“Good going, son! But remember, most lynch mobs aren’t this nice.” – Homer Simpson
Happy birthday Sam Simon!
Today’s post is another installment in our long-running “series” of DVD commentary posts; the lucky victim this time is Season 1’s classic “The Telltale Head.” Featured speakers on the commentary are the episode’s director Rich Moore and writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss. I’ll keep it short and simple (read: descriptive and lacking in any meaningful/substantive analysis), but here are the highlights from their conversation for me:
(Times are approximate)
“That one looks like a school bus going over a cliff in flames with kids inside screaming.” – Jimbo Jones
Like any other organization or group of people, a school has a natural hierarchy. The adults are separate from the kids, obviously, but even within groups there are levels and layers. For the adults there are staff and faculty, for the students there are grades, gender, circles of friends and lots of other ways the students sort themselves out. One of the things that made Springfield Elementary so compelling and recognizable as a place, even though it’s fictional and inhabited by people with bulging eyes and no chins, is that the show captured the social ecosystem of a grade school with such trenchant clarity.
Among the kids in Bart’s class we have Milhouse, a weak kid who latches onto Bart, Martin, a true nerd who kisses the teacher’s ass, Sherri and Terri, the goody two (four?) shoes twins, and Nelson, the kid who gets to be the bully by dint of being bigger than everyone else. “The Telltale Head” shows us some of the kids outside of Bart’s class, specifically the three older bullies: Dolph, Kearney and, above all, Jimbo.
Whereas Nelson is in the same grade as Bart and therefore serves as his daily tormentor, Jimbo and his cronies are older. They wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to harass Bart, but he’s much too small fry for them to care about on a day to day basis. In the school hierarchy, Jimbo and company are far above Bart.
When Bart and Jimbo first meet, we see this discrepancy in Bart’s awe of Jimbo (“you’re the worst kid in school”) and Jimbo’s total ignorance of Bart (“what’s your name, man?”). As the story progresses, we see Bart trying as hard as he can to hang out with the older kids his idolizes, so he goes along with things he isn’t comfortable with (stealing from the Kwik-E-Mart, stoning the statue) while struggling to seem cool.
For his part, Jimbo plays the elder bad boy perfectly. He’s okay with boosting candy and Playdudes and throwing rocks at inanimate objects, and he likes that Bart’s got a smart mouth and willingness to go along with stuff. But he’s willing to dropkick Bart out of his orbit in an instant once it becomes clear that, for all his enthusiasm, Bart is still too much of a little kid to hang out with them.
Later episodes would use both sides of the relationship. So Jimbo and Bart will work together when their interests are aligned (like the escape from Utility Basement B in “Whacking Day”), but Jimbo will easily turn on Bart when that suits him (“As soon as the check clears, I’ll let you go”). When he wasn’t around Bart, Jimbo (and Dolph and Kearney) were the show’s way to make fun of sullen teenagers. They’ll chase Bart down for doing ballet, but they’ll also rush off to the library to read about the Founding Fathers because of Ralph’s moving portrayal of George Washington.
Like so many of the other recurring minor characters, Jimbo and company made Springfield feel more like a real place. They didn’t have to be good or bad, and none of them ever really got their own episode, they just had to be there, acting like the mostly harmless juvenile delinquents that they are.
“Well, that’s my story. And if you still want to tear apart this young Sunday school student as he stands on the brink of salvation, I await your wrath.” – Bart Simpson
“Aww.” – Crowd
“Somehow I don’t feel like killing anymore.” – Krusty the Klown
“Neither do I.” – Mrs. Krabappel
“Alright, Kogen’s got Wolodarsky open in the end zone . . . he throws it . . . it’s complete, touchdown!” – Radio Announcer
Yesterday, Jay Kogen, one of the original writers who departed in Season 4, went on Reddit for one of their “Ask Me Anything” posts. He talked a lot about the old days of the show, working with Bryan Cranston on Malcolm in the Middle, and just television writing generally. I’ve pulled some of the highlights below, though there is much, much more at the link.
Turns out they had to fight for one everyone’s favorite sequences:
[–]nschug 717 points 21 hours ago
What is your all time favorite Simpsons joke? Also thank you for doing this.
[–]JayKogen[S] 2022 points 21 hours ago
We had to fight hard for Homer falling down the canyon in Bart the Daredevil and it worked well. My favorite was getting put in the ambulance then it crashing and him falling down again.
