Archive for the 'Ratings FAIL' Category


Behind Us Forever: Treehouse of Horror XXVII


“No! No, let me explain! Every Friday evening after work Mr. Burns undergoes a series of medical treatments designed to cheat death for another week.” – Mr. Smithers 

I’ve been staying with friends in Arlington, VA this week and doing the D.C. tourist thing in Our Nation’s Capital while a constant loop of “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” plays inside my head (with a side order of “Amendment to Be“). That left watching another lifeless Zombie Simpsons Halloween special pretty low on my priority list. But watch it I did, and it was, well, lifeless.

At the risk of repeating myself, the attention span of Zombie Simpsons has grown so short that they can’t even write coherent 6-7 minute segments. Like several previous Halloween episodes, this one was atomized even further, starting with an opening sketch with fan service ghosts, then going into a long couch gag that was a parody of Planet of the Apes called “Planet of the Couches” (<- creative!). After that they did their three main segments before ending with a 600th episode montage that made me pine for the days when they refused to celebrate meaningless milestones.

The first segment was a Hunger Games/Mad Max 4 mashup where Burns somehow had taken all the water. Here’s a typically brainless scene:

Lisa: Oh, God, me and my big mouth.
Marge: Ooh, I just donated the winter clothes.
Ralph: I’m a god in this reality.
Lisa: Sure, why not?

After that was an exposition heavy segment where Lisa’s imaginary best friend kills a bunch of people. Remember that line from “Hell Toupee” where Lisa exclaims, “Of course, the transplant! Somehow Snake’s hair must be controlling…” and then Marge cuts her off because everyone’s already figured that out? This segment was an extended exercise in ignoring that. Observe:

Imaginary Best Friend: Hey, Lisa, let’s gossip about boys. Isn’t Milhouse so cute? Oh, of course, he suffocated.
Lisa: My Mom was so right when she said I didn’t need you anymore.
Imaginary Best Friend: Oh, I see, so nosy old Marge was the reason you moved on from me.
Lisa: Oh, no, she’ll kill Mom! What do I do?

Finally there was a Kingsman thing where Moe is secretly running a spy agency out of the bar. Homer is some kind of villain, a lot of it is a weird action sequence that kills a lot of time by killing a lot of people, and then it ends for no apparent reason. As usual, about half the dialogue is them explaining what we’re seeing, but I think I’ve quoted this thing enough.

Anyway, the ratings are long since in and they remain bad even when they’re good. On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to pull 7.44 million viewers, by far their highest since last January when they had playoff football as a lead-in. Unfortunately, since the post-game show had 15.38 million viewers, they once again managed to lose more than 50% of their NFL lead-in.


Behind Us Forever: The Town


“Hey, ma, I’m on TV!” – Drunk #1
“Hey, where’s that weather chick?” – Drunk #2
“Ooh, this is some wicked party!” – Drunk #3
“Hey, have you seen Sully?” – Drunk #4

Zombie Simpsons has settled into its rut well enough that they have a “travel” episode pretty much every season. This year, they went to Boston, though in a break from tradition they also had the family move there for six minutes of screen time. Other than that weirdness, it was a very typical travel episode: a few real things and people got renamed, everything was pretty nice, and Homer screamed around the locals a lot.

In what I choose to take as a tacit admission of their massive overuse of exposition, right at the beginning they have Homer say, “Do you have to describe everything?” as Marge is placing pot pies on the dinner table one by one. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from spending the rest of the episode telling us what we’re seeing. This includes when Homer is chasing the Flanders kids around like a bull, several reminders that they’re in Boston on a “hate-cation”, and a truly hacktacular scene where Lisa declares, “They’ve got every recognized species of nerd!” and then process to list them as she walks in front of each one. There was also a montage near the end where they drew lots of real Boston places and had Bart tell us what they were.

Eventually, Homer tears a baseball cap in half and the family moves back to Springfield. Really, that’s what happens. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t recommend it.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they are the typical catastrophe we’ve come to expect from non-NFL lead-in episodes. Last night’s ode to Boston was witnessed by a mere 3.39 million viewers. It took them a long time to finally fall through the 4 million viewer mark, now they do so routinely.


Behind Us Forever: Friends and Family


“I want to go on the yard work simulator!” – Bart Simpson

The official synopsis for this week’s episode of Zombie Simpsons:

Mr. Burns’ search for a clan to play his virtual-reality family leads him to hire the Simpsons, except for Homer, since Burns intends to play the father. With nothing to do, Homer befriends the new next-door neighbor, a woman who eats, drinks, thinks and acts like him.

A more honest synopsis:

Burns goes to a therapist, who then dies for no apparent reason. At the funeral, which the Simpsons attend because reasons, Burns realizes no one loves him. Then he runs over Frink, who was using a virtual reality headset. Burns then has Smithers use Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie as a virtual reality family so that he can pretend someone loves him, which for some reason means all four of them have to live at Burns Manor seemingly forever. Meanwhile, Homer meets a new female neighbor of his and becomes weird friends with her. When Marge gets back from Burns Manor, she freaks out about this in one of the dumbest and angriest Zombie Simpsons scenes in a while. Then it ends.

The most unintentionally entertaining part of the episode was the couch gag. They’ve gotten so used to explaining jokes and filling their scripts with unnecessary exposition that they did it before the episode even began. First, we see the family on the couch with a smart phone in front of them. Each member gets clicked and turned into an icon:


As couch gags go, at least it’s slightly novel. But when it gets to Homer, instead of having the screen flash “memory full” or some other wordless joke like the couch gags have long been, they had Homer explain out loud what was happening:


Homer: I’m too fat!

The phone then gets swapped for a larger tablet and he declares himself, “Still too fat!”. It’s completely unnecessary, we can plainly see that he’s too big to fit, but they felt the need to explain it anyway. I’m not laughing with you, Zombie Simpsons, but for once, I am laughing.

Anyway, the ratings are in, for both this week and last week’s premier. For the season premier – with no football lead-in – Zombie Simpsons managed to attract just 3.36 million viewers. That’s a horrifically bad number, but thanks to the nearly as bad Season 27 premier, isn’t actually a record. Last year’s premier only got 3.26 million viewers. By way of comparison, the previous low was Season 25’s 6.29 million.

