Posts Tagged ‘Bart’s Dog Gets an F


Book Review: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

Bart's Dog Gets an F10

“What’s your favorite subject?” – Dr. Hibbert
“Arithmetic.” – Lisa Simpson 
“Oh, arithmetic.  Now, before you know it, you will be back among your polygons, your hypotenuse, and your Euclidean algorithms.” – Dr. Hibbert 

As an academic subject, math has always stood at the extreme end, as the hardest of the “hard” sciences.  Even physics has uncertainty built right into it; math simply has things that have not yet been proven.  That’s all well and good for mathematicians when it comes to inter-disciplinary dick measuring contests, but it also makes math more abstract and difficult to explain to the uninitiated.  Worse still, that very “purity” makes math more resistant to analogy and simplification than any other field of study because the big things in math are irreducibly incomprehensible.

The physics of a black hole, the biochemistry of a chameleon, the geology of a volcano, years of study and graduate degrees lend the best possible understanding of them, but the basics can be grasped by anyone.  Textbooks, TV specials, and museum exhibits can contain simple diagrams and awe-inspiring pictures that make even hideously complicated events and processes seem kindergarten simple.  Math is too abstract for that kind of stuff.  You can come up with pretty visualizations of prime numbers, for example, but someone who doesn’t have a day-to-day familiarity with them or their underlying concepts isn’t going to understand it in the least.  Prime numbers can’t be analogized to anything else, nor can they be simplified (almost by definition), you simply have to use them a lot to really get them, and most people don’t.

That abstract unfamiliarity has always been the great bane of popular writing about math.  The most fundamental concepts exist only on sheets of paper or inside someone else’s mind, so all an expert writing for a lay audience can do is cite fun examples and hope that at least some of them click.  Wisely, Simon Singh’s The Simpsons And Their Mathematical Secrets follows exactly that template, and does so rather well.

SimpsonsMathematicalSecretsThe book isn’t a grand explanation of math or its history, it’s a collection of math concepts and back-stories that have surfaced in The Simpsons or Futurama over the years.  Singh naturally focuses on the many writers (of both shows) who have serious academic credentials, and we even get pictures of both Al Jean and Mike Reiss with their high school math clubs.

The best parts of the book are the ones that directly combine the shows and the numbers.  For example, in the chapter about pi, there’s a long discussion of Apu testifying against Marge in “Marge in Chains”.  When Apu says that he can recite pi to forty-thousand places, that was indeed the record for memorization of pi at the time.

Further, and I certainly didn’t know this, the 40,000th digit really is 1.  They literally sent away to a guy at NASA, who printed out the whole thing and mailed it to them.  (That, in turn, was referenced in “22 Short Films About Springfield”, when Moe sent away to NASA to calculate Barney’s bar tab.)  There’s a whole chapter about the various equations and numbers that pop up in the “Homer3” segment of “Treehouse of Horror VI”, and another dedicated to the smart kids in “Bart the Genius”.

Later in the book, Singh gets into Futurama and the many (many) math heavy jokes, references, and even entire plots they went through.  Like The Simpsons sections, some of these are dedicated to the general nerdery of the show, while others are about specific concepts and equations.  The best of them is about “The Prisoner of Benda”, the episode that famously led Ken Keeler to write a proof of the “brain switching” problem the writers created for themselves.  It’s a really clear explanation, and there’s even a picture of Keeler standing on the office couch, scribbling away on a white board.

Since the book is by necessity somewhat scattershot in the subjects it can broach, some parts are weaker than others.  In particular, one of the longest chapters in the book is little more than a rehash of Moneyball, (based on that crashingly dull Zombie Simpsons episode “MoneyBART“).  True, there’s math and the Simpsons here; but when the text gets to the 2002 Yankees buying up all the players, it’s wandered pretty far from the subject at hand.

Happily, though, most of the chapters are much shorter and on point.  The trickier concepts are explained cleanly, and illustrated where necessary or possible.  And Singh manages to walk the line of keeping the tone light while simultaneously keeping the math serious.  You can always tell someone is a real math and/or programming geek when they start things with 0 instead of 1, as confusing as that is to most people.  But while this book starts with “Chapter 0”, it also has an “Eπlogue”, and that balance is maintained throughout.

All in all, it’s a short and easy read that will either introduce (or refresh) a lot of mathematical ideas for casual readers.  And along the way you’ll even learn some Simpsons and Futurama trivia, what’s not to like?

