“The ‘garage’? Hey fellas, the ‘garage’! Well ohh-la-di-da, mister Frenchman.” – Moe
“Well, what do you call it?” – Homer Simpson
“A car hole.” – Moe
Archive for January, 2013
“Who wants to be the first to enter God’s good graces?” – Ned Flanders
Zombie Simpsons has a well established track record for wild plot twists, nonsensical stories, and characters behaving so strangely that one wonders whether or not they’re still supposed to be human. “The Changing of the Guardian” valiantly upheld that reputation, particularly in the way it took its main conflict, scrambled it beyond even a semblance of coherence, and then awkwardly jammed it into just the last two minutes of the episode.
Consider, for a second, the enormous inhumanity this episode expects you, the audience member, to swallow. Set aside the oddity of Mav, the millionaire surfer, and his wife Portia, the ultra-liberal lawyer, deciding to basically steal the Simpson children for no reason. Or Homer and (especially) Marge trusting their kids to these people they barely know. Set aside even the brain dead way they all met. Just think about the ending from Bart, Lisa and Maggie’s perspective.
The kids go off with their new guardians for what the episode explicitly describes as “a weekend”. At some point during that “weekend”, Marge and Homer see a picture of the kids with Mav and Portia under the heading “Our Family” in the window of a portrait studio. After a meandering car ride, Homer and Marge finally get to Mav and Portia’s ski chalet, where (after he of course crashes the car) Homer gets out and starts yelling at Mav with Bart standing right there:
Oh. Look. Homer’s angry.
Notice that Bart doesn’t say anything. Cut to the next scene where Homer, Marge, Mav and Portia have a discussion about Mav and Portia taking the kids. This is the finale of the episode, and it is as confused and sloppy as anything Zombie Simpsons has ever broadcast. Here we go:
Mav: Honestly, we fell in love with ’em. And it just seemed like you guys didn’t really want ’em.
Homer: Sure, you wanted the fun parts. But do you want to go their little league games and recitals.
Mav: Totally have.
Portia: Like clockwork.
Homer: Well, I’m glad someone has.
Wait a second, weren’t the kids just there for a weekend? And do they have baseball games and music recitals up there in the mountains?
Marge: Look, before anyone says anything else, how could you possibly think you could get our kids?
Portia: It happens more than you know, Marge. I’m a lawyer, he’s a surfer, that combination’s pretty unstoppable.
This is just amazingly hacktacular. Marge asks a sensible question, to which Portia gives a nonsense response. This is Zombie Simpsons directly telling us that they do not give a shit. But it’s about to get worse, because we’re finally about to hear from the kids:
Bart: Well I’m afraid that we don’t want to be with anyone but Mom and whoever she chooses to be with.
Lisa: Portia, you’re the woman I dream of becoming, but Mom is my mom.
Where the hell have these two been? Whether they’ve been up there in the mountains for a weekend or longer, is this the first they’re hearing of it? Were they going along and changed their mind, or had they already objected? Either way (or any way, really), one cannot follow from the other. At that, the scene concludes:
Portia: Fine, but you’re leaving a gap in our lives that can only be filled by foreign travel, sleeping late, and gourmet food.
Mav: You guys lock up. We’re going to Bali.
So . . . they just give up? Mav and Portia, whom the episode has been portraying as the most hyper-competent and pulled together people on Earth, thought they could just take the kids and then they just abandon the whole idea at the first objection? Nobody’s actions here, not Marge or Homer, Mav or Portia, or Bart and Lisa fit with even just the preceding scenes, much less who they’re supposed to be in general.
Compare that unsalvageable mess to the solid brilliance at the end of “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”. Both episodes have the Simpson kids in the custody of other parents, but that’s really where the similarities end. “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily” shows us all the things that “The Changing of the Guardian” either doesn’t or can’t because it’s too incoherent:
- The kids actually spending time with their new family (“Well, children, it’s Saturday night, so what say we let our hair down and play bombardment-” / “yay!” / “-of Bible questions!”)