On Sunday, Zombie Simpsons managed to display some self awareness with their chalkboard gag:


Unfortunately, they did, in fact, lose half of their NFL lead-in. FOX’s postgame show was watched by 12.49 million Americans, with Zombie Simpsons retaining only 6.00 million. Heh.


Hey, Everybody, Season 24 Is Over

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge13

“Hi, kids! . . . What the . . . is this Saturday?” – Krusty the Klown

I’m still going to do Behind Us Forever for this week’s episodes, but the last two days have not been kind in terms of free time.  In the interim, how about a little ratings schadenfreude?

Sunday’s episodes both scored dismal ratings, with the first one (“The Saga of Carl”) coming in at just 4.01 million viewers, and “Dangers on a Train” bumping up a bit to 4.52 million.  The former is good for #2 on the all time least watched list, with even the higher rated second episode coming in at #10.  Here is the current bottom twenty in terms of viewers:





Episode Title

1 23-21 13-May-12 4.00 Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend
2 24-21 19-May-13 4.01 The Saga of Carl
3 24-20 12-May-13 4.05 Fabulous Faker Boy
4 24-17 14-Apr-13 4.07 What Animated Women Want
5 24-12 10-Feb-13 4.19 Love Is a Many-Splintered Thing
6 23-13 12-Feb-12 4.33 The Daughter Also Rises
7 24-8 16-Dec-12 4.41 To Cur With Love
8 24-19 6-May-13 4.43 Whiskey Business
9 24-18 28-Apr-13 4.48 Pulpit Friction
10 24-22 19-May-13 4.52 Dangers on a Train
11 24-13 17-Feb-13 4.57 Hardly Kirk-Ing
12 24-14 3-Mar-13 4.66 Gorgeous Grampa
13 23-20 6-May-12 4.75 The Spy Who Learned Me
14 23-22 20-May-12 4.79 Lisa Goes Gaga
15 24-15 10-Mar-13 4.85 Black-Eyed Please
16 23-18 15-Apr-12 4.86 Beware My Cheating Bart
17 24-16 17-Mar-13 4.89 Dark Knight Court
18 23-16 11-Mar-12 4.96 How I Wet Your Mother
19 22-18 10-Apr-11 5.00 The Great Simpsina
20 23-19 29-Apr-12 5.00 A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again

Of those twenty, nineteen are from Seasons 23 or 24, with the lone exception being from Season 22.  Every single episode broadcast since February of this year has made the list.  And not a single episode in all of Season 24 was viewed by more than 10 million people, the first time that’s ever happened.  (The only one even close came after an NFL playoff game.)

In terms of average viewership, Season 24 ran away with the title of least viewed ever.  After bumping along in the low seven million range from Season 20 through 22, last season fell down to just 6.13 million viewers on average.  Season 24 sunk even further, averaging just 5.47 million viewers over its twenty-two episodes.

Now, the usual caveat about these ratings: these are just the overnight numbers.  When there are significant changes to them (usually because a sporting event runs long), I make those updates, but these are not the fancy pants final numbers that take into account demographics, DVR viewers, and whatever else advertisers complain about.  Nielsen only makes very limited data available to the public (at least, as far as I can tell), so these are the numbers I use, but don’t try reading anything into these in terms of “Will the show get cancelled?”.

The thousand monkeys at a thousand Blackberries who run FOX will be looking at those more detailed ratings as well as factoring in all kinds of things like whether or not a replacement would provide the same lead-in numbers for the rest of the Sunday lineup, how expensive said replacement would be, and how much Jean and company react when feces are thrown at them during meetings.  (MacFarlane doesn’t even flinch.)  Given the production lead time, we should be hearing something about a renewal beyond the current contract (on which there are 29 episodes left) sometime in calendar 2013, but that’s about all that can be said right now.

[Update 6:45pm EDT: Just saw this: CBS Takes Key Ratings Crown for First Time in 21 Years.  FOX lost the battle for the nuts and gum people to CBS this year and their overall viewers were third at 7.0 million.  No idea what the monkeys will think of losing to the old people network and having Zombie Simpsons dragging down their overall number, but it seemed worth mentioning.]


A Spectacular and Unwatched Catastrophe

Chalkboard - Lisa Goes Gaga

“What the hell was that?” – Krusty the Klown

Give Zombie Simpsons credit, when they embarrass themselves for a pop star, they really embarrass themselves for a pop star.  From start to finish, “Lisa Goes Gaga” relentlessly displayed the pitiful imagination and mediocre craftsmanship behind Zombie Simpsons.  In an episode where they outright tell the audience, right up front in an opening narration, that they’re discarding the usual rules and that weird and strange things are going to happen, just about the only weird and strange things that they managed to conjure were a lot of Lady Gaga outfits. 

Unfortunately for them, dresses made of birds and fire spitting bras will not fill an entire twenty minutes of screen time.  They had to fill in the moments when they weren’t expecting us to laugh because Lady Gaga did something weird with empty and pointless scenes like the school awards, Flanders showing up to converse with Gaga and then disappearing, Marge’s weird behavior at the kitchen table (where she apparently lost the ability to let someone touch her and then quickly regained it), the flash mob, and Homer tossing Lisa around like an hourglass for no reason other than it took up a lot of time. 

On top of all that, what little plot and story that did manage to exist between the Gaga fluffing and the filler didn’t make any sense and crashed into itself several times.  Take, for example, the reaction of the townspeople to Gaga.  When she arrives, they’re head over heels in love with her.  Then, for no reason we see, they cheer that she’s sad as she’s leaving.  Oh, and there were songs, but the less said about those the better.

Somewhere in all that mess, Lisa moped around for a while before she felt better, but we didn’t really know why she felt better until she explicitly exposited it – twice.  The first one:

Lisa: Dad, thank you.  Like always, the fact that I could tune you out without fearing that I’d miss out on something gave me the time to take stock and realize how ungrateful I have been.  Which means, I’ve got a train to catch.

