“Lurleen, we’re gonna have to cut you off. We’re getting some kind of grinding noise on the track.” – Hicksville U.S.A. Recording Producer
“Friends and Family” provided an embarrassment of riches for Compare & Contrast material. This is a partial list of topics I considered:
– The family going to live with Burns the same way Bart did in “Burns’ Heir” – In the original, Bart had to be convinced to live there by Burns, lied to about his family, and ultimately saw through it. Now, the whole family just goes there and stays because . . . uh, look over there, isn’t it wacky that they’re wearing motion capture suits and have weird heads?
– Burns wanting a family – This would also be to “Burns’ Heir”, but instead of demonstrating how out of character the family was behaving, it’d be Burns: pining for love instead of wanting a son who could continue his evil after he was gone. Also: there was a scene with kids trying out and Milhouse getting rejected was a lot better the first time.
– Homer being alone in the house – This one is a twofer, since I could compare the goofy montage in Zombie Simpsons to “Homer Alone” or “Bart After Dark”, both of which saw Homer inhabit the house in clumsy ways instead of running the lawnmower in the living room.
– Homer meeting a very Homer-like woman – “The Last Temptation of Homer” did this far better, including showing Homer’s resistance to being attracted to Mindy until even Colonel Klink forsakes him. In particular, both episodes feature Homer at a romantic restaurant with Marge’s would-be competition, the big difference being that on The Simpsons they got forced to go to a Chinese restaurant that was nice enough to make them cheeseburgers, whereas on Zombie Simpsons Homer and his platonic friend – who’s supposed to like sitting on her duff and drinking beer just like him – go to a fancy restaurant so they could do yet another Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene.
– Jewish funerals – Krusty’s was a lot more fun than the one for that guy who was Burns’ therapist for two minutes.
Ultimately, I couldn’t resist this episode’s finale, a bizarre, senseless, and out of left field rant from Marge when she returns home to find Homer – gasp – talking to a woman on the phone. It gets weird fast and stays that way, so I’ll quote it extensively. To start, Homer is sitting on the couch and has just gotten off the phone when Marge and the kids walk in for what would seem to be the first time in weeks or months:
Homer: Hey, guys, good to see you!
Marge: Good to see you. Who were you talking to?
Homer: My friend Julia.
Lisa: Juli-a? Like a girl?
Let’s pause for a second to note how unnatural this dialogue is. We can maybe spot them Homer being so blase about seeing his family for the first time in a good long while, but Marge just coming back with “Good to see you” sounds nothing like her. And right after that we have “Who were you talking to?”, which not only doesn’t sound like her, but would also be about the last thing on her mind. It’s a screenwriter shortcut: have one character ask another the exact question needed to push the plot along.
Then we get Lisa chiming in, both surprised that it’s a girl, and with that weird pause before the “a” in Julia. Now, there are a lot of male names that can be feminized with an -a, George becomes Georgia, Claude becomes Claudia, Will becomes Willa, etcetera. But Julia isn’t one of them. Julian (one of our toughest names) is the closest, but the “a” is still there, so Lisa’s surprise at it remains off kilter. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s yet another way that the writing is just plain lazy. They want Lisa to express surprise, but instead of writing a line that lets her do so, they just have Yeardley Smith do a weird pronunciation. Moving along:
Homer: She’s not a girl, she’s three years younger than your mother. [Marge makes a noise of disapproval here] Marge, it’s cool. All we do is share our deepest thoughts and feelings.
Even by the standards of Zombie Homer this is painfully bad exposition, which is how you can tell its another hacktacular screenwriter shortcut. Homer is trying to get himself into trouble, which is the opposite of the Homer we know and love. To see how, compare it with more or less the exact same conversation in “Colonel Homer”:
Marge: It’s nice, but who is this woman?
Homer: Well, right now she’s an out of work cocktail waitress, but she’s going to be a country music superstar! Like, uh, that jerk in the cowboy hat, and that dead lady.
Marge: I don’t like you hanging around some cocktail waitress.
Homer: Marge, you make it sound so seamy. All I did was spend the afternoon in her trailer watching her try on some outfits.
Marge is annoyed, Homer is (truthfully) playing dumb.
First of all: jokes! Despite trying to create a country star, Homer can’t name a single one. Just as importantly, his intentions towards Lurleen are so innocent that he can’t begin to understand why his wife might not like him trying to help her career. This is Homer at his best: he’s being stupid and insensitive in the extreme, but he’s completely unaware of it. Moreover, he’s describing a concrete thing he did (watching Lurleen try on outfits) rather than describing an abstraction that is designed to piss Marge off.
