going on (because showing us is counter to the Zombie Simpsons style guide):

Marge:  No.  We saw how much this cruise means to you, so we all sold something special.  And we made just enough for an economy cabin.

Everybody got that?  Good.  Now, the “jokes”:

Lisa:  I sold a couple of my rare jazz records.  After a while they all start to sound the same.  Still love the genre, of course, not even close to getting sick of it.

Thanks, Yeardley.  Julie, you’re next:

Marge:  And I sold our good china.
Bart:  Really?  But that’s been in your family for generations.
Marge:  Yeah.  Actually, my Mom stole it from a woman she cleaned for.  Took her years to get the whole set.

Rim shot!  Okay, there’s only one family member left.  Dan, if you please:

Lisa:  And Dad donated something too.
Homer [Entering from off screen]:  What happened to my mini-pool table?  I was training to be a mini-pool hustler!

At this point you can almost hear the whistling and hooting as Homer bursts into the scene and hits his mark.  Everyone got their line, so it must be time for more exposition:

Marge:  We sold it to pay for a family cruise.

Thanks, writing staff.  I hadn’t been reminded of that in almost thirty seconds.  It goes on from there, with Homer doubling down on the mini-pool idea and more exposition from Bart.

This is writing so blandly dutiful it hardly qualifies as bad.  It’s similar to those songs on a commercial pop album that have no chance of becoming singles, but have to be there because no one’s going to buy the whole album if it’s only got three tracks.  The hooks are weak and the lyrics are forgettable, but nobody cares because everyone knows that they aren’t really that important.  And this episode is full of scenes like this one: Bart’s garage sale, the upgrade lady, pretty much every scene with Lisa and the other smart kids, the list goes on and on.

[Note: This may be even less coherent than usual as we had some technical problems toward the end.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to set sail?

Dave: We are.

Mad Jon: My DVR spared me the couch gag and skipped to Bart being bored. I assume I didn’t miss much…

Charlie Sweatpants: No, the couch gag was mercifully short.

Dave: To my bitter self, it was one of the least offensive couch gags in memory

Just some text

Some font variety

5 seconds, done.

Charlie Sweatpants: But it was also a repeat.

Mad Jon: Oh, well, I might have enjoyed that.

Dave: Oh, didn’t know that.

Also that was followed by Hot Chip

So for about 1.5 minutes I wasn’t so grumpy with the show

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll grant that was cleverer than most of their montages, but it went on much longer than it needed to.

The commercial for the cruise line was kind of the same way, not terrible.

Dave: Yep, bingo.

Mad Jon: Agreed

Dave: It was almost reasonable.

Mad Jon: Unlike the following Mr. Steak discussion.

Charlie Sweatpants: But then they took it seriously. I thought having it say that the visuals of the commercial “if anything underplay” the actual experience was a joke. Turns out they were serious.

Dave: Prior to that nonsense I will admit to chuckling at the Magazine Hater magazine

Mad Jon: I didn’t catch the Mila Kunis tag line.

Dave: and I do have a soft spot for Homer’s reading glasses. Other than that, it was bloody awful.

Dave: something about her being America’s sexiest magazine hater

Mad Jon: Good for her!

Charlie Sweatpants: From there the episode went into Bart freaking out and selling stuff, and from there he freaked out some more and the rest of the family sold stuff.

All on its own, that doesn’t sound too terrible, but they only know how to take things to extremes.

Mad Jon: There was some good Xanax product placement spots there…

Charlie Sweatpants: So Bart’s whole room gets emptied without anyone noticing, and then the next morning the rest of them have sold something and stuffed cash in his jar. It’s childishly simplistic storytelling.

Mad Jon: Cut to the chase and all that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Something like that. Either make them all selling stuff a real plot point or don’t. Instead they dither with it for a long time and still end up doing nothing but having them exposit about what they sold.

Dave: It’s an effective strategy when you have nothing to write about.

Charlie Sweatpants: True enough. This episode had a lot of filler.

The single-double-triple upgrade thing comes to mind.

Dave: Um yeah.

I was convinced they were going to steal home.

Charlie Sweatpants: So much of the middle of the episode was just them saying “Look how cool we made this ship! Don’t you want to go on a cruise like this?”

