Posts Tagged ‘The Fight Before Christmas

09
Dec
10

Crazy Noises: The Fight Before Christmas

The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase2

“I’m Lisa, peppy, blonde and stunning, sophomore prom queen five years running!” – “Lisa”

In our ongoing mission to bring you only the shallowest and laziest analysis of Zombie Simpsons, we’re keeping up our Crazy Noises series for Season 22.  Since a podcast is so 2004, and video would require a flag, a fern and some folding chairs from the garage, we’ve elected to use the technology that brought the word “emoticon” to the masses: the chatroom.  Star Trek image macros are strictly forbidden, unless you have a really good reason why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on  “electrocution”).

One upon a time, back in the before time, in the long long ago, there was an episode called “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase”. Instead of telling one long story, it opened on Troy McClure and imagined three short stories of what the Simpsons characters would be like in different television contexts. There was a raunchy sitcom, a cheesy cop show, and a ye olde tyme variety show. In a nod to how ridiculous all of this was, and the fact that the staff thought the show would be done in a year or two,* they concluded with a bunch of truly horrifying ideas for future episodes.

The premise of the variety show segment was that the Simpsons were an Osmond like family of entertainers. Their show was filled with send ups of the religious friendly treacle of the original, and given that the “real” Lisa would find it vapid to the point of offensiveness, she was unceremoniously replaced with the evilly Hollywood line, “Unfortunately, one family member didn’t want that chance and refused to participate.” If you want to make fun of the penchant of the entertainment industry, even the “family friendly” parts, for throwing attractive young women in front of the camera for no reason other than their looks – without doing the same thing yourself – that was a good way to do it.

*They were right about that, but not in the way they thought.

Mad Jon: So, you guys want to get down to it?

Charlie Sweatpants: I’ve got my Katy Perry records blasting, I am ready to go.

Mad Jon: You are a trooper.

Dave: Let’s do this.

Charlie Sweatpants: Okay, I think my feelings on this are clear already, but for the sake of completeness, this or the Kesha opening, which is worse?

Mad Jon: I am not sure anything that can be conceived of by man could be worse than the Kesha opening.

Dave: I’m more down on Kesha, but it’s not like this was a dance around the maypole.

So that’s Kesha 2, Katy 1

Charlie Sweatpants: Wow, I’m surprised by that.

The Kesha opening was at least brief, this just kept going and going.

Mad Jon: Perhaps I missed the opening.

Charlie Sweatpants: Sorry, I just realized I was unclear.

Mad Jon: what happened in what you call the opening?

Dave: I think Charlie was comparing the Kesha opening to the Katy Perry bit.

Charlie Sweatpants:   Yes.

I meant to ask, the Katy Perry segment or the Kesha opening, which is worse?

Mad Jon: Oh…. Well, that makes a mountain more sense. Now you are asking me if I would rather die by drowning or electrocution. One is faster than the other, but either way the coroner is going to find shit in my pants.

  Still, in all seriousness, I hate the Kesha opening more.

Charlie Sweatpants: So the score is still 2-1? Well then, I’m still surprised.

  Say what you will about the tenants of giving your opening up to a warmed over pop song, but at least it wasn’t part of the episode.

Mad Jon: The Kesha opening was a flat out commercial. The Katy Perry bit was a cry for ratings. "Quick! Someone put some boobs on so we can top 5.1!"

Charlie Sweatpants: The writers actually worked on the Katy Perry segment.

Mad Jon: Although having read what I just typed, I guess they were both just cries or ratings.

Dave: I don’t know how the opening can’t be construed as part of the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed, Jon.

  But still.

Dave: Regardless, they suck for different reasons

Doesn’t change the fact that they both suck

Mad Jon: Does not indeed.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, they’re both transparent attempts to stay relevant by gettin’ with that music the kids seem to like these days. Either way Zombie Simpsons is the divorced dad with the earring and leather jacket.

Okay, let’s get off the puppet part.

