Posts Tagged ‘The Principal and the Pauper


Double Secret Makeup Quote of the Day

“And for the tribute, I need a volunteer to present an oral report on Principal Skinner’s life.” – Miss Hoover
“Miss Hoover, which one is oral?” – Ralph Wiggum
“Out of your mouth, Ralph.” – Miss Hoover


Quote of the Day


“Superintendent Chalmers, can I offer a cup of coffee flavored Beverine?” – Mrs. Krabappel
“I take it grey, with creamium.” – Superintendent Chalmers


Quote of the Day

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“My name is Armin! This is Armin’s apartment, Armin’s liquor, Armin’s copy of Swank, Armin’s frozen peas.” – Armin Tamzarian
“Can I see your copy of Swank, Armin.” – Homer Simpson
“Yes, you can.” – Armin Tamzarian


Quote of the Day

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“Good evening, Edna, I know we were planning to see a film tonight, but instead I’m leaving town forever.” – Armin Tamzarian


Quote of the Day

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“In honor of Seymour’s twentieth year as principal, we’ve decided to hold a surprise tribute Friday night.” – Superintendent Chalmers
“It’s my twentieth year, too.” – Groundskeeper Willie
“The teachers’ lounge is for teachers, Willie.” – Superintendent Chalmers


Saddlesore Galactica Makes Baby Jesus Cry

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“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.


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?

The Principal and the Pauper4

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.

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Now let us never speak of this again.


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