Compare & Contrast: Big Screens and Ballgames

“Homer!  Homer!  X-Y-Z.” – Marge Simpson
“Examine my zipper, why?  Whoops.” – Homer Simpson

Zombie Simpsons is nothing if not a heartless and brainless imitation of The Simpsons.  Unfortunately for those charged with doing the imitating, the real thing left very few topics uncovered during its run.  Consequently, Zombie Simpsons is forced to dig up old ideas, slap a more modern theme on them, and pretend that they’ve done something new.  This happens in ways small and large. 

For a small one, look at the awkward way “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” dredged up Bart’s crank calls to Moe.  Times have changed and crank calling doesn’t really exist anymore, but that didn’t stop Zombie Simpsons from haphazardly trying to cram its bloated, rotting foot into the glass slipper.  Not only would Moe be able to instantly identify Bart as the sender (as anyone who’s ever used a cell phone knows), but why does he read it aloud?  When it was a phone call looking for someone at the bar, he called out the name like a person in his position ordinarily would.  Now that it’s a text message, there’s no reason for him to say it out loud, even if it had been a mildly plausible fake name. 

The scene was just Moe saying “I. M. A. Wiener” as though he was reading from a cue card.  “Mike Rotch”, “Jacques Strap”, “Seymour Butz”, the whole gag is that these are names that are actually jokes.  What’s “I. M. A. Wiener”?  Not a single part of this works.  It’s like that kid from grade school who told a joke and got a laugh, and then kept telling the same joke long after everyone else had moved on. 

For a larger example, we turn to family sports outings.  In both “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” and “Dancin’ Homer”, the family Simpson takes a trip to a ball game courtesy of Charles Montgomery Burns.  The differences start to pile up before the family even arrives at the stadium.  In “Dancin’ Homer”, we hear that the family is there because it was “Nuclear Plant Employees, Spouses, and No More Than Three Children Night”.  This setup takes just a couple of seconds, is perfectly consistent with Homer’s role in life as a faceless blue-collar slug, and even sneaks in a joke about how cheap Mr. Burns is, all in a single line of dialogue.  (And it’s immediately followed by Otto’s fantastic two birds with one stone line.) 

Zombie Simpsons is incapable of such a quick and well crafted opening.  Instead it serves up more than two minutes of Burns and Smithers in an old time hot air balloon, all the plant employees just hanging out in the parking lot (with rifles), a cathedral that materializes out of nowhere and then vanishes just as suddenly, and Burns personally rewarding Homer.  It’s everything The Simpsons never was: overwrought, drawn out, illogical, you name it. 

Things get worse when Zombie Simpsons finally gets to the stadium.  In a repeat of their meandering trip to the desert a few weeks ago, they proceed immediately to a series of disconnected set pieces that aren’t related to one another or to the episode as a whole.  There are four skits here, the “Museum of Tolerance”, the masseuse store, the mascot zoo, and the guys who don’t like sports.  Just like last time, they could’ve been placed in any order whatsoever without a single change to the dialogue. 

Bad Sketch ComedyThese scenes have been rearranged.  Don’t feel bad if you didn’t notice, neither did the script supervisor.

“Dancin’ Homer” suffers from none of that aimlessness.  Each scene, each line of dialogue, is precisely positioned to lead into and build up the next one.  First there’s Homer and Bart’s discussion of the nature of minor league baseball (“Aren’t we gonna see any washed up major leaguers?”), Lisa’s ode to the Americana of the “old ball yard”, and Homer reminding her that it includes beer in “seventy-two ounce tubs” and heckling the umpires. 

