“Thanks, Zombie Simpsons!” – The Cruise Industry

Chalkboard - A Totally Fun Things Bart Will Never Do Again

“Don’t forget to check out the galley.  That’s real shag carpeting!” – Captain McAllister

The title of yesterday’s episode, “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”, is a reference to a famous 1996 David Foster Wallace article for Harper’s, in which he embarked on a giant luxury liner to experience the narrow, selfish, and vapid thinking that underlies the modern cruise industry (as well as the bland and mostly uninteresting people who think of it as the height of fun).  It’s an enjoyably cruel piece of writing (it was later used as the headline piece to a book length collection of essays he published), and you can read the whole thing in PDF format.  The subtitle is “On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise”, and the main point is that cruise vacations are mercilessly inhuman. 

Wallace held the cruise industry in utter contempt, and not without cause.  It’s environmentally disastrous, ethically compromised, and generally unpleasant on anything deeper than a surface level.  The spectacular sinking of the Costa Concordia in January is only the most high profile of the industry’s problems.  Two years ago, they kept sending tourists to their fenced in resorts in Haiti while people were dying in earthquake rubble.  Crew members, who work long and extremely stressful hours, routinely disappear without a trace.  And just a few weeks ago, two fishermen died on their disabled boat when a cruise ship failed to rescue them even though the crew had been alerted by passengers to their presence.  In other words, this is an industry that places a higher priority on cheesy lounge acts and shuffleboard than it does on human life, and it is ripe for parody and satire. 

David Foster Wallace knew that the only way you could say something honest or interesting about cruise ships was by reveling in the ugliness that props up that gleaming facade of stark white hulls and perpetually happy people.  Zombie Simpsons borrowed his title, and then did the opposite, making their cruise out to be so awesome and perfect that they actually wrote a song about how awesome and perfect it is.  I realize it’s not their job to do exposes on irresponsible corporate behavior, but by sticking with such a sunny perspective they limited themselves to only the safest and most tame kinds of comedy (when they were bothering to attempt humor at all). 

Of course, the episode did eventually descend into post apocalyptic chaos (and I thought we were done with the “Outlands”), but only after acting as an unpaid and unquestioning endorsement for most of its run time (and concluding that the only way to have a bad time on a cruise is to take one with Bart Simpson).  And, it goes almost without saying, no part of the episode made the least bit of sense, from the completely unnecessary (and exposition filled) scenes where the family paid for the vacation, to Bart’s panic after the song, to the immediate descent of the ship into Mad Max 4: The Wet Warrior, to a quick sketch or two in Antarctica.  Along the way, characters wander in and out of scenes for no discernable reason, the plot swings wildly from one idea to another, and most of the stabs at being funny are paint-by-number bricks like this:

Lisa: It’s so diverse!  I’ve died and gone to a PBS kids show.
[Kids in wheelchairs roll up out of nowhere.]

And this:

Marge: You’ll never guess how many bath towels they gave us.  Enough!
Bart: And there’s a DVD library of movies that haven’t been released yet!  Whoa.  Whoa.

The episode wasn’t completely without its charms, “Magazine Hater” magazine is pretty clever, and the cult of the lifeguard isn’t a terrible idea.  But, again and as usual, the stuff that has a little bit of thought to it is drowned in a sea of garbage that can’t rise to the level of being semi-clever or even coherent.  When this is your ending . . .

Best Vacation Ever!

. . . the ship has irreversibly foundered. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they continue to be historically bad.  Only 5.00 million viewers sat through last night’s infomercial for Carnival and company before hitting up the buffet.  That ties last year’s “The Great Simpsina” for the fourth lowest number ever.  The post-New Year’s episodes of Season 22 generally hovered around six million viewers.  Season 23 is down to five million, and routinely fails to get even that many. 

17 Responses to ““Thanks, Zombie Simpsons!” – The Cruise Industry”

  1. 1 Stan
    30 April 2012 at 4:35 pm

    IMO it was one of those episodes in which they start up with already having a point in their plot (Bart hates everyday monotony, which is kinda something we didn’t see for a long time), but once they get to the next step it’s like a one card too many in a cardhouse and everything just falls apart.

    I’d also say that “Simpsons go to Antarctica” is the lowest-possible plotwise story of all the vacations they’ve had, as it doesn’t even get the C-plot status here. They simply needed that option checked and so they did. End of story.

  2. 2 Patrick
    30 April 2012 at 8:24 pm

    The american dad episode ‘the vacation goo’ came on the tv 2 hours ago and well yeah they made fun of the cruise industry that was funny and clever.

