Posts Tagged ‘Gone Abie Gone

14
Nov
12

Compare & Contrast: Simpson Family Gambling Problems

$pringfield11

“Okay, Marge, let’s go.” – Homer Simpson
“I’ll catch up to you.” – Marge Simpson
“Marge, I’m taking the car.” – Homer Simpson
“I’ll walk.” – Marge Simpson
“This late, through the bad neighborhood?” – Homer Simpson
“Yeah.” – Marge Simpson
“Marge-” – Homer Simpson
“Go home, you’re bad luck!” – Marge Simpson
“Wait, I see what’s happening here.  You’re just mad because everyone in this town loves gambling except for you.  Well, that’s just sad.” – Homer Simpson

Zombie Simpsons long ago lost all interest in telling stories that are even coherent, much less entertaining or – heaven forefend – actually good.  But “Gone Abie Gone” (which is, remarkably, the second time they’ve used that pun in a title in the last three years) manages to stand slightly out for the way that it deliberately neutered and undermined not just one, but both of its main plots. 

As with many Zombie Simpsons episodes, it’s not entirely clear which story, Grampa’s nonsensical extended flashback or Lisa’s newfound love of on-line poker, is actually the A-plot.  In Grampa’s favor is a slight edge in screen time, two of the three guest voices, and the title.  In Lisa’s favor is the way her story actually mattered for the entire episode, the fact that it managed to not completely go against everything we know about a long established character, and the way it almost, kinda tried to make sense. 

Regardless of which plot takes the crown, it is Lisa’s gambling problem that lends itself to the most direct comparison, namely to Marge’s slot jockey habit in Season 5’s masterful “$pringfield” (though there’s no shortage of times we’ve flashed back to Grampa’s past in ways far superior to this).  While both stories involve Simpsons getting hooked into costly and mathematically disadvantageous games of chance, the similarities end there.  Lisa’s story is isolated, incoherent and, ultimately, completely consequence free.  Marge’s, on the other hand, is woven into the rest of the episode, actually makes sense, and has an ending that doesn’t make you wonder what the hell just happened. 

Like Lisa’s poker problem, Marge planting herself in front of a slot machine isn’t the main focus of the episode.  But where Lisa’s poker playing exists in a vacuum that has no bearing on any other events, Marge’s seduction by the spinning wheels and shiny lights is crucial to the resolution of the rest of the episode.  It’s her inattention to her family that leads directly to Homer’s crazed search for her, which in turn leads Mr. Burns back to his beloved nuclear plant. 

$pringfield10

Hey, look, one plot actually affecting a different one.  Huh.

But the integration of Marge’s story into the larger framework of what’s happening goes beyond competent storytelling, it also allows the show to make deeper and darker jokes about gambling than anything Zombie Simpsons could hope to convey.  “$pringfield” sees Marge get called out for self-destructive by Barney, her spouse hilariously misunderstand what’s occurring (including being happy that his wife has netted a paltry sixty bucks in 75+ hours of wasted time), and takes a delightfully cynical and nasty stab at casinos and their legislative pawns when Smithers and the hired goons cheerfully enable her.  It’s the best kind of Simpsons take on something: insightful but not pretentious, honest but not moralizing, and, above all, funny about how awful everyone involved is behaving. 

By contrast, Lisa’s sojourn into poker is used as a flimsy excuse to crack weak jokes about the oddities of how the game is played:

Lisa: You put my college fund on a poker site?
Homer: It’s a classy operation.  See, the little dealer’s wearing a bowtie.  Cute.

And:

Cute Bowtie Wearing Dealer: We can all hear you, please log off.

Those are about as creative as jokes about airline peanuts and “what’s the deal with cardboard?”.  There’s no thought and no satire; all you’re left with is the distinct impression that the show has nothing to say beyond that one of the writers once played on-line poker. 

Even that weak connection to reality is destroyed, however, by the unrestrained improbability of Lisa’s success.  For no reason whatsoever, the episode has her turn five thousand dollars into half a million. Given the way it all evaporates for a similarly nonexistent reason, they didn’t need to do that.  But Zombie Simpsons is so disconnected from what the audience is thinking or caring about that they just threw in wild dollar amounts because . . . why not?  “$pringfield” doesn’t even deal in numbers because it knows it doesn’t have to, Marge’s obsession is what’s important, so no catastrophic figures are necessary. 

But even that six-figure stab at gravity (complete with montage) fails because it turns out nothing has mattered from the get go.  Lisa gets wiped out on a dumb bet, but it turns out Bart was playing against her.  Not only does this not make sense in all kinds of ways (Was Bart playing the whole time? Is he better than her at this? How did the site find out they were kids?), but it also means that everything that just happened was meaningless, both in terms of the characters and in terms of the story.  Partly it’s just an extension of Zombie Simpsons’ operating axiom that the audience can’t remember anything that happened more than fifteen seconds ago, but it’s also an admission that their story probably isn’t worth recounting in the first place.  

Poker Playing Montage

We’re gonna need a montage, montage!

More than any other single failing, the hapless ending eviscerates Lisa’s poker story.  In a completely expected conclusion, she loses the money she’s won; but even that weakly rote conclusion is further compromised by a) having Bart save her and b) having the site take the money regardless.  So not only was the entire story worthless, it was so ill considered that they senselessly revoked its entire purpose twice

The difference between this and Season 5 isn’t just that Marge’s gambling works with the rest of the episode and bothers to makes sense, it’s also that it actually has an ending.  Marge’s slot obsession is a problem that hurts the people she loves; by the end there’s no doubt that she understands that and sincerely wishes to change.  Compare that to Bart’s out of nowhere reveal of himself to Lisa, which doesn’t follow from what’s already occurred and causes nothing to happen.  Where Marge’s gambling comes to a concrete end on account of what’s happened to her and her family, Lisa’s ends on an irrelevancy that makes you wonder why she (and Bart) don’t just continue playing since they’re obviously so good at it.  The only reason it stops is because it’s television and the 8:30 show has to start soon.  Whether on style, substance or structure, Zombie Simpsons falls woefully short.

11
Nov
12

Sunday Open Thread

From Simpsons Channel:

When Grampa escapes from his retirement home, Homer and Marge frantically try to track him down by following clues that reveal secrets in Grampa’s past, including that he worked at a local restaurant with composer Marvin Hamlisch (guest-voicing as himself)

There’s more, but I think we’ve all got the gist.  (Sorry for the late post, the effort necessary to care about Zombie Simpsons sometimes takes a while to summon.)




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