More on “Bart the Daredevil”:
[–]tedistkrieg 36 points 1 day ago
I wrote a research paper in college about the types of humor used in the simpsons and I used the most memorable scene in Bart the Daredevil with Homer falling down the gorge. I thought it was a perfect example of the humor used.
What made you decide to have him fall down the second time?
[–]JayKogen[S] 68 points 1 day ago
as I just wrote, i just thought going through that long bit again was pure joy.
[–]hollaback_girl 459 points 21 hours ago
What’s your favorite moment from in the Simpsons writing room? What’s your most memorable?
[–]JayKogen[S] 1155 points 21 hours ago
My partner Wally threw a cup of mashed potatoes onto the ceiling tiles and they stuck as a clump there. The potatoes remained there for many many years.
[–]JayKogen[S] 1855 points 21 hours ago
I also remember pitching a joke for one of the treehouse of horror episodes where Burns is taking Homer’s brains out of his head and puts it on his own with the brain stem hanging down and says "Look at me! I’m Davey Crockett!" and then laughing at my own joke(which I never do and is not considered good form) for five minutes, falling on the floor and possibly farting. Embarrassing but true.
On black Smithers in some (but not all) Season 1 episodes:
[–]ErikF 801 points 21 hours ago
When you created Smithers, was it your intent from the start to make him gay or was that something that evolved?
[–]JayKogen[S] 1485 points 21 hours ago
Originally he was gay and black. And we actually drew him purple in his first show. But we thought it was too much so we just kept him gay.
The oft asked “what is a writers room really like?” question:
[–]OccupyTamriel 305 points 1 day ago
How’s the atmosphere in the writers team?
[–]JayKogen[S] 680 points 1 day ago
The writers room is work. Sometimes fun, sometimes boring. We tend to work as a team. It’s not competitive. If you hear a great joke from someone else you laugh. The more good jokes that you get, the faster you get to go home to your family.
Love for Krusty but not Sherri and Terri:
[–]Cfeds77 209 points 1 day ago
Favorite and least favorite character and was there any episode you regretted?
[–]JayKogen[S] 406 points 1 day ago
In every episode there are moments and jokes that simply don’t come out right and when I watch them now I still cringe. But when I watch the ones I had nothing to do with I can’t see the mistakes. Just the joy.
[–]JayKogen[S] 601 points 1 day ago
I love Krusty and I wrote alot for him. I feel like I helped give him that good old comic feel. Least favorite? Sherry And Terry. We created them and nothing much came of it.
Here’s that Hollywood Christmas parade that was mentioned in Ortved’s book:
[–]brodesto 165 points 1 day ago
What is your most memorable moment while working in The Simpsons?
[–]JayKogen[S] 324 points 1 day ago
Wow, this is odd but I really remember being in a Hollywood Christmas parade as a Simpson writer and thinking that we very strange but amazing.
Not much love for Agnes:
[–]goingglobal 63 points 1 day ago
If you could change any of the characters on the show, who would you change and why?
[–]JayKogen[S] 173 points 1 day ago
Skinner mom bugs me. Not sure why.
On “Treehouse of Horror”:
[–]tedistkrieg 125 points 1 day ago
Did you get to choose to parody To Serve Man for the first Treehouse of Horror? Where did you get the idea for Kang and Kodos?
[–]JayKogen[S] 394 points 1 day ago
We did get to choose the parody. We pitched it. We wanted to spoof the Twighlight Zone. Kang and Kodos were named by Jon Viti who’s a star trek fan. They are all Trek names. I actually drew the aliens. My only drawing on the show. The artists couldn’t figure out what our description of a one eyed octopus with fangs and a space helmet looked like. so I drew it. Loved that. have it hanging in my house.
Apparently Wallace Wolodarsky kinda looks like Otto:
[–]cupofpens2 101 points 1 day ago
Which of your artistic creations most closely resembles you physically? What about psychologically and behaviorally?
[–]JayKogen[S] 241 points 1 day ago
Otto looks like Wally. None of them look like me. I’m alot like Homer on my worst days.
And here’s the pointless and obligatory “what do you think of Zombie Simpsons?” question:
[–]tallandlanky 104 points 1 day ago
How do you feel about the quality of the writing on the show today? I feel as if the current writers are trying to rely on zany antics and celebrity guests as opposed to writing deep, emotionally touching episodes.
[–]JayKogen[S] 105 points 1 day ago
I must say I find the show still great. Every episode still has heart but after 23? years they are still kicking ass. Al Jean and Matt Selman and the rest are great.
