Posts Tagged ‘$pringfield


Guest Stars Then & Now

– By Gran2

The plethora of Season 22 guest stars filled me with rage. This show is bad enough already without Danica Patrick, Paul Rudd or Mark ‘Facebook’ Zuckerberg turning up to dig it even closer to Earth’s core. I dreaded hearing Al Jean rattle off next season’s list at Comic-Con (spoilers: It included Michael Cera).

The point is: guest stars suck now. The really obscure ones suck because you have no idea who they are, or why they are there (pretty much every guest star from seasons 11 and 12 falls into to this category, or maybe that’s because I’m British). But the really famous ones suck as well.

Whoever they are, whether they’re a sportsperson, a singer or even a professional actor their acting is always so awful, reading the awkward dialogue that normal people would never actually say, and appearing to have been recorded on their first take. They have no reason to be there, yet they either have the episode built around them rather than a plot, or they appear for one line only. But all get to enjoy their own little ego-massage courtesy of Lisa ("Look, it’s J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. You’ve turned a generation of kids onto reading!"). They just throw them on because guest stars represent one of the very few times this show ever gets any press attention anymore. It was the only thing they discussed at Comic-Con last year. It’s literally all they have to say.

Guest stars didn’t used to suck. They used to be great. They belonged in the episode; they had a purpose to the story or, you know, voiced a character. Whether as themselves or as a character they felt like they belonged in Springfield, just as the episodes they were in belonged on television.

Their appearance first and foremost made sense: they were both relevant to the plot and their presence in Springfield wasn’t ridiculous. It makes sense for Springfield to have celebrities visiting. It’s home to Krusty the Clown, one of the most famous entertainers of all time. Why wouldn’t he be friends with Bette Middler and Johnny Carson? There’s a clear difference between that and people like James Caan just suddenly appearing there. Guest stars appear to present an award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence or to open a monorail and when they were there, they were funny ("A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on"). And they didn’t just then vanish. Most of them appeared in more than one scene, so actually have some kind of character progression. Guest stars rarely, if ever, actually were the focus of the plot as themselves. Instead, their most substantial parts were when they were playing characters. Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, John Waters, Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman. All excellent performances and playing excellent characters.

The philosophy of guest parts has clearly changed since the good old days. Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein picked most of their guest stars because they had unique voices which actually led to good characters. The fact that R. Lee Ermey and Lawrence Tierney were going to be appearing was never really going to draw viewers but they did a damn site more memorable job than big stars like Seth Rogen or Sacha Baron Cohen. Furthermore, they actually dropped guest stars if they didn’t fit. Collette the waitress from "Flaming Moe’s" was supposed to be voiced by Catherine O’Hara. She actually recorded the part but they replaced her with Jo Ann Harris because, in the words of Mike Reiss on the DVD commentary "Something about her did not animate correctly. The voice did not work for our purposes." And it wasn’t just her. Maggie Roswell was selected over Julie Andrews to voice Shary Bobbins due to her great reading, likewise Hank Azaria over William H. Macy for Frank Grimes. Hell, Bill and Josh said in their NoHomers chat that they wanted Robert DeNiro to guest star; in the end he didn’t, because they couldn’t find a good enough part for him. Nowadays they’d just shove him in.

Now to stop me rambling on, here are three clear examples of why guest stars used to be great. Robert Goulet. The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat". And the Ramones.

Robert Goulet’s appearance in "$pringfield" is a perfect guest spot. He doesn’t dominate the show, it makes sense he’s there (he’s flown in after being hired for a gig at Burns’ Casino) and he’s funny. But above all, they make fun of him.

Goulet: You from the casino?
Bart: I’m from a casino.
Goulet: Good enough, let’s go.

Goulet: Are you sure this is the casino? I think I should call my manager.
Nelson: Your manager says for you to shut up!
Goulet: Vera said that?

In six lines, they make Goulet seem unprofessional and then they tell him to shut up. Perfect.

The baseballers in "Homer at the Bat" are also a perfect example of good guest stars. Along with "Krusty Gets Kancelled" this episode shows that lots of guest stars in one episode doesn’t have to suck. Again, their presence makes sense. Why wouldn’t an evil old billionaire cheat in order to win a bet? But what really made them great was their performances, which are all much better than, for example, John C Reilly’s. Let’s just emphasise that: a bunch of professional baseballers give a better, more emotive and more believable performance than an Academy Award-nominated actor. Now, as said, I’m British, and have absolutely no interest or knowledge of baseball whatsoever, but that doesn’t affect my love for this episode. When these nine players die I won’t remember them for however many points they got (if that’s what you get in baseball?) I’ll remember because they were great in this episode. Particular praise to Don Mattingly, Mike Scioscia and Darryl Strawberry.

