“See, Marge, I told you they could deep fry my shirt.” – Marge Simpson
“I didn’t say they couldn’t, I said you shouldn’t.” – Marge Simpson
By Connor Dunphy
Yo, it’s Dead Homer Society. You know how it is, you ain’t here if you don’t. Let’s get straight to it, because I got something to rant about.
Charlie and his accomplices have done a real fine job of utterly deconstructing Zombie Simpsons. And it deserves every single bit of it, because watching it is like seeing your beloved Grandma contract dementia and then proceed to start being really mean and horrible for no reason. Everything they’ve mentioned: the dialogue, the storylines, the characterization, lack thereof of all three, it’s all grade A, 100%, farmer’s dream bullshit. Today, though, I’m here to properly shed some light on something else. I’m gonna scoop some of that bullshit from a corner of the bottom of the barrel which I don’t think has been properly examined: the animation of Zombie Simpsons.
Ever since I started thinking about how this show has declined other than “eh it’s not as good, I guess”, since I read the very first word of this site’s manifesto, what’s pissed me off the most, got me to pause whatever platform I’m watching the show from, made me draw characters on my toilet paper to properly represent where their shenanigans can go, was the way the animation has gone.
Think back to all the classic Simpsons episodes that you know. You got your “You are Lisa Simpson”s, your “Do it for her”s, just all the amazing seasons you see people on Tumblr, Twitter, anything quote. They had amazing animation. Everything felt human. If I could refer to a specific example, it would be the scene where you can pinpoint the exact moment Ralph’s heart breaks in half.
You can sense, just from how this specific frame is drawn, what the characters are feeling. Lisa feels regret, sorrow, sadness of some kind, and Bart, in his amused indifference, is rubbing it in. You don’t need to watch the entire episode to sense that. You don’t need overwhelming [SOMBER TRUMPET NOISES] to know that they’re feeling that, because you know who the characters are, what their personalities are. If someone came up to me and said “hey dude, I never seen the Simpsons can you show me a quick sum up of the characters”, then I’d take pity on them for being denied a right as entitled to him/her as freedom of speech, and show them this picture. Everyone knows the barest thing about the Simpsons. Hell, I used to listen to this square-ass radio station where middle-aged people would get asked “who is the mischievous person in the Simpsons” and they’d just instantly say Bart.
You look at this picture, and you have the 0.003333333% of Simpsons knowledge that everyone who’s never watched it does, you know what’s going on. This is the beauty of old Simpsons animation, it fit the characters and the storyline. A truly great producer has their music fit the vocalist, whether it’s a rapper or a folk singer, they use the right sounds, samples and all of that to make sure that it all comes together. They may have created them, but the people behind the Simpsons managed to perfectly encapsulate the essence of the characters in every frame.
Sadly, this is the end of the good. The good that makes the bad just a little bit badder. Now we move onto my grievances. The Simpsons died in an unspecified date between 1997 – 1998, and it happened too slowly for us to properly evacuate the premises before being revealed to it’s rotting form, so we could only stiffen our bodies in shock as it began spewing acidic vomit piles such as “Saddlesore Galctica”, “The Principal and the Pauper”, and “Lisa the Skeptic”, just awful episode after awful episode as we stood in front of this now monstrous, decaying creature, our forearms eroding off of our bodies from the acid, nervously thinking “It’s only a little burn, it’s still good! It’s still good!”. Speaking of “Saddlesore Galactica”, I might as well use it as Exhibit A.
Does anyone care how this is drawn?
Zombie Simpsons animators: No!
I want you to look real closely at the above picture. If possible, line it up with the previous picture that I so affectionately praised. Remember the whole thing about being able to see what the characters are feeling, having some rudimentary look into their motivations? If you can honestly look at that picture, especially in comparison to the previous one, and see that, then I will personally come over to your house and let you make me watch Season 21, Clockwork Orange style.
Anyways, my point is that you can’t. You can’t see what the characters are feeling, you can’t have an idea of what the story is. Probably the only thing that I can say about this type of animation is that it’s consistent with everything else in the episode.