Mad Jon: Ok then

Charlie Sweatpants: I think I had a small embolism when Lisa’s segment switched to an Inglourious Basterds part for no reason.

Mad Jon: That wasn’t even out of left field, that was out of a field in some dimension that cannot be described within the theory of general relativity.

Dave: And in classic ZS form, it just petered out.

Mad Jon: It really did, didn’t it?

Charlie Sweatpants: Exactly, it was there, then it wasn’t.

Mad Jon: But it was like two different stories, one that didn’t lead to the other, and then it was ok to have a Christmas tree again.

Charlie Sweatpants: Does the Tarantino part even count as a story?

Mad Jon: I think they snuck in a fifth act, Its only a matter of time before there is another set of commercials.

Charlie Sweatpants: Let’s say you hadn’t seen Basterds, would you have any idea what the hell was going on there?

Mad Jon: Not for a second.

Dave: No, you wouldn’t. They didn’t even attempt to make it humorous.

Mad Jon: I would probably make sure my future kids never saw Dumbo.

Charlie Sweatpants: Right, it was just segments from the end that had no back story at all.

  The thing with the elephant was particularly strange.

Mad Jon: And didn’t really follow the part it was parodying anyway.

Perhaps the elephant was the guy who kept hitting on Shosanna.

  And then get’s killed by and kills her.

Charlie Sweatpants: I think he was, but how would anyone know that?

Mad Jon: Well, nobody who saw it, and probably only half the people who did would understand that I guess.

  Funny story, I first saw that movie on a flight to Germany.

Charlie Sweatpants: I saw "Treehouse of Horror V" long before I saw "The Shining", I saw "Radio Bart" long before I saw "Ace in the Hole", and there are lots of old things they allude to that I haven’t seen and I can still follow them and get the jokes.

Mad Jon: Good point.

I actually haven’t seen "Ace in the Hole". And now that I know an excellent episode of Simpsons parodied it, I don’t need to.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s not a bad flick, though you’ve got to be in the mood for an old movie. But that doesn’t change the basic criticism here, which is that once again they think a pop culture reference is the same as using an existing story to tell their own and crack jokes along the way.

Mad Jon: Fair enough.

  It was a shit act.

Charlie Sweatpants: So, so many times, Zombie Simpsons just puts up something that is indistinguishable from the original save the yellow skin and overbites, and think they’re being clever.

Which isn’t a bad description of the Martha Stewart segment.

Mad Jon: Indeed it isn’t.

I had stopped taking notes by then.

Charlie Sweatpants: Ohh, she can make anything into a home decoration.

  Next?

  Next?

  Next?

  Oh, that’s all you’re going to do?

Mad Jon: Also there was chloroform.

Charlie Sweatpants: Though to what purpose remains unclear.

Dave: Can we make Martha more smug and condescending? Yep. Again! Yep.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I was just thinking to myself that I the details of the bottle and rag part escape me. Perhaps that is because there were no details.

Charlie Sweatpants: It was supposed to be a dream, but taking that seriously would mean we have to take the whole wraparound story seriously, which would be more than they did.

Also, Leonardo DiCaprio told me I need to have details in my dreams.

Mad Jon: He is a smart and handsome man, you should probably listen to him.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, I guess we’ve got one left. Bart as corporate climbing elf, anyone?

Mad Jon: You know, I think you mentioned this in posts earlier, but I wasn’t as down on this act as I am about pretty much everything Zombie Simpsons.

There were problems, oh yes. But I actually laughed when Bart killed the snowmen patrol and we got that brief glimpse at the picture of the children in his wallet. Just ever so brief, no need to elaborate. Jokes can tell themselves, you don’t have to explain everything to me.

Dave: Of the segments in this trainwreck, the first was the most tolerable.

Mad Jon: Most tolerable is excellent phrasing.

The small allusion to Bart climbing the corporate ladder alluded to the type of realistic depression this show used to do well.

Charlie Sweatpants: Agreed. It had so many things it didn’t need to, and it ruined several of its most promising jokes, but it actually had jokes that can be described as "promising".

