Posts Tagged ‘Million Dollar Maybe

26
Jul
11

Guest Stars Then & Now

– By Gran2

The plethora of Season 22 guest stars filled me with rage. This show is bad enough already without Danica Patrick, Paul Rudd or Mark ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg turning up to dig it even closer to Earth’s core. I dreaded hearing Al Jean rattle off next season’s list at Comic-Con (spoilers: It included Michael Cera).

The point is: guest stars suck now. The really obscure ones suck because you have no idea who they are, or why they are there (pretty much every guest star from seasons 11 and 12 falls into to this category, or maybe that’s because I’m British). But the really famous ones suck as well.

Whoever they are, whether they’re a sportsperson, a singer or even a professional actor their acting is always so awful, reading the awkward dialogue that normal people would never actually say, and appearing to have been recorded on their first take. They have no reason to be there, yet they either have the episode built around them rather than a plot, or they appear for one line only. But all get to enjoy their own little ego-massage courtesy of Lisa ("Look, it’s J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. You’ve turned a generation of kids onto reading!"). They just throw them on because guest stars represent one of the very few times this show ever gets any press attention anymore. It was the only thing they discussed at Comic-Con last year. It’s literally all they have to say.

Guest stars didn’t used to suck. They used to be great. They belonged in the episode; they had a purpose to the story or, you know, voiced a character. Whether as themselves or as a character they felt like they belonged in Springfield, just as the episodes they were in belonged on television.

Their appearance first and foremost made sense: they were both relevant to the plot and their presence in Springfield wasn’t ridiculous. It makes sense for Springfield to have celebrities visiting. It’s home to Krusty the Clown, one of the most famous entertainers of all time. Why wouldn’t he be friends with Bette Middler and Johnny Carson? There’s a clear difference between that and people like James Caan just suddenly appearing there. Guest stars appear to present an award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence or to open a monorail and when they were there, they were funny ("A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on"). And they didn’t just then vanish. Most of them appeared in more than one scene, so actually have some kind of character progression. Guest stars rarely, if ever, actually were the focus of the plot as themselves. Instead, their most substantial parts were when they were playing characters. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, John Waters, Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman. All excellent performances and playing excellent characters.

The philosophy of guest parts has clearly changed since the good old days. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein picked most of their guest stars because they had unique voices which actually led to good characters. The fact that R. Lee Ermey and Lawrence Tierney were going to be appearing was never really going to draw viewers but they did a damn site more memorable job than big stars like Seth Rogen or Sacha Baron Cohen. Furthermore, they actually dropped guest stars if they didn’t fit. Collette the waitress from "Flaming Moe’s" was supposed to be voiced by Catherine O’Hara. She actually recorded the part but they replaced her with Jo Ann Harris because, in the words of Mike Reiss on the DVD commentary "Something about her did not animate correctly. The voice did not work for our purposes." And it wasn’t just her. Maggie Roswell was selected over Julie Andrews to voice Shary Bobbins due to her great reading, likewise Hank Azaria over William H. Macy for Frank Grimes. Hell, Bill and Josh said in their NoHomers chat that they wanted Robert DeNiro to guest star; in the end he didn’t, because they couldn’t find a good enough part for him. Nowadays they’d just shove him in.

Now to stop me rambling on, here are three clear examples of why guest stars used to be great. Robert Goulet. The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat". And the Ramones.

Robert Goulet’s appearance in "$pringfield" is a perfect guest spot. He doesn’t dominate the show, it makes sense he’s there (he’s flown in after being hired for a gig at Burns’ Casino) and he’s funny. But above all, they make fun of him.

Goulet: You from the casino?
Bart: I’m from a casino.
Goulet: Good enough, let’s go.

Goulet: Are you sure this is the casino? I think I should call my manager.
Nelson: Your manager says for you to shut up!
Goulet: Vera said that?

In six lines, they make Goulet seem unprofessional and then they tell him to shut up. Perfect.

