Archive for April, 2015

30
Apr
15

Compare & Contrast: Making Flashback Episodes Worthwhile

Lisa's First Word14

“Can you say David Hasselhoff?” – Bart Simpson
“David Hassahof.” – Lisa Simpson
“Can you say Daddy?” – Homer Simpson
“Homer.” – Lisa Simpson

The Simpsons did its first flashback episode way (way) back in Season 2.  “The Way We Was” introduced us to Homer and Marge as high school kids who had never even met; and along the way answered one of the fundamental questions of the show: why, exactly, is Marge with Homer?  Over the next four seasons they flashed back three more times, each time showing the birth of one of the Simpson kids.  “I Married Marge” showed us Bart’s accidental conception inside a mini-golf decoration.  “Lisa’s First Word” put the family in now their iconic house and showed the beginning of Bart and Lisa’s never ending rivalry.  “And Maggie Makes Three” completed the set and showed us that there was no sacrifice too painful for Homer to make for his kids (well, not the boy, but you know what I mean).

And Maggie Makes Three16

Genuine character development, a concept unknown to Zombie Simpsons.

These episodes do not, strictly speaking, fit chronologically.  If Bart was conceived after his parents saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater, there’s no way he can be two years older than Lisa, who was born in the summer of 1984.  Similarly, if Homer and Marge were leaving high school in 1976, Homer wouldn’t be twenty-four-years-old in 1980.  But it doesn’t matter because background numbers that only the dedicated will ever put together aren’t the point.

By spacing events a little further apart, they gave themselves more defined cultural targets than just borderline meaningless shorthand like “The 70s” or “The 80s”.  So not only do these four episodes form a coherent whole while filling in the background of our favorite family, they do so while making pointed fun of distinct slices of American culture.

Homer and Marge are in high school in the mid 1970s, then Bart’s birth is the early 1980s, Lisa’s the mid-1980s, and Maggie’s the early 1990s.  Poking fun at Ms. and “makeout music” becomes Yoda and John Anderson, which becomes the 1984 Olympics preceding an hour long episode of Mama’s Family, which finishes up with the “clear beverage craze” and “information superhighway”.

I Married Marge15

Homer Simpson, early pioneer of the sarcastic t-shirt.

That level of specificity is missing from “The Kids Are All Fight”, as is any meaningful background on the family and/or general cultural coherence.  They tell us Lisa and Bart are two and four, but neither of them acts anything like a two-year-old or a four-year-old.  They use film development as a justification for looking back, but it’s not like many people were still using film in 2009.  The flashback idea that used to be so carefully handled has become just another excuse for a weird, semi-magical adventure in a “past” Springfield that is indistinguishable from the one they usually use.

They do make a stab at showing us a little family development, but it’s pretty halfhearted.  You see, Bart and Lisa used to fight a lot (and they will make sure you understand by stating so explicitly many times), and now they don’t.  The eventual story reason they offer for this is that Lisa “gives in”.  There are large scope problems with that (we’ve seen them fight countless times, and Lisa clearly hasn’t given in), and there are small scope problems with that (the wacky adventure they go on is more about Bart bolting than Bart and Lisa fighting).  But what really makes the kids’ story ring hollow is the way that conclusion glosses over Lisa’s surrender.

A show with characters who are faintly recognizable as human beings, or even one with just a little heart, could do a lot with a younger sibling resigning herself to years of dangerously crazy behavior from her brother.  There’s a plenty of material there for emotion, comedy, and fun generally, but Zombie Simpsons brushes any of that off for action scenes of Bart riding a big wheel through traffic and cutesy title cards announcing each new wacky scene.

Storytime Title Card

How whimsical.

For proof of this, look no further than Ralph Wiggum’s brief cameo.  Since this is Zombie Simpsons, he appears out of nowhere, then gets into the wheel of a semi-truck, then is shipped off on a boat.  They put him next to Lisa, but he hadn’t been there the last time we saw her and the two of them don’t interact at all.  He just pops in and then starts talking.

Oh, Hai, Ralph

Hi, Ralph!  Uh, how did you get here?

Here’s the entirety of his dialogue:

Your brother is stupid.  Bye bye.  The wheel I’m inside goes round and round, round and round, round and round.  The boat I’m aboard goes up and down, up and down, up and down.

