Posts Tagged ‘Super Franchise Me


Compare & Contrast: Marge’s Competitors and Failure Generally

The Twisted World of Marge Simpson14

“I was wrong to have a dream.  Wrong as usual.  I mean, if you’re nothing special, why kid yourself?” – Marge Simpson 

The obvious choice for comparing and contrasting Marge’s sandwich shop in “Super Franchise Me” is her pretzel wagon in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson”.  In both episodes, we see Marge not only strike out on her own a bit, but into the food industry, and with eventually poor results.  Of course, in Season 8, we get into the story right away, instead of wading through an unrelated opening (montage included); and it makes a lot more sense that she’d be able to open a garage-based franchise with $500 instead of the never mentioned five or six figures required for a full blown retail store; and the endings are vastly different, with one tying nicely into the rest of the episode, while the other involves another random incident in an episode that already had way too many of them.  (Oh, and they needlessly repeat Cletus listing his kids.)  Instead of getting into all that, however, I’d like to take a closer look at Marge’s competition and, more broadly, what it says about how Springfield itself is presented in The Simpsons and Zombie Simpsons.

The first scene in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” is a meeting of the “Investorettes” over coffee.  In addition to Marge, we’ve got Helen Lovejoy, Luann van Houten, Maude Flanders, Edna Krabappel, and, of course, Agnes Skinner (It means Lamb, Lamb of God!).  The setup doesn’t require any explanation because we can tell right away what they’re doing: they’re a group of women with a few extra dollars who are getting into business.

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“Children are so fat today!  Isn’t there some way we can make money off that?”

The conflict that will eventually escalate into a mob war is all set up right here in the opening scene.  It’s Marge versus her erstwhile partners, and it’s strong enough to carry an entire episode without any assistance from a B-plot.  After their initial falling out, we see each side countering the other a couple of times, and it builds on itself all the way to the little guy asking for “forgiveness, please”.

Moreover, the Investorettes are clearly the stronger party.  They get the sleek, looks like it doesn’t even need your business, Fleet-A-Pita truck, while Marge is left hauling pretzels around in the back of her beat up station wagon.  They kicked her out, they go after her business when all she’s doing is trying to work, and they hire even more vicious mobsters than Homer does.  They are a strong and worthy foe for Marge, and the episode reflects that in everything from Marge only buying a franchise to spite them all the way to Chief Wiggum and Helen diving away from the exploding truck.

The story is well built enough to both fill the time and add emotional heft, which means that the show is free to crack jokes and cram in as many funny scenes as possible.  There’s Jack Lemmon’s terrible introduction video (where he has to walk away from the camera before he sits down, check for millipedes, and extol the futuristic virtues of working in a garage).  There’s the franchise saleswoman allaying Helen Lovejoy’s nativist suspicions by calling a pita a “Ben Franklin”.  There’s Homer guilting Fat Tony, Skinner’s “boaking” accident, and the barrage of pretzels knocking Whitey down.  The combat between the two groups gives a purpose to all the mayhem.

Compare that to the complete lack of friction between Marge’s sandwich shop and the one that the Cletus clan opens across the street.  They have no history with Marge and aren’t even in the episode before Bart points out their competing franchise.  We don’t see why they’d want to do this, why the franchise lady would set them up next to Marge, nothing.


Oh, look, the antagonists have arrived . . . fourteen minutes into a twenty minute episode.

Compounding the stupidity is the way that, as soon as they open, Marge’s shop is simply assumed to be kaput.  If anyone should be able to compete and win against Cletus – in food, no less – it’s Marge.  But Zombie Simpsons doesn’t so much as entertain the idea.  Instead, they cram a bunch of weak redneck references in there because . . . well, because that’s what they think is funny with Cletus.  It sucks for the same reason that there’s a difference between Skinner getting his hand broken, and Skinner getting his hand broken so that the mob can force him, at laser targeted gunpoint, to use school money to buy pretzels from an unsuspecting Marge.  Goofy shit is a lot funnier if it has a reason to be goofy, or, as Krusty once put it, the pie gag only works if the poor sap’s got dignity.

