Posts Tagged ‘Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts

11
Oct
11

Compare & Contrast: Social Relations Among Male Juveniles

The Telltale Head9

“You don’t need an introduction, you’re the worst kid in school.” – Bart Simpson
“Thanks.” – Jimbo Jones

Among the many, many things that made The Simpsons great that Zombie Simpsons has lost and/or squandered is any sense of relating to the characters or even simple reality.  For all of its energy and outlandish plots, on The Simpsons you always knew that the people involved were reacting in a way that real people might react.  The characters had character, and they stayed within those bounds.  Homer gets involved in outrageous situations, but he’s still a bungling amateur.  Even when Marge was in a desperate flight from the law, she turned the car to get her friend to safety, not to deliberately drive into the Grand Chasm.  Lisa may have all the traits of a political crusader in her opposition to anti-immigrant Proposition 24, but she’s still a little girl who wants her mother to buy her licorice.

On Zombie Simpsons the characterizations that kept The Simpsons grounded are routinely ignored, and characters frequently fly off the handle or simply sit there like inert lumps.  The last thing they do is act human.  In “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts” this is particularly apparent in the kids.  It’s one thing for Bart and many of the school’s other troublemakers to be suddenly enraptured by Theodore Roosevelt, it’s a bit of a stretch for some of them, but getting instantly obsessed with something is an inherently kid thing to do.

What isn’t an inherently kid thing to do is to conquer the school, and what’s an even less kid thing to do is to have Bart, the smallest and weakest of the boys, become their unquestioned leader.  Jimbo and his two sidekicks, Dolph and Kearney, were introduced way back in Season 1 as older kids who would never look up to Bart Simpson in a million years.  On the contrary, Bart looks up to them, admiringly describing Jimbo as “the worst kid in school” when they first meet in “The Telltale Head”.

The Telltale Head10

Bart copies Jimbo, not the other way around.

The entire plot of that episode revolves around Bart trying to fit in with an older crowd, just as real boys have done since time immemorial.  To younger kids, slightly older ones are more familiar and less confusing than the towering adults, yet still clearly cool, more capable, and worth emulating.  So when Bart’s initial joy at being included in Jimbo’s gang turns to bitter embarrassment when he’s dismissed for acting too childlike, he tries to redeem himself by doing something he explicitly heard Jimbo say would be cool.

His desire to fit in with the older kids, something to which anyone who has ever been a kid can relate, drives the entire plot.  Bart makes a kid’s mistake in thinking that Jimbo and company would be impressed with him, and then makes a second kid’s mistake in actually taking the head.  So not only is Bart too childish to hang out with the older kids, he’s also too young to understand that Jimbo and company were just shooting the shit when they talked about decapitating the statue.  The entire episode displays an intimate knowledge of the reality of childhood even as it goes through its fictional story.

The Telltale Head11

That was just cloud talk, man.

By contrast, “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts” displays no such knowledge.  Following its story requires you to set aside pretty much everything you know or remember about being a kid.  Zombie Simpsons is so set on having Bart become a Teddy Roosevelt wannabe that it forgets that those other kids around him are supposed to be kids as well.  So you have Jimbo:

1. Sitting with rapt attention in Bart’s treehouse as Bart runs their new club.

Jimbo the Treehouse Meeting Attendee

Remember when Jimbo picked up Laura for their date?  Zombie Simpsons doesn’t.

2. Standing quietly in the back while Bart negotiates with Principal Skinner:

Jimbo the Background Prop

Jimbo once beat up Bart to take his specialty belt.  Apparently, he cares less about hats and glasses.

3. Unquestioningly taking orders to get the students into the gym while Bart plots his next move:

Jimbo the Dutiful Subordinate

Maybe Bart finally learned the Touch of Death?

4.  Fearfully coming to get Bart so Bart can deal with the police:

Jimbo the Panicky Sidekick

It used to take a knife wielding maniac to make him scared.

5.  Obediently standing by while Chalmers talks to Bart:

Jimbo the Background Prop (Take 2)

Pretty lame for a kid who’s been kicked out of all four Space Mutants movies.

This is Jimbo and the other bullies as props instead of characters.  They don’t have any humanity and they certainly don’t act like actual kids.  All Zombie Simpsons can think for them to do is stand there and watch Bart.

