Reading Digest: Old Reviews Edition

The Last Temptation of Krust5

“They say any publicity is good publicity.” – Sideshow Mel
“You, sir, are an idiot.” – Krusty the Klown

This week’s Reading Digest has quite a few links to people discussing and reviewing things that are at least a few years old.  Someone delved back into Ortved’s book, there’s a post comparing The Simpsons to their awful movie, and there’s even a brief discussion of one of John Swartzwelder’s novels.  There’s also an announcement from one site rewatching The Simpsons and the birth of a new one doing the same.  In addition to all that we’ve got the standard array of excellent usage and odd ephemera, including a song by Harry Shearer, awesome Swedish song lyrics, and the best food party ever.


The Mission Statement – Smooth Charlie’s Link of the Week is a new blog that is dedicating itself to going through all the old episodes:

The idea: To watch every single Simpsons episode in order, from Season 1 to present, and give whatever commentary I can.

Is this an original idea? Probably not in the slightest. I can think of a few similar things off the top of my head, and credit where credit is due, chiefly to markreads.net where I first got the strange notion that people might actually be interested in what some dude says about stuff on the internet. If anyone’s tried this specific undertaking before, then my apologies for seemingly stealing your idea – I can at least promise that I didn’t steal your brain, and so my thoughts on each episode should at least be different from yours.

He’s through four episodes so far and uses a lot of screen grabs to illustrate his points.  The main URL is here.  Good luck, and I hope you keep it up!

A Brief Announcement – Our old friend Mike is still doggedly plowing through the old episodes, most recently “The Springfield Connection”.  But he’s also going back to school, and that means his time is getting reduced right as he’s entering the ever declining era of the show.  Honestly, I think a slower posting regimen might be an improvement.  I’ve enjoyed his posts, but he puts them up with such frequency that I haven’t been able to read them all.  Good luck as well.

Giant donut and Skittlebrau highlight of Simpsons food party – The click is worth it for the giant donut picture alone, but there are also a lot of tips for pulling off some of the stranger foods the show came up with.

A Look at The Simpsons’ Failed Prime Time Cartoon Competitors – There was that brief spasm of network enthusiasm to copy The Simpsons in the early 1990s.  It, uh, didn’t work.

The Return of the Sitcom Laugh Track – My loathing of laughtracks is well documented.  Here’s some nice support for it:

A 1974 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that laugh tracks did prompt some laughter at unfunny jokes. More recently, however, Dartmouth professor Bill Kelley studied brain scans of folks watching samples of both Seinfeld (laugh-tracked) and The Simpsons (non-laugh-tracked), and discovered that the laugh regions of their brains lit up equally, whether cued or not. Put those two pieces of research together, and you may have your answer: If the show’s funny, a laugh track doesn’t make any difference. If it’s not, the laff box may help.

That sounds about right.  The only thing I’d add is that when something actually is funny it’s kind of a distraction.  Also, it wrecks timing.  And it feels like orders.  God I hate laughtracks. 

Sideshow Bob | Flickr – I’m not even sure what you’d call this, but it’s a drawing of Sideshow Bob, on a mail label that’s been stuck to a no smoking sign.  Oh, and Bob is saying “Fuck You”.

Made with the love of a mama – Awesome:

Now her family is grown with their own families and is spread out across Canada; she now has 21 grandchildren and 16 great grand children. She wanted to be able be an active part of her children’s lives so seven years ago she set up a mobile seamstress business and has been basically living out of her car between traveling rotations at her children’s homes.

Her son-in-law suggested she make a Maggie Simpson inspired jump suit for infants.

"I didn’t even know what the Simpsons was. So he showed me and from there I decided to make them. I made a pattern and the ‘star suits’ have been selling like hot cakes ever since. I can’t make them enough" said Bernier, who had a booth with her hand made items at the Festival of Trees in Stony Plain two weekends ago.

Sadly there’s no photo of a completed Maggie star suit.

The Sexy League of Busssssssy – Oh, Toronto, you have all the fun.  First Classic Simpsons Trivia, now geek themed burlesque shows:

The cast switches up each time but organizers (the aforementioned Betty & Leelando in addition to Sevvy Skellington) have already determined the next theme: Simpsons! Wheeeeeee!

Is it called “We Put the Spring in Springfield”?  You know it is.  March 10th, 2012.

