Posts Tagged ‘Mother Simpson


Over the Falls

Chalkboard - The Man In the Blue Flannel Pants

“Simpson, stop frolicking and get to work!” – Mr. Smithers
“Right away, Mr. Smithers, I’ll just walk across these slippery rocks . . .” – Homer Simpson

Near the end of “The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants” a man on a jet ski appears from the sky just before a raft with several able bodied men plunges over a waterfall because another able bodied man wouldn’t push them slightly to shore.  At that point, Zombie Simpsons could safely assume that its audience was completely numb to plot whiplash.  I certainly thought I was.  Then Homer, who less than a minute before had possessed the power to swim away from the falls while pushing a raft, fell back into the river and went over the falls by himself.  My whiplash came back. 

That was the end of the A-plot.  There was also briefly a B-plot, but Zombie Simpsons dropped it completely after only its third scene.  Maybe that was for the best, because it was bizarre enough already with Bart and the bullies (who are apparently bullies again) suddenly finding their love of Little Women, especially since the whole thing was a repeat of a much better joke from “Homer Loves Flanders”. 

On the plus side, John Slattery was there, and since he’s not quite famous enough to play himself they had him play a role virtually identical to the one he plays on Mad Men.  I thought he had a couple of decent lines, though there was an awful lot of crap around them (Lenny and Carl at the diner was a particular lowlight).  Of course, he’s a lot funnier on Mad Men than he was on Zombie Simpsons, but that’s hardly his fault. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are sinking to depths Madison Avenue wouldn’t even consider.  Just 5.61 million people reached for bourbon last night, that’s the lowest ever for the fall half of the season, the fifth lowest in the history of the show, and so bad that it’s brought the Season 23 average down to just 6.98 million.  Season 22’s average, the lowest in history, was 7.10.  If they stopped showing new episodes right now, Season 23 would already be the least watched ever, and the lowest rated part of the schedule is still to come.  I hope they have a good accounts man. 


Quote of the Day

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“Are you sure this is the woman you saw in the post office?” – Joe Friday
“Absolutely.  Who could forget such a monstrous visage?  She has the sloping brow and cranial bumpage of the career criminal.” – C.M. Burns
“Uh, sir, phrenology was dismissed as quackery a hundred-sixty years ago.” – Mr. Smithers
“Of course you’d say that, you have the brainpan of stage coach tilter.” – C.M. Burns

Happy birthday Richard Appel!


Quote of the Day

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“Excuse me, sir, I think there’s been a mistake.” – Marge Simpson
“Oh no, no mistake.  Your electricity’s in the name of Homer J. Simpson, deceased.  The juice stays off ’til you get a job or a generator . . . oh and, uh, my deepest sympathies.” – Sympathetic Utility Guy


Armin Tamzarian, Ken Keeler, and The Simpsons Horde

“This is so weird, it’s like something out of Dickens, or Melrose Place.” – Lisa Simpson

A little while back, Dave, Mad Jon, Bob Mackey and I chatted about that most infamous of Season 9 episodes, “The Principal and the Pauper”. Mackey had me stumped in several places because he, unlike the rest of us, had listened to the DVD commentary. The very short version of all that was that Ken Keeler, who wrote the episode and has since gone on to a long and gloriously funny career at Futurama, had defended it in ways Mackey more or less agreed with. I finally got around to listening to that commentary.

Keeler’s defense of his episode breaks down into two related parts. First, he thinks his point was missed. He was trying to satirize the audience of the show for being irrationally committed to what they already knew and too resistant to change. Second, he thinks fans take too much to heart in general, and that as a result they were overly harsh to an episode that had a lot going on besides its unorthodox plot.

Before we get to that though, it’s worth remembering that Keeler is one of the good guys and deserves a very big benefit of the doubt. In addition to being on The Simpsons for its last really good years, he wrote for The Critic, and he’s done a lot of Futurama. The man can write, and I enjoy a lot of his work.

It’s also worth pointing out that this commentary, unlike so many of a more recent vintage, doesn’t shy away from talking about the episode itself. Keeler is joined by Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley, and while the latter two are far less defensive, all three are willing to acknowledge that things don’t always turn out quite right.  (Steven Dean Moore is there too, but he mostly stays out of it.)  Many Zombie Simpsons commentaries are just a bunch of people hanging out with the television on in the background, this is actually substantive. From a fan point of view, having pertinent commentary, even if I don’t agree with it, is far more informative and entertaining. So, have we all been unjustly maligning “The Principal and the Pauper” all these years? Does either or both of Keeler’s defenses hold up?

