Posts Tagged ‘The Food Wife

17
Nov
11

A Brief Note on Fake Brands

The Springfield Files6

“Another Duff, Homer?” – Moe
“Nah, it’s Friday night, Moe.  I want to try something special.” – Homer Simpson
“Ah, sure, sure, here you go: Düff, from Sweden.” – Moe
Skoal!” – Homer Simpson

After the spastic fit of fake brands that was the opening to “The Food Wife”, I and several others pointed out how weak the brand parodies are on Zombie Simpsons.  As was brought up in comments, not only were many of them repeats, but they mostly aren’t even creative.  Partly this is the same problem that plagues newer Treehouse of Horror episodes: weak source material.  The more fundamental reason though is that Zombie Simpsons parodies brands and products, whereas The Simpsons parodied ideas and trends.

Take, for example, some of the most famous fake brands on the show: Buzz, Duff and Laramie.  None of those are direct parodies of any single brand.  Buzz isn’t a joke aimed at Coke or Pepsi or anything else, it’s aimed at all of them in one piercingly descriptive word.  The same is true of Duff.  Duff isn’t Miller or Coors or Budweiser, it’s every one of them and then some.  (Duff is such a strong concept that they were even able to play off it with Fudd and Düff.)  Similarly, Laramie tobacco isn’t Philip Morris or any specific cigarette brand, it’s a stand in for all those wretched tobacco companies.

The Simpsons certainly did its share of direct parodies.  Dr. Hibbert is Bill Cosby, Drederick Tatum is Mike Tyson, Malibu Stacey is Barbie.  But even the direct ones went beyond their narrow niches.  Consider Rainier Wolfcastle, their stand in for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The McBain movies aren’t simply Schwarzenegger films, they use them to parody everything from Dirty Harry movies to Lethal Weapon movies to James Bond movies.

“Mapple” can never be that versatile.  Hell, it’s just Apple with an M stapled to the front.  You can’t use it to mock anything except Apple.  And it’s not like Apple is such a distinct company that it has to be treated uniquely.  If they had come up with a genuinely broad parody of Apple they could’ve used it on any trendy tech firm, from Google to Amazon to Facebook.  (Of course, that would require them to actually want to make fun of Facebook instead of having the founder on for his two minutes of yellow fellatio.)  Things like “Grand Theft Scratchy” and “Funtendo” aren’t just lazy parodies, they’re also self limiting.

16
Nov
11

Crazy Noises: The Food Wife

Bart's Comet5

“And you’ve never found anything?” – Bart Simpson
“Once, but by the time I got to a phone my discovery had already been reported by Principal Kohoutek.  I got back at him, though, him and that little boy of his . . . anyway, that’s why I always keep a cellular phone next to me.” – Principal Skinner

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 “bicuspid”).

I mention this briefly below, and I’ve brought it up a couple of times before, but another one of those recurring annoyances about Zombie Simpsons is the way they deal with modern technology.  Like it or not, it’s a lot easier to communicate from just about any location than it used to be.  This poses a lot of problems for screenwriters for the simple reason that it’s harder to have characters be either isolated or misinformed.  (If Romeo and Juliet had been able to text they’d have been fine.)  Zombie Simpsons, in its infinite apathy for things making sense even for just a few seconds, takes this to new lows by having the characters alternately be perfectly informed, and then suddenly forget that they’re carrying a cell phone.

This happens in a particularly galling way at the end of “The Food Wife” when Marge sends Homer to the wrong side of town.  That Homer wouldn’t think to check the address doesn’t bother me.  What bothers me is that Marge gives him the wrong directions and then neither of them has a cell phone right up until the plot needs them to have a cell phone, at which point she gets a panicked message and knows to go teleporting herself to the meth lab.  Either they’ve got cell phones and there was never a chance her plan was going to work (because he’d be able to reach her once he knew he wasn’t at the restaurant), or they don’t have cell phones and her plan to ditch him might work (because he won’t be able to reach her).  Only on Zombie Simpsons can it be both.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to get started?

Dave: Yep. I want that 21 minutes of my life back.

I freely admit that "foodies" are ripe for parody

Charlie Sweatpants: But this wasn’t really it, was it?

