Archive for the 'The Simpsons' Category



29
Oct
17

Bonus Quote of the Day

“What I’d like to say is: we’re still looking for the real killers. Anyway, in conclusion, a man cannot be forced to testify against his wife.” – Homer Simpson
“Stop winking!” – Marge Simpson

Happy Birthday Dan Castellaneta! 

25
Oct
17

Quote of the Day

“Your son Bart sounds very bad.” – Pepe
“Oh, he is. . . . Son, I just want you to know I love you very much.” – Homer Simpson
“Shut up!” – Bart Simpson

Happy birthday Nancy Cartwright! 

12
Oct
17

Quote of the Day

“Now I’d like to introduce you to Lunchlady Doris who will serve you healthy, nutritious meals.” – Principal Skinner
“Yeah, right.” – Lunchlady Doris

Doris Grau would’ve been 93 today. Happy birthday.

11
Oct
17

Behind Us Forever: Springfield Splendor

“She doesn’t look sad. I don’t see any tears in her eyes.” – Homer Simpson
“It’s not that kind of sad. I’m sorry, Dad, but you wouldn’t understand.” – Lisa

After last week’s little experiment, it’s back to regular Zombie Simpsons this week, including plots that don’t make sense, two clock eating montages, several unnecessarily self-voiced celebrities, the standard hacktacular ending, and plenty of characters telling us exactly how they’re feeling. As a sort of bonus, some of this week’s exposition is written down rather than spoken.

The story here is – and stop me if you’ve seen this one a dozen times before – Lisa is sad. She goes to a therapist who tells her to do “art therapy”, which turns into a comic book that she writes and Marge draws, which turns into a Broadway musical, which turns (at long last) into the end credits. There isn’t really a b-plot this week, so they tossed in some random scenes of Bart and Homer doing brief sketch pieces.

– No couch gag or title sequence, which means this one ran long, which is not a good sign, especially when the opening is Lisa having a dream that she narrates to us.

– Waking up, Lisa runs into Homer and Marge’s room where, in the span of just thirty seconds, they manage to do the “Homer wakes up instantly” joke twice.

– The family ends up at Springfield community college so Lisa can get discount therapy. Since this episode is mostly filler, they encounter Lenny on the front steps:

Lenny: I only paid a student dentist twelve dollars for this brand new crown. [He pulls out his tooth.] See?
Marge: I don’t think it’s supposed to come out.
Lenny: That’s why I paid a student para-legal to sue him. I lost! [He tosses the tooth aside and walks off.]

After this scintillating exchange, Homer looks at the family, then smiles and nods vigorously. This is funny, but not for the reasons the show wants.

– They walk by Dan Harmon teaching a class. He gets pelted with spitballs and falls down. This is the first of many useless self voiced celebrities.

– Homer tosses Bart into a dog grooming class because, hey, that’s funny.

– We finally get to the therapist, who is clearly pregnant but who also tells us she’s pregnant. I swear they sometimes read the stage directions out loud and nobody notices.

– Effort alert: there are a couple of book titles in the counselor’s office, the only one of which I liked was “The Social Psychology of Student Loan Debt”. But, hey, they’re kinda trying. Right?

– The Bart-as-dog thing is still going on as Lisa struggles to draw her feelings. Then Marge comes in and draws Lisa’s feeling for her. This leads to our first montage as Marge’s drawings of Lisa’s life are animated. This includes thought bubbles for this week’s distinguishing feature: written exposition.

– Lisa goes back to the community college therapist to show off her drawings and, dun dun dun, they’re not in her backpack. Outside we see Comic Book Guy and that wife they gave him finding the pages and deciding to publish them as a “Sad Girl” comic. This leads to more exposition from Lisa, who says, “It’s been a week and I still can’t find my therapy comic. I’d be just mortified if even one person saw my private thoughts.” They then walk by the comic book shop which has them in the window. [sad rimshot]

– This leads to a minute long scene that involves YouTube, exposition, a bear costume, more exposition, and then even more exposition until Lisa agrees to let them sell the book. Jebus, that took a while.

– Lisa becomes famous, with random people in the supermarket asking for her autograph and Mel shouting out the word “zeitgeist”. This leads to our second montage, which is accompanied by a one-word substitution “parody” of the old Rod Stewart song “Infatuation“. The credits will later inform me it was sung by Kipp Lenon, a/k/a the guy who did the singing for Michael Jackson back in Season 3. There’s your trivia moment for this one.

– After the montage, there’s a Homer and Bart sketch that uses the Andy Griffith Show theme song. That is all.

– Moving the plot along to a comic book festival, we get a women-in-art panel discussion with Marge, Lisa, and three self voiced celebrity writers/cartoonists. This takes a while and ends with Marge being jealous because all the questions are for Lisa. No, it doesn’t make any sense.

