Posts Tagged ‘MoneyBART

03
Feb
11

Animating on Eggshells

“Look here, that’s enough now, I own sixty percent of that network!” – Rupert Murdoch 

A couple of weeks ago, Banksy posted his original storyboard (via) for the Zombie Simpsons opening that ran back in October.  It makes for interesting viewing, and most of the ideas contained therein made it into the finished product.  There are a couple of minor touch ups, mostly sanitizing some of the gorier sketches Banksy did, but on the whole it is pretty faithful to the original concepts . . . with one telling exception. 

Here is one of the panels from Banksy’s original:

Banksy Storyboard

And here is the corresponding scene from the finished product:

Something's Missing

Of all the bleak images in Banksy’s original, the suffering children, the dead cats, the emaciated unicorn, only the giant poster of Kim Il-Murdoch was deemed too hot for teevee. 

I’m sure I’m not the first person to have pointed this out, and I don’t want to make too much of what is a relatively minor omission, but does this strike anyone else as just a tad revealing?  I don’t think Murdoch personally vetoed it or anything, I doubt they would even bother to ask him.  After all, he’s a billionaire who’s turning eighty next month, the time it would take to explain it is far more precious to him than a piddling throwaway second of television on one of his many networks.  But Zombie Simpsons clearly didn’t want to cross him, and I think that’s funny.

15
Oct
10

Crazy Noises: MoneyBART

Homer at the Bat3

"Hey Scioscia, I don’t get it.  You’re a ringer, but you’re here every night in the core busting your butt hauling radioactive waste." – Carl
"Well, Carl, it’s such a relief from the pressures of playing big league ball.  I mean, there you make any kind of mistake and boom, the press is all over you.  Uh oh." – Mike Scioscia
“Ah, don’t worry about it.” – Carl
“Oh man, is this ever sweet.” – Mike Scioscia

I’m very ready to be done with this episode.   Unlike most Zombie Simpsons episodes this one will end up being memorable.  Not because of any quality on its part, or any of the jokes it contains, but for the return of Mike Scioscia and the whole Banksy opening.  Meh.

Charlie Sweatpants: Dave’s hopeful we can keep this to under a half an hour.

Shall we dive right in?

Mad Jon: Ok, that will leave me more Halo time.

Let’s do it

Dave: Only because I’m running on 3 hours of sleep.

Mad Jon: I hate the fact Mike Scioscia came back, but he’s right, he’ll win more rings.

Charlie Sweatpants: Not if he keeps riding that rollercoaster alone.

You know who goes to amusement parks alone? No one.

Mad Jon: Well, Mike Scioscia is allowed to.

Dave: Except cartoon Mike Scioscia.

Charlie Sweatpants: More to the point, this may have set a new bar for most bag-of -hammers stupid guest voice.

I mean, having Zuckerberg just sitting there was dumb, but at least they took the time to invent a place he sort of, maybe could be at.

This was just head scratching.

Mad Jon: Very reminiscent of Namath showing up to explain the dangers of Vapor Lock.

Dave: Oh that.

Mad Jon: Yep, that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I thought of that same thing, but again, that made infinitely more sense than this.

Mad Jon: True that.

Charlie Sweatpants: I mean, it was played with a bit of meta humor because Joe Namath shows up right when Bart’s trying to learn how to be a quarterback. The vapor lock thing was their way of acknowledging that.

Mad Jon: Good point.

Dave: It was a baseball themed episode and they needed a real player? I dunno, that’s a stretch.

Charlie Sweatpants: This didn’t have nearly that level of . . . I don’t know, cleverness? Self awareness? Whatever the opposite of oblivious is.

But he could’ve at least been doing something baseball related. Couldn’t he have been working the game where you throw baseballs or something?

Mad Jon: Funny, I think Scioscia was the one who was quoted to say that he still cashes the royalty checks, even though they aren’t worth the paper and stamp, just so the books are straight.

Charlie Sweatpants: About his first guest appearance, you mean?

Mad Jon: Your carnival game idea would have been infinitely better..

Yes, about the Actual baseball episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Makes sense.

Speaking of baseball, did this remind anyone else of a travel episode but with the destination being baseball?

Mad Jon: I can see that I guess, but with little to no Homer involvement (other than the pseudo-fight he and Marge had that started and ended abruptly and without point) it just didn’t feel quite the same as a trip episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Like the travel episodes, this one did have a couple of mildly funny lines. Bill James’ thing about making baseball as fun as taxes comes to mind. The problem is that they spent 22 minutes with a convoluted plot to deliver what would’ve been less than a minute’s worth of material in a mid-grade stand-up routine.