Note: Thanks go to Diana Morgan at Ruth Killick Publicity for sending me a copy all the way from merry old England.


Quote of the Day

Hose Without a Fireman

“There are two ways for a dog to relieve himself.  One is like a faithful friend and partner for life.  The other is like a hose without a fireman.  Which way do you think that was, Mr. Simpson?” – Emily Winthrop
“Like a hose . . . your wrinkled highness.” – Bart Simpson

Happy birthday Tracey Ullman!


Quote of the Day

Smoke Alarm Shopping Binge

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user zappowbang.

“I thought we agreed to consult each other before any major purchases.” – Marge Simpson
“Well, you bought all those smoke alarms and we haven’t had a single fire.” – Homer Simpson


Bonus Quote of the Day

Bart's Dog Gets an F9

“No way, she’s faking!  If Lisa stays home, I stay home.” – Bart Simpson
“If Bart stays home, I’m going to school.” – Lisa Simpson
“Fine.  Then, wait a minute, if Lisa goes to school, then I go to school.  But then Lisa stays home, so I stay home.  So, Lisa goes to school . . .” – Bart Simpson
“Lisa, don’t confuse your brother like that.” – Marge Simpson

Happy 20th Anniversary to “Bart’s Dog Gets an F”!  Original airdate 7 March 1991.


Crazy Noises: Homer the Father

Assassins (Then & Now)

“You know they got the Velcro straps, a water pump in the tongue, built in pedometer, reflective side walls, and little vanity license plates!” – Ned Flanders

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 (especially on  “suitors”).

In the chat below, we briefly mention the differences between the two images above. In addition to the names, the situations are almost identical: an expensive item in a window is coveted by a character. The difference between the two is small, just a few words, but indicative of why The Simpsons was such a great show and Zombie Simpsons is merely ordinary television.

For The Simpsons, just calling the super shoes “Assassins” wasn’t good enough. The show made that very brief shot more than it needed to be by adding in a little joke tagline. But they weren’t so impressed with their handiwork that they lingered over it, and they certainly weren’t going to break the flow of the episode by trying to make more of that little joke than it deserved.

Bart's Imaginary Statue For Zombie Simpsons, calling the dirt bike “Street Assassin” was good enough. But even then they couldn’t leave good enough alone, cutting to an extended fantasy sequence directly afterwards. It’s only after we’ve seen Bart ride his bike for twenty seconds that they finally get to what could have been a decent little joke, the statue at right.

Bart probably would like a statue of himself that shoots fire from his eyes and his ass, but he could’ve envisioned such a thing immediately upon seeing the bike. The stadium riding wasn’t necessary to get to the statue, and the result is that the episode has been doubly damaged. Not only has the pacing been badly disrupted, but the statue isn’t the kind of gag that is worth such a long buildup. As a quick joke, it could work; as a payoff, it doesn’t.

“Homer the Father” has a lot of things like this. So even though, credit where credit is due, it has more potentially decent ideas than your average Zombie Simpsons episode, it still sucks.

[Note: Again, Dave was unable to join us. He’s hoping his schedule eases up soon, though if it does we’ll just suck away his free time by making him watch a show he doesn’t like anyway, so I’d say he’s screwed. Coincidentally, No Homers member Zombies Rise from the Sea e-mailed in and asked if he could sit in some time, so we had a trio anyway.]

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we get started?

Mad Jon: Sounds good.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Let’s get it started

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t have any initial thoughts other than that I’m having a hard time thinking of another episode that took such a giant turn in the middle. There have been giant turns before, but this one was a real doozy.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, I mean Chinese spies. WTF were they thinking?

Mad Jon: Good point Chaz, I actually have a couple of things in my "like" category, however all but one is from Act 1.

Charlie Sweatpants: Even having read the episode promo text, knowing that Bart was going to be a spy, it still surprised me by just how far out they ended up.

Even when Homer was talking with the Chinese spies and they were plotting to take him back to China, I didn’t think they were really going to do it.

Mad Jon: But here we are.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yup. I thought it was a joke when they wrote that.

I guess the only joke was that the Russians didn’t appear.

Mad Jon: Well, it wouldn’t be a Zombie Simpsons if they didn’t travel somewhere.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Ahh. Glorious China…

  It just seems that Homer can make a nuclear plant explode and not have to suffer the consequences.

  If it happened in real life then thousands of people would of died.

