Archive for September, 2010

The Simpsons on Reflection Part III: Season 1

Posted in The Simpsons on September 29, 2010 by kokairu

To recap, my boyfriend and I are currently rewatching The Simpsons from day 1. We finished the first series a couple of weeks ago, and intend to watch the show till the end… of course, that will involve many torturous episodes once we’re passed the halfway mark. After seeing the shitfest that is the Season 22 opening, I’m inclined to reflect on the show when it was actually above average… so far past the average, that the line wasn’t even visible anymore.

I know that opinions are very much divided over Season 1. Many people find these episodes unwatchable, owing to the quality of the animation and Homer’s voice being wrong, amongst other things. As a result, some of my friends say that they prefer newer episodes of The Simpsons. Obviously, this is normal, verbal conversation and not the Internet. I therefore have to repress my Geek Rage, and try to explain in as few words as possible that they are most likely referring to Season 1 (possibly 2), and that what they think are new episodes may still be very old. At least I hope so. I want to respect my pals.

Season 1, therefore, may very well be detrimental to the reputation of classic Simpsons and the casual viewers’ perception of the series. It does leave something to be desired; when I first went back to these episodes after getting to season 3/4 stage, I was very put off at the time. Their mouth movements just don’t seem to synchronise with what they’re saying, and it can often be difficult to see past the superficial differences by comparison to the series a few years down the line. There are also frequent colouring mistakes within the episodes (Marge’s necklace has a habit of turning white on a frequent basis).

That’s not to mention that the family acts very much out of character at times (at least, by comparison to the more ‘established’ Simpsons). In “There’s No Disgrace Like Home,” Homer is extremely concerned about his family’s reputation, to the extent that he willingly pawns the TV in order to acquire money for therapy. The rest of the family try to stop him… Including Marge, who suggests that they pawn her engagement ring as an alternative. Lisa is frequently as rude and uncouth as Bart is. In fact, Bart is quite likely the only member of the family that remains in character, though the focus on his mischief is very high compared to later years; it’s easy to see why Bart’s example ticked off a lot of parents.

I feel that I approached this series from the right angle this time. By comparison to the shorts, the animation in series 1 is positively gorgeous. Moreover, as much as the style can be irritating, one could say that it’s much more cartoon-like, and it ‘suits’ the ridiculous design of the characters that we’ve habituated to over the years (just what the hell is Lisa, anyway?). It’s also much more creative – something that is not absent from series immediately following, but is certainly one of the many things that Zombie Simpsons lacks.

Overall, I utterly enjoyed watching this run of episodes. If you take series 1 as a blank slate, or compare it to Zombie Simpsons, it feels extremely fresh. Many of the storylines are simple, but are carried with great structure. I would say “The Telltale Head” was one of the standouts. The family didn’t just go to Church at the beginning of the episode to kill time, as would be the case in later episodes (for the plot to then unwind in the most chaotic and moronic way) – it sewed the seeds of the moral dilemma Bart faces in the story, demonstrated how readily Bart mimics Homer’s bad examples, and simply contains many classic moments. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this episode before and couldn’t even estimate, but I’m still noticing and appreciating new things. The tagline for “Space Mutants IV,” for example, reads “The Trilogy Continues.” Like other brief sight gags of the early series [1] [2], this is not on screen for more than a few seconds, and it hadn’t registered with me previously.

Watching the series unwind is also quite fascinating in itself, as more and more permanent members of the cast are introduced. The fact that these characters are all still there 21 years later, played by the same voice actors, is very impressive (though for the sake of this feat, it’s still not worth the show still being on the air).

In conclusion, whilst Season 1 may require an open mind, it’s still a remarkable collection of episodes, and it’s easy to see where the show’s success came from.

EDIT (08/10/10): I feel honoured that DHS actually responded to these commentaries – it covers a lot of the context stuff that I missed out on (what with being 3 at the time the first series aired… and too busy having tea and crumpets with the Queen!).



Posted in Filesharing on September 27, 2010 by kokairu

Breaking news, and a great means to follow it.