Our Favorite (Fake) Booze – Some fantastic fake beers, including a great Duff poster.

Dope Art: No Homer Edition…… – According to the post these were done a few years ago for Format Magazine, and they are spectacular.  Though I don’t think you can really capture the style of a guy like Andre 3000 in a drawing. 

The Science of Sarcasm? Yeah, Right – Ooh, studies about sarcasm, that’s real useful science!  (via)

Top 7 Adult Cartoons – There was a list with some love for Mission Hill in last week’s Reading Digest, but here Oakley and Weinstein’s ill-fated program snags the top spot.  The Simpsons comes in at #3.

Quirky App Of The Day: Homerisms – A free iPhone app that displays Homer quotes.

The Darkside of Black Friday – Given the occasionally violent insanity of the Friday after Thanksgiving, here’s a Simpsons suggestion for next year:

When there are problem people like this I like to look to The Simpsons for guidance. Two episodes come to mind. The first episode that comes to mind is when the nuclear power plant Homer works at is up for inspection.  Smithers gathers the dumbest employees in the basement and puts them in charge of guarding a bee. Of course Homer “the head bee guy” knocks over the jar containing the bee and gets stung just and pops out of a conveniently placed man hole right where the inspectors happened to be standing. The other episode is a similar situation only at the elementary school. Superintendent Chalmers is coming for a visit and Principal Skinner gathers up the worst kids in the school and locks them in the basement, telling them they have all won new mountain bikes. Of course Bart gets out and hits the superintendent in the rear with a tractor.

Although these plans backfired on Smithers and Principle Skinner I think with the proper planning we can lead the most dangerous Black Friday shoppers into a locked basement with the promise of free garbage. That way American consumers will be able to shop for their precious “Fast Five” Blu-Ray for three dollars with out fear of being shived.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family – Cute picture of a five-year-old freaking out next to one of those life sized Homer statues that came out with the movie.

Vildhjarta, Masstaden, and the Simpsons – I’m not up on Swedish metal these days, but this is pretty cool:

So Vildhjarta has finally released their long anticipated full-length album Masstaden.    I happened to be reading posts to Vildhjarta from fans today on Got-Djent.com and came across a post that translated the bands songs from Swedish to English.

“Benblåst = Bonestorm (got this title from simpsons actually!)


QUICK QUESTION: Which TV Shows Have Had the Best Holiday Episodes? – “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” is the headline act here.  Jebus, I love that episode.

Review: John Ortved’s The Simpsons, The: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History – Pretty much what it says.  He identifies most of the same problems that I did when I reviewed this way back when, but he’s a bit more perturbed by the book’s negatives than I was.  Also, nice WordPress theme.

Review: The Time Machine Did It by John Swartzwelder – Yet another person who thinks Swartzwelder’s novel is funny.  This, though, is pretty innovative:

Bottom Line: Sharpie over the text on the front of the book “By the writer of 59 Episodes of The Simpsons” and recommend it to your long-time friends mom who wouldn’t let you watch The Simpsons over at their house when you were a kid. She’ll probably still hate it.


Doh! Motorist arrested after police chase – Peoria, IL – The ancillary benefits of adding Simpsons to your vehicle:

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Friday, a reserve officer with the McDonough County Sheriff’s Department spotted a vehicle reported as stolen — a 2005 Ford Escape with a Homer Simpson character affixed to the grille — on U.S. Route 67 near the Good Hope junction.

Homer Simpson Theme – A Homer theme for Firefox.  I haven’t tried it, but it is there.

The Simpsons’ Best Episode: Stark Raving Dad – This is massive click bait, but it makes a couple of good points.

Pepper-spray cop ballad sung by Harry Shearer, voice of Mr. Burns – Burns may be a poster boy for the 1%, but Harry Shearer ain’t having it.  The song is funny, and includes great lines like, “So I adjusted my goals/started beating up proles” and “It’s eat or be eaten/it’s not me who’ll be beaten”.

Candy Gives Us So Much Pleasure, So Why Shouldn’t We Return the Favor? – This is stupid, but I chuckled.