– Later, Marge wants to write her own comic, gets in a fight with Lisa, and then Martin Short shows up doing a half hearted impression of the voice he does on the PBS version of Cat in the Hat. He’s playing an “impish genius” who wants to turn the comic into a musical. I know he’s an “impish genius” because they tell us twice.

– A big part of what they think works here is recitations of previous shows this guy did. Lisa says he did a “Waiting for Godot” where Godot showed up, and an all dogs version of “Cats”. There’s gonna be like four more of these, all recounted seemingly out of nowhere.

– The Homer-Bart sketch interludes continue with Homer now thinking he’s going to be rich. I will update you as necessary.

– The next minute and a half is Martin Short rambling and Lisa getting jealous of Marge because the show is so off beat that “Sad Girl” is barely in it. This is conveyed to the audience via Lisa’s explicitly saying it, “Mom, he’s ignoring my story and making this all about your drawings.”

– Lisa flees back to the therapist, who now has a crib that she’s gently rocking. Remember, she was pregnant and they told us so. Now she obviously has a kid and they will tell us that as well. The need to make even the most obvious things explicit is among the seven or eight most annoying tics of this show.

– Homer is now planning to get a sail boat.

– The show finally starts and it’s basically montage #3, with lots of music and crazy stuff happening because wordless musicals are a good way to eat time.

– After one final scene of Martin Short yelling and explaining things, the music devolves into chaos and the audience flees.

– And we end at a bar where everyone is drinking and Marge and Lisa exposit their reconciliation.

The numbers are in, and thanks to a late Packers-Cowboys game, 5.25 million people saw Lisa be sad and felt the same way. Remember, ratings are meaningless and no one in charge of anything knows what they’re doing.

07
Oct
17

Saturday Morning Cartoons

“Young lady, cow hearts belong in a butcher’s window, not the classroom. Well, maybe in an older student’s biology classroom. But that’s none of my business. Elementary school is where I wound up and it’s too late to do anything about that!” – Principal Skinner

The above is yet another example of how The Simpsons was able to cram jokes into every conceivable place in its episodes. It comes right as Lisa has set up Allison for failure at Diorama-Rama. For the middle of it, the sound even fades out on Skinner as the camera pushes in on Lisa, revealing her growing horror at what she’s done.

The music darkens as Lisa is racked with guilt and Allison begins to crack, but we can still hear Skinner’s latest rant, again revealing the bitterness and rage that he barely masks with his store bought haircut and excellent posture. It’s a hilarious self-own, with Skinner revealing how desperately unhappy he is, just as he does when he flashes back to Vietnam, or laments how awful the talent show is backstage before instantly switching gears and praising it on-stage.

At the same time, the episode itself is chugging along toward its emotional climax, which is also a running Edgar Allen Poe parody. That’s a lot of elements to have going on all at once, and The Simpsons handles them so deftly that you can enjoy each one without stopping any of the others. And, of course, the whole thing is simultaneously acting as setup for the bigger punchline when both Lisa and Allison lose to Ralph because the diorama contest they care so much about is less important to the adults than Miss Hoover’s desire to go to lunch.

Zombie Simpsons (which often struggles to handle one thing at a time) doesn’t even attempt densely layered jokes and storytelling like this. The Simpsons did it routinely.

06
Oct
17

Behind Us Forever: The Serfsons

“I’ll go to the first aid tent and tell them to plug in ye olde stomach pump.” – Lisa Simpson

NOTE: Sorry this took all week to post. I was traveling.

I should start out by saying that I appreciate that they at least tried to get creative here. “The Serfsons” is basically an episode length Halloween segment that gets the tiresome antics of Zombie Simpsons out of Springfield without the family having to win another contest or something. The good news is that you can tell they actually put some effort into this one; there are a couple of clever ideas and while most of the sign gags are meh, there are a few funny ones.

The bad news is that this is still Zombie Simpsons. An awful lot of the dialog is unnecessary expositions and joke explanations, characters randomly show up and vanish when needed, and the couple of good non-sign jokes get run into the ground. And, of course, the overall story is a meandering mess that resolves itself so poorly that it actually retcons its own ending twenty seconds after it happens.

If you haven’t seen it, the basic idea is that all the denizens of Springfield are in a fantasy realm that’s sort of Lord of the Rings, sort of Game of Thrones, sort of Generic Fantasy IP Project #644. Jacqueline is slowly dying and Homer needs gold to buy an amulet to cure her. Lisa, it turns out, has magic powers and can turn lead into gold. This leads to the Ministry of Magic (or whatever) kidnapping her for her abilities, and that in turn leads to a weird battle. There’s also a gelatinous cube whose super power is explaining jokes about itself.