Mad Jon: The whole episode was pretty well summed up with the writer at the end that said "That’s about right."

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree with you Jon.

Mad Jon: I was actually surprised how little nuclear material was in that ribbon Homer cut.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Apparently.

Charlie Sweatpants: Honestly, I think the whole "To China!" thing was an excuse for that Tiananmen Square joke with Homer in front of the cab.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Just another joke they think is clever.

Mad Jon: Was the cab driver supposed to be an American?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Oh hey I’m just going to block the cab before I fall down because I’m tired…

  No, I’m guessing Chinese maybe?

Mad Jon: Perhaps I wasn’t paying very good attention, but my ADD really kicks in around the third act…

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, he didn’t speak, and we didn’t really see him.

Mad Jon: We got a pretty good look at the back of him…. Wow, check out this tangent we’re on…

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah a little, but when you make jokes about the World Trade Center and Tiananmen in one episode, tangents are to be expected.

Mad Jon: Fair enough sir.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So, what about the folks back at Springfield?

Mad Jon: Going back to the beginning, I was pretty disappointed that the mini-bike was called the Street Assassin.

Charlie Sweatpants: Too close to the sneakers for you?

Mad Jon: It hit a little close to home.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well it comes awfully close to being called tacky.

Mad Jon: You know, being the same name and all.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I guess they want us to think of it as cool. They got Bart in his imagination doing cool tricks to waste time.

Charlie Sweatpants: But lacking that cool tagline, "Join the Conspiracy". Or any tagline, for that matter.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Boy how it makes me want to watch "Lemon of Troy".

Mad Jon: Yeah the ad guys must have been on break.

I did like how Bart mentioned he just met the thing he was going to die on.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: "Join the Conspiracy." Now that would of been an awesome tagline!

Charlie Sweatpants: There were several time killing dream sequences here. The Bart one just seemed to go on forever, especially after they did the exact same thing with the dodgeball sequence two weeks ago.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They must like to flex their budget by going all out on us.

Mad Jon: Yea, well once again the decent lines are surrounded by the constant attack of mediocre time killing devices.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I have to admit, at least Bart was acting as a child in this episode, and it was nice to see Homer bond with Bart, but that’s about it…

Mad Jon: The unmentioned Cosby sweater went over well with me.

Charlie Sweatpants: There were a couple of things to like here, but as often happens they get ruined by taking too long.

  The sweater was just one of them.

Mad Jon: I figured they would devote at least a 20 second rant about that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I liked Willie getting into the dumpster bathtub with floating candles, but then his scene just . . . kept . . . going.

Mad Jon: And the sitcom was pretty dead on. Although I guess that wasn’t that hard to do…Especially when you plan on doing it for several minutes.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Did you notice how the logo looks like it came from modern times…

Charlie Sweatpants: I didn’t, but you’re right.

Mad Jon: I think the ghost from that scene was a composite of Harry Potter and Waldo.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: The ghost just appeared out of nowhere, to Willie no less…

Willie has been neglected to Springfield Elementary School’s Ralph in my opinion.

Charlie Sweatpants: There were a lot of things like that. Why were the Flanders kids watching Marge and Homer screw?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Because the writers wanted them to watch them have sex.

Mad Jon: So Ned could turn Maude’s picture around I suppose.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Otherwise they can’t include a hilarious Ned scene in there.

I swear, I was watching Modern Family last Wednesday and they did the whole thing better then The Simpsons.

Charlie Sweatpants: Peeping neighbor kids, you mean?

Mad Jon: Well, Julie Bowen was part of that scene, so you can’t really go wrong.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree.

Mad Jon: Back to the episode, it’s been a while since they’ve had a good I&S, but I was pretty happy with this one.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree as well, they didn’t try to force a parody on us this time.

Mad Jon: Short, inventive, to the point, and it didn’t drag on.

Charlie Sweatpants: Unfortunately, it was the only thing in the episode that didn’t drag.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Like the Chinese spy plot.

  Which dragged on forever

Mad Jon: Yes, but I’ll take what I can get. I can’t name an episode since we started doing this that hasn’t felt like a complete chore to watch.

Charlie Sweatpants: Homer’s fourth wall act break thing, the three different spy agencies with misleading acronyms, the Homer and Bart together montage, even that goofy Behind the Actors Studio thing, which was transparently tacked, on took too long.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah. French Bureau of Investigation, A-Team of Finland?