Just glance at everyone in the picture. Homer has the only actual expression, and even without context it’s a disgustingly-OOC face that spits on the personality built up for him in the past 7 seasons. Everyone else, from the formerly three dimensional main characters, to the background characters, all have blank looks like they just got lobotomized. Chief Wiggum is redundantly inserted into the scene, sans purpose. The three people beside him look like that puppet Krusty brought in to compete with Gabbo (you know, the one whose mouth fell off and terrified all in attendance). The three people in the foreground have no eyes. [Ed note: Eww.] All of them look like they’re in stasis, waiting to be used, to be actually in some semblance of a sensical story. They aren’t, of course, because this episode prioritizes edgy horses and here today, gone tomorrow jokes about Bill Clinton, but I digress.
It really baffles me how the animators, the writers, the network, could look at frames like this, where basically the minimum amount of effort has been put in, and think “Yes, this is as good as the previous episodes, let’s release it.”. What used to be relatable human beings became a bunch of zombies with thumbs stuck up their collective ass, existing only to provide the most masturbatory and dismissive of jokes.
Now, it’s all well and good to curbstomp “Saddlesore Galactica”, and I’d like to do it a bit more (maybe later, if you’re up for it), but that is not the extent of my problems with this style. Let’s take it 10 years forward. Zombie Simpsons has now achieved Lisa Trevor status, and is shuffling around the Earth, surviving all attacks against it whilst desperately calling out for a remnant of it’s past. Homer’s a high-pitched noise machine now used in Guantanamo Bay interrogation sessions, everybody says how they feel a lot, Bob’s your uncle.
By this time, the Simpsons had converted to HD animation. I wanna precede the following fancy version of saying “Fuck this show” by noting that the problem does not lie with the use of HD. Basically everything other than Zombie Simpsons has shown us that HD can be used to create beautiful works of art. It lies with the fact that the format was not only misused, but also had a hand in revealing just how homogenized the show had and has became.
You probably saw this in the most recent Compare and Contrast. This is an example of how crap the Simpsons has become. Sterile as the reconditioning dystopia led by Flanders, as awkward-looking as a guy wearing a fedora with a trollface T-shirt, I believe the layman’s term is “awful”.
As you can see from inside the car, the blank expression thing has returned, albeit evolved. Now, the only expressions a character can have when they’re not explicitly the focus of whatever half-baked storyline they’re putting out is either the aforementioned “Stare into the distance blankly, often with mouth slightly agape” or the brand-new “Stare into the distance blankly EXCEPT NOW YOU SMILE WOAAAAH”. Homer looks like he’s in a goddamned Mr. Men book, like he’s about to tell Mr. Greedy that he’s greedy. Because of that, all this is, sans context, is just Homer and some guy driving around with a bunch of weirdly-shaded gunpowder containers. This could be some one-off joke; it could be a pivotal point in the storyline; it could be it’s climax; shit, it could probably pass for those time-consuming couch gags. I wouldn’t put it past them.
Everything is technically sound, but what it misses is the actual substance behind it. A corporate executive who basically is the embodiment of everything Frank Zappa despises can perfectly replicate something, whether it be music, a book, a video game, anything, but it will always lack the appeal that brought it to their attention in the first place. The emotion, the meaning, the life behind it, they will never be able to replicate that. Simpsons gave us emotional, inspiring moments and the criticisms of a system we all hated, Zombie Simpsons gives us coldly-animated, poorly composed frames and a yellow hand holding a can of Axe body spray.
This show was once a living legend. If it had died in 1997, we would be celebrating it like Tupac. Now that it’s still alive, the entirety of it’s viewership is slowly beginning to sour on it like Jay-Z. All of this animation only contributes to the decline in quality of Zombie Simpsons, and it just starts to get sad. I’ve found there are two stages to this life that you, I, Charlie, and others live. First is the catharsis of criticizing this cascade of crud, then comes the disappointment you have in the show, the show you grew up on, the show that taught you about some parts of the world by making you laugh and making you feel. The show that you no longer have. Believe me, man, I wouldn’t be so expansive in my rage if I thought the Simpsons was okay.