– Gotta give them this: the Game of Thrones-y version of the theme song is kinda good. (Given the timeframe, I would assume Alf Clausen wrote it, but I really don’t know. He’s credited here as “Composer Emeritus”, which is a pretty sleazy way of saying “Fired”.)

– The actual episode starts off with, wait for it, a bunch of exposition. We see the family in their home and then this happens:

Homer: Water soup again?
[A crow lands on the windowsill. Marge bashes it with her ladle.]
Marge: Now it’s crow soup!
Homer: Ooh, I call an eye!
Lisa: Me too!
Bart: Me three!
Marge: And Maggie gets the beak.
[She then gives Maggie the beak.]

– After this, Rainier Wolfcastle, dressed as a knight, bursts in through the wall, makes Homer kiss his horse’s hooves for fifteen seconds, and then bursts out through a different wall. I am not going to transcribe all the random sketch comedy crap like this that happens. Just know that there’s a lot of it.

– Shortly thereafter, Homer yells at Lisa for “anti-feudalist” talk. Had this been brief and/or the only example, it might’ve been funny. But it goes on for quite a while and gets recited about three more times.

– Milhouse is a gremlin of some kind. And Jacqueline is in an exposited retirement home manned by giant spiders.

– At the row of severed heads we get more feudalism exposition.

– Jacqueline has been standing there for all of the above exposition, then breaks in unexpectedly by walking in from out of frame. Even when they have a character in a scene they feel the need to drop them in out of nowhere. If you wrote each line on a 3×5 card and shuffled them thoroughly it might actually improve the flow of this dialog.

– Speaking of jokes that would’ve worked once, Hibbert diagnoses Krusty with “genital smurfs”, which sing and frequently throw hats whenever Krusty looks down his pants. Once, this could’ve been fine. We’ll get several more.

– Jacqueline is turning to ice because an “ice walker” bit her on their date. Said ice walker then walks up to the window to apologize from nowhere before more exposition about how he’s a thousand years old and likes “young” women like Marge’s mom. This too will be repeated.

– Now the family needs gold to buy an amulet to cure Marge’s mom. This is stated explicitly and will be exposited several more times.

– So, in what I guess is supposed to be a Game of Thrones twincest thing, Marge’s creepy twin brother walks up out of nowhere to hit on Marge.

– The first of the two really good sign gags is George R.R. Martin wearing a sandwich board that reads, “The End Is Not Nigh” on the front and “I’ll Tell You When It’s Nigh” on the back.

– They try to cram in a Moe-prank-call with a scroll tied to a raven’s leg. It works about as well as you’d expect.

– At the “Human Power Plant” we see all the SNPP guys pushing a big wheel while Ogre Willy whips them. This leads to an extended scene where Burns explains that pushing the wheel doesn’t actually power anything and that their suffering is used to give rich people tiny, decorative wings. It doesn’t hook into the rest of the episode. It’s a one-off sketch that isn’t the least bit funny since it takes a full minute of explanation to get to the punchline, which is then repeated several times in case we missed it. I’m hard pressed to think of how the writing here could be any worse. It’s disconnected, mostly setup, and has a weak payoff. What else could it screw up?

– From there we see Aslan, wearing a big wooden cross, “come to offer solace in this difficult time”. Marge accuses him of wanting to take advantage of her while she’s vulnerable. Had this been left here, it’d be funny. Aslan as pushy missionary is a great idea. Instead, it goes on for twenty more seconds.

– Lisa turns some lead into gold to get the amulet for her grandmother. Then exposits that she didn’t do magic before because she doesn’t want to go work for the king. Also, Aslan shows up again. It won’t be the last time.

– Jacqueline gets cured, Bart shows up out of nowhere to exposit about how it happened.

– [siren emoji]Good Joke Alert[siren emoji]:

Jacqueline: I watched my daughter marry an ogre.
Homer: I am not an ogre. My father married an ogre after my mother was eaten by a different ogre.

Castellaneta nails this as Homer patiently but exasperatedly explaining something to an in-law he genuinely doesn’t like.

– Marge then decides to cook a hobbit to celebrate her mother’s newfound health. This leads to the second of the two really good sign gags in the episodes:

Is this self serving and kind of a low blow? Sure. But I laughed.

– And my joy is instantly ruined as we travel over to the hobbit cage where three hobbits exposit about which of them is to be eaten for far too long. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: these people know good jokes when they see them. They just can’t resist running them into the ground to fill time.

– There are some good fake store signs in this one, of which “Banana Monarchy” is my favorite and “David’s Merkins” is the dirtiest.

– At the town square things start to get really weird in preparation for the bizarro ending that’s coming. Homer and a bunch of other characters get into an argument about what the afterlife is like. Much exposition ensues. Also more smurf crabs or whatever.

– And Lisa gets kidnapped because “Sorcererintendent Chalmers” saw her using magic. Here are my notes from this:

As Lisa gets taken, more exposition

More feudalism exposition

“How are we going to get over these walls?”