Questions like this are utterly and completely meaningless. Maybe Kogen really thinks that, maybe he doesn’t, but he sure as shit isn’t going to say, “They suck” or some variation thereof. He works as a television writer, he knows these guys, it’s just not fair to put him on the spot like that and expect an honest answer.
There’s more at the thread, and like many Reddit “Ask Me Anythings” it gets choppier and less organized as you scroll down (and you have to expand more of the comments to get everything), but it’s a fun read. When not answering questions from Simpsons geeks on-line, Kogen is currently working on a new show called Wendell and Vinnie that’s coming to Nick @ Nite in November.
“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”.
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.
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.
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 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:
Maybe Bart finally learned the Touch of Death?
4. Fearfully coming to get Bart so Bart can deal with the police:
It used to take a knife wielding maniac to make him scared.
5. Obediently standing by while Chalmers talks to Bart:
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.
“Ready for inspection, Mom.” – Lisa Simpson
“Very nice, Maggie. And Lisa, you look lovely. Bart, assume the position.” – Marge Simpson
This week we’ve got two Flickr users putting Bart to creative use, one thanks to a big street mural, the other with a statue. There’s also some excellent usage, an apathetic Zombie Simpsons fan, lots of short YouTube clips, and new blog that holds the promise of cool Simpsons stuff. Oh, and Lenny Tunes was killin’ it this week.
Love is in the Air in Springfield and ‘The Simpsons’ Fans Get to Play Cupid – FOX is going to milk the desperation soaked ploy of having Flanders and Krabappel get together all summer:
Following the all-new “The Ned-liest Catch” season finale episode of THE Simpsons, airing Sunday, May 22 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX, fans can decide the future of “Nedna” at http://www.thesimpsons.com by voting “Pro Nedna” or “No Nedna.” All summer long, “I’m Pro Nedna” and “I’m No Nedna” wallpaper, videos, Twitter badges and Facebook icons will be available for fans to download and post. After the fan voting ends in August, results will be revealed during the Season 23 premiere airing this fall on FOX.
Oh, cross platform promotion, you are so vile. But wait, there’s more:
In “The Ned-liest Catch,” feeling guilty for getting Ms. Krabappel suspended after one of his school pranks, BART (Nancy Cartwright) helps her escape detention, and Ned Flanders winds up saving her life in the process. When Edna and Ned start dating, he is surprised to learn she’s been with many of Springfield’s men, including HOMER (Dan Castellaneta) and Aerosmith drummer JOEY KRAMER (guest-voicing as himself).
I guess he got his drumsticks back.
Zombie Simpsons – Cool fan made picture of the family as actual zombies.
is this thing on? – This is the inaugural, and so far only, post at a new blog:
i haven’t quite decided how often i will update this blog. hoping for once a week. any suggestions on what i should talk about? maybe i’ll devote a post on how much embroidery i do of the simpsons. yeah, i think i’ll do that…
Please do. This blog has a longstanding policy to link to all fan made Simpsons stuff, and Simpsons embroidery, Etsy links included, falls squarely into that category. Good luck with the blog!
TV 2011; the season of cancellations! – This is a rundown of shows currently on television. Here’s the part about Zombie Simpsons:
The Simpsons (FOX)
Always forget this is on, but Tivo keeps recording it. I don’t know why I don’t watch every episode as every time I watch one I think it’s just as fresh as I remember.
Even people who like Zombie Simpsons barely give a shit about it. If that’s not a hallmark of forgettable television I don’t know what is.
Simpsons Rewatch: Homer’s Phobia. – Our first Lenny Tunes link is about the episode that predated The Ellen Moment:
Homer’s line about being mad at John not because he’s gay, but because he’s a sneak, is the first of a couple lines that I think now serve as excellent commentary on gay representation in television. I’m inclined to say that they weren’t intended that way because in 1997 there was probably not that much representation to comment on (Will & Grace started in 1998), but one of the amazing things about early seasons of The Simpsons was that they had their finger on the pulse of pop-culture so much that they were able to seemingly satirize things that hadn’t happened yet.
Co-sign. Not only was the show ahead of its time, it called stuff. How many times has life imitated The Simpsons?
The Ten Best Gibberish Words in TV Scrabble – An excellent list, with everyone’s favorite North American primate sitting pretty at #1.
Quote of the Day: President Interbush Week – I lived through the 1990s, I heard a lot of Clinton jokes. This one remains not only one of the best, but also one of the dirtiest, and that’s saying something. Perfectly quoted.