They had a fresh topic, and that always helps them.

The problem is everything else.

Mad Jon: Also, computers aren’t allowed in the dugout.

Charlie Sweatpants: Really?

Mad Jon: And managers are called managers and not coaches for a reason.

Charlie Sweatpants: Did I say coach, or did they?

Mad Jon: I don’t think anyone did. But Lisa ran her games like a coach would, not a manager. Managers put the right players (especially on offense) in the right place and let them do their thing, obviously with the exception being fun plays like suicides, stealing home and hit and runs.

Coaches call plays at all times. Like in other sports. Sports with Head Coaches. Sorry to dwell, but baseball was my first passion.

Charlie Sweatpants: As always, I defer to your superior knowledge.

While we’re on the topic of the baseball in the episode, was I the only one who noticed that the ending didn’t make any sense from a game perspective?

Mad Jon: Well, first of all, he was clearly safe.

Charlie Sweatpants: There’s no reason given for Bart to steal home.

Dave: Except to make a scene.

Charlie Sweatpants: I said "given". I know the real reason.

Mad Jon: I didn’t even know the score… But I may have been bored into semi-consciousness.

Also, I think the lack of available players was a stupid point as they only had like seven guys to begin with.

Charlie Sweatpants: The last play in "Homer at the Bat" made perfect sense. The bases were loaded, and Burns makes the hilariously overthinking-it decision to pinch hit. Homer wins the game by getting knocked unconscious. This . . . didn’t do any of that.

Mad Jon: Was that like the championship or something? Other than the "Homer the Boxer"-esque leader board, they didn’t really play up to it. The Softball league championship with a million bucks on the line, now that’s a plot setup.

Charlie Sweatpants:   That too.

It’s that classic story-apathy I’m always railing about. They needed a dramatic baseball moment to finish things, they just didn’t bother to set it up.

Mad Jon: They really, really didn’t. They almost went out of their way to avoid setting it up.

The only think I snickered at the whole time was the background joke about Lenny Dykstra.

Although that was topical about 4 or 5 years ago…

Charlie Sweatpants: The entire montage was fucking lame. Homer at the Bat has a montage, but it’s a parody. This was just a Casio-keyboard arrangement of "Take me Out to the Ballgame".

Nails.

Sorry, that’s all I remember about Dykstra.

Mad Jon: Oh man, there was a great SI article about his financial scamming a few years back, look it up, it’s worth it.

Charlie Sweatpants: Noted.

This may be a minor point, but I hated Moe’s little rant about things managers do wrong.

Mad Jon: Do tell, I was rather indifferent.

Charlie Sweatpants: This is another of those poor writing examples, but there’s no need for Moe to exposit there.

Mad Jon: Fair enough.

When he heckled the patrons who didn’t even mention they were playing fantasy baseball.

Charlie Sweatpants: Any show worth its salt in the least would’ve had Moe showing reactions to something that actually happened. He could yell at the manager’s decision, then turn around and hypocritically praise it when it worked. Instead he monologued apropos of nothing.

And while I’m hating on that scene, did Carl sound off to anyone else?

Dave: I don’t remember. Did he sound ragged or aged like some of the other voice actors?

Mad Jon: Meh, he only had like 10 words, so its hard to tell.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ll take "meh".

Sounded off to me.

Mad Jon: Oops, it was an ESPN article I think, from early 2009, but it was still interesting to read, that part I got right.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=4084962

Charlie Sweatpants: There you go.

Before we close things up, I think we have to talk about the opening. I was going to write a longer post about it today but I didn’t have time.

Mad Jon: Ugh, that 12 minute thing?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah.

Dave: The internets are buzzing.

Over nothing, mind you, but they’re buzzing all the same.

Charlie Sweatpants: Typical.

Long story short, I don’t think this would be the least bit interesting if a celebrity wasn’t involved.

Mad Jon: Go on.

Charlie Sweatpants: The show has made fun of FOX before, the only reason people care about this is because Banksy was involved. It’s standard Zombie Simpsons: leech off the popularity of others. This just worked a little bit better than handing the show over to Seth Rogen or Ricky Gervais.

Dave: That’s a nice summary.

It wasn’t really that dark or edgy.

It was just… long.

Charlie Sweatpants: Very long.

Mad Jon: High Def cartoons don’t really have the same impact power as graffiti.

Just saying.

Charlie Sweatpants: One final thing, what was with the opening with the Yale woman?

Mad Jon: Inspiration for Lisa to manage baseball, it was the perfect setup.

Charlie Sweatpants: I know the openings don’t typically have much to do with the rest of the episode any more, but that was even more random than usual.

