Compare & Contrast: Social Relations Among Male Juveniles

The Telltale Head9

“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”.

The Telltale Head10

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.

The Telltale Head11

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.

Jimbo the Treehouse Meeting Attendee

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 the Background Prop

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:

Jimbo the Dutiful Subordinate

Maybe Bart finally learned the Touch of Death?

4.  Fearfully coming to get Bart so Bart can deal with the police:

Jimbo the Panicky Sidekick

It used to take a knife wielding maniac to make him scared.

5.  Obediently standing by while Chalmers talks to Bart:

Jimbo the Background Prop (Take 2)

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.

9 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Social Relations Among Male Juveniles”

  1. 1 Stan
    11 October 2011 at 7:15 pm

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: this show has become a cheap side gag ridden stand-up late talk show style, where the host throws in an idiotic joke at the audience when a guest comes in, or worse yet, has someone next to him act stupider than usual just to milk the audience for a couple of chuckles.

    In this very episode, Bart clearly doesn’t like a kid. Worse – he acts like he’s the freaking show host, while the rest of the gang are just props who come out when a joke is needed, and go back to where they belong thereafter. I think this is exactly why it feels so bland, so monotone and stale, even if is it once in a while bereft of celebrities, jerkass Homer (almost) and stupid cutaway jokes.

    When I watched it the most thing that itched me was the presence of certain characters who say something or talk, while you have no clue of what’s going on. The rest is not even shown. In an unrelated episode when the family + Milhouse go on a vacation and Lisa tries to find herself, you have one scene right after when Homer shoves up a firecracker in the dishwasher machine, and in the next scene the kids are talking and Marge is mopping up the floor, looking pissed, remember this one? Well, even there you had some kind of continuity, as if you were watching a single story being told. Here, it’s like someone has to say something, so everyone just shuts the fuck up and waits in the corner until he or she is done. Not only is this a terrible storytelling in its best (they practically have to kick the story’s ass to make it advance), it’s also a product of complete lack of thought regarding the minor details that make the show a portrayal of episodes from real life, not an improvised tongue-in-cheek Jay Leno exit from the stage.

    Sometimes I’m really getting the impression that he writes their jokes. The monkeys were probably asking for a raise.

  2. 12 October 2011 at 2:24 am

    Of course, there has been SOME sort of comraderry amongst the kids, in some episodes, even before Zombie Simpsons. For example, the episode where all the worst kids are locked in school together to hide from Superintendent Chalmers with the promise of dirt bikes. True, they only relied on Bart because he was the smallest of all of them, and that still didn’t completely stop them from ribbing on him. But perhaps he’s achieved some sort of social hierachy since then? Like.. character development? Like…

    Nah. Fuck it.

    You’re absolutely right.

    …What made the show so good — even believable — is the relationships between people on here. It’s just like real life: this guy might like this guy, but not like this guy, and so on and so on. Obvious stuff, but played brilliantly in the Simpsons universe. In ZOMBIE Simpsons universe, it’s more like “okay, here’s the token bad kids. Let’s have them fuck up the school.”

    While I think the Nelson-Bart story arc has shown a bit of progression (they become sort-of friends, most noticeably perhaps after Nelson stays the night at Bart’s house and also the episode where Bart kills the bird), there really has been no progression, no logical reason why Bart and the “bigger bullies” (ie not Nelson) would suddenly get along.

    • 12 October 2011 at 2:25 am

      Ah, fuck, didn’t finish my thoughts on one point. More:

      In ZOMBIE Simpsons universe, it’s more like “okay, here’s the token bad kids. Let’s have them fuck up the school.” …………………. “It really doesn’t matter what their relationship is, as long as they’re recognizeable as ‘the bad kids’.” Yeah.

    • 12 October 2011 at 2:29 am

      Another thing: “These are the kids who tossed rocks at Bart just after telling them he was their only hope in Utility Basement B.” I just mentioned the same exact thing in my reply without realizing you’d already mentioned it. Well, what I said still holds true — they seemed to share a common bond there…… but they still fucked with him, which kept it true to their characters.

      I often wonder what would happen if classic episodes were remade in today’s style. Their certainly wouldn’t be the depth, the humor, the CHARACTER, the weird-at-times/inconsistent animation (which is a whole hell of a lot more interesting than the stiff, clinical shit we get today). Try to imagine an episode like Bart Sells His Soul in today’s style. It’d be sickening. Bart would actually probably turn into some weird cat creature and kill Ralph. It’s getting to that point now.

      • 5 Stan
        12 October 2011 at 9:36 am

        Nah, they’ll have jerkass Homer trying to enter a door for some reason and the door not being his side and him finding an imaginary saw to cut the parts off, all because.

  3. 6 Patrick
    12 October 2011 at 1:28 pm

    American Dad moves to the 7:30/6:30c slot from the 30th and even then I’ll skip yours truly, it’s that unwatchable

  4. 8 January 2012 at 6:11 pm

    esse episodio foi oque eu mais gostei o bart se tornou um valentao !!!!!!!!!!!!!

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