It’s not like the episode has to be all about them (it is Bart’s last name that’s in the title of the show after all), but The Simpsons knew how to have Bart interact with the other kids.  Zombie Simpsons just stands them up like cardboard cutouts.  The Simpsons also recognized the fact that Jimbo Jones was unassailably higher in the pecking order than Bart.  With its atrophied storytelling skills and monomaniacal focus on what’s happening right now, Zombie Simpsons doesn’t care in the least about that kind of context or humor.

The Jimbo who would’ve beaten Bart to a pulp for cutting off the head of the Jebediah Springfield statue isn’t the same character as the Jimbo who eagerly takes orders from Bart.  The same goes for Dolph, Nelson and Kearney.  These are the kids who tossed rocks at Bart just after telling them he was their only hope in Utility Basement B.  These are the kids who chased Bart out of the school when they found out he was doing ballet.  These are the kids who were the ruthless guards at Kamp Krusty.

Zombie Simpsons is fundamentally narrower and shallower than its predecessor because it has a different set of priorities.  It doesn’t care about its side characters, it doesn’t care about its setting, it just cares about winding up Bart and setting him loose to do zany things.  That inattention and apathy to the kinds of things The Simpsons treated with exquisite care is a big reason why Zombie Simpsons has such a disconcerting air of unreality to it, even in episodes like “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts” where it stays relatively grounded in Springfield.

05
Oct
11

Crazy Noises: Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts

Principal Charming6

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 (though certainly not on “topwise”).

Even in an episode that wasn’t as swarming with magic robots as most of them, Zombie Simpsons still couldn’t get to its main premise without slipping into complete stupidity.  I refer you to Principal Skinner getting a call on his cell phone from Bart and continuing to think it was a rich English woman for what had to be at least an hour.  Certainly Bart has pulled the wool over Skinner’s eyes a few times, but never in such a way that would make you think Skinner is the world’s most gullible man.  For this to make any sense, Skinner has to believe that there is an anonymous foreigner who wants to help the school by bidding on crap sight unseen, not recognize that it’s his most loathed student doing an impersonation, and ignore the fact that his cell phone would tell him that the call is coming from his own school.  To be fair, they took care of that last part for him:

The World's Only Cell Phone Without Caller ID

Skinner’s supposed to be one of the smart characters on the show.  There was an entire episode where he was in Mensa for fuck’s sake.  Yet here he is acting dumber than Homer ever did prior to about Season 12.  Zombie Simpsons has cut so many corners like this over the years that there’s hardly anything left of the original show. 

Charlie Sweatpants: You ready to get started?

Mad Jon: Sure.

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought this episode was slightly more sane than last week’s, but in a kind of screwed up way that makes it actually more painful to watch.

Mad Jon: Hmm, how do you mean?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t see any Earthly way you could make the Jack Bauer episode work. When your main story is a man haunted by his past who kills two dozen people I just don’t think it’s going to be funny, period.

Mad Jon: Ok, I am with you so far.

Charlie Sweatpants: But "Chalmers takes an interest in Bart" isn’t inherently insane. Twelve years ago they might have made this semi-passable. But they can’t even do that.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I was thinking about that. I like how simple the plot starts, but it just doesn’t have the level of interest for me that I imagine it would have had 12 or 15 years ago.

Charlie Sweatpants: It seems worse because this feels like they’re actually listening to all the complaints and they’re still not even close.

Mad Jon: Turn it topwise! TOPWISE!

Charlie Sweatpants: The Bauer episode is everything that’s stereotypically wrong with the show: celebrities, Jerkass Homer, the whole shebang. This is very different, but equally bad.

There isn’t a single scene that doesn’t remind you of a better episode, and that makes all the problems (people jumping in and out of scenes, weird voices, glaring plot holes) that much more difficult to ignore.

Mad Jon: There were still several omnipresent Zombie attributes. So that sucks. Think of all the meaningless and boring scenes that just dragged on. Like when Marge buys the t-shirts for the other school and Homer stands watch… Or think of the complete laziness of the writing in scenes like when Chalmers declares the library is closing and then takes Bart horseback riding in a state park while it is quite certainly daylight still.

