Thursday, February 22, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Ten - “Thanks to you, we're having fun. Before-we-had-kids fun!”

Season 23, Episode 19
“A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again”
First Broadcast: April 29, 2012
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Filled with an oddly disproportionate sense of ennui, Bart believes his life is ever unchanging and that, despite him only having ten years of experience in the world, the situation is hopeless and he is doomed to his existence.  On seeing a commercial for a cruise ship holiday, he sees the opportunity of distraction, even for a little while, and sells all his worldly possessions in an attempt to fund a trip for him and his family – but this does not glean enough money.

Moved by his desperation, the family decide to fund the shortfall, and they go off for a wonderful holiday…  But as the end approaches, Bart cannot face returning to his rut, and concocts a plan to prolong his happiness by convincing the crew of the ship that there has been an outbreak of a deadly virus throughout the land masses of the world, and that they can never dock again.

Isolated from the world and with supplies running low, things quickly go south for the ship’s company, with society breaking down in short order.  Lisa discovers Bart’s deception and, upon the inevitable revelation of said, the family are dumped off the ship in Antarctica, where Bart reveals his fears.  Marge and Homer explain that life is routine, and advise him to make the most of the moments of fun he gets – starting by sliding with the penguins.  We cut to an old and happy Bart reflecting on his finest moments.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Now unfortunately Season 23 is not yet on Frinkiac, so to keep the balance before we hit the Magic Moments, here's Homer finding his niche as a gladiator in a hideously broken society:


Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Simpsons Wikia.

Bart's run through the ship's many activities.  I'm not quite sure how to describe the animation but it's pretty damn good.

The happy ending.  And if you think that's me being syrupy, you might want a sick bag ready for the final section.

“I’m going to floor.”

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

The guest star gets a song – we’ll come to him in a minute – called "Enjoy It While You Can", which is (perhaps unsurprisingly) reminiscent of “Enjoy Yourself”, and certainly carries the same sense of impending joylessness:


The episode also includes songs by Hot Chip and Animal Collective, because of course it contains three songs after two consecutive weeks where there hasn't been anything worth posting at all.  Of.  Fucking.  Course.  It.  Fucking.  Does.

HISTORY/LEGACY

Steve Coogan (yes!  It is he!) appears as the ship's entertainment director, Rowan Priddis.  Steve has  a great legacy of modern British comedy, and whilst he is best known for his role as sports journalist and talk show presenter Alan Partridge, he has also entertained in "Saxondale", "Coogan's Run" and "The Trip", and appeared in various Hollywood productions, including a great turn in "Tropic Thunder".

British guest stars are usually pretty entertaining in the show, and it has a good record of getting some of the most famous possible, including all of the surviving Beatles, Mick and Keef from the Stones, The Who and, er, Sting.  Who, give him his due, wasn't actually too bad in "Radio Bart".  Away from music, Eric Idle, Patrick Stewart and Simon Cowell have appeared, as has Ricky Gervais.

(But you don't have to watch that.)

Lamentably, no discussion of British guest stars would be complete without mentioning the most cringeworthy of them all: Season Fifteen's "The Regina Monologues" features a cameo by Tony Blair.  That's former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

But he wasn't then, ohhhh no.  He was Prime Minister at the time of his performance.  Drink that in for a bit - let it settle.  A man routinely described as a war criminal for his actions in our country's name took time out to record lines for an animated comedy show during his time in charge.

And no more need be said on it.

WHY I LIKE IT

And here’s what you’re wondering: why has he put a Season 23 episode in the top ten?  This isn’t from the established classics – in fact it’s from this decade!  The storyline makes little sense and doesn’t even explain how they get home!  It shoehorns in a guest star for no good reason!

Simply put, this one hit me right in the heart.  Bart was a character that never spoke to me as a child; he seemed smart alecky and annoying, wantonly destructive and entirely unrelatable to a quiet British child growing out of that kind of televisual antic.  The show’s gradual shift to focus on Homer as its main character throughout the third to fifth seasons was what made the show an enduring classic for me.

Here, though, he is given the kind of conundrum that generally hits people much older than him; namely that life has become a glum grind through the same lows every single day, and he yearns for an escape from that, no matter how temporary.  That he attempts to make it permanent with disastrous results is by the by here; that he felt that way in the first place, and that he doesn’t so much solve the problem as learn to live for the few moments of happiness he’ll get, is at once inspiring and heartbreaking.

I can’t remember when I first saw the episode; I’ve only ever seen it twice.  But both times it somehow appeared in Channel 4’s schedule right when I needed it, to remind me that this is life – glorious, horrible, mediocre, warts and all, sun and rain, a constant struggle without tangible rewards on most levels and most of the time, that is actually entirely worth it for those few great moments: an hour with the love of your life; a perfect sunset by the river; another month without illness; a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Join us next time when we’ll be asking if you have any questions – keeping in mind that we’ve already explained about our hair.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Eleven - “Up and at them!"