The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat" are also a perfect example of good guest stars. Along with "Krusty Gets Kancelled" this episode shows that lots of guest stars in one episode doesn’t have to suck. Again, their presence makes sense. Why wouldn’t an evil old billionaire cheat in order to win a bet? But what really made them great was their performances, which are all much better than, for example, John C Reilly’s. Let’s just emphasise that: a bunch of professional baseballers give a better, more emotive and more believable performance than an Academy Award-nominated actor. Now, as said, I’m British, and have absolutely no interest or knowledge of baseball whatsoever, but that doesn’t affect my love for this episode. When these nine players die I won’t remember them for however many points they got (if that’s what you get in baseball?) I’ll remember because they were great in this episode. Particular praise to Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia and Darryl Strawberry.

And finally, a comparison between old and new guest stars, with very similar parts, which have vastly different results. First, the good one. The Ramones appearance in "Rosebud" is brief, but outstanding.

Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I’m sure are gonna go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I’d just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren’t —
Burns: Do as I say!

They are there for a clear, logical reason: to play for Burns’ birthday party. And every single line in that scene builds on the previous one to make it one of the most hilarious scenes ever.

And now Coldplay, from season 21’s craptacular "Million Dollar Maybe":

Chris Martin: [sings Viva la Vida]
Bart: Wait, I have to go to the bathroom.
Martin: So, where are you from Homer?
Homer: Here.
[They start again]
Homer: Wait.
Martin: Yes Homer.
Homer: Do you think you could use someone like me in your band?
Martin: Yeah come on up, you can play the tambourine.
Homer: I said someone like me, I didn’t say me.
[They sing again]

They are there because Homer paid them, because he won the lottery, for some reason. It’s sterile, humourless and they couldn’t even be bothered to write parts for the other band members.

In conclusion, mono means one, and rail means rail. Guest stars are yet another example of something that used to be great, but is now terrible. And that concludes our intensive three-week course. Good day and I apologise for wasting your time.

03
Feb
10

Crazy Noises: Million Dollar Maybe

Lottery Money

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Lisa Brewster.

“Bart, with $10,000 we’d be millionaires!  We could buy all kinds of useful things like . . . love.” – Homer Simpson

In our continuing mission to bring you only the finest in low class, low brow, and low tech internet Simpsons commentary we’re bringing back our “Crazy Noises” series and applying it to Season 21.  Because doing a podcast smacks of effort we’re still using this “chatroom” thing that all the middle schoolers and undercover cops seem to think is so cool.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “aggravating”).

This installment of Zombie Simpsons was so lifeless, so barren of anything that could be called originality or humor that we really didn’t have much to say about it.  (That our collective blood alcohol level was lower than usual didn’t help.)  How many times can you point out that the characters are acting like comedy writers instead of themselves?  How many times can you observe that the ratio of filler to content is sky high?  How many nonsensical plot points can three men endure? 

Seriously, this episode is to comedy what the lunar surface is to life. 

Charlie Sweatpants: Shall we get down to it?

Mad Jon: Ok then

  I just watched this today, and as usual I was unable to pay it full attention.

Charlie Sweatpants: Full attention is not what this one deserves.

Mad Jon: But if I remember correctly Homer wins 1 million dollars and can’t tell Marge right?

Dave: Yep, exactly

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s that rare trifecta of suck where they a) didn’t have remotely enough material, b) what they did have was crazy and boring and c) had a celebrity guest voice playing himself for no reason whatsoever.

Mad Jon: So the man who told a classroom of people what turns Marge on, can’t tell her he was late to a wedding for a million dollars.

Wait, wait, wait, Are you telling me the Man who skipped marriage counseling so he could go fishing, can’t tell his wife he won a million dollars.

Dave: Yes in name and but not character, they are one and the same

Charlie Sweatpants: And that’s only the beginning of its problems.

We could be here a long time if you recite all of the more difficult things Homer has done in the past.

Mad Jon: You know, I think there was one funny line. But it was followed by the second most aggravating thing that happened in this episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Do tell.