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Ken Keeler surveys fans of “The Simpsons” in an undated photograph.

Point the First: The Audience Missed the Point – On the commentary track, Keeler himself acknowledges that his attempt to satirize the audience itself was harder to understand than it should’ve been because two speeches that explained what was happening ended up being cut for time. He dismisses this, and says that even without those we still should’ve been able to see what he was doing. I don’t know what was in those two cut speeches, but sending up the audience isn’t something I see in this episode. Even watching it after I heard the commentary and knew what to look for, it just isn’t something the episode does.

There’s nary a moment of self satire or recognition in “The Principal and the Pauper”. There isn’t even something akin to Lisa’s Dickens/“Melrose Place” meta-joke from “Mother Simpson”. Quite the opposite, not only does the episode not wink at itself, it treats its interminable retconning with relentless seriousness. To take only the biggest example, the nearly four minutes of flashbacks it uses to get from Skinner/Tamzarian’s infamous line “My real name is Armin Tamzarian” back to the present are light on the jokes and heavy on improbable plot twists. Even having seen it several times, it’s awfully hard to detect a whiff of self awareness among all that backstory offal, much less a meta-point about television audiences.

Further undermining Keeler’s defense is “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”, which they mention as having a similar concept in the commentary. (Though broadcast the season before, the two are actually part of the same production run.) At numerous times throughout the episode, from the focus group, to Roy, to the very end when Bart and Lisa change the channel, it’s crystal clear that the episode is at least somewhat aimed at the audience. There’s never any doubt that the show understands the terribleness of Poochie and is using it deliberately, not so for Tamzarian. Keeler is certainly right that his point was missed, but even knowing what he was going for I still don’t see it in the episode itself.

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“That’s not a funny story.” – Marge Simpson

Point the Second: Fans Take Fictional Characters Too Seriously – This one is a bit more complicated, because on some level it’s true. People get invested in characters, even animated ones, the same way they get invested in real people. Hell, that’s almost the point of well crafted fictional characters, to trigger that sense of human recognition deep within the brain even as the audience knows on a surface level that everyone is just pretending. When something, radical plot twists included, disturbs that rather pleasant illusion, it can make people cranky.

Keeler mentions numerous times that he didn’t realize how very attached to the characters the fans had become. He was surprised at how much emotion people had invested in Principal Skinner. Ultimately, he finds that level of attachment silly, and thinks part of the negative reaction was just people being unable to take a joke.

Now, I have no way of knowing what specific porly splled and/or ALL CAPS rants Keeler read on-line. (It’s also worth pointing out, yet again, that the internet is a much different place now than it was back in 1997. They mention this explicitly on the commentary.) But people’s feelings about Skinner have never been the big problem with this episode. Don’t get me wrong, the idea that Skinner has been an imposter all this time is certainly off putting and attracts a lot of derision, but the general inertia and resistance to change of the audience isn’t the main reason Skinner’s secret history fell flat.

The main problem is that the episode has so many convoluted and improbable plot twists that is has to spend an enormous amount of screen time explaining and justifying things. Remember, Skinner goes through two enormous changes here, not just one, and taking the audience through those step by step means that there’s very little room left for comedy. Just because “Fraudulent Skinner” has a higher degree of difficulty than “Krusty Retires” or “Flanders Snaps” doesn’t mean the concept is fatally flawed. But if you can’t do it without subsuming the episode in awkward tension and out of character flights of fancy, then maybe you shouldn’t have done it at all. The two cut speeches Keeler mentions got cut for a reason: there was hardly any time left once they got done lurching through all the exposition.

Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether or not the fans have been unduly harsh toward “The Principal and the Pauper” is, “Sort of, but not really”. Yes, a great deal of the vitriol hurled on-line was probably over the top and dumb. And yes, people get overly attached to what are ultimately figments of other people’s imaginations. However, if great swaths of your script are tedious exchanges of the “I’m your real son/touching Vietnam flashback/come back all is forgiven” variety, you may have bitten off more than anyone could chew in twenty-two minutes of television.

The Principal and the Pauper2

Now let us never speak of this again.