Sure enough, Lisa then catches a train, at which point we get explicit exposition #2:

Lisa: Gaga!
Gaga: Lisa?  Why are you here?
Lisa: To thank you.
Gaga: For what?
Lisa: Look at me!  You did help me, by allowing me to inappropriately focus eight years of rage and rejection on you.  It was like a great sneeze.  And now I can say what’s good about me.

That is appallingly bad writing.  It basically boils down to this:

Gaga: Why are you here.
Lisa: Let me tell you.
Gaga: Okay, I’ll ask again.
Lisa: Now I’ll tell you.

Fortunately for Lady Gaga, Zombie Simpsons isn’t relevant enough to damage her pop culture standing, but that was weird, dumb, unfunny, and boring, even by their standards. 

Anyway, the numbers are in, and Gaga did them no good.  Just 4.79 million people tuned in for that hacktacular exercise in misbegotten pop culture references and inane self help statements.  That’s good for #4 on the all time least watched list, and leaves Season 23 with an average viewership of just 6.13 million people, by far the lowest ever.  Here’s the last five years of Zombie Simpsons:

Season 19 – 8.26 Million
Season 20 – 7.12 Million
Season 21 – 7.13 Million
Season 22 – 7.10 Million
Season 23 – 6.13 Million

At the time, Season 19 was easily the lowest rated ever, and then Seasons 20-22 were even worse.  But Season 23 is a down a whopping 14% just from Season 22.  This does set the bar low for Season 24 to avoid being the third consecutive least watched season ever, but tripping over low bars has become something of a specialty for Zombie Simpsons. 


A Season Best and an All Time Worst

Chalkboard - Ned 'N Edna's Blend

“Like one out of every nine Americans, I’m left handed.  And, let me tell you, it ain’t all peaches and cream.  Your writing gets smeared, Lord help you if you want to drive a standard transmission.” – Ned Flanders

I have two good things to say about “Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend”.  First, we dodged the “storytelling episode” bullet.  When they were backstage at the beginning talking about why they didn’t do Lenny’s story, I thought for sure we were in for four short, equally dull segments, but it turned out that they went with the less annoying single, long dull story.  Second, this exchange from the Left Gifted Bi-Dexterous and Transhanded community scene was one of the best things they’ve done all season:

Flanders: We’re trying to decide on the theme for our Left Is Right parade.
Left Handed Woman:  Our Scissors, Ourselves!
Left Handed Man:  How ’bout Death to Righties.
Left Handed Woman:  We have to live among them.
Left Handed Man:  To live among them is to die!  Are you even left handed?

They over explained it and kept the scene going a bit too long, but that argument is a genuinely excellent parody.  Plus, “Fete Accompli” and “A Day to Pay Full Price” were well above average sign humor.  I don’t say this often, but, well done, Zombie Simpsons. 

Unfortunately, those brief moments were surrounded on all sides by the usual array of aggravating and careless problems.  Need a character in a scene? Have them walk right up and announce their presence (there’s Homer and Bart through the window, there’s Helen, Luann and Bernice in the wedding shop, there’s Bart and the window again).  Want to cram in a personal conversation or three?  Have characters argue and reconcile in public with a total disregard for where they’re supposed to be (Ned and Edna at the party, Homer and Marge in their kitchen, Ned and Edna again in front of the school).  Feel like explaining your jokes even as you make them?  Have each punchline carefully pre-chewed for ease of audience digestion (Flanders with the chip clips, the recitation of what goes on at the liberal college, pretty much everything Homer says about playing Jesus).  And, let’s not forget that the main story involved a lot of weird, out of character behavior and bizarre plot twists. 

Zombie Simpsons has a habit of ignoring the history and characteristics of people, but asking us to believe that Ned Flanders (widower) and Edna Krabappel (divorcee) are unaware that marriages aren’t perfect was bad even for them.  Flanders and Krabappel having problems with their relationship?  Fine.  Flanders and Krabappel not seeing eye to eye on Rod and Todd?  No problem.  Flanders being unaware that couples argue?  Wha?  And how on Earth did Krabappel pull the kids out of a school without Flanders knowing about it?  All to often these characters and their actions are barely recognizable as human. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are the worst ever.  Last night’s meandering pastiche of marital woe and wonder was ceremoniously endured by just four million people.  (TV by the Numbers has it exactly at a flat 4.00 million.)  That is far and away the lowest number of all time, displacing “The Daughter Also Rises” from earlier this season in the coveted #1 spot.  Eight of the ten least watched episodes are now from Season 23 (numbers are millions of viewers):

#1    23-21    4.00    Ned ‘N Edna’s Blend
#2    23-13    4.33    The Daughter Also Rises
#3    23-20    4.75    The Spy Who Learned Me
#4    23-18    4.86    Beware My Cheating Bart
#5    23-16    4.96    How I Wet Your Mother
#6    23-19    5.00    A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#6    22-18    5.00    The Great Simpsina
#8    23-10    5.11    Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson
#8    21-11    5.11    Million Dollar Maybe
#10  23-12    5.12    Moe Goes from Rags to Riches

Presumably Lady Gaga will give them a boost next week, but it would take a viewership of 26 million just to haul Season 23’s average viewership (currently 6.20 million) up to the level of Season 22, and that ain’t gonna happen. 


Failing to Make Fun of James Bond, Bravo Zombie Simpsons

Chalkboard - The Spy Who Learned Me

“Well, here we are at the Brad Goodman lecture.” – Homer Simpson
“We know, Dad.” – Lisa Simpson
“I just thought I’d remind everybody.  After all, we did agree to attend this self help seminar.” – Homer Simpson
“What an odd thing to say.” – Bart Simpson

Near the end of “The Spy Who Learned Me”, Homer and Marge are running away from a nameless (and apparently Bolivian) guy who has just pulled a gun on Homer.  This is the dialogue . . .

Marge:  Why is he trying to kill you?  And why did she call you her love?
Homer:  It was all a training exercise to make me smooth for you.  Of course, she fell for me, and of course I wanted no part of her.  Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain. 
Marge:  The guy from the movie?
Homer:  I’ll explain later!  Strad, come back!  I know you’re in there!