Season 7, Episode 2
“Radioactive Man”
First Broadcast: September 24, 1995

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Set during a spate of air conditioner malfunctions, the episode begins with the revelation that Bart’s favourite comic book, “Radioactive Man”, is being adapted for the silver screen – and is being filmed (or perhaps “flimed”) in Springfield!  With the original actor from the campy sixties television adaptation long dead, “McBain” star Ranier Wolfcastle is miscast as the titular hero, and an open casting is announced for a local child to play his young ward, Fallout Boy.

Despite Bart’s not inconsiderable efforts, he is passed over for the role, which is given to Milhouse – who finds himself to not be cut out for the gruelling and boring lifestyle of a child actor, but is forced into enduring it by his parents’ extravagances.  He eventually flees and hides in Bart’s treehouse, leading to Wolfcastle discovering the futility of his goggles as he is hit by a wave of acid in a stunt gone badly wrong.

The production is hitting snag after snag, largely related to Mayor Quimby and Chief Wiggum’s totally legitimate taxes, including those on both the wearing and non-wearing of puffy director’s pants.  When Milhouse’s refusal to continue filming leaves Mickey Rooney as their best hope for a replacement, the honest, hard-working film crew pay the Leaving Town Tax and return to the loving bosom of their own kind, having been bled dry by the slick small-towners.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Krusty’s pitch for a role in the movie and his later mistimed tantrum.  He might let you down on Silly Sailor, but he still wants to talk about this coffee.

Moe Szyslak straight up murdering the original Alfalfa on the set of "The Little Rascals".

The final insult, as Mickey Rooney realises they have a perfectly good Fallout Boy after all:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

The best bit of music in this is taken from the campy sixties television adaptation of “Radioactive Man” – a clear homage to the “Batman” series of the same era.


Not great, but better than last week...

HISTORY/LEGACY

Rainier Luftwaffe Wolfcastle's career has been on a downslide ever since this ill-fated project.  The series' version of Arnold Schwarzenegger (until the confusing introduction of President Schwarzenegger in "The Simpsons Movie", who not only looked exactly like Wolfcastle but used precisely the same voice), he began his career in bratwurst advertising before graduating to the multi-million dollar "McBain" franchise.

Since then he's been scraping the bottom of the barrel in films such as "Mrs. Mom", "I Shoot Your Face", "I Shoot Your Face Again", "Father Of The Presi-Bot" and "Help!  My Son Is A Nerd".  This run of craptacular bombs led to his yard sale in "The Strong Arms Of The Ma".  He is also probably not the correct choice to host late night talk shows, on account of his homophobia and anti-semitism.

I...  Look, I can't let this be, and I have to mention it: Mickey Rooney plays the most outrageously ill-judged, buck-toothed oriental stereotype in "Breakfast At Tiffany's".  But please - DON'T go and look for it.  Don't watch it, don't view pictures, it is literally the lowest I have seen Hollywood sink.  I'm talking sub-"Short Circuit 2" here.

WHY I LIKE IT

By the show’s standards at the time, this is a pretty out-there, ungrounded episode – though of course by then, Homer has been in The Beatles and into space, so that’s me put in my place and no mistake – which means we can forget about any semblance of depicting a realistic family and get into a full-scale lampooning of the Hollywood system.

With the bases loaded, all that’s left is for absolutely everything to go as spectacularly wrong as possible – and it duly does, with failed stunts, overspending, reluctant actors, surly teamsters and poor-quality coffee just some of the travails that hilariously play out.  The episode even provides a slick trope inversion in its closing moments, as the failed production staff find solace in the arms of their fellow rich people.

However, Bart is our proxy throughout this episode, and his starry-eyed journey sweeps us up, with him keeping faith even as Milhouse cracks under the pressure, and never losing his sense of wonderment at that business called show.  This leads to the odd conclusion that, for all the skewering, this is a love letter of sorts to the process of film-making - albeit doubtlessly a poison pen affair.

Join us next time, when life is full of pain and misery.  Yay?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Twelve - “Who ordered a bathtub Mint Julep?”

Season 8, Episode 18
“Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”
First Broadcast: March 16, 1997



Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

After an unfortunate set of circumstances leads to Bart becoming drunk at the Springfield St Patrick’s Day celebration, making him the media icon of a day of ill-temper and violence, an angry mob demands that Mayor Quimby bring back prohibition – an argument that quickly becomes moot when a researcher discovers that prohibition was never overturned in the first place.

The many, many drinkers of Springfield go to great lengths to illegally enjoy their repast, until hard-nosed cop Rex Banner takes over the Springfield Police at Chief Wiggum’s expense.  He drives nearly all the alcohol out of Springfield, but is stymied by the mysterious Beer Baron, who is operating utterly guilelessly from his family’s home, first with discarded booze, then with his own home brews.

With his homemade stills exploding, the Beer Baron is forced to reveal his identity, and as a favour to Chief Wiggum, allows himself to be turned in, getting Wiggum his job back.  Unfortunately the punishment for bootlegging is to be fired from a catapult into an adjoining town – but luckily, the same researcher from earlier discovers in the nick of time that prohibition was repealed almost immediately after it was brought in, and Rex Banner is the recipient of the catapulting as the booze flows back into Springfield, courtesy of the friendly local mafia.