Mad Jon: James Lipton must have lost his mind. What possible benefit can he get from being on this show again?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: They even got the A-Team theme playing at the end.

Charlie Sweatpants: Oh, and why did Bart have to infiltrate every room in the power plant with the string music of suspense?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Because it’s suspenseful, get it?

Mad Jon: The Behind the Actors thing with the cast from the sitcom took me almost the whole time to figure out.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I just love how the Chinese have USB drives that automatically download information without you having to search for the data.

  It’s so easy a caveman can do it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, when Adil had to steal information he had to actually do it himself.

Plus Homer didn’t know where the plutonium isolation unit was until Lenny told him it was by the candy machines.

Mad Jon: They needed a reason to make sure homer could get shot in the eye and nipple with lasers.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Sad thing is, people thought that scene was funny.

  I guess people love to laugh at people in pain.

  Especially Homer.

Mad Jon: Usually I agree with that, but I don’t think Zombie Homer actually feels pain. Injuries just get him back to normal.

Charlie Sweatpants: If there’s one thing I learned listening to those commentaries from the movie, it’s that electrocuting/smashing/otherwise hurting Homer got a laugh out of the test audiences every time.

Mad Jon: That will happen when you circulate opiates in the ventilation system.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Or laughing gas.

Charlie Sweatpants: If I can get back to the Actors Studio thing for one second, isn’t that an example of how sadly kiss ass the show has become to Hollywood? The cast of an old television show reuniting should be easy to make fun of without actually going out and getting James Lipton. When you include him like that, it loses all of its bite.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I didn’t care for the scene at all, but I agree with you 100% Charlie.

Mad Jon: Zombie Simpsons has definitely become the town bicycle.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And the vehicle for celebrity guest stars.

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly, I mean, compare that washed up sitcom scene, that goes on for about forty-five seconds and is transparently tacked on to the end of the episode to little, in character jokes like Krusty not knowing the name of the girl who played his daughter in the short lived sitcom "President Clown".

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I think the only inspiration they got for those sitcom scenes were parodies of other sitcom scenes.

I mean why take the effort to watch a sitcom from the 80s when you can take the easy way out?

I do admit, they at least spent some effort creating the song.

  So props for that.

Mad Jon: It’s night and day, but you’ll probably be even more depressed, Charlie, when you learn that most of that 45 seconds was Lipton talking about the girl’s hair, which was a complete parody of Rachael from "Friends".

Charlie Sweatpants: But the song was a little too straight on. It wasn’t mocking sitcoms at all.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I have to agree with that.

Charlie Sweatpants: Jon, I did not know that, and rather than ask you to elaborate, I will simply drop the subject.

Mad Jon: I assumed you didn’t, but it just backs up your point further. So dropping is probably the best idea here.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah. I don’t even know if I can type about the other countless 80s shows parody from "Tube Town"

Charlie Sweatpants: The one about a detective whose title is MFA got a chuckle out of me, the rest, not so much.

Mad Jon: Well with a pool that large you can’t miss from the diving board.

Charlie Sweatpants: True.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: So, shall we get to Bart and his plot?

Charlie Sweatpants: He had a plot?

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Well I don’t know if it’s a plot.

  As much as Bart trying every method in the book to get that bike and moving the plot forward somewhat.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve seen Bart need money before, I’ve seen Bart study before, the whole thing was presented in such an odd way, both rushed and too drawn out to mean anything, because there was both not much too it and they wanted to get to the hot spy action.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Homer taking his actions from an 80s sitcom did nothing to help at all. He just transformed into a sitcom fan who just happens to be a dad.

"Three Men and a Comic Book" had Homer at least be a genuine father then the gag machine he is now.

Mad Jon: But the sweater!!….

Anyway. Well, I’m running out of ammo here. Other than applauding the Detroit Lions envelope amongst the list of nuclear theft suitors I don’t have much else to say…

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I still got something to say.

  What about the Chinese stereotypes in Springfield?

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought the spies were a little, uh, reductive, if that’s what you mean.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I just loved the scene in the van where they trade nuclear secrets for a dirt bike I mean, who trades a dirt bike for nuclear secrets? Bart should of demanded all the money in the world.

  The Chinese must be getting desperate.

Charlie Sweatpants: I did like the joke about the flag being made in China, but other than that the whole scene and subsequent plot was so head spinning as to be boring.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, I mean they even had to include Apu so they could introduce that plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: In another thing that went on too long.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: With yet another list gag…

Charlie Sweatpants: Yup.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Which Bart wrote down on envelopes.

