Posts Tagged ‘The Spy Who Learned Me


Compare & Contrast: Homer’s Imaginary Friends

The Last Temptation of Homer6

“Colonel Klink!  Why have you forsaken me?” – Homer Simpson

The hallucinatory Stradivarius Cain in “The Spy Who Learned Me” isn’t quite as bad an idea as a tiny green space alien that only Homer can see, but it’s not far off.  Even if we set aside some of the more glaring incongruities about Homer’s imaginary friend (what’s with the other imaginary characters interacting with him? were there any reasons besides killing time and cross promotional masturbation for him to pop out of FOX’s stupid football robot?), we’re still left with a number of problems that illustrate not only how bad an idea this was, but how poorly they executed it as well.

First, consider why Cain is in the episode.  He appears when Homer is sitting in Moe’s watching television, bluntly declares that he’s the result of the concussion Homer has suffered, and that he’s there to help Homer get back into Marge’s good graces.  Right here at the start, strange things are happening even if we set aside the oddity that apparently some part of Homer’s brain knows how to be suave, confident and charming. 

By the time he appears, Homer’s concussion is pretty far in the past.  Thanks to Zombie Simpsons’ relentless insistence on terrible pacing, the concussion happens just before the five minute mark but Cain doesn’t show up for six more minutes after that, past the halfway point.  On its own this wouldn’t be too terrible, except that at the end, after Homer gets clonked on the head with that guy’s gun, the other characters and Cain show up instantly as Homer pounds on his own skull with a rock.

Summoning Rock

I didn’t know that rock could do that.  

Even more than the usual problems that arise from plot holes and weird leaps of logic, this kind of inconsistency is extremely shitty storytelling.  Cain showed up at Moe’s long after the initial injury with only his say so linking his presence to Homer’s getting hit in the head (and even that was done in passing).  Then when the unnamed guy bashes Homer with the gun, there’s no indication whatsoever that the blow made Cain disappear, so having Homer start hitting himself to get Cain back is doubly strange.  I know I usually complain that Zombie Simpsons over-explains things, but in this case they did the opposite.

Compare that undercooked justification to the simple efficiency of Homer’s guardian angel in “The Last Temptation of Homer”.  Homer’s in a panic because his home life is a mess, he thinks teevee is telling him to cheat on his wife, and the marriage counselor to whom he just confessed his secret desires ended up being Ned Flanders.  When Flanders tries to get Marge on the line, Homer freaks, hits his head on the side of the phone booth, and poof, Sir Isaac Newton.

Guardian Entrance

See, Zombie Simpsons?  This isn’t that hard.

There’s no doubt in the audience’s mind as to who this semi-transparent guy is or why he’s there.  He doesn’t need to say, “Homer, I’m here because you hit your head on the side of the phone booth” because we just saw that happen.  In turn, that means he can introduce himself quickly and the episode can move immediately to his transformation into Colonel Klink (with Werner Klemperer doing the voice) and his unintentionally disastrous attempts to show Homer what his life would be like if he’d married Mindy instead of Marge (“Madam President, your approval rating is soaring”).

On top of that, The Simpsons had the good sense to keep the character only Homer can see well in the background.  Klink doesn’t alter the plot, he’s there in support of things that are happening in the real world.  He’s the opposite of those weird digressions Zombie Simpsons likes to take because his presence and his actions as Homer’s supernatural protector make sense for who he is and reinforce what’s already going on in the story.  Cain, on the other hand, is basically Ozmodiar.  Only Homer can see him, and pretty much all of Homer’s actions are based on Cain’s advice. 

In total, we have Zombie Simpsons taking a weak idea and botching it, where The Simpsons took a similar idea and used it well while not asking it to do too much.  The kind of show that has even Homer’s guardian angle become frustrated with him knew enough not to make his imaginary friend the center of the plot. 


Crazy Noises: The Spy Who Learned Me

Last Exit to Springfield6

“Ah, McBain, so glad you could make it.  Have a salmon puff.” – Senator Mendoza
“Alright.” – McBain

As part of our tireless efforts to demonstrate the many ways Zombie Simpsons fails to entertain, Season 23 will be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination that can only be produced by people typing short messages at one another.  More dedicated or modern individuals might use Twitter for this, but that’s got graphics and short links and little windows that pop up when you put your cursor over things.  The only kind of on-line communications we like are the kind that could once be done at 2400 baud.  So disable your call waiting, plug in your modem, and join us for another year of Crazy Noises.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on “Snuffleupagus”).

In general, “Stradivarius Cain” was not one of the better ideas to get barfed onto my television by Zombie Simpsons.  His only real trait is being an exaggerated version of James Bond, which is fine as far as it goes, except for the fact that there have been so many of those over the years that it’s hard to even count them all.  The first James Bond movie came out fifty years ago, and after five decades it doesn’t seem too much to expect that decent parodies need to be a little more than cartoonish villains and a hero who looks good in a tuxedo. 

