Posts Tagged ‘Love Is A Many Strangled Thing

07
Apr
11

Cutting Digital Corners

“Don’t worry, baby, the tube’ll know what to do.” – Homer Simpson

I’ve never worked as an animator, nor even been able to draw decently, so feel free to take the following with a grain of salt.  Having said that, I’ve sat through every single one of the HD episodes of Zombie Simpsons, and I think all their digital tools have made it increasingly easy for them to cut corners.  Take the image below from “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing”:

Generic School

There’s nothing terribly remarkable, it’s just an establishing shot of the school.  (You can see Bart’s stupid tractor ride starting in the lower left corner.)  Compare it to basically the same shot from “The Last Temptation of Homer”:

The Last Temptation of Homer3

The things I’m about to point out aren’t a big deal, and my ignorance of the working trade of animation may make the next few dozen sentences completely worthless, but to my eye the hand drawn one looks like it had a lot more care put into it.  Specifically, there are three items I noticed upon close inspection: the windows, the flag pole, and the sidewalks.

In the Season 22 image, the little bend marks in the windows are barely visible, but the ones you can make out all look the same: two parallel lines of slightly lighter blue to give the glass panes a little more substance than if they were monochrome.  In the one from Season 5, the lines in the windows are black (making them much more visible), and no two are the same.  The different windows give the drawing a less generic feel, making it easier for you to imagine that each window conceals an actual room.  After all, real window panes aren’t perfectly uniform; from the day they’re cut they get scuffed and scratched in different ways. The Zombie Simpsons windows are so perfectly alike that it subtracts the feeling of life from the image, whereas the windows in The Simpsons were all clearly done one by one, giving them a unique feel that makes the whole thing look more like a real building, even if the lines aren’t aligned down to the millimeter.

Now look at the flag poles.  On the digital one, the flag pole is utterly boring.  It’s just two precisely parallel lines that someone has used a fill command to make grey.  The hand drawn one has a lot more personality.  It doesn’t just disappear into a tuft of grass; it has a base so you can actually see what’s holding it steady.  Moreover, the pole itself appears to taper toward the top the way real flag poles do.  Someone took the time to draw and inspect it, instead of just plopping it down with a couple of clicks. 

It’s the sidewalks are where you can really see the difference though.  Because while both sidewalks contain mistakes, they are of a vastly different character.

Sidewalks

I’ve circled portions of each above.  First, consider the one from Zombie Simpsons and note the perpendicular lines in the grass.  These are clearly the outlines of sidewalk slabs and they don’t belong on a lawn.  You can see a line between the two sections as well as a line where the grey is supposed to meet the green.  Those lines wouldn’t be there if it had been originally drawn as grass, but this is self evidently an existing image that was modified.  And while the original had concrete where someone wanted chlorophyll, whoever made the change never bothered to remove the lines after clicking the paint bucket icon.  Nor is this some unnoticeable thing, the existence of the line where the sidewalk pieces meet indicates that “fill” had to be clicked twice.  They may have been careless, they may have been rushed, but whoever grabbed the existing template image couldn’t be bothered to take six seconds to correct an obvious (albeit minor) problem.

The same cannot be said for the image from The Simpsons.  The sidewalk leading to the school is filled in to the right of the stairs but not to the left.  Whether the sidewalk or the building was done first is irrelevant, someone drew both from scratch and then realized that they made a mistake lining them up.  Lacking a six second option, they covered for it as best they could.  Nobody’s expecting perfection, and not a single viewer decided to love or hate either of these episodes based on such trivial goofs.  But where Zombie Simpsons ignored an easily corrected mistake, The Simpsons took the time to carefully camouflage one that was as harmless as it was difficult to correct.

Again, all this may just be my lack of knowledge about animation processes talking.  But the impression a close viewer gets is that the convenience of digital tools makes it so easy for Zombie Simpsons to get things like windows and flag poles to “acceptable” that they don’t take the time (or aren’t budgeted for the time) to push them past that.  When The Simpsons drew by hand, they had to put enormous care into every little detail because not doing so would make the entire thing look slipshod.  And while we can’t fault the show for technological changes in the entire industry, we can say with great confidence that minute attention to detail is no longer one of their concerns.

