15
May
14

Compare & Contrast: Adult Game Night

A Milhouse Divided17

“Oh, I hate having parties.  The toilet always gets backed up.” – Homer Simpson
“I don’t care if the sink shoots sludge, we’re having a party!” – Marge Simpson

There’s an inescapable lameness to those adult games that get broken out after dinner parties.  When kids get together, they can easily make up games on the fly (you’ve got to reach home base at the couch, the lava starts at the edge of the carpet, etcetera), but grown-ups tend to need a little more structure, especially if they’re playing against people they don’t know that well.  Trivial Pursuit, Scattegories and similar games provide a blandly safe sense of fun to social situations that might otherwise be too uptight, awkward or flat out boring.  Carefree kids don’t need that help, but adults do, and that’s uncool and old any way you slice it.

The proof of that is the fact that so many of these games get bought, maybe used once, and then stuffed onto some shelf where they might as well have a sign on them that says “Break Glass In Case of Extreme Boredom”.  That inherent lameness, however, does have the benefit of making them nice, soft targets for comedy.  And while Zombie Simpsons swings and misses at just about everything, The Simpsons smacked those games dead square in the Parker-Brothers logo.

In “A Milhouse Divided”, Marge and Homer throw the quintessential middle class dinner party.  The house gets gussied up a bit, the dinnerware is a cut above normal, and everyone’s dressed just a little nicer than they’d normally be.  Things end badly when the van Houtens boil over at each other over Pictionary, but from Marge’s initial desire to throw the party through Kirk’s awkward goodnight, the entire thing feels like something she would have done with the best of intentions.

By contrast, in “Pay Pal”, the evening is preceded by whole scenes worth of exposition from Marge and quickly devolves into a fight between Homer and John Oliver that comes right out of the blue.  Aside from the initial setup, no part of it makes any sense and most of what passes for jokes are weak one-liners instead of actual dialogue.  Like so much of Zombie Simpsons, they aren’t really concerned with satirizing anything or even telling a story, they’ve just got a short list of things they hope are funny, and they would appreciate it if you would sit still for a half-an-hour while they read it aloud.

The two at least start similarly.  In both cases, Marge is trying to be a little more social.  But even at this early stage you can see an immediate difference in how solid her character and motivations are.  Season 8 Marge wants to inject a little class into her life after seeing too many of the dinners she cooks pass in silence in front of the television.  In bed the night after having her son suggest that they start eating dinner out of a trough, Marge remarks to Homer:

Marge:  Homer, is this the way you pictured married life?
Homer:  Yeah, pretty much, except we drove around in a van solving mysteries.
Marge:  Well, I pictured cocktails and candle lit dinners.  I pictured napkins!  Homer, I want to throw a dinner party.

A Milhouse Divided16

A married couple having a conversation in private and no one bursts into their room.  Huh.

Homer and Marge aren’t talking to the audience, they’re talking to each other.  And within that dialogue we have jokes that fit seamlessly into their back and forth.  Homer’s inane Scooby Doo fantasy and Marge demanding the civilizing touch of napkins aren’t setup-beat-joke sitcom punchlines, they’re Homer being his doofus self and Marge, the master of repressing her own desires, just wishing for the barest level of class in her own home.

Compare that with pretty much the exact same scene in “Pay Pal”:

Marge:  Why don’t we have any couples friends?
Homer:  Because, couples friends are a myth, started by restaurants with tables for four!

This is a setup-beat-punchline sitcom joke, and a very poor one at that.  It’s aimed at no one and makes no sense (are there any restaurants that don’t have “tables for four”?), so much so that you can practically hear where the recorded laughter would go.  Continuing:

Marge:  I want friends!  Any friends.
Homer:  Okay, sweetie, I’ll call the van Houtens.
Marge:  Not the van Houtens!  They’re always bragging about their trip to Rome.  It was twelve years ago, and it was a layover.  I want new friends.

Woof, here we’ve got Marge repeating the same piece of exposition twice, with another hapless (and overlong) sitcom joke smashed in the middle.  But things are about to get so much worse, because Zombie Simpsons is about to have Lisa appear in the door for no reason other than the shallowest form of plot expediency:

Lisa:  Can I make an observation?  I’m okay with no friends.  It’s easier to focus and it’ll give me great material for whatever art form I choose.  Right now I’m thinking long novella.  Good night.

Hacktacular!  Let’s have a character show up quickly, spout some expository nonsense, and then depart before even waiting for a response from the people she was supposedly speaking to!  Along the way they have Lisa tell the audience exactly what she’s thinking (even though it’s not something we’d normally hear from her), then explain the joke she’s about to make, then make that joke, then disappear as quickly as she arrived.  But wait, there’s more!:

Marge:  Okay with no friends?  That’s the saddest thing I can imagine my daughter saying to me.