Quote of the Day: President Interbush Week – More Lenny Tunes, though this one is just a smidge off. Stephanopoulos says “a bit” before “confused”. Other than that, including the always tricky spelling of “Stephanopoulos”, it’s dead on.
Simpsons Video of the Week: Sears Catalogue. – Oh, the Sears bra section! That joke was definitely written by someone who was a teenager in the dark time before the internet. I don’t think I’ve ever not laughed at this.
im learnding – Short YouTube of Ralph’s “Supernintendo Chalmers” bit.
Up and Atom – More quick YouTube.
Philip Roth is one of the great artists of the novel, warts and all – I didn’t know this:
In a spectacularly funny moment in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint, a teenager has locked himself in the bathroom of the family home in 1940s Newark, New Jersey, to indulge in his favourite solitary pleasure. His worried, overbearing parents start knocking at the door and demanding that he open up so they can see what is so wrong that he is always on the toilet. This literary moment is such a classic of modern comedy that it was lovingly pastiched by The Simpsons, in an episode about the childhood of Krusty the Clown. In the cartoon version, a young Krusty has locked himself in the bathroom to practice spraying soda water when his rabbi father, who disapproves of clowns, knocks demandingly at the door.
Of course, I’ve never read “Portnoy’s Complaint”, so it makes sense.
Lottery luck? – The lottery has always been one of the NBA’s quirkier traditions, but this is excellent usage:
The Suns’ situation and tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery brings to mind some parenting from Homer Simpson to son, Bart.
"Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it," Homer said. "Now quiet. They’re about to announce the lottery numbers."
‘Napoleon Dynamite’ Comes to TV Just in Time for the World to End [Video] – Mike Scully, everyone’s favorite Simpsons alum, will be producing an animated series based on the movie.
Sideshow Bob hair sketches – Some fan made sketches of Bob and his famous ’do.
Animal Kingdom sets decent benchmark – Nice analogy:
The Preakness is very much the Lisa Simpson of the triple crown races. It’s not considered as important as the outspoken, headline-hogging Bart of the Kentucky Derby, yet not ignored altogether by the writers like Maggie’s Belmont. It is the understated, high-achiever of the three 130-odd-year-old siblings.
Bart Simpson – This is a Flickr photo of Bart superimposed over a picture of a statue in . . . you know what? Just click it. I giggled.
Graffiti – Bart Simpson – Adorable little children posing with a giant graffiti image of Bart.
Outlook’s Third Annual Spring Cleaning List: "The Simpsons" – And finally, not only do I get to end the way I like, I get to link to Kaplan Test Prep Daily to do it. Noted Simpsons aficionado and internet nemesis Matt Zoller Seitz:
That Fox’s "The Simpsons" has seen better days is a more than remotely true proposition — the long-lived cartoon’s past 10 seasons provide more than enough damning evidence that the series should pack it in.
“Oh, cool man, Space Mutants 4, drop me off, drop me off!” – Bart Simpson
“No way Jose.” – Marge Simpson
“Marge, they’re only space mutants.” – Homer Simpson
“I know what those movies are like, killing innocent people, eating human flesh. You just get a lot of bad ideas.” – Marge Simpson
Two links this week to the original Simpsons video game, “Bart vs. The Space Mutants”. It came out during Season 2, which is why the “Space Mutants” of the title are the ones from “The Telltale Head”, not Kang and Kodos. If you’re under the age of twenty-five or so you may never have played this, behold what we thought was cool in 1991:
I can assure you that the video makes that first level look a hell of a lot easier than it really was. We’ve also got a couple of fan made pieces, sweet political satire from Kosovo, old Simpsons trading cards, and an autograph hound.
Bart vs The Space Mutants – A review of the first Simpsons video game includes this neat little piece of trivia:
One of the developers recently revealed in an issue of Retro Gamer that when they sent the finished version off to Matt Groening to approve, it came back with a note saying that everything was fine apart from “Bart’s blink being off center”. The developers weren’t sure what this meant so shipped it regardless. It wasn’t until later that they realized what Matt meant – during the animated intro Bart’s eyelids met in the middle when he blinks, instead of going all the way down.
Totally Rad Gravity – Speaking of Bart vs. the Space Mutants, check out this cover image of Nintendo Power from 1991.
Hutz Law – It needs a tagline, but the look on his face as he stares out the window in this fan made image is awesome.
Sweet Sweet Simpsons – Sadly the entire thing isn’t edible, but still.
Kosovo’s ‘The Pimpsons’ | PRI’s The World – An artist in Kosovo has created a Simpsons parody to make fun of the U.S. Ambassador and other political figures. The ambassador is Comic Book Guy, heh. There’s also a silent YouTube video here that has a good example at the end. (A bit more here.)