The one dimensional nature of Cain is laid bare in the opening scene where we see his movie.  A bunch of goofy looking bad guys are having a meeting when one of them steps forward to ask about Cain:

Not Quite a Nazi Guy:  But are you sure we will not be bothered by the American master spy Stradivarius Cain?
Old Guy with Mustache:  Do not worry about Dr. Cain.  The last I saw him, my beautiful mistress was about to finish him off. 

That leads to the beautiful mistress doing one of those hokey old vaudeville overreactions where she’s surprised, then she realizes what’s happening, then she covers it up so poorly that anyone who’s half awake knows she’s lying:

Old Guy with Mustache:  You killed him, right?
Beautiful Mistress:  Yes.  He was the perfect lover . . . of being killed.
Old Guy with Mustache:  It’s a weird sentence, but let’s move on.

This is a great example of Zombie Simpsons just having no clue what its doing.  The scene as shown would be more at home in a slapstick comedy than a big action movie, but because Zombie Simpsons pretty much always goes for the cheapest possible laugh, they jam it in there no matter how strange or out of place it is. 

When The Simpsons did McBain, they played it straight ahead because they understood that the concept they were parodying was inherently funny.  They knew that just having McBain’s ludicrous arms punch their way out of the frozen Venus de Milo sculpture while he says “Ice to see you” as seriously as he can was already hilarious.  They didn’t have him slip on a banana peel or his enemy act the fool because that kind of humor would actually have detracted from the satire and made it dumb. 

Similarly, in a different McBain clip, when Mendoza asks if McBain is dead, his henchmen doesn’t stammer or roll his eyes, he acts like a normal henchman.  What’s funny is that McBain comes exploding out of the conference table and tosses Mendoza out a high rise window to plummet to his death and detonate a conveniently placed tanker truck labeled simply “Gasoline”.  When parodying terrible films like those insane 1980s/1990s action movies (and there have been a lot of terrible James Bond movies), you don’t need schtick.  They’re so nuts already that all you need to turn them from action to comedy is a bit of exaggeration.  And that one, from “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, even manages its own little James Bond joke by showing the credits as Grampa and Jasper get up to leave the theater:

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou8

That one tag line, “You Have the Right to Remain Dead” is a far more inventive Bond satire than anything Zombie Simpsons did with Stradivarius Cain. 

Charlie Sweatpants: Ready to get started?

Mad Jon: Let’s.

  I actually remembered to set my DVR to record an extra minute at the beginning, so I got to see the couch gag for once.

Charlie Sweatpants: Pretty sure it was a repeat again, but I didn’t check.

Mad Jon: Short and sweet is what my notes tell me. I don’t remember it, so that makes it new to me.

Charlie Sweatpants: Huh, Wikipedia says it was new. Yeah, I don’t have much to complain about there.

Mad Jon: Go social encyclopedia.

Charlie Sweatpants: The problems started right afterward though. That Stradivarius Cain movie at the beginning was awful.

It was like watching a reboot of McBain, but with none of the humor and all of the pandering taken seriously.

Mad Jon: Goddamn it that couldn’t have been worse. All I could do to fight the pain was to visualize the McBain movie where he pops out of the ice sculpture.

Charlie Sweatpants: My thoughts exactly.

  The fact that the villain’s girlfriend did the cartoony "uh, of course" kind of thing also ruined it.

McBain was funny because it was exactly like a real crappy action movie, this was like an imitation of one of those awful parody movies.

Mad Jon: The best part of those movies are that they are timeless. This was a social media version of the Star Wars movie parody where they got locked up in procedural amendments.

Charlie Sweatpants: Good way to put it.

Mad Jon: It’s a sad day when so much of my attention is going to the opening movie which leads to Homer being a in-theater commenter, who, although beloved by his best friends for it, doesn’t do it again throughout the movie.

  But it does lead to him trying to be smooth for his wife and Tony Montana.

Charlie Sweatpants: That was like the movie scene from "Colonel Homer", minus everything that made it funny.

  The whole Lenny and Carl thing was just odd.

Mad Jon: Got to get them in there I guess.

Charlie Sweatpants: It was a recurring theme. When Marge comes to the plant to drop off that basket for Homer, who should be standing outside but Lenny.

Mad Jon: Yeah, not much to say here. But anywhere Homer needed someone to further his fight with Marge, there was Lenny and Carl.

Charlie Sweatpants: That happened a lot as well. Homer needs to practice being suave, here’s half a dozen women patiently waiting their turn for him to talk to them.

Mad Jon: Yeah, where the hell was that bar??

