Posts Tagged ‘Brick Like Me

08
May
14

Compare & Contrast: Comic Book Guy As Villain

Treehouse of Horror X3

“Tonight’s episode: Enter . . . The Collector.” – TV Announcer

There are basically no characters on the show who haven’t undergone a serious dumbing down in the Zombie Simpsons era (Gil, maybe?).  Some of them gradually devolved, others had sudden changes in a single episode; either way, there’s often a moment when you knew that the original version was never coming back.  For Comic Book Guy, I’ve always thought that moment came in Season 11 when he materialized out of nowhere to complain about the Simpsons getting a horse again.  Homer asks if anyone cares what “this guy” thinks, and the assembled crowd shouts “No!”.

He’d been used as a stand-in for the audience before, of course, but that was them dropping all the subtlety and treating this strawman approximation of their audience seriously.  They knew people were going to bitch because they were nakedly repeating something, and instead of thinking “maybe we shouldn’t repeat things”, they thought “haters gonna hate”.  Comic Book Guy has been a way for the show to paper over its own shoddiness ever since.

The difference between the two is on full display when you consider the ways they used him in very similar positions in “Brick Like Me” and as “The Collector” in “Treehouse of Horror X”.  (Which aired, incidentally, just a few months before the second horsey episode.)  In both cases he’s playing a science fiction bad guy who knows how cliched his actions are, but in one that’s the basis of a wide ranging satire, in the other it’s a contradictory and expository excuse.

This is Lego Comic Book Guy’s first line in “Brick Like Me”, right after Homer asks him for the Lego princess set:

Lego Comic Book Guy: Ah, always good to meet a fellow AMFoP.
Homer: Huh?
Lego Comic Book Guy: Adult Male Fan of Princesses.

As a punchline, “Adult Male Fan of Princesses” isn’t bad, but to have Lego Comic Book Guy just explain it to the audience doesn’t do it any favors.  At least it’s got a punchline, though.

In Lego Comic Book Guy’s next scene, after some extended Homer freaking out scenes, he doesn’t even get a line.  He just stands there while Homer grabs the toy box to go back to regular Springfield.  After that, Homer returns and we get what may be the clunkiest lines in an episode that had an awful lot of them:

Lego Comic Book Guy:  Okay, apparently our whole world is a fantasy in the mind of an emotionally devastated Homer Simpson.
Marge:  One of the main questions I have about that is, why?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  The real Homer fears losing his daughter’s love so he invented this toy world where nothing will ever change.
Marge:  How can you be sure?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  I have devoted my life to second rate science fiction.  Trust me, that is what we are dealing with here.
Homer:  So if I don’t find my way out of here, I could be trapped in a fantasy forever?
Lego Comic Book Guy:  I’m afraid so.

That would be bad enough if we hadn’t already had that explained to us several times, including by Homer immediately preceding it (“I wish I lived in little Springfield, everything fits together and no one ever gets hurt.”).  But it gets worse when you remember that he’s supposed to be the damned villain.

Not only is he unnecessarily telling us things we already know, but if he really is supposed to be the part of Homer that wants him to stay in Lego land forever, then it’s 100% against Lego Comic Book Guy’s interests to explain everything.  The writers actually know this, because they tell us directly in yet another masterpiece of unnecessary exposition later in the episode:

Homer: Now tell me how to get out of here!
Lego Comic Book Guy: All you need to do is open the box back to your so-called reality.  But I can’t let that happen.
Homer:  You’re the bad guy?  I thought you were the rule explainer guy!
Lego Comic Book Guy:  As an adult who surrounds himself with child’s toys, I represent the part of your psyche that prefers this artificial world.

Sometimes villains don’t get revealed until right before the final confrontation, and that’s fine provided that the villain’s previous actions make sense in light of that reveal.  But literally telling the audience that Lego Comic Book Guy is the bad guy while offering no reason whatsoever for his behavior up to that point is hacktacular almost beyond comprehension.

As if that wasn’t enough, right before the final confrontation, Comic Book Guy quickly builds a castle to keep Homer from reaching the princess set:

Homer: How did you do that?
Lego Comic Book Guy: Because, as the ultimate collector, I have every playset ever made!

Here you can see the damage that their utter contempt for storytelling does to the rest of the episode.  As a villain in a Lego universe, Comic Book Guy makes perfect sense.  If there’s anyone in Springfield who’d have every Lego set, it’s him.  But instead of using his time in the episode to show us some of his sets, or maybe (heaven forbid) foreshadow it a little bit in his previous scenes, they just have him say why he did what he just did and then hold up the things he’s talking about.  The script is full of so much explanatory clutter that there’s no room for any kind of humor beyond “ooh, look at that”.

Video Exposition

Good thing this video program has live narration, or we’d never know what was happening.