Mad Jon: I think I just used multiple variants of allude in the same sentence.

Charlie Sweatpants: The whole idea that Bart would be an excellent corporate climber because he makes things worse for his fellows is entertaining.

Mad Jon: Agreed.

Charlie Sweatpants: I will say that I’m still kinda mad at the reindeer stew joke.

We could see the antlers in the pot, and Krusty spooned out a red nose, that was enough! There didn’t need to be an explanation!

Mad Jon: That was pretty creepy and excessive. Also, why did Krusty/Santa need to be rich?

Dave: Going too far is what ZS does best, often with unappealing results.

Charlie Sweatpants: I dunno, I liked that things were really okay for Santa, that he was secretly deceiving Bart worked in concert with the horrible things Bart saw and did on the lower levels.

Mad Jon: Hmm, I guess I can see that.

I was clouded by my rash decision that it was done so they could have hip hop music and dancing Santa girls for 20 seconds.

Dave: That wouldn’t be entirely incorrect.

Charlie Sweatpants: Fair point, but by the time wasting standards of Zombie Simpsons it was mild.

Mad Jon: That is a fair statement.

Charlie Sweatpants: Any final points?

Mad Jon: I guess what really aggravates me about this episode is that I never really felt like the story began. They didn’t even try to setup the various dreams, and only when I REALLY think about it can I connect the whole story.

Marge = mad, Homer = lazy, Bart starts dream.

  That’s what happened.

Charlie Sweatpants: Like, if they were going to give it a whole story, they should’ve actually put some thought into it. Otherwise they’d have been better off not doing the wraparound segments at all?

Mad Jon: Exactly. Why even start it off? Why not just have credits roll into Bart’s room, maybe the 25th circled on a Krusty calendar above his bed, straight to the dreams. It wouldn’t have helped the various acts, but it would have kept me from feeling like I already have early onset Alzheimer’s.

  It’s a holiday episode, you can do this. It’s allowed.

But that’s all I have. You?

Charlie Sweatpants: Nope. I’m pretty done with this episode. The only thing I’ll say is that I hope the puppet thing becomes one of those black eyes for the show. It won’t help it get cancelled, but if we’re lucky it’ll become famous enough that I can bring it up in non-Simpsons fan conversations and people will know what I’m talking about.

Mad Jon: Sounds like a painfully interesting experiment.

Charlie Sweatpants: But I’m a selfish twit, so that’s just me.

Mad Jon: I wouldn’t have you any other way.

07
Dec
10

“We’re Not Paying You to Talk”

Actual Sexual Satire (Ringworm Edition)

“Examine your scalp for ringworm.” – Spandex Clad Spokeswoman

Like most pop stars, Katy Perry’s stock in trade is a meticulously marketed blend of music, fame, and carefully packaged sexuality.  Whether you want to have sex with her, have sex the way she does, or condemn both of those desires, there’s something in her songs and public appearances to catch your attention.  Being young, white and pretty broadens those appeals about as far as they can go, and she and the people who publicize her are very adept at using that.  For evidence of this you need look no further than her first hit, the theatrically bisexual “I Kissed a Girl”.

All of which is to say that if you were designing a pop star in a lab and you set the gender to “F”, the result would look a lot like Katy Perry.  She’s commercially successful, tabloid ready, and about as famous as possible given that she was completely unknown less than three years ago.  In short, she’s as stereotypical a pop star as you are ever likely to see.

In the right hands, hilarity could ensue from subverting all the things that make her such an effective pop star.  The jokes don’t even need to be on her, they can be at the expense of the corrupt, shallow, profit hungry, titillation chasing media environment that made her famous in the first place.  The Simpsons did just that on a couple of occasions, notably “Lisa the Beauty Queen”, “Bart Gets Famous”, and “Homer Badman”.

