Archive for the 'Company Eating Rules' Category



11
Aug
11

Queer Simpsons

– By Lenny Burnham

I’m guessing everyone reading this knows the main thesis of Dead Homer Society: The Simpsons was a smart satire with developed, interesting characters. Zombie Simpsons is a stupid mess with only a shallow resemblance to The Simpsons. But, while the extreme decrease in quality in the double-digit seasons is a bummer for any Simpsons fan, it creates a particular problem for queer Simpsons fans—half of the show is great in quality but has fairly little in the way of representation, half has lots of gay characters and storylines but doesn’t have the same quality. It’s hard to watch an episode like “There’s Something About Marrying” without longing to see what the people who made episodes like “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” could have done with the same subject matter. It’s nice to dream of a world where the years of smart satire overlapped more with the years that were flush in references to gay life, but it will always just be a dream. But, my question is—what show does a better job with queer representation, The Simpsons or Zombie Simpsons? On sheer number of characters and screentime, Zombie Simpsons wins hands down. They added in Julio and Grady, explicitly outed characters whose sexuality had only been hinted at previously and they’ve had three episodes (“There’s Something About Marrying”, “Three Gays of the Condo” and “Flaming Moe”) dedicated to gay subject matter, while The Simpsons only had one (“Homer’s Phobia”).

References to homosexuality in The Simpsons were quick and relatively subtle. Look no further than the town meeting in “Bart After Dark.” When Marge, Maude, Ned and the Lovejoys hold a town meeting to discuss Springfield’s burlesque house, they show a slideshow that reveals many of the Springfieldians that have visited the place and we hear their loved ones react with shock. The fourth person we see is Patty and Selma cries out, “Patty?!” In a lesser show, this would have been the punchline—far too many shows think that the very existence of gay people is a punchline. But here gay life is just an accepted part of the world and we quickly move on to Brandine’s reaction to the picture of Cletus before we get to the actual punchline, which, because this is The Simpsons, consists of four quick jokes in a row (no one cares that Barney is a sleazebag, Wiggum sounds like a child whining that they did him twice, Smithers’s parents insisted he give it a try and Quimby claims that you can’t identify him by his very obvious “Mayor” sash because that could be any mayor). In a very short sequence we get four jokes and two acknowledgements of gay life, without any of the humor being at the expense of the gay characters.

In “Treehouse of Horror III Patty sees Homer naked and says, “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” It clarified that Patty is gay—and comfortable referencing her sexuality—quickly in the form of a joke and then moved on. Back in the days of The Simpsons they could let a character just be gay without a long, jokeless episode about their emotional struggle because they weren’t desperate to be relevant.

By the time, “There’s Something About Marrying” aired, it was no longer enough for The Simpsons to have funny references from characters whose homosexuality was just one dimension of their character. They had to dedicate entire episodes to begging people to watch them for their politics, not for their humor. And they even screwed that up. You’d think that an episode dedicated to supporting same-sex marriage would be, if not actually good, at least positive for gay people, but they had to have Patty’s fiancé turn out to be a man. This episode might claim to support gay marriage, but it undercuts its own point completely by focusing on a relationship in which one of the partners is so oblivious that they didn’t even notice their partner’s gender. They have so little respect for lesbians’ sexuality and relationships that they dare us to accept the idea that Marge noticed Patty’s fiance’s large Adam’s apple before Patty noticed that or any other telltale signs. If you’re going to make an episode about how homosexual relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships, it might be a good idea to focus on a couple that at least took a cursory glance at each other’s bodies before jumping into getting engaged.

In another gay issue episode, “Flaming Moe”, Moe converted his bar into a gay bar and then every gay character in Springfield became a regular (except Dewey Largo, who had left town as part of another plot in that episode). Group shots were populated by every gay character, including Patty. Every time I got a glimpse of Patty I wondered why she wasn’t at home, watching TV and avoiding social interaction. The episode just decided that every gay person spends every night at a gay bar. This isn’t even an instance of them milking a stereotype or oversimplification for the sake of a joke, this is them mindlessly and needlessly accepting that all gay people have the same habits for absolutely no story or comedy purpose.

Even though Zombie Simpsons tries and tries to win over gay audiences with issue episodes like “There’s Something About Marrying” and “Three Gays of the Condo” and The Simpsons only had a handful of references in its run, I’d still pick The Simpsons over Zombie Simpsons every time. Because every character in The Simpsons, even minor ones, were thought through and developed, we got great characters like Smithers, Patty and Karl. Even though Zombie Simpsons has much more room to be explicitly inclusive, they’ve only added a few extremely one-dimensional gay guys and still haven’t bothered creating another lesbian. For me, Zombie Simpsons’s policy with representation can be summed up by the end of “Homer Scissorhands.” When Marge said she found a new hairdresser besides Homer, I immediately thought, “It’s going to be Julio” even though I’d never seen him portrayed as a hairdresser before and it had been established that he’s a photographer. Indeed, I was right. They had plopped Julio into the role of hairdresser for a plot point. Because Smithers and Patty were created early in the series, they have firmly established jobs at the power plant and the DMV. If Patty had been created now her job description would be “maybe she makes leather vests or maybe she plays in the WNBA or something like that.”

04
Aug
11

Where Al Jean Went Wrong: A Closer Look At The Last 10 Years Of The Simpsons

– By John Hugar

2001 was the height of my Simpsons obsession. That might sound odd when you consider it’s 10 years later and here I am writing a post for a blog dedicated to dissecting every flaw of the show’s later years, but trust me, back then it was different. These days, while I still love The Simpsons and I still love talking about them, I am, in fact, capable of carrying on conversations about other subjects. For 11-year-old me, that was quite a challenge.

I had been into the show since 1997, but my love for it was pushed into the stratosphere primarily due to the internet. Instead of just watching the show, I could now glean every bit of information there was to glean about the show. Episode titles, production numbers, animation goofs, and thanks to SNPP, full transcripts of nearly every episode.

Of course, the internet didn’t just exist for facts about the show, but opinions. Long, rambling opinions like this one. That’s where I was a bit flustered. As someone who thought the show could do no wrong, I was stunned at how many people thought the show had gone downhill in the recent years. This was right around the end of Season 12, when Mike Scully’s reign of terror, stupidity, and jockey elves was coming to an end. Everyone seemed to agree on two things: 1. The show wasn’t what it used to be. 2. It had a chance to get better under its new executive producer, Al Jean.

I didn’t really I think the show had gotten worse (11-year-olds have an unfortunate tendency of finding Jerkass Homer amusing), but I understood that other people did, and I could recognize what traits they didn’t like. As a result, when the Jean episodes started airing, I found myself rooting for all the ugly Scully traits to vanish so that everyone could go back to agreeing that The Simpsons was the greatest show in the history of the universe.

Of course, that never occurred. A lot of things have happened during Al Jean’s now 10-year reign as Executive Producer of the show, but a return to the quality of the early years is not one of them. Now, that isn’t to say Al Jean didn’t do anything right (although I’m sure some would feel that way). If anything, I look at his all-too-lengthy run as a bit of a mixed bag.

For me, the Jean era can by divided into two categories. Seasons 13-16, which were either a noble failure, or a minor success, depending on how generous you want to be, and everything after that, in which the show gets more generic and less recognizable from The Simpsons each year.

When Al Jean took over the show, it seemed like his goal was to fix some of the errors that had occurred in the Scully era (the wacky third act twists, the ultra-stupidity of Homer, etc) and bring the show back to what it was in the early days. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for a variety of reasons. One was that rather than trying to break new ground and reach new creative heights, the show was engaging in a self-conscious effort to seem like The Simpsons.

That sort of thing rarely works. Whenever something tries to imitate itself, the results almost always end up seeming like an inferior version. Like when the Rolling Stones made Steel Wheels. Sure, it was a decent album, and it was better than, say, Dirty Work, but the band was obviously trying to imitate the standard Stones sound, rather than create something original, and as a result, it wound up being vastly inferior to classics like Let It Bleed and Exile On Main St.

The same problem plagues early Jean era episodes. You can tell they’re trying to tap into what made the early years great, but they don’t quite get there. Take “Sleeping With The Enemy” from Season 16. It’s a well-liked episode on the internet, and really, it’s not too bad. It does, however suffer from a lot of attempts to imitate better episodes that don’t quite work.

Both the main plot and the subplot in this episode are surprisingly emotional for such a late-period episode. The main story involves Nelson coming to live with The Simpsons after Marge discovers how lonely and neglected he feels, while the subplot involves Lisa struggling with body image issues, and bordering on anorexia. Both plots have potential for emotional resonance, and naturally, they both go for the gusto.

This happens in one scene when Bart, frustrated over having Nelson sleeping in his bed, comes into the living room and finds Nelson, crying over his estranged father. Except he’s not just crying, he’s also singing Barbra Streisand’s “Papa, Can You Hear Me”. This is where a potentially poignant moment gets ruined by overkill. For one thing, how the fuck is a 10-year-old boy so familiar with Streisand’s work? Especially one who was previously one of the toughest kids in school? Secondly, even if Nelson does have a secret penchant for 70s lite Adult Contemporary music, the scene would’ve been so much better if Nelson had just been crying, and maybe saying “I miss you, Papa”. Having him sing such a sappy song took an emotional scene and made it simply melodramatic.

Once this is over, a similar problem occurs in the scene involving Lisa that comes immediately after. Lisa decides to have one piece of cake to let herself know she still has self-control. Except it doesn’t work. She starts eating more and more until she dives into the cake and makes snow angels (cake angels?) in it. This just flat out makes no sense. It might be the single most out of character thing Lisa has ever done, and naturally, Jean is doing it to tug at the viewer’s heart strings. As with the Nelson scene, a lighter touch would’ve worked a lot better (maybe Lisa just eats a large portion of cake and then begins crying?), but he wants to let you just how serious the scene is, and as a result, it seems a lot less serious.

I use this episode because it’s the definitive example of how Jean’s attempts to revive the feel of the Golden era didn’t quite work. There’s plenty of good lines here (one favorite: Nelson saying his tadpoles “seem crude by comparison” to the hot dog Marge gives him), but he goes for schmaltz rather than true emotion, and it the episode suffers as a result.

I still think the first 4 years of Jean’s run did spark a minor improvement, because while episodes like “Sleeping With The Enemy” didn’t reach the heights of the best years, they also didn’t feature the ridiculous plot twists and zany-for-the-sake-of-zany silliness that dragged the Scully era into the ground (note: a few episodes did this, with “Helter Shelter” and “Strong Arms Of The Ma” being the worst examples, but it was no longer the rule).

If Jean’s run had ended after Season 16, I think we’d look at it as a lot more of success than we do now. “Maybe he didn’t completely save the show, but he did improve on a lot of the major problems,” we’d say. But no, that couldn’t be the case. He had to keep going, and that’s when the show to started to really go off the deep end.

