Posts Tagged ‘Labor Pains

23
Nov
13

Compare & Contrast: Strikes and Strikebreakers

Last Exit to Springfield11

“Goodbye, Springfield, from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” – C.M. Burns

The line everyone knows from 1987’s Wall Street is, “Greed is good”.  Of course, Michael Douglas doesn’t quite say that; his actual line is “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”.  Either way it’s not the best line in the movie.  That honor goes to Martin Sheen, playing the skeptical head of an airline mechanics union.  Sitting in Gordon Gekko’s excessively 1980s penthouse as the iconic bankster of the time licks his chops over wage cuts now for theoretical profit sharing tomorrow, Sheen sagely notes:

“The rich been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time.  The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions.”

The fight between labor and management is as old as the hills, and labor has only one weapon: organizing.  Not that unions are all smiles and sunshine.  They can be every bit as corrupt, short sighted, and greedy as their opponents, and the conflict between the two are often complicated, messy and painful.  In other words, the whole thing is fertile territory for satire, parody and general yuk-yuks.

Like many rich comedy veins, whether fart jokes or mocking those clowns in Congress, taking a swing at employers, employees and their eternal struggle against one another can be done with verve, insight and wit, or it can be done quickly and cheaply with the barest minimum of thought or humor.  Not being particularly fond of either thought or humor, Zombie Simpsons went with the second option.

Lisa’s cheerleader union plot begins after she is twice magically transformed by the cheerleaders into and out of a cheerleader outfit, so things don’t exactly get off to a good start, but they do manage to cover the bare minimum of "strike" plot points.  Basically these:

1.  The need to strike

2.  The decision to strike

3.  The strike itself

4.  Management’s counter moves

5.  The resolution

All of these have been done by The Simpsons, of course, most completely in "Last Exit to Springfield".  Obviously the B-plot for “Labor Pains” has much less screen time than the A-plot of “Last Exit to Springfield”, so instead of comparing them in whole, just consider those five scenes that they have in common. 

1.  In Zombie Simpsons, Lisa discovers how poorly compensated the “Atomettes” are when the Rich Texan walks over to them and pays them their meager wages, helpfully expositing the amount just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention.  It’s perfectly hacktacular, with characters walking on and off as needed, repeated explanation, and no real connection to anything we’ve seen so far.  (And nevermind pulling a theoretically 8-year-old girl out of the crowd and putting her in a skimpy costume to dance around in front of a bunch of drunken dudes.)

In The Simpsons, Burns decides he wants to cancel dental insurance for his workers more or less out of spite.  He remembers the good old days when you could wall up impudent employees and wants to get back to that.  He doesn’t specifically target the dental plan because it’s expensive or he needs the money, he just wants to screw his workers on the principle that workers should be screwed.  This being The Simpsons, the union doesn’t come off any better.  They almost accepted a keg of beer in exchange for dental coverage and then elected Homer as their leader.  Not only does all this mesh with the B-plot of Lisa needing braces, but it’s a lot more interesting and involved that some simple and heavily exposited pay dispute.  The conflict flows directly from the evil of Burns, Homer gets naturally caught up (instead of just happening to be there), and things can proceed.

Last Exit to Springfield10

“Unless you’re crooked.” “Woo-hoo!”

2.  From there, we see our two opponents, Burns and Homer, hilariously misunderstand each other, starting with Burns trying to bribe Homer and Homer thinking Burns is hitting on him.  Homer hates his new position so much that he goes to resign, but the hotheads in the union cut him off and assume he wants to go to war with Burns instead.  The whole strike is a farce, built on one comic misperception after another.  In "Labor Pains", Lisa and the Rich Texan both wander to cheerleading practice for another exposition and coincidence filled meeting that sees both of them going through the motions.

Cheerleader Padyday

I’m sure Jerry Jones has done some terrible things to Cowboys cheerleaders over the decades, but even he doesn’t pay their pittance  personally.

3.  Both episodes feature quick strike scenes and little montages, but all you really need to know is that The Simpsons wrote a strike song and had Lisa sing it whereas Zombie Simpsons grabbed an old Woody Guthrie song called “What Are We Waiting On”.  That’s pretty lazy, but it’s even worse than it first seems because while the song does contain the word “union”, Guthrie isn’t referring to a labor union, but rather the Union (as in the United States of America).  The song is about fighting Hitler, not fighting management.  So not only did Zombie Simpsons just buy a song, they picked a song by Woody Guthrie, most famous for singing about the lives of working people, that isn’t actually about working people.  Jebus.