Even ignoring my typical complains about the fact that she was apparently there for no reason, was any part of that supposed to be funny?

Mad Jon: Whenever I think about attractive Yale female grads, my following thoughts almost exclusively lead to baseball, or specifically 8 year-old managers.

Charlie Sweatpants: So do the writers.

I guess.

Mad Jon: Well, we all know how talented they are.

15
Oct
10

Sorry Everyone, The Banksy Thing Is Lame

Fifteen years ago, when The Simpsons was still on the air, The Critic had a scene set in the “Oliver Twist Preschool”.  Skip to the 4:30 mark:

For anyone who can’t get the video, here’s the important part:

Adorable Child Laborer: Sir, have we made enough Simpsons merchandise yet?
Cruel Workhouse Guy: Never!

Never, indeed.  Three years before that, The Simpsons itself made fun of its own production process:

Again, for anyone who can’t see the video (or in case it gets pulled):

Kent Brockman: I’m here live in Korea to give you a first hand look at how American cartoons are made.

Those two things and the overwrought sixty second opening from Zombie Simpsons, kinda the same or exactly the same?  I’d lean towards exactly, but that’s just me.

I found that second YouTube video via a smart post by Jaime Weinman at Macleans.ca, which was far and away the best take on this thing I saw:

Still, maybe it’s because I’m used to the Simpsons era where a long couch gag was just a sign of an episode that ran short (remember the dancing/circus one that was intended to be the longest ever? Now it’s not even close), but I’m not always blown away by these long gags. Mainly because they are just that, long, and I like The Simpsons best when it’s most concise.

[…]

But they already did essentially the same gag in the fourth season episode “Itchy and Scratchy the Movie,” and they did it in only a few seconds. The great thing about The Simpsons in its prime is that it could pack a tremendous amount of satire into a very short joke. Just as they could sum up all the absurdity of the entire MacGyver series with one line of dialogue (“Don’t thank me, thank the moon’s gravitational pull”), one shot and one line from Kent Brockman could say about five different things about the outsourcing of American animation to overseas studios.

Exactly.  The opening lingers on each of its little cruelties long after you’ve gotten the joke because for all its style there isn’t much substance here.  Yes they’re using cats to make stuffing for Bart Simpson dolls, yes they’re using a dolphin’s head to seal boxes, yes they’re animating in a sweatshop, but instead of moving along quickly and trusting the audience to follow things, they stop repeatedly and bash the joke into your face.

What ideas there are, up to and including the unicorn and the North Korean FOX logo, were from Banksy.  The wretched pacing and enormous length were all Zombie Simpsons.  Here’s Al Jean, revealing perhaps a little more than he should in his congratulatory interview with The New York Times:

Q. How did you find Banksy to do this, and now that it’s done, how much trouble are you in?
A. Well, I haven’t been fired yet, so that’s a good sign. I saw the film Banksy directed, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and I thought, oh, we should see if he would do a main title for the show, a couch gag. So I asked Bonnie Pietila, our casting director, if she could locate him, because she had previously located people like Thomas Pynchon. And she did it through the producers of that film. We didn’t have any agenda. We said, “We’d like to see if you would do a couch gag.” So he sent back boards for pretty much what you saw.

Jean also talks about how little it changed from the original ideas he gave them.  What he’s essentially saying is that someone else came up with all the concepts, they just animated it and stretched it out to be about three times longer than it should have been.  Of course, Jean takes his usual talking points out for a spin as well:

Obviously, the animation to do this was pricey. I couldn’t have just snuck it by Fox. I’ll just say it’s a place where edgy comedy can really thrive, as long as it’s funny, which I think this was. None of it’s personal. This is what made “The Simpsons” what it is.

Jean’s done this kind of interview so many times I think he can do it in his sleep.  He even managed to compare Zombie Simpsons to Mad Men, a show the wider world actually cares about.  I thought that was a nice touch.

What makes this interview dumber than most is that the reporter, Dave Itzkoff, basically wets himself with fear about corporate backlash.  The whole thing only runs to eight questions, and four of them are about FOX and whether or not they were mad.  He says that he’s aware of the show’s history of mocking FOX, but I’m not so sure.

Compounding the misguided awe that this was somehow brave is the idea that anyone would care about this if it didn’t have the name “Banksy” attached to it:

Last night’s Banksy-directed "couch gag" that opened The Simpsons has been making waves on the internet today—not just because it was Banksy, but because the show basically eviscerated its own brand in the span of a few minutes.

