Out of Frame, Out of Mind

 The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show2

“I have to go now, my planet needs me.” – Poochie

There is a lot to dislike about last night’s craptacular Zombie Simpsons.  But I’d like to draw your attention to what may be it’s most persistent conceit: the dropping of characters, sometimes right in the middle of a scene. 

First, consider the scene where Lisa is briefly popular before Ms. Hoover illogically shows up on the playground to hand back her corrected test.  Is there any reason for Hoover to be on the playground at that moment?  Was this so critical that she ran screaming out of the teacher’s lounge after realizing her mistake?  Of course not, but the episode needed Lisa to get the test back then and there and so Hoover appeared as if conjured from thin air. 

Then this callous disregard for the audience is compounded as the other children surround and taunt Lisa.  That seems like the kind of thing Hoover would’ve stopped.  Was she still there?  Was she helping the other kids taunt Lisa?  Did she vanish back into thin air?  The instant her presence was no longer required, she disappeared. 

This exact same thing happens numerous times in this episode.  The entire “other” fourth grade shows up, and then they all vanish for the rest of the episode.  Not only do we never see most of them again (including the teacher), but we never even visit the classroom where the kids are force to share their desks again.  Yet another example is towards the end, Ralph shows up wearing a swimsuit so the show can attempt to make a joke out of “flotus”, and then he’s gone.  No explanation, no reason, just gone.

If your plot got dropped without resolution, you'd be surley too. But the most egregious example are the lawyer parents.  Their threat to sue the school is theoretically the point on which the entire A-plot turns, and yet it’s over in one scene.  They show up in Skinner’s office . . . and then are never heard from again.  We see them briefly at that clock eating assembly, but they don’t speak.  We never find out if they’re satisfied with the school’s response, we never see them with their daughter again.  Just like Hoover on the playground and the other fourth grade class, they’re gone in a flash once they are no longer needed. 

Family Guy takes a lot of flak for putting many of its jokes in flashbacks that are unrelated to the plot, or even to the scene at hand.  But what Zombie Simpsons is doing here (and this is far from the only episode in which they’ve done this) is even worse than that.  A flashback is a relatively well understood concept, one that’s employed in a lot of narrative fiction.  It can be overused, it can be used poorly, but the concept itself is sound.  But having characters appear and disappear at random?  Even a comedy sketch with no outside plot whatsoever wouldn’t do that. 

Individual scenes should never require these kinds of desperate storytelling shortcuts.  Keeping things coherent for two minutes or more isn’t much to ask, and yet Zombie Simpsons continues to fail.  And, let’s face it, if you can’t write a coherent two minutes, you have no business trying to write an entire episode. 


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