As you may have guessed from that last part, they have to get over some walls. In transcription form, tell-don’t-show does kinda work.

– That last line leads to a bunch of Ents showing up. Homer, holding an ax, thanks them for their “sacrifice” and we then see them being made into ladders. Had this been it, great. Instead, the Ent has to exposit the joke (“We could’ve torn down the castle walls in five minutes”) before getting his face cut off with more exposition from Homer.

– During the battle, Mel literally dies explaining a joke.

– As the battle winds down, Homer declares, “Now we’re losing!” before declaring “Now we won!”. They’ve been over-using this kind of “here’s something so obvious it has to be funny” humor for a long time, but this is the worst example I can recall. Yeesh.

– And, after a dragon dies then gets resurrected, we end on Lisa expositing the end of the world.

Anyway, the numbers are (long since) in and they’re about what you’d expect. The season premier of the show that used to be The Simpsons was watched by 3.26 million viewers. That’s down a teensy bit from last year and the exact same as Season 27. As stated over the summer, though, bad numbers are fine so long as they’re not falling-into-a-bottomless-pit bad. So the mediocrity will continue. Welcome to Season 29, everyone. We can check out, but they’ll never leave.

02
Oct
17

Quote of the Day

“Look! He’s headed back to the greyhound racing track where we found him.” – Bart Simpson
“Don’t worry. As soon as they find out he doesn’t have any money, they’ll throw him out. Believe me, I know.” – Homer Simpson

Happy birthday, Mike Scully!

24
Sep
17

Bonus Quote of the Day

“Hello, I’m Troy McClure. You may remember me from such movies as ‘Cry Yuma!’ and ‘Here Comes the Coast Guard!’ But today I’d like to talk to you about a pleasant tasting candy that actually cleans and straightens your teeth.” – Troy McClure

Phil Hartman would’ve been sixty-nine today. (Nice.) Happy birthday. 

24
Sep
17

Quote of the Day

“At last the world is safe, eh, Fallout Boy?” – Lunchlady Doris
“What’s for lunch tomorrow?” – Ralph Wiggum
“Next.” – Big Shot Hollywood Director

Happy birthday, Brad Bird! 

23
Sep
17

Saturday Morning Cartoons

“Mr. Speaker, if I could call your attention to the retroactive subsidy appropriations override bill, I refer you to page four thousand five hundred and…” – Cable

I’ve often said that it’s the little things that are what makes The Simpsons endlessly rewatchable. Case in point is the houseplant above, which I did not notice for years and years. The first time we see it is when Marge carries it into the house right before Homer announces to his family that they’ve now got cable. From there it gets set next to the couch as an unobtrusive background gag that also demonstrates just how in love with cable Homer truly is.

The plant isn’t asked to eat any time or advance the plot. The show never calls any attention to it. The whole time it’s there growing and withering, we’re getting all the cable parodies about Mexican wrestling, the World Series of Cockfighting,* and movies that receive two stars or less and are repeated ad nauseam. By the time Homer literally peels himself off the couch to go to church, it’s crumpled and dead.

(*Incidentally, this is another example of how exquisitely tuned the show’s cultural antennae were. The World Series of Cockfighting is “live from New Orleans” where they’re gonna have “big fun on the bayou tonight”. Louisiana was, indeed, the last state to ban cockfighting . . . in 2008.)

In the grand scheme of this episode, it’s as minor as minor touches get. “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment” is chockablock with parodies and/or gag titles about a dozen different movies, the then new format of infomercials, kids wanting to watch porn, the ridiculousness of boxing, and about a hundred other things. In another running background joke, Jimbo manages to shoplift his way through a satirical morality tale about theft. Like him, the plant is never going to be anyone’s favorite part of this one, but it’s there waiting for people to find it on the Nth time they view it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some things to do before I spent much of my afternoon streaming college football on someone else’s cable log-in.

18
Sep
17

Quote of the Day

“Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty. Flag’s up to date, very good, Seymour.” – Superintendent Chalmers

Happy birthday David Mirkin!

15
Sep
17

Quote of the Day

“Now let’s take a look at a young Charles Bronson’s brief stint replacing Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show.” – Before They Were Famous Host
“Where’s Otis? He’s not in his cell.” – Not Don Knotts
“I shot him.” – Charles Bronson
“Well, that’s-what!?” – Not Don Knotts
“Now I’m going down to Emmett’s Fix It Shop to fix Emmett.” – Charles Bronson

Happy birthday, Mike Reiss! 

07
Sep
17

Quote of the Day

“I’m sure he’ll over us a fair reward. . . . And then we’ll make him double it!” – Marge Simpson
“Huh?” – Homer, Bart, & Lisa Simpson
“Well, why can’t I be greedy once in a while?” – Marge Simpson

Happy birthday, Julie Kavner!