And finally, a comparison between old and new guest stars, with very similar parts, which have vastly different results. First, the good one. The Ramones appearance in "Rosebud" is brief, but outstanding.

Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I’m sure are gonna go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones!
Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Ramone 1: I’d just like to say this gig sucks!
Ramone 2: Hey, up yours, Springfield.
Ramone 1: One, two, three, four!
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday to you! (Happy Birthday!)
Happy Birthday, Burnsey,
Happy Birthday to you!
Ramone 3: Go to hell, you old bastard.
Ramone 4: Hey, I think they liked us!
Burns: Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: Sir, those aren’t —
Burns: Do as I say!

They are there for a clear, logical reason: to play for Burns’ birthday party. And every single line in that scene builds on the previous one to make it one of the most hilarious scenes ever.

And now Coldplay, from season 21’s craptacular "Million Dollar Maybe":

Chris Martin: [sings Viva la Vida]
Bart: Wait, I have to go to the bathroom.
Martin: So, where are you from Homer?
Homer: Here.
[They start again]
Homer: Wait.
Martin: Yes Homer.
Homer: Do you think you could use someone like me in your band?
Martin: Yeah come on up, you can play the tambourine.
Homer: I said someone like me, I didn’t say me.
[They sing again]

They are there because Homer paid them, because he won the lottery, for some reason. It’s sterile, humourless and they couldn’t even be bothered to write parts for the other band members.

In conclusion, mono means one, and rail means rail. Guest stars are yet another example of something that used to be great, but is now terrible. And that concludes our intensive three-week course. Good day and I apologise for wasting your time.


Reading Digest: 1950s Television Edition


We’ve got three links this week that deal with the ancient dawn of television, some more unintentionally funny than others.  There’s also a guy who draws Bart obsessively, alumni updates for Groening and Kavner, some sweet YouTube, and plenty of excellent usage. 


The Greatest TV Writers Rooms Ever – Smooth Charlie’s Link of the Week is this exhaustive and informative article about the most revered television writing groups ever.  It starts all the way back in the 1950s, and displays the proper apathy toward Zombie Simpsons by only including people who wrote for the show through Season 5.  

I always dreamed of being in a Broadway audience. – Two weeks ago, I linked to this, a performance of Simpsons music in New York.  Guest poster Lenny actually went, and this is her writeup, complete with a rather awesome YouTube video of the troupe singing the Love-Matic Grampa theme. 

The Top Ten TV Dads – If I told you that this list idolizes Ward Cleaver and sees television as a vast left wing conspiracy and is from a magazine, would you need more or less than three guesses to get to National Review?

This quote from Grandpa Simpson rings more and more true as I venture deeper into adulthood – Found this on Reddit, and I must nitpick.  There’s no “and” before “It’ll happen to you”.  Other than that, quite good.

Sideshow Bob Tree – This might be photoshopped, but no one ever said photoshopped things can’t be funny. 

25 Funny Signs From The Simpsons – A slight hint of Zombie Simpsons here, but overwhelmingly good stuff.

HelloGiggles – Homer Simpson’s Top 10 Best Parenting Tips – Setting aside that there are two quotes from the same rant in “Marge Be Not Proud”, this is a great list, with nothing past Season 9. 

Simpsons – Tag – With their life sapping uniforms on, the kids playing tag almost works better as still images with subtitles.

The Seasons of The Simpsons , In Order – He’s got Season 10 ahead of Season 1, but other than that everything single digit is ahead of everything double digit.  Well done. 

‘I Kid With Brad Garrett,’ just kidding – Apparently there’s a new iteration of “Kids Say the Darndest Things”, and this review of it contains excellent usage:

In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer gets drunk at a party and says to his son, “Bart! Do that thing you do that’s so cute!” It’s an awkward moment both for Bart and for the guests Homer is trying to entertain.

The reviewer is pretty lukewarm on the show, but what he leaves out is that Homer was drunk when he said that.  If you got Brad Garrett liquored up and then let kids torment him, I’d certainly be more likely to watch. 

Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel among Hollywood Walk of Fame class of 2012 – Groening is getting a star on the Walk of Fame.  That is all.

