Posts Tagged ‘500 Keys


Crazy Noises: 500 Keys

“What’s that weird key for?” – Bart Simpson
“That’s Daddy’s magic key.  It opens every door in town.” – Ralph Wiggum

In our ongoing mission to bring you only the shallowest and laziest analysis of Zombie Simpsons, we’re keeping up our Crazy Noises series for Season 22.  Since a podcast is so 2004, and video would require a flag, a fern and some folding chairs from the garage, we’ve elected to use the technology that brought the word “emoticon” to the masses: the chatroom.  Star Trek image macros are strictly forbidden, unless you have a really good reason why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (gag inducingly enough, not on “Pooter”).

You could throw darts at the storyboards for this episode and pick out a scene that didn’t make sense, so it almost seems cruel to pick on one in particular.  However, there is one that stands out.  Generally speaking, even if what Zombie Simpsons is doing doesn’t make any sense, they’re usually competent enough to clearly convey what’s happening.  When Bart, standing by the school, tossed away the key to the city, it didn’t make any sense for it to land in the presumably rural yard of Cletus, but you knew what was happening. Similarly, the meandering, city spanning path of “The Pooter Toot Express” had no regard for anything but the cheapest grope at a laugh, but when it moved along on screen you could see where it was headed and anticipate that it was going to escape once again.

The same bargain basement level of competence cannot be attributed to the scene with the floating mannequins.  Observe:

Floating Without Problem

Homer and Lisa talking with each other and floating easily with the mannequins.

At first, Homer and Lisa float pleasantly; they even manage a conversation.  But that’s instantly followed by the two of them, for no reason either on screen or implied, panicking and slipping under the surface.  One second they’re holding on just fine, the next they’re not:

Unprompted Panic and Drowning

Plenty of floatation aids usually help people float, on Zombie Simpsons though . . .

Once they’ve gone under, things get even more confusing.  They’re supposed to be trapped under the water, as though they had fallen through ice or something.  But there’s a shitload of open water all around them:

Go Two Feet In Any Direction!

If they were supposed to be hiding from someone this might make sense.

They could swim left or right or forward or backward just a few inches and get their heads above water.  Their hands are on some of the only places where the mannequins are.  Just looking at it is baffling.  It’s equally glaring from above:

How Can Anyone Be Trapped Under This

There’s open water everywhere! 

The disconnect between what the story is trying to do and what the animation is displaying is so great that I was honestly befuddled while watching it.  I kept expecting something else to change the situation.  As discussed below, I know why this happened, they wanted a reason to have their C-plot knock over that tree.  But it was executed so sloppily that the gulf between what they were showing and what was supposed to be happening was genuinely disorienting.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anyway, I’m ready to go if you guys are.

Mad Jon: I guess we should start at the beginning, with the Scorpio appearance.

Charlie Sweatpants: Is it worth discussing? I was surprised that it was Brooks doing the voice.

Mad Jon: No I guess it isn’t. But it was pretty early in the episode for me to be so outraged. That usually takes an entire act.

Dave: Heh.

Charlie Sweatpants: C’mon man, you’ve got to pace yourself. I didn’t think it was outrage worthy, but even if I did, you must conserve your precious hatred for the actual episode.

Mad Jon: I am probably making too big a deal about the Scorpio thing, but c’mon, he was possibly the greatest TV villain in decades, and that is what they’re using him for now?

Charlie Sweatpants: Enh.

Mad Jon: Fine.

Charlie Sweatpants: If there’s one thing I don’t hate about the new opening it’s that they’ve given themselves places to insert new stuff. It’s cheap, but it’s something.

Mad Jon: Moving on.

Dave: Mercifully the couch gag was super short. Dare I say almost clever?

Mad Jon: I am ok with clever.

Charlie Sweatpants: As for the couch gag, best one in a while, both for being kind of clever and for being mercifully short.

Mad Jon: I agree on both counts.

Dave: As do I.

Mad Jon: Well, score one for the couch gag.

Charlie Sweatpants: Let’s move on to the one other thing I did enjoy, the cake store.

Mad Jon: Ok, I didn’t mind that scene, what did you enjoy about it?

Charlie Sweatpants: Honestly, there’s not much to complain about, the store had a good title "I Don’t", a good premise, and the reasons for the wedding cancellations were quick.

Mad Jon: I really did like the title, and the premise was a pretty classic Springfield-type store.

  Of course, having purchased the cake, one must drive a dare-devil route home.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, there was no way it could last.