Weak Scabs

Oh, Patty & Selma, remember when you were awesome and didn’t take shit from people?

4.  When Burns counterattacks the union, he goes with head busting strikebreakers, fire hoses, and robot workers.  His ideas are very Burns like: outdated and/or insane, but ruthless and at least theoretically effective.  The Rich Texan, on the other hand, makes just a single countermove: hiring Patty, Selma, Nelson’s mom, and the Crazy Cat Lady to replace the hardbodied twenty-somethings who make up his usual cheer squad.  Say what you want about the robot workers, but the box did say they’d be “100% Loyal”.  It could have worked.  Crazy Cat Lady in spandex, on the other hand, is weak tea gross out humor that nicely demonstrates just how empty this conflict really is.

Last Exit to Springfield12

The kind they had in the 30s . . .

5.  And what happens at the end?  Well, the Rich Texan goes to the Simpson house (which is where the strike is being organized because shut up that’s why) and concedes because apparently it never occurred to him to hire more hardbodied twenty-somethings.  Compare that meek surrender to Burns, who deliberately blacks out all of Springfield (even the red light district and the fake vomit factory) while quoting Captain Ahab’s speech from the end of “Moby Dick”.  Having tried to destroy the entire town rather than surrender, Burns finally admits defeat.  The Rich Texan went down with hardly a peep.

Tried Nothing and I'm All Out of Ideas

Ladies, I’m here to wrap up this B-plot because the A-plot has scenes even worse than this coming right up.

The Simpsons mocked both labor and management to within an inch of reality and let the good guys win only because the bad guy is irredeemably insane.  Zombie Simpsons had some cheerleaders giggle and shake their stuff.

The tragedy of all this is that “cheerleader union” is a fantastic idea.  Real NFL cheerleaders are basically paid in pompoms, and an actual Simpsons episode about them unionizing or just getting something more than a token salary (most make well under $100 per game, and they have to do lots of uncompensated non-game stuff as well) could be hilarious.  Instead we got this.  Oh well.

20
Nov
13

Behind Us Forever: Labor Pains

Chalkboard - Labor Pains

“Step aside, I’ll deliver this baby.” – Homer Simpson
“Uh, why don’t you let me handle it, Homer?” – Dr. Hibbert
“Oh, college boy, eh?” – Homer Simpson
“Homer, for God sakes, let him deliver the baby!” – Marge Simpson

In its never ending desperation to come up with something – anything – that hasn’t specifically been done before, Zombie Simpsons will try everything from relatively mundane stories to outlandish fantasies.  This episode had two of the former.  In the A-plot, Homer helps deliver a baby after getting stuck in an elevator.  In the B-plot, Lisa tries to help professional football cheerleaders unionize.  (And, yes, they’ve done both “strike” and “Homer loves other kids more than his own” before, just not exactly like this, which is good enough for them.)  But even these stories, which don’t involve popped eyeballs or magic wingsuits, can be poorly told, and “Labor Pains” does exactly that.  You can maybe overlook the fact that Homer delivers this kid in all of thirty seconds and then calmly goes home the same way you can maybe overlook Lisa getting pulled out of the stands to help with a cheer routine.  But those are just the tip of the iceberg.

From there, Homer never mentions the elevator and sneaks around Marge for no discernible reason other than plot necessity.  He also takes the kids to the zoo, gets in a fight with monkeys, and has one of the weirdest goodbye scenes the show has ever done.  Lisa’s story fares no better.  She easily gets into the stadium a couple of times, runs a union out of the treehouse for some reason, and has her nominal opponent, the Rich Texan, hire scab cheerleaders who not only lack what you’d call cheerleading skills, but would never in a million years want to be cheerleaders (especially Patty and Selma).  Crammed in along all that nonsense are the usual collection of time killing montages, pointless dream sequences and asides, characters mysteriously appearing and disappearing, and even a shockingly boring Itchy & Scratchy.

– They’ve got another mildly clever and very long couch gag, this one involving the Mayflower and Thanksgiving.  These twenty minutes aren’t going to fill themselves, people.

– So Lenny is using the same cheating glasses Bender used back in Season 2 of Futurama?  That’s the kind of fresh concept we’ve come to expect from this show.