That’s about it. I don’t have anything to plug, I’m just a young Scottish boy on the grind. Shoutout to Charlie for giving me the opportunity to write this. One love. [Ed Note: Aww.]
“Very well, Lisa, what rousing Sousa march would you have us play?” – Mr. Largo
“Well, I thought maybe for once we could play a song that wasn’t written by Sousa.” – Lisa Simpson
“You mean something just arranged by Sousa?” – Mr. Largo
Happy birthday Danny Elfman!
“Come on, get to the part where you steal his identity!” – Bart Simpson
“I’m trying to explain how emotionally fragile I was.” – Armin Tamzarian
“Oh, it’s one of those stories.” – Bart Simpson
The collapse between Season 9 and Season 11 seemed long and painful while it was happening, but looking back over the (now very long) history of the show, it was almost the blink of an eye. Case in point is the commentary for this episode, which is stunning for how closely it tracks later Zombie Simpsons commentaries yet is totally unlike those from just a few seasons before. They know that this episode is reviled by fans, but instead of opting for the Oakley-Weinstein-Keeler approach and taking the criticism in stride while attempting to explain what they were doing, they just sit there and endure it, offering nervous laughter, empty self deprecation, and “well, I like it” type statements all the way through.
Having listened to both commentaries, I can only think that it’s because while “The Principal and the Pauper” was really dumb and boring, it also had a great deal of thought put into it. Keeler and company state repeatedly that they had a lot of stuff that got cut for time, and Keeler clearly had some bigger ideas he was trying to get across. But “Saddlesore Galactica” is just dumb filler that happened to cross lines of audience tolerance that the writers weren’t even aware existed. Keeler was consciously challenging the audience and fell short; by contrast, they not only thought they were going to disappoint their audience and didn’t care, they couldn’t even correctly identify the audience’s main problem with it.
This episode isn’t any more watchable than “The Principal and the Pauper”, but that episode at least had enough thought put into it that the commentary could be interesting and relevant. This commentary is just the standard Zombie Simpsons evasions, half-hearted defenses, and general boredom.
Here’s another similarity with Zombie Simpsons commentaries, way too many guys. Eight, in this case: Tim Long, Tom Martin, Mike Scully, George Meyer, Matt Groening, Matt Selman, Ian Maxtone-Graham, and Lance Kramer.
1:00 – They’re giggling about the title, and this already feels far more like Season 13 or 14 than it does 8 or 9.
1:25 – Mentioning “fan reaction”, goes with “it seems to be divided” and Long goes on to joke that the third act was based on an experience of his. This is not getting off to a good start.
1:50 – That leads to them saying how funny they thought it was when they rewatched it for the commentary.
2:20 – Defending the Jockey Elves by saying it’s the kind of thing a lot of other shows do now. That is, uh, not an actual defense.
2:50 – Meyer breaks in and says that since the crazy twist happens so close to the end, “it’s kind of an odd place for it”. Indeed, it is.
3:00 – And Groening, the only other guy on here besides Meyer from the beginning, claims to have never seen this episode. I think both of them are a little ashamed of this.
3:50 – Scully (I think) comes on to note that he doesn’t know how many set pieces they’ve done at various fairs, amusement parks and the like.
4:15 – “Oh, here’s Bachmann Turner Overdrive, who we were thrilled to have on the show.” Remember everyone, their stated reason for releasing the DVDs so slowly is that the commentaries take a long time. Scintillating insight like that is why.
4:50 – Desultory compliments for Homer’s dancing after he yells at the band.
5:40 – Someone wonders how they picked “Living in America”, which causes Meyer to joke that it was Michael Dukakis’s campaign theme song so that it certainly has hip credentials.