Charlie Sweatpants: The quick cuts to the national park were very grating. Half the point of the episode is that the school is broke, but Chalmers takes them on a very expensive looking vacation.

Mad Jon: Horses ain’t cheap neither.

Charlie Sweatpants: There are so many things that just stop you cold with how little they make sense.

Nelson just found the spectacles and then fell, where did that come from? Kearney wasn’t there and then he was.

Mad Jon: This episode without the construction paper background it was built on may have had a chance.

Charlie Sweatpants: And it ends with a guy getting kneecapped. Huh?

Mad Jon: The comptroller at that.

  I think. It looked like him, but by the end I was more interested in emptying the dishwasher, so I didn’t quite follow the dialogue.

Charlie Sweatpants: Emptying your dishwasher was a better use of time than the ending here. How long was that little standoff supposed to have lasted? Was Lisa in the damn closet the whole time? Did Bart really take a bunch of hostages?

Mad Jon: I don’t know, there are too many issues here to even begin parsing them.

Charlie Sweatpants: The wild swings just keep coming until you’re basically numb.

Mad Jon: I will say that I liked the black and white Roosevelt/Moe scene. It went on too long, but it started well and what not.

Charlie Sweatpants: It did. The list of all the things wrong with the teachers’ cars was the same way.

It had far more misses than hits though. Homer getting money from his imaginary ATM wasn’t funny AND went on too long.

Mad Jon: Really way too long.

Charlie Sweatpants: The same is true of Skinner’s complaining that he’s "lop-shouldered" after being tortured by the Vietnamese. That wasn’t funny and it took forever.

Mad Jon: That was actually sort of depressing.

Charlie Sweatpants: First of all, a guy Skinner’s age wouldn’t be a Vietnam veteran. Vietnam veterans are in their sixties now. It’s really bizarre to see that in their modern Springfield.

Second, and this is much worse and goes to show how much they’ve lost the touch, is that his complaining was kinda bitter.

When Skinner finds his iron helmet at the swap meet he reacts to it like an old friend. It’s funny because he apparently took being horribly confined with the same resigned good humor he takes everything else. The same is true when he complains about the fact that they can’t get the spices right here in the States.

Mad Jon: I really miss the shades casting bars of shadows on his face.

Charlie Sweatpants: The terrible thing is made funny because Skinner is such a happy dork about the whole thing. His attitude is the joke, and here they dropped it and thought it was funny for him to be angry at being "lop-shouldered".

Mad Jon: Yep. And they dragged it on by bringing up a carpet cleaning company or something.

Charlie Sweatpants: They did that with a lot of things. This one really could’ve used a B-plot.

Mad Jon: Yeah I guess it didn’t really have one did it?

I am just now realizing that.

Meh.

Charlie Sweatpants: The story was so scattershot it was kind of hard to tell.

I thought the spectacles were going to be a big deal, but then they just found them one second after they started looking. The episode still had a ways to go.

Mad Jon: Yeah, Somehow Nelson has them and doesn’t announce it until he is hanging on a weed on a cliff side, because of _____.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right. It rushes through what you’d think would be the big moments and drags out these weird inconsequential scenes like Bart locking Lisa up.

Any other thoughts here about particularly good or bad parts?

Mad Jon: I didn’t like the couch gag at all. I used to love Ren and Stimpy, and that couldn’t have dragged on any longer, or made me any more uncomfortable.

  So that sucked.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m kinda neutral towards the couch gag. It took longer than I might have liked, but it was at least pretty original. I’m very apathetic toward Ren and Stimpy though. We didn’t have cable when that show was big so I’ve only ever seen like two episodes.

Mad Jon: Fair enough, tastes will differ I suppose.

Charlie Sweatpants: It does feel like a lame attempt to duplicate the Banksy success, but again, I can’t really bring myself to give too much of a shit.

Mad Jon: I can see that. I can also see you not giving a shit, but I used to watch Ren and Stimpy with my brothers a lot, and this opening made me feel like I was watching it on LSD. But you are probably right about the shit giving part.

I don’t really have anything else to add, except I do wonder if you are correct at all about the "…listening to all the complaints and they’re still not even close" deal.

  But I guess we will never know.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I don’t think they really are listening.

  It just sorta, kinda seems that way.