The X-ploitation Factor Part I: Introduction

Posted in The X Factor on September 27, 2010 by kokairu

I intend to try and produce a commentary on this year’s series of The X Factor. You may think I’m starting late, but there’s a limited amount to say about the “initial” auditions process (and less so about the initial initial auditions, because we don’t get to see anything of these beyond a moronic crowd chanting in a cult-like fashion that their particular providence does, in fact, have a factor that renders them sellable to the masses). I wouldn’t say that Boot Camp was any different, we’re still being manipulated, but at least we’re done with the obligatory “they think they can sing but they so can’t LOL” snippets. I can’t stand these. They really are reared like pigs to the slaughter… they’ve made it through a multitude of preliminary rounds for God’s sake… and yet the audience buys into it every time: the judges are taken aback by how bad they are, and the auditionee is rightfully put in their place. Commence ridicule and humiliation. Just who told them they could sing, eh?

This entry, then, will serve as an introduction to my stance on The X Factor as a whole. I will now declare outright that I do, in fact, love this show. It makes for an entertaining Saturday night with pizza and wine, is a firm part of my build-up-to-Christmas excitement, and its format is so accessible. Anyone can have something to say, be it about the talent, what Cheryl Cole is wearing, or my favourite topic: the transparent shoddiness of the whole saga. For me, it’s a fantastic game of predictions about how the producers will play their cards. This is especially true after the live shows start (always a welcome relief from the dire post production editing-fest that is the “First” Auditions, Boot Camp and Judges’ Houses), whereby the order of events COULD be out of the producers’ control… though it rarely is.

Take, for example, the memorable moment from XF ’09 when the talented Lucie Jones (who?) landed herself in the Bottom Two with John and Edward. Morons were in upheaval. The media was in heaven. It was never in the producers’ interest to do the “right” thing – Jedward had drawn far too much attention to the show, they were hardly going to exit just yet. Conveniently, the blame could be placed on St Cowell Himself – he made the “defining” decision to put the matter to the public vote, with Cheryl and Dannii’s reputations safe and Louis’ “village idiot” persona no worse than it was already. I can’t remember what crap Simon came out with to justify this, but it remains obvious that he knew exactly which of the two contestants had the least number of votes, and so it was safe to proceed, and a disposable contestant was lost. The “judges” offer a lifeline to the show, as well as adding suspense, just in case the audience haven’t quite swallowed everything they’ve been spoon fed. I really hope it’s obvious to anyone reading this that the 4 deities sat in the front row rarely, if ever, make the decisions… save for SC of course.

Ideally, the final 5 contestants in the line-up will be desirable winners, leading to significant SyCo profits at a later stage – the audience vote stands, else Ofcom will be all over The X Factor like a pack of dogs. Of course, this hasn’t always worked. Leon Jackson (who?) was meant to draw in some Granny votes in XF ‘07, but never had they wanted him to beat Rhydian Roberts. Eoghan Quigg (Eggnog) of XF ‘08 came dangerously close (their attempts at trying to ditch this kid were desperate to say the least). Again, all part of the fun.

The audience vote is a secondary element of meta-entertainment. They’re a truly fickle bunch, that’s for sure – one look at the voting results published after the series finale will tell you that. Rachel Adedeji (XF ’09) was placed in the Bottom Two for the first two live shows. Number 3 saw her burst onto the stage with the kind of manic energy of someone with bipolar disorder, and the audience loved this because they thought it was inspirational, or something. Rachel hauled in the most votes that night. The following week, she was in the Bottom Two again, and out.

Finally, we can’t forget the Digital Spy forums. Logging onto these immediately following the weekly elimination is pure gold dust, and if I keep this blog up as a I plan to, I may post a few highlights each week. It’s not so much that they’re obsessed (I am too, after all), it’s the fact that they’re obsessed and yet still fail to see the show for what it is. I find that fascinating.