MAGIC MOMENTS

The discovery that Springfield not only still has prohibition on the books, but also a law requiring ducks to wear long pants!
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Rex Banner’s interrogation techniques, which quickly descend from assertiveness to randomly grabbing passers-by and asking if they're the Beer Baron.

Any time spent in Moe’s speakeasy, particularly Chief Wiggum being rumbled there and putting his drunken moves on Maude Flanders.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Plenty of roaring twenties–style musical cues in this one, along with the kind of hot jazz that rambunctious yahoos enjoy.  But there's nothing I can really link to, so here's a half-hour These Animal Men concert:



HISTORY/LEGACY

Well Rexy never came back, so let's look at law in Springfield!

We've obviously just examined an episode that revealed that spirituous beverages are prohibited in Springfield under penalty of catapult, or at least they were until 199 years previously.  And that's just the non-duck one we heard.  Other laws have made it illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling ("Cape Feare"), tease a fast food order box ("Secrets Of A Successful Marriage") or destroy historic curiosities ("Lisa The Skeptic").

And since we need another sentence, how about we talk about Springfield's greatest legal eagle, Lionel Hutz?  This ambulance chaser is introduced having literally chased Bart's ambulance in "Bart Gets Hit By A Car", and after many, many failed cases, actually seemed to be doing alright as a real estate agent in "Realty Bites".  Unfortunately the character was shelved after the murder of voice actor Phil Hartman in 1998, which also robbed us of Troy McClure.

Jesus.  This format is so much better when there's music and ongoing consequences to talk about...

WHY I LIKE IT

This is a rare episode indeed: one where Homer actually conceptualises and carries out an intelligent scheme, which does not fail by his own stupidity (despite constantly threatening to – see the exploding stills, liquor clouds, carrying brewing ingredients and equipment past Rex Banner in the street, etc, etc), and actually improves the lives of those around him, both by getting extra money for his family and allowing his friends and neighbour to continue self-drunkening.

Rex Banner is an excellent one-shot character, clearly closely modelled on “The Untouchables” frontman Eliot Ness, and the narration and aesthetic transport us to prohibition times without actually changing more than a few details of the show and its setting.

There’s also some great angry mob, “think of the children!” action, last seen this dumb and voracious following the bear invasion back in the previous season’s “Much Apu About Nothing”.  In fact, for all the focus on the Beer Baron vs. Rex Banner, this is more than anything a great outing for the town of Springfield, which feels more than usual like a living, breathing, knee-jerkingly reactive modern community.

Join us next time when your favourite hero, Radio Man…  (that’s funny – I shouldn’t be able to hear that)…

Thursday, February 01, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Thirteen - “Shake harder, boy!”

Season 6, Episode 24
“Lemon of Troy”
First Broadcast: May 14, 1995

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

As the episode begins, Bart begins to take more of an interest in town pride, spurred on by a telling-off from Marge.  This leads to a confrontation with kids from the neighbouring town of Shelbyville, with whom Springfield has a rivalry that dates back to Jebediah's founding of the town, and is based, naturally, on opposing stances to cousin marriage.  Of course, things almost immediately spiral out of control, and the Shelbyvillains retaliate by stealing Springfield's hitherto-unmentioned lemon tree, which stands as a symbol of the town itself and forms the cornerstone of the economy for prepubescents.

Bart goes under cover, and after a meeting of the Milhouses, they eventually find the tree in an impound lot - a fortress so impenetrable that the tree is good as gone forever.  As the episode’s title suggests, the eventual resolution comes via a Trojan Horse-inspired ploy, as the Springfieldians conspire to have Ned’s RV impounded, giving them the opportunity to reclaim the tree at the perfectly reasonable cost of major damage to the vehicle and the tree itself.

As the dust settles, the children of Springfield sit down to glasses of lemonade, glad to have most of their lemon tree back – whilst the children of Shelbyville sit down to glasses of turnip juice, glad that the haunted tree had been banished forever and inflicted on their unfortunate neighbours.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Marge's town spirit-stoking speech, replete with necessary repetition:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Lemon-shaped rocks, apparently a perfectly cromulent sight.

The attack dog at the impound yard, failing to be distracted by a steak.  "Faster, son!  He's got a taste for meat now!"

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Erm…  Not much to report here.  We're on a really bad run with this section!  But at least Milhouse paraphrases “When Doves Cry” by Prince, so…


HISTORY/LEGACY

Shelbyville - formerly called "Morganville", as anyone who read the last entry's touching tribute to Abe Simpson already knows, you can thank me later - is Springfield's neighbouring town to the west and bitter rival.

It was founded in 1796 by Shelbyville Manhattan, a member of Jebediah Springfield's expedition to find land to settle, and the split occurred due to Jebediah's reluctance to allow cousins to marry in his town.  It's been mentioned in a few episodes before this and is also cited as the city where Luann van Houten grew up - so there's that, like.

Other cities that are nearby Springfield include Capital City, presumably the capital of what is simply referred to as Springfield's State due to the obfuscation over the years, where "Dancin' Homer" failed to make his name, and Ogdenville, which is not only featured in the episode "Coming To Homerica" and shown to have a Scandinavian culture but is, along with also-nearby North Haverbrook, one of the other unfortunate cities that let Lyle Lanley build a monorail for them...

