“What can I say except thanks for the predictable champagne, pizza that’s hardly ‘numero uno’, and ice cream cake which reminds us why make thirty-one flavors when you can’t get vanilla right?” – Retiring Food Critic
Every once and a while, Zombie Simpsons puts its nose to the grindstone and actually tries to make an interesting episode. The Lego episode wasn’t very good, but it was at least visually interesting and ambitious. That “Kang and Kodos are real” episode was maybe gonna be the second movie and actually had some ambition to it. “The Great Phatsby” was certainly promoted like it was going to be something out of the ordinary, a one-hour episode! They put on the full publicity press, getting written up for their [Drudge Siren]FIRST HOUR LONG EPISODE[/Drudge Siren] in publications as diverse as USA Today and Billboard.
Problem is: they didn’t deliver. This is a very normal episode of Zombie Simpsons that got ballooned to twice its runtime. Consider this, from that Billboard link:
Beanz, whose past collaborators include Britney Spears and Timbaland, created about 18 songs for this episode. Executive producer Matt Selman has said that’s more than any other guest composer he’s ever worked with. Part of that prodigious output included fun collaborations with Snoop, Common and RZA.
I watched all forty-two bloated minutes of this thing, and even if you stretch the definition of the word “song” until it tears apart you aren’t going to get anywhere near eighteen of them. By my count, there were three: one during the Burns spending montage, one to exposit how the evil rap mogul had tricked Burns, and part of one near the end that was gonna be the Burns revenge diss track. I guess if you want to count the instrumental remake of the theme song over the end credits that’d get you to four, but that’s still a lot less than eighteen. For comparison sake, in the regular twenty-two minute Shary Bobbins episode, there were five full songs, six if you count the end credits theme song.
So if there were only a few songs, what the hell was in all that screen time? The same garbage that’s in most Zombie Simpsons episodes: montages, nonsensical plots and subplots, and exposition galore. They had two separate B-plots, one for the first half of the episode (Lisa gets a rich boyfriend, then betrays him to comb a pony) and one for the second half (Marge opens a knicknack shop, which is hilarious to everyone who’s ever spent a lot of time in the Hamptons – relatable comedy!). If you’re wondering how well that worked, go back and watch those straight-to-DVD Futurama “movies” that did the same thing. It’s just as bad.
Perhaps my favorite moment, and further evidence that they put as little effort into actually writing/editing this as they do for their regular dreck, came when Homer meets a goose. First, we see the goose swallow a shrimp whole:
That is immediately followed by Homer saying, “He eats the way I do! Without swallowing.” Chewing. The word they were looking for is “chewing”. So not only is this a repeat of a joke from “Homer’s Enemy”, they got first-grade vocabulary wrong.
The rest of the episode is just as dumb. Near the middle, after Burns has lost all his money, Homer begins expositing that Burns is sad. Then Burns starts to cry and Homer, in voiceover, exposits that as well. Then Burns tears his shirt open. Helpfully, Homer exposits that too. It goes on for forty(40!) seconds. The good news is that I don’t need to screencap it because Homer explained everything:
Homer (VO): The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they’re watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly. Oh, no, wait, he’s crying now. That’s worse. Now he’s really sobbing heavy. Oh, now he’s gone to his knees and he ripped his shirt open. All of his buttons fell off of his shirt. Now he’s kicking his porch. Oh, he hurt his foot and he’s hopping around! He tripped over a dog. That’s way worse. Montgomery Burns had hit rock bottom.
That’s how you eat up two episodes worth of screen time. It also places a somewhat different character on this quote from Matt Selman:
For all the hype about “The Great Phatsby” being The Simpsons’ first-ever hour-long episode, and the understandable skepticism about its description as “a rap-flavored parody of The Great Gatsby,” the episode’s origins are decidedly more modest. “This was just going to be a regular episode, but the table read went so well, in a fit of passion and excitement and ambition and excess, we decided to supersize it,” is how Simpsons executive producer Matt Selman puts it, and that makes sense when looking at the final product.
Did that table read include such gems as these:
Carl: If there’s no more money, we’ll take our personalized bowling balls, fold up bicycles, and go. [Guess what happens then! Go on, guess!]
Bart: What kind of crazy flavors are these? Quince jelly and pepper? Market greens? Bone broth brittle? I don’t know what this place hates more, kids or ice cream. [All of those flavors, by the way, were on a sign behind him.]
Old Guy: Well, before long another aimless soul will open another adorable store here. And when they do, old Sam the Sign Hanger will be ready with his level and his ladder. Oh, why here comes one now. [At that, two people show up. But you knew that already.]
On the plus side, there were a few good sign gags that didn’t get read out as dialogue. At one point while Burns is in his family crypt (don’t ask), there’s one that reads “Ebenezer Burns: The Ghosts Taught Me Nothing”. Heh. The opening line also wasn’t bad:
Homer (VO): In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice. He said the laziest way to tell a story is through voiceover narration.
That was supposed to be self-irony. Turned out to be the regular kind.
Anyway, the ratings are in and getting a huge lead-in from football helps as always. That sorry excuse for a hip-hop Gatsby parody was seen by 14.08 million viewers. That number will probably get revised downward somewhat (there was another football game on opposite the show), but it’ll still be there biggest number in a while.