Girl on Girl on TV: Week of May 1. – From our friend lennyburnham comes some excellent and enjoyable snark on “The Real Housewives of Fat Tony”:
Fat Tony caught Homer talking about how hot Selma was and how ugly Patty was (which, by the way, missed the point of his relationship with those two. Sure, he talks about how ugly they are, but that was never the point. The point is that he hates them because they’re horrible to him. The idea that he would immediately like Selma if she got a nicer body and continue hating Patty is vile), so he made Homer draw a portrait of Patty and Patty sat there and let her brother-in-law try to draw pictures of her. I am too confused to be mad.
I know the feeling. Think of Jebediah and the anger will come. Bonus:
Although, in general, The Simpsons certainly agrees with most sit-coms that gay dudes are super-funny and gay chicks are not. Maybe the underrepresentation of lesbians on the show is just because most of the lesbian population of Springfield died tragically in that lesbian bar with no fire exits.
Simpsons Video of the Week: Feelin’ Fine. – More lennyburnham, this time with YouTube of Homer without beer and TV, and this utopian dream:
I want to live in a world where all advertisements are just old Simpsons clips with the company logo thrown in unobtrusively.
If you ever find it, try to break out of your bliss for a moment and contact the rest of us here on Earth, because I would also like to live there.
Collecting Autographs – Cast of The Simpson’s – The Big Six voice cast members as seen and encountered by an autograph collector.
A Look into One of My Non-Sports Trading Card Albums – Scroll to the bottom for a very high resolution image of some first series Simpsons cards. Cashing in at its finest.
Classic Simpsons: Kamp Krusty – A short review along with a list of some of the great quotes and moments.
Bart Simpson, Hieroglyphics Join Hip-Hop Chess Federation – Cartwright will be in San Jose, California tomorrow for the Spring Classic or the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, which:
is an organization dedicated to teaching life strategy skills via chess, martial arts and hip-hop.
Okay, but don’t teach them the touch of death.
Homer Simpson: Total Badass Picture – Sweet fan made drawing of Homer, as the title says, being a total badass.
TomTom gets driving directions from Homer Simpson – Now here’s some ad copy I can get behind, even if it is in at a website called Practical Motorhome:
The 20-year old TV series may be a shadow of its former self, but now you can relive the hilarious heyday of The Simpsons by installing Homer Simpson’s voice on the TomTom sat-nav iPhone app.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Divorce…In 10 Words – Maria, my mighty heart is breaking.
Committed: Why Free Comic Book Day? – Excellent usage:
My dad’s favorite parenting quote comes from the Simpsons. He’s always saying “Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.” which he finds hysterical and (more worryingly) true. Today I realized that I feel the opposite way about Free Comic Book Day. I care about it, I like it, I appreciate it… but I don’t really understand it.
Play that funky music (PaD#87) – A list of five bands that never existed that you’d want to see, including The Be Sharps. (Also, Geek Ergo Sum is a great blog name.)
M Is for the Murders That She Ordered: TV’s Best and Worst Moms – Marge makes the good list, and Mom from Futurama makes the bad.
“Trying is the first step towards failure.” -Homer Simpson – Freakoutville puts up one of the all time classics.
“I’ll keep it short and sweet — Family. Religion. Friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.” -Mr. Burns (The Simpsons) – And another, because I missed it last week.
Say It Loud – Homer’s three simple words for getting out of a relationship.
Ted Nugent is Running for President… on The Simspons – (Misspelling in the original. Radio station websites are the worst.) Here’s something to not look forward to in Season 23:
The episode, titled “Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson,” will have Ted Nugent seeking Homer‘s endorsement as a Republican candidate for President of the United States. At the same time, Homer has become a populist TV pundit with his own show, “Gut Check with Homer Simpson.”
Nice to see Zombie Simpsons getting on the Glenn Beck bandwagon right about the time the real Beck will be getting thrown off television. Bravo.
Do not take the last doughnut – Donuts on various television shows, including two Simpsons YouTube videos, Homer in hell and when Snake crashed into Wiggum.
Snot – I never noticed this, but it is funny:
On a completely related note, I think I’m going to let Simpsons creator Matt Groening handle my investment portfolio from now on. Why? Well, the Simpsons aired an episode (The Last Temptation of Krust) in early 1998 which most people will most likely remember as the Canyonero episode. What does that have to do with my portfolio? Well, they managed to predict in a 22-minute episode the fate of a similar vehicle (both of which were of inferior craftsmanship – at least they keep our kids safe) that the folks of GM were somehow unable to recognize in several years. In fact, in the same year that episode aired, GM purchased the rights to market the Hummer to the general public.