For me, Season 17 marked the greatest decline from one season to another in the show’s history. Why? Because rather than become overly wacky like it did in the Scully years, it became overly generic. Episodes became indistinguishable from each other, and in general, it felt like the episodes were coming off an assembly line. This problem continues to this day, and is one of the biggest problems with Zombie Simpsons: the show lacks the traits that used to distinguish it form other shows.

Put it this way, even in the dregs of the Scully era, I can usually recognize an episode form its opening scene. The family at Costco? Oh, it’s “Simpson Safari”. Homer sets off the smoke alarm? Must be “Pygmoelian”. In the post-2005 episodes, things are so generic and indistinguishable that it often takes me until 5 minutes into episode for me to know which episode it is. And these are episodes I’ve seen multiple times. Far too often, the shows just blend into each other.

That, I’m afraid, is what Al Jean’s legacy would be. Rather than being the guy who didn’t quite save the show, but made it a bit better and put it on the right track, he’ll be known as the guy who seized the power and took away all the things that made The Simpsons what they were. Yes, Scully was responsible for that to, but at least his failures had personality, and he left when it was time to leave. Jean continues to act as the shows decidedly unbenevolent (nonbenevolent?) dictator with no end in sight. Being the Simpsons nerd I am, I’ll keep watching, hoping things get a little better (hey Season 22 was probably a little better than Season 21, maybe), and enjoying the one or two legitimately good episodes each year, but the show seems set in its bland, inferior ways now, and as much as I admire his superior work, it seems like Al Jean deserves the majority of the blame for that.

26
Jul
11

Guest Stars Then & Now

– By Gran2

The plethora of Season 22 guest stars filled me with rage. This show is bad enough already without Danica Patrick, Paul Rudd or Mark ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg turning up to dig it even closer to Earth’s core. I dreaded hearing Al Jean rattle off next season’s list at Comic-Con (spoilers: It included Michael Cera).

The point is: guest stars suck now. The really obscure ones suck because you have no idea who they are, or why they are there (pretty much every guest star from seasons 11 and 12 falls into to this category, or maybe that’s because I’m British). But the really famous ones suck as well.

Whoever they are, whether they’re a sportsperson, a singer or even a professional actor their acting is always so awful, reading the awkward dialogue that normal people would never actually say, and appearing to have been recorded on their first take. They have no reason to be there, yet they either have the episode built around them rather than a plot, or they appear for one line only. But all get to enjoy their own little ego-massage courtesy of Lisa ("Look, it’s J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. You’ve turned a generation of kids onto reading!"). They just throw them on because guest stars represent one of the very few times this show ever gets any press attention anymore. It was the only thing they discussed at Comic-Con last year. It’s literally all they have to say.

Guest stars didn’t used to suck. They used to be great. They belonged in the episode; they had a purpose to the story or, you know, voiced a character. Whether as themselves or as a character they felt like they belonged in Springfield, just as the episodes they were in belonged on television.

Their appearance first and foremost made sense: they were both relevant to the plot and their presence in Springfield wasn’t ridiculous. It makes sense for Springfield to have celebrities visiting. It’s home to Krusty the Clown, one of the most famous entertainers of all time. Why wouldn’t he be friends with Bette Middler and Johnny Carson? There’s a clear difference between that and people like James Caan just suddenly appearing there. Guest stars appear to present an award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence or to open a monorail and when they were there, they were funny ("A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on"). And they didn’t just then vanish. Most of them appeared in more than one scene, so actually have some kind of character progression. Guest stars rarely, if ever, actually were the focus of the plot as themselves. Instead, their most substantial parts were when they were playing characters. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, John Waters, Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman. All excellent performances and playing excellent characters.

The philosophy of guest parts has clearly changed since the good old days. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein picked most of their guest stars because they had unique voices which actually led to good characters. The fact that R. Lee Ermey and Lawrence Tierney were going to be appearing was never really going to draw viewers but they did a damn site more memorable job than big stars like Seth Rogen or Sacha Baron Cohen. Furthermore, they actually dropped guest stars if they didn’t fit. Collette the waitress from "Flaming Moe’s" was supposed to be voiced by Catherine O’Hara. She actually recorded the part but they replaced her with Jo Ann Harris because, in the words of Mike Reiss on the DVD commentary "Something about her did not animate correctly. The voice did not work for our purposes." And it wasn’t just her. Maggie Roswell was selected over Julie Andrews to voice Shary Bobbins due to her great reading, likewise Hank Azaria over William H. Macy for Frank Grimes. Hell, Bill and Josh said in their NoHomers chat that they wanted Robert DeNiro to guest star; in the end he didn’t, because they couldn’t find a good enough part for him. Nowadays they’d just shove him in.

Now to stop me rambling on, here are three clear examples of why guest stars used to be great. Robert Goulet. The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat". And the Ramones.

Robert Goulet’s appearance in "$pringfield" is a perfect guest spot. He doesn’t dominate the show, it makes sense he’s there (he’s flown in after being hired for a gig at Burns’ Casino) and he’s funny. But above all, they make fun of him.

Goulet: You from the casino?
Bart: I’m from a casino.
Goulet: Good enough, let’s go.

Goulet: Are you sure this is the casino? I think I should call my manager.
Nelson: Your manager says for you to shut up!
Goulet: Vera said that?

In six lines, they make Goulet seem unprofessional and then they tell him to shut up. Perfect.

The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat" are also a perfect example of good guest stars. Along with "Krusty Gets Kancelled" this episode shows that lots of guest stars in one episode doesn’t have to suck. Again, their presence makes sense. Why wouldn’t an evil old billionaire cheat in order to win a bet? But what really made them great was their performances, which are all much better than, for example, John C Reilly’s. Let’s just emphasise that: a bunch of professional baseballers give a better, more emotive and more believable performance than an Academy Award-nominated actor. Now, as said, I’m British, and have absolutely no interest or knowledge of baseball whatsoever, but that doesn’t affect my love for this episode. When these nine players die I won’t remember them for however many points they got (if that’s what you get in baseball?) I’ll remember because they were great in this episode. Particular praise to Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia and Darryl Strawberry.

And finally, a comparison between old and new guest stars, with very similar parts, which have vastly different results. First, the good one. The Ramones appearance in "Rosebud" is brief, but outstanding.

Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I’m sure are gonna go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I’d just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren’t —
Burns: Do as I say!

They are there for a clear, logical reason: to play for Burns’ birthday party. And every single line in that scene builds on the previous one to make it one of the most hilarious scenes ever.

And now Coldplay, from season 21’s craptacular "Million Dollar Maybe":

Chris Martin: [sings Viva la Vida]
Bart: Wait, I have to go to the bathroom.
Martin: So, where are you from Homer?
Homer: Here.
[They start again]
Homer: Wait.
Martin: Yes Homer.
Homer: Do you think you could use someone like me in your band?
Martin: Yeah come on up, you can play the tambourine.
Homer: I said someone like me, I didn’t say me.
[They sing again]

They are there because Homer paid them, because he won the lottery, for some reason. It’s sterile, humourless and they couldn’t even be bothered to write parts for the other band members.

In conclusion, mono means one, and rail means rail. Guest stars are yet another example of something that used to be great, but is now terrible. And that concludes our intensive three-week course. Good day and I apologise for wasting your time.

14
Jul
11

Growing Up with The Simpsons

– By Gabe Kagan

All evidence from the past points to my father being a big fan of The Simpsons. He watched the episodes, he had many of them on VHS, and his collection of Simpsons comics is comprehensive and remains mainly in mint condition with many of the more obscure series from the early ’90s. So it’s basically to be expected that this fandom would rub off on me. One problem, though: I was born in 1992. So while everyone at DHS was reveling in the early, golden seasons of the show, I was a small child learning the skills of life and watching the usual kiddie TV.

Fast forward to about 1997 or so. I’m not exactly sure when, but at this time, my father (an electrical engineer) was apparently working late shifts, so in the morning and early afternoon I would frequently see him pull out (if not a training video, most likely on advanced mathematics), a rerun of Simpsons or something. So at this point, I knew the show existed, and could laugh when Homer got hurt, or care for the inhabitants of Springfield when Bart’s comet was on its way to doom them all, but not much else. I do remember not being perturbed by Homer strangling Bart. Nothing like cartoon violence to warp one’s mind. Despite having the tapes, my access to early Simpsons was patchy at best. For the longest time, I thought the first episode ever made was "There’s No Disgrace Like Home", because I never paid much attention to the credits. In any given season, I’d probably seen about 3 episodes at best, and there was a huge gap from Seasons 4 to 6 where I basically saw no episodes of the show until many years later. Besides, shows like Beast Wars, Animaniacs, Pokemon were more to my liking early on, so I didn’t really make any effort to watch The Simpsons as it unfolded for quite a while. Even my exposure to the media at large was very odd. I read a great deal of the comic books and played a few of the licensed games (Everyone loves Konami’s arcade game, but they also published a good action adventure game on PCs called "Bart Simpson’s House of Weirdness"). Of course, they were mostly crap, but that was hardly abnormal by the standards.

It was about 2002 or so when a trifecta of events happened:

1. Our family started buying the full seasons on DVD (Only the first three, but still). I remember watching these religiously for a while – now that I was older I understood many more of the references and had a better attention span.

2. The local syndication had a good run of many episodes of the golden years, allowing me to fill in a few holes in that crucial Season 4-8 bracket.

3. We started sitting down and actually watching the episodes as a family. This lasted until about Season 17, then I stopped following the newest seasons.

Zombie episodes go down better when A: You’re a teenager with an immature sense of humor, and B: You watch the episodes with your family. With dim memories of the classic seasons and decaying VHS tapes removing their frame of reference, they found it laugh-out-loud funny. I found it laugh out loud funny, too. I can look back on these seasons and remember why I thought they were funny (especially Seasons 15 and 16), and it serves as a useful reference.

Eventually, I decided that, to seal the remaining cracks, I needed to watch every episode. I started with the early seasons (mostly, because I wasn’t watching them in any fixed order). It doesn’t bare repeating that I enjoyed those – more importantly, I became very aware of the gap between the older and the newer episodes. The key here is the wave of "edgier" shows competing with the Simpsons, because the landscape of television was obviously far different in 1997 than it was in 1991. Shows like Seinfeld, Beavis and Butthead, South Park, etc. count, obviously, but even outside TV, there was a market for extremity of a sort. If thrash, death metal, hardcore existed in the ’80s and had a small market, grunge and nu-metal were often far more tailored towards mainstream tastes while offering small doses of aggression and pain to a much larger audience. Had this not appeared, and the show’s writing declined in a similar fashion, the crappiness DHS writes about would probably tend towards the glurge of "Marge Be Not Proud" and similar. Extremity explains much of your hatred of the Simpsons. More importantly, extremity often appeals to the teenage demographic, so it makes sense that Season 16 Simpsons would have a hold on me at my age. It must be more zany! It must be more contemporary! It must be more subversive! It especially must be more profitable! Consider the episode "Itchy, Scratchy, and Poochie", and the scenes that reveal the cartoon dog Poochie as nothing but an avatar of carefully plotted commercialism. Then again, that’s what happens when you rastafy your character 10% or so. Personally, I think it’s a fun, self-aware episode, but one must be aware that The Simpsons had relatively little executive meddling. Hence, the problems come from within.