Charlie Sweatpants: It kind of reminded me of the place Homer was asked to leave without making a fuss, but I’d chalk it up more to Springfield’s increasing resemblance to the nicer parts of Los Angeles.

Mad Jon: Well alright then.

Charlie Sweatpants: The second restaurant was even weirder.

Mad Jon: Was that a restaurant? I thought it was more like a garden party or something. It reminded me of the squid port opening.

Charlie Sweatpants: Homer called it a restaurant, but it was odd.

Mad Jon: Ah.

Charlie Sweatpants: Did you notice that Not Bond was strapped into the kid seat?

Mad Jon: Yeah, I was waiting for that to, you know, be something. Other than awkward, of course.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s what was so strange. Why did he look all nervous and scared?

Mad Jon: He did look very strange for an imaginary friend.

But whatever. I guess that’s the price for getting to watch people make out?

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s one of the things that didn’t make sense. He was into that a second ago. Of course, here I am trying to figure the motives of an imaginary character who was brought forth with one of the most trite cliches in television: the magic bonk on the head.

Mad Jon: An imaginary character who has apparently shared an imaginary woman with Snuffleupagus.

Charlie Sweatpants: It’s best not to think about it.

Mad Jon: But other than that, probably not much to figure out.

Charlie Sweatpants: No, and in case there was, they helpfully explained everything every six seconds.

  This is a partial list of what’s in my notes, but I typed as I watched so these might be a bit off:

  “Stop saying what you’d call things”

  “Sir, that was your partner, you betrayed him to the cannibals”

  “I have eight weeks paid vacation and my family doesn’t know” – This one was right after they showed us exactly that.

  “Because I was up late lamenting the choices I’ve made”

  “Oh great, another documentary making me look like a scuzzbag.” – bonus points on this one for making no sense by having Krusty walk into the movie.

“Now that’s it’s after-noon”/”Hear your pathetic rationalizing through the door”/”Pack of raccoons” – That whole scene with Moe was them explaining what either just happened or was about to happen.

  “I thought I was making small talk, but it turned out to be big talk”.

  “The three of us are going to the most romantic restaurant in town”

I could go on. There were so fucking many of these, but I think I’ve made my point. So many words, so very little actually said.

Mad Jon: Indeed. The "The three of us…." one was the worst.

Only because even by zombie standards, that should have prompted a reaction from Marge.

Charlie Sweatpants: I’m partial to Marge’s "Stop saying what you’d call things". She literally just could’ve said "Stop". Or they could’ve actually given her a joke or something.

Mad Jon: Well, in all fairness, they were all, just, terrible.

And on top of that, only one of those lines was from the ‘B’ plot.

We haven’t even stepped into the pile which was the almost a decade old lead in to the ‘B’ plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: By all means, let’s step.

  These new Italian loafers will make short work of it.

Mad Jon: I actually don’t have a lot of notes about it, because it wasn’t that in depth.

  Bart’s plan is to fatten up Nelson so he can’t beat him up, he accomplishes this, and then Nelson and Lisa get Krusty to make him a super bully, and then it is over.

Charlie Sweatpants: There wasn’t much there.

Mad Jon: That is literally all of my notes for the B plot.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, it did contain what may have been the most outdated joke I can recall them making in a while, the whole Alicia Silverstone was fat in that unwatchable Batman 4 movie.

  That joke expired in about 1998.

Mad Jon: I was going to say, how old was the average viewer when that made sense? 2? maybe 3?

Whatever, I often feel like boring is the methadone that helps me through these things.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, but they made me think about Batman 4. That’s just wrong.

Mad Jon: Normal life, where I don’t have to watch Zombie Simpsons, of course being the heroin.

Charlie Sweatpants: Heh.

Mad Jon: Just got to take it one Sunday at a time…

Charlie Sweatpants: What was pissy about the B-plot though was the fact that Krusty was wherever he was needed. He was in the documentary, he was there when Lisa and Nelson showed up, and then his personal trainer was too.

The entire thing was filler, so they just rushed it along.

Mad Jon: Yeah, that was kind of lazy, but that’s what happens when you write yourself into a corner.

Charlie Sweatpants: Like they didn’t have enough to make it a real plot, but they had too much to make it a one or two scene joke, so we got that.

Mad Jon: Anyone who has paid attention to my chat text from these things will know that I completely understand.

Charlie Sweatpants: Fair enough.

Mad Jon: I don’t think I have thought about Morgan Spurlock since 2006, by the way… Who was sitting on that??

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, he did do that Simpsons special a couple of years ago.

  But Zombie Simpsons doesn’t generally like being with the times.

Mad Jon: Yeah, but I block those things out pretty quickly.

Charlie Sweatpants: Probably for the best.

  Anything else here?

