26
Sep
15

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Lisa's Pony23

“This is what love costs a month?” – Homer Simpson
“These are standard stable fees, Mr. Simpson.  Plus I’m teaching your daughter riding, grooming, and, at no extra charge, pronunciation.” – Lady at The Grateful Gelding Stables
“Father!  You’ve made me the happiest girl who ever lived!” – Lisa Simpson

NOTE: Sorry for no Reading Digest yesterday.  I realize it’s not graduation season, but my advice to seniors in both high school and college is: never get a job.  Bart was right, working is for chumps.

I’m a big fan of the gleeful nihilism of Rick and Morty, the relentless contrarianism of South Park, the sarcastic hopelessness of Futurama, and plenty of other two word praiseworthy comedies.  But there has never been anything like The Simpsons, and this morning I’m going to cite “Lisa’s Pony” as an example of why.

The first thing to note is the near mathematical precision of the writing.  A line like “The young man you replaced is rolling over in his grave” is eleven words long and contains (depending on how you want to count) something like four or five jokes.  Not only was a young man (who certainly didn’t care about his job enough to roll in his grave about it) killed before he had a chance to really live, but Apu blithely replaced him with a father of three because he considers routinely fatal gunshots an occupational hazard.  But this is Season 3, and lines that evilly good are too numerous to count.

What puts the show above everything else is the way that lines like are justified by characters and situations.  At the end of the first act, Homer says:

Lisa's Pony22

“Maybe I should just cut my losses, give up on Lisa, and make a fresh start with Maggie.”

That’s among the most awful things a parent can say about their child.  In its way, the apathy it implies is even worse than outright abuse.  This is Homer seriously contemplating quitting on an eight-year-old.  And it’s not like he’s clever enough to say this for pity from Marge.  He means it.  Plus, it’s set up perfectly by a very short montage that has happy music over an escalating series of his parenting catastrophes.

As horrific as that is, it’s funny because we the audience never doubt Homer.  We know he loves Lisa.  He loves her deeper and more powerfully than he can even begin to understand; the only reason he’s thinking of quitting on her is because he can’t see any way she would ever love him again.

That’s what compels him to get the pony, to sign the usurious loan from Mr. Burns, to take the high profile yet demanding midnight-to-8am job at the Kwik-E-Mart.  Every crazy and hilarious thing that happens comes from one central idea: Homer loves Lisa.

It’s beautiful, compelling, and wonderful, and building the episode on it makes and justifies every joke, no matter how bleak, cynical or hopeless.  Jebus, this show is good.


6 Responses to “Saturday Morning Cartoons”


  1. 1 Bleeding Gums Murphy
    26 September 2015 at 11:39 am

    Now that you speak about the economy of The Simpsons’ writing, I think “Krusty Gets Kancelled” is one of the best examples of how dense these episodes were.

    Right at the beginning of the episode, they introduce Gabbo, who everyone (including the audience) can see he’s much more impresive that Krusty has ever been. But instead of trying to compare what Krusty does vs. what Gabbo does, which is what any other show would have done, they spent the following minutes showing Krusty’s pathetic attempts to recover the lost ground. Why showing us again how awesome Gabbo is? We already know that.

    Once the Krusty the Clown show is finally cancelled, we still have two thirds of the episode, where the following happens:
    -Krusty attempts to recover his fame and fortune but ends completely ruined
    -Bart tries to ruin Gabbo’s career, which does not work
    -Lisa and Bart meets some of Krusty’s old friends for a Komeback Special
    -When the kids visits Krusty again at his house, they find him in a unsuitable for TV physical form. They move him to the Simpsons’ house, where Krusty does some exercise with Homer and practises some gags. All of this happens in a little more than a minute, and with several dialogue-free gags.
    -Finally, the Komeback Special show is broadcasted, Krusty’s career is re-launched (but Gabbo is still on air) and he comes back to his old self-destructing routines.

    Any other show would have needed AT LEAST twice the amount of screen time The Simpsons used, unless they resort to cheap, lazy shortcuts. What a wonderful TV series.