31
Mar
11

Crazy Noises: Love Is a Many Strangled Thing

Behind the Laughter1

“And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our most beloved running gags.” – Homer Simpson

In our ongoing mission to bring you only the shallowest and laziest analysis of Zombie Simpsons, we’re keeping up our Crazy Noises series for Season 22.  Since a podcast is so 2004, and video would require a flag, a fern and some folding chairs from the garage, we’ve elected to use the technology that brought the word “emoticon” to the masses: the chatroom.  Star Trek image macros are strictly forbidden, unless you have a really good reason why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “engendered”).

There was plenty to complain about this week, but despite our relatively far ranging discussion there was something that really bothered me that we didn’t discuss. Homer choking Bart has always only really worked because the show was a cartoon. When the audience is made to contemplate what’s actually happening, all the fun gets sucked out of it because crushing the air out of child is sickening to contemplate.

That alone drained out whatever microscopic mirth existed in a number of scenes in “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing”, including the one where the therapist and the other dads act mortified at Homer. But right after making things serious, we get another case of Zombie Simpsons wanting to have its cake and eat it too. If strangulation is so terrible, why should we enjoy seeing it happen to Homer, first at the hands of all those big dudes and then from a noose? They want us to think it’s ghastly for one scene, but then take everything lightly for the rest of the episode.

[Note: No Dave again this week.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Anyway, shall we get started?

Mad Jon: Let’s get started.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll say off the bat that I didn’t hate the couch gag. It didn’t take long, and I will always have a nerd’s love of anything that even resembles ASCII humor.

Mad Jon: I agree, it was short and couch gag-y. Those don’t have to be out of the park, it is a simple bit.

Charlie Sweatpants: Now that that pleasantness is behind us forever, the rest of the episode was atrocious.

Mad Jon: Yes, almost immediately, starting with Burns running his balloon into a cathedral.

  Repeat, a cathedral.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, I know. There are a lot of ugly things on Zombie Simpsons, but there are few worse endemic problems than incompetent Mr. Burns.

  Turning Burns into this hapless waste instead of the pure evil he used to be still grates after all these years.

Mad Jon: A French speaking, incompetent Burns at that. Also an elk or a moose or something got to escape from Lenny’s car, maybe.

Charlie Sweatpants: And then Homer had to shoot down the balloon because Carl was crippled by drive by exposition.

Mad Jon: And so forth. It’s just another case of attempt to obfuscate the complete character changes of the last baker’s dozen worth of seasons with random acts of meaningless actions. Not that we haven’t said that 50 times already in these posts.

Charlie Sweatpants: We have, but the Burns ones rankle worse than the others.

Mad Jon: Oh, very much agreed. He may be my favorite T.V. characters of all time. Well, Burns, not Zombie Burns.

Charlie Sweatpants: I get that they’ve got a soft spot for Moe now and don’t want him to be the sleazebag he’s supposed to be. I don’t like it, but it’s kinda understandable. But how the hell does anyone think sensitive, incompetent Burns is funny?

Mad Jon: I don’t even think they mean to make him sensitive and incompetent for the sake of it. It really seems like Burns is just getting the parts that could be assigned to any character. Nothing he does is of any consequence to the idea of Mr. Burns. When was the last time he lorded his power over the serfs? I don’t think the time he has spent in the plant in the last ten years could be measured on a watch without a second hand.

Charlie Sweatpants: You may be right about that. Moving on, but staying on the theme of wildly out of character: Krabappel in the school, Wiggum in the school, Marge at the stadium.

Bart drives a fucking tractor into the school and Krabappel doesn’t do anything. Wiggum’s just there for some reason. And Marge egging Homer on during that eye meltingly bad jumbotron scene was beyond the pale.

Mad Jon: All very good examples.

Charlie Sweatpants: To have Marge set Homer up for a joke while Bart’s sitting there with piss in his pants, that’s beyond contempt for the audience.

Mad Jon: It was pretty bad. Also it seemed like Bart’s voice was cracking. But I digress.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve noticed the same thing about Bart’s voice.

  It’s becoming both deeper and slower.

Mad Jon: Well, that will happen if you spend a lot of time moderating teleconferences.

Charlie Sweatpants: Does Kavner do that?

Mad Jon: No. Bart apparently does it for Kearny and Jimbo though.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh. That thing.

Mad Jon: Although, who knows maybe Kavner does it in her spare time as well.

Charlie Sweatpants: I should’ve added that to my out of character list. Kearney was in Paris because some overpaid genius noticed that "peeing" and "European" end with the same vowel sound.