Dave: Exactly. In the clumsy hands of the animators and writers they just made unbearably not that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I could do with the Tim and Eric song. It wasn’t a standout piece by their standards, but it was good. The rest of it was pretty lame.

Dave: Yeah, I’ll give you that wasn’t terrible

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m also struggling to come up with a way this wasn’t an episode of Family Guy, but I can’t quite do it. Everything from Homer screaming and crying to zooming in to show Marge’s tastebuds felt very MacFarlane.

Dave: Oh sure

And in Family Guy fashion, they lacked the restraint to show that stupid tastebud thing only once

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh yeah, you knew that was making a comeback. As soon as I saw that, the first thing I thought was "Bicuspid, we meet again!".

Dave: Bingo.

Charlie Sweatpants: More generally, there were a few decent toss off jokes here, but this episode needed a B-plot badly. In comments someone mentioned that Matt Selman took to Twitter and said they had to cut a bunch of stuff for time, but if that’s true then they need to get a new editor. You could’ve saved a minute or more by reducing the number of times Marge whined about not being fun from a hundred to a mere fifty.

The story here is just desperately thin, and they bash us in the face with it over and over again.

Dave: I’m not sure they could’ve driven the point home only doing it fifty.

But that’s just me and my general lack of perception and need for hand holding.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah. I mean, the dream sequence? You couldn’t trim that hobo parade to a lean twenty?

She’s jealous of Homer. We. Get. It.

And while I’m making comparisons, is it just me or was this about 1/100th as rough on the celebrity chefs as South Park was a couple of years ago?

Celebrity chefs are ripe for parody, but Zombie Simpsons just brings them on to fellate them and piggyback off their popularity.

Dave: Oh South Park was not only more on point, they absolutely skewered celebrity chef/foodie culture

That was also the episode that gave us Shake Weight. Whatever was on last night didn’t come close.

Charlie Sweatpants: No it didn’t. But it did involve a gunfight, a flaming meth lab, and a Springfield that resembles the nicer parts of Los Angeles more and more all the time.

That’s what this basically was: The Simpsons are going to Santa Monica!

Dave: They were overdue for another schtick-y travel episode, weren’t they?

Charlie Sweatpants: It was about time, yeah.

Dave: I think what bothers me more than anything is the lack of subtlety.

At E4 or whatever the hell it was, they weren’t comfortable leaving the parody game titles in the background as they once may have been. Instead we have Bart rattling off virtually every sign, one by one, effectively as a show of contempt for the audience.

Charlie Sweatpants: The video game stuff was so weak I almost felt bad for them. Here’s Homer in a first person shooter being a jerk. Here’s Lisa telling us dumb marching band stuff. Here’s Angry Birds! It feels transparently like they’re trying to get people to say nice things about them on-line, like when you get a cat picture e-mail from your elderly relatives.

Dave: Yeah, humor in the lowest common denominator

Charlie Sweatpants: And once that ran out of steam, they were left with that one note story and a lot of celebrity voices.

Dave: In other words, everything we’ve come to expect from the show these days.

Charlie Sweatpants: Pretty much. Let’s see, there was a) Homer screaming

b) people appearing and disappearing

c) most of the jokes in random cutaways

d) scenes that make no sense, like having Sideshow Mel and Comic Book Guy just start eating with them.

Dave: e) celebrities aplenty

Charlie Sweatpants: Lots.

Dave: f) shallow pop culture references with no real attempt to parody

Charlie Sweatpants: g) lots of fake violence and fake danger

h) wanting to have it both ways in terms of technology

We don’t talk about that one as much, but this episode has it in spades.

Homer gets to the meth lab and thinks it’s a restaurant. Whatever. But then, when he’s in danger, suddenly he has a cell phone, which he didn’t use earlier.

Dave: i) to build off that, flat, lifeless "HD" visuals

Charlie Sweatpants: There were a couple of scenes, like Homer and Marge talking in the bathroom and at the amusement park, that stood out as lifelessly animated.

I think it’s the straightness of the lines. The backgrounds look like an example drawing in Photoshop or something.