Of course, that’s not what Zombie Simpsons did.  Instead, they crammed her into a Muppets takeoff so poorly written and ill conceived as to be embarrassing.  The failure here is at least three layers deep.  First, and it’s a marker of just how awful the next two are that this only merits the entry level of hell, was the skit itself: a hacktacular hodgepodge of bad ideas and jokes that wouldn’t make it into a Jay Leno monologue.  Second, a competent reworking of The Muppet Show would’ve been a great vehicle for a pop star to parody her profession.  The original did quite a lot of that with its guest stars, Zombie Simpsons didn’t even try.  Finally and worst of all, not only did they fall flat in their attempted humor, in doing so they made themselves eager participants in the same vapid culture they should have been satirizing in the first place.  But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Muppets-FullCast

Image taken from Wikipedia.

Before we get to how badly they missed the mark, let’s start by acknowledging that Zombie Simpsons didn’t skimp on the felt budget and got the look of the puppets right.  Unfortunately, that was about the only thing they got right, because from there on out it’s not at all clear that they understood what they were doing.  What they seemed to think they were doing was parodying The Muppet Show.  But The Muppet Show was already a parody, and since they left out most of the key elements that made the original, and didn’t bring in any new ones, all they were really doing was a second rate impersonation of a parody.

The Muppet Show was both a revival and a satire of old vaudeville and variety shows, and part of its charm was that it was willing to mock the genre which spawned it.  That’s why it had all those backstage segments, why there was always a story underpinning the variety show that the television audience (but not the theater audience) saw.  Yes, they were going to show you the straight up performances, but there were also things going on behind the scenes that tied everything together.  Even when the actual performances were overly hokey or deliberately awful, there was never any doubt in the audience’s minds that the show knew what it was doing.

Zombie Simpsons ignored that whole aspect of The Muppet Show, leaving the cringe inducing sitcom drama about the boss coming over unexpectedly to stand on its own.  (That they had already done something extremely similar – as an example of what not to do – in Season 11’s “Behind the Laughter” doesn’t help matters.)  This is the equivalent of mocking “Springtime for Hitler” without acknowledging The Producers around it, or trying to parody 30 Rock by talking exclusively about what a terrible show “TGS with Tracy Jordan” is.  With the exception of a faint hearted stab at irony with Grampa and Jasper as Statler & Waldorf, Zombie Simpsons dropped the whole framework that made The Muppet Show work.  All that was left was a boring, cliche ridden puppet show.

Even that might’ve been salvageable if they’d used Perry as a foil for the whole enterprise.  A knowing aside, a quick backstage scene, anything to let us know that she and they are in on the joke and that this whole thing is an exercise in celebrity culture marketing.  The Muppet Show format they were copying was practically made for this kind of comedy.  Instead, they played it straight ahead, even going so far as to make a joke about spending the budget on Perry.  There’s no acknowledgement that the segment is actually bad and that her presence is superfluous, there’s only the kind of fake self deprecation used by clueless people everywhere.

Rather than use Perry for satire’s sake, they preferred to trot her out as eye candy and give her a few sex infused lines.  Here’s the entirety of her spoken dialogue:

“What are you people doing in my boyfriend Moe’s bachelor pad?”

“Someone totally needs a hug.”

“Oh, that’s not my belly button, but I didn’t say stop.”

That’s it, that’s all they could come up with.  Those twenty-seven words would be embarrassingly bad even if this was just a regular animated segment.  But this was something new, something literally unprecedented in the history of the show, and they couldn’t be bothered to have her do anything but talk about her boyfriend, press one puppet into her chest, and have another pressed into her crotch.

The wasted comedy opportunity alone is bad enough, but by using her strictly as a sexpot they managed to sink even lower.  Not only did they not parody all that carefully packaged sex appeal in the tight red dress, they used it as crassly and witlessly as possible.  Without a joke or a hint of irony, Zombie Simpsons joined the ranks of gossip bloggers, record industry lowlifes, and other publicity hungry celebrities who cling to the back of Katy Perry’s bra while she charges forward into the spotlight.  The Simpsons would never have done that; the people who undermined hyper-sexualized advertising by using it to promote ringworm self exams would’ve found something better.