  Kearney! The guy whose kid sleeps in a drawer.

Mad Jon: That kind of thing barely even registers with me anymore.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Europe thing wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part is the lifeless shrug of the shoulders they give nowadays when even they admit something doesn’t make sense.

Mad Jon: Like Homer not working and instead writing lines on the chalk board out of fear not being able to choke his small child?

Charlie Sweatpants: But it’s such a role reversal. Bart’s making someone else write lines!

Mad Jon: Right. I doesn’t make no sense.

Charlie Sweatpants: That made even less sense than the way Homer and Marge kept discussing pressing issues in bed. Marge calls the therapy place in the middle of the night, and then Homer wakes up from his montage-tacular dream sequence and Marge brings up the events of the day.

I almost admire the commitment to apathy it takes for them to have Marge bring that up then instead of just making it a scene the next morning. That shows real dedication to not giving a shit (if such a thing be possible).

Mad Jon: Still pales in comparison to the complete middle finger that was Marge and Lisa’s horse movie mini-plot,

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, what was that? B-plot feels like too strong of a term. C-plot too. "Interlude" almost fits the bill.

  Plot sneeze, perhaps?

Mad Jon: It really fits the pattern of needless scene change minus transition.

A transition such as "Now here’s Roy" would be better than this.

Charlie Sweatpants: Roy had the advantage of being intentional.

Mad Jon: And I like plot fart better than sneeze.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m staying with sneeze. It’s much easier to hold in a fart than it is to hold in a sneeze. That felt almost involuntary.

Mad Jon: Dealer’s choice.

Charlie Sweatpants: I was going to ask if there was anything left, but we haven’t talked about the celebrity voices.

Mad Jon: Oh yes, Paul Rudd. I feel like he’s been in other episodes recently.

  What movie is he pitching?

Charlie Sweatpants: You’re thinking of those other guys who are in all the same movies and play all the same parts.

Mad Jon: Ohhhh, THOSE guys.

  Yeah probably.

Charlie Sweatpants: We haven’t had this much of a surfeit of slightly cute, slightly pudgy comedy dudes since at least the early 90s.

Mad Jon: I will admit that I did like Kareem’s under-the-breath comments about modern basketball players. Although it was unfortunate how we got there, and how long the choking scene lasted after that…

Charlie Sweatpants: I kinda like the line about Kareem being the only Laker he could trust, but whatever affection that engendered dissolved during the many dream stranglings or that ending scene. I forget which.

Mad Jon: That was also a good line. But good money after and before bad.

Charlie Sweatpants: Indeed. The desert thing (again with the desert) didn’t so much need to end sooner as it did never to start.

Mad Jon: Hmmm. Yes. Well there are a lot of cacti in the desert. Otherwise they would have to go to a cactus farm to poke Homer.

Charlie Sweatpants: But then what would they hang him from?

Mad Jon: I assume there would be a reason-less tree on the cactus farm.

I am sure it will be in a plot in the next few seasons. Let’s let the zombie writers figure it out for themselves.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s a tall order. Six months from now they won’t remember this episode any more than we do.

Mad Jon: Your prediction is most just.

Charlie Sweatpants: For real this time, anything else?

Mad Jon: Other than the fact that Paul Rudd gets to tell his friends he voiced a guy that grabbed Homer’s penis? No. Nothing else.

Charlie Sweatpants: I can’t think of anything witty, so let’s end on that.

30
Mar
11

Compare & Contrast: Big Screens and Ballgames

“Homer!  Homer!  X-Y-Z.” – Marge Simpson
“Examine my zipper, why?  Whoops.” – Homer Simpson

Zombie Simpsons is nothing if not a heartless and brainless imitation of The Simpsons.  Unfortunately for those charged with doing the imitating, the real thing left very few topics uncovered during its run.  Consequently, Zombie Simpsons is forced to dig up old ideas, slap a more modern theme on them, and pretend that they’ve done something new.  This happens in ways small and large. 

For a small one, look at the awkward way “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” dredged up Bart’s crank calls to Moe.  Times have changed and crank calling doesn’t really exist anymore, but that didn’t stop Zombie Simpsons from haphazardly trying to cram its bloated, rotting foot into the glass slipper.  Not only would Moe be able to instantly identify Bart as the sender (as anyone who’s ever used a cell phone knows), but why does he read it aloud?  When it was a phone call looking for someone at the bar, he called out the name like a person in his position ordinarily would.  Now that it’s a text message, there’s no reason for him to say it out loud, even if it had been a mildly plausible fake name. 

