“Significant” & “Lasting”: Two Words That Don’t Apply to Zombie Simpsons

A Good Ending

“How about it, Luann, will you marry me, again?” – Kirk van Houten
“Ooh, no.” – Luann van Houten
“Uh, well, uh, can I have my shirts back at least?” – Kirk van Houten
“Okay, you heard the lady, why don’t you take it outside, alright?” – Pyro
“I’ll be back, prob-probably.” – Kirk van Houten

To reinforce my point from last week that there’s really no way to change the show enough to make it interesting again without also destroying whatever is left of its appeal, I’d like to point out the Zombie Simpsons enforced absurdities of this list of “The 10 Most Significant, Lasting Changes on The Simpsons”.  Here’s the abbreviated version:

10. Barney’s Sobriety

9. Nedna

8. Patty’ Lesbianism

7. Ling, Selma’s Daughter

6. Maggie’s Gun Skills

5. Lisa’s Buddhism

4. Milhouse’s Parents’ Divorce

3. Lisa’s Vegetarianism

2. Apu’s Marriage

1. Maude’s Death

The first thing that jumps out is the prevalence of Zombie Simpsons on that list.  Six of them (1, 5, 7-10) happened post Season 10.  Beyond that though, we can see the shoddy nature of many of these supposedly significant and lasting changes.  Yes, Selma went to China to adopt a baby, but I’ve seen every episode since the beginning of Season 20 and I can’t recall a single time her kid was even mentioned.  Barney’s sobriety seems to come and go (the article mentions this), but even when he is sober they still usually just stick him in Moe’s like nothing ever happened.  I don’t think Patty coming out even counts, since they hinted that she’s gay all the way back in Season 2 and when they finally did bring her out of the closet it turned out that she was in love with a dude.

I bring this up not to take potshots at the list.  Sometimes you have to stretch to get to ten (#6 is plainly not a real thing), and that’s just life on the internet.  I bring this up because all of those post-Season 10 episodes were schlock episodes, that played things seriously but then didn’t actually have much of an effect on the show.  The episode where Barney dries out was really pathetic in a lot of ways, but after all that heavy handed emotion they couldn’t bring themselves to actually change his character.  Flanders being a widower was a bit more effective, but it hasn’t really done anything to change him or his kids (who are almost never on the show anymore anyway).  Pretty much every episode about Flanders now involves him finding love, which got old about ten seasons ago.

If you compare that type of “hey, we’re doing an emotional episode!/psyche everything’s normal!” mentality with the Season 8 entry on the list, Milhouse’s Parents’ Divorce, you can see things are a lot different.  To be sure, that episode has a few downer moments, but it was also done directly in the face of sitcom convention.  If you listen to the commentary for “A Milhouse Divided” (which I did), one of the big themes they had was that they wanted the divorce to be permanent.  Standard teevee had a lot of “divorce” episodes, but they always ended up with the characters getting back together.  Here they deliberately went away from that and made the change lasting.  Zombie Simpsons, swamp of unthinking sentimentality that it is, caved to comedy convention in Season 17 and Season 19, but for a few years there actually was a payoff.

More to the point, adding a baby (or eight), killing off a character over a contract dispute, having characters suddenly fall in love, and doing promos with women kissing women are all hallmarks of a television show on the down slope of its run.  Zombie Simpsons managed to make that even worse by basically ignoring many of its own changes after they happened.  Neither Selma’s daughter, Lisa’s Buddhism, nor Barney’s sobriety have had much of an effect in subsequent episodes.  They were toss-offs posing as permanent changes, single episode ideas that meant so little to the core of the show that they could be safely done without compromising the similarity to The Simpsons that is the only reason Zombie Simpsons is still on the air. 

On the rare occasion they do bring up one of the changes they made, it’s basically an excuse to rerun the same things that happened in the original episode.  How many times have Apu and Manjula been frustrated with having octuplets?  How many times has Flanders pined for a companion? 

Most of these purportedly significant and lasting changes have been neither, and the few that were lasting haven’t been significant.  Even if many of these episodes hadn’t been plodding and heavy handed, Zombie Simpsons would never make genuinely significant changes because doing so would a) be a tacit admission that they’re out of ideas, and b) make them look even more like the undistinguished FOX animation that they are. 

17 Responses to ““Significant” & “Lasting”: Two Words That Don’t Apply to Zombie Simpsons”

  1. 20 October 2011 at 3:30 pm

    And only Lisa the Vegetarian and the Maggie/guns thing happened before season 8 – the start of the “Mayday, Mayday, we’re going down!” seasons.

  2. 2 Anonymous
    20 October 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Maggie’s gun skills have come up a few times. i wonder if that was really their intention back during the Who Shot Mr. Burns days.
    I’d rather have Maggie was just a baby again, though instead of a Stewie-like super-baby.

  3. 4 lennyburnham
    20 October 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Ugh, I’m so annoyed that anyone gives Zombie Simpsons credit for Patty being a lesbian just because that terrible episode put a big spotlight on it.

  4. 20 October 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I know what the conclusion of the episode said, but isn’t it way too premature to call Nedna “significant” and/or “lasting”?

    That said, I do support the idea of changing the dynamics semi-frequently, even if it results in something lousy because at least it’s slightly more interesting than just pushing the “Speedy, Improbable Reset” button two minutes before the end of an episode.