Mad Jon: I laughed when Bart asked Homer why he wasn’t having fun or something, and Homer said that if he wanted to have fun he would have left when Bart was born. That was kinda funny.

  It was, of course, followed by Homer asking for advice from Bart about how to be more selfish.

  Which was the 2nd most aggravating thing I saw.

Dave: What won the prize?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t know man, okay that was bad, but I can think of a lot more than just one other thing that was more aggravating that that.

Mad Jon: Well, we will have to agree to disagree. As other than the fact that Homer’s first stop after getting the money wasn’t Moe’s, I found that line the most blood-angering.

Seriously, the man went to Moe’s the instant he sold his entire stock portfolio for $25 bucks.

Charlie Sweatpants: You’re right about that.

That is easily the most out of character thing there was, and for this episode that does say something.

The break dancing cave man was bad, which was only there because they had already stretched that wretched scene at the dinner table well past the breaking point. Both “money spending” montages were weak to say the least, it felt like I was watching one of Adam Sandler’s lesser offerings. The toast, both the rehearsal and the actual one, were painful.

Mad Jon: Yeah, but they dragged on so long that I experienced more boredom than anger. I think I have been conditioned.

Charlie Sweatpants: Of course if they’d had Homer go to Moe’s and open a tab he would’ve died of alcohol poisoning three minutes later and then they’d be about 13 minutes short.

Dave: No you’re wrong about that Charlie

  They would’ve had another piece of shit montage. That seems to be their thing this season.

Mad Jon: Or he could have stumbled home, drunkenly told Marge what happened, she gets pissed, he spends episode trying to figure out what went wrong, until Lisa or Apu saves the day.

At least we could have had montages similar to those in seasons 9-12 as opposed to those of seasons 13-20.

Charlie Sweatpants: Enh.

[Editor’s Note: There was about a three minute pause here where no one said anything.]

Charlie Sweatpants: So, uh, I got nothing, apparently.

I know this episode is utterly devoid of content, but it feels like we’ve barely started.

Dave: I dunno, you’re both more riled up than me. Apparently I’m just numb to all of this now

Charlie Sweatpants: I wish I were numb . . .

Mad Jon: The Cartridge Family, I’m with Cupid, Take My Wife, Sleaze, etc. There are many episodes that are kind of crappy, but not the shithole this one was, that follow the same plot line I just said. And this could have been one of those pretty crappy episodes.

But now I feel kind of greasy for trying to defend the fact this could have been a bad, but not as bad episode.

As an act of contrition, I will now try to kick myself in the balls.

Dave: How’d that work out for you?

Mad Jon: Hold on…

Charlie Sweatpants: This one had “blast crater” written all over it from the start. The b-plot is thin and has no conclusion, the a-plot is even thinner but manages to take up all of its allotted time through montages and unrelated set pieces that make an episode of SNL look like a tightly plotted ballet.

Mad Jon: There was a b-plot?

Dave: The Funtendo Zii

Charlie Sweatpants: Lisa with the old people and the not-Wii.

Mad Jon: Oh yeah….

Dave: Again, they reference stuff but fall well short of parody or humor

Mad Jon: A little Deus ex machina to end that one if I remember. The aides dishwash the Wii right?

Dave: Bingo

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s yet another wasted comedy opportunity as I’d previously thought old people + video games has a decent chance.

Mad Jon: Remember when Bart was trying to teach Grandpa to play video games… That was something could all enjoy.

Charlie Sweatpants: That was, what, Season 3?

Mad Jon: Something like that.

Charlie Sweatpants: You’re correct, of course.

  Now we have to treat the old people with respect.

  Speaking of which, why the hell was Burns trying out a Wii?

Mad Jon: I don’t know. Something about killing Nazis

Charlie Sweatpants: That was almost as bad as the Moe scene in terms of, “Help we’ve got to fill some time!”

Anything else we should mention, specific or general?

Mad Jon: When I saw Moe walk up I thought to myself “Hey, He’s going to ask why Homer isn’t at the bar! That would make sense!” But then I remembered that nothing in the parallel universe that is Zombie Simpsons actually makes sense.