There are a lot of shots that are basically brochure porn.

Brochure Porn

Our courteous staff, gorgeous views, and convenient shopping are there for you 24-hours a day.

Mad Jon: Yeah, but I did like the line about having “before you were born fun.”

Dave: There was that “Life Aquatic” ripoff too.

Mad Jon: Was the cruise director someone famous or something?

Charlie Sweatpants: It was Steve Coogan. He’s much more famous in Britain than he is here, but you’d probably know him if you saw him.

Mad Jon: Meh.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, like most guest spots it was a waste. His lines were pretty much all descriptions of what was going on at the time, combined with the word “fun”.

Even the song was crappy.

But pretty much the entire thing on the ship was like that. We’ve got some idea that’s almost a joke, and we’re going to run it into the ground.

Lisa’s little elite playgroup, Marge and Homer’s canoodling, even all the cool stuff Bart did, for all the bright colors it was all one note gags repeated over and over.

Mad Jon: Yep.

Jokes aside, the plot was basically Bart trying to worm out of his panic attacks. Which may or may not actually start at 10 nowadays. I can’t be sure.

However, realistic or not, panic attacks aren’t really that entertaining.

Dave: That didn’t stop them from trying though, did it?

Mad Jon: Never does.

Charlie Sweatpants: And don’t forget that Bart, for whatever reason, is basically immune to noticing how crappy the ship got all of a sudden.

Mad Jon: Especially for 12 extra days.

Dave: Yeah, he’s still having a blast.

Charlie Sweatpants: If they’d included something about how he was in denial or whatever, that would’ve been a sop to making sense. But instead he’s happy as a clam even though all the things he loved about the ship are suddenly gone.

Mad Jon: But the best is still that in the -30 degree weather, when everyone was walking about in their normal clothes, Bart explained that he did it for everyone else, and then they played with penguins and learned a lesson.

Charlie Sweatpants: Did you notice that they suddenly were back in their regular clothes after no being in them for the rest of the episode? That doesn’t even make page one of the list of things that were weird about it, but I thought it was telling.

The scenes really are barely connected to one another.

Mad Jon: True, they were in boatware before that, Homer in the Hawaiian shirt, Bart was wearing a suit or something, and then they are in Antarctica, next to a sign denoting the research station was 3 miles away, wearing their everyday clothes and sledding.

Charlie Sweatpants: The ending was impressively batshit, even by their standards.

The penguin thing came completely out of nowhere, and then all of a sudden everything was okay with a flashforward to Bart’s death many decades from now.

Mad Jon: Yeah, that happened

Charlie Sweatpants: If this was a video installation at a modern art museum it’d be so confusing that people might think it’s good.

As a half hour of supposed comedy, however . . .

Mad Jon: My DVR ended at that, but I assume nothing much happened after the pictures from the future part.

Charlie Sweatpants: No, that was it.

There were a lot of things that could’ve been funny, but none of it was thought through enough to pan out.

A lifeguard as a cult leader, for example, isn’t terrible, but just saying that and then repeating it leaves it half formed.

Mad Jon: Minus the stupid incongruities, such as the clothing from the end, this one was one of the “more boring than stupid, but still pretty stupid” zombiesodes.

I probably would have liked the lifeguard thing if a lifeguard thing hadn’t just happened a few weeks ago.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s that. But what I meant is, they had this weird post apocalyptic society on the ship and having a lifeguard in charge of a cult there could’ve been funny if they’d developed it a little. Instead, they just race through it as nothing more than a punchline.

They could’ve done more with that idea, but they had to get to Antarctica, so they just leave it there, not quite part of the plot, but also not small enough to just be a joke.

The pacing on this show is non-existent. Things seems to slow down and speed up with no discernable logic.

Mad Jon: I didn’t really notice that, but I wasn’t paying that close of attention.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s not that important.

Mad Jon: I just saw a panicked Bart start some shit, and then watched that shit fall apart and end up at the south pole.

Charlie Sweatpants: Bet that’s not something you were expecting to type at this time yesterday.