Quote of the Day

“Mom, there’s something you should know about me: I almost always spoil the moment.” – Homer Simpson

“I’m sorry.” – Homer Simpson

“That’s okay darling. It wasn’t your fault.” – Mona Simpson


Reading Digest: “Mother Simpson” Edition

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“You were a rotten wife and I’ll never, ever forgive you! . . . Can we have sex, please?” – Abe “Grandpa” Simpson
“Oh, Abe.” – Mona Simpson
“Well, I tried.  What’s for supper?” – Abe “Grandpa” Simpson

There’s even less rhyme and reason than usual to this week’s stochastic smorgasbord of Simpsons links.  But there are two unrelated links that mention “Mother Simpson” so that gets to be the title.  Other than those there’s some nervousness about pronunciation, some fun YouTube, a jerk who doesn’t like Zombie Simpsons but also seems to not like The Simpsons, someone who agrees with us, two links to people who found a little Simpsons joy in their days, and a bunch of usage. 


Author Mona Simpson reads from newest novel on campus – File this under interesting trivia:

Mona Simpson can boast of having a television show character named after her (Homer Simpson’s mother), courtesy of ex-husband Richard Appel, a writer for “The Simpsons.”  She is currently the Sadie Samuelson Levy Professor in Languages and Literature at Bard College.

Maybe everyone else already knew that, but I sure didn’t. 

Words pronounced incorrectly by me – One of the joys of text is that you don’t need to worry about stressed syllables and all that other bullshit.  Sadly, sometimes we must speak with people:

Do you ever find yourself reading aloud or speaking in public when, to your horror, you come across a word you don’t know how to pronounce? Especially one that you’ve read in your mind as a written word all the time, but you’ve never heard it spoken out loud?


I was doing fine with "oregano" until Marge Simpson pronounced it o-re-GAH-no. Now I’m always afraid that pronunciation will escape my lips before the proper one.

As for me, my parents never bought me that pony I was always asking for and so I never learned proper pronunciation. 

How to Use The Simpsons to Enhance your Lessons – A rather skeletal guide for teachers on how to use the show. 

How to Speak Like Homer Simpson! – This is a YouTube video of a slightly hyper youngster doing a Homer voice (amongst others).  His Homer’s pretty good. 

The Real Marge Simpson – It’s a real life Marge Simpson on the train.  (Also, nice WordPress theme.) 

The Will to Resist – This person lives in Los Angeles without a car.  Lisa’s struggle against the overwhelming pressure to eat meat springs to mind.  The actual quote is “I can’t fight it anymore!” but this still qualifies as decent usage for being very applicable. 

Marge Simpson is Britain’s favourite TV mother – It’s time for another cheap, holiday tie in.  At least Marge won. 

Let’s use the water we have – This is an article about the stupidity of modern water usage.  It begins:

On a camping and rafting expedition gone haywire, Homer Simpson, Flanders and Bart were stranded at sea with only one canteen of water.  Unfortunately, Homer used the water to wash his socks.  San Diego’s use of water is similarly inefficient.

Excellent reference.

Griffey Junior still swinging for the fences, but with more comedy – All these years later no one can escape the Simpsons vortex:

"[Shoot], I must have done 2,000 takes when I did my lines, I was so nervous," Griffey said of the classic episode from — gasp! — 18 years ago.

I think we can safely presume “shit” at the beginning there.  I’m pretty sure Griffey is the only player still playing from “Homer at the Bat”.  Hell, Mike Scioscia has been managing for a decade and Daryl Strawberry isn’t even in rehab anymore.  Speaking of Straw . . .

Strawberry takes a swing at ‘Apprentice’ – He’ll be on the latest season of Donald Trump’s ongoing vanity project.

MetroRail Good to Go – Austin, Texas gets light rail, and a YouTube of the monorail song to boot. 

Red Carded – This is about wineries giving warning cards, a la soccer, to rowdy tasters.  It concludes thusly:

My limited understanding of soccer is that one red card equal automatic expulsion.  I have already accumulated multiple red cards in both Sonoma and Napa counties.  I face ejection from my both my own and adjoining cities.  I’m reminded of Marge Simpson lamenting to Homer, “Oh Homer, we’re the worst family in the neighborhood.”  He brightly replies, “Maybe we should move to a larger community, dear.”

He’s got his Simpsons backwards there, it actually goes:

Homer: I’m sorry, Marge.  But sometimes I think we’re the worst family in town.

Marge: Maybe we should move to a larger community.