I’m actually quite sure that it was “just because it was Banksy”.  This is the show regurgitating a concept from nearly twenty years ago.  If it hadn’t had his name on it no one would’ve cared outside of No Homers and the other Simpson parts of the internet.

Boiled down, this is typical Zombie Simpsons. They’re:

  • Repeating something that was done better a long time ago.
  • Leeching off someone else’s celebrity to remain relevant.
  • Stretching things out to fill time.
  • Masquerading gentle humor as actual satire.
  • Unironically patting themselves on the back for all of the above.

Thanks to Dave for help with the links, and to reader Eric for e-mailing in the Macleans thing.

12
Oct
10

Compare & Contrast: Lisa Learns a Sport

Lisa the Greek6

“Let’s see . . . football . . . football, homoeroticism in, oddball Canadian rules, Phyllis George and.” – Lisa Simpson 

There are obviously a lot of ways “MoneyBART” fails miserably in comparison to “Homer at the Bat”, which it consciously aped.  But there is a different Season 3 masterpiece to which it is pathetic and terrible in comparison: “Lisa the Greek”.  In both episodes, Lisa needs to study a sport she doesn’t know about.  In “MoneyBART”, everything about this, from how much she knows at first, to how she goes about it, to what she reads for research is nonsensical, slow, and nearly joke free.  “Lisa the Greek” is the opposite. 

What is this “based-ball” of which you speak?

When Bart complains that Lisa knows nothing about baseball, she reads off a list of old managers she thinks were women.  This is one of those painfully bad jokes that doesn’t make any sense, is embarrassingly obvious, and still takes forever.  How the hell did she make that list without discovering that the names on it are men?  Is Lisa Homer-level clueless now?  After they come back from commercial, Zombie Lisa demonstrates further un-Lisa-like ignorance by saying that “free safety” and “point guard” are baseball positions.  Again, this is both way out of character for her (she isn’t one to confidently state something she isn’t sure of) and excruciatingly obvious and slow (it was so funny the first time they did it twice!).  The scene ends when she promises to do some research, except if she hadn’t already done research where the hell did she get that list of managers?  It shouldn’t be asking too much that the plot makes sense within a single scene. 

By contrast, in “Lisa the Greek” Lisa already knows the basics of football, telling Homer that Denver just fumbled and following the game without any needless, time sucking, out of character stupidity on her part. 

I need to learn about a sport, where do I go first?

In “MoneyBART”, Zombie Lisa needs to learn the basics of baseball.  Instead of going on-line where she would find everything she needs,  she goes to Moe’s.  Again, this is completely out of character as Lisa would know better than to think that her idiotic father and his drinking buddies are the best source of knowledge available.  This leads to some pointless banter and the discovery that Lisa is not the only nerd who has wandered into the bar.  With no prompting from her whatsoever, Frink and the nerds bombard her research material.  As commenter sVybDy pointed out:

She never even explained to them what she was doing there or why she was interested in baseball. Are they omniscient?

This is one of the classic hallmarks of crappy fictional writing: the characters know things they shouldn’t.  If I walked up to some guys with laptops talking baseball, I may strike up a conversation.  But they don’t know that I’m there to research baseball unless I tell them, which Zombie Lisa doesn’t do.  This isn’t even Fiction 101, this is Fiction for Dummies 101: your characters don’t know everything you know. 

To sum up, Lisa goes to a place she wouldn’t normally go because it shouldn’t have the information she wants, but it does have the information she wants because the writers are extremely sloppy and lazy.  In “Lisa the Greek”, Lisa goes to the library where the show makes a quick joke about libraries and librarians before cramming in a bunch of jokes about football at a rate Zombie Simpsons would consider wasteful. 

What books should I read?

While at the library in “Lisa the Greek”, Lisa reads off a list of football subjects from the card catalog.  It’s one of those extremely dense list of jokes that The Simpsons was always so good at.  Not a lot of people ever looked at a card catalog and thought they could use it to make people laugh. 

Baseball Books1 In “MoneyBART”, as in “Postcards from the Wedge” last year, the show has ample opportunities to make the kind of quick book jokes that “Lisa the Greek” did.  It doesn’t.  When Zombie Lisa is conversing with the surprisingly plot aware nerds, they start handing her books.  (Presumably they have an infinite supply under the table.)  Of the five books whose titles can be read, one of them is a joke, “Schrodinger’s Bat”.  It isn’t much of a joke, just another one of their bad puns, but I’m trying to be generous here. 

