“We’re Not Paying You to Talk”

Actual Sexual Satire (Ringworm Edition)

“Examine your scalp for ringworm.” – Spandex Clad Spokeswoman

Like most pop stars, Katy Perry’s stock in trade is a meticulously marketed blend of music, fame, and carefully packaged sexuality.  Whether you want to have sex with her, have sex the way she does, or condemn both of those desires, there’s something in her songs and public appearances to catch your attention.  Being young, white and pretty broadens those appeals about as far as they can go, and she and the people who publicize her are very adept at using that.  For evidence of this you need look no further than her first hit, the theatrically bisexual “I Kissed a Girl”.

All of which is to say that if you were designing a pop star in a lab and you set the gender to “F”, the result would look a lot like Katy Perry.  She’s commercially successful, tabloid ready, and about as famous as possible given that she was completely unknown less than three years ago.  In short, she’s as stereotypical a pop star as you are ever likely to see.

In the right hands, hilarity could ensue from subverting all the things that make her such an effective pop star.  The jokes don’t even need to be on her, they can be at the expense of the corrupt, shallow, profit hungry, titillation chasing media environment that made her famous in the first place.  The Simpsons did just that on a couple of occasions, notably “Lisa the Beauty Queen”, “Bart Gets Famous”, and “Homer Badman”.

Of course, that’s not what Zombie Simpsons did.  Instead, they crammed her into a Muppets takeoff so poorly written and ill conceived as to be embarrassing.  The failure here is at least three layers deep.  First, and it’s a marker of just how awful the next two are that this only merits the entry level of hell, was the skit itself: a hacktacular hodgepodge of bad ideas and jokes that wouldn’t make it into a Jay Leno monologue.  Second, a competent reworking of The Muppet Show would’ve been a great vehicle for a pop star to parody her profession.  The original did quite a lot of that with its guest stars, Zombie Simpsons didn’t even try.  Finally and worst of all, not only did they fall flat in their attempted humor, in doing so they made themselves eager participants in the same vapid culture they should have been satirizing in the first place.  But we’ll get to that in a moment.


Image taken from Wikipedia.

Before we get to how badly they missed the mark, let’s start by acknowledging that Zombie Simpsons didn’t skimp on the felt budget and got the look of the puppets right.  Unfortunately, that was about the only thing they got right, because from there on out it’s not at all clear that they understood what they were doing.  What they seemed to think they were doing was parodying The Muppet Show.  But The Muppet Show was already a parody, and since they left out most of the key elements that made the original, and didn’t bring in any new ones, all they were really doing was a second rate impersonation of a parody.

The Muppet Show was both a revival and a satire of old vaudeville and variety shows, and part of its charm was that it was willing to mock the genre which spawned it.  That’s why it had all those backstage segments, why there was always a story underpinning the variety show that the television audience (but not the theater audience) saw.  Yes, they were going to show you the straight up performances, but there were also things going on behind the scenes that tied everything together.  Even when the actual performances were overly hokey or deliberately awful, there was never any doubt in the audience’s minds that the show knew what it was doing.

Zombie Simpsons ignored that whole aspect of The Muppet Show, leaving the cringe inducing sitcom drama about the boss coming over unexpectedly to stand on its own.  (That they had already done something extremely similar – as an example of what not to do – in Season 11’s “Behind the Laughter” doesn’t help matters.)  This is the equivalent of mocking “Springtime for Hitler” without acknowledging The Producers around it, or trying to parody 30 Rock by talking exclusively about what a terrible show “TGS with Tracy Jordan” is.  With the exception of a faint hearted stab at irony with Grampa and Jasper as Statler & Waldorf, Zombie Simpsons dropped the whole framework that made The Muppet Show work.  All that was left was a boring, cliche ridden puppet show.

Even that might’ve been salvageable if they’d used Perry as a foil for the whole enterprise.  A knowing aside, a quick backstage scene, anything to let us know that she and they are in on the joke and that this whole thing is an exercise in celebrity culture marketing.  The Muppet Show format they were copying was practically made for this kind of comedy.  Instead, they played it straight ahead, even going so far as to make a joke about spending the budget on Perry.  There’s no acknowledgement that the segment is actually bad and that her presence is superfluous, there’s only the kind of fake self deprecation used by clueless people everywhere.