. . . and then Homer bashes himself in the head a few times with a rock.  I like this scene, not because it’s funny or entertaining, but because it crams virtually every problem from the rest of the episode into a single moment. 

To begin with, it’s mostly unnecessary exposition.  Take “Now the only one who can help us is Stradivarius Cain”.  There is absolutely no reason for Homer to say that.  The audience already knows who he wants to see, and while it’s true that Marge doesn’t, she’s about to vanish from the scene without explanation, which is another problem this episode has in spades.  From Nelson robbing kids right from Willie’s hand and Krusty just appearing in that movie to all those women Homer hits on, “The Spy Who Learned” me has a boatload of mysteriously appearing and disappearing people.  And there’s the fact that the scene itself makes no sense: no one else at this fancy party noticed the violence or the gun, Homer and Marge make it to the woods in no time at all, and, despite the fact that the guy compliments Homer on his hiding skills, Homer wasn’t hiding at all.  He was standing up and talking out loud, a very poor way not to be seen.*  When all is said and done, this scene is so dense with problems established earlier in the episode that, in a weird, funhouse mirror kind of way, it’s almost like an actual plot climax. 

There was a B-plot as well, something that started about childhood obesity but then ended with Nelson getting into ludicrous shape with help from a personal trainer.  It had many of the same problems, starting with the fact that Krusty’s mansion is shockingly accessible to anyone who wants to wander into it. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are just awful.  Last night only 4.75 million viewers realized that their imaginary friends say more interesting things than that total waste of Bryan Cranston.  That’s good for #2 on the all time least watched list, and means that (counting a tie between Season 22 and Season 23 at #5), all five of the five least watched episodes ever have come this season (numbers are millions of viewers):

#1  23-13    4.33    The Daughter Also Rises
#2  23-20    4.75    The Spy Who Learned Me
#3  23-18    4.86    Beware My Cheating Bart
#4  23-16    4.96    How I Wet Your Mother
#5  23-19    5.00    A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again
#5  22-18    5.00    The Great Simpsina

The Season 23 average is now a mere 6.31 million viewers.  That’s more than 10% down from Season 22’s 7.10 million, which was already the lowest rated season ever.  As recently as five years ago this show was averaging more than nine million viewers per episode, now it’s barely two thirds of that. 

*Mr. Idle, you’re better than this. 


“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. 


Underage Sex Shouldn’t Be This Boring

Chalkboard - Beware My Cheating Bart

“Mom, this is a little ahead of schedule, but I need help with my love life.” – Bart Simpson
“Oh, my special little guy has a sweetheart.” – Marge Simpson
“I knew it!  Alright Bart, who’s your girlfriend?” – Lisa Simpson
“Mrs. Krabappel.” – Bart Simpson

In what I assume was an unintentional irony, early in “Beware My Cheating Bart”, the writers had Bart say, “Doesn’t anyone realize I’m only ten years old?”.  The episode certainly didn’t, and it managed to be worse than most “Bart gets a girlfriend” stories to boot.  Bart seems to vacillate between being an experienced teenage dater and a little kid, sometimes within the same scene.  One moment he’s happily going down a slide, and then next he’s getting hot and heavy with Shauna (who is herself of indeterminate teenage years).  It would be creepy if it weren’t so dull. 

However, just one oft repeated story wasn’t enough for Zombie Simpsons this week, so they also had Marge and Homer go through a marital spat.  That one got resolved in the most pointless way possible when Marge decorated herself and the bedroom in an island theme, but managed not to notice Bart and Jimbo out the clearly open window.  Again, this would’ve been creepy if it hadn’t been so boring and nonsensical. 

As for the unimaginative Lost parody “Stranded”, I was reminded of their equally insipid Inception parody from a few weeks ago.  Lost has been off the air for two years now, and everyone knew it was going to end in 2010 beforehand, which means that if you still want to parody it, you’d better come up with more than the same tired jokes (nothing makes sense, there’s no resolution, it’s all just empty plot twists) people stopped making two years ago.  The Futurama alien language plug (it reads “watch futurama thursdays at 10”) was the only thing that was even kind of clever. 

The Bill Plympton couch gag was kind of interesting, though it could’ve been half as long and gotten through pretty much the same stuff.  I suppose it’s true that this is better than the usual, but the novelty of having someone else do the opening is starting to wear off.  And speaking of wearing off, Kavner is really having a hard time doing Marge now.  She’s been kinda off for a couple of seasons, but the number of times I’ve thought to myself “wow, that really doesn’t sound like Marge” has been way up since the middle of this season.  She just doesn’t have the same range she used to, which makes it really tough to put much feeling into anything. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are absolutely atrocious.  Just 4.86 million viewers briefly lost all interest in sex last night.  That’s the second lowest of all time, displacing “How I Wet Your Mother” in that spot.  Four of the five least watched episodes ever are now from Season 23, and the average viewership this year is below 6.5 million.  Season 22’s was 7.10 million, and there are still at least three episodes to go.  Presumably Lady Gaga will give them a boost at the end of the year (and I’m not looking forward to putting Reading Digest together that week), but even her fame isn’t going to be enough to rescue that average.


Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Chalkboard - Them, Robot

“I suggest you leave immediately.” – C.M. Burns
“Or what?  You’ll release the dogs, or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you?  Well, go ahead.  Do your worst! . . . He locked the door!” – Homer Simpson

Zombie Simpsons frequently repeats things from The Simpsons, but every once and a while they come up with a perfect confluence of failure, where all of the show’s many flaws combine into a single, memorable scene.  The most recent one I can think of came last year, when they tossed Milhouse off a cliff to have a giant magic eagle save him so they could have him repeat, word for word, his declaration from “Mom and Pop Art”.  Yesterday, Zombie Simpsons put together another one, as it managed to bungle Burns releasing the hounds.