Note that Marge is now also basically talking to no one except the audience.  She’s not interacting with anyone else around her, she’s repeating things Lisa just said and then telling us precisely how she feels.  And because two hapless monologues deserve a third, Bart then shows up just as suddenly as Lisa did:

Bart:  I can think of worse.  The saddest thing would be if you were driving and texting Lisa, and you hit her, and the last thing she texted before she died was, ‘I got your message’.  Good night.

One last time: this isn’t dialogue.  These characters aren’t discussing anything, they’re spouting lines that bear no resemblance to conversation while physically appearing and disappearing at random.  Bart’s little sad scenario isn’t even trying to be funny.

Open Door Policy

Come, children, monologue at your parents before bed.

From there, the two episode continue in their own way.  Season 8 takes us briskly to the flagrantly false advertised Stoner’s Pot Palace and shows us Marge’s insanely detailed dinner party preparations, which include glazing the ham to the point of luminescence and putting the toilet seats through the dish washer.  Season 25 staggers forward by having Marge spend the next few scenes in yet another extended monologue, this time admonishing Homer about what he should and shouldn’t do for half a minute.  Once again, this is them butchering the single simplest, anyone-can-understand-it, fundamental tenet of good screenwriting: show, don’t tell.

After that we finally get to the respective parties see once more how a poorly constructed, nonsensical one is a hell of a lot less fun than the opposite.  In “Pay Pal”, Homer and Marge show up, get greeted by John Oliver, and then stand there and listen to yet another monologue, the longest yet.  Even John Oliver can’t make this laundry list of mediocrity funny:

Oliver: That’s the spirit.  Wallace and I have found this game to provide a full evening of divertissement, building in suspense to a masterful climax.  We’ve rented costumes you’ll find accurate to period and conducive to character.  We will serve food and wine appropriate to period and palate.  We’ve programmed music to cover every dramatic event.  Hired a foley artist . . . I believe the mare has a slight limp . . . yes, yes!  So, for the next three hours, I welcome you to the moors of-

At that, Zombie Homer cuts him off, so for once at least his jerkass nature came in handy.  Then the fight starts and the scene comes to a mercifully abrupt end.  Literally the only other characters to speak do so with one liners (Sideshow Mel, Wiggum) or yet another monologue (Oliver’s wife).

Bored Foley Guy

The foley guy appears to be accurately representing both the audience and the animation staff.

Beneath the feeble stabs at humor lies the fundamental problem: they aren’t making fun of anything.  They aren’t even really trying.  Instead of satirizing the enforced make believe and jollity of a murder mystery party, they seem to think it’s rather cool, and wouldn’t it be cooler with someone like Oliver around to rent costumes and hire a sound effects guy?  Most of the scene, if it can even be called that, is one long speech about how awesome it’ll be; then it stops.  They can’t make fun of it because they don’t have any real people attending.

On the other hand, by the time “A Milhouse Divided” has its characters playing Pictionary, we’ve seen them be their normal, hilarious selves.  Hibbert has laughed at a couple of his own typically inappropriate jokes; Flanders, clueless as ever, said he likes Woodsey Allen movies except for “that nervous fella”, and Kirk and Luann are starting to reach the boiling point.  There’s no need for monologues and unexpected one-liners because the characters who sit down to play that game are capable of being funny without them.

So when it comes time for the Flandereses to correctly get “corn starch” based on six dots, there’s no need for them to look at the audience and explain what it means when they nuzzle over it being good for “keeping down the urges”.  If there’s one thing Maude and Ned would do, it’s eat something as bland and sinless as corn starch to keep themselves from getting horny.  We don’t need shouted punchlines or pre-joke explanations because we know who these characters are.  All they have to do to be hilarious is act like their normal, believably oddball selves.

After that, we see Luann finally lose it with Kirk over him being an asshole about his wonderfully incomprehensible rendition of “dignity”.  They’ve been sniping at each other literally since they walked in the door, and, as sometimes happens in real life, those harmless looking adult games provide just enough stress to push two people into an outright shouting match.  Sprinkled in there are gems like “Gudger College”, “Allied Biscuit” and Homer’s lightning quick misreading of the word “impotence” in “managerial impotence”.

Everything, from the party itself and the guests to Marge’s motivations and that divorce causing game, is treated as a source of comedy because in the right hands that’s what they are.  Zombie Simpsons just draws some people into a room, nevermind anything else, and hopes that the delivery on a word like “divertissement” brings a slight smile.