This rather lifeless trend continues later in the episode.  Here’s Zombie Lisa during one of the games she’s managing:

Baseball Books2

In that shot there are eight book titles that are fully visible.  The only joke is the same “Schrodinger’s Bat” from the first scene.  The rest of the fully visible titles are either real books (“Moneyball”, “Historical Baseball Abstract”), joke-less terms (“Stats”, “Just Physics”, “Equations”), or equations, only one of which is a real Futurama-esque math reference.  (You may also wish to note the blue book with the number “4” on the spine, it appears that someone forgot to color it in.)  Here’s yet another book shot, this one from the montage:

Baseball Books3

Here we have more joke free book titles, including those scintillating “Stats” and “Equations” books from earlier.  If you’re scoring at home, that means that in three different shots with a total of eighteen book titles, Zombie Simpsons came up with one pun. 

Lazy, poorly written, and nonsensical even within a single scene, Zombie Simpsons once again fails to stack up. 

11
Oct
10

I Can’t Think of a Baseball Metaphor for Poor Storytelling or Low Ratings

Chalkboard - MoneyBART

“Smithers, it’s almost game time, where the devil are my ringers?” – C.M. Burns
“Sir, Mike Scioscia might not live through the night.  Steve Sax is looking at six consecutive life sentences.  And Ozzie Smith seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth.” – Mr. Smithers

Shortly before the weak-and-lazy-even-by-their-standards introduction of throwaway voice Mike Scioscia, Zombie Simpsons demonstrated yet again just how apathetic they are towards anything that could be called storytelling.  Bart and Marge are riding on a rollercoaster, and Bart makes the completely offhand remark, “You know, Mom, after only seven hours in this amusement park I’m finally enjoying myself.”  I guess this is supposed to be a joke.  It is immediately followed by Lisa calling on Marge’s cell phone to demand Bart’s participation in the championship game.  Before even getting to humorless problems such as a) how did they get back to the stadium? b) why are they talking on the phone on a rollercoaster? c) does Mike Scioscia ride rollercoasters alone a lot? d) why is there a funnel cake thing there?, the scene has blasted its way out of the already thin story.  Baseball games don’t take seven hours, nor is there any need for Bart to say that they’ve been there that long.  This is an elementary script error, and the only reason it’s there is because they do not care in the least. 

Then, of course, there’s the Scioscia thing itself.  Without getting into it too deep right now, let me just say this.  “Homer at the Bat” is an essentially perfect piece of storytelling.  They introduce nine (9!) minor characters and give every single one of them a story arc.  Sports movies don’t treat their minor characters that well, even with an hour of extra screen time, The Simpsons did it in just twenty-two minutes.  It’s an amazing feat of writing and pacing even before you get to the fact that it’s hilarious.  In “MoneyBART”, Mike Scioscia shows up for no reason, dispenses advice, and then disappears, presumably to continue riding the rollercoaster alone.  The difference couldn’t be any greater. 

The numbers are in, and they are worse than ever.  Last night’s trip to baseball was yawned through by a mere 6.72 million people.  That is the second lowest number ever for the fall half of the schedule, and by far the lowest number ever for this early in the season (when ratings tend to be higher).  The demographics were down as well, off 29% from last week among the nuts and gum set. 

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: this show will not get cancelled until the ratings become so embarrassing that FOX fears damage to the Simpsons brand and the river of merchandising money it provides.  From that perspective, Season 22 could hardly be off to a better start.  These numbers are humiliatingly terrible. 

10
Oct
10

Sunday Preview: “MoneyBART”

 

You're getting too old for this, Scioscia.

 

I have three things to say about tonight’s episode, “MoneyBART”:

  1. The only Lisa + Bart + sports rivalry episode that should exist, ever, is “Lisa on Ice.”
  2. The only episode in which Mike Scioscia matters is “Homer at the Bat.”
  3. This is the third episode of Season 22 and the third in a row with a guest star.  Remember when guest voices were used sparingly?

That’s all.  If you’re still reading, here’s the description from Simpsons Channel:

A visit by a Springfield Elementary alum-turned-Ivy-League student pushes Lisa to question her own go-getter attitude and reevaluate the scope of her extracurricular activities. Convinced that there is no such thing as having too many clubs or activities listed on her resume, Lisa jumps at the opportunity to coach Bart’s little league team. Despite having little understanding of baseball, Lisa coaches the team to a record winning streak by putting her book smarts in statistics and probability into play. But when Bart questions Lisa’s coaching tactics and confronts her for taking the fun out of baseball, Lisa benches him from the championship game. Hoping to lift his spirits, Marge spends the day with Bart at an amusement park where MLB manager and former catcher Mike Scioscia gives Bart sound advice and reminds him of his genuine love of the sport. Meanwhile, with one last chance to win the game, Lisa makes an unexpected call and learns that there is more to sports than winning.




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