Archive for the 'Compare & Contrast' Category


Compare & Contrast: The Family Moves Away from Springfield


“You took a new job in a strange town without discussing it with your family?” – Marge Simpson
“Of course not. I wouldn’t do that! Why not?” – Homer Simpson
“We have roots here, Homer. We have friends and family and library cards. Bart’s lawyer is here.” – Marge Simpson

The most obvious option for doing a Compare & Contrast for “The Town” would be to a travel episode that’s actually coherent, say, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” or “Bart vs. Australia”. These kinds of stories and jokes work better if the family has an actual reason to go someplace. It also helps to have them do something while they’re there. Zombie Simpsons mostly sticks with having them describe what they see and then tell us how they feel about the things they’re describing.

Instead, the better comparison here is “You Only Move Twice”. In most travel episodes, the family goes someplace, does some stuff, and then returns to Springfield. “The Town” certainly contains all that, but for no real reason they also decided to have the family actually move to Boston, though not until about the 2/3 mark of the episode.

Because they did it so late, and with no build up or warning other than Marge and Homer talking about it right before it happens, the move is a great example of how inhuman Zombie Simpsons and its stories have become. The first time we see the family try to leave Springfield for good is in “Dancin’ Homer”. Once Homer gets called up to the mascot big leagues, we see the family discuss moving, we see them prepare to move, and we get scenes like Bart and Milhouse becoming spit brothers and Lisa lamenting that her parting with the other girls means very little because they’re not very good friends. In “Cape Feare”, the family doesn’t just up and move at the drop of a hat, they’ve got to go through the FBI and even then they forget Grampa and his pills. Both of those episodes treat moving as the major life change it is because to ignore all that is to reduce your characters to inanimate playthings that have no feelings or humanity.

The real parallel, though, is “You Only Move Twice”, where the family pulls up stakes for sunnier pastures and then gradually learns to hate their new home. It’s only after Marge and Bart start going nuts from boredom and Lisa gets reduced to a sniffling mess that the rest of the clan pressures Homer into returning to Springfield. It’s the kind of episode people are thinking of when they praise the show for being a family story at heart. Homer loves his new job and his new boss – partly because he’s completely oblivious to the fact that he works for a supervillain – but in the end he can’t say no to Marge and the kids.

That would all be schmaltzy if we hadn’t seen it build up so well. Bart’s misery gives us the Cypress Creek Milhouse who needs someone to boss him around, Bart thinking cursive means “hell, and damn, and bitch”, and – of course – the Leg Up Program.


He’s from Canada and they think he’s slow, eh?

Lisa is initially happy before the nature she reveres turns on her, with even little Northern Reticulated chipmunks sending her into a sneezing frenzy.


Don’t worry, Lisa, an owl will probably get him.

Marge doesn’t know what to do with herself, what with the vacuum on dirt patrol and Maggie enjoying her swing-a-majig, so the episode gives us the headfake that she’s turning into a drunk when she can only drink half a glass of wine per day.


Doctors say she should finish that glass, but she just can’t drink that much.

Because this is Season 8 and this script is tighter than a drum, each family member goes through a reversal. Bart’s finally at a school where he can’t get in trouble, but he hates it more than Springfield Elementary. Lisa’s in a place that’s far better suited to her than Springfield’s small town dumpiness, but she’s more miserable than ever. Marge, relieved of the housework that fills her days, doesn’t know what to do with herself.

Homer – usually the most miserable Simpson – is the only one who’s happy there, so when he makes the sacrifice of moving back to Springfield it actually matters. And, of course, all of this is going on against one of the show’s most brilliantly demented backdrops ever: the Bond villain who loves his employees and is scheming to take over the East Coast.

The Homer of “The Town” is the opposite. He takes them to Boston to spite Bart and then falls in love with the place in a single, heavily exposited scene:

Homer: One pin standing. Story of my life.
Guy Who Just Walked Over From Nowhere And Is Probably A Boston Reference I Didn’t Get And Will Disappear After His Second Line: Whoa, there, pal. Don’t forget your third ball.
Homer: Hold on, wait. Wait. Hold on. Wait. What?
GWJWOFNAIPABRIDGAWDAHSL: This is candlepin bowling. You get three.
Homer: Three balls? I see it all so clearly now!
Bart: What, Dad? What is it?
Homer: This regional bowling with its one extra roll has knocked my misguided hate into the gutter. I like Boston.
Bart: Dad, you and me are real father-son Southies now, just like Ben and Casey Affleck.
Homer: Son, show me everything this town has to offer.

Naturally, the random exposition dude disappears just as quickly as he appears.


Zombie Simpsons enjoys having characters materialize out of thin air for the purposes of exposition. 

From there it goes into a montage, then we see Homer tell us what he’s eating, and then he and Marge decide that they’re just going to move to Boston. There’s no depth and no character to anything these characters are saying or doing. Homer had spent the previous five minutes telling us how much he hates Boston, then he changed his mind and told us why out loud. It’s a reversal and life change so huge and shallow that it’s basically inhuman.

The only silver lining is that it does set up an equally inhuman re-reversal five minutes later. That one involves Homer going through a giant struggle to put on a baseball cap that there’s no clear reason he needs to wear in the first place. For some reason, this also means that the family has to move back to Springfield.

