Archive for the 'Behind Us Forever' Category

17
Jan
17

Behind Us Forever: The Great Phatsby

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“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:

swallowinggoose

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.

10
Jan
17

Behind Us Forever: Pork & Burns

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“They can’t take our house! My pot-bellied pig is in there! Oh, Mr. Porky, no!” – Homer Simpson

It has long been true that just about the only thing anyone remembers from the bloated mess that was the movie (itself now almost ten years old) is Spider-Pig. In this episode, Spider-Pig comes back as a kind of Mojo-the-Helper-Monkey replacement. Wacky hijinks ensue. In the B-plot, Marge becomes obsessed with de-cluttering her house, which leads Lisa to get rid of her saxophone until it turns out Marge had it all along. No, it didn’t make any sense in the episode either.

Here are some typically brainless scenes:

  • The couch gag has dialogue again. This seems to be happening a lot more lately. I guess they’re finally giving up on maintaing them as a short, silent pre-show joke. Can’t say I blame them. Every part of this show is beyond the point of exhaustion.
  • There’s a book called “The Japanese Warrior Monks’ Guide to Tidying Up”, which would be okay as a throwaway gag, but turns into an entire storyline, complete with Marge reading the whole title aloud after we’ve already seen it three or four times. Delayed exposition, huh.
  • The writing on this show has gotten so sitcom-y over the years that I don’t even notice it most of the time, but this was particularly bad: “Think of the kids! The kids working in overseas factories to make this crap!” Setup, beat, punchline.
  • Characters who weren’t in the room suddenly appearing in the room: Milhouse & Grampa so far, I’m sure there will be more.
  • Homer makes a “reuse this calendar” joke. Sure it’s not 1985 right now, but who knows what Season 30 will bring?
  • So, uh, Spider-Pig is back for some reason.
  • gimpvan
    Homer just attempted to give Spider-Pig away in a darkened parking lot at night, which lead to a lot of shallow “creepy van” jokes that ended with a guy in a gimp costume in the back of one. Do things like this really get laughs at table reads? And, if so, has anyone checked for a gas leak in that room?
  • There’s a Dr. Nick scene. About half of it is him counting to five in Spanish.
  • In one of their more bizarre scene set ups, Marge and Homer have a confrontation about Homer keeping Spider-Pig while they’re standing in the front door. How did they get there? Why are they there? No idea. The scenes on either side have nothing to do with it. I know they don’t care about things like this, but nobody actually seems to live in this universe anymore, they’re just cutouts standing in front of backdrops waiting for the next skit to start.
  • Homer and Lisa are now duel expositing about their feelings at the dinner table. Really badly:
    Homer: Oh, that is really, really sad.
    Lisa: Wow you understand how I feel?
    Homer: Yes, because I feel about my pig the way you used to feel about your honk-a-ma-flute.
  • “Homer, those kids hands are covered in barbecue sauce”, um, okay.
  • “Dad, no, that’s a snake from the petting zoo!” – The context for this line is that Homer is going to spray the hounds with a hose. There is no petting zoo. This show makes more sense when you pretend there’s an invisible box marked “Props” that follows everyone around.
  • unwoundedpig
    So . . . Mr. Burns’ hounds attacked Spider Pig, with lots of growling and tearing. Then they get pulled off and Spider-Pig is . . . fine. Looks a little sad, but fine. Homer then freaks out because he needs to or something. The whole scene is awkward, because they want it to simultaneously be a vicious dog attack, but they also don’t want to show any blood or gore because this is still supposed to be a comedy.
  • Now there’s a pig doctor treating Spider-Pig, and now Mr. Burns is going to put him into pig rehab because he just exposited about his insurance for some reason.
  • Homer is having a dream about the Mayo Clinic being doctors who are mayonnaise jars. Worse, the mayo jars spend the whole dream expositing what they’re doing.
  • Pig vacation montage. There’s three words I wasn’t expecting to type when I started this episode.
  • Let’s end on some more clunky exposition: “Now what’s wrong?”, “My joy’s returned  but my passion’s gone.”
  • They must’ve really liked that mayo doctor things, because they’re killing the last twenty seconds of contract mandated runtime with an ER parody. Timely.