Charlie Sweatpants: It would’ve also been funnier.

Mad Jon: Perhaps, but I guess we will never know.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think we can make a fairly confident guess.

Dave, has your numbness abated enough to spew some hate? That’s cool if not, as I said I kind of envy you. I’m not trying to prod, I’m trying to wrap this up.

Dave: Nah, I’m sort of floating through this one. I think you’ve both hit on all the things I should’ve have been annoyed with, but for one reason or another wasn’t

Mad Jon: You could say Charlie has the same goal as a man kicking himself in the junk, he just wants the pain to end. Trust me on that one.

Charlie Sweatpants: You need to put me in contact with your drug dealer, post haste.

Dave: Also, this is the second episode in as many weeks with a romantic ending, and I’m a grumpy fuck

Mad Jon: Why? Are you going to make him fight yours for the territory?

Charlie Sweatpants: All in the game.

02
Feb
10

Synergy Has a Nostalgia Hangover

Homer Goes to College5

“Duh, Homer, why are we down here?” – Bernie
“Aw geez, I told you Bernie, to guard the bee.” – Homer Simpson
“But why?” – Less Gifted Employee
“Oh you guys are pathetic, no wonder Smithers made me head bee guy.” – Homer Simpson

Having read more of these IGN Simpsons reviews than I care to think about it’s become clear that they just don’t put a lot of thought into them.  Case in point is this week’s review which has only two main elements, 1) praising the show for being on the air a long time, and 2) retelling the various setups that made up the plot.  Number 2 is pretty standard for these reviews, but I think the presence of number 1 is mostly a carryover from the last few weeks.  IGN got locked into nostalgia mode over all the 20th anniversary stuff and just sort of mindlessly kept going with it.

February 1, 2010 – After their 450th 451st episode focusing on Krusty and a celebratory special spreading the love and dissing Zombie Simpsons, it was nice to have things get got back to the familiar level of suck with "Million Dollar Maybe." And by familiar level of suck, I mean watching what’s left of Homer do what he can to make his family happy, while screwing it up as he tries random, crazy shit. Sunday night’s episode had Homer yet again letting down Marge, winning a million dollars for “plot” reasons, spending it all without her knowledge for some reason and still finishing the half-hour in the arms of the woman he loves. All this and laughs, too.

Things started with Homer and Marge preparing a musical toast for a cousin’s wedding contrivance. But on the day of the wedding contrivance, Homer opened a fortune cookie stating this was his lucky day. At first, Homer blew off the fortune: "Any part of a cookie you can’t eat is just a waste of time." But his luck did indeed start to turn as crashing into a vending machine resulted in its contents raining down for Homer’s enjoyment for some reason. Instead of heading straight to the wedding contrivance, Homer stopped to buy a lottery ticket and got stuck a very long, very slow line for about three hours for one more unknown reason. It was a fun hacktacular set up, leaving Homer feeling plot guilty about missing the toast and unable to tell Marge that he was instead buying a winning lottery ticket. It was a nice touch ate some time to have Lenny and Carl help convince Homer that the fortune cookie may be right. I especially loved the headline from the Beijing Daily Worker: "New Fortune Cookies Vaguer, More Accurate."

To further stretch things out Homer used Barney to pick up his winning check, a good majority of which went to Uncle Sam: "This money will go to partially cover the cost of a study to decide what to do with the money." Unable to tell Marge about the money (yeah, still), Homer instead bought things anonymously for his family. Watching the various ways in which gifts were discovered was quite fun killed a lot of clock, starting with Homer throwing Bart into bushes disguising a new washing machine, and ending with Marge pulling a new pearl necklace out of Maggie’s diaper. But the ruse dumb ploy couldn’t last, and soon Bart discovered Homer’s secret money tree, setting up a second series of unrelated clock killing skits. This included a randomly hilarious scene with Moe showing up out of nowhere, menacingly stating "Don’t forget my cut." When questioned about it, Moe responded, "I just go around saying that and hope it’ll be applicable."  When questioned about that, the writers responded, “We just go around sticking characters in and hope people don’t complain.”