I digressed there, but it’s the conclusion that continued watching has impressed upon me. The show is certainly, in a way, more extreme than it is now, but it’s basically made such a strong impression on me that I was able to enjoy or at least tolerate it for much longer than the people at DHS, and that it’s probably influenced me in more ways than it has them.

Visit my blog at http://invisiblesandwichtm.wordpress.com/

Note: In the process of writing, I was reminded of an episode of Stuart Ashen’s tech reviews in which the product in question is emblazoned with a horribly mutated Bart Simpson. Adequate visual metaphor? You decide. [Editor’s Note: I know we’ve linked this before, but I couldn’t find it just now.  It’s funny.]

30
Jun
11

Ten Scary Simpsons Moments

– By Andreas

“Cool, she’ll be a freak!” – Bart

To have an annual Halloween episode is one thing. To freely cram shocking, ghoulish imagery into otherwise normal episodes of a family sitcom is another. But then, The Simpsons’ writers and animators never had much interest in following formulas or obeying TV conventions, preferring to meld their own savagely satirical experiments with an emotionally naturalistic representation of family life. This, and the fluid nature of its animation, meant that the show could veer from mundane reality to nightmarish fantasy in the blink of an eye.

Here, then, are ten of the most WTF-inspiring, pants-wetting moments from Simpsons continuity. They’re all bizarre, deeply terrifying digressions, but each one still adds depth to its episode. I give you the crème de la crème of The Simpsons’ out-of-nowhere scares…

10) “The Day the Violence Died”

thedaytheviolencedied2
This episode’s ending introduces Lester and Eliza, doppelgängers for Bart and Lisa who save the day, ominously pass by the Simpson house, and are never seen again. They’re drawn roughly in the same style as the Tracey Ullman shorts, but their appearance isn’t nostalgic so much as an eerie, never-resolved non sequitur. As Bart says, “There’s something unsettling about that.”

9) “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer”

elviajemisteriosodenuestrojomer2
Homer’s visit to the land of the Space Coyote—a blocky, stylized version of the American Southwest—is probably the series’ most effectively sustained foray into the surreal. Most of his hallucination, however, is more psychedelically beautiful than it is scary. The exception is when Homer spots a faceless statue of Marge which, as he begs it to talk to him, blows away in the wind. It’s a disturbing visual metaphor for the failure to communicate.

8) “Lisa’s First Word”

lisasfirstword3
When Homer’s shoddy woodworking skills meet the automatically scary concept of “clown,” it’s no surprise that this monstrosity is the result. It’s such a dead-on evocation of how frightening the world is to a child and how oblivious parents can be, all summed up in one meme-generating sentence: “Can’t sleep… clown’ll eat me…”

7) “Itchy & Scratchy Land”

itchyandscratchyland2
Countless I&S episodes and their respective mutilations could’ve fit in this slot, but for some reason I find this excerpt from Scratchtasia to be the worst of all. When an army of microscopic Itchies hack Scratchy up from the inside, this grotesque diversion transcends its Fantasia-parodying roots and sends shivers up my spine. Eww!

6) “The Old Man and the Lisa”

theoldmanandthelisa1
On the whole, this is one of season 8’s weaker episodes, and its interplay between Lisa and Mr. Burns lacks any real subversive bite. Still, the finale is gross and traumatizing enough to compensate for all of that, as Burns perverts Lisa’s ecofriendly idealism into a plant that “recycles” all sea life into a repulsive slurry. His scheme is so vile and implausibly evil that it’s impossible to watch without a severe cringe.

5) “New Kid on the Block”

newkidontheblock2
Yeah, it’s just a quick cutaway to literalize Bart’s heartbreak, but it’s also scary in its own right between the narrowed palette of red, black, and blue and the malice in Laura’s voice as she says “You won’t be needing this!” It viscerally captures the power of preteen angst with, in effect, a very short and vivid horror movie. The heart sliding down the wall and into the trash bin is the perfect final touch.

4) “Selma’s Choice”

selmaschoice3
Nothing good can come of little kids visiting a beer-themed amusement park and, sure enough, Bart badgers Lisa into drinking the mysterious, hallucinogenic “water” of Duff Gardens. As Lisa descends into a hellish trip, her aunt transforms into something out of Ralph Steadman’s worst nightmares, complete with a monster growing from her shoulder. The finishing touch? The pale, naked Lisa shouting, “I am the lizard queen!” before being heavily medicated.

3) “Brother from the Same Planet”

brotherfromthesameplanet3
This episode’s whole opening sequence is a brutal glimpse into the emotional dynamics of abandonment and irresponsible parenting, as Homer forgets to pick Bart up from soccer practice. Homer lies in the bathtub, dreaming about finding his son’s skeleton, while Bart waits in the rain, seething with rage. Eventually Homer goes to retrieve his son, but by then he’s so intensely furious that he imagines his father melting amidst plumes of hellfire.

This brief fantasy goes straight into the deep end of unmitigated horror. I don’t think any other episode (Treehouse of Horror included) has a single image as disturbing as Homer’s flesh bubbling and his eyes turning back into his head as he leans in to say, “How ’bout a hug?” The image draws us into the depths of Bart’s resentment, motivating the rest of the episode while chilling us to the bone.

2) “My Sister, My Sitter”

mysistermysitter4
This is the rare Simpsons episode whose main goal is to inspire fear rather than laughter. It’s still very funny, but as it approaches its climax beneath the harsh Squidport lights, any comedy is overwhelmed by the raw terror of Lisa’s waking nightmare. It’s a precocious child’s worst-case scenario: saddled with a small responsibility, she (through Bart’s ADHD-exacerbated behavior) has lost control and is wandering down the highway—her unconscious brother in a wheelbarrow and her baby sister in a cat carrier.

And somehow, with every turn, this worst case grows even worse. When the hazy, mud-soaked Lisa gazes up at the judgmental townspeople, it paralyzes me with vicarious anxiety. Every childhood has at least one or two events this bad, and “My Sister, My Sitter” is a painful reminder of how easily they can come about.

1) “Bart Sells His Soul”

bartsellshissoul30
I’ve written extensively about this episode over at Pussy Goes Grrr; suffice it to say that Bart’s dark night of the soul, as he scrambles through downtown Springfield in spiritual peril, is easily among the series’ scariest moments. It’s hard enough to see Bart quivering in fear throughout the episode, but when he begs a terrified Ralph for “a soul… any soul—yours!” it crosses over into another territory altogether.

It becomes deep, dark, and disturbing. It’s stomach-churning horror that organically emerges from the show’s perceptive vision of childhood. That organic quality is exactly why The Simpsons contained such great, spellbinding moments of horror. If you look hard enough into the minds and souls of its inhabitants, Springfield can be a very scary place.

23
Jun
11

A Lisa-centric Simpsons Marathon

– By Lenny Burnham

Yesterday I planned and executed a Lisa-centric Classic Simpsons marathon. I thought I’d make a handy guide of what discs you’ll need if you want to replicate this marathon and throw in a few notes and observations from the discussion that came up while we were watching.

Season One

Moaning Lisa (Disc One)

  • This episode caused an argument between my roommate and I. She just doesn’t like season one, even though this episode has Lisa saying she’s wailing for the homeless, poor farmers and sick miners and Mr. Largo telling her that none of those unpleasant people will be at the recital and Bleeding Gums telling her that she plays pretty well for someone with no real problems and that the blues is about making other people feel worse and making a few bucks while you’re at it. I know Dan Castellaneta sounds weird and half the people have the wrong hair and skin color, but come on.
  • I was a pretty depressed third grader and I listened to Lisa’s blues song a lot, with a level of seriousness that I probably should be ashamed of now, but I’m not.
  • It’s incredibly sad that Marge doesn’t really know how to comfort Lisa, even though we see that Marge was an unhappy child as well. It’s nice to see a comedy really go there.

 

Season Two

Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment (Disc Three)

  • This marathon was partially inspired by Lisa being a relatively underrated character when compared to Homer and Bart, so I was happy to report that the commentary on this episode states that they added Lisa’s name to the title because episodes with her name in the title are always popular. Looking at this list of episodes, I can see why.

 

Lisa’s Substitute (Disc Four)

  • My friend Sara has a theory that Holly Holiday from Glee is a direct rip off of the Dustin Hoffman character in this. A zany substitute who dresses up in historical costumes and tries to teach the kids to love themselves? I see it.
  • This episode and “Moaning Lisa” are both very funny while being about a depressed child who will probably not feel any better for a long time. That might be one of the strongest aspects of Classic Simpsons.
  • I use the phrase “Semitic good looks” a lot. It comes up.

 

Season Three

Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington (Disc One)

  • This episode has a nice handful of good jokes with a feminist bent, but my favorite is definitely Homer and Marge’s respective responses to the “Ms.-Haps” cartoon. The title alone is such a great satire of just how blatantly sexist the media can be. Then we get Homer and Marge’s respective responses. Homer says, “Ain’t it the truth.” Marge responds by saying it’s not the truth, it’s just a sexist stereotype. Homer immediately busts out the “it’s just entertainment” excuse. He insists that cartoons don’t have any deeper meaning despite the fact that he’d said “ain’t it the truth” just a second before, perfectly demonstrating the faultiness of people insisting “it’s just entertainment” when something perpetuates terrible stereotypes. Classic Simpsons: the show that will have a brilliant moment of insight and then show an ass crack. They were firing on all cylinders.
  • Lisa Sees Dead People #1: The Thomas Jefferson statue comes to life and talks to her. She isn’t taken aback.
  • I love how encouraging Bart is in this episode. It took someone who doesn’t care at all about authority or politeness to give Lisa the total support she deserves. (“Cesspool! Cesspool!”)

 

Lisa’s Pony (Disco Two)

  • I love that Bleeding Gums Murphy loves Bart’s comedy routine. That man is so nurturing of the Simpsons kids’ talents.

 

Lisa the Greek (Disc Three)

  • I made an apartment for my Barbie in a shoebox, but I can’t remember whether I got the idea from this episode.
  • This episode says that gambling is illegal in 48 states. They were slightly off: It’s actually illegal in 2 states. [I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were probably talking specifically about sports betting, but they do just say “gambling.”]

 

Separate Vocations (Disc Three)

  • I love that this episode shows what an effective badass Lisa would be if she were a badass. Stealing the Teacher’s Editions was a fantastic prank. The teachers should be lucky that Bart is the hellraiser and not Lisa because Bart and Krabappel can spar back and forth, but Lisa would eventually just destroy her teacher.