WHY I LIKE IT

This episode is often dismissed as mediocre, but I've a soft spot for it, so let's be super positive for once and look at all the pluses:

* This is the closest The Simpsons have got to Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror", woth Shelbyville serving as a parallel Springfield, filled with the same archetypes (well, outside of "Treehouse of Horror" episodes anyway);

* We get Grampa Simpson imparting a speech that, for once, moves the action on rather tha acting as a stalling mechanism;

* A second appearance for Ned's RV, after Season One's "Call Of The Simpsons";

* A story that, for once, unites the town against a common enemy rather than finding comedy in cracks in the community;

* And as a subset of the above point, the kids of Springfield Elementary putting their differences aside, be they nerd, bully or prankster, leading to perhaps the greatest team-up of all time:  Nelson Muntz and Martin Prince, Team Discovery Channel.

Given those points I can't dismiss this episode as merely middling, though it would be fair to say that even I was surprised to find it this high in my own list - which suggests an episode that does somewhat fly under the radar, but when laid out, is greater than the sum of its parts.

Join us next time when we pay a loving tribute to alcohol!  The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Fourteen - “My son is also called Bort.”

Season 6, Episode 4
“Itchy And Scratchy Land”
First Broadcast: October 2, 1994



A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Bart and Lisa become aware of a magical place where their violent desires come to life: Itchy and Scratchy Land!  This leads to an unrelenting campaign of botherment on a scale not seen since they wanted to go to Mt Splashmore.  Marge and Homer eventually relent, won over by Parents’ Island, although Marge is sore at having to cancel their vacation to a bird sanctuary, and pessimistic as to their chances of an incident-free break, mindful that their previous holidays as a family have been absolute disasters.

And disastrous it appears to be, as Homer converts the family’s money to worthless “Itchy and Scratchy Land Fun Bucks”, Bort license plates are running desperately low and both Bart and Homer are arrested by park security for attacking actors.   But in the meantime, despite reassurances that nothing could possibli go wrong, the robots that provide the park’s entertainment have rebelled, which is also Homer’s fault for befuddling them with flash photography.

What follows is a carnival of peril, destruction and petty vandalism, as the family band together to repel the robo-threat with disposable cameras.  The experience brings them closer together, leading them to declare the vacation their greatest family holiday ever!  But with peace restored, and the five of them rewarded with two tickets for a return visit, thoughts turn to the fate of Euro Itchy and Scratchy Land…

MAGIC MOMENTS

The riffing on Bort licence plates, using a clever inversion of audience expectations (yes, I *did* do GCSE Media Studies, thank you very much for noticing) to create a running gag out of the childhood disappointment that any person with an unusually-spelled moniker could expect at a display of personalised doo-dads.

A peek at the ancillary characters from the short-lived “Itchy and Scratchy and Friends Hour” featuring Uncle Ant, Ku Klux Klam and Disgruntled Goat, who – lest we forget – had his moments.

The few seconds we spend in Euro Itchy and Scratchy Land, a reference to the then-failing (but now more stable) Disneyland Paris:


ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

I did worry that we'd have to go for "Auld Lang Syne", but luckily there's an allusion to "Fantasia", which brings us...


Brrr.  Sorry - ever since that twisted, Poison Mickey Mouse started street entertaining in the town centre, I can't look at the original without feeling like my soul has been scratched with an icicle.

HISTORY/LEGACY

The Simpsons love a theme park - to name but a few, we had the aforementioned water park Mt Splashmore in "Brush With Greatness", Legoland's legally-distinct cousin Blockoland in "Hungry, Hungry Homer", and Maude Flanders' legacy Praiseland in, erm, "I'm Goin' To Praiseland".  Hm, makes sense.  On top of all that, Itchy and Scratchy Land itself actually appears in a later episode where Carl and Lenny give Homer bad news in a fun place - I think it's "Mommie Beerest", which as later episodes go isn't too bad.

As an aside, so far-ranging was the cultural influence of the "Bort" sequence that items personalised to Bort, such as the license plate pictured in the episode, are  available in both Simpsons-themed venues and unaffiliated ones.  But did YOU know that bort is a term used in the diamond industry to refer to shards of non-gem-quality diamonds?

The More You Know, huh?  Or at least, The More You Copy Verbatim From Wikipedia Without More Varied Research That Might Come Back To Haunt You Later...

WHY I LIKE IT

Another insane episode, this time very much a tribute to "Westworld" (the original film, not the series.  Obviously, since the series only just came out.  Why did you think it was the series?  What kind of an idiot are you, huh?  HUH???  That's right, run away!  Run back to mummy, you little idiot!  IDIOT!!!)

...Sorry, where was I?

Oh yes, I remember *clears throat*: but much like "Homer The Vigilante", it's grounded by its series of relatable experiences - the sensory overload of a theme park visit, the complex moving parts of a family vacation resulting in near-inevitable disappointment for some or all parties, the inability to find your perfectly reasonable name in a collection of personalised items - all damn near universal experiences for a child or family in the West.