6:30 – Not much by way of backstory for the diving horse. They did have a story and photo of a real diving mule, but that was it.
7:00 – Understatement of the entire commentary: “This little b-story about Lisa’s outrage over the other team cheating kind of gets lost amid jockey brouhaha.”
7:45 – As Duncan comes on screen, someone points out that there was a Disney movie about a diving horse, but they’d already used the title “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” for a different episode.
8:00 – Duncan struggling to get to the side of the pool gets a big laugh.
8:15 – Larry Kramer is on talking about how they took the time to learn how horse’s ankles work so that everyone would know how to properly animate the horse. That was nice of them, but a realistic looking horse isn’t exactly an asset to this episode.
9:00 – For the Comic Book Guy segment: “We thought the best thing to do was just cop to it.” “That’s one of the reasons the show has earned such enmity.” The lack of self awareness is pretty amazing.
10:00 – Nervous laughter during Homer’s pearl fantasy. Someone even calls it “disturbing”.
11:00 – More or less the same as we see Marge use her fire extinguisher for no reason.
11:30 – Long silence until Moe’s heart finally starts pounding out of his chest.
12:00 – Meyer informs us that they do actually ride clockwise in Europe. I’m glad he’s here.
12:25 – The race track announcer is a real race track announcer.
13:00 – Generic compliments for the race track announcer guy.
13:45 – Nice backhanded compliment from Groening there as he compliments the emotion of the episode and says he’s looking forward to where this goes. Nervous laughter all around.
14:00 – Meandering small talk as Duncan shows up with his nose ring.
15:00 – Monocle joke doesn’t get much of a laugh.
15:40 – Comic Book Guy’s second appearance just gets noted as one of an unusual number of callbacks in this episode.
16:00 – As Duncan crashes the other horses, Scully (again, I think) says “Watching it last night I couldn’t help but notice the flagrant rule violations”, which gets a bigger laugh than anything in a while.
16:45 – Tom Martin apparently went to high school with the trumpet player from Cake, but they didn’t use the original song for the montage and then apparently they went back and redid it with the real song instead of a sound alike. That discussion takes us to the jockey elves.
17:05 – Someone calls it the emotional heart of the season.
17:20 – After some tepid defense and nervous laughter, they blame it on Donick Cary before half-assedly saying, “I’m really proud of this, I think it turned out really funny”.
17:50 – Nervous laughter and silence as the elf song goes on. The contrast with the commentary from “The Principal and the Pauper” is stark as hell.
18:05 – “Oh, there’s the Bart elf” gets a round of relieved laughter.
18:55 – “I think Homer’s fear of having his brain eaten by jockeys is . . . solid.” They aren’t even trying to defend this. Every once and a while they just say that it’s great or make slight fun of themselves. They know.
19:20 – “Boy, you guys really had to draw a lot of racing scenes.” This is what passes for commentary by Season 11.
20:00 – The announcer speculating about the “terrifying planet of the horses” gets a legitimate laugh.
20:20 – As the jockeys light the cannon: “They’re not really making any effort to be furtive anymore.” Lotta that going around.
20:50 – Apparently Homer’s pre-flight line about a “moral sewer” was the thing Steve Allen said about the show. That prompts a kinda sad, “Is that true?” from Groening (who has been pretty quiet even by his standards). He then says that Ray Bradbury knocked the show as well. This relieves them of having to talk about the chase scene.
21:55 – The credits roll as they apologize to Clinton by saying that they had no idea what was coming. Of course, Bush the Younger never really got touched by Zombie Simpsons, but commentaries are safer places to express opinions.
22:20 – Groening thinks the jockey thing was great. I honestly can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic, but there’s not enough time left to tell if he was or not.