- How they react (“It seems like our house, but everything’s got a creepy Pat Boone-ish quality to it.”)
- How the new parents come to want the Simpson kids (“Until this I never thought Homer and Marge were bad parents, but now I know you kids need a less Hell-bound family.”)
- Why (Maggie, at least) would want to stay (“When was the last time Dad gave her that kind of attention?”)
- Why (Maggie, again) rejects her new parents and wants to stay with her original family (“Oh, Maggie, you’re a Simpson again!”)
The story in Season 24 is so dumb that the kids basically have to be airbrushed out of it because their presence at any part of the ending would cause the entire flimsy thing to come crashing down around itself. By contrast, the story in Season 7 involves them at every step, not only because that way it makes sense, but because there’s a lot of humor and comedy to be had from Bart, Lisa and Maggie living with people other than Marge and Homer. Zombie Simpsons thinks having Homer rant is the be all and end all of comedy; The Simpsons knew better.
“There it is, kids, stately Burns Manor, heaven on earth.” – Homer Simpson
Watching Season 1 episodes with the knowledge of what the show was going to become can often blur out just how well formed many of the show’s ideas were, even before the voices and the animation had developed. Burns, and the palatial estate on which he lives, illustrate that well. “There’s No Disgrace Like Home” is the first time we get to see Burns Manor, and while it would be revised and updated in Season 2 and later, the fundamental ideas of it are all right here.
The image at the top of this post is the establishing shot, and right away we know that a) it’s luxurious to the point of absurdity (note the string music in the background when the family walks in), and b) the Simpsons (and by extension, you) are not the least bit welcome. On only one day per year does Burns allow regular people into his perfect world (the warning sign doesn’t say that “Trespassers” will be shot, it says “Poachers”), and even then it’s only so his employees can bow and scrape before him. The sack race is mandatory (and Burns must be allowed to win), the father whose kid didn’t want to be there is not only getting promptly ejected from the party, he’s being fired permanently.
But the mansion itself is just as important, particularly vis-a-vis the rest of Springfield. Besides the Simpson home, there are only three other real settings in this episode. There’s Moe’s, a dingy bar that doesn’t even have a color television, the pawn shop, and Dr. Monroe’s clinic, which is hardly a top notch medical facility since, as Lisa points out, he advertises it during boxing:
The bar is dirty and dingy, the pawnshop is a pawnshop (and has cracks in its walls and ceiling), and the rather grandly named “Family Therapy Center” is just some rented office with a dumpster right where you can see it on your way in. Burns Manor, on the other hand, is the only really nice place in the entire town:
It’s got a foyer worthy of Versailles, classical architecture, and enormous grounds decorated with fountains and gazebos. Unlike Springfield, which is kind of a mess, Burns Manor is polished and perfect.
We’re still years away from Bart having the train that disappears for hours and one time came back with snow on it, or the band shell where a captive Tom Jones performs for Marge and Homer, or the guards who sing that all they own they owe, but Burns Manor is already recognizable as a place that is both very rich and very cruel. Moreover, it’s already a place that highlights all the things the Simpsons don’t have, and really can never have. Homer’s place is at Moe’s with the passed out drunk on the bar; Marge has the house that Bart describes as a “dump” when he thinks its someone else’s. Even the perfect family Homer sees leaving Burns Manor at the beginning is stuck at Dr. Marvin Monroe’s run down clinic. Burns Manor, on the other hand, stands literally up on a hill, looking down on them all.
After surviving a tornado, Marge and Homer seek out guardians for the kids, in case the worst should happen. They first turn to friends and family, including Homer’s half-brother, Herb Powell with whom to entrust their kids, but when Bart and Lisa fall in love with a super-cool couple, Mav and Portia, Marge starts to question their potential guardians’ true motivations.
Rashida Jones is a guest voice tonight. I guess she must be Portia. I also guess I’ll never find out because I am going to catch up on Justified instead.