  3. 3 Patrick
    30 April 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Also they would freeze to death in real life but ZS is a zillion miles away from reality

  4. 30 April 2012 at 8:54 pm

    I THOUGHT that opening montage with Hot Chip was technically well done but it wasn’t actually funny and it went on too long. I did like how the ship got more and more diminished as the morales of the passengers did, though it’s kind of an obvious thing to do. KUDOS TO THEM FOR ACTUALLY HAVING NEW CHARACTERS AND NOT JUST THROWING RANDOM SIMPSONS UNIVERSE CHARACTERS IN THERE ON THE SHIP. In fact, this episode might have the lowest “Regular-Simpsons-universe-characters” episode of any.

    The ending, with (eehhhhh) Animal Collective and Bart sliding and then being old and dying was supposed to be sweet, but it just ended up being cheesy and fake… the show is too cold to have emotions at this point, so it just came off as shit.

    BAD episode.

    • 30 April 2012 at 8:55 pm

      Also re: David Foster Wallace .. I just got INFINITE JEST last week and it’s been ruling my life, so much so that I had to put down the DS’s HOTEL DUSK for a bit…so, I was taken aback a bit by them referencing DFW..

    • 6 Stan
      30 April 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Those things you mention, well at least for Bart’s montage and him being old at the end, I actually liked those. I mean I didn’t hate them as much. But when he goes “WAAANT!” with unnecessary screaming, and then for some reason the whole family listens to him and decides to go on an expensive vacation, and the whole upgraded upgrade thing before the first break did set the usual “shitsons” mood for me, so from there on I just decided to see where this whole thing is going. Obviously, it didn’t go too far in terms of storytelling, as usual, and when the family got off at Antarctica I knew it was going end with either some silly dance, or Homer doing something stupid again. I was close.

  5. 7 Derp
    30 April 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Did this feel like it wasn’t a Simpsons episode to anyone else? Bart’s role could have been fulfilled by Peter Griffin or Roger or Rallo. All the interactions could have been the same.

    Calling it Zombie “Simpsons” might be high praise now.

    • 1 May 2012 at 1:06 am

      Hahah. Good point. It felt like a CLEVELAND SHOW episode to me, aside from the Family Guy-esque flashbacks (at least the ending had an honest-to-god CALLBACK to a scene, which means a LITTLE thought went into it). Definitely from the McFarlane gene pool, seemingly.

      If you strain a bit you can find some clever things like some of the sign gags and freezeframe jokes… but the problem is, early Simpsons episodes didn’t force you to hit “pause” for the only decent jokes in the whole episode!

      • 9 Stan
        1 May 2012 at 9:26 am

        How can you compare two clearly different show schematics? MacFarlane would’ve never brought it up like that. In his shows there’s either jokes of talking animals, or someone doing something unrealistically stupid (not just plain stupid), plus the high amount of unnecessary gore and violence, etc. At least here we don’t see it. Point being they all suck, it’s just sad of the Simpsons to suck so because in the 90s there were quite spectacular.

        • 10 Derp
          1 May 2012 at 9:59 am

          Bart in this episode could have very easily been replaced by Rallo and Lisa with Junior.

          • 11 Stan
            1 May 2012 at 2:56 pm

            Seeing Rallo do that would be too much of a consideration: he’s only 5 years old, how would he even be bored with life already. Just like talking animals, this thing’s fucking absurd.

            But I totally buy Bart’s boredom. Totally. Too bad they had to turd out the rest of the episode like they always do.

            • 2 May 2012 at 12:17 am

              Ah, I just meant the plotline and pacing seemed more like something from McFarlane’s gene pool. As someone mentioned, it didn’t even FEEL like the Simpsons, Zombie or otherwise. Not to me at least.

  6. 13 Pumpkinhead
    1 May 2012 at 3:33 am

    I have to be honest, I really like that shot of the family in the antarctic.

  7. 1 May 2012 at 8:54 am

    yep. seth macfarlane works just fine for me.

  8. 15 Cyberen
    1 May 2012 at 12:20 pm

    You would think if there was one thing the Simpsons could do it would be satirize an industry as self-indulgent as the modern-day cruise but it falls short, even of Futurama’s “A Flight to Remember”.

  9. 28 May 2012 at 7:24 pm

    No real take on it as an episode — it was boring and hardly worth revisiting — but thanks for the introduction to the DFW essay.

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