30
Apr
12

“Thanks, Zombie Simpsons!” – The Cruise Industry

Chalkboard - A Totally Fun Things Bart Will Never Do Again

“Don’t forget to check out the galley.  That’s real shag carpeting!” – Captain McAllister

The title of yesterday’s episode, “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”, is a reference to a famous 1996 David Foster Wallace article for Harper’s, in which he embarked on a giant luxury liner to experience the narrow, selfish, and vapid thinking that underlies the modern cruise industry (as well as the bland and mostly uninteresting people who think of it as the height of fun).  It’s an enjoyably cruel piece of writing (it was later used as the headline piece to a book length collection of essays he published), and you can read the whole thing in PDF format.  The subtitle is “On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise”, and the main point is that cruise vacations are mercilessly inhuman. 

Wallace held the cruise industry in utter contempt, and not without cause.  It’s environmentally disastrous, ethically compromised, and generally unpleasant on anything deeper than a surface level.  The spectacular sinking of the Costa Concordia in January is only the most high profile of the industry’s problems.  Two years ago, they kept sending tourists to their fenced in resorts in Haiti while people were dying in earthquake rubble.  Crew members, who work long and extremely stressful hours, routinely disappear without a trace.  And just a few weeks ago, two fishermen died on their disabled boat when a cruise ship failed to rescue them even though the crew had been alerted by passengers to their presence.  In other words, this is an industry that places a higher priority on cheesy lounge acts and shuffleboard than it does on human life, and it is ripe for parody and satire. 

David Foster Wallace knew that the only way you could say something honest or interesting about cruise ships was by reveling in the ugliness that props up that gleaming facade of stark white hulls and perpetually happy people.  Zombie Simpsons borrowed his title, and then did the opposite, making their cruise out to be so awesome and perfect that they actually wrote a song about how awesome and perfect it is.  I realize it’s not their job to do exposes on irresponsible corporate behavior, but by sticking with such a sunny perspective they limited themselves to only the safest and most tame kinds of comedy (when they were bothering to attempt humor at all). 

Of course, the episode did eventually descend into post apocalyptic chaos (and I thought we were done with the “Outlands”), but only after acting as an unpaid and unquestioning endorsement for most of its run time (and concluding that the only way to have a bad time on a cruise is to take one with Bart Simpson).  And, it goes almost without saying, no part of the episode made the least bit of sense, from the completely unnecessary (and exposition filled) scenes where the family paid for the vacation, to Bart’s panic after the song, to the immediate descent of the ship into Mad Max 4: The Wet Warrior, to a quick sketch or two in Antarctica.  Along the way, characters wander in and out of scenes for no discernable reason, the plot swings wildly from one idea to another, and most of the stabs at being funny are paint-by-number bricks like this:

Lisa: It’s so diverse!  I’ve died and gone to a PBS kids show.
[Kids in wheelchairs roll up out of nowhere.]

And this:

Marge: You’ll never guess how many bath towels they gave us.  Enough!
Bart: And there’s a DVD library of movies that haven’t been released yet!  Whoa.  Whoa.

The episode wasn’t completely without its charms, “Magazine Hater” magazine is pretty clever, and the cult of the lifeguard isn’t a terrible idea.  But, again and as usual, the stuff that has a little bit of thought to it is drowned in a sea of garbage that can’t rise to the level of being semi-clever or even coherent.  When this is your ending . . .

Best Vacation Ever!

. . . the ship has irreversibly foundered. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they continue to be historically bad.  Only 5.00 million viewers sat through last night’s infomercial for Carnival and company before hitting up the buffet.  That ties last year’s “The Great Simpsina” for the fourth lowest number ever.  The post-New Year’s episodes of Season 22 generally hovered around six million viewers.  Season 23 is down to five million, and routinely fails to get even that many. 

29
Apr
12

Sunday Post: A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

zombietotally

Image bloodied by Dave.

It’s that time again:

In this mouth-full of a title-d episode, when Bart sees a commercial for the ultimate cruise, he begs his parents for a family vacation. Low on cash, the only way they can go is if each family member sells one valuable. Once they’re away, Bart is determined to make the vacation last forever. So he comes up with a plan to make sure they never have to return home.

I anticipate a well plotted piece of non-claptrap that never makes me want to wretch.




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