Posts Tagged ‘Simpsons Tall Tales

05
Nov
09

Thoughtful Gross Out Humor

One of the many great things about The Simpsons was its use of pretty much every form of comedy known to man.  Want intelligent and thoughtful political satire?  Check.  How about some really nasty sexual humor that slipped past the censors?  Oh yeah.  Completely insane (and often monstrous) ideas that nevertheless connect with you the ordinary person?  Indeed.  How about some gross out humor?  How about “yes”. 

The Simpsons was able to elevate to hitherto unknown levels ideas and images that in lesser hands would merely disgust.  There’s explicitly drawn nastiness like the filth encrusted hot dog Apu sells to Homer (“Homer and Apu”) and the twelve foot hoagie that redefined rancid and nauseating (“Selma’s Choice”).  But foul things can also be implied, like Krusty with the “urine” monkey (“I Love Lisa”) and Bart, to the shrieking horror of his classmates, reversing the video of the kittens being born (“Lisa’s Substitute”).  Stuff like this was going all the way back in Season 1, where Wendell vomits on the bus (“Homer’s Odyssey”) and Homer eats a mouthful of bees (“The Call of the Simpsons”).

Some of the above examples are in direct service to the story, others are just there because they’re funny.  But all of them are quick and nothing is drawn out longer than it needs to be.  Another spectacular instance of this can be seen below in images from Season 2’s “Old Money”:Geezer Pill Flirting

That is shudder worthy disgusting.  The whole reason pills come in those dissolvable capsules is because the stuff inside them in blatantly unpalatable.  (Of course, this particular scene isn’t only gross out humor, it also makes fun of old people for being rampantly pathetic.)  Anyone who’s ever swallowed a pill can relate to how nasty the contents can be and how damned hard it’d be to maintain a straight face while tasting that, much less trying to be flirty.  That is an excellent gross out gag. 

Compare that to two of the most notorious examples of failed gross out humor in Season 12.  On the left we have Homer’s surgically repaired knee from “Children of a Lesser Clod”, on the right is one of the hobo sponge baths from “Simpsons Tall Tales”:

Pointless Gross Out Stuff

These are examples of gross things that don’t have much humor in them other than just being gross.  In and of itself that wouldn’t be too terrible, but each one drags on to kill screen time like you wouldn’t believe.  The hobo bath isn’t only long, it also occurs twice.  Homer’s knee is first gawked at by Milhouse and Ralph and then scabs over Ralph’s hand for no real reason.  In each case there isn’t anything else going on.  There’s no subtext or insight, both are just random and have nothing to do with anything.  And, most damningly, they take a long time despite the fact that there’s no joke to either one. 

Like physical violence, gross out humor is a comedy form the show once handled with scalpel precision and now uses as a cudgel.  Sadly, and like physical violence, the decreasing precision has also been accompanied by an increase in usage. 

24
Oct
09

“Simpsons Tall Tales” Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Brother from the Same Planet2

“Ughhh, this goes on for twelve more minutes.” – Krusty the Klown

“Trilogy” or “storytelling” episodes like this one, where they have three independent segments, have always been maligned, even by people who think Zombie Simpsons doesn’t suck (check out the ratings, poll, and comments here if you don’t believe me).  I’ve always thought the reason for this is that there are no genuinely good trilogy-type episodes.  They didn’t do the first one until Season 10 (“Simpsons Bible Stories”) long after the show had begun transforming into Zombie Simpsons and so there’s no well of built up good will from which they can draw.

This is the second entry in the series and it’s no winner, although I think it’s noticeably less boring that most of the rest of Season 12.  Which is to say that it’s got a small handful of decent jokes as opposed to the one, two, or none that’s more typical of 12.  Of course, to get to those you need to wade through painfully unfunny stretches like the hobo making out with himself, the ineffective derringer fight, and the horrifying second segment (where they shoot all the buffalo).  The buffalo bit in particular reminds me of nothing so much as the fake SNL skit The Big Ear Family from “Brother from the Same Planet”.  There’s a single joke (buffalo die easily!) and then it goes on for four awkward minutes with nothing but exposition to accompany it.