Bart first convinced Homer to indulge a little help fill screen time with the cash, resulting in rides on a zero gravity plane and a personal concert from Coldplay. Fittingly, Chris Martin was the only band member to get lines. Though the scene had some chuckles made no sense and wasn’t funny, Martin’s appearance could have been replaced by any number of celebrity rock stars. The good times didn’t last, and soon Bart was threatening to tell Marge Homer’s secret because it was getting time to wrap things up. To keep him quiet, Homer basically became Bart’s slave. This was reminiscent of about six episodes of every sitcom ever and had been done ten thousand times better Homer becoming Patty and Selma’s slave for a similar secret-keeping reason in "Homer vs. Patty and Selma."  But since this was only a small focus of this episode done poorly and for no reason, with an entirely different viewpoint, it didn’t feel like a retread so much as its own brand of suck.

Filling out the episode was a decent plot with Lisa buying the retirement home a Funtendo Zii. She got the idea in a great scene with Mr. Burns trying out the videogames at the store: "Wait. I’m shooting at Nazis? That’s not how I remember it." This was an adequate B storyline in that it’s hard to see how they could’ve stretched the A plot any thinner, with enough laughs to keep things interesting, but never getting too complicated and taking the focus away from Homer and his predicament. Ultimately Yawningly, in the main storyline, Homer told Marge the truth and everything returned to the status quo. Homer’s cherry blossom testament of love was yet another sweet ending over-animated, under thought-out  set piece to a long line of Simpsons Zombie Simpsons sweet endings over-animated, under thought-out  set pieces, punctuated with a very funny "Phew!" visual gag. This was a fun dull and funny disorganized episode focused on Homer and his always dysfunctional relationship with his family — just what we’ve come to love and expect after 20 10 years.

01
Feb
10

Football-less Zombie Simpsons Crashes and Burns

Chalkboard - Million Dollar Maybe“Where’s your messiah now, Flanders?” – Chief Wiggum

With no lead in from the NFL, no anniversary special, no massive promotional effort Zombie Simpsons’ popularity has plummeted to earth like so much half chewed fish.  Last night’s test of audience patience drew a puny 5.11 million viewers.  Is that the lowest rating ever?  Yes, yes it is.  The only problem with it is that it’s just slightly higher than Family Guy Spinoff #1 which came in at 5.06 in the 9:30 slot.  I think we can safely conclude that there will be no lasting bump from nostalgia related anniversary viewers. 

31
Jan
10

It Could (But Won’t) Happen to You

“In fact, every copy of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has been checked out from the Springfield Public Library.  Of course the book does not contain any hints on how to win the lottery, it is rather a chilling tale of conformity gone mad.” – Kent Brockman

We have an entire week to pick apart this pedestrian and lifeless Zombie Simpsons outing.  There are plenty of recycled jokes, gaping plot contradictions, and labored set pieces with which to play.  (When winning the lottery is the most relatable thing that happens there is little hope for anything but fail.)  For right now though I’ll just say one thing.  When The Simpsons was still on the air it treated the lottery as what it really is: a tax on the mathematically ignorant that taunts the poor into furthering their poverty.  Zombie Simpsons treats the lottery the way the mathematically ignorant see it, as a plausibility upon which self important fantasies can be based.  There is, I suppose, a certain populist charm to that fantastic notion, but naive hope and wanton stupidity did not make this show what it was. 

31
Jan
10

Sunday Preview: Million Dollar Maybe

zombiemaybe

Dave usually writes these Sunday Preview posts but he’s on vacation.  He did stop having fun long enough to e-mail in this much improved official preview image.  Simpsons Channel wrote it up and as usual there’s nothing to suggest that this will be anything but a complete waste of thirty minutes of your irreplaceable time.  I’m stupid, stubborn and honor bound by the Code of Internet Snark to watch it; you are not.  Here are some suggestions for better uses of your time:

  • Masturbation
  • Knitting
  • Watching anything else



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