Somewhere, Birch Barlow Doesn’t Weep

Chalkboard - Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson

“Bart, I don’t want you to see me cry.” – Milhouse van Houten
“Oh come on, I’ve seen you cry a million times.  You cry when you scrape your knee, you cry when they’re out of chocolate milk, you cry when you’re doing long division and you have a remainder left over.” – Bart Simpson

A few episodes ago, Zombie Simpsons had Krusty point out that because of the lead time of their animation they come off looking like cheap, late-to-the-party hacks when they try to do topical shows.  That fundamental problem was all over last night’s year late Glenn Beck-Tea Party episode.  The subject matter was stale and the satire was stuff that has been done better elsewhere, but the place you can see it most is in the little tricks they use to make this expired milk seem fresh.  They ran current jokes in a news ticker, they had static images of the Republican presidential field on a table, with Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain’s photos crossed out with easy-to-add-late graphics.  They know that these episodes don’t work well, but they went ahead and did it anyway because if you can take some potshots at Glenn Beck a year after he was dumped off television and add in some political jokes no one will care about two months from now, then you have to do it.

Of course, problems with stale topicality were accompanied by other typical Zombie Simpsons problems.  There was a main story that did not manage to make sense for more than two minutes.  Characters appeared and disappeared at will, most egregiously when Nugent showed up at the breakfast table immediately after Lisa was talking as though he wasn’t there.  And there was plenty of really pointless slapstick, including Homer getting hurt, kids lining up to be randomly fired into an archery target, and Homer dumping paint on his own head. 

Watching this, I really can’t help but think the staff would rather be writing for Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show.  Sketch comedy is clearly what they like doing, politics provides and endless supply of cheap jokes, and things like Homer’s airplane freakout at the beginning are right in that four or five minute sketch show sweet spot.  After that one we got Homer on someone else’s talk show, Homer on his own talk show, and Homer thinks he travels to the past, among others.  Of course, all that was supposed to be happening against a background story of a national political movement, but they didn’t pay much attention to that so I don’t see why the audience should have to. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are really, truly awful.  FOX didn’t have a late football game, but CBS had Pittsburgh-Denver going to overtime at 8:00pm, which meant that a mere 5.11 million people remembered Ted Nugent after the Steelers came back to tie it late.  That’s easily the lowest so far this season and is tied with Season 21’s “Million Dollar Maybe” for the second lowest number of all time.  This was the shows 496th episode, and 493 of them were seen by more people.  Giants-Packers will be the late game next Sunday, so Zombie Simpsons is likely to get a one week bounce from that, but Season 23 is now all but assured of being the least watched season ever.  The only question now is how far it sinks. 

13 Responses to “Somewhere, Birch Barlow Doesn’t Weep”

  1. 1 Derp
    9 January 2012 at 5:39 pm

    A couple of years from now this episode won’t make very much sense at all. It’s clearly one of the episodes where familiarity is pretty much required. It doesn’t make it good, though.

    • 2 Thrillho
      9 January 2012 at 7:13 pm

      Yep. There were a couple amusing bits, but I think this episode is going to age horribly. And yet, episodes like Homerpalooza (which was clearly a product of its era) are still hillarious years later.

      • 3 monoceros4
        10 January 2012 at 9:47 pm

        I grudgingly admit that you’re right about “Homerpalooza”, an episode towards which I have profoundly mixed feelings. Partly it’s the fortuitous role played by the Smashing Pumpkins, still good for comedy after all these years now that it’s turned into “Billy Corgan and whoever else bothers to turn up this month”. I daresay also that Peter Frampton will always be good for a laugh.

  2. 9 January 2012 at 11:02 pm

    My biggest beef with this episode is why was Rainier Wolfcastle shopping at the Kwik E Mart? Why would a rich bigshot like him be hanging around a place like that? And why is he, a celebrity in his own right, in awe of meeting Homer? His only reason for being in the store was to deliver his line.

    I also didn’t like Ted Nugent appearing. It felt like they were trying to have it both ways. Let’s satirize these Tea Party nitwits but let’s also invite one of them on to make sure everyone knows it’s all in good fun. It’s the sort of weak satire that packs no real punch. It would have been much better to just have Hank or Dan play a Ted Nugent type character and really take him down a notch. But booking guest stars seems to be more important to them than well written agressive satire. If the original Birch Barlow episode was being made today, they wouldn’t even invent the Barlow character, they’d just invite Rush Limbaugh himself on and the whole thing would lose it’s edge.

    And while I appreciate and applaud anyone who tries to educate people on how ugly, hateful, and ignorant Glenn Beck is, the whole Homer Beck thing did feel a bit dated. I don’t even think the dumbest of Beck’s fans care about him anymore. His fifteen minutes ended a long time ago.

    I think this episode could have worked a lot better if they had just used someone other than Homer. Krusty would have been a much better fit in that role. He’s a Republican, a celebrity, a tv host, and his whole character is that of a souless self-promoter who’s willing to pander to the whatever bandwagon rolls in to town in order to rejuvinate his fledgling career. And as we saw years ago in the “Canyonero” episode, Krusty portrayed himself as an angry everyman but was really nothing more than a corporate shill.

    So if you replace Ted Nugent with an original SImpsons universe character, and use Krusty instead of Homer, this could have been a much stronger episode.

    • 10 January 2012 at 1:09 pm

      “If the original Birch Barlow episode was being made today, they wouldn’t even invent the Barlow character, they’d just invite Rush Limbaugh himself on and the whole thing would lose it’s edge.”

      Family Guy did exactly that around a year ago, and it sucked.

      • 22 January 2012 at 3:49 pm

        I saw that. And yeah, it sucked. Bad. Especially when they had in a previous, much better episode, revealed that Rush was just Fred Savage in a suit. Definitely one of the more forgettable Family Guy’s.

  3. 7 Chris
    10 January 2012 at 2:23 am

    I’m always reminded of the Compare and Contrast post in which you guys explained how The Simpsons satirized ideas, while Zombie Simpsons parodies actual things, and that’s why The Simpsons satires are timeless in their effectiveness. The episode where Burns runs for mayor didn’t parody anyone specificially, it parodied how soulless politicians can be in doing anything they can to win an election. If it had been Bill Clinton or Ross Perot instead of Burns, the episode would have been dated by the time of the ’93 inauguration.

  4. 8 Frank
    10 January 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Oh, last Sunday was a horrible Sunday. American Dad was (surprisingly) bad, Family Guy was (unsurprisingly) horrible, and I finally shut off the teevee about 15 minutes into the Simpsons. Usually I give the Simpsons a chance. I think this is the first time I shut it off before the episode ended. That made me sad.

    I never felt that Simpsons did good with current topics – i liked the more generic topics – more related to apple pie, falling in love and living the American dream. And the episode with Hank Scorpio.

  5. 9 Frank
    10 January 2012 at 2:27 pm

    @Chris – that’s an interesting point. I’ll need to find that post and read it!

  6. 12 ecco6t9
    10 January 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Sundays are only going to get worse with Napoleon Dynamite, somehow Fox wants us to believe it’s a goodthing the entire original cast is back! Meaning none of them were working.

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