The careering off the rails into a robot massacre is therefore earned, given the time that has been spent hooking the audience in, and the sheer amount of quotable lines - "we've also arrested your older, balder, fatter son", "please kill me", "my son is also called Bort", to name but a few - really push this one through the roof and into the upper tiers.

Join us next time when we’ll be discussing attractive cousins.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Fifteen - “Can you swing a sack of doorknobs?”

Season 5, Episode 11
“Homer The Vigilante”
First Broadcast: January 6, 1994



A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Springfield is in the grip of a one-man crimewave, as the Springfield Cat Burglar’s reign of terror leaves its residents fear-stricken and without valuables, such as Lisa’s treasured saxophone.  With the police “powerless” - read: incompetent - a Neighbourhood Watch group is formed, immediately gets drunk on power (and beer) and begins its own reign of terror.

The Cat Burglar contacts Channel 6’s Smartline current affairs show, whilst Homer is appearing as a guest, to announce that he will be attempting to steal the world’s largest cubic zirconia from Springfield Museum.  Whilst guarding the museum Homer is goaded into a drinking competition with some teen ne’er-do-wells and the zirconia is snatched.

Grampa saves the day by noting that a fellow resident of Springfield Retirement Castle, a charming senior named Molloy, has been seen walking much more vertically than usual and wearing sneakers – for sneaking!  Indeed, he is the Cat Burglar; and having returned the town’s possessions, he sends them on a wild goose chase reminiscent of “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”, whilst he makes good his escape.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Homer giving the gang codenames: "I'll be Cue-Ball, Skinner can be Eight-Ball, Barney will be Twelve-Ball, and Moe, you can be Cue-Ball".

The Rapmaster 2000:



Springfield’s choice of home defence systems, including Professor Frink’s automated house that gets up and runs away.  And falls over.  And catches fire.  Nice try, though!

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

..Or in this case, not much singing or dancing.  So here's the theme from "Dragnet", which occurs during a scene where Homer and Skinner nod at each other.  It's the Art of Noise version from the eighties film because the others are, like, five seconds long.


HISTORY/LEGACY

As alluded to above, Molloy seems never to have appeared again – although he was guest voiced (by Sam Neill), which explains that adequately but also rather puts the kibosh on me talking about him.  So, here comes (option) two!… Abraham “Grampa” Simpson first appeared in the Tracy UIlman short “Grampa And The Kids”, and is the show’s main elderly character.

Originally used wherever a senior citizen was needed for a joke, he’s largely been bumped from that role by Jasper and Old Jewish Man as time has gone on, becoming a main character in great episodes like “Raging Abe Simpson and His Grumbling Grandson in 'The Curse of the Flying Hellfish'" and “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy”, and not so great ones, like that one where he was a fucking matador for some reason.

With his rambling stories, like the one about the time he caught the ferry over to Shelbyville.  He needed a new heel for his shoe, so, he decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days...  I'm certainly not doing the whole bit but you get the idea - a great supporting character with his own memorable bit, albeit yet another suffering diminishing returns as time goes on.

WHY I LIKE IT

This is a roller-coster ride of an episode, with plenty of crazy happenings that is still remarkably grounded by the raw feelings of loss, paranoia and anger being channelled by Springfield's residents, especially Lisa, whose saxophone becomes a symbol of the ill will caused by theft and home invasion, over and above the cubic zirconia.

Homer's band of hotshots, and their immediate descent into the worst excesses of the power that authority and violence brings, is made palatable by the episode's dishing out of their comeuppance and showing them to be as dim as they are ornery, with the burglar easily tricking them (and the rest of the town) into his trap.

And when that roller-coaster finally hangs for a second and plummets into the pitch-perfect reference in the show's closing moments, there's nothing to do but settle in for the ride, before reflecting on this perfectly paced gem of a half hour.  They don't come much better...  But apparently, fourteen did!

Join us next time for the blog where nothing can possibli go wrong.  I mean, *possibly* go wrong.  That's the first time anything's gone wrong…

Thursday, January 11, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Sixteen - “The Simpsons are going to Delaware!"

Season 11, Episode 22
“Behind The Laughter”
First Broadcast: May 21, 2000

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

In a parody of the format of VH1’s “Behind The Music”, The Simpsons discuss their careers in showbusiness, “The Simpsons” of course being a live-action comedy that Homer developed from his pilot “My Funny Family” that shot to fame due to the public’s insatiable desire for horrible acts of child abuse.

Fame, fortune and MC Hammer’s house would follow, before the pressure starts to break the family; Homer is horribly injured performing the Springfield Gorge jump stunt in “Bart The Daredevil” and becomes addicted to painkillers, the plotlines get ever wackier – even revealing that Principal Skinner is an imposter, would you believe!  Like that would ever happen – and when Bart is replaced by Richie Rich during a spot of trouble with the law, the writing is on the wall.