Beyond just the plot flimsiness, however, Cletus and family showing up out of nowhere to succeed for no reason is another manifestation of the many ways Zombie Simpsons has hollowed out the wonderfully bleak premises of The Simpsons.  Opening a national fast food franchise costs a lot of money and, if it works, is a ticket to serious prosperity.  By contrast, paying five hundred bucks for a poster and a bug infested bag of “ingredients”, or even opening a food truck, is the kind of low-rent adventure the citizens of a small and poor town might actually do.  It fits with who we know the characters are, which not only makes it easier to believe in the story, but also opens the rest of it up for satire.

Frank Ormand isn’t a bad guy, but he knows how hard and humiliating it is to hang off one of the lowest rungs in American capitalism.  He’s a good natured and well meaning hustler, but a hustler nevertheless.  The mystery lady who only shows up when the plot demands it, on the other hand, is just another Lindsey Naegle clone, with no motivation, no backstory (implied or otherwise), and nothing to do but spit out exposition and shallow punchlines (mostly exposition, though).  To wit:

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Frank Ormand:  Ooh, you sound like me.  Well, the old me, which was, ironically, the young me.  I was once like you were, young lady, like all these people, lost in a sea of flashy gimmicks and empty promises.  Then God tossed me a life preserver, a tasty, golden brown, life preserver.

That’s how he starts his pitch: homey, friendly, and encouraging.  In just his few brief scenes, we see a guy who’s not trying to scam anyone, he’s just locked into a shitty business that, despite decades of evident failure, he even still believes in.  The earnesty and desperation are what makes his cornball pitch funny, like a used car salesman who’d be personally hurt by anyone who thinks his overpriced jalopies aren’t quality automobiles at bargain prices.  Then there’s this:


Trudy Zengler:  Marge, see this face?  It’s opportunity.  Blink and you’ll miss it. . . . Just kidding, I’m right behind you.  I’m Trudy Zengler, vice-president of development for Mother Hubbard’s Sandwich Cupboards.  How would you like to run your own business, take control of your financial future?

We don’t know who she is or why she’s there, but she’s got a zany pitch and a helpfully expository question that just happens to apply to some worries that neither we nor she knew Marge had at that moment.  Ormand’s is great because it’s a Simpsonized version of what a guy like him would actually say.  Hers falls flat because it’s a rote recitation of facts that don’t make any sense.  Frank Ormand’s desperation is genuine; Trudy Zengler, on the other hand, has about as much personality and depth as the cardboard cutout they later have Burns fall in love with.

On The Simpsons, trying is the first step towards failure.  So when Marge tries her best, she indeed fails miserably.  (If you want some butter, it’s under her face.)  But on Zombie Simpsons, cool stuff just happens all the time.  The sandwich shop is a hit and only gets stopped because someone else’s is an even bigger hit.  In the Springfield of The Simpsons, neither Marge nor Cletus would ever have had the money to even open the store.  But in the Springfield of Zombie Simpsons, money is no object and even the dirt poorest are rich when they need to be.  Cloying optimism was never part of The Simpsons, but it’s hard to imagine Zombie Simpsons without it.


Behind Us Forever: Super Franchise Me

Lost Our Lisa3

“Don’t make me tap the sign.” – Bus Driver

There are episodes of Zombie Simpsons that border on manic, where they just throw crazy shit at the screen and hope that some of the incoherent jumble produces a chuckle or two.  But there are also episodes like “Super Franchise Me”, that feel like they were produced by people in the depths of an Eeyore level depression.  This is Zombie Simpsons going through the motions: slowly, reluctantly, joylessly.  The story, Marge opens a sandwich franchise, is paper napkin thin, and since there’s no B-plot, they had to tack on a slow motion fantasy chase sequence at the end to shuffle this one across the twenty-minute finish line.

(Sorry we forgot to put up a preview post.  Guess we weren’t the only ones half-assing it this week.)

– And you can tell things are off to a bad start when they have a clock eating non-guest couch gag.  It’s 45 seconds long.  Just 19m:15s to go!