What makes the move in “The Town” so spectacularly dumb, however, is that it’s completely unnecessary. The family could fall in love with Boston only to have Homer get them all kicked out without running roughshod over a major life change. But that would mean writing the Simpson family as if they were still supposed to represent real people, and Zombie Simpsons gave up on that a long time ago.


Compare & Contrast: Marge Gets Jealous


“Lurleen, we’re gonna have to cut you off. We’re getting some kind of grinding noise on the track.” – Hicksville U.S.A. Recording Producer 

NOTE: I will be at Classic Simpsons Trivia in Brooklyn tonight. If you’re there, feel free to look for the tall, gumpy white guy in this t-shirt and say hello. 

“Friends and Family” provided an embarrassment of riches for Compare & Contrast material. This is a partial list of topics I considered:

– The family going to live with Burns the same way Bart did in “Burns’ Heir” – In the original, Bart had to be convinced to live there by Burns, lied to about his family, and ultimately saw through it. Now, the whole family just goes there and stays because . . . uh, look over there, isn’t it wacky that they’re wearing motion capture suits and have weird heads?

– Burns wanting a family – This would also be to “Burns’ Heir”, but instead of demonstrating how out of character the family was behaving, it’d be Burns: pining for love instead of wanting a son who could continue his evil after he was gone. Also: there was a scene with kids trying out and Milhouse getting rejected was a lot better the first time.

– Homer being alone in the house – This one is a twofer, since I could compare the goofy montage in Zombie Simpsons to “Homer Alone” or “Bart After Dark”, both of which saw Homer inhabit the house in clumsy ways instead of running the lawnmower in the living room.

– Homer meeting a very Homer-like woman – “The Last Temptation of Homer” did this far better, including showing Homer’s resistance to being attracted to Mindy until even Colonel Klink forsakes him. In particular, both episodes feature Homer at a romantic restaurant with Marge’s would-be competition, the big difference being that on The Simpsons they got forced to go to a Chinese restaurant that was nice enough to make them cheeseburgers, whereas on Zombie Simpsons Homer and his platonic friend – who’s supposed to like sitting on her duff and drinking beer just like him – go to a fancy restaurant so they could do yet another Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene.

– Jewish funerals – Krusty’s was a lot more fun than the one for that guy who was Burns’ therapist for two minutes.

Ultimately, I couldn’t resist this episode’s finale, a bizarre, senseless, and out of left field rant from Marge when she returns home to find Homer – gasp – talking to a woman on the phone. It gets weird fast and stays that way, so I’ll quote it extensively. To start, Homer is sitting on the couch and has just gotten off the phone when Marge and the kids walk in for what would seem to be the first time in weeks or months:

Homer: Hey, guys, good to see you!
Marge: Good to see you. Who were you talking to?
Homer: My friend Julia.
Lisa: Juli-a? Like a girl?

Let’s pause for a second to note how unnatural this dialogue is. We can maybe spot them Homer being so blase about seeing his family for the first time in a good long while, but Marge just coming back with “Good to see you” sounds nothing like her. And right after that we have “Who were you talking to?”, which not only doesn’t sound like her, but would also be about the last thing on her mind. It’s a screenwriter shortcut: have one character ask another the exact question needed to push the plot along.

Then we get Lisa chiming in, both surprised that it’s a girl, and with that weird pause before the “a” in Julia. Now, there are a lot of male names that can be feminized with an -a, George becomes Georgia, Claude becomes Claudia, Will becomes Willa, etcetera. But Julia isn’t one of them. Julian (one of our toughest names) is the closest, but the “a” is still there, so Lisa’s surprise at it remains off kilter. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s yet another way that the writing is just plain lazy. They want Lisa to express surprise, but instead of writing a line that lets her do so, they just have Yeardley Smith do a weird pronunciation. Moving along:

Homer: She’s not a girl, she’s three years younger than your mother. [Marge makes a noise of disapproval here] Marge, it’s cool. All we do is share our deepest thoughts and feelings.

Even by the standards of Zombie Homer this is painfully bad exposition, which is how you can tell its another hacktacular screenwriter shortcut. Homer is trying to get himself into trouble, which is the opposite of the Homer we know and love. To see how, compare it with more or less the exact same conversation in “Colonel Homer”:

Marge: It’s nice, but who is this woman?
Homer: Well, right now she’s an out of work cocktail waitress, but she’s going to be a country music superstar! Like, uh, that jerk in the cowboy hat, and that dead lady.
Marge: I don’t like you hanging around some cocktail waitress.
Homer: Marge, you make it sound so seamy. All I did was spend the afternoon in her trailer watching her try on some outfits.


Marge is annoyed, Homer is (truthfully) playing dumb.

First of all: jokes! Despite trying to create a country star, Homer can’t name a single one. Just as importantly, his intentions towards Lurleen are so innocent that he can’t begin to understand why his wife might not like him trying to help her career. This is Homer at his best: he’s being stupid and insensitive in the extreme, but he’s completely unaware of it. Moreover, he’s describing a concrete thing he did (watching Lurleen try on outfits) rather than describing an abstraction that is designed to piss Marge off.

Artificially pissed off, Marge then goes on a tear:

Marge: Kids, could you leave the room, please. . . . Faster!

Bart, Lisa and Maggie then jump into a nearby heating grate because that’s funny, right?


