Posts Tagged ‘Trilogy of Error

23
Feb
10

An Unmitigated Crime Against Storytelling

“What happened to Mindy?” – Bart Simpson
“Yes, what did happen to her?” – Marge Simpson
“Enh, she hit the bottle pretty hard and lost her job.” – Homer Simpson
“Hm, good.” – Marge Simpson

I am not a big fan of Season 12’s “Trilogy of Error”.  (In case you’ve blocked it out that’s the one where Lisa invents the robot, Homer gets his thumb cut off and three different stories all unfold at once.)  But I do recognize that it took a lot of skill to weave three stories together like that.  Getting all those little elements to drop into place couldn’t have been easy.  So while I think those things were largely out of place in a Simpsons episode (where suspense and dramatic tension should never be the primary goal) I can at least see that some care went into creating it. 

Then we have this week’s “The Color Yellow”, which incorporates the worst parts of “Trilogy of Error” while not even pretending to care about its story.  Just look at the ending.  Lisa spent the entire episode obsessing over her 1860-self and her efforts to help free a slave, Virgil.  But then 1860-Marge is the one who actually helps Virgil get to freedom wherein she marries him and settles down.  Except that to do so she abandons the kid she already has.  This is awful in at least three ways. 

First of all, she abandons her child.  Regardless of any other considerations it’s tough to have sympathy for a character who walks away from her kid without a second glance.  This is compounded by the fact that the ending is played as sweet and happy. 

Secondly, in terms of continuity within this episode this makes no sense whatsoever.  (Standard disclaimer: I don’t care much about backstory continuity between episodes, but it would be nice if the story within a single episode made just a lick or two of sense.)  So Lisa isn’t actually descended from 1860-Lisa?  And none of them are related in the least to 1860-Homer?  Did the family move away from Springfield and then move back?  Even this wouldn’t be so bad if the episode hadn’t spent all of its time being so relentlessly serious about how important its story was, but it did.  The whole premise here is local family history and then the ending completely undermines that. 

Have You Seen Me? Finally, and most atrociously, in terms of competent storytelling this goes beyond indifference, disregards camp, and sets up shop in the most hacktacular place imaginable.  We spend the bulk of the episode with Lisa see-sawing back and forth over whether or not 1860-Lisa managed to actually help Virgil.  But 1860-Lisa vanishes three quarters of the way through, never to be seen, heard from, or even mentioned again.  Up until the last commercial break she’s the central character of the story and then – poof – she’s gone. 

This is especially damning when you consider how much screen time this episode wasted on useless filler.  The attic scene, the whole diary in the vent thing, the completely unnecessary error messages on Lisa’s laptop when she’s trying to give her presentation, all of those things take time that could’ve been spent giving the story a real ending.  (The computer errors were especially wasteful seeing as how they were just “update” messages with nary a joke to be seen.)  “Trilogy of Error” may have wasted a lot of time doing things that weren’t funny for the sake of its overwrought narrative, but at least it had a narrative.  “The Color Yellow” wasted time on things that weren’t funny just because. 

28
Oct
09

“Trilogy of Error” Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Mother Simpson2

“Hey Mom, look at me, look at what I can do!” – Homer Simpson
“I see you Homer, that’s very nice.” – Grandma Simpson

Season 12 was nothing if not a pageant of the trans-mundane and this episode fits right into its dull kaleidoscope.  In case you’ve forgotten, this is the episode where they tell three weird stories that are happening concurrently and link them together in various ways.  Listening to the commentary it’s very clear that the people behind the scenes were quite impressed with how well all the disparate little events tied together, and they’re right about that.  Stringing together all of this stuff into a twenty-two minute show, and having it mostly make sense (from a strictly could-this-all-have-happened-in-this-sequence point of view) is a triumph of skill.  What they ignore is that this is akin to bringing an intricately designed monster truck to a regatta.

I can appreciate the effort and skill that went into melding all these things together, but that’s not what The Simpsons is supposed to be about.  These kinds of gimmicks would make for arresting television if they were used in an episode of The Sopranos or Battlestar Galactica, or some other show where dramatic tension was useful.  Here they just waste your time.

Ten guys on this one, including Al Jean and Matt Groening.

1:30 – Talking about cribbing the plot structure from the movie Go.

2:30 – This could’ve been worse, the original Lisa plot had her getting on the short bus with a bunch of disabled kids whose disabilities were actually super powers.

4:00 – “It’s a pretty crazy first act, and you don’t know that there’s a huge, dramatic conceit to the show.  And the viewer must be like ‘Wow, this is a crazy stream of really nutty things happening at a really fast pace.  Is this a regular episode?’ I hope they’re saying, I’ll find out after the commercial.”  Let’s review this statement:

– “huge, dramatic conceit” – Taken individually none of these three words describe good Simpsons, combine them and it’s even worse.

– “crazy stream of really nutty things happening at a really fast pace” – They lost most of the audience at ‘crazy stream’, but ‘nutty things’ and ‘really fast pace’ don’t help.

– “find out after the commercial” – because if there’s one thing great Simpsons was known for, it was its cliffhangers.

4:35 – It gets worse.  They’re still discussing just how neat and peachy keen this plot structure is and then, “We went back and forth a lot on how much, at the beginning of each act, when you’re restarting the story, how many of the same jokes do you show again and again, they’re not going to be funny the second time, but they’ll say, ‘Hey viewer, loot at this, something’s up, you’re seeing this again!’”  I understand that it can’t have been easy to come up with a plot structure like this, at the same time, why would you do this?  This is the very definition of a gimmick.  Also, jokes on The Simpsons are funny the second time, and the third time, and the hundredth time, these can’t pass muster once.

5:45 – Still discussing how cool this plot is while more or less ignoring the fact that it’s mostly action and almost completely joke free.

6:50 – “It’s hard to make shows that are almost all plot funny.” I did not make that up.

7:30 – They’re really impressed with how gross the severed thumb looks.

7:45 – Robot head flies through sky: “This has to be surprising for the viewer at this point.” No, we’ve learned to just go limp through shit like this.

8:15 – These guys just laughed heartily at Marge yelling “Breakfast!”  I have no idea why.

10:00 – Patting themselves on the back, yet again, for how interconnected the plots are.

11:45 – Cross promotion with the kid from Malcolm in the Middle.

13:00 – Discussing the merits of Go versus Run, Lola Run, versus this.  Really, that’s all they seem to care about.

15:00 – Discussing how there aren’t any major continuity gaffs here and that “the internet” really loves this one.

16:30 – Devolving into silence as the Bart plot meanders around.

18:40 – Laughing at the stupidity of Bart’s wire.

20:30 – Long silence as whatever it is that’s the solution to this unfolds.

21:30 – Talking about how Mantegna is such a loyal voice over guy, he always wants to do the voice.  Sigh.  I wish Mantegna was here.

22:10 – They’re literally applauding themselves as the credits roll.  




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