Season Four

Lisa the Beauty Queen (Disc One)

  • Props to Lisa for being on the ball enough to see the danger of Amber’s scepter acting as a lightning rod when no one else was worried about it.

 

I Love Lisa (Disc 3)

  • Excellent use of the “Monster Mash.”
  • “I’m not gay, but I’ll learn.”
  • I’m proud of Lisa for finding the “Let’s Bee Friends” card—it expressed exactly what she wanted to say and had the kind of pun Ralph loves. I imagine she was searching Hallmark for at least ninety minutes.

 

Season Five

Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy (Disc 3)

  • It’s hard to talk about this episode in a concise manner because there’s so much to say about it. For now I’ll leave it at the fact that calling this episode “timeless” feels wrong because I think the ultimate goal of this episode is to aim for a better world where the satire around talking Malibu Stacy won’t feel timeless.
  • We were sort of disappointed that season 5 only had one Lisa-centered episode, but they did really hit it out of the park with “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy.” I assume that after that one, everyone was afraid to pitch Lisa ideas since they didn’t want to follow that.

 

Season Six

Lisa’s Rival (Disc 1)

  • My roommate and I both strongly believe that Homer’s sugar rant and that plot in general are the highest forms of comedy that mankind has ever achieved.  We are consistently baffled when we watch this episode with people who aren’t brought to tears by the power of the sugar b-plot.

 

Lisa on Ice (Disc 2)

  • “I hope you understand I’m too tense to pretend I like you”

 

Lisa’s Wedding (Disc 3)

  • They were really on the ball predicting Lisa’s outfit. She’s clearly wearing skinny jeans and an American Apparel sweater.
  • I never realized it before, but this episode referenced Lisa growing up to be a vegetarian and came out before “Lisa the Vegetarian.” The writers really understand their characters.

 

‘Round Springfield (Disc 4)

  • Lisa Sees Dead People #2: Bleeding Gums Murphy communicates to Lisa through the clouds, not to mention Mufasa, Darth Vader and the CNN guy. She isn’t taken aback.

 

Season Seven

Lisa the Vegetarian (Disc 1)

  • I think the Independent Thought Alarm sequence is Simpsons at its best. The idea of an elementary school with an Independent Thought Alarm is already so powerful and then they perfectly build on it by having Skinner say that the children are overstimulated and instructing Willy to take the colored chalk out of the classrooms.

 

Lisa the Iconoclast (Disc 3)

  • Lisa Sees Dead People #3: George Washington visits Lisa. Naturally.

Summer of 4 Ft. 2 (Disc 4)

  • It seems like Lisa is really dismissive of the two girls on the yearbook. They like her, so shouldn’t that be enough? The theory we came up with is that those two girls are so close with each other that it’s impossible for Lisa to get in on that friendship.
  • During one of the touching Lisa/Erin scenes, I mentioned that this episode is borderline romantic. I mean, Lisa and Erin really grow fond of each other over the course of the episode. My friends who weren’t distracted by being a huge lesbian reminded me that when you’re a kid, friendships tend to get so close they seem romantic because you’re very quickly like, “I’ve never felt this way before!”

 

Well, that’s the marathon. I will give Season 8 a little credit by mentioning that there are episodes in Season 8 that I consider to be well worth watching. Sadly, “My Sister, My Sitter” and “The War of Lisa Simpson” are not among them.

16
Jun
11

A Simpsons Confession

– By Charles Kenny

Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been 6 months since I last watched a new episode of The Simpsons.

I sinned against comedy when I decided that one, fateful Sunday evening to watch a film on Netflix instead of ‘Animation Domination’. I knew it was wrong, but by that stage I has reached my wits’ end.

Long had I watched the quality of one of my favourite shows decline. I stuck with it through thick and thin; the unmasking of Seymour Skinner, the many instances of Marge kicking Homer out of the house, seeing Mr. Burns slowly slip into senility and of course, the many, many personal lives of the peripheral characters that required the Simpsons’ involvement for one reason or another.

I suppose I should have known the slide was coming, I mean, how many times can Homer let out that wail of a sigh that signals his displeasure with something? The answer is a lot and even once an episode is too many.

The nonsensical plots also influenced me. Perhaps I had grown too accustomed to the finely honed scripts that were enacted before me every evening. Perhaps I really have watched too many re-runs. I have been spoiled for the last 15 years or so.

Perhaps it was the fact that I had slowly come to the conclusion that the turning point of the series was, in fact, an innocuous scene in “Maximum Homerdrive”. Over time, I came to realise that the second that truck began to drive itself, the series had indeed, become a parody no longer based in the real world, but a fantasy one where anything is possible.

After a few years of that, the move to a widescreen HD format practically sealed the deal. Not long after, it became harder and harder to justify the time spent watching FOX on a Sunday evening.

Before I knew it, earlier this year, I faced the prospect of watching a new episode or seeing a film I’d never seen before on Netflix. The choice was tough, my palms were sweaty, my brow furrowed in pensive thoughts, but at last my choice was made. I switched on the Roku and began watching. I nearly turned my face away in shame, but I couldn’t not after all I’d been through.

While I admit I have turned my back on a friend, I can say in all honesty that said friend has changed beyond recognition. The truth may hurt initially, but now that I have accepted it and moved on, I realise that I made the right choice. My life is fuller, my Sunday evenings more enjoyable and my passion for the old days is untainted. Yes, leaving zombie Simpsons behind was the best thing I’ve ever done, and why you should do the same.

22
Sep
10

Crazy Noises: The Principal and the Pauper

The Principal and the Pauper1

“Oh, yes.  Oh, yes.  Capital City’s nakedest ladies.  They’re not even wearing a smile.  Nod suggestively.  Yes, six, count ’em, six gorgeous ladies just dying for your leers and catcalls.  Yowza.  Yowza.” – Whatever the Hell His Name Is In This Episode

There’s new Zombie Simpsons Sunday, so this is the last of our summer series overthinking Season 9.  Why Season 9?  Because we did Season 8 last summer, and Season 9 was when the show started becoming more Zombie than Simpsons.  Since we’re too lazy to do audio and too ugly to do video, we’ve booked a “chatroom” (ours is right between the one with the sexy seventh graders and the one with the bored federal agents pretending to be sexy seventh graders).  So log on to your dial-up AOL and join us.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “bludgeoning”).

Today’s episode is 902 “The Principal and the Pauper”.  Yesterday was 918 “This Little Wiggy”.  In a return visit, Bob Mackey joined us this week.

Charlie Sweatpants: I had not seen this one in many years, maybe a decade or more, and I was hoping that there was some redeeming value to it. But there isn’t. The terrible plot is 95% of the screen time.

bobservo: Well, this might get me kicked out the The Simpsons Cool Kids Club, but I love Principal Skinner and I didn’t hate this episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s your shocking revelation, kids.

Dave: Uh oh.

bobservo: I’ll admit that it has some problems, but I never viewed it as some sort of awful turning point or notorious or anything like that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Let him explain, then we’ll kick him out of the Simpsons Cool Kids Club.

bobservo: But I can fully understand why people don’t like it.

Mad Jon: In fairness to Bob, Skinner is the brightest star in this particular sky. Even though the plot is completely from a different ball game, changes many, MANY things I know and love about him, and is impossible not to think about when he does/says anything from now on that references his past, Skinner pulls it off as Skinner, not a shell of him, like most Zombie characters become.

bobservo: My take on this episode is that it doesn’t change who Skinner is one bit; sure, they build a little onto his history, but it helps to better explain his character and possibly his relationship with his mother. I’ll admit that this story wasn’t at all necessary, but I enjoyed it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Disagree. If Skinner were himself, why did he go back to Capital City? Why did he abandon Krabappel?

The "changing Skinner" thing isn’t the main problem. The main problem is that this one devotes such an enormous amount of time to revelations and awkward scenes that are not the show’s strong suit.

bobservo: Also, much like Homer’s Enemy, this is secretly a show about television. If you listen to the commentary, Ken Keeler wrote it fully intending to tackle the subject of how TV audiences deal with change. It’s pretty interesting when viewed through that lens, and it probably worked a little too well in that respect.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even the opening, before Martin Sheen’s cardboard cutout of a character arrives, is almost joke free. It’s one long extended audience bludgeoning about how much everyone loves Skinner.

  I’ve heard about Keeler’s commentary, have not listened to it, so maybe I need to do that.

But whereas I can buy "Homer’s Enemy" as a comment on what came before it, this one doesn’t have a scene like Homer showing off his Grammy that has that wink to the audience.

bobservo: Well, I agree that his commentary was too subtle.

I didn’t even realize what the episode was trying to say before listening to the commentary track.

Charlie Sweatpants: Not a good sign.

Mad Jon: There is definitely an issue when I have to watch commentary to enjoy the episode. Ugh.

bobservo: But I guess in retrospect I enjoy this episode because it’s nice to see Skinner at least afforded a little dignity — in a handful of years he’d literally be making out with a corpse.

Mad Jon: Not that commentary from God himself could make me enjoy this one.

Charlie Sweatpants: Wow, when did he make out with a corpse?

bobservo: Also it’s kind of alarming to see an episode confident enough to have a single plot, and able to lapse into sentimentality without being cloying.

In the later years they took a full shotgun-to-the-face approach to sentimentality, and it always felt like a cheap attempt to copy James L. Brooks.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d say it started before this, but my feelings on "Marge Be Not Proud" are well documented.

Dave: They certainly are.

Mad Jon: In some legal documents as well I believe.

Charlie Sweatpants: But it was a downward trend. It’s remarkable how quickly they used to wrap up "I love you guys" plots and how long it takes them now.

Getting back to why this doesn’t play for a second, Grimes works on a basic level because even the first time you see it you recognize that he’s the opposite of Homer. The real Skinner, on the other hand, is hardly a character at all. The greatest crime he commits is borrowing his mother’s car keys.

The town’s rejection of him is just another in a series of far fetched overreactions.

bobservo: Well I agree that the commentary is far too subtle to work effectively.

Mad Jon: Until I watched it earlier, I couldn’t remember how he wound up at the celebration to begin with. I thought he just showed up for no reason whatsoever.

bobservo: And there should have been some greater realization as to why they needed the real (fake) Skinner back.

Dave: Other than a wholesale way to tie up loose ends, you mean.

Charlie Sweatpants: But what is it a commentary on? Granted I haven’t heard Keeler’s defense, but characters developing is one thing, inventing a whole backstory only to drop it in another "hey aren’t we lazy and isn’t that funny" ending is quite another.

bobservo: I would definitely listen to it.

  It probably won’t make you like the episode, but it’ll give you a different perspective on it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Possibly. I do try to keep an open mind. However, it won’t change the fact that most of this episode is revelation. Maybe I’m not in on the arch-joke, but the complete lack of regular ones hardly means that there can’t be an underlying theme.