Still, that’s very applicable, relatively well remembered, and I’m a sucker for anyone who quotes Season 1 so I’ll call that good usage. 

Time Change This Weekend – Even by my standards this is tangential, but this guy did put up a picture of a Homer clock and tagged this post “the simpsons”, so it’s fair game.  Behold stupidity:

Honestly, I don’t understand why we “spring forward” so freakin’ early, now. I thought the whole idea was to have more sunlight when we’re doing things outside after work and school. Ok, it’s kinda nice now, but this is Michigan. I don’t know about you, but…I don’t get out in my yard much until it’s well north of 65. And I think I’d rather have the light in the morning when kids are walking to school. They still do that, don’t they? Hey, if the budget crunch gets any worse, they ALL will be. Well, anyway, remember to set your clock FORWARD on Saturday night. And if you have any idea how to work the clock in my truck, then come up here and set it for me. Otherwise, it’ll just be an hour off until we fall back.

I generally try to be subtle about the hundreds of radical right wing messages I insert into every post here, but the rant above is a disgrace that deserves to be called out.  (Granted I don’t know this guy’s politics, but I can tell my own kind, and he 1) works for a country music station, 2) refers to his car as a “truck”, and 3) complains about the budget.)  We move the clocks “so freakin’ early” now because America’s Most Underrated President, our dearly missed Glorious Leader, decided it should be so back in 2005.  Have you forgotten already?  He did this because he had the moral fortitude to trust his gut that it would save energy despite there being only mixed “evidence” in support of that contention.  Now get out of my office. 

…and now for something completely different! – Double your YouTube pleasure here, with a quick clip from “So It’s Come to This” and the argument sketch from Monty Python.  (A lot of the old Flying Circus stuff hasn’t aged well, but that one’s still hilarious.) 

Look Ma no Job, but at least I still got hands! – Life changes are always best accompanied by Kang quotes.  Excellent usage. 

“Its Over, Get a New Show” – Can I agree with part of what someone says and still think they’ve got their head up their ass in general?  Yes, yes I can. 

Josh’s Little Moment of Win – Proof that The Simpsons is still relevant despite what the asshat in the previous link thinks:

I was putting Simpson stamps on the envelopes of bills I was preparing to mail. When I finished, I noticed that I had put a stamp of Homer belching on the envelope for the gas company. IMMD

At least it wasn’t a reply envelope to a wedding invitation. 

Emanon – Another little moment of Simpsons related win:

I was searching for a new desktop picture on Google images and saw one thumbnail that said, "Click to embiggen". IMMD

The comments on this are good too. 

Me Simpsonized – Cool Simpsonized self portrait. 

Improvisation: The Theme from The SimpsonsClick here for a nine minute take on the theme song played on one of those big assed church organs.  I thought I’d just listen to a little of it, but I got hooked and listened to the whole thing.

The Story of “Mother Simpson” – This is about the driest recap of a Simpsons episode I’ve ever read.  It was sort of strangely fascinating though. 

Simpson eh? – Catching Larry King looking a lot like Mr. Burns.

Comics and Cartoons – Serious Business! – This is a long and well read discussion of, like the title says, comics and cartoons.  Happily it includes this:

But cartoons are more tricky aren’t they? It’s hard to come up with a cartoon aimed at adults, not about super-heroes and not totally puerile I can talk about in such hushed tones as Watchmen up there. The most successful examples are obviously The Simpsons and Family Guy but they were never meant to be taken seriously (besides, both have turned into hideous parodies of themselves these days).

“hideous parodies” indeed.


“Trilogy of Error” Makes Baby Jesus Cry

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“Hey Mom, look at me, look at what I can do!” – Homer Simpson
“I see you Homer, that’s very nice.” – Grandma Simpson

Season 12 was nothing if not a pageant of the trans-mundane and this episode fits right into its dull kaleidoscope.  In case you’ve forgotten, this is the episode where they tell three weird stories that are happening concurrently and link them together in various ways.  Listening to the commentary it’s very clear that the people behind the scenes were quite impressed with how well all the disparate little events tied together, and they’re right about that.  Stringing together all of this stuff into a twenty-two minute show, and having it mostly make sense (from a strictly could-this-all-have-happened-in-this-sequence point of view) is a triumph of skill.  What they ignore is that this is akin to bringing an intricately designed monster truck to a regatta.

