Archive for the 'The Simpsons' Category


Saturday Morning Cartoons

Lisa's Substitute14

“Mr. Bergstrom!” – Lisa Simpson
“Hi, Lisa!” – Mr. Bergstrom
“Hey! You don’t have to pay! Read the sign!” – Homer Simpson
“And this must be your father.” – Mr. Bergstrom

When people talk about “Lisa’s Substitute”, it’s usually to praise the emotionally pitch perfect ending. First, there’s Mr. Bergstrom’s devastating departure (“That’s the problem with being middle class, anybody who really cares will abandon you for those who need it more.”); and then there’s Homer’s bumbling but ultimately successful attempt to explain to Lisa that he does love her even if they both know she’s a lot smarter than him (“You’ll have lots of special people in your life, Lisa. There’s probably someplace where they all get together and the food is real good and guys like me are serving drinks.”). Like the rest of Season 2, however, there’s a lot more to that episode, and today I want to briefly highlight the way this one uses wordplay.

The opening scene provides a couple of great examples. As soon as Miss Hoover walks in crying, Lisa remarks to herself, “My God, she’s been dumped again.” From there it moves right into Skinner frankly explaining what Lyme disease is, blithely unaware that he’s traumatizing Hoover:

Lisa's Substitute13

Skinner: Lyme disease is spread by small parasites called ticks. When a diseased tick attaches itself to you and begins sucking your blood…
Hoover: Oh…
Skinner: …malignant spirochetes infest your bloodstream eventually spreading to your spinal fluid and on into the brain.
Hoover: The brain, oh, dear God!

The episode is full of exchanges that are just as fast. Here’s Bergstrom and Lisa two scenes later:

Lisa: Three, you seem to be of the Jewish faith.
Bergstrom: Are you sure I’m Jewish?
Lisa: Or Italian.
Bergstrom: I’m Jewish.

And here’s Bergstrom and Homer later at the museum:

Homer: Well, if she’s so wonderful, give her and A!
Bergstrom: I am giving her an A!
Homer: Great, but don’t tell her it was a favor to me. Tell her she earned it.
Bergstrom: Mr. Simpson, she did earn it!
Homer: You are smooth, I’ll give you that.

Repartee like that – witty, two sided, and very fast – was one of the many comedy tools that The Simpsons could use that other shows of the time simply couldn’t. Exchanges like the ones above, even Lisa’s little aside about Hoover getting dumped, don’t work with a laughtrack.

Beyond that, animation also allows rapid fire cuts that augment the dialogue without becoming disorienting. There are five lines between Homer and Bergstrom above, but the scene actually has seven cuts, including a reaction shot from Lisa that takes less than a second. The scene would still work without that, but it works better with the imagery reinforcing the banter.


They were smooth, I’ll give them that.


Quote of the Day


“I hope you enjoy your plaque, cheater!” – Lisa Simpson
“Well, I was going to give you the good sportsmanship award, but now I’m just going to be sick.” – Comptroller

Enjoy the Olympics, everyone! 


Sunday Evening Cartoons

“Actually, I was wondering if you were free for a little get together tonight: dinner, dancing, and Mr. Tom Jones.” – C.M. Burns

NOTE: I wrote this last night, but couldn’t post it because I’m in the middle of moving and don’t have internet at home right now. It is awful.

On one of the DVD commentary tracks (can’t remember which episode), Jean (or someone similar) starts talking about the sound effects and how on a cartoon you’re always starting with silence. A live action show has ambient noises, even if it’s just something as anodyne as rustling a newspaper or putting something down on a table. With a cartoon, though, you have to create everything from scratch.

“Marge Gets a Job” is an excellent example of how they did just that. The episode is full of teeny background noises that sometimes augment the spoken jokes and are sometimes jokes of their own. Consider the scene near the end where Burns invites Marge to dinner with Tom Jones. First there’s a wet “squish” as Burns grabs his Scalp Wax, then a rubbery “squeak” as he applies it, then a “squeak-bang” as his freshly waxed head slips through his hand and crashes on his desk. Each one is carefully balanced between the loud exaggerations of Looney Tunes and the softer sounds of a real life performance, and they build together to Burns slapstick head bonk.


Just a few seconds later there’s a similar sequence. First we hear Burns get an authoritative “click” from the button he presses. Then we hear the Bond villain, mechanical whir of the false wall opening to reveal the recently kidnapped Tom Jones. Then we not only see Smithers press the gun into Jones’s back, there’s a quick “crunch” sound as well to let us know that he’s got the gun jammed hard into Jones. Finally, we get another button “click” (this one off screen, and even though we can’t see it, we know what’s being done), another mechanical whir, and the satisfying “thunk” as the door knocks Jones cold.


And those are just two examples. There’s also the slide-crash of Surley Joe’s level, the impersonal clacking of the train doors as Burns’s goons toss Jack Marley on a literal scrap heap at his own retirement party, the skull piercing “LOUD” noise on Krusty’s show, and many more. Some of these are loud, some of them are quiet. Some of them accompany something we see on screen, others audibly describe things off screen. But they’re all tuned perfectly and the episode is that much richer and funnier for it.


Quote of the Day


“What made you yell out that remark? . . . You just wanted to express yourself, yes?” – Brad Goodman
“I do what I feel like.” – Bart Simpson
“That’s marvelous, I couldn’t have put it better myself. I do what I feel like. People, this young man here is the inner child I’ve been talking about.” – Brad Goodman
“What?” – Lisa Simpson

Happy birthday, Albert Brooks!


Quote of the Day

Brush with Greatness14

“You’re so supportive. I wish every teacher was like you!” – Marge Simpson
“Marge, please. I don’t take praise very well!” – Professor Lombardo

Happy birthday, Jon Lovitz!


Quote of the Day

Lisa the Skeptic8

“Well, it appears science has faltered once again in the face of overwhelming religious evidence.” – Rev. Lovejoy
“But-” – Lisa Simpson
“Go home, science girl!” – Moe
“I am home.” – Lisa Simpson
“Good. Stay there.” – Moe

Happy birthday David S/X Cohen!


Monday Evening Cartoons


“Hey, Lisa! Make friends with this!” – Bart Simpson
“Hey! . . . Help! . . . Help!” – Milhouse van Houten

I just finished my traditional Fourth of July watching of “Summer of 4Ft 2”, and I wanted to note just how awful it is when Milhouse gets spat on in that spinning ride. He takes a lot of abuse in this episode (even by his standards), and this might be the worst part. It’s Milhouse at his most Milhouse: caught up in other people’s problems and helpless to do anything but suffer horribly for it.

When the episode cuts back to the outside shot and all we can hear is him screaming “Help!”, it’s a testament to Pamela Hayden’s delivery that it’s both blood curdling and hilarious. He’s in agony, but since he’s Milhouse, there’s nothing he can do but take it. On a lesser show it would be uncomfortable, here it’s so perfectly in character that it can only be funny.


(Sorry about the lack of Reading Digest’s lately. As many of you probably guessed, my stupid real job is once again sucking up all my free time and productivity. Oh, and happy 4th of July!)


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