And that’s how Zombie Simpsons portrays Comic Book Guy as the villain in their big budget, heavily advertised, and no doubt delicately negotiated Lego episode: as a manic narrator who can’t even be called one dimensional after they basically negated his already thin character with an unrelated and contradictory one at the end.

Now compare that to the regular budget, just another Halloween episode portrayal in “Treehouse of Horror X”.  Like the Lego episode, a Halloween episode lets them put their regular characters into way out and wacky personas.  Unlike the Lego episode, they gave Comic Book Guy’s “The Collector” everything that a good and funny character needs: motivation, foibles and weaknesses, jokes and a coherent story.

Consider this, from right after he kidnaps Lucy Lawless:

The Collector: Care for a Rollo, sweet Xena?
Lucy Lawless: Alright, Collector, stick this in your tweezers, I’m not Xena!  I’m an actress, you lunatic!
The Collector: Oh, please, I’m not insane.  I simply wish to take you back to my layer and make you my bride.

Eating candy while he drives a rusted out hatchback, he claims to not be insane while doing something clearly insane.  He’s not directly explaining anything because his actions and words convey the basics so the jokes can float on top.  He doesn’t need to say, “I’m caricature of a collector geek as an Adam-West-Batman cheesy villainy” because it’s written into the fabric of the episode.  Similarly, Lawless’s contempt for tweezers using collectors doesn’t need to be explained because we know her and can see it.

Treehouse of Horror X4

Characters doing stuff without concurrently narrating it.  Even Season 11 knew how to do this.

Even when the characters do talk about what they’re doing, it’s descriptive, not explanatory:

The Collector: I have here the only working phaser ever built.  It was fired only once, to keep William Shatner from making another album.

He’s describing the concrete thing in his hand right now, not explaining the overarching background of what’s happening.  And when he fires, he doesn’t explain what a phaser is or how it works.  The show trusts its audience to be know that already.  Moreover, calling it a phaser also acts as setup for the Shatner punchline, and who doesn’t love a good Shatner joke?

The rest of the segment is just like that.  When they describe something, they don’t explain what it is or how it works, they expect you to know it.  So when Lawless points out that he’s removed the light saber from it’s original packaging, she doesn’t have to explain why he’s suddenly distraught.  Ditto for when the Collector ends his death in “classic Lorne Greene pose” and when Lisa points out that Xena can’t fly.

The Collector is Comic Book Guy as a character within the show who’s been turned, for this one episode, into an exaggerated bad guy version of himself.  He’s still a person under there, though, so when he cackles about being “unbelievably amused” or whines that he fell for a “ruse so hackneyed it would make Stan Lee blush” it fits with who he is regularly as well as the character he’s inhabiting.  Lego Comic Book Guy, on the other hand, is a kind of stand-in proxy narrator for the writing staff who spends most of his time on screen explaining a very simple concept that had already been explained several times before.  Having used him as a crutch instead of a character right until the end, it makes a certain kind of lazy sense to just keep leaning on him and have him be the bad guy as well, coherent narrative be damned.

None of that is unusual for Zombie Simpsons, of course; nonsensical exposition, plot swerves, and bizarre character behavior are are in every episode.  But it neatly illustrates the fact that, for all the hoopla, “Brick Like Me” was just another episode.

05
May
14

Behind Us Forever: Brick Like Me

Chalkboard - Brick Like Me

“George Carlin on three.” – Miss Pennycandy
“Yeah?  Lawsuit?  Oh, come on!  My seven words you can’t say on TV bit was entirely different from your seven words you can’t say on TV bit.  So I’m a thief, am I?  Well, excuse me! . . . Give him ten grand.” – Krusty the Klown
“Steve Martin on four.” – Miss Pennycandy
“Ten grand.” – Krusty the Klown

Let’s get this out of the way first: this is the best they can do and they know it.  If the PR machine is to be believed, this episode took two years to make and was very expensive to animate.  They bragged about how careful the writing was and how they went the extra mile for this one.  They hyped it for weeks and made it their big May sweeps premier.  And, indeed, it is better and more memorable than most Zombie Simpsons, but that’s a low bar, and the only really memorable thing about it was the animation.

To be fair, the animation was pretty impressive and the episode looked very cool in places.  But the writing and execution would’ve been awful even if the vastly superior The Lego Movie wasn’t looming over every terrible line.  That movie was written and directed by the guys who did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 121 Jump Street and the unjustly cancelled Clone High.  This episode was written by a guy who started writing for Zombie Simpsons in Season 13 and whose only other IMDb credits in that time are for the justly cancelled Joey.  It shows.

– And we get right into things with fake self deprecation “It’s not selling out, it’s co-branding!  Co-branding!”.

– Give them this, it does look nice.

– The sign gags are pretty lazy, though: “Brick-E-Mart”, “H&R Brick”, “First Brick of Springfield”, “Brick, Block & Beyond”.