06
Dec
10

Misguided Attention Whores Maul Zombie Simpsons; Also, Katy Perry Was There (Updated)

Chalkboard - The Fight Before Christmas

“Why’d they make that one Muppet out of leather?” – Bart Simpson

Let me start by saying that I thought the first segment, while poorly executed in places, wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t without its problems, the montage* was pointless, the pacing was skewed, and the show-don’t-tell violation on the reindeer stew spoiled what could’ve been a great joke.  But having Santa, in the person of Krusty no less, run his organization like a particularly inept and heartless multinational corporation (reminiscent of Futurama’s Santa), basically worked.  There were some decent subtle gags (“Unionize” scrawled on the back of the bench, the picture of the snowman guard’s kids), and even a couple of good lines (“But by today’s standards, naughty’s nothing.  I didn’t get anybody pregnant, I didn’t Facebook a kid to death”).  The twist ending was actually appropriate, and Run D.M.C. was a nice touch. 

The rest of it was a shambles, including the strange wraparound story that they dropped like a hot poker when it came time for their big, laugh-tracked finish.  The Martha Stewart segment was a one-joke exercise in repetition, and Lisa’s bit was so bizarre as to be nigh indescribable.  The Inglourious Basterds thing was so out of left field and out of place that I’m not 100% sure its inclusion wasn’t some kind of massive editing error. 

And then, of course, there was the ending.  Rarely has a piece of television missed the mark quite so spectacularly.  And I mean “spectacularly” literally, as in something so striking you can’t look away from it, like a fifty-five car pileup or William Shatner’s spoken word performances.  About the only good thing that can be said about Zombie Simpsons’ puppet segment is that in the pantheon of Christmas related pop culture mistakes, The Star Wars Holiday Special is probably unassailable at #1.  We may, however, have a new candidate for #2. 

The numbers are in, and once again football overruns boosted them.  This week’s preliminary numbers show 9.56 million viewers gritted their teeth and wished the real Muppets were still on teevee, and while TV by the Numbers cautions that these are not final, I don’t have much hope that they’ll drop too far.  I’ll update this when they come in anyway.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to figure out if there is any way this can be defended as some kind of intentionally bad meta-joke or performance art piece.  I am not optimistic. 

*I am continually amazed at the hallucinogenic potency of television marijuana.  My weed never does that. 

Update 9 December 2010: The final numbers are in and, as I feared, at 9.54 million viewers they barely went down.  On the plus side, it looks like FOX doesn’t have a late national game this week so there shouldn’t be much football overrun. 

05
Dec
10

Sunday Preview: “The Fight Before Christmas”

Like clockwork, we’ve regrettably reached the time of year when we have to suffer through a Christmas-themed episode of Zombie Simpsons.  “The Fight Before Christmas” (har, har) has Martha Stewart and Katy Perry as guest stars, though I assume that they will be as forgettable as the other celebrity voices this season.  Here’s Simpsons Channel with the blow-by-blow:

Disappointed that she is alone spreading the holiday cheer, Marge sends a letter to Martha Clause (Martha Stewart) to help her save the family Christmas. Martha comes to the rescue and transforms the house into the North Pole chalet Marge has always dreamed of, but when the family is noticeably absent from the perfectly trimmed holiday home, she realizes that it’s Homer and the kids who make the holidays special. Meanwhile, the Simpsons get ready to sneak away for a tropical holiday vacation in Hawaii, but surprise visitors Mr. Burns and Moe’s new friend, Katy Perry (guest-starring as herself in a special live-action sequence) delay their getaway.

So, the writers of Zombie Simpsons have decided to give us a live-action sequence, two guest stars, a contrived morality tale about the meaningless of materiality, and a travel episode rolled into one.  Wouldn’t a lump of coal have been preferable?  I guess the kitchen sink approach is somewhat novel in its utter lack of focus, though I suppose if Katy does the following, it is likely many will overlook the the episode’s inherent and unavoidable flaws:

Bouncy bouncy.




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