It isn’t even a good Ralph-ism.  He just tells us what we’re seeing, and it goes on so long that he uses more than twice as many words as “Super Nintendo Chalmers”, “I bent my wookie”, and “Me fail English?  That’s unpossible” all put together.  Even if you don’t care about him materializing and not having anything to do with what was happening, that’s just awful.

The final evidence that story coherence and relatable characters don’t even enter into the thinking at Zombie Simpsons comes one scene later, when we see Chief Wiggum for the first and only time.  The whole second half of the episode is about Lisa and Bart getting into trouble unsupervised and Homer and Marge’s panicked search to find them.  Ralph Wiggum is doing the exact same thing as Bart and Lisa, but all we see Chief Wiggum do is interview Gil (for some reason).

Wiggum doesn’t know that his kid is roaming the streets, and the episode seems to have forgotten it completely as well.  There isn’t even a blithe, expository explanation because, as far as Zombie Simpsons is concerned, the Chief and Ralph are just one scene props.

There isn’t even any connection to the fact that this is a flashback.  Like most of the people, places and events we see in “The Kids Are All Fight”, both of them could just as easily be doing and saying the exact same things in the show’s regular timeframe.  When The Simpsons went to the past, it went with a purpose and made fun of everything it saw.  When Zombie Simpsons goes to the past, it trips backwards, stares blankly for a bit, and then continues stumbling around like always.

30
Apr
15

Quote of the Day

'Round Springfield15

“Look, if you ignore me and I die, you’ll get in a lot of trouble.” – Bart Simpson
“Read page six of the school charter.” – Mrs. Krabappel
“No teacher shall be held accountable if Bart Simpson dies.” – Bart Simpson
“We’re also absolved if Milhouse gets eaten by the school snake.” – Mrs. Krabappel
“Hey, cool, there’s a rabbit in here!” – Milhouse van Houten

Happy 20th Anniversary to “‘Round Springfield”!  Original airdate 30 April 1995.

29
Apr
15

Quote of the Day

Krusty Gets Busted6

“You can emerge now from my chips.  The opportunity to prove yourself a hero is long gone.” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

28
Apr
15

Behind Us Forever: The Kids Are All Fight

And Maggie Makes Three15

“It all began about two years ago before Maggie was even born.  Bart, you were Lisa’s age, and Lisa, you were the age Bart was several years ago.” – Homer Simpson

As it has doddered along these last few years, Zombie Simpsons has started to turn to flash forward episodes a bit more often where Bart and Lisa are adults with kids of their own.  For “The Kids Are All Fight”, they went the other way, going backwards to some indeterminate time a few years ago when Bart was four and Lisa was two.  The story, which was even more incoherent than usual, involved little Bart and Lisa escaping the house and going on a wacky adventure that consisted of a series of disconnected scenes.

– And we are off to a poor start with Moe telling us out loud that he doesn’t know how to work his cash register.

– Homer found an old roll of film in his jacket, and then Carl appeared out of nowhere to tell Homer that he can’t get film developed anymore.

– It’s okay, now they’re developing it in the bar, which leads to the whole family being at Moe’s, where the expository dialogue flows like water.

– After a brief montage showing old pictures of Bart and Lisa fighting, we get one of those adorable in-episode retcons so Marge can scold Homer for not stepping in while he took the photos.

– As an example of why this show can’t write a decent joke anymore, I present their attempt to make fun of the Planet of The Apes movies, in its bloated entirety:

Marge:  Well, it’s quite a story, a story of a special bond between a brother and a sister.
Bart:  I’d say our story’s a tragedy, like the Planet of the Apes.  The tragedy being they can never stop making them!
Marge:  Hey, come on, the first and eighth movies were pretty darn good.

It has nothing to do with what’s going on, involves Bart speaking two sentences, one of which is an explanation of the other, and then Marge finally getting to a punchline that is itself buried in the middle of another overly long sentence.  Whether or not you think that’s funny is up to you, but that mass of words never would’ve made it past the first draft of an actual Simpsons script.

– Flashback Bart and Lisa are now clubbing each other with books while Marge looks on helplessly.

– Oops, we’re back at Moe’s in the present now, where the family describes a time they went to Kwik-E-Mart.  Mmm, tell don’t show.