  2. 2 Stan
    26 September 2015 at 2:32 pm

    You know, I’ve routinely watched The Simpsons up to Season 3, some time after I discovered your blog and years after I stopped watching ZS. And frankly, everything I’ve seen slowly drove me angry. Not the same kind of angry you feel when watching ZS, when you’re just wondering when Homer would die and it wound all end. But a kind of angry when you have to pause the episode every 20 seconds to Google up what the fuck they’re even joking about. And then you go like “Ohhhh, so that was the joke…” At least, unlike with Family Guy, they really base their puns on something more than impressions coming from Groening’s head.
    The early episodes tended most to have those snarky endings or plot twists, where apparently, because it’s America, something that doesn’t usually works has actually worked, or vice versa. This was second on my getting-pissed-off-with-the-show list. Especially the attitude of Patty and Selma, pure assholes. In almost every one of their appearances throughout Seasons 2 and 3, they act like fucking feminist bitches, they’re rude, mean, more often than not uneducated and so sexist I don’t even know how anyone would ever put up with them. If these characters were written off of real life persona, I pity the men who would’ve ever known them. Then there’s the pure despotic Mr. Burns, who acts like a douchebag boss out of time and downbeat yet still too proud of himself. He seems cartoonish, sure, but every setup he gets too feels like once again they used real people to inspire themselves while creating this character. And yet, you can’t help but wonder how would a guy like this even exist in the real world without being overtly mocked and ridiculed, the same way he does it to his everyday employees at work.
    But most importantly, the blend of these jabby satire and completely despicable characters creates an atmosphere of dysfunction and despair within the watching society. It’s like they’re being this unpleasantly intimidating bully at school, and giving them all the credit for making “I’ll kill you” remarks left and right, without any meaning. That kind of obnoxious attitude, even with the jokes actually working, often makes you wonder why would you even bother to watching something like that. Just because it’s funny, you’d forget that it’s actually insultingly funny? Just because you relate, you’d never wonder why? In some subtle way, The Simpsons are still flipping their bird at you, except unlike Family Guy, they think they know they’re doing this for all the right reasons.

    • 3 Jack
      27 September 2015 at 8:07 am

      What? … No, seriously, WHAT?! OK, let’s just try and dissect your “points”:

      – You need to do a Google search every 20 seconds during classic Simpsons to understand the jokes? How? Why?
      – Simpsons puns are “more than impressions coming from Groening’s head”? Puns are just wordplay jokes; what does it even mean to say they’re “more” than just ideas?
      – Early episodes had more plot twists? I don’t think so, but plot twists aren’t inherently bad, they’re just a regular tool of fiction. And what the hell is a “snarky ending”?
      – The Simpsons is bad because Mr. Burns and Patty and Selma are mean? Of course they’re mean; they’re antagonists. Do you even get how fiction works.
      – I really don’t think Mr. Burns was based on a real person, but if he was, what difference does it make? The Simpsons is a cartoon.
      – Why are you using “feminist” as an insult?
      – “the blend of these jabby satire and completely despicable characters creates an atmosphere of dysfunction and despair” : the what? The characters in The Simpsons aren’t despicable in general, only the villains are, and most episodes tended not to have the hero vs. villain plot structure anyway. How you decided The Simpsons was depressing I’ll never know.
      – How on Earth is The Simpsons “insultingly funny”? You don’t back up the “The Simpsons is a bully” idea at all.

      Nope, it’s no good. It’s all nonsense. It’s like this comment was posted by a Markov chain generator.

      • 4 Stan
        27 September 2015 at 10:20 pm

        “You need to do a Google search every 20 seconds during classic Simpsons to understand the jokes? How? Why?”
        How? You go to google and type in things. Why? Because I don’t get political slurs coming from the US as I don’t live there (there are many other examples too, but this was some times ago I don’t remember them all).

        “Puns are just wordplay jokes”
        Yeah, I was just looking for a synonym to the word “joke”. English – not mother tongue.

        “what does it even mean to say they’re “more” than just ideas?”
        It means that MacFarlane, for some reason, thinks portraying Reese Witherspoon with a huge fucking chin is somewhat funny. Groening knew better where to look for jokes.