Reuniting only for an acrimonious Thanksgiving dinner, the family go their separate ways.  Lisa spills the beans in a tell-all biography, Homer returns to legitimate theatre, Bart stars in “Renegade” and Marge fronts a variety revue.   All is forgiven when Willie Nelson tricks the family into appearing together on a phony awards ceremony, and The Simpsons go on to make at least one more season of merchandisable content to ever-diminishing creative returns.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Homer's return to the stage, as landlord Mr Stingely in "Rent":

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Carl and Lenny being paid to kiss but forgetting to ask for the money.

I've already mentioned it, and will probably mention it again, but the recontextualisation of the Springfield Gorge stunt, with Homer watching the footage on television: "right about here I notice something's wrong...  Yup, there I go."

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

“Simpsons Boogie”, “Lovely To Love Your Lovin’” and “Simpsons Christmas Boogie” are identified as hits the family had during their glory days, and they certainly recall the cash-in-tastic "The Simpsons Sing The Blues", though without the killer hooks of "Do The Bartman" and "Deep, Deep Trouble".  However there's no embeddable videos of those, so...

Marge also sings "I Shot The Sherriff", but I fucking hate that boring, meandering, tuneless piece of garbage.  Hm.  What to do, what to do...  Ah, why fucking not:


HISTORY/LEGACY

The format is borrowed from "Behind The Music", VH1's music documentary programme which tended to focus on the more juicy break-ups, reformations, deaths and addiction journeys of musicians of a certain age.

The show debuted in 1997 and is still going today, having featured such acts as Metallica, Dr Dre, Milli Vanilli and...  JULIAN LENNON???  Are you honestly telling me they were that desperate for a subject they went for Julian freaking Lennon?  Clowns.  Amusingly, guest star Willie Nelson was also given his own show - and that is the traditional announcer, Jim Forbes, reprising his role here.

WHY I LIKE IT

This is an extremely clever episode.  Dropping right at the height of “The Simpsons has lost it”-mania, with die-hard fans already having decided that the show was on the outs - partially due to a mid-season slump featuring faith healing, missionary work, the death of Maude Flanders and perhaps most damningly, "Saddlesore Galactica" - it also couldn't have been better timed.

It obviously shouldn’t be considered canon, but contained a smart repurposing of both the show’s greatest moments (Homer’s gorge plunge) and its deepening problems with outlandish plots (Armin Tamzarian), via massive sudden fame and Krusty The Clown-esque shoddy merchandising, that played as a knowing wink to the fans as much as a stark presentation of the problems with producing enthralling episodic television for over a decade.

Some fans rail against the more meta episodes, and I get it - I really do.  But this was an excellent (albeit largely accidental) example of cometh the hour, cometh the episode, and I think this went a long way to defusing some of the ire that was being thrown the show's way, paving the way for the next 476 seasons of largely acceptable television.

Oh, and by the way - I've been reminded of the genius that is this:


Join us next time at the blog that never, EVER stops in the middle of a hoedown!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Seventeen - “I’m going to party like it’s on sale for $19.99!”

Happy 2018, Simpsons-wads!

Season 7, Episode 21
“22 Short Films About Springfield”
First Broadcast: April 14, 1996



Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Bart and Milhouse are spending a lazy day spitting on passing cars from a bridge.  This leads Bart to have a thought about how many people there must be in the city’s larger community, and wonder what all those people might be up to.

This gives us our framing device, and from there we jump all over the city, viewing a number of divergent episodes in the lives of Springfield’s finest.  Skinner attempts to curry favour with Chalmers with a home-cooked clam dinner; Bumblebee Man’s life imitates art; Cletus Spuckler commits a fashion faux pas; Springfield Police Department debate the differences between McDonalds and Krusty Burger, before Snake and Chief Wiggum are kidnapped by Herman…  The list goes on.

If there is a running thread, it centres on Lisa’s battle with a piece of bubblegum stuck in her hair.  Seemingly the whole population of the city – up to and including the Capital City Goofball – are on hand to dispense their folk remedies.  Nelson haw-haws the result, but gets a taste of his medicine at the hands of a very tall gentleman, which eventually leads him back to the bridge where Bart and Milhouse are still making mischief, bringing the episode full circle.

And that’s before we even get to Professor Frink, who…  Oh.  We’ve run out of space.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Skinner and Chalmers.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers in the morning…

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers in the evening…

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Skinner and Chalmers ‘til the sun goes down.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Dr Nick passing a bee-stung Smithers: “Oh my God!  You need booze!”

Comic Book Guy’s short interjection in Milhouse’s story, selling him a Hamburglar comic in which a child had solved the jumble using crayons.  The answer was “fries”.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING


Many of the segments have their own miniature opening theme, which is a lovely little touch.   Here’s "Skinner And The Superintendent":



And here’s Cletus’.  I couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two in my affections, so let’s have a rare twofer:


HISTORY/LEGACY

Speaking of which, this was Cletus Spuckler’s first featured appearance, having literally been called “a slack-jawed yokel” in “Bart Gets An Elephant”, then favoured with a name in “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily”.  He would then be rolled out with his ever-growing clan of young-uns and his wife, and possibly many other relations, every time the series needed a shorthand for the south of America.