Mad Jon: I was thinking about that. I can definitely see Homer taking that kind of short cut, but Homer would have been just as anxious about the ride as the other passengers, and also the cake spilling wouldn’t even be part of the scene . . . but that would be a drive home on the Simpsons, not Zombie Simpsons.

Charlie Sweatpants: I said my piece on this in Compare & Contrast, it was really a total waste of a scene. Just filler from start to finish.

Mad Jon: Yes yes.

Charlie Sweatpants: And after that they introduced the keys, and from there on out it was a lame repeat of Trilogy of Error.

Everybody’s doing different things, at the same time, and they interact in weird ways! Except that while Trilogy of Error at least was impressive from a plotting point of view (if not a joke point of view), this was just crappy.

Mad Jon: A more naive Jon would have had some promise when they dug out the keys, it seemed like it was leading up to flashback episode, but then it lead to what could either be three plots, or three sub-plots, depending on which drama student you ask.

  Was the Trilogy of Error the one with the grammar robot?

Dave: Indeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, and Homer getting his thumb cut off, and Bart running around town. Weird, weird episode.

Here, this is the only reason I remember it so well.

Mad Jon: Yeah, didn’t really care for it. But you are right, the plotting was pretty intertwined and at least the characters were reacting to the situation more than Marge just aimlessly following a Pooter-Toot into coincidental situations until it leads to a dead tree-day saving hand of God scene.

Charlie Sweatpants: Guh.

The fact that she couldn’t catch it over and over was really aggravating. The "hate crime" joke was okay, but I had to put up with an awful lot to get to it, and it was so out of the blue that it didn’t fit anyway.

Mad Jon: I did like the "wind-up hate crime". But that was all. The Wiggum scene may have been the worst part. It. Just. Wouldn’t. End.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, the tree was equally stupid, but at least it wasn’t nearly as long.

  Man’s pants fall down. Audience laugh.

Mad Jon: So, based on our discussion last week I have a question…

Charlie Sweatpants: Shoot.

[Editor’s note: Dave had to leave at this point, so he’s blameless for the rest of this.]

Mad Jon: Do you consider the following to be more fan service or just extreme laziness: Rod and Todd admonish Flanders with a Jesus is crying joke – Mystery wrapped in a riddle in the basement of a lousy school – Bart wandering around town with keys to everything.?

Charlie Sweatpants: I think it’s laziness masquerading as fan service.

They’ve got keys to do anything, so they can have Bart open a mail box and have someone reference blood feud.

  They have Flanders make up a really stupid lie so they can reference "Homer Loves Flanders".

Half the people writing this show grew up with it, they know a lot of the stories, and I could see getting your head locked into those and just smearing whatever came to mind on the page.

Mad Jon: Oh, I am sure there is more, but I was only un-lazy enough to write down those three examples while watching the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Skinner not having a secretary was kinda the same thing.

Mad Jon: Yes yes. Also I ‘enjoyed’ that Chalmers mentioned he oversees 14 schools.

Sorry for the digression.

Charlie Sweatpants: No, it’s part of what makes this so dumb. It’s mostly fan service leavened with a few flashbacks.

Mad Jon: Ok, you lost me, what is the "this" that is so dumb?

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, take the "Jesus cries blood" thing.

Mad Jon: Ok

Charlie Sweatpants: First of all, that’s not a saying, not the way "Lies make baby Jesus cry" is. Second of all, it wasn’t actually a lie. Third the setup was stupid. Fourth, Flanders had no motive for doing it. Fifth, the stupid train escaped into a hole in the fence that just so happened to be there.

Mad Jon: Oh, I saw "so dumb" and my ego assumed you were referencing me.

Charlie Sweatpants: The original, when Flanders promises a trip to Grandma’s works on all of those counts. This one doesn’t. They thought having Flanders kinda lie to his kids and them mention Jesus is what made it funny, they completely missed everything else.

Mad Jon: I am obviously in complete agreement. This is why I asked my question. It seems like someone could defend fan service, but I am pretty sure they just happened to be reusing whatever jokes they land on when they flip through old episodes.

Charlie Sweatpants: The entire Duff Blimp thing was like that. Hey, what if Homer finally does get to ride the blimp?

Mad Jon: I was just about to mention that we have, up to this point, not mentioned the blimp incident. Frankly that was a lot of what I hate about Zombie Simpsons wrapped up into one (or three or four since it just kept popping up until it was other-plot necessary) dirty little package(s).

  I may actually be more disgruntled than before, and I’ve kind of been in a plateau for most of this season.

Charlie Sweatpants: It just kept going. He’s in the blimp, he can fly the blimp, he can’t fly the blimp, he can outrun the police, he’s there just in time to pick up his kids, Lisa falls out of the blimp, Homer falls out of the blimp. It was almost too hyperactive to be nonsensical.