“Homer, just where were you planning to keep this horse?” – Marge Simpson
“I’ve got it all figured out. By day it’ll roam free around the neighborhood, and at night it’ll nestle snugly between the cars in our garage.” – Homer Simpson
“Dad, no!” – Lisa Simpson
“That’s illegal!” – Marge Simpson
“That’s for the courts to decide.” – Homer Simpson
As is typical in Season 11, the first act of “Saddlesore Galactica” has basically nothing to do with the rest of the episode. The twist here is that as the show makes the turn to its main story, the writers have Comic Book Guy show up in a childishly passive aggressive prebuttal to their critics and fans:
Marge: Should the Simpsons get a horse?
Comic Book Guy: Excuse me, but I believe this family already had a horse, and the expense forced Homer to work at the Kwik-E-Mart, with hilarious consequences.
Homer: Anybody care what this guy thinks?
This scene is funny on two levels, though I strongly suspect that the second was unintentional. It’s funny on the surface because, let’s face it, if there is one thing on which the entertainment industry and the public at large agree, it is that the geeks are best ignored. Below that, however, it’s also funny because it demonstrates how narrow minded and out of touch the writers had become by Season 11.
This, after all, is the Jockey Elves episode, one of the most iconic moments in the fall of the show, something that has spawned an uncountable number of disappointed and angry conversations on-line and off. By comparison, the repeat of the horse gimmick barely rates a mention. In other words, the show had become so untethered from what made it great in the first place that the people making it couldn’t even correctly identify the worst failing of their own self-admittedly shoddy work. For a show that once operated with precision and ease at the beating heart of American culture, that misguided defense bespeaks a terrible fall.
Does anyone care what this show thinks?
But since it was a repeat, and since there isn’t much more that can be said about the magical elves, let’s set aside the underground kingdom and take a look at what made one of these horse plots a disaster while the other is a beloved classic. For starters, “Saddlesore Galactica” suffers from a slew of typical Zombie Simpsons problems: it makes no sense, it relies on Homer concocting multiple zany schemes, and Bart and the rest of the family act as Homer’s enthusiastic accomplices instead of even remotely like real people. More fundamentally, however, is the way that “Lisa’s Pony” is about the Simpsons, while “Saddlesore Galactica” is just a bunch of stuff that happens to involve a horse.
In “Lisa’s Pony”, the horse comes into the Simpsons’ lives because Homer has once again failed rather miserably as a father. He inadvertently humiliated Lisa in front of her entire school, and then compounds his error by thinking he can make it up with half assed gestures like ice cream and tea parties. For her part, Lisa cracks after being let down by Homer one too many times. Worse than hating him, she gives up on him, which is why she endures all of his pathetic attempts to please him with the resigned affectation of someone who just wants the other person to go away.
“I forgive you.” – “D’oh! You didn’t mean that.” – “No. I didn’t.”
The scenes between apologetic Homer and apathetic Lisa are another example of just how thoroughly well constructed The Simpsons was. Lisa is treating Homer with the same contemptuous dismissal that she’s always felt from him, which is both funny to watch and perfectly in character for both of them. When Homer hocks himself further to Mr. Burns to buy her the pony that has always been her fondest desire (all the way back to “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”), his moon shot present so astounds Lisa that her earlier humiliation is instantly forgotten.
Again, both his actions and her reaction are exactly what you’d expect. For Homer, Princess is a last gasp shot at saving his relationship with his daughter when he feels he has no other options left. For Lisa, it’s the ultimate display of affection that every naive eight-year-old (more on this in a second) wants from their parents. By contrast, in “Saddlesore Galactica”, the Simpsons get a horse because they happened to walk by when it needed a new owner.
More than any other single factor, that’s the difference between Princess and Duncan. She’s a complex and meaningful part of the lives of characters that we the audience care about. He’s a prop that has about as much meaning as a pair of oversized glasses or a bottle of seltzer water.
Since Duncan has no substance and no story, the only thing the episode can do with him is treat him like the novelty item he is. They run him through a few goofy scenarios, give him a nose ring (which I’m sure he loved), and try to make him into some kind of bad boy horse in a hapless attempt to get a few shock laughs.