Artificially pissed off, Marge then goes on a tear:
Marge: Kids, could you leave the room, please. . . . Faster!
Bart, Lisa and Maggie then jump into a nearby heating grate because that’s funny, right?
Drop of the hat rage: there’s the Marge we all know and love.
Homer: Marge, it’s nothing. She’s just my new best friend. [Marge knocks over Homer’s TV tray, so this gets to violence real quick.] Why are you mad at those eggs? They didn’t do anything!
Marge: Homer Simpson! After all I’ve put up with for all these years, if I’m not your best friend then what is this marriage about?
It goes on for a really long time.
This all happens as Marge is chasing Homer around the room and slapping at him. Homer cowers and runs away while Marge follows him – including through a closet door – as he makes excuses:
Homer: Okay, okay you’re my best friend! She’s just somebody I call when I’m mad at you. I mean, I’m never mad at you. Well, sometimes I’m mad at you, a little bit, but I shouldn’t call her, I should just drink it off at Moe’s. You’ll never hear the name Julia again.
Let’s pause again here and note how out of control this is. Stuff is getting knocked over, Homer’s fallen down several times, if it were real life it’s about where you’d think the cops should get called, and there’s nary a stab at humor other than Marge’s increasingly blinding rage, which is precisely nothing like her. And, since Zombie Simpsons is utterly predictable and shallow, as soon as Homer finishes, Julia walks in for no reason whatsoever:
Julia: Hi, I’m Julia! [Marge screams.] I just wanted to introduce myself and tell you you’ve got a great husband.
Screaming incoherently at a stranger, classic Marge.
Again: only hack comedy writers talk like this. Marge then compares Homer to a bike, which Julia denies wanting to “ride”. Then Julia walks out as suddenly as she walked in. It’s as hamfisted as it could possibly be: serious emotional meltdown coupled with a character appearing and disappearing as though no such thing is happening. None of the three of them are even remotely acting like real people, and Homer and Marge are so far out of character that they might as well not be themselves.
Homer and Marge then have an exposition filled conversation that makes things perfectly alright just as suddenly as they became divorce level bad:
Marge: I’m sorry, apparently you didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m not wrong for getting mad at you either!
Homer: Marge, Julia taught me lots of stuff that could help us. For example, I realize that when you see me doing something stupid and you don’t say anything about it, you do know, and you’re just being nice.
It goes on from there, but you get the idea. With just a little more exposition, all is well. This mess of a scene goes on for two whole minutes, which is a tenth of the entire episode and feels even longer since it’s all one big, continuous clusterfuck.
Compare that melodrama to the way Marge’s jealousy and Homer’s slow realization of the harm he’s causing builds across the entirety of “Colonel Homer”. The next time we see Homer and Marge after the above quoted scene is after Lurleen buys Homer his Colonel Tom Parker suit:
Homer: Marge, look at me!
Marge: I don’t want to, I’m mad at you. I’m sick of that waitress and all the time you’ve been spending with her and this whole country music thing.
Homer: Uh, then maybe you better not look at me.
Emotional reactions that make sense and advance the story. It really isn’t that hard, Zombie Simpsons.
This is the two of them perfectly in character. Homer is completely selfish and happy with how well things are going, utterly oblivious to Marge being upset until she tells him. Marge is putting up with it, but very unhappy to be doing so. From here we get Homer haplessly trying to deny that Lurleen bought him the suit, and then we get into one of the show’s old, classic running jokes: Homer justifying his current stupidity by saying it’s his boyhood dream.
From there we get the recording scene, where Homer has lied about Lurleen being overweight and through which Marge literally grits her teeth. Then Homer – now aware of Marge’s pain but still completely unaware that Lurleen is desperately trying to seduce him – goes off to the television show taping where he realizes what he’s doing. Going through all that – coupled with Lurleen’s on-air song about how lucky Marge is to have Homer – makes their eventual reconciliation both funny and heartfelt:
Homer: Is there any room in that bed for a dad-burned fool?
Marge: Always has been.
On The Simpsons, Marge’s concern over Homer and another woman builds over the course of the episode as one of many story threads that all work together in the end. On Zombie Simpsons, it drops from the sky to the exclusion of all the other disconnected crap that was going on and sees her act like a ranting and raving lunatic. That makes their inevitable reconciliation just as sudden and nonsensical. The original was a lot better…