Drop of the hat rage: there’s the Marge we all know and love.

Homer: Marge, it’s nothing. She’s just my new best friend. [Marge knocks over Homer’s TV tray, so this gets to violence real quick.] Why are you mad at those eggs? They didn’t do anything!
Marge: Homer Simpson! After all I’ve put up with for all these years, if I’m not your best friend then what is this marriage about?


It goes on for a really long time.

This all happens as Marge is chasing Homer around the room and slapping at him. Homer cowers and runs away while Marge follows him – including through a closet door – as he makes excuses:

Homer: Okay, okay you’re my best friend! She’s just somebody I call when I’m mad at you. I mean, I’m never mad at you. Well, sometimes I’m mad at you, a little bit, but I shouldn’t call her, I should just drink it off at Moe’s. You’ll never hear the name Julia again.

Let’s pause again here and note how out of control this is. Stuff is getting knocked over, Homer’s fallen down several times, if it were real life it’s about where you’d think the cops should get called, and there’s nary a stab at humor other than Marge’s increasingly blinding rage, which is precisely nothing like her. And, since Zombie Simpsons is utterly predictable and shallow, as soon as Homer finishes, Julia walks in for no reason whatsoever:

Julia: Hi, I’m Julia! [Marge screams.] I just wanted to introduce myself and tell you you’ve got a great husband.


Screaming incoherently at a stranger, classic Marge.

Again: only hack comedy writers talk like this. Marge then compares Homer to a bike, which Julia denies wanting to “ride”. Then Julia walks out as suddenly as she walked in. It’s as hamfisted as it could possibly be: serious emotional meltdown coupled with a character appearing and disappearing as though no such thing is happening. None of the three of them are even remotely acting like real people, and Homer and Marge are so far out of character that they might as well not be themselves.

Homer and Marge then have an exposition filled conversation that makes things perfectly alright just as suddenly as they became divorce level bad:

Marge: I’m sorry, apparently you didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m not wrong for getting mad at you either!
Homer: Marge, Julia taught me lots of stuff that could help us. For example, I realize that when you see me doing something stupid and you don’t say anything about it, you do know, and you’re just being nice.

It goes on from there, but you get the idea. With just a little more exposition, all is well. This mess of a scene goes on for two whole minutes, which is a tenth of the entire episode and feels even longer since it’s all one big, continuous clusterfuck.

Compare that melodrama to the way Marge’s jealousy and Homer’s slow realization of the harm he’s causing builds across the entirety of “Colonel Homer”. The next time we see Homer and Marge after the above quoted scene is after Lurleen buys Homer his Colonel Tom Parker suit:

Homer: Marge, look at me!
Marge: I don’t want to, I’m mad at you. I’m sick of that waitress and all the time you’ve been spending with her and this whole country music thing.
Homer: Uh, then maybe you better not look at me.


Emotional reactions that make sense and advance the story. It really isn’t that hard, Zombie Simpsons.

This is the two of them perfectly in character. Homer is completely selfish and happy with how well things are going, utterly oblivious to Marge being upset until she tells him. Marge is putting up with it, but very unhappy to be doing so. From here we get Homer haplessly trying to deny that Lurleen bought him the suit, and then we get into one of the show’s old, classic running jokes: Homer justifying his current stupidity by saying it’s his boyhood dream.

From there we get the recording scene, where Homer has lied about Lurleen being overweight and through which Marge literally grits her teeth. Then Homer – now aware of Marge’s pain but still completely unaware that Lurleen is desperately trying to seduce him – goes off to the television show taping where he realizes what he’s doing. Going through all that – coupled with Lurleen’s on-air song about how lucky Marge is to have Homer – makes their eventual reconciliation both funny and heartfelt:

Marge: Homer?
Homer: Is there any room in that bed for a dad-burned fool?
Marge: Always has been.

On The Simpsons, Marge’s concern over Homer and another woman builds over the course of the episode as one of many story threads that all work together in the end. On Zombie Simpsons, it drops from the sky to the exclusion of all the other disconnected crap that was going on and sees her act like a ranting and raving lunatic. That makes their inevitable reconciliation just as sudden and nonsensical. The original was a lot better…



Compare & Contrast: Burns’s Childhood Trauma


“Wait, you forgot your bear! A symbol of your lost youth and innocence!” – Papa Burns 

First, a brief update: I have been pedaling around the Midwest for a couple weeks now. After six days on the road, I departed my home state of Michigan on a ferry to Wisconsin, then went south through Chicago, across Indiana, and made it into Ohio last Saturday. For the last few days I’ve been staying with Mad Jon and his wife here in Cleveland.

The most obvious mistake I made in planning this trip was to massively over-estimate how much free time I would have. It turns out it’s not just the biking itself that takes a while, it’s also things like making and breaking camp, finding food on the road, and simply figuring out where to go and how to get there. Add in an hour or two per day spent remoting into my useless real job and my fantasy of watching Simpsons episodes in sunlit parks died a harsh death on the road. It didn’t help that the bicycle mode on Google Maps is the best route to your destination . . . not always.

Yesterday I did make time to watch the season premier of Zombie Simpsons, “Monty Burns’ Fleeing Circus”. It is every bit as boring and formulaic as we’ve come to expect. There’s lots of pointless exposition, jokes that get explained and pre-explained, characters that act nothing like themselves, and lots of loose plot threads. For those of you with the good sense not to have watched it, a brief synopsis follows.