The scene was just Moe saying “I. M. A. Wiener” as though he was reading from a cue card.  “Mike Rotch”, “Jacques Strap”, “Seymour Butz”, the whole gag is that these are names that are actually jokes.  What’s “I. M. A. Wiener”?  Not a single part of this works.  It’s like that kid from grade school who told a joke and got a laugh, and then kept telling the same joke long after everyone else had moved on. 

For a larger example, we turn to family sports outings.  In both “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” and “Dancin’ Homer”, the family Simpson takes a trip to a ball game courtesy of Charles Montgomery Burns.  The differences start to pile up before the family even arrives at the stadium.  In “Dancin’ Homer”, we hear that the family is there because it was “Nuclear Plant Employees, Spouses, and No More Than Three Children Night”.  This setup takes just a couple of seconds, is perfectly consistent with Homer’s role in life as a faceless blue-collar slug, and even sneaks in a joke about how cheap Mr. Burns is, all in a single line of dialogue.  (And it’s immediately followed by Otto’s fantastic two birds with one stone line.) 

Zombie Simpsons is incapable of such a quick and well crafted opening.  Instead it serves up more than two minutes of Burns and Smithers in an old time hot air balloon, all the plant employees just hanging out in the parking lot (with rifles), a cathedral that materializes out of nowhere and then vanishes just as suddenly, and Burns personally rewarding Homer.  It’s everything The Simpsons never was: overwrought, drawn out, illogical, you name it. 

Things get worse when Zombie Simpsons finally gets to the stadium.  In a repeat of their meandering trip to the desert a few weeks ago, they proceed immediately to a series of disconnected set pieces that aren’t related to one another or to the episode as a whole.  There are four skits here, the “Museum of Tolerance”, the masseuse store, the mascot zoo, and the guys who don’t like sports.  Just like last time, they could’ve been placed in any order whatsoever without a single change to the dialogue. 

Bad Sketch ComedyThese scenes have been rearranged.  Don’t feel bad if you didn’t notice, neither did the script supervisor.

“Dancin’ Homer” suffers from none of that aimlessness.  Each scene, each line of dialogue, is precisely positioned to lead into and build up the next one.  First there’s Homer and Bart’s discussion of the nature of minor league baseball (“Aren’t we gonna see any washed up major leaguers?”), Lisa’s ode to the Americana of the “old ball yard”, and Homer reminding her that it includes beer in “seventy-two ounce tubs” and heckling the umpires. 

In a few joke addled lines we see everything we need to see to setup the remaining time at the ball park: Homer’s happiness at being able to get drunk at the game, Bart’s love of faded athletes, and Homer’s nervousness around Burns (the one thing that can spoil his fun).  All that while they’re making fun of everything in sight.  From Flash Baylor hitting on Marge to the overlong national anthem to advertising for “$pringfield $avings” (Safe From 1890-1986, 1988-) and “Royal Majesty” (Clothing For the Obese or Gangly Gentleman), there’s nary a moment wasted.  And all without shoehorning in any unrelated or ill fitting set pieces.  When Burns sits down next to the Simpsons, we can feel Homer’s disappointment because up to that point he’d been having such a good time. 

Right before that happens we get a scene that, more than any other here, really illustrates the yawning chasm between the satirical joy of The Simpsons, and the crude freak show of Zombie Simpsons.  Homer finds himself up on the jumbotron, unaware that his fly is open until after he’s waved to the crowd and identified himself.  Since he’s in the previously established good mood, he takes the gentle ribbing in stride and everyone keeps having fun.  It’s short, simple, and good natured, the kind of thing that might happen to a real person at a real stadium.

Dancin' Homer5

Lisa’s embarrassed.  Bart thinks it’s funny.  Homer laughs it off.  Everyone’s in character.

By contrast, when Bart gets put up on the video board in “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” the jumbotron lingers on him long past the point of anything being funny.  It’s not a grown man with his fly down, which he can quickly correct and is basically harmless.  It’s leering at little kid who wet his pants, which he’s stuck with.  Worse, the tickling alone takes thirty seconds; the scoreboard operator seems to know, almost by magic, that Bart and Homer are important and he should leave them up there forever.  It becomes ugly and uncomfortable long before Bart pisses himself, and then it manages to become even dumber. 

