Posts Tagged ‘The Great Simpsina


Faded Stars, Failed Stunts

Krusty Gets Kancelled9

“Here’s my address book, go get those stars!” – Krusty the Klown

According to the schedule on FOX’s website, there’s no new Zombie Simpsons this Sunday (rerun) or next Sunday (rerunning the movie).  And while no new Zombie Simpsons is always good news, it also means we’re going to lack for fresh meat around here.  (This week’s Crazy Noises should be along in a day or two.)  Fortunately, Splitsider stepped into the content gap this morning with an excellent piece by Chris Morgan titled “The Changing Role of Guest Stars on The Simpsons.

The conclusion is a little soft, but for the most part the article is enjoyably harsh on Zombie Simpsons.  It takes the time to dredge up some of their more pandering and desperate moments, from Britney Spears to that reprehensibly boring boy band episode.  In particular, I’d like to highlight this, which comes right after a paragraph that is laced with terms like “wasn’t funny”, “gimmicky”, “poorly executed”, and “groan”:

Things haven’t really changed much since seasons 11 and 12.

That is precisely the problem.  Zombie Simpsons is nothing if not stale, and it’s stale because all it does is go through the motions, including the way it handles celebrity voices.  The roll call from “The Great Simpsina” is a perfect case in point.

The story concludes with Lisa and Raymondo backstage at the magic competition watching the milk can trick go wrong.  It’s going wrong because it’s been sabotaged, and it was sabotaged by four (4) celebrity magicians.  Not one, four.  They could’ve ended their story the exact same way with a single celebrity guest, but instead they crammed in as many as they could.

This isn’t a recent Zombie Simpsons innovation, they’ve been doing things like this since the show permanently decomposed around Seasons 11 and 12.  There have been episodes overflowing with sports stars, journalists and authors.  They’ve even larded up on cross promotion with other FOX programs on at least three separate occasions

As both “Homer at the Bat” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled” make clear, it isn’t about the number of celebrity guests, it’s about why they’re all there.  In “Homer at the Bat”, there are nine baseball players because that’s how many guys are on a team.  In “Krusty Gets Kancelled”, the avalanche of guests is integral to a story about Krusty making a big, star studded comeback.  In “The Great Simpsina” and similar drudgeries it’s more for the sake of more. 

Morgan’s article, once again:

Sometimes they play actual characters, but more often than not they play themselves, and usually in a small cameo. In other words, stunt casting. If the writers have a good joke for it, that’s fine, but far too often these guest appearances feel gratuitous. Through 18 episodes this season, there have been 44 guest stars.

That’s a rate of nearly two and a half per.  Stunt casting indeed. 


Compare & Contrast: Magic Tricks

“Behold the box of mystery!” – Milhouse van Houten

About halfway through the ridiculous (in a bad way) main plot of “The Great Simpsina”, what’s-his-face (The Great Raymondo) takes Lisa under his wing and tells her the secret he’s kept for decades.  In yet another example of the way the attention span of Zombie Simpsons is measured in microseconds, the show treats this revelation as poignant and moving, even going so far as to have the old magician finally decide to tell her after he mentions that he has no children and compares Lisa to his beloved and long departed wife.  This is a Hallmark Hall of Fame level of schlock.

Unlike formulaic, made-for-teevee melodrama, however, Zombie Simpsons doesn’t know how to have all of its moments converge at once.  Raymondo has been carefully guarding this trick for most of his life, and him telling it to Lisa is the pivot point of the entire story.  Does she do it as part of his grand return to the stage?  Nope.  Does she wow the audience at the “World Magic Championships” that conclude the episode?  Wrong.  Does she perform this historic feat at recess in front of a handful of elementary students?  Oh, Zombie Simpsons, you’ve done it again.

If all that had been in service of some interesting satire or humor it might’ve been merely horrible, but the episode was light on comedy in favor of what can only be described as magic tricks.  Despite the fact that this is only one episode, the examples are almost too numerous to list.  Raymondo’s side of the ledger is mostly small stuff, like instantly changing Lisa into a flapper costume and back again.  But most of Lisa’s actions in this episode are parlor tricks, from beating things out of Bart’s esophagus to putting Maggie in a birdcage, and the less said about the super powers of the guest stars and the antics of – ugh – “Cregg Demon” the better.  Any one of their deeds would be impressive if they weren’t part of a cartoon, but they are.  When Bugs Bunny pulled similar stunts on Daffy or Elmer it was funny not because of what Bugs was doing, but because of the stuttering furor and homicidal rage of his victims.  Here the audience just “ohhs”, “ahhs” and applauds.

History's Dullest Resurrection

Animated magic tricks aren’t cool, even when they don’t cruelly and needlessly bring back the dead.

