Posts Tagged ‘The War of Art

26
Mar
14

Compare & Contrast: Milhouse’s Parents Split Up

A Milhouse Divided15

“You know who the real victim is in all of this?  Milhouse.” – Marge Simpson

Zombie Simpsons excels at telling the audience what is happening rather than showing them, which is the script writing equivalent of being a bricklayer who doesn’t use mortar.  Show don’t tell is so fundamental to the job that you have to wonder how anyone could forget it, and the proof is in the piles of rubble that they try to pass off as finished work.  Case in point from this week’s dreary “The War of Art” was Milhouse’s reaction to his parents breaking up.

Thanks to Jerkass Homer’s energetic idiocy, Luann finds out that Kirk lied about not shacking up with anyone while they were separated.  This leads to Kirk getting kicked out (he ends up on the Simpsons’ couch despite their recent feud because whatever shutup), which means that Milhouse is once again caught in a fight between his parents.  The first time that happened was in Season 8’s divorce classic “A Milhouse Divided”, and the way each episode handles his reaction is the difference between building with bricks and mortar and just building with bricks.

Once Kirk and Luann are on the outs, Marge and Homer argue expositionally about the pain Homer’s plan has wrought, including on Milhouse.  Bart, casually listening in the doorway as though the show had no conception that he was there, chimes in right on cue to tell us exactly what we’re about to see:

Bart: He’s been playing Dancing Revolution for hours but the TV is off.

Exposited Sadness

He said it, you saw it, comedy genius!

That’s the entire scene.  But even as short as it is, it’s indicative of several of Zombie Simpsons recurring weaknesses.  For starters, Bart’s explicit pre-narration is worse than useless.  The above image would still be sad without it, but it would also be funnier since nothing ruins a joke more than explaining it before you tell it.  Beyond that, there’s also the fact that the previous scene was Kirk asleep on the couch.  Is he still there?  Is Milhouse visiting Bart or his father?  Who knows?  Kirk has nonsensically vanished from the Simpsons home even faster than he nonsensically appeared.  So not only has the hacktacular writing drained the scene of whatever humor it could’ve had, but its physical and story logic are a complete shambles.  Zombie Simpsons: dumb stories poorly told, lightly sprinkled with pre-chewed jokes.

Compare that to the same scene in “A Milhouse Divided”.  To begin, there’s no exposition.  We already know that Milhouse’s parents are split (the episode, you know, showed it to us), so they can cut directly from Kirk getting fired (“I don’t recall saying ‘Good Luck’.”) to this:

A Milhouse Divided14

Look!  Action that hasn’t been announced ahead of time.  What a concept.

Before he says a single word we can tell that Milhouse is pissed off.  Just look at the above image: his hair is a mess, his teeth are clenched, and he’s destroying as much shit as possible.  When he does speak, he doesn’t say “I’m angry at my parents and breaking their stuff”, he says:

And the winner of the Milhouse 500 is . . . Milhouse!

His words don’t tell us what he’s doing, they elaborate and deepen what we’ve already seen.  The same goes for the rest of the scene:

Luann: Milhouse, are you sure you want to drive that inside?
Milhouse: Yes!
Luann: Okay, be careful, sweet, sweet treasure.

Milhouse is acting like an angry and spoiled kid because at the moment that’s exactly what he is.  His Mom doesn’t care what he does so long as he’s hers, and indulging Milhouse to the point of shattered lamps and smashed furniture is a small price for her to pay to get back at Kirk.  It’s classic Simpsons, taking a painful and sad subject, in this case a mother and son both behaving kinda self destructively, and somehow making it fun and funny.

On the commentary track for this episode, Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein talk about how they didn’t want to do a “divorce” episode like the ones they had watched as kids where the d-word gets mentioned, but at the end everyone gets back together.  They tease the cliched, teevee ending with a slightly sweet music cue right before Luann has the common sense to say, “Ooh, no” after Kirk asks to get back together, but they don’t go through with it because doing so would neuter the rest of the episode.  Kirk’s collapse, Luann’s renaissance, and Milhouse’s sadness and anger, none of them would retain the same kick (comedy or otherwise) if it turned out it was all for nothing.

Zombie Simpsons, of course, not only went with the ending that was already a cliche forty years ago, it crammed everything into the last few seconds after the plot literally wandered off the mainland.  It didn’t make the scene with Milhouse any worse, but that’s only because it’s hard to see how it could get worse.  The Simpsons knew how to let a scene speak for itself and how to deliver an ending that doesn’t undercut what came before.