Mad Jon: Even a decent meta statement can’t make up for a comedy episode with no jokes.

Charlie Sweatpants: It just feels like they locked themselves into this weird story and telling it took so much time that they didn’t have anything left.

bobservo: It is a quieter episode, but I think it shows a lot of self-control in that they didn’t have a B-Plot with Homer inventing a time machine or some such garbage.

  Again, I don’t think it’s a perfect episode, and I don’t watch it that often, but I don’t hate it.

  And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Skinner may be my favorite character.

Charlie Sweatpants: I can’t give them credit for leaving out a B-plot when they could barely cram all the back and forth into the A. The whole thing is so serious that even the aside jokes don’t play. It’s like putting a wacky roommate into Sophie’s Choice or Cider House Rules.

bobservo: It was really after the Scully years that he was only trotted out for episodes with Edna, and they did an excellent job of ruining that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll agree with that.

I’m a big believe that "Principal Charming" is a massively underrated episode.

bobservo: So my lack of hate for this episode could just be that I miss Skinner.

  But I was never outraged at the time.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll admit that I was.

Mad Jon: I don’t remember being outraged either. But I do recall feeling confused and ashamed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Season 8, which looks so good in hindsight, felt very hit and miss at the time. And when this was the second episode of the next season, it did have that death knell feeling.

Jon’s right, outrage isn’t right, confusion and shame are definitely the standard Zombie Simpsons emotions.

bobservo: Well, I kind of get the feeling that O&W were generally trying to tie things up.

Charlie Sweatpants: This one just felt bad, like, "How low are they going to go?"

Agreed with tying things up.

bobservo: In that they thought they show couldn’t go on for much longer, so why not experiment.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly.

bobservo: Of course they might have gone too far with this one.

Mad Jon: Well, you might as well swing for the fences, but if you strike out you generally have to go back to the bench.

Charlie Sweatpants: We’ve come to that point a lot in these Season 9 discussions. If this had been the last or even penultimate season, a lot of bad feelings would’ve been spared.

bobservo: But if you listen to their commentaries, they openly admit they felt they show would be ending soon.

  A lot of their episodes really dole out Springfield and character mythology.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s impossible not to watch things like this without the knowledge that it’s gone on for thirteen more years and counting, to no real purpose other than the greater glory of merchandising rights.

bobservo: Like Jebediah was a fraud, Roger Myers didn’t really create Itchy and Scratchy, etc.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve never thought of it that way, but I can see that.

bobservo: I think this episode was an extension of that, but maybe they were toying with too beloved of a character.

Charlie Sweatpants: "Lisa the Iconoclast" is one of the most huggably cynical episodes they ever did. This one doesn’t seem to have any greater point.

bobservo: I guess also in Iconoclast Lisa saw people were happier with the lie; I guess that’s the same basic point in Pauper.

  Though it could have been done much better.

Iconoclast is one of my favorite episodes, so I could be biased.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think this one could’ve been done better. "Lisa the Iconoclast" took someone who wasn’t really a character but more of a beloved symbol and tore him apart. Tearing apart sacred cows is what this show did best.

Skinner was a fully formed character and that’s why it doesn’t play as well. They’re laboring under all that history, including his being a Vietnam vet and his time at the school, whereas with Jebediah they had an almost blank slate with which to work.

bobservo: Well I agree with that; they probably didn’t realize Skinner was so beloved.

Mad Jon: And the aftermath with Jebediah is a drop in the bucket compared to what they would have to work with in future Skinner.

bobservo: Also, Oakley and Weinstein wanted to get rid of a character on the show permanently.

Mad Jon: Like a snuff episode?

Charlie Sweatpants: Were they going to do that here and chickened out after it had already been animated?

bobservo: For Who Shot Mr. Burns, they wanted to make the killer Barney and take him out of the show after that (presumably in jail).

Charlie Sweatpants: Never heard that, but I’m a late comer to the behind the scenes stuff.

bobservo: Though that could have been a case of "we’re running out of drunk jokes."

  Again, commentaries.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ah.

bobservo: So I think they loved experimenting, shaking things up, etc.

More in their first season than in their second.

  But I still respect them for trying.

  FYI I found the end of Skinner and Edna’s relationship was far more insulting and infuriating than this episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay . . .

Mad Jon: That episode where she almost marries Comic book guy?

bobservo: If I remember correctly, I think she did.

Charlie Sweatpants: Wait, that was Agnes, not Edna.

Mad Jon: No, Edna did it first.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

bobservo: No, it was called "My Big Fat Geek Wedding."

Mad Jon: That was the episode where he uses Klingon to say " I would kill the children of a thousand planets just to see you smile."

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, but that was Season 15.

  Who cares?

Mad Jon: You must have looked that up.

bobservo: Yeah, and then Grandpa married Selma?

Charlie Sweatpants: I have the internet on my computer.

bobservo: I just like to bring that up because people think it’s not real.

Charlie Sweatpants: Guh. I’m so glad I haven’t seen all of those.

Mad Jon: Wedding, after wedding after wedding!

bobservo: Yep.

Mad Jon: And did somebody say long lost triplets?

Charlie Sweatpants: And a tiny green alien named Ozmodiar that only Homer can see?

bobservo: Wait for season 24.

Charlie Sweatpants: But none of those later atrocities change the fact that they really stepped in it here. The Vietnam flashback was as rote as any Vietnam flashback in television history: times were tough, but I learned something.

Compare that to – again – "I Love Lisa" where Bart breaks Skinner’s brain. That was a subversive flashback. This one was routine.

bobservo: I agree, it would have been nice to see Skinner develop some of his fastidiousness back in ‘Nam.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, I’ll admit that I’m just pilfering my notes now, but for one more example of the weakness of the non-plot humor, Brockman has that scene where he gets flustered by technical screw ups, and it’s not nearly as good as the one from "Lisa the Beauty Queen" where he walks off and tells them to get the weekend guy.

Mad Jon: That was quite unnecessary. I was definitely waiting for the follow up joke.

Charlie Sweatpants: And then there’s Skinner, riding off to Capital City yelling "Up yours children" instead of "Eat my shorts, young man"

bobservo: I don’t really know about the production history of this episode, but even though it was held over it might have come in too late for anyone to care.

I do agree that it needs some punching up

Actually, Homer only has a few lines in this one, and they’re completely disposable.

Charlie Sweatpants: His are some of the few I enjoy. His love of cake and pornography is a ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day.

Okay, I think we’re kinda spent, and the only conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to listen to the commentary.

bobservo: So, am I now banned from DHS?

Charlie Sweatpants: Not at all.

bobservo: …for three months?

Charlie Sweatpants: Excellent usage.

bobservo: Okay, whee.

Charlie Sweatpants: Though now I do have to listen to another commentary on account of you.

  Maybe one month.

bobservo: That’s fair.

  But I regret nothing.

Mad Jon: Good, your insight is much more stimulating than my bitching.

  Although I do enjoy bitching.

bobservo: I do what I can.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I guess that’s it. Bob, thanks again. Your dedication to actually studying this show before publicly lambasting it has once again provided an example I shall strive to ignore.

bobservo: Glad to be of service.

21
Sep
10

Crazy Noises: This Little Wiggy

This Little Wiggy1

“Alright, alright, now, you’re over stimulated.  Let’s get some beer in you and then it’s right to bed.” – Marge Simpson
“Woo-hoo!  Beer beer beer!  Bed bed bed!” – Homer Simpson

There’s new Zombie Simpsons Sunday, so this is the last of our summer series overthinking Season 9.  Why Season 9?  Because we did Season 8 last summer, and Season 9 was when the show started becoming more Zombie than Simpsons.  Since we’re too lazy to do audio and too ugly to do video, we’ve booked a “chatroom” (ours is right between the one with the sexy seventh graders and the one with the bored federal agents pretending to be sexy seventh graders).  So log on to your dial-up AOL and join us.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “conceding”).

Today’s episode is 918 “This Little Wiggy”, tomorrow’s will be 902 “The Principal and the Pauper”.  In a return visit, Bob Mackey joined us this week.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, I figure we should start with "This Little Wiggy" in case we vent spleens on "Principal and the Pauper". Any objections?

bobservo: Sounds fine.

Mad Jon: none from me.

bobservo: I have opinions that may shock and disturb you!

Dave: Let’s go.

Charlie Sweatpants: Go for it. This is the first time I’ve watched all of Season 9 since it was on the air. I’m pretty numb to shocked and disturbed, but possibly not completely numb.

bobservo: Well, more on Principal and the Pauper.

I’m kind of lukewarm on this Ralph episode.

Dave: The episode certainly answers the question of "is there such a thing as too much Ralph?"

Mad Jon: I enjoy the beginning and the end of this episode. It’s that pesky middle where Bart learns something about himself and what his actions mean to other people that really sucks.

Charlie Sweatpants: The Knowledgeum is easily the best part of this one.

Mad Jon: For sure.

bobservo: I think Ralph over-saturation hit its peak with this episode.

Dave: No objections on that point.

bobservo: To the point where after this, any sort of random gibberish could pass as a "Ralph line."

Charlie Sweatpants: Definitely.

bobservo: Does he do something different in the opening credits every week now, or something?

Mad Jon: Couldn’t tell you.

Charlie Sweatpants: Sort of.

  Sometimes it’s different, sometimes it’s not.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I guess I’ve seen that, now that I am un-repressing memories of last fall…

bobservo: But I think at some point the writers decided that wheeling out Ralph was a cheap way to get laughs, so they kept doing it without much thought.

Charlie Sweatpants: The problem isn’t so much the total amount of Ralph here – it can’t be much more than "I Love Lisa" – so much as it is that it’s all Ralph punchlines.

bobservo: You hear Jean talk about this philosophy a lot with his idea that some people are satisfied just to see certain characters.

Charlie Sweatpants: That was all over the movie commentary.

bobservo: Right.

Dave: So what we have then is proof in action.

Charlie Sweatpants: They really did think just showing a character is enough.

bobservo: Well I think Ralph was a little different in "I Love Lisa;" more oblivious than retarded.

Charlie Sweatpants: Good way to put it. He also actually had a story arc, here he just kind of wanders around.

Mad Jon: I do like the visual when Marge opens the door and Ralph is just standing there with the melting fudgicle and the Chinese finger trap.

bobservo: Yeah, he really only dispenses punchlines throughout this story.

There are some good moments; I think it’s some good observational humor about having to hang out with messy/annoying kids growing up.

  And befriending those same annoying kids once you realize how much cool stuff they have.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s the kernel of this episode, but it’s barely mentioned later.

Once Bart and Ralph go on their adventure that whole aspect of the story gets dropped in favor of a standard After School Special morality tale.

Mad Jon: Ugh, it’s really not good.

bobservo: That aspect really felt forced in a non-Simpsons kind of way.

Mad Jon: Knowing that part is coming up ruins what may have been a passable adventure with the key.