The town is destroyed by a laser like sunbeam that somehow reflects off of a concrete sculpture. The Simpson family then goes to Burns Manor to beg Mr. Burns to rebuild the town. He agrees to rebuild on the condition that he can stage a variety show at Springfield Bowl. (Why he wouldn’t be able to just do this anytime is never explored.) Over the course of about half a dozen flashbacks, we see that Burns himself had performed at the Bowl as a child and been humiliated, and this new show is some kind of redemption, or something. Meanwhile, since no one is in charge at the nuclear plant, the employees throw a days long party and it explodes.

There are, naturally, a lot of plots and stories that get swiftly forgotten as soon as they’re off screen. First and foremost is the aforementioned destruction of the town. We see it in rubble, and then never again, though apparently the school and the Simpson home were unaffected since we see them. Further, “wait, what?” type moments include the apparently harmless explosion at the plant, characters like Lenny both being in Burns’s show and partying at the plant, and the complete disappearance of the audience at Burns’s show, which was such a whopper that they actually felt compelled to mention it:

Lisa:  Wait, where did they go? How did 15,000 people leave so fast? Hey, uh, wanna see me do a cartwheel?

The truly hacktacular part of this episode was Burns’s childhood trauma. It’s the ostensible reason he’s putting on this convoluted variety show, but despite all the time they spend expositing about it and flashing back to 1913, Burns’s motivations are left remarkably vague. To see what I mean, consider the flashbacks in sequence.

1. Child Burns backstage, wordless and expectant:


2. Later, during auditions that involve the Crazy Cat Lady being carried around by her cats, Burns says, “This isn’t right. This isn’t how it was at all. I remember that night so vividly.”:


We then see Burns’s mother tell him it’s time to go on stage, he says he won’t let her down, and then she licks his face extensively. It’s weird. Then Burns declares he wants everything like it was back then.

3. The next flashback is Burns yelling at Lisa, “And what part of what I’ve never told you don’t you understand?”:


We then see Burns getting laughed at, looking sad, and being told by Mommy Licks-a-Lot that he’s a “laughingstock”.

4. After Lisa visits Burns Manor, Smithers shows her an old time film reel where we see Burns’s performance. His pants fall down:


After that we see Burns looking at an old time movie projector to see title cards of people laughing at him, and there might have been another one but I don’t care enough to look again.

Back in the present, Burns eventually goes on stage himself and . . . has his pants fall down, rendering the entire story pointless. It’s not as weird as Burns’s mom licking him for ten seconds, but it’s pretty weird.

Compare that hamfisted mess to the two quick flashbacks we get in “Rosebud”, which not only shows us a childhood trauma far faster, but only one of which even involves Burns. Instead of wasting time destroying the town and then forgetting all about it, “Rosebud” opens with Burns dreaming about the day he lost Bobo:

Young Burns: Tralala-lalala, tralala-lala, I’m the happiest boy there is! Aren’t I Bobo?
Ma Burns: Happy, come here, happy!
Young Burns: Yes, Momsy?
Pa Burns: Happy, would you like to continue living with us, your loving, natural parents? Or would you rather live with this twisted, loveless billionaire?”
Young Burns: Let’s roll.


After that, we see Pa Burns run after the limo and describe Bobo as, “a symbol of your lost youth and innocence!”, which is the kind of functional, meta-joke exposition that is well beyond the skills of Zombie Simpsons.

Not only is this scene shorter and more contained than the sprawling collection of flashbacks Zombie Simpsons does, but it also uses Burns the kid to explain Burns the adult. Burns didn’t become a twisted, loveless billionaire because of some trauma or accident, he actively chose it, instantly dropping his beloved bear without so much as a second thought. Even at this tender age, Burns was always more interested in money and power than happiness, he just later wanted his bear back.

Contrast that with Zombie Simpsons, where Burns gets humiliated as a child and then for some reason decides that the way to heal this decades after the fact is to take all the townspeople he hates and put them in a similar show. Even on a surface level it doesn’t make any sense. But it really falls apart when they stoop to explaining it:

Lisa: I think you’re trying to make up for what happened to you then by putting on a perfect Bowl show now.

Four flashbacks deep, they take the time to spell out exactly what was painfully obvious from the first one. And that’s not even the final, expository reveal of this nonsense. After Burns’s pants fall down on stage in the present, he finishes up by negating everything we’ve seen so far:

Burns: I can’t stay mad at you. At my age I can’t stay anything at anybody. Oh, and you know what, the laughter in my head is gone.

Zombie Simpsons sets the bar pretty high for hack writing, but this is up there with their worst. First it contradicts everything we just saw (he stayed mad about this for decades), and then it wipes it all away as though it never happened (the laughter in his head is gone because his pants fell down a second time?). The episode didn’t make sense before he said this, but this line goes beyond that by admitting that it was pointless even if it had made sense. If they cared in the least about what they were doing, the completeness of its incoherence would almost be impressive. As it is, they just needed a little more filler to wrap things up.