24
Mar
14

Behind Us Forever: The War of Art

Chalkboard - The War of Art

“Oh, Kenny, look at the interplay of light and shadow.  It’s so luminous and vibrant!” – Lisa Simpson
“Thanks, Lisa, I painted that one.  The real one’s in my garage.” – Kenny the Museum Guard

If there is one topic on which Zombie Simpsons has a thorough and well practiced knowledge, it is imitating great art.  That didn’t help them keep “The War of Art” from being a meandering, exposition filled wasteland, of course, but it does add a nice level of unintentional meta-irony that will help you through what passes for the third act.  By the time Max von Sydow shows up to talk about the beauty of his forged work, there’s about four different subplots bumping along, two of which kind of even get resolved.  In the meantime, it’s mostly yelling, some gasp inducing plot twists, and the now standard pages of exposition.

First Lisa gets a guinea pig, an opening act that is mostly filler occasionally punctuated by meaningless suspense.  Then the Simpsons have to get a new painting for behind the couch.  They buy one from the van Houtens, which turns out to be valuable, which in turn means that they could or could not split the money, which leads to disputes over ownership, which leads Homer and Lisa to an island resort with a brain rotting alcohol that I would dearly love to have been drinking while I watched this.

– No couch gag this week?  They must have so much good stuff that they didn’t have time for it.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

– Homer is reading text we can clearly see on the screen.  Zombie Simpsons, now with built in closed captioning.

– This guinea pig selection scene is going on so long that even the show got bored with it.

– This guinea pig escape/chase scene is also very long, but opts for sheer nonsense and fake suspense over repetition.

– We went through all that to get the painting ruined?  Jebus.

– The fake Wikipedia table of contents is actually pretty good.  It’s got sex, death, betrayal, poison and a more coherent story than the rest of the episode.

– Homer has been repeating the word “Whoa” for fifteen seconds now.

– It ended up going for twenty-six.

– As the same conversation bleeds into about an eighth scene, Marge straight up asks Homer how he feels about the plot.

– “And all I have to do is not say something about some painting to my Mom and Dad?” – Milhouse recapping what you’ve just seen for the umpteenth time.

– And, as if to underline what a waste of time all that was, the van Houtens show up right away and have a boring fight with Homer and Marge.

– This episode is so herky-jerky that they just moved the plot along by someone yelling, unironically, “Stop the auction!”.

– The auctioneer bears a disturbing resemblance to the guy who nicked some of Homer’s sugar pile.

– After a brief expository scene between Homer and a once-again-kicked-out-of-the-house Kirk, Marge explains to us what’s been happening . . . twice: “That painting has torn the town apart, destroyed Kirk and Luann’s marriage, and everyone’s very worried about Milhouse” and then, “That picture has brought out the worst in everyone!”.

– Oh, good, we’re on a tropical island and Lisa brought her guinea pig in a travel cage.  Thought they forgot about that little guy, didn’t you?

– Man, this island has a massive oversupply of conveniently expository characters.

– One of whom quickly took Homer and Lisa back to his house!  Seamless!

– Homer, trying to speed things up, “Then why did the auction house say it was real?”  Nothing says good writing like directly asking a character we just met to explain everything as blandly as possible.

– Guh, this guy just keeps going on and on.  Now he’s debating Lisa about beauty and art.  Isn’t this show supposed to be a comedy?

– Max von Sydow narrating the history of “Strupo” over the credits has some actual jokes in it.  I don’t often offer suggestions to Zombie Simpsons because there’s nothing worse than a back seat driver, but they maybe should’ve put some of those in his actual part.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they continue to be the kind of rock bottom we’ve come to expect from springtime Zombie Simpsons.  Last night, just 3.93 million viewers wondered why kind of sloppy forgery of The Simpsons they were watching.  That’s the fourth lowest total ever and means that six of the ten least watch, including #1-4, are all from this season.

23
Mar
14

Sunday Preview: The War Of Art

The_War_of_Art_Promo_3

Marge and Homer get a bargain on a painting at the Van Houten’s yard sale, and later learn that it is a masterpiece worth $100,000, so they wrestle with splitting the money with their neighbors or keeping it all.

I am sure it isn’t going to be that much of the plot, but the aura of disappointment and general failure with which The Simpsons paints Kirk Van Houten used to be one of my favorite things. However, that was nearly a generation ago, and over the years it is starting to wear thin.  Seriously, “A Milhouse Divided” aired in 1996.  All that being said, I am sure that tired abuse of Kirk is not going to be my least favorite part of this episode.




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