Anyway, the ratings are in and the annual Zombie Simpsons NFL Playoff lead-in has once again produced their best number of the year. On Sunday, 8.19 million people left their televisions on after the Giants-Packers game. To my surprise, FOX is also getting a late playoff game this Sunday, so that’ll help Zombie Simpsons next week as well.

14
Dec
16

Behind Us Forever: The Nightmare After Krustmas

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“Let’s just agree that the commercialization of Christmas is at best a mixed blessing.” – Lisa Simpson
“Amen.” – Gary Coleman

Annual or near annual Christmas episodes were never a hallmark of The Simpsons. The premier episode was a Christmas special, but that was the last time the show did a Christmas episode until Season 7’s “Marge Be Not Proud”. That five season gap has never been repeated. The show went back to the tinsel well in Seasons 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 22, 23, 25, 26, and now again in Season 28. (And I might have missed one because a lot of those seasons blur together.)

This year’s entry in that sad parade was several pieces of fractured nonsense mashed together into an episode. There’s a bit about Krusty connecting with his estranged daughter, who’s apparently a devout Christian. There’s also a bit about Reverend Lovejoy needing more converts, which leads him to lean on Krusty, which leads to Krusty making his show dull and then almost drowning in a frozen river. There’s also a C plot about Maggie being afraid of an Elf on the Shelf type thing called the Gnome in Your Home. It involves lots of exposition and an extended dream sequence in which nothing happens except a completely pointless cameo by Wayne Gretzky.

As per usual, Zombie Simpsons seems blissfully unaware of its own story even as it unfolds. Early in the episode we see Lovejoy get pressured from his superiors to get more converts. It’s dumb (and more and higher ranking reverends keep walking into the scene for no reason), but whatever, it’s a decent enough start for a plot. Lovejoy eventually bumbles into Krusty while both are at Moe’s, which is odd but I guess still sorta makes sense. We next see Krusty at church singing an off lyric hymn on stage while his daughter is for some reason sitting with the Simpsons, which doesn’t make sense on multiple levels, but is at least still moving the story forward.

From there things get utterly incoherent as one of Lovejoy’s bosses shows up again to say that Krusty needs to be baptized right away for no particular reason. Lovejoy states Krusty’s reasons for wanting to wait, which are then immediately dropped so Krusty can get baptized in a frozen river. Krusty then falls into the river, has a near death experience, and comes out apparently still a Christian, until – with not even a single line of dialogue to explain it – he sits next to a Jewish ambulance and is immediately Jewish again.

All this makes so little sense that in an unrelated sequence after the story ends, they show regular God next to a Jewish version of regular God (no, it doesn’t make any sense) arguing over which one of them gets credit for Krusty. I understand that the show has a kind of “rubberband” reality where things can get stretched, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the rubberband not get stretched, released, and then broken several times during the same story, sometimes even during the same scene. Case in point: Krusty’s near death experience under the ice is treated as serious even though Jasper catches him on an ice fishing line and Reverend Lovejoy pulls him out of the water, after which Krusty is fine.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they continue to be low and meaningless. On Sunday, just 5.60 million viewers wondered how many Christmas episodes Zombie Simpsons has done by now. That’s about where the ratings were last December, which is both bad in terms of overall viewers and irrelevent since the show will be with us for at least two more seasons anyway. That should result in at least one more bland and immemorable Christmas episode.

15
Nov
16

Behind Us Forever: Havana Wild Weekend

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“Oh, you’re gonna love it in Cuba, Marge. There’s shredded pork everywhere.” – Homer Simpson

In a world where up has become down and black has become white, I suppose there’s some comfort to be taken in the fact that Zombie Simpsons remains as incoherent and forgettable as ever. In this season’s second travel episode, the family goes to Cuba to get Grampa medical care, or something. That story line gets dropped very quickly in favor of a series of disconnected Cuban references and something about the CIA. This episode also features an unusual amount of “look a character just appeared out of nowhere” scenes.