The fundamentally fraudulent nature of the entertainment – expecting laughs for tricks that aren’t actually impressive – is compounded when you remember that there was no need for it.  Lisa learning the craft from an aging magician would’ve been enough without the pastel pyrotechnics.  It’s a story that could’ve had plenty of space for historically satirical flashbacks, jokes at the expense of magic and entertainment generally, and the almost unlimited comedy of failed magic tricks.

And here is where the comparison to The Simpsons becomes painfully obvious.  The Simpsons intuitively understood that when you’re dealing in animation a successful illusion is boring because it doesn’t require anything more than pen meeting paper.  Failed illusions, on the other hand, can be hilarious.  Consider Krusty’s grotesquely disastrous ventriloquism when he’s trying to compete with Gabbo, or the giant scar on Milhouse’s stomach when Bart tried to saw him in half.  Even the “mathemagician” in “Grade School Confidential” operates on the idea of funny failure when he flunks elementary arithmetic dividing twenty-eight by seven and coming up with three.

Tricks Gone Awesomely Wrong

Would it be funny if Krusty didn’t need the mustache?  Or if that remainder had disappeared?

The best counterexample, though, is the one most closely related to Lisa’s recess performance, “Milhouse the Magician” from “$pringfield”.  Like Lisa’s performance, the audience is just a handful of people.  Unlike Lisa’s performance, that makes sense.  Like Lisa, Milhouse is new to magic.  Unlike Lisa, he doesn’t have hacks making him instantly good at it.  The result is brief, fitting, and very funny.


No one cares about the cat in the box . . . until it attacks the magician.  (He still got some applause.)

The relentless reliance on magic isn’t a case of Zombie Simpsons being weighed down by twenty years of accumulated baggage and backstory.  They didn’t need to cram in as many “ta-da!” moments as they could.  Just like they didn’t need four celebrity magicians to show up and voice themselves (in an episode that already had two famous guest stars).  Nor did they need to have the secret to a world famous trick be revealed to someone who’d been doing magic for about two weeks.  They did all that by choice, and it’s just further evidence of how much they value razzle dazzle over substance, humor and making the most of their medium.

[Update 14 April: Corrected two minor word repetitions that I missed in the after-work fog of yesterday.]


Taking Attendance

Chalkboard - The Great Simpsina

“Okay, when I call your name, uh, you say ‘present’ or ‘here’.  No, say ‘present’.” – Moe

If there’s one scene that’s been played over and over again in Zombie Simpsons, it’s the listing of the celebrity names.  Once upon a time even celebrities playing themselves (James Woods, Tito Puente, everybody from “Homer at the Bat” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled”) got actual introductions.  Now they appear and have their names read aloud.  This is actual dialogue spoken by Lisa in “The Great Simpsina”:

Ricky Jay.  David Copperfield.  Penn.  Teller.

It sounds like she’s reading roll call at a talent agency picnic.  Once all of them had shouted “present”, we got the usual self serving celebrity dialogue of feeble jokes at their own expense.  It’s marketing masquerading as satire, and it’s the kind of humorless comedy that used to be restricted to award shows and The Hollywood Squares

That sad conclusion, the fight scene felt like watching someone play a bad Final Fantasy clone, came at the end of your standard sitcom “child meets old person guest star, learns stuff” story.  These have been around forever, and this wasn’t a particularly well done version.  Along the way, Lisa got to be the instant professional, Jack McBrayer got to play Kenneth on a show other than 30 Rock, and there was a harmless “parody” of Criss Angel. 

The numbers are in and they are atrocious.  For the sake of decimal consistency, I have to round off last night’s numbers and use my standard two decimal places, which gives a number of 5.00 million viewers.  However, it’s worth nothing that TV By the Numbers goes to three decimal places, and last night’s came in just a shade under 5 million at 4.996.  Even the rounded number makes this the lowest rated episode of all time, coming in well below last year’s “Million Dollar Maybe”, and the third decimal place makes it the first episode to ever come in under five million viewers.  Two more episodes at roughly this level will drag Season 22 into a virtual tie with Season 20 for lowest rated ever, and three will put it over the top, so to speak. 


Sunday Preview: The Great Simpsina

Guest stars, guest stars, guest stars. That’s the theme of tonight’s Zombie Simpsons episode, whose description is capable of inducing a brain hemorrhage:

The family is greeted by folk singer Ewell Freestone (guest voice Jack McBrayer) when they visit a peach farm, but when Marge goes overboard with peach-inspired dishes, Lisa and Bart try to get rid of the unwanted fruit. Later, Lisa becomes a magician’s apprentice to the legendary Great Raymondo (guest voice Martin Landau) who helps her develop her craft, but a schoolgirl crush clouds her judgment when she is coaxed into revealing the Great Raymondo’s most famous magic trick to his phony archnemesis. But when the rival magician’s act takes a risky turn, the Great Raymondo has one last trick up his sleeve and stages showdown with Ricky Jay, Penn & Teller and David Copperfield (guest-voicing as themselves), showing them why he is the master of the craft.

Will someone please tell me what peaches have to do with magic, and why should we care?


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