I’ll conclude with a link to Steve Brookstein’s (who’s?) blog. The guy offers a pretty invaluable insight into the show itself, having actually won the fucking thing 6 years ago. His commentary makes it clear why his post show success wasn’t to last: there’s an ounce of intelligence, self-respect and creativity there. The XF-worshipping media will have you think he’s washed up, but I think the real victor of a show like this is someone who emerges from the other side and still maintains their integrity.

I wanna be the best… I wanna be the very best…

Posted in Pokémon on September 26, 2010 by kokairu

I can’t believe I haven’t seen this until now

The Simpsons on Reflection Part II: Where did it really begin?

Posted in The Simpsons on September 24, 2010 by kokairu

This was intended to be an overall look at the first season, but as usual, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Part III will be up soon…

The first episode of The Simpsons I ever saw was “There’s No Disgrace Like Home.” This is the 4th episode of the first series, but it always felt like the perfect introduction. This may be why BBC 2 chose to air this one first (there was no order to it at all; the next one they aired was “Bart the Daredevil” from Season 2, followed by others from the first two series and, I’m pretty sure, Season 4’s “A Streetcar Named Marge” fell in there somewhere in the initial run of episodes). I was always quite intrigued by BBC 2’s decision to do this, and what their purpose was in the order. One might argue that the show’s chronological order in the first series was never the best way to introduce the Simpson family. The story goes that “Some Enchanted Evening” was intended to be the first episode, to air in Autumn ’89, but the animation turned out to be so poor that it needed to be completely redone. Therefore, the premiere of the series was moved to the Christmas season, and henceforth “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” became the “first” episode of The Simpsons.

This wasn’t a bad decision to make and in light of the situation it seems as though this was the right way to go. It does introduce a number of classic characters: Moe, Barney, Flanders, Principal Skinner, Milhouse, Patty, Selma, Santa’s Little Helper, and maybe even more that have slipped my mind. Marge’s open letter to Friends Of The Simpson Family is, in itself, a great little introduction, and the still-present classic traits of each family member are portrayed. Christmas specials, however, are usually a means to give a warm and festive twist on a familiar TV show (though this would be the case if you count the shorts). When I first saw this episode, a few months down the line from There’s No Disgrace Like Home, this was the general feel of the episode, and I was very surprised to learn in my much-loved “The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favourite Family” that this was episode 1.

There’s No Disgrace Like Home (episode 4), on the other hand, dragged me and my own dysfunctional family in immediately, as we all sat down to watch it together in autumn 1996. On re-watching, this remains a terrific episode, with joke after joke dished out, all very quick-witted and well delivered (take note, Zombie Simpsons). Moreover, all 5 members get a decent amount of screen time, with the focus of the story on the family as a whole and their overall dynamic. As biased as I am, I’ve always thought of this one as the “true” original episode. I only found out recently that Some Enchanted Evening was meant to uphold this status, which I found even more surprising – perhaps because it’s embedded in my mind as the last episode of the season. On re-watching this one, however, there are giveaway signs:

1)       The animation quality seems to regress slightly. Naturally, this isn’t a strong point for series 1 on the whole anyway, but compare this to “Krusty Gets Busted,” the penultimate episode, and it was definitely improving after the first 12 episodes. Some Enchanted Evening is a step back, and there are a few very small segments (such as Bart and Lisa running to answer the door to the babysitter) that were clearly part of the “first draft” – before the cartoon was (almost) completely redone. Let’s not forget that Barney’s hair has returned to its original blonde colour, and Moe’s hair from grey back to black.

2)       After two previous episodes in the series featured Homer and Marge having marital difficulties (“Life on the Fast Lane” and “Homer’s Night Out”), it was odd to see this one open with the much more basic issue of Marge feeling underappreciated by Homer. This is resolved swiftly, unlike the other two episodes, which uses the whole 22 minutes for the couple to eventually make amends. It seemed like it should be more of a preliminary issue, leading on to the events of the other named episodes. By contrast to Homer’s antics in Life on the Fast Lane and Homer’s Night Out, his actions in Some Enchanted Evening are relatively tame, and Marge’s reaction seems dramatic.