In a few joke addled lines we see everything we need to see to setup the remaining time at the ball park: Homer’s happiness at being able to get drunk at the game, Bart’s love of faded athletes, and Homer’s nervousness around Burns (the one thing that can spoil his fun).  All that while they’re making fun of everything in sight.  From Flash Baylor hitting on Marge to the overlong national anthem to advertising for “$pringfield $avings” (Safe From 1890-1986, 1988-) and “Royal Majesty” (Clothing For the Obese or Gangly Gentleman), there’s nary a moment wasted.  And all without shoehorning in any unrelated or ill fitting set pieces.  When Burns sits down next to the Simpsons, we can feel Homer’s disappointment because up to that point he’d been having such a good time. 

Right before that happens we get a scene that, more than any other here, really illustrates the yawning chasm between the satirical joy of The Simpsons, and the crude freak show of Zombie Simpsons.  Homer finds himself up on the jumbotron, unaware that his fly is open until after he’s waved to the crowd and identified himself.  Since he’s in the previously established good mood, he takes the gentle ribbing in stride and everyone keeps having fun.  It’s short, simple, and good natured, the kind of thing that might happen to a real person at a real stadium.

Dancin' Homer5

Lisa’s embarrassed.  Bart thinks it’s funny.  Homer laughs it off.  Everyone’s in character.

By contrast, when Bart gets put up on the video board in “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing” the jumbotron lingers on him long past the point of anything being funny.  It’s not a grown man with his fly down, which he can quickly correct and is basically harmless.  It’s leering at little kid who wet his pants, which he’s stuck with.  Worse, the tickling alone takes thirty seconds; the scoreboard operator seems to know, almost by magic, that Bart and Homer are important and he should leave them up there forever.  It becomes ugly and uncomfortable long before Bart pisses himself, and then it manages to become even dumber. 

Jumbotron Stupidity

Lucky they had that graphic ready. 

Once again Zombie Simpsons shows its complete inability to tell a story or make a point without battering its audience in the face.  The entire scene takes more than a minute, and to make it abundantly clear that these are not characters with whom the audience can identify but rather one dimensional caricatures, Marge does nothing.  She doesn’t castigate her husband.  She doesn’t act to help her child in any way.  Unlike in “Dancin’ Homer” she just sits there like a comedy prop and sets up Homer for his next little bit about doing the wave.  None of them are the least bit human anymore, which makes the show’s clumsily heavy handed stabs at emotion, in this case Bart’s embarrassment, completely meaningless.  Hell, Family Guy handled a similar situation with far more realism and humor.

The stadium scenes are reflections of their respective programs.  On The Simpsons, a recognizable family goes to a recognizable event, and the show has fun at their expense and that of the world around them, all while telling a single story.  (One in which, I might add, Homer’s a lucky amateur and not an instant professional.)  On Zombie Simpsons, some hardened, bitter television characters act through some set pieces, all the while talking like narrators and comedy writers. 

24 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Big Screens and Ballgames”

  1. 1 Mr. Incognito (AKA Landry H.)
    30 March 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Something else that needs to be noted is that not only is ZS trying to imitate The Simpsons and other shows, it’s also regurgitating its own jokes.

    Remember that in The Simpsons Movie, Bart tries to divert Not Hank Scorpio from shooting his dad by mentioning the treasure of “Ima Weiner” (or however you want to spell it).

    The writers must have such a short attention span that they recycle a joke from less than 5 years ago. Either that, or there’s constant turnover in the Writers Department™ that those running the show don’t remember what happened in The Movie. That’s how forgettable Zombie Simpsons is.

    Let’s not also forget that South Park gave us a much funnier and relevant “Museum of Tolerance” (or whatever it was called) plus Tolerance Camp.

    This is where we’re at, folks.

  2. 2 Anyonymouse
    30 March 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Good lord this episode was bad, but the most shocking part for me was nearing the end where Homer was left being strangled in the noose while Bart text messages Moe, leaving his father to choke to death without showing ANY kind of emotion until his own life was in danger.

    What the hell? Absolutely disgusting.

    • 3 Stan
      30 March 2011 at 10:23 pm

      Why, don’t forget that in this show Homer is not a father anymore. Heck, he’s not even human. He’s some sort of voodoo doll being tortured in any possible way, and then all of a sudden coming back to say something half-way serious. If something, it feels like having a business conversation with a clown who constantly dodges balls or something.

