Compare & Contrast: Field Trips

“Damn, I shouldn’t have eaten the mint first.” – Otto

Like so many Zombie Simpsons episodes, “The Scorpion’s Tale” is a creaking mess of unconnected segments, many of which have little or nothing to do with one another.  Also like so many Zombie Simpsons episodes, many of these segments are ideas and concepts that have already been done years before.  For example, at one point in this episode Grampa moves in and acts cranky.  “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in "The Curse of the Flying Hellfish"”, anyone?  Then the family visits a pharmaceutical lab where they make a few industry jokes and, wouldn’t you know it, Homer gets accidentally dosed with something (“Brother’s Little Helper”).  Then the old people go on the generational warpath much as they do in “Wild Barts Can’t be Broken”.

Those are all inexact in at least some way; however, there is one segment that lines up nearly perfectly with a vastly better forerunner.  At the opening of “The Scorpion’s Tale”, the kids from Springfield Elementary (though curiously none of their teachers), go on a field trip.  At the opening of “The PTA Disbands”, the kids from Springfield Elementary (with their teacher), also go on a field trip.

First of all, as Mike Russo pointed out in comments yesterday, there’s the issue of just who is on this field trip:

I only watched the first couple of minutes but why were Skinner, Chalmers and bits and pieces of Hoover’s and Krabapple’s class on a field trip together? I love how no one has any care at all about how things are supposed to logically work as long as Skinner, Chalmers and Ralph Wiggum can be a scene together.

We like to bitch around here about the fact that Chalmers is in every school related scene now, he’s less of a superintendent than a sidekick these days, but the absence of either Hoover or Krabappel is just as telling.  Instead of making this a class field trip for Lisa’s grade (so she can find the scorpions and the flowers), they make this a Zombie Simpsons field trip, with only the most prominent characters from Springfield Elementary allowed to attend.   In “The PTA Disbands”, on the other hand, the trip to the Civil War fort is very clearly one that Bart’s class is taking.  Neither Lisa nor Hoover is there, but Uter and Krabappel are.  Skinner is there but, and here’s something we haven’t seen in a long time, Chalmers isn’t.

Beyond the participants, the real difference between these two field trips is in what goes on during each of them, both within the scene and in relation to the rest of the episode.  For starters, consider the conversation Skinner has with Chalmers in “The Scorpion’s Tale” versus the ones he has with Krabappel in “The PTA Disbands”.  In “The Scorpion’s Tale”, Chalmers shows up to exchange a single scene of sitcom-y insult humor with Skinner.  Other than that his presence is completely superfluous, but they needed him for this skit and so he’s here.  The first time we see Skinner and Krabappel in “The PTA Disbands”, they’re discussing the dilapidated state of the school bus and the dire straits of the school district’s budget.  Literally their first lines of dialogue introduce the conflict of the episode and set them up as the main protagonists.

The action at each field trip is just as indicative of the massive disparity in quality.  In “The Scorpion’s Tale”, the events at the state park are a random assortment of set pieces, none of which make a lick of sense even on their own, much less as part of a field trip.  Martin stumbles upon the trailer of the right wing isolationists, who apparently live in a state park within walking distance of the ranger station.  This leads to a long set piece the punchline of which is . . . a guy shooting junk with a shotgun.

Scenes From A Desert

Here’s how things went in the actual episode . . .  

The episode next spends half a minute having one guy climb another guy before moving over to Bart, Milhouse and Nelson at the (strangely child sized) entrance to an abandoned mine.  Did the boys sneak away?  We have no way of knowing, they’re just there all of a sudden.  But the writers had a dynamite joke about old porn and Nelson masturbating, and so that’s where things go next.  Once that completely unrelated sketch is over, we move on to one with Lisa, who is also all by herself in the middle of the desert.  Excluding the lame repetition of the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote joke from “Homer Alone” and them getting off the bus, there are six scenes before the first commercial break (Skinner/Chalmers, Martin/Isolationists, Climbing Ranger, Abandoned Mine, Lisa with scorpions, Milhouse/hippie arm), none of which have anything to do with one another, and only one of which has anything to do with the rest of the episode.

Other Scenes From A Desert

. . . but this works too; in fact, this might even make more sense.  Randomization would work just as well.