Mad Jon: Well, I know that they aren’t listening to us. They can’t hear us through the earmuffs made of cash they all have, but I have to assume that other people also complain. I am way too lazy to seek the other haters out, but they must be there.

Charlie Sweatpants: I didn’t mean us specifically, just the general fan complaints on places like No Homers.

Mad Jon:   Ok, that is what I meant as well. I can see the jet-lag and beer acting upon my grammar and sentence structure.

Charlie Sweatpants: How much is jet lag and beer and how much is just having sat through Zombie Simpsons? Neither exactly makes the mind keen.

Mad Jon: Your beer/jet lag vs content point is valid, sir.

03
Oct
11

The Lesson Is: Never Try

Chalkboard - Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts

“This is as good as I can do, and I still failed!” – Bart Simpson

When it comes to Zombie Simpsons I’m firmly in the camp of “It Never Gets Better”, and last night’s exercise in repetition and tedium is a perfect example of why.  They managed to not spin themselves into blood soaked absurdity like last week, there weren’t any pointless celebrity cameos, and there was even kind of a story.  But while this is the best they can do, it’s still flat, dull and boring.

Just consider the school auction at the beginning.  In that scene alone we get a healthy dose of Jerkass Homer, there are characters present who have no business being there, Skinner acts dumber than anyone could ever possibly be, and several voices (notably Captain McAllister, Krabappel, and Skinner) don’t sound anything like themselves.  On top of all that, “school fundraiser” is a scene the show has done numerous times already.  So even if the scene didn’t have all those problems, it’s still something that was done better twenty years ago.

The rest of the episode suffers from the same problems.  Bart gets someone fired?  Been done, and much more plausibly.  School takeover?  Ditto.  Bart gets interested in American history?  Please.  And in each instance it made better sense, was less forced, and had more jokes the first time around.

In Season 5, Skinner lost his job because Bart brought a dog to the school.  In Season 23, Chalmers lost his job because he took five reprobates camping to find the lost glasses of a dead president and didn’t bother to get permission slips despite the fact that he’s the fucking superintendent.  And nevermind that Nelson, who had previously been super Teddy Roosevelt enthused (which has its own set of problems), sits there while it happens and literally doesn’t say a word.  Even when Zombie Simpsons keeps itself kind of grounded it has to conjure up nonsense and paper over glaring plot holes to move along.  That there are a couple more chuckle worthy lines than usual (“Have you ever seen a horse your father wasn’t betting on?” is pretty good) isn’t enough to rescue it, or even come close.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are worse than I could’ve hoped.  Last night’s remedial class was attended by a paltry 6.12 million viewers.  As expected, the lack of a football lead in crashed the rating and restored Family Guy to its usual place as the most watched animated show.  But it gets better.  That number is the lowest fall rating for a new episode ever.  (The fall numbers are always higher than the winter/spring numbers.)  So while Zombie Simpsons usually starts out well above its season average from the previous year, this year it’s average viewership is already below that of last year.  Granted, that’s an average of just two numbers, but right now they’re at 7.02 million per episode, which is well below last year’s average of 7.10 million, which was the lowest in the history of the show.  That likely won’t last, but it’s a very good start.

02
Oct
11

Sunday Preview: Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts

Simpsons Channel doesn’t have a preview image for tonight’s looming waste of time, but they’ve been going through a staff change of late so I thought I’d check the official website just in case.  This was a mistake.  On the one hand you have good web design, on the other hand you have a spinning donut graphic in Flash that stays on the screen for thirty seconds while it says “Loading XML”, “Loading intro”, “Loading assets”, “Loading content” and, the ultimate admission of dumb shit websites, “Almost done”.  After all that I didn’t find a preview image there either.

Anyway, here’s the official description:

Principal Skinner challenges Superintendent Chalmers to take over Bart’s education after one of Bart’s pranks leads to a school fundraiser debacle. Chalmers takes an unconventional approach to teaching American history which sparks a fascination in President Teddy Roosevelt. Encouraged by Bart’s educational renaissance, Chalmers takes Bart and his band of “Rough Riders” on an overnight excursion to Springfield Forest, but after a minor accident, the school administration fires Chalmers for taking the boys on an unauthorized field trip.

Meh. 




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