– “Hey, these are the monkey’s legs”.  Gee, I sure like being told what I’m seeing.

– “Hmm, what do you know, I enjoyed playing with you.”  Ah, nothing brings us back to the regular reality of Zombie Simpsons faster than characters telling us exactly how they feel.

– And now Homer and Lisa are having an expository talk during a flashback.  It’s crappy writing within a weak plot device within crappy writing within a weak plot gimmick.

– Marge and Homer are sitting at home on the bed and Marge reminds us again that in this world “everything fits with everything else and nobody ever gets hurt”.  That’s about the third or fourth time they’ve explained that.

– “Oh, brick me!” – Just tallying the “brick” puns is exhausting.

– Okay, the increasing sized items on the Love Tester are okay.  Not hilarious or anything, but at least they only used the word “brick” once.

– So, Bart rebuilt the school and then described everything we saw in it with voiceover.

– Lovejoy’s sermon about the beginning of the world is kinda funny (goes on too long, of course, but that’s standard).

– This time it’s Flanders: “everything fits together and no one gets hurt”.  Jebus, we get it already.

– Homer just re-explained everything again before touching the toy box.  Also, Marge was just standing there, so that was a Zombie Simpsons twofer.

– Woof, this scene with Lisa and the other girls expositing about the, ugh, “Survival Games” is really going on too long.  I like how each of them explained why they were there.

– And, just because it deserves its own bullet point: “Survival Games” is incredibly lazy.

– Now Lisa is explaining why she wants to do something.

– And now, because this is Zombie Simpsons, Homer and Marge are having a conversation about Lisa right in front of Lisa’s open bedroom door.  As usual, their contempt for object permanence or even just basic social sense shines through.

– Hey, how about another one: “everything fits together and no one gets hurt”.  Thanks, Homer!

– Jebus, writing this bad wouldn’t have survived in a first draft of The Lego Movie.  First, Comic Book Guy explained to everyone what we just saw, then Marge actually says this, “One of the main questions I have about that is why?”.  That leads to more expositing from Comic Book Guy.

– Hey, another “brick” pun on the Jebediah statue.  How many of these can they do?

– I’m tired of transcribing them, but Marge and Homer just re-re-re-re-re-stated the premise and explained the plot again, in case anyone missed it.

– And now he’s doing it again at a tea party with Lisa, “I’ve created a perfect world with no PG-13 movies to take you away from me.”  We.  Fucking.  Know.

– Pop quiz: brick Homer realizes he can’t stay in his paradise.  Do we see him living life and growing tired of it, or does he stand still and explain everything in a speech while doing nothing?  You get two guesses, but you’re only going to need one.

– Then, directly after, we see him reiterate the speech he just gave to Marge.

– Comic Book Guy: “But you’ve discovered the joy of living in a world made of toys where nothing bad can ever happen.”  That phrase may account for 10% of the total words here.

– Now Comic Book Guy is explaining who he is.

– The giant Bart robot is kinda cool.  It’s not funny or anything, but it’s the first thing that’s reminded me of The Lego Movie in a good way instead of a bad one.

– Well, at least they know they’re a pale imitation of the movie.

– Nice of Homer to tell us all what he learned this week.  Knowing is half the battle.

– Having Lovejoy’s description of the universe be true at the end was an actual nice touch that didn’t take too long.  Weird.

– But the episode ran waaaay short despite repeating itself over and over again, so it’s time for a “Survival Games” sketch to get us to the finish line.

What a waste of an episode.  Neat, innovative animation like that shouldn’t be locked into the ordinary mess of a Zombie Simpsons story.

Anyway, the ratings are in and all that publicity did not do them much good.  Last night, just 4.29 million people wished The Lego Movie had already come out on home video.  That’s the highest number they’ve had in a month and it’s still good for #16 on the all time least watched list.  Hear that, crappy entertainment industry publications?  Keep writing stories about how nobody watches anymore.

04
May
14

Sunday Preview: Brick Like Me

Brick_Like_Me_promo_3

Homer finds himself in a world where everyone and everything in Springfield are made of LEGO pieces.

Oh boy I do love Legos. At least I used to play with them a ton when I was but a wee lad. Coincidentally, it was around the same time in my life I loved The Simpsons as well.  Ah, to be young again.

Anyway, aside from all the hype for this episode, and the multitude of news articles with Al Jean quotes about how this is not a marketing ploy, I imagine this is much like the moment when your significant other decides they no longer need to hide the ongoing affair they are having, and instead decides to have sex with your best friend right in front of you.

I am not accusing The Simpsons of secretly hiding any cross-promotional plans or anything for the last 25 years, because frankly their marketing war machine has been an open book.  I am also not saying this is wrong, as I would guess that Simpsons merchandising has to be pushing a billion a year, and in all fairness this is a business.  I am just saying that the idea of this episode in general makes me feel pretty greasy.

 

 

 




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