  I don’t get why they take characters like Apu and devolve them to a state where their only purpose is to advance the plot forward.

Apu is the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, he deserves better then that.

Charlie Sweatpants: They do that a lot, someone in comments [Ed note: It was Lovejoy Fan] last week was talking about how at this point Comic Book Guy is basically stalking the Simpsons. He, and plenty of others, just randomly show up whenever they’re needed and then disappear.

Mad Jon: It’s the life cycle of the extra.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Just take all the character traits and throw them in the trash.

  Where they think it belongs.

Mad Jon: It’s just that this show has gone on for about a decade too long. It was a forgone conclusion.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yup, gotta get with the times and make as much money on your product as you can.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, anything else on this one, positive or negative?

Mad Jon: Not from me, it stated out much better than recent episodes, but, as you pointed out earlier, it went downhill fast and hard.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Negative, it was nice to see Homer & Bart bond but it was just went downhill fast.

  It also turned the Springfield Zoo into an unsecured place where anybody can enter and leave secrets.

And let’s not forget about the Chinese stereotypes, the ones that shouldn’t belong in The Simpsons to begin with…

Charlie Sweatpants: They dropped continuity like that a while ago. I did wonder how Bart got the dirt bike out after he picked it up, but then I remembered that they didn’t think about that, so I probably shouldn’t either.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: Yeah, it must be wonderful to not think about stuff…

Mad Jon: Booze and drugs help.

Charlie Sweatpants: And, yeah, you’d think spies would be a little more suave.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: I agree, in this episode they were obvious…

  As hell.

You think the Russians and Chinese would send out spies better then this.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’d have thought big money television shows would require better writing than this too, and yet, here we are.

Mad Jon: Here we are.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: And there’s nothing we can do but criticize and hope our words reach those writers that create "entertainment" such as The Simpsons.

Not to say they can’t do some good once in a while.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I’m spent. Zombies Rise, thanks for joining us.

Mad Jon: Yes, thanks.

Zombies Rise from the Sea: It’s been a pleasure. I’ll be leaving now on my poorly CGI generated bumper car.

That doesn’t reach the roof…

Charlie Sweatpants: Heh.


Quote of the Day

Bart's Dog Gets an F8

“Is my dog dead, ma’am?” – Bart Simpson
“You don’t know how often I’m asked that.  ‘Choke chain’ is a misnomer, trust me, they are always breathing.” – Emily Winthrop

Happy birthday Tracey Ullman! 


Original Replaced with Bloated and Dull Facsimile

Chalkboard - Donnie Fatso

“Father McGrath, I thought you were dead!” – Soap Opera Babe
“I was!” – Father McGrath

In addition to taking up an enormous amount of barren screen time, last night’s death and immediate resurrection of Fat Tony was so blisteringly stupid that I’m not even sure which TV Trope applies.  There are a lot of them about death and hacktacular resurrection, but a quick search didn’t turn up one where a long lost relative shows up, does nothing, and then becomes the replacement.  The closest similarity that came to mind was Beerfest (which is the only non-Super Troopers movie from the Super Troopers guys that wasn’t half bad).  In Beerfest, one of the main characters dies, but is immediately replaced by his brother who, winking at the camera the whole time, also takes the deceased’s name and wife while he’s at it.  It was deliberately stupid in a movie where drinking beer is a blood sport and death can be the penalty for failure, so in context it made sense. 

The same cannot be said of “Donnie Fatso”, which is shot through with horns of suspense and a vaguely melancholy tune.  It invests a great deal of time in trying to get us to care about . . . well, it’s never really clear, but somehow deep emotions are supposed to be involved.  As with so many Zombie Simpsons episodes, the story is so poorly constructed that not only is there no resolution to what happens, but the main plot peters out with four minutes of screen time still to go.  That led to the time killing resurrection . . . segment?  I’m not even sure what to call that. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and without football to protect it, Zombie Simpsons’ ratings plunged.  Last night’s meandering mobster episode was used to sweat snitches by a mere 7.31 million people.  That’s the third lowest number all season, and leaves the fall segment of Season 22 with an average viewership of just 8.11 million.  That makes it the lowest rated fall half of the season ever, and keeps Season 22 on pace to be the least watched in the history of the show by a pretty big margin. 


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