Now let’s take a look at the trip to Civil War era Fort Springfield.  Before the kids even get there we’re informed that things deemed unnecessary in the heavily cut school budget include working brakes on the bus.  Once they arrive, the main thrust of the plot is reinforced again as the “Diz-Nee” corporation’s takeover of the park means that the Springfield kids can’t even go inside.  (And then Principal Valiant from Shelbyville shows up to rub Skinner’s nose in it.)  We get a brief set piece where we see something that actually goes on at a place like this: a Civil War re-enactment, albeit a hilariously bloodthirsty one.  When a re-enactor (with an ax in his head) spots the Springfield kids “trying to learn for free”, the “Diz-Nee” employees fly into a rage and chase them from the park.  The last time we see them they’re viciously beating a ten year old child.  And all of this is interspersed with Skinner and Krabappel bickering over money and Otto siphoning gas.  Every single line, scene and joke is related, to one another and to the ultimate plot of the bankrupt school district.

In “The Scorpion’s Tale”, you could randomize those six set pieces and it wouldn’t matter in the least.  If the abandoned mine had come before the shotgun guy, would anyone have noticed?  Very little (if any) of the dialogue would even need to be changed.  They’re just sketches that start with the words “EXT. DESERT” on a script.  Try doing something like with the Fort Springfield trip where each individual scene moves directly into the next.  Removing just one would screw up the entire act, and rearranging them would render the whole thing nonsensical.

A Well Told Story

This is the only order in which this works, and while I included every scene from “The Scorpion’s Tale” above, I left out several from “The PTA Disbands” because there’s just too much going on to tell with stills. 

11 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Field Trips”

  1. 1 Stan
    8 March 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I really like you pointing out the fact that only “hilarious” characters are allowed to star in the show today. Plus it doesn’t matter sense-wise how the fuck they get there, as long as they’re there, it works because they’re supposed to be “hilarious”.

    As you stated at some point long ago scenes in the Simpsons Movie were based upon how much chuckle the test audience could be milked of with each of them. This episode, more precisely this very part is the exact justification of such stupid mentality, and just because Skinner alone is nigh laughable without Chalmers today, well, what do you know, let’s have both.

    All this pinpoints to the fact that ZS don’t care whether there is consistency in the plot anymore, because they’re doing the show for weed-huffing shit-devouring fatsos, to whom something like “The PTA Disbands” would be too complicated to understand, let alone the part where there are blue soldiers and gray soldiers and they first for some reason… unnnngh

    To close off, I remember watching “Lisa vs. Bart vs. The 3rd Grade” not so long ago, and while the episode is another representative of the plain Zombie period, at least there we had Nelson bike to another location in order to ha-haw the children. Today, we wouldn’t have that. He’d just be there already. Just to show you how low ZS has fallen into, excuse me, nonsensial bullshit.

  2. 3 Stan
    8 March 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Of course originality-wise, ZS is a .

  3. 4 Mike Russo
    8 March 2011 at 11:41 pm

    This whole “We need these fan favorites to be in every set piece” pisses the living shit out of me. It’s like they’re pandering to that audience who squirts their cream all over the TV over a glimpse of Ralph Wiggum or Comic Book Guy. Do easy to please morons like that still watch the show any more?

  4. 5 Dave
    9 March 2011 at 5:44 am

    The popular characters only being in scenes is something i’ve noticed recently. The episode where Burns is planning on doing something ( cant quite remember what ) and he needs to invite the powerplant workers to a party/meeting type thing, only when the camera shows who is there its filled with the likes of Apu, Wiggum, etc, why on earth would they be attending anything related to the powerplant..

    • 6 Stan
      9 March 2011 at 7:34 am

      I know which part you’re talking about. It’s not Apu and Wiggum that scare me in it, it’s the presence of Comic Book Guy. He must’ve been friends with Radioactive man who worked at the power plant at some time (obviously before he became Radioactive man).

      • 7 Lovejoy Fan
        14 March 2011 at 4:14 pm

        Yeah, but he has to be at everything. He’s like the show’s official stalker now.

  5. 9 March 2011 at 8:23 am

    I haven’t watched this one yet – tried to last night but the file failed. I think I got lucky… reading about this episode from the overviews and comments really makes me wonder how the heck it’s pieced together. I really can’t comprehend it.

  6. 9 Lovejoy Fan
    14 March 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Can I just say how much I love the phrase “Zombie Simpsons Field Trip”? It’s such a perfect description of what that was. All the crowd scenes follow a similar route nowadays (“Zombie Simpsons crowd scene”?).

    Oh, and they’re ruining Chalmers for me. Back when he wasn’t always at the school, he used to be funny. Now he’s just… there.

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