San Francisco Giants Positional Breakdown: Right Field – Excellent usage:

"I’m afraid all of those players have retired and, uh… passed on. In fact, your right-fielder has been dead for a hundred and thirty years." -Smithers "The Simpsons" (Homer at the Bat)

7 hit shows that have stayed too long at the party – TheWrap.com thinks Zombie Simpsons has overstayed its welcome.  They’re awfully gentle, but the conclusion is dead on:

And by the time "The Simpsons" hits its 25th season — it was renewed earlier this year for its 24th and 25th seasons — we’re going to be longing even more for those earlier years when the show could still surprise us.

Attempted Chemistry – Who Shot The Simpsons? – And finally, I get to end with someone who agrees with us.  Going through “Who Shot Mr. Burns” and comparing it to the crap that’s out today (including the movie), he writes:

Released in 2007, The Simpsons Movie was a missed opportunity to return to form, to rethink the show and to produce something that, if not as good as it’s giddy heights of yore, could at least be mentioned in the same breath.

Instead they put together a flimsy, overly long glorified episode that, while it had it had some laughs, must be held dear to no one.

It probably isn’t. 

14 Responses to “Reading Digest: Old Reviews Edition”

  1. 1 Chrissy
    2 December 2011 at 6:58 pm

    I LOVED The Simpsons Movie! I thought it was great.

    • 2 December 2011 at 10:44 pm

      Same here. Sure, it wasn’t the best thing ever sadly, but I liked it just enough. I went to a midnight screening and it was without a doubt the best movie-going experience of my life. About 200 Simpsons fans all in one place. It was magical.

  2. 3 Thrillho
    2 December 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Off-topic, but has anyone tried this out? It’s a game where you have to name all the recurring characters who debuted in Season 1, but if you type in a character who debuted later, the game ends. I haven’t gotten 100%, but it’s a fun little time waster:


  3. 2 December 2011 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you so much for the link and the well wishes! I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon, and I hope I can live up to expectations. Thanks again!

  4. 2 December 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Hey, thanks for the link! I might have been a little hard on the book, but I felt let down by it: it didn’t seem to offer all that much I hadn’t heard already. Maybe once the show stops production, he or someone else would get a little more help from insiders.

    And this is pretty much the best wordpress theme

  5. 7 Robert
    2 December 2011 at 9:00 pm

    Seinfeld didn’t use a laugh track, there was a studio audience, or when outside there were bleachers for them, or they showed the tape to an audience and recorded them.

    • 8 Thrillho
      2 December 2011 at 9:17 pm

      Yeah, it’s a common mistake to make. The way to tell the difference between the two is laugh tracks are generally quieter and studio audiences are much louder.

      Personally, I’d rather be given time to think about a joke, which is why all of the sitcoms I watch nowadays don’t have either of them.

      • 9 D.N.
        2 December 2011 at 10:51 pm

        Yeah, I have gotten into arguments with people who can’t distinguish between “canned laughter” and laughter from a live studio audience. I think, generally, multi-camera sitcoms use live studio audiences, and single-camera sitcoms use laugh tracks. I generally don’t care for laugh tracks, because it’s too phony hearing generic laughter pasted onto scenes in post-production. To their credit, the producers of “M*A*S*H” (a single-camera show) hated the imposition of laugh tracks, and constantly fought battles with the execs to have them removed (I don’t think they ever got rid of canned laughter entirely, although some episodes – the more dramatic ones – managed to escape it). In the late 1980s, Alan Spencer, the creator/exec producer of “Sledge Hammer!” (another single camera show) tried to get laugh tracks off his show. What happened is that the show retained its laugh track in the US but was broadcast without it in other countries. The DVD is laugh track-free, and Spencer in his introduction explains why this is so.

        I have mixed feelings about live studio audiences. I agree that audiences can be primed to laugh at stuff that isn’t especially funny or clever. But good shows benefit from filming in front of an audience too. The actors often testify that performing to a live audience lifts their energy level, like they’re performing on stage and have more adrenaline.”Red Dwarf” was filmed in front of an audience for its first six seasons, but season seven was filmed cold and then the studio audience responded to a playback of the completed episodes. Even though the laughter was still spontaneous, the actors said that not performing for an audience didn’t capture the same feel, and so the live audience was reinstated for the eighth season.

        Sometimes the presence of an audience adds an extra level to a show. I know the “Married…with Children” audience has a rep for its raucous hooting, but I don’t think it hurt the show. I still remember the time Al Bundy was about to bite into a toothpaste sandwich, and someone in the audience shouted something like “DON’T DO IT, AL!!!”