For a series that deals reasonably well with non-American cultures and all sexualities, and at least equally badly with all featured religions and countries, this is arguably the most offensive stereotype that is regularly portrayed, and is also a rare example of a side character getting too much screen time; with all due respect, Cletus seems more of a one-note joke like a Disco Stu or a Captain McAllister than a living, breathing character like Barney, Moe or Flanders.


Smithers’ fatal bee sting allergy would later be referenced in Season 16's "Midnight Rx", although the whole idea is frankly absurd – in “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”, he was stung by several bees and did not die!  Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder!


WHY I LIKE IT

This is an absolute masterclass in telling a flowing, many-layered story.  So, so many writers were involved in this episode, and with the narrative then stitched together from the smaller pieces, one would expect at least some lulls in the action.  However, and perhaps as a result of so many different creatives struggling to get their vision noticed in the chaotic whole, it’s a breathless, action-packed affair.


Expansion of side characters, and a look at the less featured faces of Springfield?  This one’s got ‘em in spades!  And as seasoned readers will be only too aware, development of the diverse background players of the Simpsons universe is one of this writer’s favourite Simpsons tropes.  Jokes?  Forget about it.  The punchline count is through the roof, and if you don’t like this one, the next one’s coming right up.  Parodies?  How about “Pulp Fiction” for starters?


This is a snapshot of the very best of The Simpsons, albeit one that's best enjoyed with a rich understanding of the show’s world to begin with, but definitely a half hour that puts a lot of meat on the bones of the series' continuity, which greatly elevates what could easily have been a throwaway gimmick episode.


Bathtubs of money, wheelbarrows of awards, fire hoses of respect - The Simpsons had it all.  But behind the streamers and confetti, storm clouds were gathering.  Figurative storm clouds.  So, er...  Yeah.  Join us for that next time.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Eighteen - “Homer S. – Portrait of an Assgrabber”

Season 6, Episode 9
“Homer Badman”
First Broadcast: November 27, 1994

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Homer scores tickets to the Candy Trade Show, and opts to take Marge as his date to enable the carriage of the maximum amount of free candy.  This necessitates the hiring of a babysitter, who due to a mix-up involving a priceless Gummi Venus De Milo becoming stuck to her behind, believes (quite properly, given the apparent evidence) that she has been groped.  Homer doesn’t really have a leg to stand on given the obscure and seemingly unprovable nature of his defence, coupled with his immediate consumption of the Gummi.

The media smells blood and has a field day, flooding the local news with half-truths about Homer’s sex life and sleeping arrangements.  In desperation after being stitched up on an investigative news programme, the family fights fire with fire by purchasing screen time on an obscure television channel, but Homer’s protestations of innocence are met with nought but a kick in the face from a man riding a Penny Farthing.

Luckily Groundskeeper Willie is able to save the day, revealing that in the manner of “every single Scottish person”, he illicitly taped Homer’s Gummi removal, giving them the proof needed to clear his name.  Homer then settles down to watch his saviour, now rechristened “Rowdy Roddy Peeper”, take a shellacking on the same investigative news programme, revealing that he has learned nothing from his ordeal.

MAGIC MOMENTS

The protestors’ catchy chant: “2, 4, 6, 8, Homer’s crime was very great!”

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
“Simpson scandal update: Homer sleeps nude in an oxygen tent which he believes gives him sexual powers!”  “HEY!  That’s a half-truth!”

Homer's description of sexual harassment to the children, including the grey area that is the dog in the Coppertone advert - which I just looked up and oh dear God what were they thinking?

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING
This is next level stuff - this episode has the fantastic parody of “Under The Sea” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”:


HISTORY/LEGACY

Kent Brockman, hacky local news anchor and current affairs frontman, first appeared back in Season One's "Krusty Gets Busted".  Despite winning a fortune on the lottery in Season Three's "Dog Of Death" and his many on-screen meltdowns, tantrums and walk-outs, plus his affair with Stephanie the Weather Girl being the talk of the town, he continues to work at Channel 6.

He eventually got his standard 'side character focus' episode in Season Eighteen's "You Kent Always Say What You Want", which was also the series' 400th episode.  He was fired from Channel 6 for on-air swearing in that episode, and rebuilt his career from the ground up via the Internet, none of which matters as I am mentioning him only so I can publish my favourite Simpsons screengrab, from "Deep Space Homer":

Meme Hail Ants
Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via memes.
As for Rowdy Roddy Peeper himself, Groundskeeper Willie…  Let’s put it this way: Edna Krabappel herself tells Bart “I'm not even gonna tell you what that guy's into” in "Bart The Lover", so I will be doing no further digging.  Besides, he’s a pervert who tapes people!  Rock Bottom said so…  He shares a shame with Kent though, in having an episode focused on him that is a pretty rubbish later season affair - Season Seventeen's "My Fair Laddy".

WHY I LIKE IT

First up: sexual assault is NOT funny.  As someone who’s suffered more than one uninvited groping from busy-handed pederasts and lecherous peers, I did have reservations about writing this one up, opting for inclusion on the argument of the incident itself being framed well enough to just about absolve Homer of any deliberate wrongdoing.