Do You Buy Rioter’s Apology? With Help From "The Simpsons" – Quoting four Simpsons scenes to spice up an otherwise dull story about a kid who was part of that Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver. 

Kavner lands role in "Relatively Speaking" on Broadway – It’s three one act plays, and has an official opening date of October 20th.  On the plus side, Woody Allen and Ethan Coen are involved, on the minus side, so is Steve Guttenberg. 

Heineken, Beck’s, Peroni, Tuborg. Duff? – American college student samples Duff in Italy, finds it disappointing. 

A legacy neglected – The history of Canberra, with an excellent reference up front:

But here in Canberra, a city designed from scratch by Walter Burley Griffin, the ACT’s economic development minister Andrew Barr recently declared Griffin was dead and irrelevant. It was time to move on and modernise.

”Griffin is surely the Jebediah Springfield of Canberra,” he said.

‘Mabul (The Flood)’ to open Jewish Film Festival – Mike Reiss goes to San Francisco:

Stein, who is stepping down after this festival, said he is also excited about the "comedy night" program called "Jews in Toons," offering episodes from three animated series, "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "South Park." Emmy-winning producer and writer Mike Reiss ("The Simpsons") will also show clips from his career as part of the program, 7 p.m. July 25 at the Castro.

I wonder if he’ll show anything from Zombie Simpsons. 

Degree shows 2011: Camberwell Graphics and Illustration – From an art college show in London comes one Sam Taylor, a man who likes drawing Bart.  You can see a couple of them near the top of the link, as well as here, here and here on his blog.  Creepy?  Sweet?  Creepysweet?

Simpsons Video of the Week: Smithers’s Deal – YouTube of Troy McClure explaining that Smithers is unmarried and currently resides in Springfield. 

“Well, he’s kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace ‘accidentally’ with ‘repeatedly’ and replace ‘dog’ with ‘son.’” -Lionel Hutz: (The Simpsons) – I nitpick because I care, Hutz actually says:

Hutz: “Well, he’s had it in for me ever since I kinda ran over his dog.”
Marge: “You did?”
Hutz: “Well, replace the word ‘kinda’ with the word ‘repeatedly’, and the word ‘dog’ with ‘son’.

The Upper Deck Sitcom Character Fantasy Draft – Homer was taken with the #2 overall pick behind John Ritter from Three’s Company

Barcelona Are Being Awful Clever… – Excellent European football usage:

Will You Take Us To Mount Splashmore?
Remember that episode of the Simpsons where Bart and Lisa want to go to Mount Splashmore and they go up to Homer and say "will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore? Will you take us to Mount Splashmore?…"
That’s what Barca are doing to Arsenal regarding Fabregas. Eventually Wenger and P H to the Wood will just snap and shout "Arrrgghh! Please just take him if it will shut you up."
Cliff (Love caber tossing, hate SHGA) Mallinder

Homer Simpson’s Ceiling Waffle! – I know I shouldn’t eat thee, but . . . :


i know i haven’t done this in awhile, but MORNING GIF!!! – An animated .gif of Bart washing himself with a rag on a stick. 

prints! – A long time ago I posted a link to a wonderfully over the top Homer portrait.  Now you can buy a print of it (via).

Dangerous Entertainment News – Wednesday, June 22 – Discussing last night’s return of Futurama:

The problem with “Futurama” when it was on Fox was two-fold. First of all, people compared it to “The Simpsons” which is a losing situation for any show (unless you are comparing it to today’s “Simpsons” in which case you have a pretty good shot) and secondly, people are dumb.



Quote of the Day


“Marge, we need to talk.  You’re spending too much time at the casino and I think you may have a problem.” – Homer Simpson
“I won sixty dollars last night.” – Marge Simpson
“Woo-hoo, problem solved!” – Homer Simpson


Compare & Contrast: Magic Tricks

“Behold the box of mystery!” – Milhouse van Houten

About halfway through the ridiculous (in a bad way) main plot of “The Great Simpsina”, what’s-his-face (The Great Raymondo) takes Lisa under his wing and tells her the secret he’s kept for decades.  In yet another example of the way the attention span of Zombie Simpsons is measured in microseconds, the show treats this revelation as poignant and moving, even going so far as to have the old magician finally decide to tell her after he mentions that he has no children and compares Lisa to his beloved and long departed wife.  This is a Hallmark Hall of Fame level of schlock.