23 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Adult Game Night”


  1. 1 Oscar
    15 May 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I’m sure a lot of us here don’t watch these epsidoes and rely on DHS to fill us in.

    Why would Bart say anything of that caliber? Is the scenario of Marge killing Lisa a joke? What is wrong with this show?

  2. 15 May 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Tour de force, Charlie. Bravo.

    ZS is a bit like hearing a terrible cover or remix of a song you love; you hope there must be something good in it somewhere, because you’ve heard it, once, but ultimately all you realise is how great the original was all along.

  3. 3 Stan
    15 May 2014 at 7:37 pm

    lol “divertissement”… Ils savent même pas ce que ça veut dire.

    About corn starch. Wasn’t it supposed to keep you constipated instead of horny? Anyway, that’s how I saw the joke. Also, since you already know these represent the best of your posts IMO, just still want to comment on how amazingly you sort everything out. Yes, it happened to me to rewatch some single-digit season eps and say to myself “Holy cow, Charlie really nailed X!” If you know what I mean.

    Also, dignity doesn’t look like a fucking circle with an inlet in the middle. Not to me at least.

  4. 15 May 2014 at 8:32 pm

    What are the folks at ZS gonna do next? Make Barney & Otto become juggalos and do a half-assed ribbing of that subculture? Yeah, that’s not an easy target at all, plus it’s such a fresh & current subject, right? Right?

    • 5 Sarah J
      15 May 2014 at 11:47 pm

      If the show lasts a few years longer, my money says they’ll do a brony episode. You know, years after it was such a surprising thing. Every adult man in Springfield will be a fan of “My Small Equines”!

      • 16 May 2014 at 12:15 am

        Or just some random episode about Mayor Quimby titled, ‘My Lil’ Crony’, lol.

      • 8 Joe H
        16 May 2014 at 2:54 pm

        It’d be especially lame since Bob’s Burgers really set the standard for that sort of episode. Zombie Simpsons tends to glaze over any real satire or parody with these sorts of fads by making everyone in Springfield into a fanboy instead of bothering to depict a core group obsessing over it and showing some real byplay. That was a real problem in the Mapple episodes, the Lego episode, the Lady Gaga episode, the Facebook episode…I’m sure that’s only the tip of the iceburg.

        • 16 May 2014 at 4:23 pm

          Yeah, they’re great at reducing characters to single-attribute, one-dimensional stereotypes already, so why can’t famous real life fads, whether ‘spoofified’ or not, only attract fanbases consistent with characters who’s attributes easily correspond to it?

        • 10 Sarah J
          17 May 2014 at 11:37 pm

          Not to mention that the show-within-a-show wouldn’t even be much of a parody, just the same thing as in real life but with the names changed. The Bob’s Burgers “Equestranauts” was a parody of the show, but also still its own thing. The Simpsons just changes a word or letter (IT’S MAPPLE INSTEAD OF APPLE SO FUNNY AHAHAHAHA) and just keeps everything the same, with most mockery pushed toward just the stereotypes rather than saying anything interesting or insightful.

    • 11 Cal
      16 May 2014 at 2:19 pm

      Zombie Simpsons writers love constantly reminding us that they have daughters, so I expect even more episodes involving pop culture aimed at young and pre-teen girls. Without parody or satire, of course.

      • 12 Joe H
        16 May 2014 at 2:42 pm

        You mean like Shawna, Jimbo (& Bart’s?) girlfriend, who was reminded about 5 times in a past episode that she was Superintendent Chalmers’ daughter?

        Seems like she’s become the female stand-in for the “sqeaky voiced-teen” once they’ve finally tired of making him the only teenager in Springfield (aside from the bullies’ flexible ages).

        • 13 Stan
          16 May 2014 at 4:19 pm

          Didn’t SVT appear way before we even knew how old the bullies were?

        • 17 Cal
          16 May 2014 at 7:08 pm

          I was thinking specifically of what they’ve done to Lisa, like her myPod (ugh!) full of Josh Groban songs, or the Lady Gaga episode. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Shawna is based on some ZS writer’s teen daughter.

  5. 20 Joe H
    15 May 2014 at 9:44 pm

    NO ONE at that dinner party had anything remotely interesting to do. They were just copy-pasted into the room to fill out the empty space. Wiggum had a decent line (“Gee, I always wanted to solve a crime!”), but that was it.

  6. 21 Beezle-bot
    17 May 2014 at 7:11 pm

    You can’t have your characters announcing how they feel! That makes me feel angry!

  7. 22 ecco6t9
    18 May 2014 at 2:35 am

    I am too tired for this.

  8. 23 Anonymous
    19 May 2014 at 2:16 pm

    “Come, children, monologue at your parents before bed.”

    I just want to say this cracked me up.


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