Charlie Sweatpants: That scene where Bart takes the key was written in about 1973 and all they did was change the nouns.

Dave: Yeah the morality bit is unsubtle to say the least.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jimbo and company are also much weaker here than they were previously. In "Telltale Head" you can buy a) why they hang out with Bart and b) why Bart misreads them.

Here it’s just straight up Bart does something he’s uncomfortable with and immediately feels guilty.

bobservo: And the show basically admits that the third act is garbage, but that doesn’t make it better.

Charlie Sweatpants:  You’re right about that, Quimby gives not one but two speeches about how improbable the ending is.

And those were just the final ones, there’s also the security guard giving them a chance to run, the bullies throwing away they key to "pick huckleberries" when they damn well would’ve kept it.

And the whole Lisa part at the end. It’s kinda funny that she doesn’t get credit, but they’re once again conceding that the whole thing makes no sense.

bobservo: Well that seems to me to be part of a trend that eventually made the show unwatchable: meta-jokes about how lazy the writers are being.

Charlie Sweatpants: It got old a lot faster than they thought it would.

bobservo: Actually if you watch some of the post-season-8 commentaries, the writers mostly make fun of the horrible logic of the episodes themselves — so that seems to be something they enjoy.

Charlie Sweatpants: They’re still doing it in Seasons 12 and 13, I can assure you.

bobservo: Where in older episodes they would subvert TV writing cliches, but not out of laziness alone.

Charlie Sweatpants: This is definitely one of those episodes where self awareness crosses the line from clever to lazy.

bobservo: There would usually be some commentary to go along with the subversion, back when they cared.

  Right.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s still some spark here, Chief Wiggum’s "forbidden closet of mystery" and much of the beginning work well (I’m especially fond of McClure’s disclaimer about your care being repeatedly broken into and Homer’s excited state coming out of Knowledgeum), but this is another one where it feels like they have some good jokes but have just given up on even trying to fit them into a story.

bobservo: The story does meander a bit before giving up on saying anything about anything.

Charlie Sweatpants: It has that coasting feeling, like some artist or musician who’s read too much of their own good press and thinks they can do no wrong.

Mad Jon: Yeah, there are once again several good lines. But I don’t really have a problem with good jokes being part of a beginning that doesn’t particularly relate to the plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: But the beginning didn’t force the rest of the plot to suck. I mean, why did they go to an abandoned prison?

  There had to be easier ways to let Ralph have a little triumph at the end.

Mad Jon: Well, you will receive no argument there, the episode slid down a giant hill once Marge set up the ‘play date’.

bobservo: A plot rat led them to an ending?

Charlie Sweatpants: Literally.

Dave: Convenient, no?

bobservo: When I was watching it, I forgot how finding the key led to the electric chair.

  And then I was very sad.

Charlie Sweatpants: And it was a corner they didn’t need to put themselves in in the first place. The Teevee Gods didn’t make them go to the prison.

Mad Jon: No, no they probably didn’t.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anything else here before we move on to the bitter heart of Season 9?

bobservo: I’m ready to go.

Mad Jon: Yep

Charlie Sweatpants: Very well. Steel yourselves; we’re going in.

02
Aug
10

Animation Showcase: Homer Goes to College

– By Bob Mackey

When The Simpsons had its prime-time debut in 1989, the show’s animation was considered crude by most. While it’s true that the visuals improved by leaps and bounds after that first rocky year, the original 12 episodes of The Simpsons – despite their roughness – still stand as a major leap forward in the progress of television animation. And over The Simpsons’ first handful of years, talented artists like Brad Bird, David Silverman, Jeffrey Lynch, Jim Reardon, Wes Archer, and Rich Moore (amongst others) not only defined and refined the look of the show; they also raised the bar for a genre of entertainment largely considered — at the time, anyway — a brainless distraction for equally brainless children. For these visionaries, The Simpsons provided the opportunity for endless experimentation; which is why it’s no wonder that most of these folks went on to fame and fortune at outstanding animation studios like Pixar and Rough Draft.

Generally speaking, the animation on the first six-or-so years of The Simpsons is far “looser” than what it would eventually become; the art on these early seasons complemented the excellent writing, instead merely serving as just a platform for the dialogue. For lack of a better term, directors and animators on The Simpsons were once allowed to make their drawings more “cartoony,” which meant deviating from the standard design of a model sheet for the sake of drawing the strong poses necessary to create a visually interesting and, most importantly, funny image. Of course, when this is taken too far, the results can be disastrous: you only need to look at the outtakes from “Some Enchanted Evening” to see what happens when a group of animators gets The Simpsons completely wrong. But, when used correctly, brief bits of cartooniness can add vibrancy and emotion to a scene – which is something the show used to do very well.

Over the years, The Simpsons’ animation became much more conservative and homogenized, and by the end of season eight, the show had lost nearly all of its cartoon snappiness. And as a fan of the show, it’s this quality I miss the most. For my first post on Dead Homer Society, I’ve decided to visually dissect “Homer Goes to College,” which is an excellent showcase for the brilliant animation once seen on The Simpsons. For those worried, this examination isn’t going to be couched in technical terms; as an animation enthusiast, I’m going to try and break this down into terms everyone can understand.

1 2 3 4

This early scene of Homer chasing a bee down a hallway relies entirely on the animation for its humor. Sure, the idea itself is a little funny, but a sitcom-staged shot of Homer running wouldn’t be as funny as what we see here: strong, goofy poses that punctuate his haplessness.

5 6 7 8 9

Here’s a brief instance of some cartoony punctuation. These drawings are incredibly odd when compared to how we normally see Homer, but he quickly snaps back into his normal model once he leaps from the sewer. You can tell whoever drew this was having a lot of fun.

10 11 12 13

When was the last time The Simpsons made you laugh with a drawing alone? Here, Homer is locked in an exaggerated position that seemingly defies his anatomy, but that only adds to the hilarity of the scene. Strangely enough, Matt Groening always hated this kind of stuff; if you listen to various DVD commentaries, he claims he was always obsessed with giving the characters solid and consistent anatomy. This isn’t inherently bad, but it makes drawings like the ones throughout this post practically illegal.

14

This shot isn’t particularly mind-blowing, but I picked it because it shows how expressive the characters used to be. Here, Homer’s eyes and mouth are a little bigger than normal, but these small embellishments really sell his sense of panic. In general, eyes on the Simpsons used to be much bigger, and much more expressive, as we’ll see below.

15 16 17

One of the subtle hallmarks of Simpsons animation used to be the eye bulge; animators would sprinkle this little bit of business in dialogue heavy-scenes to accentuate certain words or ideas. Here, Burns isn’t speaking, but his eye bulge adds a little zing to his freak out. If you weren’t aware of the eye bulge, go back and check out some early episodes while keeping this little bit of acting in mind — it’s everywhere.

18 19

Again, nothing mind-blowing about the animation here, but the brief bit of squash and stretch before Homer’s standard scream makes his reaction much more expressive.

20

On these earlier episodes of the Simpsons, it wasn’t odd to see characters emote in ways they never had before. Instead of looking at model sheets for stock expressions, the animators in these days tailored the emotion of their drawings to the unique situation of the scene. We’ve seen Homer angry countless times before, but for some reason, this drawing feels fresh.

21

An excellent display of self-control from whoever laid out this scene. Later episodes would probably place the emphasis on Homer, but the composition of this shot (which goes on for a while) sells the awkwardness of the situation, and highlights Homer’s choice of seating.

22 23

More acting unique to this episode. I don’t think I’ve seen Homer in these poses before or since.

24

Nothing incredible happening here, but I took this screenshot to highlight how Homer was generally plumper and more retarded in Jim Reardon’s episodes. His walleye here used to be a hallmark of the shows eye acting (along with the bulge), which seems to have been lost to the mists of time.

25

Another expression I haven’t seen before or since. Something tells me this brief bit of self-satisfaction from Homer wouldn’t look nearly as funny if it was animated five years later.

26

A really strong pose from Homer. What would you call this emotion? It’s a perfect, dialogue-free reaction to the nerd revealing the reality of their road trip.

27

This scene begins with an amazing shot and tons of detail. Staging like this is what made The Simpsons so much more visually interesting than anything that had come before. The planning of the prank could have begun with a less complicated shot, but its current layout really sells the mock-drama of the scene.

28 29 30 31 32

Another bit of exaggerated animation before Homer pops back into a normal pose.

33 34 35 36 37 38

And again. The simulated motion blur of Sir Oinks-A-Lot’s face is absolutely hilarious, and really makes him seem vicious for those brief few frames. Homer’s eye bulge is equally great; I actually remember slow-mo-ing this scene back when I originally recorded the episode as a kid.

39 40 41 42

Some fantastic poses from Bart and Lisa that really sell the range of emotions they go through in this scene: from awe, to shock, to panicked urgency. You don’t even need to be aware of the scene’s context to know what they’re feeling.

43

A hilarious shot, from a perspective of The Simpsons I believe we’ve never seen before or since (or perhaps just not that often). The characters’ unique anatomy makes them extremely weird-looking from certain angles, but going with a strange, funny shot like this just shows how much the animators were willing to experiment.

44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

This may be my favorite bit of animation in the entire history of The Simpsons; in fact, I look forward to this scene every time I watch Homer Goes to College. It’s incredibly brief, but the animators transformed a simple stage direction into an incredibly expressive (and impressive) bit of acting. Every little frame, from Homer’s confident slide out of this chair, to his jaunty little walk, to the way he hands in his paper, completely sells his confidence in a way that dialogue never could. If I didn’t know better — and I don’t — I’d say David Silverman did this scene.

56

Another great expression to end this post. You can really tell that Homer has no goddamned idea what he’s talking about, here.

Since I have no way to conclude this little article except awkwardly, I’d like to thank you for humoring me in this examination of what I feel is one of The Simpsons’ most-overlooked qualities. If I can muster up the fortitude to do this again, I’ll probably tackle “Homer’s Triple Bypass” next.

14
Jul
10

Crazy Noises: The Last Temptation of Krust

The Last Temptation of Krust3

“But you endorse everything!  In fact, this endorsement contract comes from your line of legal forms.” – Canyonero Guy
“It’s a quality form.” – Krusty the Klown

There’s no new Zombie Simpsons until September at the earliest (October? fingers crossed!), so we’re going to spend the summer overthinking Season 9.  Why Season 9?  Because we did Season 8 last summer, and Season 9 was when the show started becoming more Zombie than Simpsons.  Since we’re too lazy to do audio and too ugly to do video, we’ve booked a “chatroom” (ours is right between the one with the sexy seventh graders and the one with the bored federal agents pretending to be sexy seventh graders).  So log on to your dial-up AOL and join us.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “Garofalo”).

Today’s episode is 915 “The Last Temptation of Krust”.  Yesterday’s was 920 “The Trouble With Trillions”.  In a special twist this week, Bob Mackey joined us.