Rather than use Perry for satire’s sake, they preferred to trot her out as eye candy and give her a few sex infused lines.  Here’s the entirety of her spoken dialogue:

“What are you people doing in my boyfriend Moe’s bachelor pad?”

“Someone totally needs a hug.”

“Oh, that’s not my belly button, but I didn’t say stop.”

That’s it, that’s all they could come up with.  Those twenty-seven words would be embarrassingly bad even if this was just a regular animated segment.  But this was something new, something literally unprecedented in the history of the show, and they couldn’t be bothered to have her do anything but talk about her boyfriend, press one puppet into her chest, and have another pressed into her crotch.

The wasted comedy opportunity alone is bad enough, but by using her strictly as a sexpot they managed to sink even lower.  Not only did they not parody all that carefully packaged sex appeal in the tight red dress, they used it as crassly and witlessly as possible.  Without a joke or a hint of irony, Zombie Simpsons joined the ranks of gossip bloggers, record industry lowlifes, and other publicity hungry celebrities who cling to the back of Katy Perry’s bra while she charges forward into the spotlight.  The Simpsons would never have done that; the people who undermined hyper-sexualized advertising by using it to promote ringworm self exams would’ve found something better.

20 Responses to ““We’re Not Paying You to Talk””

  1. 7 December 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I also found the Perry/muppet segment just kind of astonishing. Unlike other episodes this season, which were just kind of “meh,” this was jaw-dropping. And, as you point out, it wasn’t at all funny or satirical. It’s pretty sad, especially when you think of how much they COULD’VE done.

    For more about the mocking use of “bad” performances in The Muppet Show, this is a great article: http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-muppet-show-steve-martin,47180/

    And this is unrelated, but I couldn’t help sharing it: Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly recently tweeted that “The Fool Monty” was The Simpsons’ “most ballsy and subversive episode… ever.” Which says a lot about why Southland Tales was so awful.

    • 2 Charlie Sweatpants
      8 December 2010 at 1:42 pm

      I actually found that AV Club article while searching for a picture of “The Muppet Show” for this post, but I didn’t read it at the time. Wish I had, that was a neat piece, and there’s this goodness in comments:

      “Was The Muppet Show the 70s Simpsons?

      The Drainpipe

      4 Nov. 2010 | 12:21 AM CDT

      …in that it looked ostensibly like a kids’ show but was actually sly and satirical and loaded with jokes that would go over kids’ heads? (plus, The Muppet Show knew how to handle celebrity guest stars – like The Simpsons used to be able to do).”

      To which the fist reply was:

      “The Lone Audience of the Apocalypse

      4 Nov. 2010 | 12:24 AM CDT

      Yes, it was. And The Muppet Movie is everything The Simpsons Movie should have been.”

  2. 3 Stan
    7 December 2010 at 9:01 pm

    This goes on to prove them wrong at thinking that “if a character would just show up different than usual (and in case of The Simpsons Movie just show up period), people would already start laughing”. This is a three-year-old kid level humor. And they didn’t get that back in 2007, they still think that way.

    ZS is everything the original show has mocked in the past. It’s as if they actually decided to put monkeys, or Koreans, or Korean monkeys (no offense to whom it may concern) as scriptwriters and, aided with digital technology, just cut on everything possible in order to fly to Hawaii every day.

    That’s it. That’s all I can think of. The rest of that part simply left me speechless.

  3. 4 Anonymous
    8 December 2010 at 1:11 pm


    You know why tghe muppet scene was the highlight of tonigfht’s show? bECAUSE iT WAS FUCKING FUNNY, THJAT’S WHAT!

    • 5 Charlie Sweatpants
      8 December 2010 at 1:38 pm

      Ladies and gentlemen, our troll from the Los Angeles schools is back.

      • 6 Stan
        8 December 2010 at 3:04 pm

        Block access to them anons, Charlie.

        • 7 Anonymous
          8 December 2010 at 3:33 pm

          Yiou have no right tto blcok accwess from me to let me not post

          bwcause, you see, i hqve a right to state whatever the heck thait i want to say, hjust like you guys have a right to bvash on the simpsons fuckers.