It was a couple of years later that Ford came out with the Excursion, as Canyonero a vehicle as ever there was. It was actually too big to fit into a standard size garage.
May The Marketing Force Be With You: The Extraordinary Advertisement Possibilities On YouTube – I’ve never heard this:
The first time I came into contact with the term ‘procrastination’ was when I was in 8th grade. My English teacher was a fervid The Simpsons addict and she explained to us the meaning of the word ‘procrastination’ and told us that The Simpson’s moody Jewish Clown Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski’s stage name ‘Krusty the Clown’ was an allusion to the term procrastination.
I guess it’s possible, but I don’t see it.
The Simpsons: Hope as we may decline was inevitable. – And finally, I get to end the way I like to, with someone who agrees with us:
And let’s get real about this, how many times can you re-write this family’s history?!? I know flashback shows are easy to write, even for animation, but it kind of comes off like we know the Simpsons history better than the writing room…when exactly will the room wise up and realize that the Simpsons did it?
They know, they just don’t care.
“Lisa, Bart, what did you two learn in Sunday school today?” – Marge Simpson
“The answers to deep, theological questions.” – Lisa Simpson
“Yeah, among other things, apes can’t get into heaven.” – Bart Simpson
“What? Those cute little monkeys? That’s terrible, who told you that?” – Homer Simpson
“Our teacher.” – Bart Simpson
“I can understand how they wouldn’t let in those wild, jungle apes, but what about those really smart ones who live among us, who roller skate and smoke cigars?” – Homer Simpson
“Okay now look, my boss is gonna be at this picnic so I want you to show your father some love and or respect.” – Homer Simpson
“Tough choice.” – Lisa Simpson
“I’m picking respect.” – Bart Simpson
Over at her new blog, commenter Kokairu has gone back to the beginning, all the way. She’s watching everything Simpsons, starting with the shorts and going from there. Part 1 is about the Tracey Ullman shorts; Part 2 deals with the question of which was really the “first” episode. While I’ve never gone back and watched all the shorts, I think this is a fantastic idea. (And, since it’s not trying to be an episode by episode guide, it, unlike the A.V. Club’s version, will finish sometime before the next Ice Age.) The syndication runs are such a jumble that it’s uncommon for someone to watch the show develop, perfect itself, and then fall into utter ruin, in that order. But that’s how it really happened, and that’s also the easiest way to see it happen.
In line with that, I’d like to add a little context to the first season of The Simpsons. Season 1 is usually thought of, not entirely incorrectly, as a kind of proto-Simpsons. Usually this means a discussion of how the animation and the voices were not yet fully formed. That’s true as far as it goes, but something else has been lost from Season 1, and that’s the media environment it was mocking and directly challenging. This is especially easy to miss if you weren’t watching American television in the 1980s.
In Part 2 of her series, Kokairu (who’s British) inadvertently shows just how much this kind of context has faded. In discussing how “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” became the first episode, she wrote this:
Christmas specials, however, are usually a means to give a warm and festive twist on a familiar TV show (though this would be the case if you count the shorts).
That’s true but, on American television at the time, holiday specials were also the only animation that was ever meant for adults as well as children. The Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was an annual event. Similarly, every single year CBS would broadcast the holy trinity of Peanuts specials at Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was another yearly deviation from the live-action norm. In 1989 FOX didn’t really know what it had on its hands with this cartoon, and introducing it as a holiday special made a lot of sense in the context of television at the time.
(Yes, I know “Some Enchanted Evening” was supposed to be the first episode and had to be redone. The point stands. It was not a coincidence that they started with a holiday special, it was about the only way adults ever watched animation in America.)
In Part 3, Kokairu talks about Season 1, and I agree with quite a lot of it, especially this:
I feel that I approached this series from the right angle this time. By comparison to the shorts, the animation in series 1 is positively gorgeous.
The animation in Season 1 wasn’t going to make anyone in 1989 forget about Akira. But compared to the static background, low-motion drawings that made up all the cheap animation on Saturday morning cartoons it was amazing. It looked light years better than what American audiences at the time were used to thinking of as animation.