01
Sep
17

Why Zombie Simpsons Is Unkillable

Is it my imagination, or is TV getting worse?” – Lisa Simpson
“Enh, it’s about the same.” – Homer Simpson

NOTE: I’m in the process of shopping an expanded version of “Zombie Simpsons: How the Best Show Ever Became the Broadcasting Undead” to publishers. I don’t know whether or not it will ever make it to store shelves, but if it does, the following would be one of the new chapters. (If you end up reading it again in a bookstore a year from now, try to look surprised.) I’m publishing it today in light of Alf Clausen’s firing, which caused me to add a new paragraph last night. 

Feel free to smile and nod and link and share this page [stomps on your foot]. The more traffic and attention it gets, the better chance it has of becoming a real, dead-tree book at some point in the future. Also, on your way out, if you want to post it to /r/TheSimpsons, it would help me a lot. 

If the show has been so bad for so long, the natural question then becomes: why is it still on the air? The very short answer is that (just) enough people keep watching. The less short answer is that after crashing around the turn of the millennium, Zombie Simpsons has managed to lose viewers at a slightly slower rate than network television itself.

Broadcast network viewership has been declining for decades. In the 1990s, cable and satellite finally came into their own and gave people many (many, many) more channels to watch. Then the 2000s saw the internet transform from a geek curiosity into the rapidly mutating attention succubus we know today. Network audiences have been eroding the whole time. In 1983, the final episode of M.A.S.H. was watched by more than half of the total U.S. population. In 1993, the Cheers finale managed a little over a third. In 2004, the last episode of Friends pulled less than a fifth.*

*[ http://screenrant.com/highest-rated-series-finales-all-time-tv/ ]

Those were extraordinary events, and the night-in-night-out averages dropped right along with them. During the first full season of The Simpsons in 1990-91, a show needed well over 20 million viewers per week to make it into the Top 30 rated programs. By the 2000-01 season, that number had declined to 14 million weekly viewers. By the 2010-11 season, it was hovering around 10 million.* For the 2016-17 season, shows need less than 5 million viewers to crack the Top 30, a 75% decline in twenty-six years.

*[Nielsen numbers for 1990 & 2000 taken from Brooks & Marsh, 2010 numbers taken from http://deadline.com/2011/05/full-2010-11-season-series-rankers-135917/ ]

The Simpsons spent its 1990s creative peak hovering just above or below the Top 30 line. As the show collapsed in terms of quality, the ratings took a corresponding nosedive, and in the 2000s Zombie Simpsons usually pulled in somewhere between 50th and 60th. But instead of falling all the way off television, the rate of decline stabilized. Since Al Jean took over in Season 13, the show has lost viewers after all but two seasons, but the year-over-year drops themselves are relatively small, especially compared to network television overall.

Today, Zombie Simpsons is down to just 4 million weekly viewers on average, and routinely has individual episode that barely pull 2 million. (About six times per year the show gets a huge lead-in audience from a late NFL game, without which the average would be significantly lower.) Numbers like that would’ve seen the show swiftly cancelled even just ten years ago. But in the smoking crater that is modern television ratings, a slow decline counts as an almost Edenic refuge from the ongoing apocalypse. The current cliche in Hollywood is that “flat is the new up”.

Even that tenacious hold on survival level ratings probably wouldn’t be enough to keep Zombie Simpsons going if it was a typical live action program. But being animated not only carries great creative advantages, it also changes the economics of a long running show. On a normal, camera-and-actors network comedy, the people up on screen eventually become too old or too costly for the program to continue. Adult actors who play youthful parents or young professionals start to wrinkle and thicken. Child actors whose appeal rests on cuteness go through puberty and become potentially boring teenagers or adults.

More importantly, all of them become more expensive as the episodes stack up. To the audience, the lead actors of a hit show are inextricably linked with that show, and the agents who represent those actors are well aware of it. Once a program has established itself after two or three seasons and looks like it might have a long run ahead of it, retaining the main performers becomes the most important and expensive part of the production. After a few years, the core cast of any successful show is often making hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode, with a few individual stars crossing the million dollar line.

As nice as the pay can be, the cast is also aware of the career warping effect that a popular and long running role can have. Any actor will tell you that working beats not working, but becoming tightly associated with a particular character can make other roles harder to get. Woody Harrelson made it to movies and Ted Danson eventually headlined another less popular sitcom, but most of the cast of Cheers never again reached anything like the career high they had on that show. Jennifer Aniston also made the leap to the big screen, but most of the Friends cast has faded from public view. Roles like those afforded by long running shows aren’t career killers – and there is all that money they pay – but the professional aftermath is a decidedly mixed blessing.