The comedy in this episode comes from the media circus and their decent upon the family, Homer’s shell-shocked crawl through the wreckage of his long held values as television – the one constant in his life – seemingly turns on him, and most pointedly, his immediate literal re-embracing of television, showing that he has not, and essentially will never, change his ingrained ways.

So we have an on-point skewering of local and national news media, journalistic bias, an explosion at a candy convention AND an improv comedian imaging the offspring of Mr. T and E.T. - and who can turn all that down?

Join us next time for steamed hams…  You thought we were having steamed clams?  Oh no, I said, “steamed hams.”  That what I call hamburgers.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Extra Credit 3 - Merry Christmas!

Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiire...  Hang on, I don't have an open fire...

Oh dear.

Best get this finished quickly then - it's G.F. Ho-Ho-Ho-rons' guide to The Simpsons at Christmas!  First up: this won't be anywhere near as good as the Halloween ones.  I make no apologies - there's simply not as much material to choose from, and for the most part it's simply not as good.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
However, I *love* me some Christmas.  It's my favourite time of year, so if I've got an ongoing regular series, you bet your sweet...  ASS that I'll be marking it with a quick post.  So let's have a good old look at my top five, eh?  Come on, it's Christmas Eve.  You've got bollocks all else to do.


NUMBER 5: "The Fight Before Christmas"
Season 22, Episode 8
First Broadcast: December 5, 2010

A CHRISTMAS STORY: We kick off with a "Treehouse of Horror" style anthology, with Bart getting a job at the North Pole to take his revenge on Santa for...  Er, something (see?  I told you this wasn't as good as the Halloween ones!), Marge fighting the Nazis in World War II and something to do with Martha Stewart - none of which matters as there's a section at the end with a Henson-style puppet Simpsons interacting with Katy Perry, so no-one remembers all the other bits.  Yay?

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: By default, the bit with Katy Perry, but to be honest I can't even remember that properly.  NEXT!!!

SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Moody teenage Jesus.


NUMBER 4: "'Tis The Fifteeth Season"
Season 15, Episode 7
First Broadcast: December 14, 2003

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Right, this is definitely better - Homer's selfish streak is very much in evidence as he forgets to get first Lenny, then his family, any presents, whist treating himself to a lavish talking astrolabe.  But after watching a rip-off of "A Christmas Carol", he decides to mend his ways and become the nicest, most generous man he can be - until bloody Lisa ruins it all by passing on her Buddhist tendencies.

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: "Star Trek"'s (fictional) take on "A Christmas Carol":

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Buddy Christ.


NUMBER 3: "Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire"
Season 1, Episode 1
First Broadcast: December 17, 1989

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Quite a lot happens in this, the first full-length episode of The Simpsons after their introduction in short form on Tracy Ullman's show, but to get to the heart of the matter: when Marge's hard-saved Christmas budget gets spent on tattoo removal for Bart, Homer works as an in-store Santa Claus to try to give the family the presents they want - but winds up with something even better...

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Erm...  It's a bit rough if I'm honest, but I do enjoy Marge's Christmas letter - "Maggie is walking by herself, Lisa got straight A's and Bart...  Well, we love Bart."

SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Baby Jesus, making his debut.


NUMBER 2: "Holidays Of Future Passed"
Season 23, Episode 9
First Broadcast: December 11, 2011

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Quoted by many as a possible planned final ever episode should the actors' pay dispute not have been ironed out, this is the 'canon' future of The Simpsons, and is a very family-focused episode, as Bart and Lisa are struggling to connect with their own children and Maggie is in labour.  Luckily Homer is there to act as a bad example as usual, and there's all kind of future gubbins, including clones of Ralph Wiggum and a mind-swapped Lenny and Karl.

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Homer's surprisingly touching talk about being a son, and being a father: "...everyone thinks their dad's a jerk.  And everyone's right.  But, when you get older, you realize how much you love them.  Your dad may be a little bit immature, but I know he loves you.  So, you ought to give him a chance."

SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Super Saiyan Jesus.


NUMBER 1: "Marge Be Not Proud"
Season 7, Episode 11
First Broadcast: December 17, 1995

A CHRISTMAS STORY: Yes, this was a Christmas episode!  And thank Godzilla for that, as we get to talk briefly about a non-gimmicky episode which is simply good on its own merit.

Bart will stoop to any low to get "Bonestorm", the hot new beat-'em-up videogame, but when he tries to shoplift it and is caught by the store detective, Marge begins to feel she has failed as a mother, and that Bart has grown up too much to need her.  But the seasonal spirit brings reconciliation, and Bart gets to "enjoy" a videogame for Christmas - "Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge".

X(MAS) MARKS THE (BEST) SPOT: Anything to do with "Bonestorm" itself is pure, post-"Mortal Kombat" moral panic gold - but come on, it has to be this one shot...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
SWEET LITTLE BABY JESUS RATING: Brian.

Join us next Thursday when we'll be back in our usual routine.  But until then, have a merry Christmas, everybody - and enjoy the rock 'n' roll stylings of Wild Billy Childish and The Buff Medways!