 

Mad Jon: I have many strange mixed feelings about this episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Strange and mixed feelings like being in the locker room as a twelve year old, or the other kind?

Mad Jon: Can’t it be both?

bobservo: Even at the time, it astounded me that an episode about stand-up comedy would feature such greats as Jay Leno, Bruce Baum, and Bobcat Goldthwait.

Mad Jon: And not have any of them tell a joke?

bobservo: I mean, The Simpsons still had a lot of pull in the 90s — couldn’t they have gotten anyone better?

But I at least give them credit for making Jay Leno more likable and funny than he is in reality.

Charlie Sweatpants: The quality of the stand up comedians is kind of lacking. But, with the exception of Leno, they’re just there as background.

Mad Jon: I get that. However, I did find Garofalo just as funny in this episode as I do in real life.

Dave: Which is to say not at all?

Charlie Sweatpants: Do you need a setup for your punchline about how that means she’s not funny?

  Oh, Dave did it.

bobservo: The problem with this episode is that it tries to create humor that both we and the characters accept as being funny. That’s an impossible feat in writing without coming off as being disgustingly self-congratulatory.

Mad Jon: I thought the punch line was implied.

Charlie Sweatpants: Bob, you kinda lost me on that point.

bobservo: It’s a hard point to get across.

In The Simpsons (and I guess in fictional comedies in general), most characters are not aware that we, the viewers, are finding their various situations and predicaments funny.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m with you so far.

bobservo: Which is why Krusty’s new Carlin-y act is embarrassing. It’s supposed to be intentionally funny from the character’s point of view, but it’s not.

So it’s strange to see the fictional audience laughing at something that we are also supposed to find funny.

  Sorry, this is a baffling concept that I’m still trying to grapple with.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I think his press conference is better than his standup at Moe’s (which has standup now, dontchaknow).

bobservo: Oh yeah, definitely.

Mad Jon: Every night of the week apparently.

Charlie Sweatpants: The press conference is making fun of the mostly low quality of standup, where as the actual standup is just regular, low quality standup.

bobservo: I’ll stop going in this direction if I’m confusing everyone, but it seems like Krusty’s new, edgy persona was more of a tribute to Carlin than a send-up, which is why it failed in my eyes.

It was just a writer imitating Carlin, rather than satirizing his style.

Charlie Sweatpants: What bugs me, and Bob maybe this is my clumsy definition of what you’re grappling with, is that they’re imitating both audience and performer. Krusty’s bomb at the charity festival is supposed to be terrible, and it is, but why would I want to watch that? And his edgy performances at Moe’s basically have a laughtrack, which I hate.

bobservo: The writers did plenty of Dangerfield-style jokes in Burns Baby Burns, but they also satirized his jokes a bit.

Charlie Sweatpants: Either you’re the performer or the audience, you can’t be both.

Mad Jon: Well, this got pretty deep pretty fast.

Charlie Sweatpants: And I’m not even high.

Mad Jon: I should have taken more notes.

bobservo: I think Krusty bombing in front of The Simpsons was his funniest “act,” since we had the interplay of the family. It was also a good parody of observational humor.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s a good point, that really was parody.

bobservo: In that you could take a lot of Seinfeld-style jokes and kind of point out how they’re not so clever because the writer/performer is ignoring various things.

Charlie Sweatpants: If you ever did a word cloud of Carlin or Seinfeld’s standup, “notice” and it’s variations would be huge.

bobservo: Maybe we should move on to plot stuff?

Mad Jon: So would Fuck. But Krusty didn’t say that in this one.

Standup without vulgarity is like weekends without beer.

  Eat me Sinbad.

bobservo: I dunno, pre-sitcom Cosby was pretty good.

If you can believe that.

Charlie Sweatpants: It was, strangely enough.

Mad Jon: I’ll have to take your word for it, I barely remember the sitcom.

Charlie Sweatpants: But in terms of plot, this one doesn’t bother me as much.

Mad Jon: It’s more boring than bad.

Charlie Sweatpants: It puts a lot more care in solving the problem of getting a Simpson (in this case Bart) to interact with the rich and powerful (in this case Krusty) than the Trillions episode does with Homer and Burns.

Dave: Yeah, boring basically sums up my take.

Mad Jon: In the writer’s defense it was all plot driven behavior.

bobservo: This isn’t really plot-related, but I noted two good jokes that were kind of ruined by the writers revisiting them. As if we needed a reminder to understand why said jokes are funny.

Dave: What are those, Bob?

Charlie Sweatpants: The real conceit is that Krusty would pass out in the Flanders yard, but it’s done in one quick scene instead of the extended horror that is Burns tour of his mansion for Homer

bobservo: I enjoyed the Bart and Krusty stuff, as well as his undying love for the clown, despite Krusty continually treating him like dirt.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yes, what are they? I didn’t mean to step on your toes there.

bobservo: No prob.

Mad Jon: Ah the treachery of the chat room.

bobservo: “There’s that bird you like to argue with.” It’s funny on its own, and we don’t need to see Homer actually argue with the bird.

Mad Jon: That definitely was a self-inflicted gun wound.

bobservo: And that weird little follow-up to Lisa burying the money. Kind of sucked the darkness out of a great joke.

Mad Jon: two for two.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m going to disagree with both of you on both jokes.

Mad Jon: Do as you wish.

Dave: I’m going to disagree with the second.

bobservo: I can entertain disagreements.

Charlie Sweatpants: I like that Homer’s disagreeing with a parrot wanting a cracker. That he doesn’t realize the parrot isn’t actually debating him makes it work.

Lisa’s little moment of thumbs up sweetness isn’t as good, but it passes very quickly. As a joke callback it’s quick enough that I don’t mind it.

bobservo: I guess I might be willing to waffle on the second joke, but I think the actual parrot argument is less funny that it could have been if it was only implied.

Dave: I like the cake-topper aspect of Lisa’s joke. Like Charlie said, it’s quick and painless.

Mad Jon: Meh.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think the fact that all the parrot is saying is that it wants a cracker adds something substantive to it.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I can see that.

I still like the reference to conflict jokes when Homer is involved.

bobservo: It’s clever, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

Charlie Sweatpants: Fair enough, honestly the only thing I don’t like about the very beginning is Gil.

Mad Jon: Agreed.

bobservo: Yeah, Gil’s actually crammed into both of these episodes.

Mad Jon: One of Gil’s less than stellar moments.

bobservo: They sure seemed to love Gil.

Dave: Gil’s a non-character that has had more screen time than is reasonable.

Mad Jon: Gil reminds me of Jimmy Fallon

Charlie Sweatpants: When did “Glengarry Glen Ross” come out on DVD? Were they binging on it while writing Season 9?

Mad Jon: Both were present after the death of Phil Hartman, but neither could ever hope to fill his shoes. And I have to watch.

bobservo: I think Realty Bites made them go Gil-crazy.

Mad Jon: He did have a couple of good lines in that one.

bobservo: Yeah, I liked him in that episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: That goes to the overall lack of creative depth in these declining seasons, they came up with a good idea, and instead of coming up with more they recycled it ad nauseum.

I still like this episode though, there’s just too many good jokes, from “Maybe if he had better arch support they wouldn’t have caught him”, to “Don’t you hate pants”, to the Canyonero.

Dave: Take me here under the disco ball.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s a great joke.

Mad Jon: I agree on all these points. Although the pants joke is another one that in my book didn’t need following up, i.e. the pants being thrown.

bobservo: I really love Marge’s reaction to the “Do you like to laugh?” guy. And how he moves on to Homer while she’s still talking.

Mad Jon: The survey guy is near classic throwaway Simpsons

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed.

This one has enough solid actual humor shot through it that I don’t mind it’s relatively minor flaws, whereas Trillions is mostly flaws with a few jokes keeping things from being completely dead.

Mad Jon: I would most certainly rank this one significantly higher than Trillions

Dave: It’s higher than Trillions but not on my regular playlist.

bobservo: I enjoy the core story, though a lot of the surrounding material is meh.

Dave: The quality of jokes does not make up for what is, in my book, just a boring episode through and through.

Mad Jon: Not much from 9 goes on my regular list.

Charlie Sweatpants: Does this one?

bobservo: What does? I’m just curious.

Mad Jon: No.

Charlie Sweatpants: You’re harsher than me.

Mad Jon: From 9?

Less patient is probably more apt.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll agree with that.

Dave: For me, the episodes are Lisa’s Sax, The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson, and a couple others that escape me now.

bobservo: I find myself a little more forgiving of seasons 9 and 10 than the general DHC consensus.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m much harsher on 10 than I am on 9.

Mad Jon: From 9 you’d probably find “Lisa’s Sax” “Trash of the Titan” and “King of the Hill” although the last one is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Dave: I think I’m the outlier here, Bob, in that I generally loath both.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think I said this last week, but for my money 9 to 10 was the biggest single season drop in quality.

bobservo: Agreed.

Mad Jon: 10 is almost completely entirely unwatchable.

  But I think we can wait until next summer to talk about why.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s a pleasant thought.

bobservo: I’m scared.

Mad Jon: Sorry to ruin your night, or year, whatever you’re thinking.

Dave: Year. You bastard.

Mad Jon: But assuming we don’t get sued or most of us die between now and then, it’s probably going to happen.

Charlie Sweatpants: To put it in perspective, here the Canyonero is a nice gag to end the show and make fun of SUVs, the next season they built a whole episode around it.

Mad Jon: Oh yeah, that was only season 10?

  Goodness, they really do all blend together after nine.

  The Canyonero commercial is pretty funny.

bobservo: I think the Canyonero stuff validates this episode.

If only for the line “unexplained fires are a matter for the court.”

Dave: The song is eminently catchy and hummable.

Mad Jon: I like how it smells like steak.

Charlie Sweatpants: Sixty-five tons of American pride!

bobservo: Is this the episode where they bring up the Canyonero’s mileage?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think it’s this episode.

Mad Jon: I don’t think so either.

Charlie Sweatpants: They’ve ruled it unsafe for highway or city driving, but I don’t think there’s a mention of the mileage.

bobservo: Just checking.

  I just remember “1 highway, 0 city.”

Or maybe I made that up.

Mad Jon: That may be from the devoted episode next season.

bobservo: Right, right.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think it is, I’m not willing to wade through it just now.

Okay, so the standup comedy leaves something to be desired and Gil didn’t need to be here, but there’s quite a few good jokes. How’s that by way of summary?

Mad Jon: Appropriate

bobservo: I’ll agree with that.

  And an unrealistically flattering portrayal of Leno.

Dave: That works.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay then, I think we’re done.

  Bob, thanks for joining us.

Mad Jon: Thanks Bob.

  It was interesting to have a different person in on the breakdowns.

bobservo: Cool, hope this was productive.