Dave: They haven’t taken the cues from other animated shows that benefit from HD, namely warmth and character. See: Archer

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed.

Dave: You can be crisp without being crappy.

Charlie Sweatpants: Again, agreed. Anything else here? I don’t think there’s much left. Lots of internet friendly stabs at humor, but overall the whole thing is weak and shoddy. Oh, and the best part was done for them by someone else.

Dave: That’s a solid recap.

Charlie Sweatpants: Thanks. Too bad it was a mushy episode.

15
Nov
11

Compare & Contrast: Conventioneering

Homer Badman10

“Sorry kids, but this is the one event I want my darling wife by my side.” – Homer Simpson
“Oh, well thank you, Homer.  But take one of the kids.” – Marge Simpson
“Marge, they can’t carry enough candy!  They have puny little muscles, not big ropey ones like you.” – Homer Simpson

Like last week, there are quite a few aspects of “The Food Wife” which were done better on actual episodes of The Simpsons.  There was the family trying out ethnic food, which made more sense and had more to do with the rest of the episode in “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish”.  There was Homer’s now advanced woodworking skills, which were probably intended as a callback of some kind but which only reminded me how little Zombie Simpsons is like its predecessor.  There was especially the way Marge becomes afraid that she’s no fun, which was infinitely funnier and more believable in “Bart’s Inner Child”.  For sheer simplicity though, nothing really beats the way “The Food Wife” and “Homer Badman” both open: with the family going to a convention.

The differences in the things Zombie Simpsons cares about and the things The Simpsons cared about are massively apparent right in the opening scenes.  As “The Food Wife” begins, Lisa and Bart have earned a reward of some kind and are going to get a “Saturday Surprise Dad Day”.  As soon as Marge announces that, the kids cheer and Homer lets us know that this is something that happens quite often.  In just this one scene we can see how much the family has degenerated into characterless, one dimensional nobodies.

Family Bliss

Nothing says “The Simpsons” like a prosperous family that loves spending time together!

Homer, the man who used to routinely avoid doing anything with his kids, is excited to take them somewhere on his precious Saturday.  Bart and Lisa are thrilled at the prospect of some of Homer’s half assed over-parenting (and Bart has somehow been behaving well).  And Marge, despite the jealousy that the audience will repeatedly see her go through for the rest of the episode, is just peachy keen on all of this.  Not only do none of these things fit with who these people are supposed to be, but since Homer rattles off two things he’s done before it means that it’s been going on like this for a while.  This is particularly jarring when it comes to Marge, since “cemetery paintball” and “go karts on real roads” don’t sound like activities she’d want her ten-year-old son or eight-year-old daughter doing.  The entire scene is pure Zombie Simpsons, apathetic towards the characters and generally nonsensical (and we haven’t even gotten to the convention yet).

Compare that with the opening scene from “Homer Badman”, which also takes place at the kitchen table.  This one opens with Bart picking the non-marshmallow pieces out of his cereal, Lisa calling him on it (revealing her own hatred of the non-marshmallow pieces in the process), and then Homer talking about the candy convention to which he’s gotten tickets.  But he doesn’t give his mouth watering description of the convention because he’s planning to take his kids, though they immediately beg him to do just that.  Instead, he wants to take Marge.  She’s flattered by this but doesn’t really want to go, and it’s only then that it comes out that he actually wants to take her because Bart or Lisa won’t be able to carry as much candy as she can.

Everyone in this scene is perfectly in character.  Bart and Lisa are acting like kids who just want sugar, with Lisa being the less lazy and more conscientious of the two.  Marge is acting like the responsible adult.  And Homer is at his best: unthinkingly disappointing his entire family (the kids because they can’t go with him, Marge because she’s being used as a pack mule), but only doing so because of his well established love of candy.  And, of course, every part of the setup is a joke, from Bart picking at the cereal to Homer’s reasons for wanting to bring Marge.  You’d need a transcript to include all the gags (and even that wouldn’t do it justice).  The Simpsons cares about its story and its characters, Zombie Simpsons just plunges ahead into nonsense.