  5. 6 monoceros4
    20 October 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Oh, please. Most of these “significant changes” were strictly in the mode of any second-rate TV sitcom’s “Very Special Episode” in which, say, a minor gay character is introduced in order to teach us a lesson about tolerance or whatnot, then drop-kicked back into oblivion once the episode’s over. And Lisa’s trendy embrace of Hollywood Buddhism had to have been one of the worst Lisa-centered episodes (most of which tend to be hard going even at best) ever screened. At least when they made her a vegetarian the writers had the sense to make her look just a little like a doctrinaire idiot in the process.

  6. 7 Stan
    21 October 2011 at 10:03 am

    I’d say points 9 and 1, as well as 3 and 5 are pretty much the same things, that have just developed further. Though as a regular watcher of the show at least until mid-Season 18 (when it lost me completely), I have to say that those things should’nt have taken 10 years to evolve. Losing Mause in Season 12 could’ve lasted a maximum of 2 or 3 years, being given about 5 episodes with Ned meeting with someone. Then it’s settled, as whatever came after is long, predictable and boring.

    Lisa’s veganism thing is a bit different. Here we could actually see an evolution. From trying to convert her family, she could’ve gone on further grounds with this, maybe visiting Tibet, meditating and building a tokoyama in her room. Instead, we baredly see her ever pledge to buddhism anymore (alongside Lenny and Carl, btw), and whenever she’s having meal at the table, I’m more than certain they draw meat in it.

    All I’m saying is that it is normal for shows to evolve and to derive on new ideas. However doing so on an interval of 10 to 15 years is nigh watchable. They ended up forgetting things they did pre-Season 15 already, not to mention the single-digit ones. So I think iwe’re clearly barking up the wrong tree here, as it’s amazing they still pull on capitain McAllister, crazy cat lady, comic book guy and even Moleman, on some occasions.

  7. 8 Anonymous
    21 October 2011 at 11:04 am

    This is the most padded list since the 10 commandments

  8. 21 October 2011 at 11:04 am

    This is the most padded list since the 10 commandments

    • 21 October 2011 at 11:08 am

      d’oh. I double posted. Anyhoo. I wish Kirk and Luann had remained divorced. That episode was so good. Zombie Simpsons ruins everything.

      “Can I borrow a feeling?” (homer laughs out loud) “With your picture on the front!”

      • 11 monoceros4
        21 October 2011 at 12:29 pm

        Was that a good episode? I’ve never really liked it that much. For one thing I couldn’t give the slightest shit what’s up with Milhouse’s parents; as long as it’s clear that they loathe their son, there’s nothing else useful to establish about them.

        • 12 Shane
          21 October 2011 at 1:05 pm

          “And it goes on like this.”

        • 13 Chris
          21 October 2011 at 2:46 pm

          Are you kidding? A Milhouse Divided is probably one of my 10 favorite episodes. Everything about it is fantastic, but best of all is how pathetic Kirk Van Houten truly is. I love how he draws something completely indistinguishable for “dignity,” and that he ran the leading cracker company into a tie for 5th with Table Time and Allied Buscuit. One of my favorite scenes ever is when he’s getting fired from the cracker company. “Crackers are a family food. We don’t know if single people eat crackers…we don’t wanna know. Frankly, it’s a market we can do without.” “So this is it, so long, good luck?” “I don’t recall saying good luck.”

          And then you’ve got Kirk trying to start his singing career. Who could forget “Can I borrow a feeling?” Not me, I still know all the words. “Can I borrow a feeling/ can you lend a jar of love/ hurtin’ hearts need some healing/take my hand with your glove of love.” Perfectly terrible, I love it. Hank Azaria knocks this character out of the park, and the episode itself is pitch perfect. This is the type of episode the current staff couldn’t write in a million years. This episode could have been really lame, and would be nowadays, but the writers back then knew how to hit all the right notes with an episode about divorce. Get too emotional and it becomes sappy; get too jokey and it loses all resonance. But this one is very well done.

          • 14 kokairu
            22 October 2011 at 2:50 am

            I agree. I recently re-watched this and had either forgotten how funny it was or hadn’t really appreciated it the first time round. Season 8 episodes are hit and miss, but the hits are very much hits!

            • 22 October 2011 at 10:01 am

              For me, Season 8 was the shark-jumping season. There was the Clinton-Dole segment on THoH, that was very SNL-y; some off-character plots (Nelson as Lisas’s boyfriend? Skinner dating Mrs. Krabapell?) and episode that started the “trying to stay relevant” episodes in The Simpsons: Homer’s Phobia.

              • 23 October 2011 at 10:32 am

                I couldn’t disagree more. For me, Season 8 ranks right up there with seasons 3,4,5 as the funniest of the entire series. Episodes like The Springfield Files, You Only Move Twice, Mountain Of Madness, The Beer Baron, and of course Homer’s Enemy, are to me just as funny and well written as anything in the aforementioned seasons 3-5. Although I will say that season 8 was without a doubt the last great season. Season 9 had it’s moments like Homer being dragged naked up the side of the church’s glass ceiling, but it also had the dreadfl Principle And The Pauper episode. I consider season 10 to be the official jump the shark season. They never should have entered double digits. I would have stopped at 8. If you look back at season 10, unlike season 8, you won’t find a single classic episode or even quotable lines or memorable Homerisms. Season 8 has plenty. In fact, it may be one of the most quotable seasons in the history of the show.

            • 17 Charlie Sweatpants
              22 October 2011 at 11:22 am

              I also agree. Season 8 isn’t the flawless titanium of awesome of earlier seasons, but it is nevertheless loaded.

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