        “I don’t think so”
        I meant that many episodes ended with “we are watching FOX” thing. Or some idea like “man vs government cannot win”. I call those plot twists, because instead of concluding the episode right where it started, they go completely out of the orbit to end with a joke about how the system is shitty, yada-yada. But yeah, all other Seasons do that too. Even ZS does this.

        “And what the hell is a “snarky ending””
        An ending that sets you off because it didn’t resolve what was supposed to be resolved. See above.

        “The Simpsons is bad because Mr. Burns and Patty and Selma are mean?”
        Uh no, those were just some examples. It goes well beyond with many other characters too. But it’s a personal thing. Like, I don’t like watching or reading a story where one of the characters is mean, and it’s obviously portrayed (as in “into your face” obviously). In every goddamn scene. Like I’m saying, it’s personal.

        “they’re antagonists”
        You can’t call them antagonists because this is a sitcom, not a single story development. They’re side characters, yes, but they’re not always there just to make things bad (heck, you even have whole episodes about every one of them at some point), but my problem with the show is every time they’re portrayed, it’s in your face.

        “Do you even get how fiction works”
        Okay, that’s a dumbass question (if). Be sure to never ask that again.

        “what difference does it make”
        It’s not about making any differences, it’s about being realistic enough to seem plausible, from start to finish. When an episode ends just because Burns is an asshole you get the idea of me tying both elements together. The whole time you’re there, thinking why does Burns act so selfishly, and then they end it on him being an asshole note. Get it?

        “Why are you using “feminist” as an insult”
        I’m not. I’m using “sexist” as an insult, specifically put into the context of Patty and Selma. You don’t have to be a douchebag about being a woman, do you now?

        “The characters in The Simpsons aren’t despicable in general”
        Well, before I used to think that Zombie jerkass Homer was an irritating pile of shit. But then I found out that to me he was irritating even with the way they have written him before ZS era. Like, not only is he dumb (okay, many times funny, but still), he’s like that guy to expressively piss others off. In Dead Putting Society, he was rude to Flanders the whole time. And we’re supposed to take that with an “okay”? No, fuck it man, if that’s how they see Homer, I’m surely not seeing him the same way.
        Then there’s naggy Marge. When she does her “hrrrrmm” it irritates me. Like, then she takes Bart by the hand and says: “No I don’t think this will happen”. Or on other occasions, she’s too demanding. Bart himself is a little asshole, in that episode with Jebediah’s head he was pissing me off because he was like “Cuhhhmon guys”. Like, shut the fuck up already! Lisa was okay in the early seasons, but then she too has become too smartypants and sometimes I’d have really loved to whack her good. But the thing with Lisa is, I had a crush on her when I was 15 or so. So I dunno, maybe she too would’ve been non less irritating.

        “How you decided The Simpsons was depressing I’ll never know”
        That show was portraying a lot of everyday life situations, all while alluding that since the family was dysfunctional, it was okay for them to piss even Dr. Monroe out. It feels laughable, sure, but imagine this realistically. Nothing funny about such a family.

        “How on Earth is The Simpsons “insultingly funny”? You don’t back up the “The Simpsons is a bully” idea at all”
        Ever seen any of Nostalgia Critic reviews? He’s at the same level of “insultingly funny”. It means that, just like with your last phrase, you have to ridicule something or someone to make it funny, because by yourself, you can’t come up with anything genuine. When you’re setting up the idea that some movie is garbage, then you beat it to the ground zillions of times, people laugh because you seem credible and you do it a zillion times. But it doesn’t mean that the movie was an absolute and complete garbage. You didn’t get a lot from my comment, so you utterly judged that it all was nonsense, and turned the page. For the record, you can write funny comments without saying those things, even if this is how you actually feel.

  3. 6 acreatureididnotknow
    26 September 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Fantastic post. My 2 pence: I’d love to see you do more posts like this, maybe on an episode-by-episode basis, and stop covering the new series so much.

    The show’s going to run on, so this blog may as well be a celebration rather than a (well-argued and fully reasoned) critique.

    I know your blog has always been a celebration as well, but maybe bring that front and centre rather than the inevitable crumminess of season 27.


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