Mad Jon: Not really, I am disappointed that there really wasn’t even 1 joke that I could consider noteworthy in a positive way.

But we’ve covered enough of the crap I guess.

Charlie Sweatpants: I chuckled at the Oscar documentary form having Holocaust and non-Holocaust as checkboxes, but that was it.

Mad Jon: Yeah, I can almost see that, but meh. Sorry to disappoint you.

Charlie Sweatpants: That’s okay, I’m long over disappointment.

Mad Jon: Good. Cause I’m not going to change for you.

Charlie Sweatpants: Works for me.

From Mad Jon via e-mail this morning:

On a side-ish note, I forgot to mention it last night, but did you notice the more-insane-than-normal sense of time that episode had?  Homer has eight weeks of paid leave, Marge finds out during week six, right?  At the same time Bart is trying to get Nelson to eat Krusty burger for a month, which actually lasts 2 weeks, and then he gets buff in what must have been three weeks, because at the very end Homer mentions he was supposed to be back at work last week.

I have been thinking about that all morning for some ungodly reason.  Work is bad enough, but my daydreaming is involving a zombiesode.  Oh well. 


Failing to Make Fun of James Bond, Bravo Zombie Simpsons

Chalkboard - The Spy Who Learned Me

“Well, here we are at the Brad Goodman lecture.” – Homer Simpson
“We know, Dad.” – Lisa Simpson
“I just thought I’d remind everybody.  After all, we did agree to attend this self help seminar.” – Homer Simpson
“What an odd thing to say.” – Bart Simpson

Near the end of “The Spy Who Learned Me”, Homer and Marge are running away from a nameless (and apparently Bolivian) guy who has just pulled a gun on Homer.  This is the dialogue . . .

Marge:  Why is he trying to kill you?  And why did she call you her love?
Homer:  It was all a training exercise to make me smooth for you.  Of course, she fell for me, and of course I wanted no part of her.  Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain. 
Marge:  The guy from the movie?
Homer:  I’ll explain later!  Strad, come back!  I know you’re in there!

. . . and then Homer bashes himself in the head a few times with a rock.  I like this scene, not because it’s funny or entertaining, but because it crams virtually every problem from the rest of the episode into a single moment. 

To begin with, it’s mostly unnecessary exposition.  Take “Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain”.  There is absolutely no reason for Homer to say that.  The audience already knows who he wants to see, and while it’s true that Marge doesn’t, she’s about to vanish from the scene without explanation, which is another problem this episode has in spades.  From Nelson robbing kids right from Willie’s hand and Krusty just appearing in that movie to all those women Homer hits on, “The Spy Who Learned” me has a boatload of mysteriously appearing and disappearing people.  And there’s the fact that the scene itself makes no sense: no one else at this fancy party noticed the violence or the gun, Homer and Marge make it to the woods in no time at all, and, despite the fact that the guy compliments Homer on his hiding skills, Homer wasn’t hiding at all.  He was standing up and talking out loud, a very poor way not to be seen.*  When all is said and done, this scene is so dense with problems established earlier in the episode that, in a weird, funhouse mirror kind of way, it’s almost like an actual plot climax. 

There was a B-plot as well, something that started about childhood obesity but then ended with Nelson getting into ludicrous shape with help from a personal trainer.  It had many of the same problems, starting with the fact that Krusty’s mansion is shockingly accessible to anyone who wants to wander into it. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are just awful.  Last night only 4.75 million viewers realized that their imaginary friends say more interesting things than that total waste of Bryan Cranston.  That’s good for #2 on the all time least watched list, and means that (counting a tie between Season 22 and Season 23 at #5), all five of the five least watched episodes ever have come this season (numbers are millions of viewers):

#1  23-13    4.33    The Daughter Also Rises
#2  23-20    4.75    The Spy Who Learned Me
#3  23-18    4.86    Beware My Cheating Bart
#4  23-16    4.96    How I Wet Your Mother
#5  23-19    5.00    A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#5  22-18    5.00    The Great Simpsina

The Season 23 average is now a mere 6.31 million viewers.  That’s more than 10% down from Season 22’s 7.10 million, which was already the lowest rated season ever.  As recently as five years ago this show was averaging more than nine million viewers per episode, now it’s barely two thirds of that. 

*Mr. Idle, you’re better than this. 


Sunday Preview: The Spy Who Learned Me


Image bloodied by Dave.

It’s time for another episode of Zombie Simpsons.  Per Wikipedia:

Homer and Marge’s date night goes so badly that Homer, who suffered a serious head injury during the fiasco, pretends to go to work instead of staying home to recover and seeks out advice from fictional spy Stradivarius Cain, who gives Homer lessons on how to truly be the husband Marge deserves.
Guest star: Bryan Cranston

At least this week’s lazy, derivative episode title isn’t as long as last week’s. 


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