The Burns of “Rosebud” wants his bear back, and is willing to torment the entire town to get it. When he finally gets what he wants, he ever so briefly becomes happy before quickly returning to his old self. The Burns of Zombie Simpsons goes through an elaborate melodrama, involves people he doesn’t like for no reason, and then declares himself happy after re-living the thing that crushed him in the first place.


Compare & Contrast: Making Flashback Episodes Worthwhile

Lisa's First Word14

“Can you say David Hasselhoff?” – Bart Simpson
“David Hassahof.” – Lisa Simpson
“Can you say Daddy?” – Homer Simpson
“Homer.” – Lisa Simpson

The Simpsons did its first flashback episode way (way) back in Season 2.  “The Way We Was” introduced us to Homer and Marge as high school kids who had never even met; and along the way answered one of the fundamental questions of the show: why, exactly, is Marge with Homer?  Over the next four seasons they flashed back three more times, each time showing the birth of one of the Simpson kids.  “I Married Marge” showed us Bart’s accidental conception inside a mini-golf decoration.  “Lisa’s First Word” put the family in now their iconic house and showed the beginning of Bart and Lisa’s never ending rivalry.  “And Maggie Makes Three” completed the set and showed us that there was no sacrifice too painful for Homer to make for his kids (well, not the boy, but you know what I mean).

And Maggie Makes Three16

Genuine character development, a concept unknown to Zombie Simpsons.

These episodes do not, strictly speaking, fit chronologically.  If Bart was conceived after his parents saw The Empire Strikes Back in a theater, there’s no way he can be two years older than Lisa, who was born in the summer of 1984.  Similarly, if Homer and Marge were leaving high school in 1976, Homer wouldn’t be twenty-four-years-old in 1980.  But it doesn’t matter because background numbers that only the dedicated will ever put together aren’t the point.

By spacing events a little further apart, they gave themselves more defined cultural targets than just borderline meaningless shorthand like “The 70s” or “The 80s”.  So not only do these four episodes form a coherent whole while filling in the background of our favorite family, they do so while making pointed fun of distinct slices of American culture.

Homer and Marge are in high school in the mid 1970s, then Bart’s birth is the early 1980s, Lisa’s the mid-1980s, and Maggie’s the early 1990s.  Poking fun at Ms. and “makeout music” becomes Yoda and John Anderson, which becomes the 1984 Olympics preceding an hour long episode of Mama’s Family, which finishes up with the “clear beverage craze” and “information superhighway”.

I Married Marge15

Homer Simpson, early pioneer of the sarcastic t-shirt.

That level of specificity is missing from “The Kids Are All Fight”, as is any meaningful background on the family and/or general cultural coherence.  They tell us Lisa and Bart are two and four, but neither of them acts anything like a two-year-old or a four-year-old.  They use film development as a justification for looking back, but it’s not like many people were still using film in 2009.  The flashback idea that used to be so carefully handled has become just another excuse for a weird, semi-magical adventure in a “past” Springfield that is indistinguishable from the one they usually use.

They do make a stab at showing us a little family development, but it’s pretty halfhearted.  You see, Bart and Lisa used to fight a lot (and they will make sure you understand by stating so explicitly many times), and now they don’t.  The eventual story reason they offer for this is that Lisa “gives in”.  There are large scope problems with that (we’ve seen them fight countless times, and Lisa clearly hasn’t given in), and there are small scope problems with that (the wacky adventure they go on is more about Bart bolting than Bart and Lisa fighting).  But what really makes the kids’ story ring hollow is the way that conclusion glosses over Lisa’s surrender.

A show with characters who are faintly recognizable as human beings, or even one with just a little heart, could do a lot with a younger sibling resigning herself to years of dangerously crazy behavior from her brother.  There’s a plenty of material there for emotion, comedy, and fun generally, but Zombie Simpsons brushes any of that off for action scenes of Bart riding a big wheel through traffic and cutesy title cards announcing each new wacky scene.

Storytime Title Card

How whimsical.

For proof of this, look no further than Ralph Wiggum’s brief cameo.  Since this is Zombie Simpsons, he appears out of nowhere, then gets into the wheel of a semi-truck, then is shipped off on a boat.  They put him next to Lisa, but he hadn’t been there the last time we saw her and the two of them don’t interact at all.  He just pops in and then starts talking.

Oh, Hai, Ralph

Hi, Ralph!  Uh, how did you get here?

Here’s the entirety of his dialogue:

Your brother is stupid.  Bye bye.  The wheel I’m inside goes round and round, round and round, round and round.  The boat I’m aboard goes up and down, up and down, up and down.

It isn’t even a good Ralph-ism.  He just tells us what we’re seeing, and it goes on so long that he uses more than twice as many words as “Super Nintendo Chalmers”, “I bent my wookie”, and “Me fail English?  That’s unpossible” all put together.  Even if you don’t care about him materializing and not having anything to do with what was happening, that’s just awful.

The final evidence that story coherence and relatable characters don’t even enter into the thinking at Zombie Simpsons comes one scene later, when we see Chief Wiggum for the first and only time.  The whole second half of the episode is about Lisa and Bart getting into trouble unsupervised and Homer and Marge’s panicked search to find them.  Ralph Wiggum is doing the exact same thing as Bart and Lisa, but all we see Chief Wiggum do is interview Gil (for some reason).