We’ve seen lots of people come to the doors of Burns Manor over the years, and just as many have turned right around and fled to avoid becoming dog food.  Burns does not like other people, and he hates dealing with them so much that he trains his dogs to attack Girl Scouts.  He’s released the hounds on do gooders, on small children, and even on his own employees after the company picnic.  It’s a perfect character trait for him because it is every inch of his contempt and cruelty wrapped up into one casual gesture he orders without a second thought.

Near the monotonously boring end of “Them, Robot”, Homer runs to Burns Manor while being chased by killer robots.  Burns opens the door without even looking, he then tries – and fails – to release the hounds before having them turn on him instead.  Then, against everything Burns used to stand for, he helps Homer escape.  Now, this isn’t the first time they’ve made Burns incompetent and kind.  But it is the first time they’ve had him fail so utterly at what was once one of his signature moves. 

On top of that, and this goes almost without saying, none of the story that led Homer, the killer robots, or the unemployed people who eventually save the day to his door made any sense.  Burns hires all these robot workers, and then ignores them while Homer runs amok, and none of the workers would know to go help there.  And let’s not even get started on the extended segments of town wide destruction and robot car crashes. 

I did actually laugh out loud at the robot fart joke, which is the first time Zombie Simpsons has gotten that out of me in a long while.  Of course, I’m a long time fan of robot fart jokes, dating back at least to that Futurama episode where Bender and the rest of the robots save the Earth by “venting”.  Other than that, this episode can rot in a burning pile of corpses . . . oh, wait.  They did that too, didn’t they?

Anyway, the numbers are in and they continue to be humiliatingly low.  Last night’s remarkably dull apocalypse was mechanically endured by just 5.24 million viewers.  That’s up slightly from last week, but still good for tenth on the all time least watched list.  There have been eight new episodes of Zombie Simpsons since New Year’s, six of them are among the ten least watched ever.  Yes, Zombie Simpsons has more lucrative demographics than most shows so lowly rated, and yes those are overnight numbers, not the ones that include a couple of days of DVR viewers.  But there’s no escaping the fact that Season 23 is notably lower than any previous year.

I’ll do a more detailed analysis after the season finale, but for now just know that from Season 20 through Season 22, Zombie Simpsons was on a ratings plateau, averaging slightly above 7 million viewers per episode, and only declining a little from year to year.  Season 23 is currently just above 6.5 million per episode; and unless it scores some unusually big numbers in the next few episodes, it’s going to end up well below that for the season. 


All Exposition All the Time

Chalkboard - How I Wet Your Mother

“Eww.” – Lisa Simpson

Near the beginning of The Great Muppet Caper, Diana Rigg, playing wealthy fashion designer Lady Holiday, tells Miss Piggy all about her ne’er-do-well brother and the giant diamond that will be central to the plot.  Miss Piggy then asks Rigg why she’s telling her all that stuff.  Rigg’s response should be carved into the walls of studios, film schools, and wherever they’re producing Zombie Simpsons these days:

It’s plot exposition.  It has to go somewhere.

Indeed it does, but “somewhere” is not “everywhere”, a distinction that was lost on “How I Wet Your Mother”.  About two thirds of the way through the episode, I stopped even trying to keep track of the verbal duds that were competing for being the longest, most literal, and most unnecessary pieces of clunky exposition.  Some of the contenders include Marge saying “This might be a clue, what’s in that coffin could be behind your nighttime whoopsies”, Homer declaring “It’s the land of my innermost thoughts and fondest desires”, and the one-two punch of Frink’s “You see, I have invented a device that allows you to enter someone else’s dreams and explore their subconscious”, to which Marge responds, “So we can go inside Homer’s sleeping mind and find out why he’s wetting the bed?”.  Inception, which this episode so incompetently copied, is seven times as long and makes more sense, and I don’t think it had half this many explanations.

Of course, the exposition was only the most glaring problem because it was in pretty much every scene.  There were plenty of other head shaking “whoopsies” ranging from small to huge.  There was the fact that Burns clearly sees Homer leaving the office with stolen supplies before declaring him the only one who didn’t steal.  There was the bizarre way Marge didn’t notice Homer was wetting the bed.  There were several instances of characters appear and disappearing, and all of those took place outside of those interminable dream sequences.  The less said about Frink coming flying out of the sky the better.

It wasn’t all bad.  They do seem to have picked up their game in terms of background and sign humor of late (the putty in the supply closet was nice), and there was some far above average animation in Homer’s dream utopia.  I even liked the extended callback to the Tracey Ullman shorts, though it’s always more bitter than sweet when the thing they do best is inadvertently reminding everyone of when the show was good.  But ultimately, this was talking bar rag redux.  By pretending that it’s Halloween all the time, they can give themselves enough space to add in a nice piece of trimming here and there, but the main elements of the episode are all dumb, tired, and shoddy. 

Anyway, the numbers are in, and they are wet the bed embarrassing.  Last night’s satire free Inception remake was slumbered through by a mere 4.96 million viewers.  That’s the second lowest number of all time, leading only last month’s “The Daughter Also Rises”.  Overall, they’re off more than 15% from this time last season, which was itself chock full of historic lows.  Just a few years ago it was notable when they dropped below six million viewers, now that would be a good night for them.  Us internet die-hards notwithstanding, the general viewing public has very clearly stopped caring in the least about new episodes of Zombie Simpsons.


Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart, Or Just Stay Out of It Entirely

Chalkboard - Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart

“Bart was feeling mighty blue.” – Homer Simpson
It’s a shame what school can do.” – Marge Simpson
“For no reason, here’s Apu.” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

Let me start by saying something nice.  It was cool of them to use that one-man rendition of the theme over the end credits.  It blew up on-line a few months ago and everybody loved it, and it’s heartening to see someone get recognition for a genuinely creative endeavor like that. 

Unfortunately, the end credits were about the only part of the episode where there was any spirit of craftsmanship or care.  Everything leading up to them (including the Game of Thrones intro which went on way too long) was a shoddy conglomeration of half considered ideas, time killing filler, and at least three different plot threads, not one of which managed to resolve itself or make any sense.  Bart as a street artist?  That’s not a terrible concept, but in the hands of Zombie Simpsons it turns into a gala opening that was apparently a police sting, except for the three million dollars in sales and post arrest autograph session.  Homer and Apu fighting with tiny plastic cocktail swords?  Another not-terrible idea.  Any time those things are around it’s virtually impossible not to want to do that, but that doesn’t mean we want to see it played out seriously for a full minute.  It gets boring faster than that even when you’re the person doing it. 