Finally, practical considerations come to bear as well. Shooting a live action show requires a great deal of coordination and time from those increasingly expensive actors. Everyone’s got to be in wardrobe and on set, often all at once, for weeks and months on end, year after year. By retail or food service standards, it’s not a taxing schedule, but it places strict limits on what kind of other roles the cast can accept. You can’t do a movie in London or a play in New York if you have to be in Los Angeles most of the time.

In short, as a show grows older, the interests of the studio and the cast gradually diverge. Production costs go up while the actors, who no longer really need the money, get restless and gradually age out of the roles they were originally chosen to play. Even if the audience is still there, live action network comedies have a built in expiration date that can only be postponed for so long. Animation, by contrast, neatly sidesteps those problems.

From the cast’s perspective, all of the negatives of staying on a long running show are absent when that show is animated. Since nobody’s face is actually shown, there’s no danger of being typecast. And since all that’s needed is an audio recording, scheduling is far more flexible. Actors can record their parts alone with no other cast members present, and the actual performance can happen anywhere with a sound booth, no costumes or makeup required.

That freedom and flexibility means the cast of an animated show can not only afford to take pay cuts, but might actually be willing to do so. And, in fact, that exact thing has now happened twice on Zombie Simpsons, first in 2011 and then (probably*) again in 2015.

(*I say “probably” because the reported salary numbers are never made public. Magazines, blogs, and other sites often state that the per episode salary of the Simpsons cast is between $300,000 and $400,000 per episode, but literally all of those numbers came from anonymous quotes from FOX. Since the actors themselves aren’t allowed to talk about what they make, and it’s in FOX’s interest to paint them as greedy and overpaid, the real salaries are almost certainly significantly lower.)

With ratings (and advertising rates) dwindling in 2011, FOX went to the cast and demanded a pay cut to continue the show. The internet was awash in cancellation rumors, many of which were poorly sourced or not sourced at all, but a deal was actually done fairly quickly for the obvious reason that both sides stood to make money. FOX doesn’t want to chance a new and potentially flop show, and the cast doesn’t want to give up a steady stream of very easy paychecks.

In 2015, the drama repeated itself, with FOX going so far as to publicly declare that they would replace Harry Shearer (voice of Flanders, Burns, Smithers, and many others). But, once again, self interest prevailed and both sides decided they’d rather keep getting paid.

Further evidence of cost cutting came in August of 2017 when the show abruptly fired Alf Clausen, its long time composer and music coordinator. Since Season 2, Clausen had written original music for every episode. Performed by a 35-piece orchestra, that kind of unique and expensive soundtrack helped make the show what it was, and the decision to scrap it was widely interpreted as a way to save money and keep the now lowly rated program in the black.

Boil away all the critiques, fan speculation, and internet rumors, and Zombie Simpsons is still on the air for two simple reasons:

1) It’s cheap to make, and…
2) It draws a reliable audience.

That audience shrinks every year, and a healthy chunk of it is folks who left their sets on after the Cowboys game, but thanks to the dire economics of modern television, it’s enough.

For fans who love the show, however, there’s a grimmer conclusion as well: the quality of what gets presented as “The Simpsons” has basically nothing to do with whether or not it stays on the air. New episodes don’t need to be brilliant or even funny, they just need to look and sound vaguely like The Simpsons for 20 minutes of screentime in between advertising breaks.

There are no longer comedic, satirical, or artistic reasons for the show to continue, but there is a financial one, and so it goes on forever, no matter how bland and bad it gets. That’s the dark, unspoken truth behind Al Jean’s now sixteen year reign as show runner, and it explains why Zombie Simpsons suffers from the same problems year after year.

Thanks for reading! Tell your friends (especially if they work in publishing).

31
Aug
17

Alf Clausen Fired

“So that’s it, after twenty years: so long, good luck?” – Kirk van Houten
“I don’t recall saying good luck.” – Cracker Factory Manager

Last night, Variety broke the news that longtime Simpsons music guy Alf Clausen will no longer be working on Zombie Simpsons:

Clausen told Variety that he received a call from “Simpsons” producer Richard Sakai that the company was seeking “a different kind of music” and that he would no longer be scoring the longtime Fox hit.

First of all, condolences to Clausen. Getting fired is rarely fun, and getting fired by the boss’s assistant, over the phone, from a job you’ve had for a quarter of a century, and just four weeks before the next season starts is especially crappy.

The Simpsons wouldn’t have been The Simpsons without him and his orchestra. Vulture put up a nice little package of YouTube videos of some of his more memorable contributions (there’s a tiny bit of Zombie Simpsons at the end, but who cares?), but for my money it’s the smaller musical cues that are what elevated the show.