Wiggum doesn’t know that his kid is roaming the streets, and the episode seems to have forgotten it completely as well.  There isn’t even a blithe, expository explanation because, as far as Zombie Simpsons is concerned, the Chief and Ralph are just one scene props.

There isn’t even any connection to the fact that this is a flashback.  Like most of the people, places and events we see in “The Kids Are All Fight”, both of them could just as easily be doing and saying the exact same things in the show’s regular timeframe.  When The Simpsons went to the past, it went with a purpose and made fun of everything it saw.  When Zombie Simpsons goes to the past, it trips backwards, stares blankly for a bit, and then continues stumbling around like always.


Compare & Contrast: Lisa Goes to SNPP

Bart on the Road12

“Lisa, you’ll have a fine time at the plant with Dad.  You’ve been interested in nuclear power for years.” – Marge Simpson
“I’ve signed numerous petitions to shut down that plant!” – Lisa Simpson
“Well, there you go.” – Marge Simpson

Per Wikipedia, Take Your Daughter to Work Day started in 1993, but:

The program was officially expanded in 2003 to include boys; however, most companies that participated in the program had, since the beginning, allowed both boys and girls to participate, usually renaming it “Take Our Children to Work Day” or an equivalent.[5]

In 1996, The Simpsons invoked it as “Go To Work With Your Parents Day” so that Principal Skinner could squeeze an extra day into spring break and keep his middle seat on his flight to Hong Kong (“Custom made suits at slave labor prices”).  That sent Lisa to work with Homer, and Bart, after trying to stay home, to the DMV with Patty and Selma.  It was a quick setup to get the episode going and, befitting The Simpsons, showed how high minded, well intentioned ideas could be taken advantage of for selfish reasons.

Today it is 2015, twenty-two years since the concept was hatched and twelve since it officially changed to include both girls and boys.  Zombie Simpsons, ever the creative laggard, simply called it “Take Your Daughter to Work Day”, which is both a verbatim use of someone else’s words and inaccurate.  In another context, that might be impressive.  Here it’s just lazy.

And the problems don’t stop there.  At the plant, Lisa does basically nothing.  First we see her in the auditorium while Burns exposits a bunch of stuff we don’t see.  Then she stands in a hallway and asks Homer a couple of questions about the plant (he doesn’t know the answers).  Then they go to the cafeteria where her lunch got ruined.  This is everything she says while she’s there:

Dad, what does that do?
Who’s that guy?
Where do those pipes lead?
Is it called the cooling tower because there’s-
How many kilowatts-
How many kinds are there?
Oh, no, my almond milk leaked all over everything.  Dad, do you have anything I can eat?
[30 so so seconds of montage]
Wow, Dad, thank you.

Literally her only line that’s longer than a few words is her expositing something we’re seeing as she says it.  She doesn’t actually do anything the whole time she’s there.


Get used to this view.

In the interests of fairness to Zombie Simpsons, here is an equally context-free version of Lisa’s entire dialogue from the first time she went to work with Homer in “Bart on the Road”:

No, thanks.  Do you have any fruit?
Why are there so many burnt out ones?
Maybe we can make your job more fun.  What are those?
Well, what if we used our imaginations.
Houston, we have a problem.  Homer 13 is spinning out of control, I’m going after him!

For starters, she’s actually speaking in complete sentences.  Better yet, when she does ask questions, it’s not a series of unrelated ones, she asks about actual things we see: Homer’s contention that “purple is a fruit” and his inability to change tiny light bulbs without an assistant.  Then we get to see her actually do something, playing with Homer in the radiation suits and pretending a stapler is a radio.

Bart on the Road13

Characters doing things!  Neat.

And when you put the context back in, her visit in “Bart on the Road” shines even more.  Here are those lines with Homer back in them:

Homer: Donut?
Lisa: No, thanks.  Do you have any fruit?
Homer: This has purple stuff inside.  Purple is a fruit.  Uh, oh, this is a map of nuclear sites around the country.  As a safety inspector, I’m responsible for changing most of these light bulbs.
Lisa: Why are there so many burnt out ones?
Homer: Cause they won’t hire an assistant.

Compare that to Homer and Lisa’s first scene in “The Princess Guide”:

Lisa: Dad, what does that do?
Homer: I don’t know.
Lisa: Who’s that guy?
Homer: I don’t know.
Lisa: Where do those pipes lead?
Homer: Not sure.
Lisa: Is it called the cooling tower because there’s-
Homer: Not my department.
Lisa: How many kilowatts-
Homer: Look, sweetie, would you like to go to the cafeteria and get some ice cream?
Lisa: How many kinds are there?
Homer: Twelve.

This actually ends with a joke, so by Zombie Simpsons standards it’s pretty decent.  But look how much thinner it is than the same scene in The Simpsons.  There, Homer and Lisa have a real conversation that also happens to crack wise about how horrible a place Springfield Nuclear Power Plant really is and just how boring Homer’s job is.  Zombie Simpsons is one note schtick designed to setup a lone ice cream punchline.

From there, of course, Season 26 Lisa sits around while Homer goes off on the episode’s first montage.  (There will be more, oh, yes, there will.)  In Season 7, on the other hand, Lisa and Homer start playing astronaut in the radiation suits, which ends with Homer telling us that it’s a lot more fun with a second person.  The difference is simple: in one she’s a real character visiting her dad at the plant, in the other she’s a prop.