  3. 4 Anonymous
    30 March 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I can’t imagine anyone who would actually enjoy these new episode, except for possibly retarded children.

    • 5 Stan
      30 March 2011 at 10:25 pm

      Nah, retarded children don’t watch that. They’re too busy winning the Special Olympics. Potheads, crackwhores, add-ridden internet boxxies and shit, now we’re talking ZS audience.

  4. 6 Danny
    30 March 2011 at 5:10 pm

    “Lucky they had that graphic ready.”

    During the scene, I actually expected them to cut to the scoreboard operator saying something along these lines.

  5. 7 Patrick
    30 March 2011 at 6:41 pm

    The most heartless moment was when Homer had a “wonderful” dream about suffocating his father to death, now I know that Homer and Abe’s relationship was always frosty but JESUS FUCKING CHRIST THAT’S JUST PLAIN BRUTAL AND DARK, even Family Guy wouldn’t do something like that :O.

    • 8 James
      31 March 2011 at 7:56 am

      I remember that – even with my standards for Zombie Simpsons as low as they are, that shocked me, and not in a good way. Absolutely pointless humourlessness posing as ‘dark’ comedy. Compare it to, say, any line from Grampa vs Sexual Inadequacy (‘You want me to spend more time with Dad? What about my New Year’s resolution?’) and you can see just how witless and pathetic it is. Hell, you don’t have to compare it to anything to see that, but it helps.

  6. 9 Mike Russo
    30 March 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Fuck this show.

  7. 10 Patrick
    30 March 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Those 3 scenes and 2 settings was a 1st act??? WTF! I wonder if their doing that to make the upcoming 500th episode like the good old days (fingers crossed)?

    • 11 zgeycp
      30 March 2011 at 11:45 pm

      Why would you assume something like that?

      • 12 Patrick
        31 March 2011 at 12:01 am

        IMO the show had a flicker of hope during seasons 18-21 including the modern classic episode ‘Eternal Moonshine of The Simpson Mind’ and the abysmal Season 22 is just there to save the passable material for the 500th episode.

        • 13 Stan
          31 March 2011 at 8:15 am

          IMO I don’t think they had a flicker of anything. I can divide into 3 stages though: early Zombie seasons 12 and 13 – when they still could come up with some decent jokes, just the plotline was messed up, mid-Zombie seasons 14 to 19 approx. when they started reintroducing old ideas, recycling characters and so on, and the zombie-Zombie period that started around season 20 and that just doesn’t make any more sense whatsoever. When I used to watch in on TV, I was actually waiting for commercials to come, cause they were much more interesting.

  8. 14 Derp
    30 March 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Another thing about the text message: Why is Bart laughing so hard?
    He has no idea how Moe reacted?

  9. 30 March 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Usually ZS gives me one or two chuckles (especially the last couple seasons) but this was the first one where I did not laugh at all. Kareem Abdul Jabar’s role could’ve been handled by just about any other basketball player (if they wanted to go basketball no matter what) and Paul Rudd’s therapist could’ve been done by any guy with a voice.

  10. 16 Stan
    30 March 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Well like I said, the SMS joke could’ve been better if for starters we didn’t see Moe as the receiver right away, plus the “I.M.A. Wiener” thing (same level as “U.R. Ugly” joke), plus if Moe would’ve texted something funny back to Bart, a yelling emoticon with his head instead or something… But look, that’s more than a day of work at the studios. And producers need to have their five smokes, three coffees, two red bulls, play some online snake and still have time to protest against Libyan uprisings on Obama’s website. They possible won’t have time for all that.

    Plus, they’re not paid to think, that’s hard.

  11. 30 March 2011 at 10:34 pm

    The minute-long Ullman Short “Family Therapy” was funnier than this.