To take just one example: the end of “Old Money”. The music gets heroic as Grampa quotes Kipling, then gets taught as Homer keeps him from betting, then resolves happily after the bet would’ve missed, and finally flows seamlessly into a sweet and uplifting number as Grampa uses Bea’s money to give the old folks some dignity (and a giant TV for watching cartoons!). It’s genuinely beautiful music and the episode would end with a thud without it.

And, of course, there’s all those other moments: the few Karate Kid-esque notes when Bart is training in “Dead Putting Society”, the heavy gloom of the endless line of mail trucks in “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”, the seemingly infinite variations on “Baby Elephant Walk” in “Dancin’ Homer”, the dramatic campaign montage from “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”, and, of course, the dual endings of “Lisa’s Substitute”, first when Mr. Bergstrom leaves and then when Homer patches things up with his heartbroken daughter. Oh, silly me, I just cited examples that are only from Season 2. Clausen kept up that kind of work for years.

Variety points the finger squarely at the cheapskates at FOX:

Speculation about Clausen’s dismissal involves cost-cutting measures, which have been ongoing at “The Simpsons” in recent years, despite its massive profits for Fox and executive producer James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films.

Clausen uses a 35-piece orchestra every week — something that “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening insisted upon from the start of the show. Including costs of musicians, recording studios, and orchestration, expenses routinely run into the millions of dollars per year.

The sourcing on that is obviously less than ideal. (It’s not even an anonymous source, it’s anonymous speculation.) But it does fit overall with the direction of the show these last few years. Ratings are down, and presumably the ad rates are down along with them.

I have no idea what Clausen himself was getting paid, but 35-piece orchestras aren’t cheap. Whether or not it’s actually in the millions per year doesn’t really matter. The team of monkeys that runs FOX made a purely mercenary decision, and, from their point of view, it’s probably the correct one. How many viewers who haven’t turned the show off already are going to care if the live music gets replaced by two guys and a synthesizer? The only immediate question is whether Clausen is done right now, or if he’s staying on through the current WABF production run, which has seven episodes left.

As for what this means for the future of Zombie Simpsons, who knows? A move like this is not the behavior of a healthy production, but we knew that already. Clausen’s involuntary departure, while bad for him and the show, pales in comparison to what would’ve happened if they’d followed through on replacing Harry Shearer two years ago, and by all accounts they were dead serious about that. FOX has already picked up Zombie Simpsons for two more production runs, which will take it through a full Season 30 and into at least a partial Season 31 in the fall of 2019. Whether or not this is a harbinger of the end won’t be known until next fall at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Zombie Simpsons has managed to get even worse than it already was. Given that it’s already unwatchably dull, this at least qualifies as somewhat impressive.

Good luck, Alf. We love you and your work and we always will!

Update: Clausen confirms on Twitter that the orchestra has also been fired. We now bring you an exclusive sneak peak of the new musical coordinator for Seasons 29 and 30:

Update 2: In a move that shows they’ve learned the importance of weaseling out of things, the show has released a very weaselly statement:

“We tremendously value Alf Clausen’s contributions to the Simpsons and he will continue to have an ongoing role in the show,” producers said in a statement provided to Deadline. “We remain committed to the finest in music for the Simpsons, absolutely including orchestral. This is the part where we would make a joke but neither Alf’s work nor the music of the Simpsons is treated as anything but seriously by us.”

It’s not clear what his ongoing role will be.

Jean tweeted out the link, so this is official. It’s also about as vague and non-specific as it’s possible to be in English. There’s nothing definite, no denial of the earlier report that Clausen and the orchestra are gone, and no concrete replacement offered. 

At best this could set the stage for a triumphant reunion like what happened with Shearer two years ago. More likely this is a cover-your-ass publicity move that doesn’t change a thing. 

26
Aug
17

Zombie Simpsons Gains YouTube Stardom

“Hey, wolfie! Put down that hors d’oeuvre. It’s time for the main course.” – Groundskeeper Willie

No sooner do I decide to take a few days away from the internet than a popular YouTuber drops a 30 minute video that cites this blog and promptly racks up 900,000 views and counting. (My thanks to everyone who alerted me to it via Twitter and email.) The whole thing is worth watching:

Excellent. For starters, my thanks to John Walsh/Super Eyepatch Wolf for the kind mentions and the link to Zombie Simpsons. More importantly, I heartily endorse this event or product’s analysis of how the show went to hell. It identifies Season 8 as a turning point, gives great examples of how layered jokes have been dropped in favor of lazy setup-punchline crap, and contains one of the best explanations of Homer vs. Jerkass Homer I’ve ever seen (22m28s).

Most flattering of all, it led to this tweet from Al Jean himself:

Aww, thanks.