Some lowlights:

  • We open with a Shark Tank parody that has voiceover that explains what it is. Later, they will explain this again.
  • After an expository scene with a retirement home nurse, a van drops Grampa off in skid row. Wiggum just happens to be there to tell no one in particular that this is also where he drops off mentally ill people. There are a lot of darkly funny jokes to be made about how many homeless people in America are also mentally ill. Zombie Simpsons decides to explain it with no actual joke. This show can be painful to watch.
  • Now we’re in a VA hospital waiting room where there’s a long wait time and that wait time is explained over and over again. Then a random guy walks up from nowhere to explain that Grampa should go to Cuba for cheap medical care.
  • Smash cut to a cruise ship where Fred and Ricky from I Love Lucy walk up from nowhere to banter for a bit. Yeesh, this episode is lazy.
  • Grampa sees a Cuban doctor. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that nothing else happens.
  • Montage of Grampa driving in an old car with helpful exposition from a Cuban guy who walked up from nowhere for no reason. I should be counting these, but I’m not going back and you can’t make me.
  • The family is having dinner, while Homer exposits where they are. Then they’re in a hotel. Then Grampa’s in a bar. These are just scenes next to each other.
  • “Wheels McGrath, I knew you in the Air Force!”, says Grampa as another random person walks in from offscreen.
  • Grampa’s old friend wants to start a nightclub in an old airliner. Which he got to after “hacking” through the jungle because he likes hacking. Repeating words is funny. Repeating words is funny. Repeating words is funny.
  • Second montage.
  • There’s a Ticketmaster joke that gets explained twice.
  • Now the airliner is flying away because it was all a CIA plot, or something. The episode still has two minutes to go, so there’s a random golf scene tacked on and a rehash of the Shark Tank thing from the beginning.

There are a couple of okay sign gags in all that (Marge is reading a book called “Cuban Escapes by Elian Gonzalez”, for example), but it’s hard to notice amidst the swerving plot, layers of exposition, and half-dozen or so characters who randomly appear from the ether. In other words, it’s typical Zombie Simpsons.

Anyway, the numbers are in and Zombie Simpsons once again got a nice bump from football, and once again failed to hold even half that audience. The post-game show drew 21.28 million viewers. Zombie Simpsons managed just 7.13 million.

Obviously numbers like this are enough for FOX to pick up two more years worth of episodes, but while this qualifies as a good (even great) number these days, it’d be a terribly low one even just five or six years ago. That’s the sorry state of network TV: crowing about audience numbers that would’ve been a disaster at the beginning of the decade.

21
Oct
16

Behind Us Forever: Treehouse of Horror XXVII

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“No! No, let me explain! Every Friday evening after work Mr. Burns undergoes a series of medical treatments designed to cheat death for another week.” – Mr. Smithers 

I’ve been staying with friends in Arlington, VA this week and doing the D.C. tourist thing in Our Nation’s Capital while a constant loop of “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” plays inside my head (with a side order of “Amendment to Be“). That left watching another lifeless Zombie Simpsons Halloween special pretty low on my priority list. But watch it I did, and it was, well, lifeless.

At the risk of repeating myself, the attention span of Zombie Simpsons has grown so short that they can’t even write coherent 6-7 minute segments. Like several previous Halloween episodes, this one was atomized even further, starting with an opening sketch with fan service ghosts, then going into a long couch gag that was a parody of Planet of the Apes called “Planet of the Couches” (<- creative!). After that they did their three main segments before ending with a 600th episode montage that made me pine for the days when they refused to celebrate meaningless milestones.

The first segment was a Hunger Games/Mad Max 4 mashup where Burns somehow had taken all the water. Here’s a typically brainless scene:

Lisa: Oh, God, me and my big mouth.
Marge: Ooh, I just donated the winter clothes.
Ralph: I’m a god in this reality.
Lisa: Sure, why not?

After that was an exposition heavy segment where Lisa’s imaginary best friend kills a bunch of people. Remember that line from “Hell Toupee” where Lisa exclaims, “Of course, the transplant! Somehow Snake’s hair must be controlling…” and then Marge cuts her off because everyone’s already figured that out? This segment was an extended exercise in ignoring that. Observe:

Imaginary Best Friend: Hey, Lisa, let’s gossip about boys. Isn’t Milhouse so cute? Oh, of course, he suffocated.
Lisa: My Mom was so right when she said I didn’t need you anymore.
Imaginary Best Friend: Oh, I see, so nosy old Marge was the reason you moved on from me.
Lisa: Oh, no, she’ll kill Mom! What do I do?

Finally there was a Kingsman thing where Moe is secretly running a spy agency out of the bar. Homer is some kind of villain, a lot of it is a weird action sequence that kills a lot of time by killing a lot of people, and then it ends for no apparent reason. As usual, about half the dialogue is them explaining what we’re seeing, but I think I’ve quoted this thing enough.