Speaking of Apu, he was apparently in this episode, though to what purpose other than yelling incoherently remains unclear.  In an episode about the Kwik-E-Mart closing, in which “Kwik-E-Mark” is in the title, there literally wasn’t a single scene set inside the store.  Apu only had three scenes, the opening sword fight, a failed robbery, and then the redemption where he and Manjula repeated the word “monkey” at one another.  (As is typical for Zombie Simpsons, Jan Hooks didn’t get to do the voice of Manjula.)  I think that was supposed to be the B-plot, but the B-plot might also have been Homer’s suddenly hurt feelings and then the immediate redemption of said hurt feelings.  Neither was on-screen long enough to make a compelling case, though Dan Castellaneta’s lungs did get a workout, as Jerkass Homer spent a great deal of screen time yelling and screaming.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are wretched.  Last night’s empty spray can of an episode was dejectedly shaken by a mere 5.17 million viewers.  That’s good for seventh on the all time least watched list, and drags Season 23 further into uncharted depths in terms of average viewers.  Excluding the post-NFL playoff episode, Zombie Simpsons hasn’t even come close to breaking six million viewers since December. 


Oh Hell, Let’s Move the Town Again

Chalkboard - At Long Last Leave

“Homer, that’s your solution to everything, to move under the sea.  It’s not going to happen!” – Marge Simpson
“Not with that attitude.” – Homer Simpson

Give Zombie Simpsons credit for consistency, for the 500th episode they served up a perfectly banal rendition of their usual hacktacular schlock.  They recycled two old ideas (family leaves Springfield, rebuild the town), had an illogical, meaningless and irrelevant celebrity voicing himself, and left plot threads hanging all over the place.  No real reason is given for why the town suddenly decides they miss the Simpsons, nothing about the “Outlands” makes sense, either as a post-apocalyptic environment or as a modern “off the grid” community, and what few jokes there were leaned heavily on Homer getting hurt and bizarre asides.  To top it all off, they had a lot of filler in the form of an ultra long couch gag, a second opening in the middle of the episode, and a bunch of set pieces that dragged on interminably (e.g. Wiggum and the cat thing, parading the family out of town).

For examples of all of these problems we need look no further than the sudden u-turn the episode took after its clock killing “The Outlands” opening.  They had just reached their destination, but after talking to the wildly out of place Julian Assange for no reason, Marge says she misses Springfield and then – wham – they’re back in Springfield.  The first scene is them already in the heart of the city before they decamp for a couple of quick stops at the Lard Lad sign, the Bowlarama, and their house.  None of these are related in the least aside from being in Springfield. 

To get them back out of Springfield (after the bullies mysteriously disappear from the house), they essentially rerun the earlier scene from the town hall.  This one occurs at night and six minutes deeper into the episode, but basically nothing has happened in that time other than some disjointed set pieces.  Compounding the problem, there isn’t anything in the second expulsion that even so much as hints at, much less actually sets up, the eventual ending where – for no discernable reason – the rest of the town decides that they all want out of Springfield. 

Apart from the couch gag and the passive aggressive title card at the end (and, for the record, I’ve been outside several times already today) there wasn’t much in the way of celebratory fireworks here.  Abandoning the town to build a shanty one a few miles down the road sounds epic, until you remember that in just the last few years they’ve had Springfield fenced off from immigrants, descend into chaos from Lisa’s social network, and irradiated by a nuclear bomb.  Abandoning or destroying Springfield is unexceptional these days.

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are wretched, despite all the hype.  Last night just 5.79 million viewers wondered why this thing hadn’t ended hundreds of episodes ago.  That’s an improvement from last week’s nadir, but it’s still embarrassingly low and continues to sink Season 23’s overall viewer average. 


Strange Twists and Collapsing Ratings

Chalkboard - The Daughter Also Rises

“I’ve had one of my unpredictable changes of heart.” – C.M. Burns

About three quarters of the way through “The Daughter Also Rises”, the episode took a weird turn.  Lisa went to ask Grampa for advice, which led, without any setup whatsoever, to her, Grampa and “Nick” being chased by the police, which in turn lead to her and “Nick” rowing a boat out to an island.  No reason is given for why things went from relatively sunny and untroubled to dire and suspenseful.  They just did. 

Similarly, “Nick” went from being suave and charming and generally very Colin-from-the-movie to a whiny weirdo.  We didn’t see what changed his mind or why he might suddenly have become skittish around Lisa.  One moment he was charming everyone in the Simpsons’ living room, and in the next scene he was a wet blanket.  Pretty much the same thing happened with Bart and Milhouse’s B-plot, one minute it was going one direction, and the next minute it was going the other way. 

What makes these weird plot turns so frustrating is that, sometime last summer, a group of professional writers sat around a table at Zombie Simpsons HQ.  They read aloud a story about Lisa getting a boyfriend, which for some reason turns into a chase, which is only resolved when Marge puts on giant water shoes.  Not one of those trained, experienced professionals asked why the chase happened, or why it suddenly became so dire, or whether or not Marge should care.  It’s malpractice. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and last night’s terrible excuse for an episode is the new champion of low ratings.  Just 4.33 million people were confused by that ending.  That shatters the previous record of 5.00 million set by Season 22’s “The Great Simpsina”.  Even better, we’re only four episodes in to the typically lower rated post-New Year’s part of the season, and three of those episodes are in the bottom five all time:

  Season-Episode Airdate Viewers (in millions) Title
1 23-13 12-Feb-12 4.33 The Daughter Also Rises
2 22-18 10-Apr-11 5.00 The Great Simpsina
3 23-10 8-Jan-12 5.11 Politically Inept, With Homer Simpson
4 21-11 31-Jan-10 5.11 Million Dollar Maybe
5 23-12 29-Jan-12 5.12 Moe Goes from Rags to Riches

Season 23 is now a mortal lock to be the least watched season in the history of the show.  The only question is how low it can go. 