        So basically, I don’t think studio laughter is inherently good or bad. It depends on the quality of the show itself: if the material and the performances are funny, the studio laughing doesn’t bother me.

        • 10 Charlie Sweatpants
          3 December 2011 at 12:08 pm

          “Yeah, I have gotten into arguments with people who can’t distinguish between “canned laughter” and laughter from a live studio audience.”

          I agree that there’s a big difference between the two, with canned laughter being much more aggravating than an actual audience laughing. (And once you know what to listen for, they’re easy to tell apart.) The problem I have is that the distinction is often blurred. Performing in front of an audience is certainly different than performing in front of just a camera and some stage guys eating gummy bears. But it’s not like every joke performed in front of a live audience is done in one take. Did the audience really crack up that hard on the fifth time? Or was the big laugh it got from another take and they edited the two together?

          If you’re watching something live or something that was originally broadcast live, that’s different. You’re reacting along with the audience in that case. But when the show is actually a bunch of spliced together clips that were filmed who knows when and in who knows what order, I always feel like I’m being told to laugh, which I dislike.

        • 11 Thrillho
          3 December 2011 at 2:31 pm

          Yeah, even though laugh tracks are generally quieter, they feel very manufactured to me. At least studio laughter sounds like, well, actual laughter.

          I also agree that having a studio audience or laugh track isn’t always indicative of a show’s quality. I wouldn’t disparage Seinfeld, Married with Children, or Newsradio for using them because those were well-written shows with good performances and characters. Similarily, if Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, It’s Always Sunny, or *Insert your favorite single camera critical darling here* used studio audiences and still had the same quality of writing, I’m sure I’d still watch them. The problem is there’s too many bad sitcoms these days which use them, and they come off as more of a hindrance in those shows than a useful tool. It’s like “We know our jokes are shitty, but you’ll laugh if you listen to other people laughing at them, right?”

          So yeah, while I prefer single camera shows as a whole, I’m open to the idea of shows having studio audiences if they’re decent shows on their own.

          • 12 Charlie Sweatpants
            3 December 2011 at 6:28 pm

            “Similarily, if Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Community, It’s Always Sunny, or *Insert your favorite single camera critical darling here* used studio audiences and still had the same quality of writing, I’m sure I’d still watch them.”

            That’s true as far as it goes, but those shows couldn’t have the same quality of writing if they had a laughtrack. The kind of quick dialogue and quiet asides that you have to really pay attention to catch on a show like Arrested Development would be impossible with a laughtrack, live or canned. Think of all those jokes where someone says something quietly in response to someone else. That sort of thing would get obliterated by a laughtrack, and without those it just can’t be the same show.

            • 13 Thrillho
              3 December 2011 at 8:32 pm

              Oh I agree, and I’m glad those and numerous other shows don’t have a laughtrack/studio audience for that very reason. I was just using them to illustrate the fact that writing is the most important quality in a comedy (at least in my opinion.) If you have a multi-camera show with good writing, then I’ll forgive the use of a laugh track or studio audience. That is sadly not the case for most of the shows that use them today. Like D.N., I’m pretty neutral on the gimmick, but I will say that a lot of terrible sitcoms are made even more painful when they use them, which I suppose is a good enough reason not to use them.

  6. 14 oldrope
    5 December 2011 at 3:50 pm

    An interesting read and some groin-grabbingly good links. Now I want to go to a Simpsons food party AND a Simpsons burlesque show (great episode by the way including one of my all time favourite lines: Belle: Are you wearing a grocery bag? Homer: I have misplaced my pants).

    There were also some interesting comments regarding laughter tracks (never been a big fan myself) especially in relation to how it effects writing. I agree wholeheartedly that Arrested Development would not have been able function in remotely the same way with a laughter track.

    Thanks for the link too. Props to you for pointing the way to so much good stuff. I particularly like a well articulated arguments critiquing the show. Here’s a question for anyone (including me)… what do people think of the idea of a generation of people raised on the show, one that has shaped and moulded not only their tastes but also their ideas of what constitutes “funny”, their vocabularies, their ability to write and / or be humorous and their wider cultural awareness. Also has The Simpsons raised a generation that can better it or, if not, kill it?

    I’m thinking out loud. So sorry if that was not a cromulent sentence.

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