Mad Jon: Once I saw the hole in the blimp bottom (?) I knew that man was getting stuck.

Charlie Sweatpants: That was not hard to see coming. And I think the thing on the blimp is called a gondola.

Mad Jon: The hole?

Charlie Sweatpants: No the carriage that had the hole in it.

  I guess the hole would be a hatch.

Mad Jon: Ah, that makes a bit more sense.

Charlie Sweatpants: But either way you could tell instantly that Homer was gonna get stuck.

Mad Jon: I think I actually sighed.

Then Bart got to use a fire extinguisher!

Charlie Sweatpants: The whole last act was wretched. Why the hell did they get trapped under the mannequins? They were floating comfortably and then all of a sudden they were swamped. I actually wasn’t sure what they were trying to do.

Mad Jon: Yeah I thought there was some kind of trapped under the ice deal, but nah, I just think they needed a reason for Marge and the Pooter to show up.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, but still. What the fuck?

Mad Jon: Good thing Marge and Maggie were leisurely strolling after Marge’s anniversary present.

  Also Homer started manically bawling . . . Got to throw that in there.

Otherwise he wouldn’t have met his episode crying quota.

Charlie Sweatpants: Can’t have that.

  Also, Otto’s voice? It’s not even close to being close. I’ve heard people do a better Otto.

Mad Jon: That was pretty unnerving.

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t think Shearer gives a shit about the show these days, but that was really jarring.

Mad Jon: Or the ole’ larynx just can’t do it anymore.

Charlie Sweatpants: Either way, yikes.

Mad Jon: Yep.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anything else? Between things that went on too long, quarter-assed fan service, and shit that never should’ve been put on screen in the first place, I haven’t got much left.

Mad Jon: Nah, I don’t have anything else relevant to add. We didn’t really cover Lisa’s key-related plot, but I’m not really inclined to. Unless it is due to my dislike of non-prorated rental services. Scoundrels….

Charlie Sweatpants: Seeing as how these were prorated plots with prorated endings, that was at least ironic.


Compare & Contrast: Shortcuts & How Not to Ruin Jokes

“Alright, we’re here.  Let us never speak of the shortcut again.” – Homer Simpson

Of all the digressions and clock killing asides that make up “500 Keys”, the one that’s most out of place has to be the not quite Wages of Fear/Sorcerer drive back from the cake store (which made a lot more sense and was vastly funnier in “Mr. Plow”).  This episode had four simultaneous plots going on, three of which managed to roughly collide near the end, and yet this wasn’t involved in any of them.  It didn’t even have anything to do with the cake that was itself only barely related to the rest of this episode.

Why Couldn't You Just Stop Here

Zombie Simpsons and decent jokes: a history of not leaving well enough alone.

Like so much of Zombie Simpsons, the entire scene is an exercise is making less out of more instead of the other way around.  Having sent Homer, the kids, and his cake down a road marked “Suicidal Moron Pass” could’ve been enough.  You could’ve cut right from them heading up some mountain trail to them pulling into the driveway with cake splattered all over the interior of the car.  Or you could go the other way, have the cake in pristine condition and a joke about how that was easier than expected.  Either way it wouldn’t have altered the rest of the episode, as the survival of the cake, which was made to be important during the scene, is completely irrelevant to everything that follows.  The last we ever see of the cake is a few bits of it on Maggie when she walks into the kitchen.

Instead we’re treated to cliffs, vertical driving and lots of suspense.  The least random thing that happens is when some goats fling rocks at them for no reason.  It was pure filler from start to finish, and the goats weren’t even given subtitles to lighten things up.  As it happens, in “Itchy & Scratchy Land” way back in Season 6, The Simpsons found itself with a similar situation.  So, despite Homer’s admonishment, let us speak of . . . the shortcut.

Itchy and Scratchy Land6

North, south, nuts to that!

The shortcut is the last of several traveling gags in “Itchy & Scratchy Land”.  The nice thing about these little vignettes (Five Corners, the fruits & vegetables) is that they make sense within the story without ever distracting from it.  Together they serve to illustrate how long the trip is while giving the show an opportunity to poke fun at the little absurdities of American road trips.  And while it’s true that not every one is strictly necessary, they’re quick enough that they never feel excessive or cheap.  That’s especially true of the shortcut, which Homer enthusiastically bumbles into with a couple of joke rich lines.   Itchy and Scratchy Land5

This is the very next shot after they drive off down that long, dusty road.