          • 8 studentee
            8 December 2010 at 5:53 pm

            this ain’t no democracy

          • 9 Blue
            8 December 2010 at 8:25 pm

            Dear Anonymous,

            It has come to my attention you may not be aware of how to properly operate your Personal Computer. When you misspell a word a red line will appear below it. This is not for aesthetics but it is actually a very handy feature! All you need to do is right click on the underlined word and a scroll down menu will appear giving you suggestions as to what the proper spelling may be. In the future this will stop you from looking like an idiot and you’ll come off as a little less vapid! Of course spell check won’t fix the dumb things you type. For instance you seem to have a very loose grasp on this “freedom of speech” thing. Spell check won’t help you with that I’m afraid. May I suggest paying attention in class instead of displaying your stupidity on internet blogs? If you’re careful you may just learn something. (I hope you can hear my affectionate chuckle behind that sentence you little rascal!) Now run along and play.

            • 10 D.N.
              11 December 2010 at 8:50 am

              Maybe the fingers he has used to dial are too fat. If so, Mr Anon might need to obtain a special dialing wand.

              Oh, and that’s a reference to an episode from when The Simpsons was good, Mr Anon, so I doubt you’d recognise it.

          • 11 P. Piggly Hogswine
            9 December 2010 at 6:42 am

            “I’ve done nothing wrong. And I don’t give permission for my face to be on TV: I want it blurred!”

            • 12 D.N.
              11 December 2010 at 8:48 am

              “…i hqve a right to state whatever the heck thait i want to say, hjust like you guys have a right to bvash on the simpsons fuckers.”

              I think our pea-brained friend has inadvertently come up with an appropriate name for the people in charge of the show today: “Simpsons Fuckers.” Because they’ve been fucking the show over for the last decade or so.

  4. 13 Anonymous
    8 December 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I think 2010 TV audiences are maybe more receptive to irony than 1980 audiences. We don’t need a backstage “winking” scene to clue us in to the joke

    • 9 December 2010 at 5:53 am

      2010 audiences want everything dumbed down because they’re too stupid and unmotivated from eating nothing but fast food and are clamoring around shows like “The Bachelor.”

    • 15 El Stevo
      9 December 2010 at 7:52 am

      “I think 2010 TV audiences are maybe more receptive to irony than 1980 audiences. We don’t need a backstage “winking” scene to clue us in to the joke”

      So what was this joke that I missed?

      As far as I’m concerned they missed the mark. They went with the sexuality route because that is all they could come up with and they knew that her chesticles would captivate the viewers without the need for wit.

      There was no satire here. Just a point missed.

      • 16 Blue
        9 December 2010 at 10:15 am

        Why try to be witty when “ORAL SEX!” gets laughs so much easier? Psh, Zombie Simpsons should have hired me when I was in 6th grade. I had that brand of “comedy” down to a science.

        I think the exact moment I noticed Zombie Simpsons humor explode into a mushroom cloud of suck and awful was when the writers decided to make a joke about Bart commenting on his frog which ended up sounding like his penis. Right then and there I knew every single writer tossed their hands up and decided just to coast on lowest common denominator jokes. That’s not to say ZS was some kind of epitome of wit before that moment but I at least had some sort of vague semblance of hope.

        The worst part is they write things like Mr.Burns giving oral sex to some boring 5 seconds of fame pop star and penis jokes for Bart and when called on it they’ll make smug comments in audio commentaries or interviews going “HEH GUESS SOME PEOPLE ARE NEVER SATISFIED…COMIC BOOK NEEEERDS.”

        Have they ever sat down and watched a season 4 episode? Do they look at it and shake their heads thinking “Boy if only they wrote more like us back then!” I can’t picture anyone genuinely doing that without preforming a large deal of mental gymnastics.

        I guess what I’m trying to say here is ZS isn’t very good.

  5. 17 Mourning Glory
    10 December 2010 at 10:45 am

    I beseech you not to block Anonymous comments from this place just because of one idiot. And yikes, this episode sounds awful, but I guess that could describe the series as a whole now.

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