I can appreciate the effort and skill that went into melding all these things together, but that’s not what The Simpsons is supposed to be about.  These kinds of gimmicks would make for arresting television if they were used in an episode of The Sopranos or Battlestar Galactica, or some other show where dramatic tension was useful.  Here they just waste your time.

Ten guys on this one, including Al Jean and Matt Groening.

1:30 – Talking about cribbing the plot structure from the movie Go.

2:30 – This could’ve been worse, the original Lisa plot had her getting on the short bus with a bunch of disabled kids whose disabilities were actually super powers.

4:00 – “It’s a pretty crazy first act, and you don’t know that there’s a huge, dramatic conceit to the show.  And the viewer must be like ‘Wow, this is a crazy stream of really nutty things happening at a really fast pace.  Is this a regular episode?’ I hope they’re saying, I’ll find out after the commercial.”  Let’s review this statement:

– “huge, dramatic conceit” – Taken individually none of these three words describe good Simpsons, combine them and it’s even worse.

– “crazy stream of really nutty things happening at a really fast pace” – They lost most of the audience at ‘crazy stream’, but ‘nutty things’ and ‘really fast pace’ don’t help.

– “find out after the commercial” – because if there’s one thing great Simpsons was known for, it was its cliffhangers.

4:35 – It gets worse.  They’re still discussing just how neat and peachy keen this plot structure is and then, “We went back and forth a lot on how much, at the beginning of each act, when you’re restarting the story, how many of the same jokes do you show again and again, they’re not going to be funny the second time, but they’ll say, ‘Hey viewer, loot at this, something’s up, you’re seeing this again!’”  I understand that it can’t have been easy to come up with a plot structure like this, at the same time, why would you do this?  This is the very definition of a gimmick.  Also, jokes on The Simpsons are funny the second time, and the third time, and the hundredth time, these can’t pass muster once.

5:45 – Still discussing how cool this plot is while more or less ignoring the fact that it’s mostly action and almost completely joke free.

6:50 – “It’s hard to make shows that are almost all plot funny.” I did not make that up.

7:30 – They’re really impressed with how gross the severed thumb looks.

7:45 – Robot head flies through sky: “This has to be surprising for the viewer at this point.” No, we’ve learned to just go limp through shit like this.

8:15 – These guys just laughed heartily at Marge yelling “Breakfast!”  I have no idea why.

10:00 – Patting themselves on the back, yet again, for how interconnected the plots are.

11:45 – Cross promotion with the kid from Malcolm in the Middle.

13:00 – Discussing the merits of Go versus Run, Lola Run, versus this.  Really, that’s all they seem to care about.

15:00 – Discussing how there aren’t any major continuity gaffs here and that “the internet” really loves this one.

16:30 – Devolving into silence as the Bart plot meanders around.

18:40 – Laughing at the stupidity of Bart’s wire.

20:30 – Long silence as whatever it is that’s the solution to this unfolds.

21:30 – Talking about how Mantegna is such a loyal voice over guy, he always wants to do the voice.  Sigh.  I wish Mantegna was here.

22:10 – They’re literally applauding themselves as the credits roll.  


Wednesday Evening Cartoons

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“Mother Simpson” is an excellent episode for any number of reasons, primarily because it is terribly funny.  But considering it in the context of the writhing horror show that is Zombie Simpsons there are two salient points:

  • The first is that it has an ending (pictured above).  Despite its many plot twists* there’s a reason Wiggum calls the Simpsons to warn them.  It doesn’t just happen apropos of nothing as so many Zombie Simpsons endings do.
  • Second, it doesn’t draw out its suspenseful/emotional moments.  When Bart and Lisa figure out that Grandma’s story is fishy there’s no montage of them spying on her in wacky ways.  When Homer and his mom share an “Awwww” type moment there’s no extended use of the string music of sadness.  When Burns & Co. find out who she is there isn’t a drawn out chase scene.

*They still had the good sense to make fun of themselves for all the drama with the Dickens/Melrose Place line.


Quote of the Day


“Damn you, Walt Whitman! I! Hate! You! Walt! Freaking! Whitman! ‘Leaves of Grass,’ my ass!” – Homer Simpson

(Happy 117th birthday, Walt.)


Quote of the Day

“You know Lisa, I feel like I have an instant rapport with you.” – Grandma Simpson
“Ahh, you didn’t dumb it down, you said ‘rapport’.” – Lisa Simpson


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