– Well, it sure didn’t take long to go from this woman in labor to her lying on the floor.

– That Lamaze flashback certainly didn’t need to be there.

– And there’s another guy in the elevator.  Their need to drop people into scenes for no reason is bordering on pathological at this point.

– As if to prove my point, there’s Kirk as a peanut vendor where he wasn’t half a second before.

– Also as usual, the sign gags are by far the best thing here: “We Covered the Over !!!”.

– There is no point in even trying to write down every one of their sitcom-y, laughtrack primed jokes, but here’s a typically brainless example: “Wow, now there are two things named after me, a baby and a law banning airhorns after three am”, beat, laughs, next scene.

– Continuing the point above, after the commercial break Homer goes to the new mom’s apartment.  As he’s doing that, we hear conversation through the door of the poker game and then, in the next scene, Lenny walks out the door so Moe can cripple/kill him by throwing cards at his back.  Moe then steps into the hall, drops another turd punchline, and walks away without noticing Homer.

– Now it’s time for a montage!

– And we pick up from that with an Itchy & Scratchy montage.  Back to back!

– This is how they advance the story, with Homer expositing everything we’ve seen . . . in a daydream sequence: “I’m shopping for Homer Junior, a baby I delivered in an elevator the night I pretended to go to work but was really playing poker.”  Real life Marge is then forced to ask why he’s saying that.  Good question.

– I could overlook things like Lisa just walking into the giant football stadium during cheerleader practice, knowing more about what’s going on than the actual cheerleaders, and them acting consecutively dumb, super power enabled, and smart, if the jokes or the dialogue were strong or interesting.  But they aren’t.  They just move from one dumb thing to another, and the scene concludes with the cheerleaders shaking their heads back and forth so their hair sounds like salt shakers or something.

– Further evidence of the generally low give-a-shit level, after Marge walks in on Carl doing his massage training (or whatever), neither he nor she closes the door to his apartment afterwards.  He leaves it open to get back to what he’s doing, and she leaves it open as she walks down the hall.  Out of sight out of mind as usual.

– Guh, this scene with Marge finding Homer and the baby takes forever.  This is classical crappy sitcom: either one of them could straighten this out with one sentence, but they’ll just keep spewing hammy lines at each other instead because they stopped even vaguely resembling real people long ago.

– Holy shit, we’re on our third montage of the episode for the cheerleader strike.

– They do remain competent at unconnected sign gags.  Marge reading a book called “Kicking the Advice Book Habit” is pretty good.  The actual scene is godawful, with Marge, seemingly having forgotten her two most recent scenes with Homer, being surprised that he was spending time with the other baby.

– After one of the dumbest strikes in history, the Rich Texan concedes only to have Kirk show up for no reason to get beaten by him.

– Now Jerkass Homer is fighting monkeys . . . Maggie is in pretend danger . . . and Marge shows up for no reason.  I’ve had fever dreams that were more coherent than this.  (Funnier, too.)

– Oh, man, this reconciliation scene the with the suddenly returned father is jokeless, emotionally empty, and facepalm level stupid.  On the bright side, it’s a completely appropriate way to end this thing.

– Further proof that signs gags are all they’re good at: the cheerleader books over the end credits.  Sure some of them are hard to read because of the, you know, credits, but they are there.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they are getting embarrassingly bad.  FOX bumped Zombie Simpsons back to 9:00pm so they could use their NFL overrun to premier Almost Human, (it does not appear to have worked), and the show brought in just 4.13 million viewers.  That’s fifth on the all time least watched list and more than a million viewers down from this same time last season.

18
Nov
13

Open Complaint Thread: Labor Pains

LaborPainsPromo

We didn’t get a preview up yesterday, so I shudder think what kind of volcanic build up there is about last night’s almost certainly forgettable “Labor Pains”.  I haven’t watched it yet, but it certainly sounds dull:

While trapped in an elevator Homer helps a woman deliver her baby who she gratefully names Homer Jr. Homer then gets emotionally attached to the little guy. Meanwhile Lisa is recruited to be a cheerleader.

As I am on the road in Chicago today without access to my usual array of electronics, “Behind Us Forever” will have to wait until tomorrow or possibly Wednesday.  (Any of you in Chicago, I’ll be at Classic Simpsons Trivia tonight.  I expect to lose badly but have a great time doing it.)  Consider this an open thread and vent accordingly.  




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