– Yet another example of how messy these scripts are: after once again telling us (for about the sixth time in three minutes) that Bart and Lisa were always fighting, Marge says, “That’s why we never developed that roll.”  Not only is this line completely unnecessary (the scene ends right after it) but it contradicts the fact that we just saw Homer pull this forgotten roll from his suit.  I don’t care about inter-episode continuity, and I recognize that intra-episode continuity is too much for Zombie Simpsons, but these two things didn’t even have a commercial break in between them.

– And we’re back in the past, where Bart is in the clown bed.

– They just went to slow motion and played Also Sprach Zarathustra while Homer went in to strangle Bart.  Was that supposed to be the first time that happened?  Who knows?  They had Bart smash a lamp over Homer’s head right after.  Hey, ate some time at least, right?

– Guh, this is bad:

Marge: Homer, I just the worst dream.  I lost one of the kids at the World’s Fair.
Homer:  It’s okay, which one?
Marge: Brisbane, ’88.
Homer:  Oh, that’s so horrible, baby!
Marge:  I know.  I know.

Again, you have one punchline (and not a particularly strong one, if you ask me) buried amid line after line of setup and whatever it is you call it when your joke goes on for two more lines after your weak punchline.

– Now they’re at the expository counselor’s office.

– Hey, Grandma Flanders is back, only now she’s less senile and her voice is less scratchy.  Is stuff like this and the clown bed supposed to be fan service or is it just filler?

– Now she’s babysitting and screaming.  So . . . filler.

– And speaking of filler, Marge and Homer are apparently getting dressed for brunch (and having an expository conversation about what they’re doing, Marge even informed us when she zipped up her dress).  Keep in mind they’re showing us this after the scene where Grandma Flanders looked to have been babysitting for quite some time already.  Did they put these in the episode in the wrong order, or did nobody care?

– And now Grandma Flanders is dead.  So . . . definitely filler.

– Homer and Marge stayed home to screw, so, naturally, Homer had to recap what we just saw, “My favorite kind of weekend morning, a sexy snuggle while our rotten kids are someone else’s problem.”  Homer then cackles maniacally for 10-15 seconds.

– Now Bart is riding through traffic on a big wheeler.  Jebus, I’m bored.

– Aaaaand we’re back to hopping around in the story.  Apparently, Homer and Marge did go to brunch, and now they’ve discovered that Bart and Lisa are gone.  This is chronologically confusing and sloppy even by student film standards.

– Apparently, Gil is being hired by Wiggum now.  There is yelling.

– Bart was arguing with the bullies, but then Lisa showed up even after we saw Bart drive away in front of another car.  Oof, this is a mess, none of these scenes go together at all.

– I’m zoning out now.  Bart and Lisa are at the retirement home.

– Homer just shot a pizza.  Then there was exposition.

– More random scenes are happening.  I’m done.

– And we end on a weirdly out of place Seinfeld musical beat while Hibbert talks to the Flandereses, which is itself ended by Lisa, back in the present, saying, “You’ve had three natural endings already.”  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: they know these episodes are slapdash and pathetic, they just don’t care.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they remain at historic lows.   On Sunday, just 3.30 million viewers wished they were watching “Lisa’s First Word”.  That is up ever so slightly from last week’s 3.23, but still good for #6 on the all time least watched list.  There are three episodes to go, and barring a major surge in viewership, Season 26 is going to easily eclipse Season 25’s record as the least watched ever.

28
Apr
15

Quote of the Day

Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song14

“The ingredients were, fresh pureed tomatoes, water, salt, and sodium benzoate used to retard spoilage.  Once again, if I’m not mistaken, this can contained tomato paste.” – Nelson Muntz
“Thank you, Nelson, I look forward to seeing it again next week.” – Mrs. Krabappel

27
Apr
15

Quote of the Day

In Marge We Trust14

“You’ve just got to accept it: your GameBoy is gone.  It’s at the bottom of the ocean.” – Marge Simpson
“Aye.  Aye. . . Aye.” – Captain McAllister

26
Apr
15

Sunday Preview: The Kids Are All Fight

The_Kids_Are_All_Fight_Promo_3

The family takes a trip down memory lane to see the origins of how Bart and Lisa first started fighting with each other.

Flashback episode eh?  I watched the promos for this episode earlier, and as per usual, I was less than unimpressed.

In one of the promos Homer seems to hire Grandma Flanders as a babysitter, and she is remarkably more with it than when we were first graced with her presence during “Lisa’s First Word”.   I am now going to go watch that episode to wash the promos out of my eyes.




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