The mindless (yet inaccurate) repetition of Take Your Daughter to Work Day, the time killing montage, and the hacktacular dialogue never would’ve passed muster in the 1996 writers’ room.  In the 2015 one, however, they’re good to go.  Maybe they should start bringing their kids to work.


Compare & Contrast: Surprise Nuclear Inspections

Homer Goes to College17

“The watchdog of public safety, is there any lower form of life?” – C.M. Burns

It would be one thing if Zombie Simpsons merely repeated ideas and stories that had been done on The Simpsons.  Given the enormous catalog of episodes, it’s certainly understandable that scenes and concepts would need to get recycled from time to time.  Hell, that was understandable way back in the heyday of the show.

For example, Season 2’s “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” has a great nuclear plant inspection, where we see gum used to seal a crack in the cooling towers, a plutonium paper weight, and ankle deep toxic waste.  But all that doesn’t detract in the least from the inspection in Season 5’s “Homer Goes to College”, because instead of showing us the same things again, it gives us a completely different set of horrifying looks into Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Homer Goes to College18

Looks comfy.

For starters, the inspectors show up during nap time, where meltdowns are averted by sleepy hound dogs and Smithers is curled up at Burns’ feet.  When the surprise inspection team rings the bell, Burns denies them entry and tells a pathetic lie about old fashioned cookies before the inspectors start hacking at the door with an ax.  The inspection hasn’t even started yet and already The Simpsons is at full speed, tossing off jokes and ludicrous ideas as fast as possible.

Compare that to the – ahem – “inspection” in “My Fare Lady”.  Instead of nap time and Homer falling asleep on the “Plant Destruct” button (“Please Do Not Push”), Burns just happens upon Moe, who has been hired as a janitor, mopping the floor.  (This whole thing is so inconsequential that we don’t even get an establishing shot and a crow screech.)  That immediately leads to a standard Zombie Simpsons joke, wherein the punchline takes forever to arrive, and is patiently explained to the audience:

Burns: Hey, swabbie, you missed spots there . . . another one there . . . and there!  Every other spot is begrimed!
Moe: It’s called a checkerboard floor, you unwrapped mummy.

At that, the camera helpfully pulls back to show us the aforementioned checkerboard floor.  Hi-larity.

No sooner has that happened then Smithers walks up with a bunch of inspectors in tow, “Sir, the NRC is here for a surprise inspection”.  Huh?  Even by the standards of incompetent Zombie Simpsons Burns, this is head spinning.  These guys just waltzed into the plant without Burns (or Smithers, apparently) even knowing they were there?  Somewhere, Season 5 Burns is scoffing at his successor’s haplessness.  One second they’re not there, the next they are; there’s no lie about cookies, no ax, no nothing.

In Season 5, once the inspectors do get in, we see them testing the plant employees while Burns and Smithers gaze down from above.  Except, of course, for the three workers who’ve been strategically diverted down to the basement with the important job of keeping a bee in a jar.

Homer Goes to College16

I always wondered what these guys did at the plant.  Accountants?

Down in the basement we see a glowing rat, dripping ooze, and several spilled barrels of toxic waste.  No other mention of them is made because it doesn’t need to be.  Moreover, the inspectors have no idea these three geniuses (and the improperly stored nuclear waste) are here.  They’re in the parking lot testing the employees.  Here’s the Zombie Simpsons version of the same thing:


See the glove?  The inspectors didn’t.

While Moe asks penetrating questions like, “You’re the head inspector, huh?”, nothing else happens except the unacknowledged gas leak and the slowly inflating glove.  It’s easily the best part of this scene, but it also makes the inspection team even more bland and boring than they already were.  (Thanks for the meandering story about your Queen cover band.)  The scene is Moe telling them they can’t come in after they’ve already come in, followed by them, despite already being inside and being, you know, federal nuclear inspectors, meekly accepting that and shuffling off screen.

This is basic stuff, the audience getting to see characters with personality do things instead of just listen to somebody we don’t know talk about something we don’t care about and can’t see.  To be fair to Zombie Simpsons, the inspection in “Homer Goes to College” is given more screen time, so things like nap time, bee guarding, and Homer causing a meltdown without any nuclear material being in the truck have a chance to breathe.  But it’s not like “My Fare Lady” was crammed with other great bits.  The episode has three different driving montages, one of which goes on for well over a minute.

Not that extra time would’ve helped.  More lines for incompetent Burns, more background jokes explained, and more of the nothingburger inspection team aren’t going to make “My Fare Lady” any better.  When the NRC shows up in Season 5, there’s a big ominous musical cue, and they begin to methodically test employees.  These nondescript cardboard cutouts (only one of them even speaks) get silence and deserve it.


Compare & Contrast: Proudly Fat Homer

King Size Homer20

“I’m sick of all your stereotypes and cheap jokes!  The overweight individuals in this country are just as smart and talented and hard working as everybody else!  And they’re gonna make their voices heard!  All they need is a leader!” – Homer Simpson

Conventional wisdom has it that everyone is getting fatter these days and that’s a bad thing.  Reality, as usual, is considerably more complicated.  Moral panics over fat have been a recurring feature of American culture for over a century; the actual effects of obesity are deeply misunderstood at best; and the amount of societal and cultural abuse heaped on fat people is cruel, idiotic, and generally harmful.  In short, a “fat acceptance” support group (like the one Homer joined in “Walking Big & Tall”) is a thoroughly modern byproduct of something about which America is both obsessed and deeply conflicted.  In the right hands, it’s a target rich environment for comedy.  In Zombie Simpsons, it’s shambolic background for a whole lot of nothing.