Dave: It was fun, thanks Bob.

bobservo: Thanks for having me

13
Jul
10

Crazy Noises: The Trouble with Trillions

 The Trouble With Trillions1

“Some of us took our receipts and pay stubs to our accountants months ago.  And, at the risk of sounding a little smug-” – Kent Brockman
“Oh, help!  Does anyone have a calculator.” – Myron the Accountant
“Myron?” – Kent Brockman

There’s no new Zombie Simpsons until September at the earliest (October? fingers crossed!), so we’re going to spend the summer overthinking Season 9.  Why Season 9?  Because we did Season 8 last summer, and Season 9 was when the show started becoming more Zombie than Simpsons.  Since we’re too lazy to do audio and too ugly to do video, we’ve booked a “chatroom” (ours is right between the one with the sexy seventh graders and the one with the bored federal agents pretending to be sexy seventh graders).  So log on to your dial-up AOL and join us.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (surprisingly enough, not on “Jebediah”).

Today’s episode is 920 “The Trouble With Trillions”, tomorrow’s will be 915 “The Last Temptation of Krust”.  In a special twist this week, Bob Mackey joined us. 

 

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, shall we do improbable theft or stand up comedy first?

Dave: I think the guest gets to choose.

bobservo: Well, I started with Trillions, so let’s start with that.

Mad Jon: Sounds good.

Charlie Sweatpants: I have this episode safely in the bottom tier of nine, and I think it’s problems are fairly representative of what’s wrong with a lot of the weaker episodes of the season, there are some decent individual jokes and set pieces, but nothing ties it all together.

bobservo: I think the opening set piece is really good, but that’s mostly because it has little to do with the rest of the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: In the gaps between, it’s lots of horns of suspense and nonsense that the episode apparently expects us to take seriously.

Dave: Yeah taken on its own, the opening isn’t terrible, it just leads to terrible things.

Mad Jon: When you originally made your tiers a few weeks ago I thought to myself I disagreed with the placement of this episode in the bottom, I agree now.

  I really like the opening.

Right up until Homer remembers to pay his taxes.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed.

bobservo: I honestly think that the opening — aside from a few jokes — could have easily been part of seasons 5-8.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s all fun and games until Homer starts panicking. And there’s no way Marge doesn’t pay this family’s taxes.

bobservo: It’s a lot of great character stuff in a funny situation, and Flanders at his Flandersiest.

Mad Jon: Flanders is very Flanders in the start.

  Very funny

Dave: Quaint.

bobservo: It’s the kind of Flanders I miss now.

Mad Jon: I also like Dr. Hibbert’s mailing of the holiday related fatalities.

bobservo: Yeah it all felt very dark and Mirkin-y.

  Of course the whole episode has a very anti-government stance, so it’s hard to not view it as Mirkin-y.

Charlie Sweatpants: You’ll have to edify me, is Mirkin known for the dark stuff? I read Ortved’s book, but other than that I’m pretty ignorant of the behind the scenes type stuff.

bobservo: I generally think of his episodes as the most cynical; he’s got a very libertarian streak in him that really shines in his seasons.

And on a storytelling level, he really loves the “screw you”-type gags, and this episode ends on a very lazy imitation of that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I learned something tonight. But that scene in Moe’s where Homer rats out the guy who sometimes works at the plant (and with whom I apparently share a name), is a good example of what I’m talking about when I use the words “gaps” to describe this episode.

  There was no reason for that scene to happen, it’s almost completely unrelated to the rest of the episode.

bobservo: You’re right about that.

Charlie Sweatpants: It also has a very “Homer’s Enemy” feel to it when they recount all the outrageous crimes Homer’s committed.

  It started in Season 8, but you can begin to see the accumulated backstory of the show weighing them down.

bobservo: The “gaps” (not sure I’m using your term correctly) for me were A.) when Homer was at first reluctant to rat out Burns. Not sure what the point was with that.

Mad Jon: I do always chuckle when Charlie tells homer he has a plan to beat up all sorts of government officials.

Dave: The laziness with which they deal with that weight is notable. The severe audit bin; the bar scene; the photo booth. The list goes on. Cheap gags, not that funny.

Charlie Sweatpants: What I mean by “gaps” is, take the ending. There are some decent Castro jokes there (“It’s full of what?”), but to get there requires more than a minute of almost joke free action/suspense.

bobservo: Also, when Marge was confronted by the IRS about Homer’s theft, it seemed odd how she just assumed the money now belonged to her family. Like she was an accessory to the joke instead of an actual character.

Charlie Sweatpants: I hate that scene.

Dave: Let’s buy dune buggies.

  Cheap!

bobservo: It started a long time ago, but in this era Homer could basically do whatever he wanted with no regard to how his family felt. That lack of consequences cheapens the storytelling.

Charlie Sweatpants: You sort of expect that from Bart, but why Marge and Lisa suddenly think they’re rich is too nonsensical not to be distracting.

bobservo: Yeah, those “against character” jokes are incredibly lazy, especially with a character like Lisa.

Mad Jon: All of these things are true. But what bothers me the most is Burns. Quality Burns is a rich man who feels he is better than the common man even though he is sort of stuck 6 decades back in time. In this episode he is just wacky. Burns was always a bit wacky, but more rich and powerful than wacky.

  I don’t like wacky Burns.

Charlie Sweatpants: Nor I, why he can’t get rid of Homer is beyond me.

bobservo: Yeah the hounds button being broken just felt lazy.

Charlie Sweatpants: Like you said, it’s cheap storytelling. They need to get Homer and Burns together (again), and they couldn’t be bothered to think up a good way to do it.

bobservo: I’m sure there could have been a more interesting (and funny) way for him to get into the house, but just joke here seems to be “look how lazy we writers are being!” There’s actually a ton of this kind of humor in later Simpsons — as you guys know.

Mad Jon: Most of that kind of blurs together though….

Charlie Sweatpants: At some point, they lost the ability to tell the difference between taking shortcuts and making fun of themselves for taking shortcuts and it really hurt the show.

bobservo: True. It’s hard to tell when they’re self-aware and hanging a lantern on their laziness past the good years.

  Right!

I think they might also have not realized the meta-humor going on in the writer’s room didn’t always translate to the page.

Charlie Sweatpants: When the feds are leading Burns away, Homer grabs the rug and throws them into the wall. It’s stupid, and they know it’s stupid, but they can’t go to commercial without a joke so they have Homer put the one guy’s hand on the other guy’s butt. I’m sure that got a laugh in the writers room, but it’s so transparently tacked on that it doesn’t matter.

Well, it sounds like we’re agreed on the indefensible crappiness of the storytelling. Any positive things to note?

bobservo: Reminds me of something else: Homer yelling “That’s-a spicy meatball!” during the IRS film. It’s not funny, and it’s not self-consciously unfunny. I don’t know what it is.

Charlie Sweatpants: That is an odd joke.

  For my money, the best thing is the film strip.

Dave: It’s a non-sequitur played for easy yuks. You’re supposed to laugh because it comes from left field.

bobservo: I genuinely like the first act, and think it could have turned into something more interesting and down-to-earth.

Mad Jon: Other than Burns and the family, I feel there was an above average showing for the usual ancillary characters.

bobservo: Yeah, everyone got in some good jokes during the opening.

  I especially love “EIGHT! EIGHT! EIGHT!”

Mad Jon: I know the bar scene was tacked on, but on it’s own I like Lenny’s line about the ironed shirt, and Charlie’s plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: The first bar scene, with the “pull a thorn out of the pope’s butt” is good.

Dave: I like that Jebediah was teepeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Homer’s interrogation is also a plus, both the government computer that can process 9 returns a day, and Homer’s “an older boy told me to do it” always crack me up.

Mad Jon: I do like the interrogation scene and homer’s excuse.

  You’ll notice that scene isn’t terribly long for the amount of jokes it contains.

Charlie Sweatpants: No it isn’t.

The problem with this one, not to go over ground we’ve already covered well, is that they can’t sustain that pace. They take this weird, circuitous routes to get to things that are kinda funny.

But they can’t make the whole thing funny any more.

bobservo: Season 9 is kind of the beginning of the writers being afraid to stay on any one topic or plot thread for too long.

Scully had some self-control, though; Jean went absolutely nuts when he returned to the show.

Charlie Sweatpants: That much is true, but I don’t think “afraid” is the right word there. It’s more like “unable”. They just can’t be funny without moving rapidly from one piece of fresh material to the next, and to hell with how they got there.

Mad Jon: I don’t think I have anything more to add to this one that we haven’t said already.

bobservo: same here

Charlie Sweatpants: Fair enough, shall we move on?

bobservo: Oh, one thing.

  That speech at the end isn’t as clever as they want us to think it is.

  Sorry, it just kind of annoys me.

Charlie Sweatpants: Burns’ thing?

bobservo: Yep.

Mad Jon: It was almost funny, but too setup to be funny.

Charlie Sweatpants: I like the punchline about bribing the jury, but it’s not strong enough to save it.

  It’s more shortcuts masquerading as humor.

bobservo: Okay, I’m ready to move on.

  If you guys are.

Mad Jon: Ready and willing

Dave: Let’s

Charlie Sweatpants: The only thing I’d add is that it’s not a good thing when you have to end an episode in more or less the same way as one of Michael Bay’s less cerebral efforts (Bad Boys II).

bobservo: Haha, I’ll have to take your word for it.

Mad Jon: Had to throw one at Bay did you? Well good for you young man.

Charlie Sweatpants: Bob, if you haven’t seen it, it’s mildly watchable until about thirty minutes from the end when Will Smith and Martin Lawrence stage an impromptu invasion of Cuba.

Mad Jon: I liked the first hour and half of that movie, but the last hour and half had too many explosions.

Dave: I’ve intentionally pushed that movie out of my memory. I’m happier this way.

bobservo: Sounds like a remake of Red Zone Cuba.

  Which I would pay to see

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m not kidding, it’s just like this episode in that the whole “Cuba!” thing just drops completely out of the blue.

  So, on to Krusty’s brush with Jay Leno?




E-Mail

deadhomersociety (at) gmail

Run a Simpsons site or Twitter account? Let us know!

The Mob Has Spoken

Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Ah Hee Hee Hee on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Ezra Estephan on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch
Anonymous on Homeronymus Bosch

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Reruns

Useful Legal Tidbit

Even though it’s obvious to anyone with a functional frontal lobe and a shred of morality, we feel the need to include this disclaimer. This website (which openly advocates for the cancellation of a beloved television series) is in no way, shape or form affiliated with the FOX Network, the News Corporation, subsidiaries thereof, or any of Rupert Murdoch’s wives or children. “The Simpsons” is (unfortunately) the intellectual property of FOX. We and our crack team of one (1) lawyer believe that everything on this site falls under the definition of Fair Use and is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. No revenue is generated from this endeavor; we’re here because we love “The Simpsons”. And besides, you can’t like, own a potato, man, it’s one of Mother Earth’s creatures.