Homer’s shortcut is such a disaster that it doesn’t even last for a full musical cue.  The jaunty, enthusiastic horn music can’t get in more than a few notes before saddening to accompany the image above.  That one shot contains more wacky adventures than Zombie Simpsons could’ve crammed into something four times as long as “Suicidal Moron Pass”.  The evidence is right there on the car, which is not only trailing a homecoming banner and has a pedestrian crossing sign wrapped around the bumper, but also appears to have been struck by a missile.  And that’s only the half of it.  They were in a dire enough situation that they had to use a wagon wheel as a replacement part, Lisa’s door is missing, and Jebus only knows what happened to the roof or the windshield.

Crucially, the audience is trusted to infer all of this information in just a few seconds of screen time.  There isn’t even the need for an over the top punchline.  The whole scene is shockingly funny enough that Homer’s downplaying of the “let us never speak” line as a chicken flees Marge’s hair is the only thing that can make it better.

What The Simpsons knew, and Zombie Simpsons has all but forgotten, is that in the right circumstances outrageous things are funnier when they are alluded to rather than jammed in your face.  It’s much more abrupt to have the missile sticking out of the hood, Homer clearly not having bothered to remove it, rather than some elaborate sound effects laden set piece where it crashed into the car.  In the same way, it could’ve been funny to take a wedding cake over a mountain pass, but not the way they did it.  Not even close.


Even Their Apologies Suck

Via springfieldx2 on Twitter I see that Zombie Simpsons made a halfhearted stab at apologizing to Kristen Schaal for misspelling her name last week.  Schaal herself even posted a screen grab of it:

Schaal Apology

At first I thought that was nice of them but, as with everything Zombie Simpsons, they have to make it more complicated than it otherwise should be.  After thinking about it for a second, it dawned on me that I probably would remember seeing that, and I didn’t.  Indeed, the version I saw didn’t have that on the chalkboard at all.  As of this writing, neither does the copy on

No Apology

I’m not sure where the other screen grab came from, though there’s a DirecTV logo in the watermark, but it wasn’t the one I saw, and it isn’t the one currently up on Hulu.  Zombie Simpsons: good intentions, wretched implementation.


Blimps and Flashbacks Everywhere!

Chalkboard - 500 Keys

“Hey, can I drive?” – Barney Gumble
“Well, I can’t see the harm.” – Duff Blimp Pilot

There is one thing I completely enjoyed about “500 Keys”, the closing credits.  Not just because it meant the episode was over, but for that violin rendition of the theme song.  It was nicely done and will make a decent addition to the ever expanding catalog of different versions of the Simpsons theme. 

There were a couple of other things I didn’t completely loathe, but as is typical of such things, the episode promptly ran most of them into the ground.  Skinner telling his mother that it was his birthday not their anniversary comes to mind, but then it dragged on.  A quick joke about a “key party” was funny and made sense before getting stretched past the breaking point with a flashback.  The cake store at the beginning was one of the better scenes they’ve done all season.  Unfortunately, whatever little smile it put on my face was wiped out by the completely unnecessary and unbelievably stupid drive home.  That’s one of those things that’s so obviously filler it’s genuinely hard to imagine anyone who isn’t heavily sedated laughing at it. 

Overall, the tiny sparks of life were crushed beneath the huge number of Family Guy style flashbacks and asides, pointless danger and suspense (why were the mannequins drowning them?), and a mystery that was as dull as it was long.  The keys of the title served to give them a paper thin excuse to take a bunch of random sketches and throw them all together, and they ran with it, all the way up to the blimp.  And we mustn’t forget the blimp, which Homer can learn to fly, forget to fly, and then learn to fly again all within the span of a single scene. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are bad, but not as bad as I was hoping.  An even 6.00 million viewers wondered what was up with Otto’s voice last night.  That’s lower than all but a handful of episodes this season, but it’s a bit higher than last week.  If next week’s season finale comes in at 5.57 million viewers or less, Season 22 will displace Season 20 as the lowest watched ever.  Slightly higher than that will tie it with Season 20. 


Sunday Preview: 500 Keys


Two more episodes to go this year.  Hold your nose because they aren’t going to get any better:

When the Simpsons discover a collection of keys to every door in Springfield, Lisa stumbles upon an eerie hidden classroom beneath Springfield Elementary School. When she shares her discovery with Principal Skinner, the secret room mysteriously disappears and he takes the only key away. A determined Lisa uses her detective skills to lead her back to the room to solve an old school mystery.

I do so enjoy the mystery episodes, all those opportunities for fake tension and string music.  On the plus side we do have a properly bloodied promo image.


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