Let’s start with what is easily this episode’s go to joke: a rubbery sound effect.  They use it when Homer crams himself into the seats at the theater.  They use it when he finally gets out of his theater seat (and then immediately again when he gets stuck in the door).  They use it over and over again when Homer gets locked up with the other fat people.  They even use it when Albert the fat guy puts a straw in a cup.  It’s in so much of the episode that they may have simply done that last one out of habit.

In addition to being a pretty weak joke (Once? Sure. Twice? Maybe. Three and more? Uh, no.), it neatly summarizes just how vapid the whole episode is.  Their most used gag is that fat people don’t fit into the same spaces as skinny people.  That’s it.

You can see that shallowness all over the place: the only other fat person who gets any lines is Comic Book Guy, and most of what he does is list foods, Homer himself doesn’t actually do anything in the episode besides stand around, and roughly half the dialogue is people recapping things we’ve already seen.  Even the gag at the end about Albert’s ashes needing a lot of urns goes on way too long, and that’s before they literally spelled it out for us.  You really have to wonder at the mentality and incuriosity in the writers room when they do an entire episode on fat acceptance and most of what they come up with is “fat people are big”.


Get it?  GET IT?

By contrast, “King-Size Homer” also sees Homer become proud of being a fat guy.  But instead of him joining a support group then not doing anything but talk about joining a support group, we actually get to see him be a proud fat guy.  He’s ecstatic about getting out of work.  When Marge calls him on it, he redoubles his efforts to be a “big fat dynamo!”.  At the end, he stands up to the crowd at the theater that laughs at him.  He’s even proud of his “fat guy hat”.  “Walking Big & Tall” tells us (ad nausem) that Homer is proud of his fat self.  “King-Size” Homer actually shows him doing it.

Case in point: fat guy insults.  At the theater, right before the manager attempts to buy him off with “a garbage bag full of popcorn”, the sarcastic guy shouts at him, “Hey, fatty, I got a movie for ya: A Fridge Too Far!”.  That’s a great Simpsons joke: it’s a cultural reference, it’s innovative and mean, it fits the story, and it’s done by one of their best non-named utility characters.  And, of course, there’s little stuff to notice, like how the Squeaky Voiced Teen (who’s taking tickets) and the manager both laugh at first before quickly stopping themselves while everyone else keeps going.

King Size Homer19

On The Simpsons, there is *always* a reason to pay attention.

Compare that to this unedited brainstorm pad:

 Chubby, Chunky, Blob-O, Slob-O, Fat Bastard, Michelen Man, Stay Puft, Chumbawumba, “It is balloon!”, Papa Grande, Augustus Gloop, Beached Whale, Big Boned, Wisconsin Skinny, Butterball, Dump Truck, Jelly Belly, Pudgy Wudgy, Lard Ass, Bloberino, Buddah Belly, Hurry E. Tubman, One Ton Soup, Blob Sagat, Chub Hub, Calvin Coolwhip, Manfred Manboobs, 21-Lump Street, Walking Before Picture, Fatso, Harvey Milk Chocolate, Obese Wan-Canoli, Mahatma Gumbo, Salvadore Deli, Elmer Pantry, KFC & the Spongecake Band, Snacky Onassis, The Foodie Blues, Hoagie Carmichal, and Wide Load

As I said on Monday, there are a couple of decent ones in that mess.  But there is also a ton of filler.  For every creative one like “Obese Wan-Canoli” there are three or four regular old insults (Fatso, Wide Load, Fat Bastard, Chubby, etc.) or unmodified cultural references (Augustus Gloop, Stay Puft, Butterball, etc.).  What’s more, it’s just a list.  This is a Buzzfeed headline in Zombie Simpsons form: 40 Great Fat Insults.  And, like Buzzfeed, you knew a bunch already, and most of them aren’t great.

The Simpsons picked one (1) good one and slipped it into a scene that’s integral to the plot.  If Homer doesn’t want to see “Honk If You’re Horny”, he doesn’t leave the drinking bird in charge, in which case he doesn’t resolve to mend his ways after getting insulted, and, oh yeah, the gas gets vented, preventing explosion.  The entire episode doesn’t work without this scene.

In Zombie Simpsons, the list is the only scene at Moe’s and the only time we see any of those characters.  It’s a one off tangent that has nothing to do with anything, they just had a list and time to fill.

Finally, there’s Homer himself.  It’s not just that we get to see him being a proud fat guy in Season 7, there’s a reason for him to be a proud fat guy.  Homer, being Homer, hates exercise and tries, in Lisa’s words, “abusing a program intended to help the unfortunate”.  He loves not having to go to work so much (“gas, break, honk”), that he overlooks everything else.  In “Walking Big & Tall”, Homer hurls people across entire theaters before happening to walk past the wrong support group.  One of these involves the character being himself and matters to the rest of the episode; the other does not.  Homer, let me introduce Jerkass Homer; Jerkass Homer, please meet Homer.


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