Nine guys on this one.

1:25 – “That couch gag, that was one of my favorites, and I’d completely forgotten it and this was at a time when it was really hard to come up with those couch gags unlike in Season 20.”  General laughter.  For the record, the couch gag for this one has the family jumping on the couch in a subway station, the train pulls up and then leaves and the Simpsons are gone.  If that sounds familiar it’s because it’s almost identical to the couch gag from “Homer the Whopper”.

1:45 – Remembering that the Delaware thing was a call back to “Behind the Laughter” episode about how lame their ideas were.

2:15 – Talking about hobos as a way to avoid the episode.

4:00 – Talking about how now they’re on a “new” four act structure and that’s going to spell the end of these.  Gotta pay for that HD animation somehow.

4:30 – Long discussion of how great the animation looks.  I don’t think that’s ever been disputed, but who cares?

6:00 – Someone points out that the Paul Bunyan story doesn’t make sense, but then someone else reminds them that it’s okay because they have Lisa point that out.

8:00 – Very little going on right now.

8:45 – They can’t remember if they had to delete some stuff but the trilogy episodes always come in long.  Then someone else says “This segment already seems pretty long.”  They chuckle.

9:15 – More discussion of how they can’t show butt crack any more.

10:00 – Long silence on the hobo’s craziness as he talks to himself, then as the silence becomes embarrassingly long and the hobo is writhing on the ground, someone deadpans, “I’m surprised we never called this character back.”  Indeed.

12:00 – Once again not talking too much about what’s actually going on in the episode, instead discussing how the design is like a Halloween episode and how this got shown at somebody’s kid’s school.  Also, silences.

13:20 – Long silence as Homer freaks out.

14:00 – Long, long silence as the cannibalism ending plays out really slowly and then fades back to the Hobo’s list of apple stuff.

15:00 – More discussion of hobos in general.

15:35 – Discussing how great the outfits are.  Again with the outfits.

16:50 – Marveling at their ability to swap Nelson for a pig.  I realize that some of the guys commenting have done a lot of really funny stuff, both on the show prior to this and in other places, but on these commentaries all they ever seem to be is pleased with themselves for not being able to tell a coherent story or come up with decent jokes.

18:15 – Silence as things get strange again.

19:15 – More silence and uncomfortable non-laughter as Bart and Nelson are fired into the sky and then into the riverboat saloon.  It goes all the way through to when the guns get pulled and then someone compliments the animation and then more mostly silence for the ineffectual gun fight.

21:00 – Mostly silence as it gets weird again for the end.

17
Oct
09

Page to Screen

One of the consistently puzzling aspects of Zombie Simpsons, for me anyway, is trying to imagine how anyone, in a writers room, at a table read, really at any point in the creation of the show, could’ve found some of this stuff funny.  Was it really a laugh riot in the studio when they were discussing different things for Marge to spell out with the rhythmic gymnastics ribbon?  Did somebody mention old Rodney Dangerfield movies and everyone just started cutting up?  It’s pretty hard to picture. 

The examples above are from Season 21, but this interview with George Meyer (which is partially excepted in the Ortved book) sheds some light on a possibly similar situation from Season 12.  In discussing the Hobo from “Simpsons Tall Tales” Meyer says:

That one had my personal favorite internal gag that nobody outside of the show will ever see. At one point, the hobo is spinning a yarn, and Lisa interrupts with a story of her own. The hobo snaps, “Hey, who’s the hobo here?” And in the script, his dialogue note is “[ALL BUSINESS].” [Laughs] I love the idea that a hobo would be “all business.”

I laughed when I read that (it’s in the book).  The idea that a hobo would be “all business” is hilarious, but when you watch that the episode that gets lost.  The description is better than the actual scene. 

It’s clear from the quote that Meyer knows that those of us not in the room won’t see that.  But it’s also clear that the creation process was funnier than the finished product.   And while this is just one example, and it probably doesn’t apply to the overwhelming majority of Zombie Simpsons crapola, it’s illustrative of how things can get lost in translation. 

(The whole Meyer interview is a good read.) 




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