Where Kokairu loses the trail is in her descriptions of “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” and “The Telltale Head” and, like the holiday special thing, I think it’s a case of her just not being very familiar with late-80s American teevee:
That’s not to mention that the family acts very much out of character at times (at least, by comparison to the more ‘established’ Simpsons). In “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” Homer is extremely concerned about his family’s reputation, to the extent that he willingly pawns the TV in order to acquire money for therapy. The rest of the family try to stop him… Including Marge, who suggests that they pawn her engagement ring as an alternative.
Again, this is true. The characters aren’t quite what we’ve come to know. But in the context of the time this episode was a direct and open challenge to orthodox teevee. “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” portrayed the family as dysfunctional, poor, and obsessed with television. Those were three things that American television families pretty much never were. Married with Children had come out two years before, Roseanne just one, other than that, teevee families were all well off and happy. “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” was a statement from The Simpsons that they were joining the movement of comedies that weren’t going to masquerade as fairy tales.
Their love of the television, even over Marge’s engagement ring (which wasn’t worth as much anyway), was another satirical strike at one of those open hypocrisies. This was a time when teevee was being heavily criticized for its poisonous influence on America’s youth, and yet television families almost never watched it, or even mentioned it. Partly that’s because watching people watch television would be boring, but what it was really about was the disconnect between America as people lived it, and America as teevee portrayed it. A big theme of Season 1 is rejecting the idealized America that was the norm for conventional television.
You can see that as well in “The Telltale Head”. Here’s Kokairu:
I would say “The Telltale Head” was one of the standouts. The family didn’t just go to Church at the beginning of the episode to kill time, as would be the case in later episodes (for the plot to then unwind in the most chaotic and moronic way) – it sewed the seeds of the moral dilemma Bart faces in the story, demonstrated how readily Bart mimics Homer’s bad examples, and simply contains many classic moments.
Once more, this is all true, but the real genius of “The Telltale Head” is that Homer was setting a bad example in the first place. Teevee Dads (and even shows that didn’t have a biological father had a Teevee Dad) almost never set bad examples. The standard formula was that the Teevee Dad gave advice to another character, that character ignored the advice, and at the end the Teevee Dad made everything better. That formula got tweaked and played with in a lot of ways, but it was remarkably durable. Which is why this exchange always stands out:
Bart: Dad, can I talk to you about something?
Homer: Sure, boy, what’s on your mind?
Bart: Well, I was wondering, how important is it to be popular?
Homer: I’m glad you asked, son. Being popular is the most important thing in the world!
This is a classic setup: the son asking the father for advice and hopping up on the old man’s knee to receive the Official Wisdom. Every teacher, counselor, adult, and Teevee Dad in pop culture history knows the answer to the popularity question is to say that popularity isn’t everything and that you should be yourself. But every kid, popular and not, knows that’s bullshit. The brutal social environments of the cafeteria, playground and other haunts of middle class childhood make that clear each and every day. Here, at long last, was a show refusing to toe the official line, a show willing to admit the horrible truth instead of deny it, and, most importantly, a show that responded with humor instead of schmaltz.
That scene ends with Homer telling Bart that it’s okay to do something he thinks is wrong as long as it isn’t murder. It’s still funny today, Homer doesn’t quite trust Bart not to kill anyone, but the shock value no longer resonates. The After School Special mentality they were attacking hasn’t disappeared, but it’s no longer the only thing allowed on television.
I realize that there are literally tens of millions of Simpsons fans who are either not from America (or possibly Canada) or too young to remember all this, but when considering Season 1 it has to be taken into account. Scripted shows were more or less the exclusive domain of the three networks, and they operated within a very narrow set of constraints which The Simpsons (and a couple other shows) deliberately attacked. Television is bad now, but it used to be so much worse.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to Kokairu’s further posts, though I’ll adviser her to stop once she gets into true Zombie Simpsons. Life’s too short to torment yourself with other people’s mistakes.
“The ventriloquist goes to heaven, but the dummy doesn’t.” – Sunday School Teacher
“Oh oh oh, me!” – Bart Simpson
“Bart.” – Sunday School Teacher
“What about a robot with a human brain?” – Bart Simpson
“I don’t know! All these questions, is a little blind faith too much to ask?” – Sunday School Teacher
Happy 20th Anniversary to “The Telltale Head”!
“You know Bart, you don’t have to found a town to be a hero. Sometimes a hero can be a young boy with the courage to stand up and admit he’s made a mistake.” – Jebediah Springfield’s Head
“Yeah, well, I’m running a little short on courage right now.” – Bart Simpson
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: hell in a handbasket!” – Abe “Grandpa” Simpson
“Get off my lawn!” is widely recognized as the mating call of the North American Wailing Geezer. We have a couple of different examples this week, including a neck and neck race for Worst Usage.