Unlike formulaic, made-for-teevee melodrama, however, Zombie Simpsons doesn’t know how to have all of its moments converge at once.  Raymondo has been carefully guarding this trick for most of his life, and him telling it to Lisa is the pivot point of the entire story.  Does she do it as part of his grand return to the stage?  Nope.  Does she wow the audience at the “World Magic Championships” that conclude the episode?  Wrong.  Does she perform this historic feat at recess in front of a handful of elementary students?  Oh, Zombie Simpsons, you’ve done it again.

If all that had been in service of some interesting satire or humor it might’ve been merely horrible, but the episode was light on comedy in favor of what can only be described as magic tricks.  Despite the fact that this is only one episode, the examples are almost too numerous to list.  Raymondo’s side of the ledger is mostly small stuff, like instantly changing Lisa into a flapper costume and back again.  But most of Lisa’s actions in this episode are parlor tricks, from beating things out of Bart’s esophagus to putting Maggie in a birdcage, and the less said about the super powers of the guest stars and the antics of – ugh – “Cregg Demon” the better.  Any one of their deeds would be impressive if they weren’t part of a cartoon, but they are.  When Bugs Bunny pulled similar stunts on Daffy or Elmer it was funny not because of what Bugs was doing, but because of the stuttering furor and homicidal rage of his victims.  Here the audience just “ohhs”, “ahhs” and applauds.

History's Dullest Resurrection

Animated magic tricks aren’t cool, even when they don’t cruelly and needlessly bring back the dead.

The fundamentally fraudulent nature of the entertainment – expecting laughs for tricks that aren’t actually impressive – is compounded when you remember that there was no need for it.  Lisa learning the craft from an aging magician would’ve been enough without the pastel pyrotechnics.  It’s a story that could’ve had plenty of space for historically satirical flashbacks, jokes at the expense of magic and entertainment generally, and the almost unlimited comedy of failed magic tricks.

And here is where the comparison to The Simpsons becomes painfully obvious.  The Simpsons intuitively understood that when you’re dealing in animation a successful illusion is boring because it doesn’t require anything more than pen meeting paper.  Failed illusions, on the other hand, can be hilarious.  Consider Krusty’s grotesquely disastrous ventriloquism when he’s trying to compete with Gabbo, or the giant scar on Milhouse’s stomach when Bart tried to saw him in half.  Even the “mathemagician” in “Grade School Confidential” operates on the idea of funny failure when he flunks elementary arithmetic dividing twenty-eight by seven and coming up with three.

Tricks Gone Awesomely Wrong

Would it be funny if Krusty didn’t need the mustache?  Or if that remainder had disappeared?

The best counterexample, though, is the one most closely related to Lisa’s recess performance, “Milhouse the Magician” from “$pringfield”.  Like Lisa’s performance, the audience is just a handful of people.  Unlike Lisa’s performance, that makes sense.  Like Lisa, Milhouse is new to magic.  Unlike Lisa, he doesn’t have hacks making him instantly good at it.  The result is brief, fitting, and very funny.


No one cares about the cat in the box . . . until it attacks the magician.  (He still got some applause.)

The relentless reliance on magic isn’t a case of Zombie Simpsons being weighed down by twenty years of accumulated baggage and backstory.  They didn’t need to cram in as many “ta-da!” moments as they could.  Just like they didn’t need four celebrity magicians to show up and voice themselves (in an episode that already had two famous guest stars).  Nor did they need to have the secret to a world famous trick be revealed to someone who’d been doing magic for about two weeks.  They did all that by choice, and it’s just further evidence of how much they value razzle dazzle over substance, humor and making the most of their medium.

[Update 14 April: Corrected two minor word repetitions that I missed in the after-work fog of yesterday.]




“You gotta improvise, Lisa.  Cloves, Tom Collins mix, frozen pie crust . . .” – Homer Simpson

Have you ever stood in your kitchen, staring at bare cabinets and empty refrigerator shelves, and tried to cobble together one last meal before the next trip to the store?  You’ve got a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and hey, those two might work together.  Sometimes a bunch of scraps go down unexpectedly well.  Sometimes they do not.  “Homer the Father” is that disastrous third case where you find yourself trying to induce vomiting just minutes after sitting down to eat. 

This entire episode felt like it was made up of ideas from barely legible post-it notes that were found in the break room plus a couple of notional b-plots that were deemed too weak for any other episode.  Even having gathered every concept they could find on every discarded piece of scrap paper in the office, they still needed oceans of filler in the form of montages, dream sequences, and those less than fresh 1980s sitcoms.  When even that famine induced “waste not, want not” approach still left them several minutes short, they sent Homer to China and killed the last of the clock with an “Inside the Actors Studio” bit that was just as stale and outdated as the rest of the episode. 