  12. 18 Stan
    30 March 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Btw, another striking comparison with Family Guy hits me every time I hear people say that FG jokes are “clumsy and rude”. Well rude yes, I’d give them that. But as for clumsy, judge for yourselves: in their latest entry, “Trading Places”, at some point of a well-placed cutaway Peter serves as a crime suspect portrait artist and from the questions he poses about the culprit we see he drawing an asian stereotype face. But what hits is not that moment, as jokes in FG often have the tendency to be retroactive, i.e. hitting us back from the future. Moments later we see Chris being assaulted by a guy with the same face as the one Peter drew. In no way can a joke that completes itself in such a manner be put as “clumsy”, unless of course, its initial setup wouldn’t hold, which was not the case.

    Looking back to this lame ZS episode, we only get one appearance of Burns and Smithers in the balloon, townfolk with rifles, and so on and so forth. Heck, they could’ve at least re-enter some of them when Bart wet his pants, in the same act. But no, they had to stick with a lame-o sentence people got already sick of when buying milk about ten years from now.

    • 19 Patrick
      31 March 2011 at 12:15 am

      Speaking of Family Guy more expamples of retroactive humour in that show include the super devil gag in ‘Boys Do Cry’ (5ACX10), the “Close the window your letting the skank out” joke in ‘Love Blactually’ (6ACX03), the european see and say in ‘Road to Germany’ (6ACX08), the Sting joke in ‘We Love You Conrad’ (6ACX19), The many re-uses of Surfin’ Bird and Roadhouse (e.g. House, Psychic, Criss-cross, Face off), Ben Stiller’s large ears in ‘No Meals on Wheels’ (5ACX09) and the dangerous mosquito that was originally used on Quagmire and then later in the episode files and pricks Stewie in ‘Halloween on Spooner Street’ (8ACX06).

      Please note that Love Blactually (6ACX03) was originally meant to end with Cleveland and Loretta re-marring and Cleveland Jr. (still skinny and hyperactive) revealed to be in Herbert’s Custody and was meant to air on March 2 2008 but when FOX (stupidly) greenlighted The Cleveland Show (Black Family Guy) so they had to change the ending to what you see today. :(

      • 20 Stan
        31 March 2011 at 8:23 am

        Here, perfect example. Even though by itself the mosquito joke is rather stupid than funny: it just bites Quagmire and he falls down, they used it just one more time, as to be sure they’re through with it.

        In ZS we constantly see Skinner and Chalmers do the same shit to each other every time (the “SKINNEEEEERRRRR!” shout has absolutely lost its meaning today), the cat lady, professor Frink, Ralph Wiggum, etc. They are supposed to be equivalent to fillers in the other shows, notably FG. However, they are characters themselves, and so well-established in their behaviors that the audience doesn’t even need them in a context per se, as we all know their usual patterns.

        Comparing that to FG context-related humor is like comparing someone who pokes a dead body with a stick versus someone who takes it and drags it up the stairs, then shoves it somewhere…. like a zombie =)

  13. 21 Mike Russo
    31 March 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Regarding Chalmers, Ralph, the Cat Lady, Frink…are there still dumbasses out there who squee in delight when these characters show up? Or do the idiots making this show still think these characters are funny? There’s gotta be a reason these guys are spammed in every episode.

    • 22 Stan
      31 March 2011 at 11:03 pm

      I assure you there is none. They’re just filler. Or… supposed to be such. It’s been a couple of years we last say an episode revolving around Skinner, even less those concerning Frink, Ralph, Nelson, the Lovejoys… I’m not saying the other shows don’t do it, I’m just saying that if it’s not about them anymore, then why the fuck do you even bring them back on so many occasions just to have them say a catchphrase, then dispose of them? This is epically lame.

  14. 4 April 2011 at 12:24 am

    Bart pisses his pants. There’s no joke there. It’s just Bart pissing his pants. This was all an elaborate set-up so some creep could jerk off to it.

    …and it wasn’t even that elaborate!

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