Sensitive Moe Was the Least of Our Problems

Chalkboard - Moe Goes from Rags to Riches

“The Flaming Moe dates back to my forefathers who were bartenders to the Tsar.” – Moe  

Whatever else may be said about it, and we’ll likely be saying a lot this week, “Moe Goes from Rags to Riches” is further evidence of why there’s no hope whatsoever for Zombie Simpsons ever getting any better.  It had a Halloween episode level of weirdness, gore, and insane things (Moe is apparently a yeti, for example), but still couldn’t manage to squeeze out anything satirical or intelligent despite not having any rules to play by.  It had a celebrity playing someone other than himself, but didn’t have him do much of anything and didn’t give him any meaningful lines.  It had a B-plot in which Bart and Milhouse could have been just regular kids, but instead had them acting in that same weird, knowing, painfully self aware manner that Lenny and Carl do nowadays.  They gave themselves a completely blank canvas with no restrictions on story, character, believability, setting, or even time, and still fell back on things like Homer’s head being used to break down a stone wall, people beating Burns’ corpse with sticks, and multiple beheadings.  Oh, and there was a talking sponge.  This is the show now.

The magical narration tapestry/rag/respected character actor was theoretically the common element, but it didn’t have anything to do with about half the things that happened.  No explanation was given for how it got from place to place, it was hardly involved in a number of those sketches, and the entire thing with Nelson and his many wives didn’t involve it in any way.  The rag may speak in the dignified tones  of Jeremy’s Iron, but it didn’t have anything to say other than to complain.  The entire “history already written on the tapestry” thing was dropped completely midway through the episode, as was the curse of the sheep or whatever that origin thing was.  Confusingly, some segments had regular Springfield characters (Homer ended up as a peasant, a Viking, and a mountain climber) while others seemed to involve just random dudes. 

Making the entire thing even more bizarre was the way the Bart-Milhouse story apparently happened while the rag was narrating.  It wrapped up at the same time that Moe got the rag back from Marge, which means that Bart freaked out about Milhouse (and had Lisa write him a poem or whatever) all in a single night.  If that’s the case, then why did the two plots have nothing to do with one another?  It’s one thing to abandon Springfield for an episode of historical sketches, but to keep yanking us back there every few minutes for some more creepy passive aggressive conversation between Bart and Milhouse just made it even more sloppy and scatterbrained than it already was. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are lower and grimier than the floor at Moe’s.  Last night’s incoherent history essay was yawned through by a mere 5.12 million people.  That’s just a hair above three weeks ago and is good for fourth place on the all time lowest rated list.  Season 23 remains on track to be the least watched ever by a fair margin. 


When a Movie Template Goes Nowhere

Chalkboard - The D'Oh-cial Network

“Now I finally have time to do what I’ve always wanted, write the great American novel.  Mine is about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques.  I call it, ‘Billy and the Cloneasaurus”. – Seymour Skinner
“Oh, you have got be kidding, sir.  First, you think of an idea that has already been done, and then you give it a title that nobody could possibly like!  Didn’t you think this through?” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

If I wasn’t so inured to the relentless mediocrity of Zombie Simpsons, I might find an episode like “The D’oh-cial Network” disappointing.  There are a lot of big ideas at play, everything from distracted driving to potential social isolation resulting from only communicating with other people on-line.  Those are things that people debate and have moral panics over, and a show with the resources of Zombie Simpsons could be hilarious and say a lot by making fun of them with wit and intelligence.

But I am inured to the relentless mediocrity of Zombie Simpsons.  So I’m not the least bit surprised that they want me to fawn over an episode because it’s got the same plot and musical cues as The Social Network, while at the same time expecting me to turn off my brain to the point that I’m supposed to buy Reverend Lovejoy never having encountered the problem of cell phones in church, Lisa never having a computer before this, and no one in Springfield ever having used a social networking site.  The nonsense piled up thick and fast, and I’m not sure there was a single scene that didn’t suffer from one or more crippling problems with story, believability, character, or childish levels of social understanding.

To take just one example of an irresponsibly blown comedy opportunity, Lisa designs a social network to help her make friends with other kids, and later in the episode is surprised to learn that adults are also using it.  Does the episode explore in any way shape or form the problems Facebook has had as the parents and grandparents of its original users began signing up?  Not at all.  Does the episode make fun of any of the bizarre situations that can arise from knowing someone better on-line than you do in real life?  Nah.  How about the still unsettled etiquette and rules concerning interactions between teachers and students on social media?  Nada.

Zombie Simpsons didn’t look at Facebook and social networking generally and think, “here’s a huge change in the way people live their lives we can play around with”.  The potential topics and stories there are practically infinite, and Zombie Simpsons ran the other way.  They watched a movie and thought, “we can substitute some of our characters for their characters, and if we add in some car crashes we’ll be good to go”.

Naturally, they were wrong about that part too, as they had not one, not two, but three blatant filler moments at the end.  First, there were the epilogue titles, then there was whatever that was in London, and then there was that strange little animated segment, which I actually thought was the highlight of the entire episode.  It didn’t make much sense, and I could’ve done without the Skinner-reading-a-story reveal, but the animation was interesting (the coal-black button looking eyes gave it a nice Coraline vibe) and Castellaneta’s Vincent Price impression complimented it well.  It wasn’t anything remotely close to brilliant, but there was a spark of something interesting there, which is more than can be said for the rest of it.

Anyway, the numbers are in, and as expected they are way, way up from last week.  The Giants’ upset of the Packers gave the preliminary numbers a huge boost, as 15.70 million shocked football fans left their televisions on.  There was some post-game overrun into the 8pm slot, so that number will come down when the final numbers get sorted out, but it won’t come down too much.  (Amusingly, this is the first time Zombie Simpsons has cracked 10 million viewers since the last two times they were on after playoff football.)  Of course, FOX only has one football game left this season, and, because there won’t be any new Zombie Simpsons next week when they broadcast it, this anomaly won’t do much to boost the overall number for Season 23.