You can see that directly once the respective kitchen scenes are over.  Zombie Simpsons jumps immediately to the video game convention, where Homer has somehow acquired VIP tickets.  How did that happen?  Well, they don’t say, but my immediate guess would be that the writers are so used to being VIPs that they’ve forgotten that Homer isn’t one.  By contrast, The Simpsons shows us Homer getting his regular tickets by taking advantage of Apu.

More than that, “Homer Badman” also shows us a second scene at the house that sets up the rest of the episode.  First we see Marge reluctantly getting sewn into the many pocketed trenchcoat that Homer’s going to use to smuggle candy out of the convention.  Then our main guest character, graduate student Ashley Grant, arrives to babysit.  She doesn’t just pop into the episode for no reason, she shows up because Marge can’t find anyone else to sit for her kids.

Even better, she immediately joins the joke parade while we find out who she is.  She’s smart, capable, and, crucial to the sexual harassment plot, believes that women don’t have to be second class citizens.  Bart objects (“How can you leave us with this maniac?”) and prepares to destroy yet another babysitter, but Grant is unfazed and instantly disarms him with “Disemboweler IV”.

Homer Badman9

“The game where condemned criminals dig at each other with rusty hooks.”

On Zombie Simpsons they don’t have anything like those scenes and just cut instantly to Homer and the kids breezing into the video game convention with their VIP badges:

Blissful VIPs

Come right in, Mr. Selman. 

There’s a superficially similar scene when Homer and Marge arrive at the candy convention but, like Zombie Simpsons and The Simpsons more broadly, the similarities are only cosmetic:

Homer Badman8

Homer?  Excited.  Marge?  Nervous.  Story?  Progressing.

In the scene from “The Food Wife”, Homer and the kids walk past a nice orderly line that looks like a pretty decent recreation of the entrance at something like E3.  It is neither funny nor creative, and they’re doing so with VIP badges that Homer got from nowhere.  Whereas in “Homer Badman”, we saw Homer get the tickets and the candy convention is so desirable that it hilariously requires a dozen police officers to guard its entrance.  It makes more sense in terms of the story, it’s a joke, and it takes only a second; the arrival in Zombie Simpsons is nothing more than a reenactment of how nice it must be to have private security kiss your ass, but includes lots of exposition in case the audience didn’t understand.  

Part of the reason Zombie Simpsons skips right into the video game convention is because, unlike the candy convention, the video game expo has nothing to do with the rest of the episode.  More than that, however, is the way the vast majority of “The Food Wife”’s attempts at humor are pop culture riffs, and they want to get to those quickly.  Even then most of them are references not jokes; “Guts of War” isn’t a parody of “God of War”, it’s just a wink and a nod to let you know that they’re hip and cool enough to know who Kratos is.  The same is true of “YBox”, “Electronic Crafts”, “Medal of Duty”, and “Gamestation 3”.

Free Advertising

It sure was nice of them to essentially repeat Apple’s slogan for them.

By contrast, the candy convention is filled not just with candy jokes, but with the kind of absurdist exaggerations that The Simpsons reveled in creating.  Instead of a bunch of signs that are misspelled versions of “Hershey” or “M&M”, we get a sour ball so sour that it must be contained in a magnetic field.  It’s not only funny, but it’s a hell of a lot more creative than replacing the word “Rock” with the word “Marching”.  We also get “The front desk is looking for Mr. Goodbar”, the wax lips guy, and the security guard who insists that Marge put some sugar on her celery or get out.  And, of course, there’s the precious gummy Venus de Milo, which is giddily insane, and which will soon drive the main plot forward and give us Homer’s Pop Rocks/Coke bomb.

At the video game convention, Homer goes into a lame first person shooter mode and beats up a bunch of people to get to another non-joke reference, the “Funtendo Zii”.  After that, the “Funtendo” crap just ends; there isn’t so much as a callback after Homer and the kids go hopping over the fence.  The Gummi de Milo, of course, is what gets Homer in trouble with Ashley Grant, what gets him looking like a drooling pervert on Rock Bottom, and what eventually exonerates him.  It’s not just absurdly funny as an idea, it’s the lynchpin of the plot. 