Note: Father’s Day, the less popular of Hallmark’s two days to make you feel guilty for being born, is Sunday. As a result every writer and their brother is citing Homer this week, usually by saying something like “Your dad may not be like Homer Simpson, but this year blah blah blah”. It’s stupid and I’m not linking any of them.
Former EPA Chief: Building 100 More Nuclear Reactors Is Doable – This is the first of our two contestants for Worst Usage and it’s made all the more amusing by the fact that it’s a former Cabinet secretary speaking. Remember Christine Todd Whitman? She was the governor of New Jersey, then she was stupid enough to accept the EPA job from a president who thought clear cutting forests was the best way to preserve them. Now she’s saying this:
“People shouldn’t base their information on nuclear on Bart Simpson. That’s just not reality,”
Thanks, Christine. I’ll be sure not to based my opinions on nuclear power on what Bart Simpson says. Assuming this wasn’t a slip of the tongue, has she been trapped in a cultural vortex since 1990? You don’t even need to watch the show to know that Homer is the father and that he works at the nuclear plant.
Financial smarts need to be taught – This one needs to be read to be believed. It was written by a 62 year old in Yuma, AZ. He thinks kids these days are bad and the schools suck and it’s all the liberals fault. Lots of 62 year olds probably think that, fine, whatever. But then, off on one of the many tangents he squeezes into a mere 550 words, he recounts how students at the University of Virginia used to watch the Simpsons while they ate. For this, he despairs for the future of our country. Wow, I can smell the Lucky Lindy’s Pomade from here.
Editorial: Their history wasn’t taped with cassette recorders – The Spokesman-Review laments that kids today don’t get pop culture references from the eighties and that makes them hard to connect with. Yeah, this is stupid.
Too Much Texting? – Based on the other articles this guy has written I’m 99.9% sure this isn’t satire and that makes it the other contender for Worst Usage. It is a blissfully unaware addition, nay, a masterpiece, of the “Get off my lawn!” genre. He’s upset about the behavior of teenagers, in this case texting. (In other news, the kids these days are dancing too close to each other, listening to this rock music, growing their hair long and humping too much.) It’s linked here because in an attempt to be “hip” and not “square” he tries (and fails) to cite Simpsons:
I’m reminded of an episode of THE SIMPSONS where Homer finds himself in a nursing home—and is absolutely delighted. “All this time,” he quips, “turning over in bed by myself when there were people who could do it for me!”
I’m not even sure where to start with this one. I guess the first thing would be to scratch my head at why anyone would use ALL CAPS to describe the title of a well known television show. More importantly is the fact that the “quip” he’s citing, the one he uses quote marks around, does not exist. In fact, nothing even resembling it exists.
I think he’s trying to reference “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons” from Season 9, but the closest that episode comes to the above is when Homer asks to be turned by a nurse, “What do you have to do to get turned around here?” The syntax isn’t remotely similar; it’s not even close enough for me to correct him. Guess I’ll text my friends about it, then we’ll put on scandalously revealing knickers and dance the Charleston on top of a flagpole.
My Dinner With Andre – It’s a review of the DVD. Needless to say Simpsons gags break out in the comments. I always love how intense Martin is when he says “Tell me more.”
Clausen to appear at NDSU event – Live in or near Fargo, ND? You can see longtime Simpsons music guy Alf Clausen live in concert on Tuesday.
5 great television collections on dvd for under $20. – You can get Seasons 1&2 for $20 at Target in a “limited time double pack”. I’ve actually bought those seasons, and several others, twice as my first copies were stolen. Bastards.
Sticky Situation: Hundreds Of Gallons Of Doughnut Glaze Spill From Overturned Truck – Jackknifed sugar truck! (Seriously.) (Via)
Taking a bite out of fashion marketing – McDonald’s is using some new salads to make friends. The author, Andrew Sardone, quotes Homer almost perfectly. Homer actually says you don’t “win” friends with salad, not you don’t “make” friends with salad. But it’s still pretty good usage.
Homer Simpson Is Not the Ideal TomTom Voice Skin – TomTom is one of those GPS things that tells you how to get somewhere. Apparently you can customize it with “celebrity voices”, including Homer. Dave found a sample of it on Gizmodo. It’s awful.
FOX Sets Dates For Its Season Premieres – And finally, mark your calendars because Zombie Simpsons returns Sunday September 27th. Ugh.