[Update 30 Jan 2012: The revised revised, final numbers did indeed come down quite a bit, to 11.48 million viewers.]


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. 


Didn’t Groening Already Make a Show About This Kind of Stuff?

Chalkboard - Holidays of Future Passed

“What’s normal to him, amazes us.” – Future Guy #1
“He will be our new god.” – Future Guy #2
“Yay!” – Future Crowd

I’ll start right off by saying that this is easily the best Zombie Simpsons episode so far this season.  That alone isn’t much of a compliment (if it is one at all), so let me clarify by stating unequivocally that the “First Church of Lard Lad” is the funniest thing I’ve seen on Zombie Simpsons in a long, long time.  Even better, it was accompanied by a couple of other decent little set pieces that were more than a little reminiscent of some of the less boring new Futurama episodes.  The show only really had one kind of joke (“look at how things in the future are exaggerated versions of things now”), but did wring a few entertaining iterations out of it. 

Sadly, all was not smiles and sunshine.  Many of those same set pieces either didn’t work at all or were dragged on far longer than they should have been.  The plots, three of them in one tangled mess, didn’t make any sense individually or as a whole.  Half the ideas were directly or indirectly recycled from “Lisa’s Wedding”.  And by the end it felt like they were ticking off a list of their most used characters just so we could check in with the future versions of all of them.  The Ralph one was as painful and long as it was predictable, though, to my surprise, Comic Book Guy didn’t rate an appearance while Lenny and Carl did.

Sadder still, this was basically a Futurama episode and they can’t do that every week, so it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.  When they’re stuck back in present times in boring old Springfield we’re all but guaranteed to be back to getting the kind of undifferentiated garbage that we’re accustomed to on Sunday evenings.

Anyway, the numbers are in, and, as expected without a late FOX football game, they have plummeted back to earth like an insane airliner with the cockpit windows boarded up (which was funny).  Last night’s trip through time caused only 6.45 million viewers to wonder if Zombie Simpsons will be on Season 53 in 2041.  That’s back to being well below the Season 22 average of 7.10 million viewers, and it’s lower than any fall episode in either Season 21 or Season 22.  So while for one night I didn’t totally regret watching Zombie Simpsons, I’m still glad only a few people bothered to do the same.


Dated and Hack-y

Chalkboard - The Ten-Per-Cent Solution

“These days people like observational humor, about things they deal with in everyday life.” – Jay Leno
“Oh yeah, you mean like when your lazy butler washes your sock garters, and they’re still covered with schmutz?” – Krusty the Klown
“Well, kind of.” – Jay Leno

It’s somewhat refreshing, if still well short of entertaining, when Zombie Simpsons drops the charade and just makes hacktacular Los Angeles/show business references.  Once the episode got rolling with Krusty and Joan Rivers, they just went with it, basically ignoring the actual Simpsons except to note that they kept attending Krusty’s shows.  It was strange, but it wasn’t really better or worse than most Zombie Simpsons episodes.  Though I did get a little thrill out of seeing Krusty say that long production times made their parodies look “dated and hack-y”.  Indeed.

The most frustrating aspect of it all was the giant whiff on making fun of HBO/Showtime/etcetera.  Those networks are practically begging to be made fun of, but Zombie Simpsons just tiptoed around them, again replacing actual mockery with gentle fluffing.  I mean, look at this:


Ooh, burn.

Is that supposed to be a joke?  Is that supposed to be anything other than an acknowledgement that The Sopranos was HBO’s biggest show for a long time?  Where’s the poke at the arrogance of selling every show as an event?  Where’s the mockery of the audience?  The whole concept was basically a love note to premium cable channels and show biz navel gazing.  Seen in that light the cameo by one of the Entourage guys is ironically amusing, though probably not for the reason Zombie Simpsons intended. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and thanks to a big football lead in last night’s Zombie Simpsons episode caused 9.01 million people to wish they could cancel FOX the same way they can cancel HBO.  That is the highest number for them all season, but since most weeks don’t feature a late national game between the undefeated Super Bowl champs and the biggest market in the country (that for some reason was still going on well past 7pm), I’m not worried about an overall turnaround for Season 23.  This is why we have averages, and Zombie Simpsons’ are still terrible. 


Over the Falls

Chalkboard - The Man In the Blue Flannel Pants

“Simpson, stop frolicking and get to work!” – Mr. Smithers
“Right away, Mr. Smithers, I’ll just walk across these slippery rocks . . .” – Homer Simpson

Near the end of “The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants” a man on a jet ski appears from the sky just before a raft with several able bodied men plunges over a waterfall because another able bodied man wouldn’t push them slightly to shore.  At that point, Zombie Simpsons could safely assume that its audience was completely numb to plot whiplash.  I certainly thought I was.  Then Homer, who less than a minute before had possessed the power to swim away from the falls while pushing a raft, fell back into the river and went over the falls by himself.  My whiplash came back. 

That was the end of the A-plot.  There was also briefly a B-plot, but Zombie Simpsons dropped it completely after only its third scene.  Maybe that was for the best, because it was bizarre enough already with Bart and the bullies (who are apparently bullies again) suddenly finding their love of Little Women, especially since the whole thing was a repeat of a much better joke from “Homer Loves Flanders”. 

On the plus side, John Slattery was there, and since he’s not quite famous enough to play himself they had him play a role virtually identical to the one he plays on Mad Men.  I thought he had a couple of decent lines, though there was an awful lot of crap around them (Lenny and Carl at the diner was a particular lowlight).  Of course, he’s a lot funnier on Mad Men than he was on Zombie Simpsons, but that’s hardly his fault. 

Anyway, the numbers are in and they are sinking to depths Madison Avenue wouldn’t even consider.  Just 5.61 million people reached for bourbon last night, that’s the lowest ever for the fall half of the season, the fifth lowest in the history of the show, and so bad that it’s brought the Season 23 average down to just 6.98 million.  Season 22’s average, the lowest in history, was 7.10.  If they stopped showing new episodes right now, Season 23 would already be the least watched ever, and the lowest rated part of the schedule is still to come.  I hope they have a good accounts man. 


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