Anyway, the ratings are long since in and they remain bad even when they’re good. On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to pull 7.44 million viewers, by far their highest since last January when they had playoff football as a lead-in. Unfortunately, since the post-game show had 15.38 million viewers, they once again managed to lose more than 50% of their NFL lead-in.

10
Oct
16

Behind Us Forever: The Town

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“Hey, ma, I’m on TV!” – Drunk #1
“Hey, where’s that weather chick?” – Drunk #2
“Ooh, this is some wicked party!” – Drunk #3
“Hey, have you seen Sully?” – Drunk #4

Zombie Simpsons has settled into its rut well enough that they have a “travel” episode pretty much every season. This year, they went to Boston, though in a break from tradition they also had the family move there for six minutes of screen time. Other than that weirdness, it was a very typical travel episode: a few real things and people got renamed, everything was pretty nice, and Homer screamed around the locals a lot.

In what I choose to take as a tacit admission of their massive overuse of exposition, right at the beginning they have Homer say, “Do you have to describe everything?” as Marge is placing pot pies on the dinner table one by one. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from spending the rest of the episode telling us what we’re seeing. This includes when Homer is chasing the Flanders kids around like a bull, several reminders that they’re in Boston on a “hate-cation”, and a truly hacktacular scene where Lisa declares, “They’ve got every recognized species of nerd!” and then process to list them as she walks in front of each one. There was also a montage near the end where they drew lots of real Boston places and had Bart tell us what they were.

Eventually, Homer tears a baseball cap in half and the family moves back to Springfield. Really, that’s what happens. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t recommend it.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they are the typical catastrophe we’ve come to expect from non-NFL lead-in episodes. Last night’s ode to Boston was witnessed by a mere 3.39 million viewers. It took them a long time to finally fall through the 4 million viewer mark, now they do so routinely.

05
Oct
16

Behind Us Forever: Friends and Family

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“I want to go on the yard work simulator!” – Bart Simpson

The official synopsis for this week’s episode of Zombie Simpsons:

Mr. Burns’ search for a clan to play his virtual-reality family leads him to hire the Simpsons, except for Homer, since Burns intends to play the father. With nothing to do, Homer befriends the new next-door neighbor, a woman who eats, drinks, thinks and acts like him.

A more honest synopsis:

Burns goes to a therapist, who then dies for no apparent reason. At the funeral, which the Simpsons attend because reasons, Burns realizes no one loves him. Then he runs over Frink, who was using a virtual reality headset. Burns then has Smithers use Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie as a virtual reality family so that he can pretend someone loves him, which for some reason means all four of them have to live at Burns Manor seemingly forever. Meanwhile, Homer meets a new female neighbor of his and becomes weird friends with her. When Marge gets back from Burns Manor, she freaks out about this in one of the dumbest and angriest Zombie Simpsons scenes in a while. Then it ends.

The most unintentionally entertaining part of the episode was the couch gag. They’ve gotten so used to explaining jokes and filling their scripts with unnecessary exposition that they did it before the episode even began. First, we see the family on the couch with a smart phone in front of them. Each member gets clicked and turned into an icon:

expositedcouchgag0

As couch gags go, at least it’s slightly novel. But when it gets to Homer, instead of having the screen flash “memory full” or some other wordless joke like the couch gags have long been, they had Homer explain out loud what was happening:

expositedcouchgag1

Homer: I’m too fat!

The phone then gets swapped for a larger tablet and he declares himself, “Still too fat!”. It’s completely unnecessary, we can plainly see that he’s too big to fit, but they felt the need to explain it anyway. I’m not laughing with you, Zombie Simpsons, but for once, I am laughing.

Anyway, the ratings are in, for both this week and last week’s premier. For the season premier – with no football lead-in – Zombie Simpsons managed to attract just 3.36 million viewers. That’s a horrifically bad number, but thanks to the nearly as bad Season 27 premier, isn’t actually a record. Last year’s premier only got 3.26 million viewers. By way of comparison, the previous low was Season 25’s 6.29 million.

On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to display some self awareness with their chalkboard gag:

lostnflleadin

Unfortunately, they did, in fact, lose half of their NFL lead-in. FOX’s postgame show was watched by 12.49 million Americans, with Zombie Simpsons retaining only 6.00 million. Heh.




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