3)       The children and the adults seem to be regarded as two very distinctive groups, very much like the shorts, though Homer and Marge have much bigger roles.

4)       Finally, I think there is also a subtle regression in the characters’ voices (which, I believe, would have been left untampered from the first draft). Homer, in particular, is typical “Season 1 Homer.”

Would this have made a bad first episode? Not in the least. It would’ve made for a very original opening – it doesn’t ponder on the characters and their personalities too much, but at the same time, sums The Simpsons up well.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the quality of The Simpsons that there is no true “Episode 1.” After the shorts, the show knew what it wanted to be and what it wanted to do. No Assembly Required.

The Simpsons on Reflection, Part I: The Shorts

Posted in The Simpsons on September 20, 2010 by kokairu

My partner and I are currently working through “The Simpsons” in order. We started from the Tracey Ullman shorts (God bless filesharing), and are now into the beginning of the second series.

Naturally, anyone that’s seen Series 7’s “Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular” will be familiar with the style of the shorts. I had only seen them in this episode previously (as a UK citizen that grew up in the ‘90s I can’t say I’ve had the opportunity before). There’s not too much raving I can do about them; though they probably made me laugh more than a single episode of Zombie Simpsons, their appeal lies in seeing The Simpsons as we know it unwind before our very eyes. As each short clip passes, the appearance and voices of the characters evolve (138th Episode Spectacular does cover this well – selecting a decent collection of clips to demonstrate its development). By the end of the shorts, a lot of the characteristics of the Simpson family have been established. Who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a hit without that miniature collection; they do sort of feel like a series of experiments.

Another interesting aspect to note is the fact that these shorts either centre around Bart, Lisa and Maggie as a triple act, or one or two of these three (invariably, Bart, a trend that carries on into the show’s first official season). Homer gets his fair share of screen time, too, but it felt at times that he and Marge were merely a supporting act to their offspring. Marge, in particular, has a very small role – much smaller, in fact, than that of her youngest daughter. Despite being unable to speak, Maggie frequently plays a central role in the shorts. This is, of course, very different to the 22 minute version of The Simpsons (Series 1 being somewhat of an exception). One could argue that there’s only so much a mute and entirely dependable character can do; however, it may highlight a more imaginative perspective in the early days of the show.

Lastly, the show is very much The Simpsons, in that it focussed solely on the 5 key family members and is rarely set outside of the Simpson home. The only members of the supporting cast to get introduced are Grandpa (also, of course, a Simpson), the barber (not exactly a key member of the cast, but they kept the same character design and he appears a handful of times that I can recollect), Krusty the Klown, and Itchy & Scratchy (you can decide for yourself if they count or not… I’m willing to include them… even if they are fictional characters within a fictional show, they’re still characters, right?).

If you can get hold of these shorts, I’d recommend them. They certainly do offer something in the way of entertainment value.

Maddox-style is so 2003

Posted in Maddox on September 16, 2010 by kokairu

I’m starting a new blog after the death of my last one. This may (will) sound overly pretentious, but I was trying too hard to project a persona that wasn’t really me.

I do love a good rant, yes, but I also have some nice things to say about a number of things. It would feel a little wrong talking about how much I loved Toy Story 3 under the negativity of the title. Furthermore, I like to document my progress on my little series of stop motion videos; again, this just didn’t fit. The site was themed on exposing the bullshit in others, most likely reflecting my state of mind at the time. Blogs dealing with a single subject matter can be a wonderful thing (Dead Homer Society is my current favourite), but you have to be intensely knowledgeable about that subject matter. If you dip into various things as much as you like, you can hide your shallow understandings quite easily. You can bullshit.

I was a little preoccupied in trying to upkeep as much anonymity as possible in STOFYA. I didn’t want aspects of my personal life to cloud my arguments. Whilst I despise resorting to anecdotal evidence on such occasions, in most cases, a little personal touch is not a bad thing.

That’s not to say it will be anything like my LiveJournal of course.