– Guh, Flanders is reading the sign gags.  The sign gags are one of the few things they don’t completely suck at, so this is always annoying.

– And then they did it with Homer reading the name of the Japanese city.

– This is one of the dumber montages I’ve seen in a while.  Marge is cooking meat, and Homer is worried for some reason.  It takes almost forty seconds.  Tick-tock, tick-tock.

– You want a good example of how filler-iffic this episode is?  Bart and Lisa just watched Homer stuff food into Santa’s Little Helper for fifteen seconds before they objected.  It wasn’t funny, but it did eat some time!

– On a printed, 8pt font list of this episode’s problems, this would be on about page three, but it makes no sense for Marge to make all these sandwiches after Flanders takes his freezer back.  The premise is that the food is gonna go bad before anyone can eat it, and now she’s got a ton of sandwiches that would still need to go in the fridge.

– Similar to the above, why does Bart want sandwiches at night before he goes to bed?

– Oh, now they have a scene with Flanders explaining that he’s keeping them in his freezer.  It’s nice that they tied up the loose end, I guess, but when your story is so week that you almost have to retcon it before the first commercial break, it’s not a good sign.

– Oh, look, the main story has arrived in the form of a woman showing up at the school, where Marge went for no apparent reason.  Literally neither of them should be there.  Well done, Zombie Simpsons.

– Gotta love sparkling dialogue like this: “Mom, you’re gonna open a sandwich store?”, “Uh-huh.”

– Homer’s flashback to a Pizza Hut certainly went on for a while.

– Marge being happy that everything here is hers could’ve been interesting if it had been developed beyond having her just say “my” over and over.

– Krusty and Mr. Teeny just showed up for some reason.  And now the monkey is bathing in a giant salsa tray.

– Frink’s applying for a job.  Marge sets it up by telling him not to make any weird noises.  He then makes weird noises.  I think this was diagrammed out in Chapter 3 of “Scriptwriting For the Terminally Boring”.

– Gil handing out the strip club card would’ve been much funnier if the “Tell You Their Real Name” Tuesday joke had either been on the card or spoken aloud.  It’s both.  Reading the sign gags really sucks.

– Remember what I said earlier about Marge being happy about things actually being hers?  Well, that got dropped completely and now the Simpson family is working in the restaurant.

– “I was short staffed and your father volunteered.” – Thanks, exposition Marge!  We only saw that one minute ago, how could we possibly remember it?

– Montage #2.  This one is about making and selling sandwiches.

– The “We’re Closed and the Alarm Is On” sign with the skull and crossbones is kinda funny, but I’m just happy they didn’t have someone read it to us.

– There’s another sandwich place across the street now.  Bart pointed it out.  I like this scene, it’s a combination between their hatred of object permanence and their love of bizarre and abrupt plot twists.

– Cletus is reading ridiculous kids names.  Haven’t seen that before.

– Burns and Smithers just showed up for some reason.

– It’s okay, they’re gone now.

– You can argue about whether or not this show is funny (I don’t think it is, but to each their own), but there’s no denying that it’s dumb.  The premise here is that the sandwich franchise opened another location across the street and screwed Marge.  That’s actually a real problem (Subway, for example, is notorious for screwing its franchisees like that), but it’s not used for any kind of comedy here whatsoever.  Instead, they have Homer get scalded, stabbed and bashed in his crotch, and even then it doesn’t make sense.

– Just for good measure, we see Burns fall incompetently off of a rowboat.  Remember evil Burns?  He was fun.

– And now it’s over and they’ve got a caveman Homer very (very) slowly chasing some giant animal because this episode came in a solid minute short, even with all that filler.

– Nice of them to mention Jan Hooks, though.

Anyway, the ratings are in and they are way up, but only because of football overrun.  Last night’s cripplingly stretched premise was seen by 7.34 million people, probably half of whom just left it on after the Dallas-Seattle game.  That’s down from the also football lifted season premier, and it would’ve been an average number as recently as Season 22, but it counts as good for them these days.  Next week, the late national game is Giants-Cowboys, so we’ll see if there’s another (relatively) big number.


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