That same core emptiness is why Bart has basically nothing to do in this episode despite ostensibly being the Simpson closest to the horse. He rides Duncan, and he goes along with Homer’s idiotic plan, but Bart has no real story here. He doesn’t care about horses per se, he just feels bad for Duncan, adopts him, and then rides him. It’s about as interesting as a kid riding one of those mechanical penny horses at the supermarket. It’s so hollow that I could’ve easily done this post with “Bart Gets An Elephant” instead.
Compare that sterile, going-through-the-motions non-story to what happens to Lisa in “Lisa’s Pony”. There, after getting what she always wanted, Lisa finds out how childish it is to prioritize her wildest dreams over everything else when the full implications of what her pony is doing to her father become clear.
“All the years I’ve lobbied to be treated like an adult have blown up in my face.”
The above scene sets up not only Lisa’s tearful goodbye to her pony, but also her true reconciliation with her father. It’s a great ending because not only do we get to see Lisa grow up a bit, but we also see her get the one thing that really is more important to her than a pony: the knowledge that her father loves her and cares about her above even himself. He’s a forgetful, selfish buffoon, but at his core, Homer loves Lisa, and after seeing what he’s willing to put himself through for her, she knows it.
Princess comes into and out of the Simpsons life in accordance with what’s going on with the family. Duncan ends his episode checking out horse photos with Homer and Bart before Bill Clinton walks into the living room.
“Okay, we’ll do a different song. Who cares? They all end up sounding the same anyway.” – Mr. Largo
For the fourth summer in a row, we here at the Dead Homer Society will be spending some time discussing twelve year old Simpsons episodes. This year we’re doing Season 11. Why Season 11? Because we’ve done Seasons 8, 9 and 10 already, and it’s time to take an unflinching look at the end of the show. Since Skype and podcasts didn’t exist in 1999, and we want to discuss these episodes the way the internet intended, we’re sticking with the UTF-8 world of chat rooms and instant messaging. This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “hemorrhagic”).
Today’s episode is 1113, “Saddlesore Galactica”. Tomorrow will be 1114, “Alone Again Natura-Diddily”.
[Note: Dave couldn’t make it again this week. I’m beginning to think this “job” of his is just an excuse not to watch Season 11.]
Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to begin?
Mad Jon: I am
Charlie Sweatpants: Very sore.
The best part of this episode is the beginning, and even then it’s all things that have been done better in earlier episodes.
Mad Jon: Agreed. This is a straight downhill episode. Shaun White would love it.
Charlie Sweatpants: That’s Winter Olympics, man.
Mad Jon: Yeah I know, but I don’t know any summer athletes who would enjoy a downhill…
That being said, Homer started at the bottom.
Charlie Sweatpants: Even the best parts at the beginning are retreads. Largo only wanting to play the same old standbys, the Simpsons at a fair, Homer making 1970s rock references. They were all things that had been done by the show not that long before.
Mad Jon: The Vietnam vet crap was a prelude to a Jerkass-ness that just, wouldn’t, stop.
Charlie Sweatpants: Case in point, the OmniGogs, which are one of the better jokes in the episode, feel like leftovers from "Twisted World of Marge Simpson".
Mad Jon: Agreed again, that would have been a great franchise in that episode.
Charlie Sweatpants: The Jerkass levels here are head splitting, almost literally when Homer imagines himself eating pearls.
Mad Jon: This man deep fries his shirt within minutes of the beginning.
Charlie Sweatpants: And screams at the band, which naturally makes them do whatever he says.
Mad Jon: Of course.
Charlie Sweatpants: And that’s before things really get going once they get the horse.
Homer’s various money making schemes are all dumb, then it gets ratcheted up even higher with them racing against professional jockeys, and then it gets even worse with the jockey elves, and then it gets even worst with the jockey elves firing a cannon and chasing Homer through the fucking streets.
Mad Jon: Disclaimer that I should have probably given before we started:
Once they went to Jockyland, I quit.
Charlie Sweatpants: Really?
Mad Jon: I left the episode on in the background, so that I wouldn’t be lost, but I left to clean the kitchen.