The numbers are in and, with football once again dominating the evening, they’re bad.  A mere 6.50 million people choked down the cloves and pie crust on FOX last night.  That’s the second lowest number all season, a mere thirty thousand people behind last week’s “Flaming Moe”. 


Quote of the Day


“Your lifelong dream was to be a contestant on ‘The Gong Show’, and you did it in 1977, remember?” – Marge Simpson
“We got more gongs than the break dancing robot that caught on fire.” – Homer Simpson


Sunday Afternoon Cartoons


“And special awards go to the two students who obviously had no help from their parents, Lisa Simpson and Ralph Wiggum.” – Principal Skinner

Parental neglect is one of those things a lesser show would treat with respect, not The Simpsons.  Half the plot of “$pringfield”, which would be a masterpiece for any other program but is instead just par for the course, is about Marge’s gambling induced inattention of her kids, specifically her elder daughter.  In the hands of lesser storytellers, Marge would’ve had a big emotional moment with Lisa.  Instead, Lisa’s worst nightmare, the thing she most dreads, comes to pass.  She is basely humiliated at the geography pageant.

Rather than play this for sadness or poignancy, the show makes it a joke.  Lisa’s embarrassment, while terrible for her, is funny to us on account of the school’s unintentional exacerbation of it through an institutional need to reward failure.  The worst students, the ones who most need to be shielded and helped, are made to stand alone on stage in front of everyone.  Not only does this scene help wrap up the plot, but it’s hilariously mean.  Lisa doesn’t even need a line, putting her on the same level as the blissfully ignorant Ralph Wiggum does it all.


Cities on the Grow


“It’s a proud day as Springfield is declared one of America’s four hundred fastest growing cities.” – Narrator

Via Burn Down Blog comes this excellent example of the kind of short form propaganda films that were the basis for “Springfield: City on the Grow” at the beginning of “$pringfield”.  “NEWS of the DAY” produced this in 1963 as part of “The Changing Face of Great American Cities”.  (I’m not sure how well the embedding will work here, the site that’s hosting the video is a little odd, so if you can’t see it you can view it directly at the original link.)



Your browser does not support iframes.


Easily my favorite part of the narration:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s decision to locate its manned spacecraft center in Houston has unquestionably given an impetus to the city’s growth.  But the growth was already in full swing, this was in fact, one of the reasons NASA gave the nod to the Texas site.  They wanted a city on the way up, not one on the way down, or just holding its own.  And Houston is certainly on the way up, literally pushing toward the sky.

You pitiful cities that are only holding your own will get no space dollars!  Burn Down Blog had YouTube of the video from $pringfield, but the copyright police took it down.  Oh well. 


Quote of the Day

“They’re all covered with filthy germs, aren’t they Smithers?” – Mr. Burns
“Why, what do you mean, sir?” – Mr. Smithers
“Freemasons run the country!” – Germs


Quote of the Day

RobertGouletImage from Wikipedia.

“Hi.  You from the casino?” – Robert Goulet
“I’m from a casino.” – Bart Simpson
“Good enough, let’s go.” – Robert Goulet


Burn in Hell, News Corp

“Sir, bad news from accounting, the economy’s hit us pretty hard.” – Mr. Smithers
“Heh, tough times, huh?  I’ve lived through twelve recessions, eight panics, and five years of McKinleynomics.  I’ll survive this.” – C.M. Burns
“Even so, sir, we could stand to lay off a few employees.” – Mr. Smithers
If our grim economic times are to have a silver lining, this might be it.  From The New York Times:
The News Corporation, the media empire controlled by Mr. Murdoch, said Thursday that it lost $6.4 billion in its second quarter as profit fell sharply at its television and movie units.
Reflecting a sharp downturn in advertising across the broadcast television industry, the company had its steepest drop in the television unit, where income fell to $18 million, from $245 million a year earlier.
Out of curiosity, I went to News Corporation’s website and downloaded their earnings PDF where I found this little nugget:

At the FOX Broadcasting Company, second quarter operating results declined due to higher programming costs driven by an increase in license fees for returning series

I wonder if they’re referring, at least in part, to the fact that Zombie Simpsons is reported to cost them a cool $2.4 million per episode – just for the six main voice actors.  By the way, the show has not yet been publicly renewed for a 21st season and, as we all know, a show does not need to be in production to produce lucrative merchandise.  


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