 

 

28
Jul
17

Quote of the Day

“Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service. – Receptionist
“Hello, this is Mr. . . . Sampson.” – Homer Simpson
“Did your wife just call a second ago?” – Receptionist
“No, I said Sampson not Simpson.” – Homer Simpson
“Thank God! Those Simpsons, what a bunch of savages! Especially that big, ape father.” – Receptionist

Rest in peace, June Foray.

18
Jul
17

Simpsons Has Warped My Brain

“Marge, this is Andre.” – Patty Bouvier
“Hello.” – Andre
“I think you two would make a lovely couple.” – Patty Bouvier
“My husband is still alive!” – Marge Simpson
“Oh. Thank God. I hope he pulls through.” – Patty Bouvier
“Not me.” – Andre

I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room right now while my Dad has (long overdue) hip replacement surgery. It’s about as low risk as getting cut open and having the top of your femur cut off comes, so I’m not really worried, but I can’t get the above quote out of my head. Like so many Simpsons jokes, it works in about five different ways: Patty and Selma’s utter loathing of Homer, the complete sleaziness of Andre (down to the visible chest hair and chains), the wild inappropriateness of him being in the waiting room, his blase dirtbag delivery on “Not me”, Patty’s deadpan sarcasm as she hopes Homer pulls through, and I think I’m forgetting a couple.

Now, hospital waiting rooms are grim places. Nobody wants to be here, everyone’s bored, and a lot of people are seriously tense. There’s a kind of quiet decorum to it where any activity that passes the time is acceptable, but having fun in any way is not. And I keep chuckling to myself about Andre, the couple making out in the surgery viewing room, and Dr. Nick smelling gas. When they let us back to see my Dad pre-op, the first thought I had upon walking in the room was “bed goes up, bed goes down”.

Times like this are when I don’t feel the least bit wasteful having dedicated significant chunks of my brain to remembering the show. What other program could de-stress me two decades after the fact? A stray line or joke, that’s easy. The Simpsons has whole scenes and episodes that amuse me wherever I go.

 

13
Jul
17

Rock Us, Dr. Zaius

“I hate every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-Z!” – Troy McClure 

This afternoon, Vulture published an oral history of Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off!, featuring interviews with Alf Clausen, David S/X Cohen, Chris Ledesma, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, and Mark Kirkland. (Dana Gould too, but, you know, why?) The whole thing is well worth a read, but I thought I’d highlight a few pieces:

Oakley: Our goal when we took over was to copy season three. Season three of The Simpsons — which we didn’t work on by the way — was the best season of any TV show of all time. When we took over, we said, “What was it about season three that made it so good?” We reverse-engineered it and said, “Well, a lot of the stories were pretty grounded, but they took a couple of crazy leaps out into space with like, ‘Homer at the Bat.’” They did seven Homer episodes, three Lisa episodes, a Sideshow Bob, an Itchy and Scratchy, so we did exactly the same thing. Now as far as the Selma episode, there was an episode in season three where she’s going to marry Sideshow Bob.

I’ve heard Oakley and Weinstein talk about their (justified) love for Season 3, but I never knew they followed it that closely.

On one of the most memorable lines:

Cohen: The reason I remember the moment at all is that it got a big reaction in the room from the other writers, much better than I had expected. So into the script in went. To overanalyze it a little, the question is what, if anything, makes the line better than a run-of-the-mill pun on the word “chimpanzee.”  The fun of it I think is that you get the joke prematurely during the contrived setup, without even needing to get to the pun part. It’s a slightly weird line in that sense.

I used to use that line as the ringtone for a friend of mine who had a (legit) job giving cocaine to monkeys.

On Homer and Bart’s love of “legitimate the-a-ter”:

Mark Kirkland (director for The Simpsons, 1990–present): It was a script that made me laugh a lot to begin with. The thing that struck me was the satire of those classic movies being made into Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, like The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard. I caught both of those in the theater so I knew what we were trying to do based on those.

My favorite lines were the one is when Bart says, “This play has everything!” and Homer goes, “Oh, I love legitimate the-a-ter!” The saying we talk about in art and drawing, but it comes from food preparation: A good salad doesn’t have everything in it, and here they are enjoying it because it does. They don’t know how bad it is! It’s a critical success.

That is such a wonderful Simpsons joke, packing so much meaning into two lines and some (expertly) mispronounced syllables by Castellaneta.

Finally (and as usual I don’t mean to pick on anyone with these), there’s another tacit admission that Zombie Simpsons ain’t The Simpsons:

Ledesma: Fans talk so lovingly about “the golden era” from seasons one to eight, this falls right in there, and I think it’s also part of the golden era of the show’s music as well. This is not to say that the show’s music has declined in any way, but the show is different.

Indeed it is.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s pretty long and worth every word. Oakley called it a rare visit from the joke fairy.

03
Jul
17

Quote of the Day

“Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday, overlooked middle child. Happy birthday to me.” – Lisa Simpson

Happy birthday Yeardley Smith!




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