I just can’t stand that part.
I just can’t stand it.
It is so awful.
Charlie Sweatpants: So you didn’t get to experience the hemorrhagic joys of the chase scene and the super soaker ending?
Mad Jon: I remember that part, but the only note I have after the suicide note I wrote when Homer went into the jockey locker room is a question about how any sanctioning body would allow a 10-year-old to compete professionally.
Oh, and something about Clinton being the worst.
This episode could have fit in 5 or 6 seasons later.
Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed.
Mad Jon: I think my heart rate is up 20 bpm right now just thinking about the end.
And I watched it several days ago.
Charlie Sweatpants: It keeps asking us to overlook more and more inane crap, and then it ends.
There’s no payoff for all that crap, you get the feeling that if it’d gone on another five minutes the jockeys would’ve become zombies and then Homer would need to visit a wizard to stop them. It was on a very sharp upward curve.
It just ran out of time.
Mad Jon: Good call. I shudder to think about where this could have been if they let it go a littler longer.
I wonder if they would have ran out of horse related Jerkass-ness with Homer…
Charlie Sweatpants: Well, the horses all seemed to be sentient as well, so why not have them start talking?
Mad Jon: That was probably the last part to miss the cut.
Charlie Sweatpants: "Duncan" in this episode is basically like Air Bud, only without any of the intelligence.
Mad Jon: At least a golden retriever is cute. This thing had a nose ring.
Charlie Sweatpants: Like I said, things kept getting zanier and zanier.
At first he was just racing fast, then he started beating other horses, then they stopped even running after him.
Mad Jon: But then they did, and there was a fight where Duncan stole their whips and hit them, or something.
Charlie Sweatpants: Always gets worse. There is a kind of geometric perfection to it, albeit one that is increasingly boring to watch.
This is an episode where, very late into it, you’re not even sure how it’s going to end, you just want it to end as quickly as possible.
Mad Jon: I feel like I am at a movie I didn’t want to go to anyway, and I am super drunk so I just keep telling myself it’s almost over and someone will take me home.
Charlie Sweatpants: It is an unpleasant feeling.
Mad Jon: That being said there are a couple of good lines. Not as many as even a poor episode would have, but there are a few.
Charlie Sweatpants: I do like the one jockey asking the other if he’d like to race clockwise.
Mad Jon: I particularly like the rich guy who has broken his third monocle this week.
Also the jockey who wants to race clockwise, agreed.
Charlie Sweatpants: The rich guy is good. I also like Largo’s "fuck it" statement when he storms off saying they all sound the same anyway.
It’s a pity the episode didn’t follow that up and actually have the school band sound like, you know, a school band instead of professional musicians during the competition.
Mad Jon: I am particular to Wiggum’s "I just want the horse to have a good home or be food" as well. Mainly because of how lazily he delivers it.
Charlie Sweatpants: Wiggum is great in that scene. His "I’d rather let a thousand guilty men go free than chase after them" is classic him.
Unfortunately, all of these lines are just speed bumps on ever increasing suck pit that is this episode.
Mad Jon: Yeah, the good lines aren’t even an apology. This is an episode that twice breaks the 3 1/2 wall.
Charlie Sweatpants: I actually like the second time he shows up.
Mad Jon: Meh.
Charlie Sweatpants: When Lisa thinks Marge is getting a gambling problem, and he says "I’m watching you". I dunno. I’ve always liked that.
Mad Jon: I hate the whole "We know we’re out of ideas, so we beat you to pointing it out" crap.
Charlie Sweatpants: I do too. The first time he shows up is very revealing.
It’s kinda funny, but it’s also clearly lost its bite. They made that joke, with Comic Book Guy himself, the first time in "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie". It kinda worked in Season 8, when things were still strong. But by Season 11, there weren’t too many people left who were still saying it’s as good as it’s ever been.
They’re hiding behind Comic Book Guy, and in doing so are also showing just how out of ideas they really are.
Mad Jon: Yep.
