“Eww, you like the Monkees? You know they don’t write their own songs.” – Girl on Bus
“They do so!” – Marge Bouvier
“They don’t even play their own instruments.” – Girl on Bus
“No! No!” – Marge Bouvier
“That’s not even Michael Nesmith‘s real hat.” – Girl on Bus
“Ahhhhhhh!” – Marge Bouvier
“Kids can be so cruel.” – Dr. Zweig
“But it’s true, they didn’t write their own songs or play their own instruments.” – Marge Simpson
“The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge, they were about rebellion! About political and social upheaval!” – Dr. Zweig
When The Simpsons would have one of its characters go someplace new or do something they’d never done before, whenever it introduced a new element to the show, it usually made that thing a harsh (if sometimes sympathetic) satire. So, for example, New York City is filled with jerks and dickish parking officers, but it’s also got nice people who’ll yell back at the jerks in Tower One and glamorous (if inane) Broadway shows. The sushi restaurant is friendly and delicious, but there’s still drunken karaoke and a map to the hospital on the back of the menu. The dentist is a sadistic lunatic, but he’s also not wrong about calling you a liar when you tell him how often you brush.
Zombie Simpsons, of course, has a hard time sending the family anywhere novel or having them do something new because everything they come up with is a repeat of some kind. Beyond that, though, when they do put the family in an unusual situation, they tend to put things in the most positively exaggerated light possible. Cruise ships are idyllic paradises that are the most fun you’ll ever have. Going to E3 or some other big show is awesome because you’ll get to run around with VIP passes and see all this cool stuff. Trips to fancy restaurants are never too expensive or disappointing, and the staff will always treat you like gold. It’s a completely different mentality, one that’s insulated from unhappiness and incurious about pretty much everything. And, it goes almost without saying, seeing happy people have fun isn’t generally as funny as the opposite.
For a clean example of how weak this soft focus mentality is, look no farther than the therapist’s office in “Specs and the City” and the huge differences with Dr. Zweig’s office in “Fear of Flying”. Zweig is certainly a competent therapist, but she also straight up lies to Homer about not blaming him and interrupts Marge’s big realization because a measly $30 check bounced. The doctor in Zombie Simpsons barely gets any lines because he’s more prop than person. (He ends the episode cutting Homer’s hair in his office because comedy.) But beyond his almost nonexistent characterization are the ways that Marge going to therapy is handled.
On The Simpsons, therapy is a almost prohibitively expensive and really can lead to families breaking up. (Not that ditching Homer would entirely be a bad thing for Marge.) But it also bears enough of a resemblance to real therapy that it provides plenty of opportunities for jokes, parodies and satire. So we see Marge’s flashbacks to her traumatic first day of school and seeing her father as a stewardess, get her Lost in Space dream, and have Zweig cracking jokes about copyright, and sarcastically mocking the “rich tapestry” of Marge’s problem after Marge ignores her about the unpaid bill.
Zweig may charge on a sliding scale, but she still charges.
By contrast, Zombie Simpsons has Marge complain about Homer in some rather serious terms but lacks the skill or coherence to turn them around and make them funny at all. Instead they just give the therapist a bunch of bland therapy lines:
So, Marge, how’ve you been?
And has there been any improvement in Homer’s drinking?
Maybe if you just concentrate on one problem, like his temper.
The jokes, if that is what they are, consist solely of Homer acting outraged at Marge’s legitimate sounding complaints. This is startlingly emotionally tone deaf, even for them. The sympathy and audience here are with Marge complaining about Homer, which is portrayed quite seriously. But the show sticks with Homer’s shock because, hey, that’s where what passes for the punchlines are.
More to the point, the therapy is, well, just therapy. No attempt whatsoever is made to goose it into something funny and insightful. It’s left alone and is so dry and straightforward that the doctor’s dialogue wouldn’t be out of place in an instructional video. He never even comes close to something insane and hilarious like a buttoned down shrink yelling out her love for an all but forgotten mock 60s pop band.
This man does not love the Monkees. He’s so boring he may not listen to music at all.
Compounding the dullness is the fact that, in Zombie Simpsons at least, straight ahead therapy works, really really well! After her bland (and more than a little depressing) appointments, Marge is a cake baking sex machine! Chalk up another awesome point in the life of Homer Simpson.
Compare that to the just-good-enough and probably temporary (her next flight does crash on takeoff) relief Marge gets from her much funnier and more involved therapy. Even her final, successful session doesn’t end triumphantly, it ends with Dr. Zweig saying Marge is “nuts” for thinking her father was “an American hero” and Marge immediately getting her name wrong.
The Simpsons created a joke laden, topsy-turvy satire of therapy that worked only to the barest minimum of the definition of success. Along the way they had a smart but callous therapist, some understandable (if cartoonish) spousal paranoia, and a bunch of pop culture parodies, from campy sitcoms to Alfred Hitchcock. They also managed to treat Marge and her doctor like real people, with concerns and flaws. Zombie Simpsons had textbook dull therapy work perfectly in that it kept the kickass life Homer loves completely intact without him having to do anything.