Compare & Contrast: Burns’ Old Romances

Burns, Baby Burns4

“Aw, Pop, don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be here.  But how’s a guy like you wind up with a son like me?” – Larry

[Programming Note: Sorry for the late posting on this.  Reading Digest should be along at roughly the usual time later today.]

The most obvious repeat in “Four Regrettings and a Funeral” was the use of “Memories” for Homer’s flashback.  Par for the course for Zombie Simpsons, it was a very weak imitation.  In “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love”, we see Homer reminiscing about all the things he did with his stomach over the years, from march in a parade with it as the face, eat French fries off of it, and bounce his baby daughter on it.  It’s something we already knew about Homer (indeed, his fatness is one of his defining characteristics), and everything’s plausible while still being silly, funny and just a little bit bittersweet.  In this one, it’s a bowling ball we’ve never seen him use before (and isn’t even the Stealth Bowler), and he does things like give it mouth-to-mouth after getting pulled out of a pool with it.  The idiocy has been turned up, the sentiment turned down, and none of the things we see make any sense.  And that’s before you get to the fact that they had already used the exact same song for the exact same reason back in Season 3.

But as transparently hacktacular as that was, it doesn’t hold a candle to one of the worst tics of Zombie Simpsons: making Burns – the epitome of unlimited evil and callous greed – both sweet and sentimental.  It’s a total hollowing out of his character (one they’ve done before, of course), and what makes it especially neutering is that we’ve already seen how the real Burns acted in an identical situation back in Season 8.

Instead of using repetitive flashbacks to fill in and support an already threadbare story, “Burns, Baby Burns” uses a single one to quickly give us the very Burns-esque background to Rodney Dangerfield’s conception and birth.  It can’t be described any better than Burns does it, so I’ll just quote him:

Who should appear, but the unrequited love of my college years, Mimsy Bancroft.  Of course, by then Mimsy had her share of wrinkles and a gray hair or two.  But my adoring eye saw past those minor imperfections to her twenty-one year old daughter Lilly.

From there, Burns knocks up a woman young enough to be his daughter and then lets her family bundle her off to a “convent in the South Seas”.  After all, what else is a tyrannical, middle age plutocrat to do with an illegitimate son he doesn’t want?  By contrast, in “Four Regrettings and a Funeral”, Burns pines endlessly, his wistful music barely stops, and, just in case the title was too subtle, he repeatedly regrets letting his old flame go out loud:

She broke my first heart.


I will find Lila and win her back!

To be fair, the lost love is a much bigger part of the new episode than it was of the good one.  But the discrepancy in screentime has nothing to do with the differing characterizations of Burns.  In Season 8 he instantly blew past his heartsick regret for the younger and prettier version, insulting the mother and scandalizing the entire family in the process.  Without ever making it explicit, they show us a Burns who is callous, self centered and basically incapable of love.

In Season 25, Burns mopes and moans and is struck so lovesick by the passing of his geriatric girlfriend that he not only cares about people, he does so longer than even she asked him to.  This is a Burns of deep and abiding empathy, the polar opposite of a man who impregnated and abandoned the daughter of a woman he claimed to love.  It certainly makes him a more likable network sitcom character, but that kind of cheap teevee redemption was always beneath The Simpsons.  Zombie Simpsons, on the other hand, thinks it clever and original.


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