Jumbotron Stupidity

Lucky they had that graphic ready. 

Once again Zombie Simpsons shows its complete inability to tell a story or make a point without battering its audience in the face.  The entire scene takes more than a minute, and to make it abundantly clear that these are not characters with whom the audience can identify but rather one dimensional caricatures, Marge does nothing.  She doesn’t castigate her husband.  She doesn’t act to help her child in any way.  Unlike in “Dancin’ Homer” she just sits there like a comedy prop and sets up Homer for his next little bit about doing the wave.  None of them are the least bit human anymore, which makes the show’s clumsily heavy handed stabs at emotion, in this case Bart’s embarrassment, completely meaningless.  Hell, Family Guy handled a similar situation with far more realism and humor.

The stadium scenes are reflections of their respective programs.  On The Simpsons, a recognizable family goes to a recognizable event, and the show has fun at their expense and that of the world around them, all while telling a single story.  (One in which, I might add, Homer’s a lucky amateur and not an instant professional.)  On Zombie Simpsons, some hardened, bitter television characters act through some set pieces, all the while talking like narrators and comedy writers. 

28
Mar
11

Use It or Lose It

Chalkboard - Love Is A Many Strangled Thing

“There’s something I used to do in this situation, but . . . can’t . . . remember.” – Bart Simpson
“Ha-ho?” – Nelson Muntz

Atrophy is a merciless bitch.  Similar to entropy, it’s the rule that says every living thing, from people to protists, have to keep doing stuff to avoid becoming dead.  If you stop using your legs, because of laziness or injury, pretty soon they’ll wither to nothing.  Ask anybody who’s ever had to wear a cast about how quickly debilitation sets in. 

The same principle applies to creative endeavors like television shows.  If you stop doing something, pretty soon you lose that ability.  I think this is basically what happened to Zombie Simpsons over the last decade.  The show kept doing less and less and gradually came to the state it’s in now where it’s only really capable of two things: hurting Homer and celebrity guests (often as themselves).  Everything else has been ignored for so long that they’ve lost the capacity to do things like tell a story or introduce characters to a scene. 

Take the scene at the school in “Love Is A Many Strangled Thing”.  First, Bart rides a tractor into the school, which is itself stupid and nonsensical.  Just because Homer’s letting Bart do whatever he wants doesn’t mean that Skinner and Krabappel would be similarly constrained.  But things get worse immediately as first Homer and then Chief Wiggum appear at the school.  Why are they there?  How did they get there? 

This isn’t something most shows have trouble doing.  If a character is going to be in a scene, s/he is either introduced by walking in and saying hello or it’s someplace we expect them to be naturally.  But neither Homer nor Wiggum resides or works at the school, nor is any story reason given why they should be there.  Zombie Simpsons stopped caring about the integrity of its scenes, and now they’re unable to create scenes that make sense.  Stretched over an entire episode this leads to things like that mysteriously appearing and disappearing cathedral at the beginning, Lisa and Marge’s bizarre horse movie scene, and the hapless video chat with Jimbo and Kearney. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are as bad as usual.  A mere 6.14 million people forgot how to use their remote controls last night.  That’s the third lowest all season, but it isn’t quite low enough to drag Season 22 below Season 20’s average.  Oh well.

27
Mar
11

Sunday Preview: “Love Is A Many Strangled Thing”

zombiestrangled

Dave’s on the road today, but he took the time to improve the promotional image for tonight’s disgrace.  Courtesy of Simpsons Channel, the wretchedly auto-erotic company line:

When Homer inadvertently humiliates Bart in front of a stadium crowd, Marge encourages Homer to enroll in a fathering enrichment class taught by therapist Dr. Zander (guest voice Paul Rudd). Shocked to learn that Homer often strangles Bart for mischievous behavior, Dr. Zander conducts a series of treatments with the help of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (guest-voicing as himself) to teach Homer what it feels like to be young and small.

“But when Bart learns that the therapy sessions have transformed Homer into a pushover, he takes advantage of Homer and becomes a school bully. Hoping therapy could also cure Bart of his bullying habits, Marge enlists Dr. Zander’s help to patch their relationship.”

That is an awful lot of words to convey the same impression made by a single one: crappy.  I suggest we all agree to remember non-basketball Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his contribution to Airplane!:




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