Can’t really describe that any better.
Charlie Sweatpants: And don’t forget the Jerkass Homer, which also kept getting worse.
Ready to bury Maude Flanders?
Mad Jon: I am.
“Well, uh, I wish the candy machine wasn’t so picky about taking beat up dollar bills . . . because a lot of workers really like candy.” – Homer Simpson
“We understand, Homer. After all, we are from the land of chocolate.” – Horst
“Mmm, the Land of Chocolate.” – Homer Simpson
There’s little doubt that “The Principal and the Pauper” is the most infamous episode in the history of the show, in no small part because it was one of the first episodes that was basically 100% boring. Prior to Armin Tamzarian blazing his way into the history of the decline and fall of The Simpsons, even episodes that hadn’t been up to the show’s all but impossibly lofty standards still contained plenty of excellent material. “The Principal and the Pauper” was so demented, however, that everything that might have resembled humor got squeezed out in favor of trying to make that painfully ditzy plot move along. “Saddlesore Galactica”, coming two and a half worsening seasons later, had many more bad episodes to hide amongst than “The Principal and the Pauper”, but manages to make a strong case for second place on the infamy list by doing essentially the same thing: having a main premise that is elementally, painfully and incomprehensibly bad.
At it’s most basic, having horse jockeys be subterranean elves is a decently Simpson-y idea. Jockeys really are small, sometimes frightfully skinny people, and if one dressed as an elf for Halloween he’d be a shoe in for best costume at most parties. Taking that stereotypical and mildly offensive similarity and making it funny is exactly the kind of thing The Simpsons did.
The difference is that when The Simpsons put up impossible flights of fancy, it kept them fantastical and it kept them short. When Snowball II and Santa’s Little Helper are watching the news late at night in “Bart’s Comet” and feign sleep as Bart walks by, it’s something that you know isn’t serious. When Homer flings himself out of the power plant and crashes the car while singing the Flintstones’ theme in “Marge vs. the Monorail”, it doesn’t affect the story, it’s just a funny way to open the episode. When they show Vishnu working switches at the center of the Earth in “Bart vs. Australia”, it doesn’t change any other scene, it’s just a background gag to keep things lighthearted. As a concept, “all jockeys are really elves” fits in well with those.
But instead of being tucked safely into a real story like it should’ve been, the jockey elves were put on center stage and left out to dry. This is the crucial failing of this episode, the one bad rivet that sends the whole bridge crashing down the ravine. It’s so unexpected and plainly stupid that, like Skinner being an imposter and then everything going back to normal, you have to wonder how anyone, let alone professional comedy writers, could ever have thought it was a good idea.
To illustrate just how bad this is, consider what “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” would’ve been like if, instead of being efficient German technocrats, Hans, Fritz, and Horst had actually been candy gremlins from the land of chocolate who chased after Homer through the streets of Springfield. You could leave every other joke, even the entirety of the brilliant first act, in place, and that plot twist – real life candy gremlins chase Homer through the streets – would’ve spoiled the whole thing.
The Land of Chocolate works between Homer’s ears, less so on Evergreen Terrace.
The same can be said for what “Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes?” would be like if it’d had a Tamzarian twist where the Herb who came back was the real Homer in disguise. Similarly, Guy Incognito was funny as hell, but he also wasn’t Homer’s long lost brother. The guy who was tired of people making fun of his giant hand didn’t use it to strangle anyone, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
That the show felt that it was both necessary and okay to rest entire episodes on overly absurd ideas was still surprising in Season 11, which is why the phrase “jockey elves” sends shivers up the spines of so many Simpsons fans. By Season 12, it was basically routine. So episodes like “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes”, “The Great Money Caper”, and “New Kids on the Blecch”, which have endings that are just as insane and magical as the jockey elves, don’t register as much. Since then it’s been pretty much the same, up to and including Season 23, where a super powered Lady Gaga, an immortal talking bar rag, and swarms of magic robots (twice!) are just par for the course.
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