Zombie Simpsons puts its characters in a place they have no business being and likely wouldn’t want to be anyway if they were still even remotely themselves.  Once there, they decorate it with a few cute signs and a couple of semi-clever takes on real video games before dropping the whole thing.  The Simpsons keeps everyone in character, takes a few familiar notions and uses them to create a whole world of ludicrous candy inventions, and uses all of it to keep the plot moving and entertaining.  The yellow hue is misleading, these two shows have nothing in common except it. 

14
Nov
11

Zombie Simpsons Lives In Brentwood, Thinks Everyone Else Does Too

Chalkboard - The Food Wife

“Look everybody, my purse exploded!” – Marge Simpson
“Come on everybody, we’re going to the fanciest restaurant in town!” – Homer Simpson

There once was a show called The Simpsons.  It was about an upper-lower-middle class family that lived in small town Anywhere, USA.  That family wasn’t quite poor, but they could only barely make ends meet.  Their city wasn’t a thriving metropolis, it was another beat up burgh whose past was brighter than its future.  Part of what made the show so searingly funny was the way it took unpleasant realities like staving off poverty and living in America’s worst city and made them jokes.  The bleakness of the Simpsons’ life was an integral part of not just the setting and the stories, but of the show’s entire outlook on life. 

None of that is true on Zombie Simpsons.  There’s a rainbow at the end of everything and the streets are paved with gold.  The Simpson family is now so prosperous that they have three laptops, go on expensive outings, and eat at nice restaurants every night of the week.  Springfield itself is filled with trendy eateries and the well fed yuppies who love them.  The whole thing is all but unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t spent time in or around the posh sections of Los Angeles.  Even the meth labs are nice.

That cozy, upper-upper-middle class sensibility is a big reason why Zombie Simpsons is so punchless, even when they set their sights on a fat target like celebrity chefs and food fads.  Instead of skewering something, they hold it up for the gentlest of ribbings.  Instead of making fun of pompous celebrities, they invite them on the show to be feted in yellow.  “The Food Wife” was less a satire of foodie culture than an advertisement for it. 

Of course the episode was also shot through with the usual list of Zombie Simpsons problems.  People acting wildly out of character (when did Bart and Lisa become the same person?), scenes that make no sense (why don’t you strangers join us for dinner?), teleporting characters (wasn’t Wiggum inside before Marge got there?), and a story so thinly conceived that they needed to have Marge exposit how she was feeling no fewer than half a dozen times. 

As if to underscore how weak Zombie Simpsons has become, the episode’s lone standout was a song written for them by Adult Swim darlings Tim and Eric.  And while they had a few video game ideas that rose to the level of cute, most of the episode was a mash note to the perks of living relatively high on the hog. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are rotten and stale.  Just 7.53 million viewers wondered why they weren’t watching the Food Channel last night.  That’s down about half a million people from last week and keeps Season 23 well on track to be the lowest rated ever.  It’s almost like celebrity chefs only appeal to a narrow slice of people.  Fancy that. 

13
Nov
11

Sunday Preview: The Food Wife

zombiethefoodwife

As always, credit to Dave for the hemoglobin.

For your viewing displeasure this evening, Zombie Simpsons is going to make another blind stab at relevance by having Marge and the kids blog about food.  Simpsons Channel didn’t have a preview image, but there was a YouTube video in which Homer gets hurt and has his pants fall down.  I laughed at this; not because it’s funny, but because it reminded me of The Critic.  When Jay Sherman goes to Los Angeles to become a screen writer, he got hired to write “Ghostchasers 3”.  While having a meeting with the studio, this happens:

Sherman (very sarcastically): Now, is there anything you feel could be improved from the first two films?
Suit #1 (earnestly): Ghostchaser underpants didn’t sell as well in Mexico as we’d hoped.
Suit #2 (eagerly): Maybe you could have the black guy’s pants fall down in Tijuana.
Sherman (desperately unhappy): I understand.

I know Zombie Simpsons is protected from that kind of network horseshit, but it’s amusing to think of someone telling them that Treehouse of Horror isn’t trending on Twitter as well as they’d hoped, and could they please make an episode about the internet and have Homer’s pants fall down? 




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