Archive for the The Simpsons Category

The Simpsons on Reflection Part V: Seasons 3-5

Posted in The Simpsons on April 5, 2011 by kokairu

Apologies for the lack of updates lately! It’s been a fair while!

So, the entry that is long overdue on this blog is the next update on my Simpsons marathon. This is still going ahead and I am still very much enjoying it – I just have very little to review about the latest seasons in the run (3, 4, & 5) other than just how brilliant they are. Moreover, series 3 has been shown a lot over the past year or so on Channel 4, and series 4 makes it into my regular rotation anyway, so I have already observed the jokes from a more adult perspective.

For many people, Season 3 is where “The Simpsons” really begins. I disagree – I think Season 1 is more than worth a watch (even if it’s not truly established itself yet), and the show is more than recognisable somewhere in the middle of Season 2. Still, it contains no bad episodes (Season 2 did have a couple of weaker editions) at all, and as a result, it marks the beginning of the golden age. I really do think Season 4 will always be my favourite, though. The show began to use its supportive cast more, and to great effect, without merely assuming that a simple catch phrase would suffice for humour. Marge vs The Monorail remains a firm favourite of mine, though it only just avoids being outclassed by Last Exit to Springfield. The latter just hits the jokes so hard and fast, you need to pause it to get your breath back. Burns’s mistaking of Homer as a clever and dynamic new head of the union is superb use of dramatic irony, and it doesn’t just end with Homer being found out and making a mockery of himself – a route that most sitcoms would opt for – Burns realises that he was mistaken all too late, with Homer doing his… what would you call it? A “celebratory, vocal floor dance?”

“The Front” is another that stood out to me like never before – maybe, because of the Godawful Oscars episode that I watched only shortly afterwards – but the writers did exercise their talents so well in their comfort zone, i.e. writing about writing cartoons. Some of the best jokes in this one went over my head when I was younger; “… actually, I did my thesis in life experience…” Perfect on so many levels.

Season 5, after several years’ absence from my regular rotation, is a little more unusual. Sadly, this is the first time where I start to worry about the quality of the programme: there are some bland episodes, such as Bart Gets an Elephant, Homer and Apu, and Bart Get Famous (ironically, the most entertaining part of this episode is the Box Factory). With the latter especially, I may be losing marks for context again. Perhaps, at the time, the episode was successfully poking fun at the show’s excessive notoriety, and Krusty’s ridiculous attempts to cash in on Bart’s 5 minutes of fame may have been funnier at the time. But such parodies have been done-to-death in the many years since that episode aired, and I couldn’t look beyond that fact. I also noticed that the jokes just don’t come as thick and fast as this season’s predecessors. There are longer pauses between interactions and obvious time killing segments (Sideshow Bob’s rakes notwithstanding…).

It’s not a massive deal, really – we can give the show a break, I’d never say that it was truly on the decline at this stage – but in light of later episodes, it just couldn’t escape my attention. In a similar vein, Homer’s slightly more inane antics were probably passable at the time (as a 13-year-old I’dve said so, anyway), but it feels necessary to mention that we may already be seeing traces of his Jerkass ways. He’s still the same bumbling, well-intended father, but his antics are less down-to-earth and more obnoxious in parts. His tone is becoming a little louder, and I started to see him as Grimey may have done. The examples are small, mainly revolving around his elevated tone and volume, but the best example I can recollect is his hysterical laughter in Treehouse of Horror IV, in regard to the portrait of dogs playing poker. It pains me to critique the golden age in this way, but my retrospective view of it can’t be undone. On a more positive note, I paid special attention to the animation in Season 5 after reading a very interesting article on Dead Homer Society about its imaginative use in ‘Homer Goes to College.’ Parts of it are very wacky, but in a very good way – it’s deliberate, unlike the very early animation style. The Simpsons is a cartoon, so why not make the most of it? I found it very mesmerising and, in places, a perfect asset to the visual humour.

I’m going to have so much more to say about the later episodes, but how long will I last before I crack?

The Simpsons on Reflection Part IV: Season 2

Posted in The Simpsons on November 10, 2010 by kokairu

Sorry this entry’s taken so long to do, but it’s not like you want to plough through classic Simpsons at breakneck speed… it needs to be savoured.

We’re currently in between seasons 2 and 3. The former is certainly a step up from season 1 in many respects – the animation is much better and the characters are far more established. Humour-wise, it follows on nicely, but as I pointed out in my last Simpsons entry, the jokes in the first series are remarkably good (you just have to put certain things aside), so there was little room for improvement. Actually, on the whole, I found that the season 2 episodes were LESS joke-packed than those in season 1. But then, you have to remember there are nearly twice as many episodes in this series, and season 2 had some pretty big shoes to fill… big shoes to fill.

I think some of the more enjoyable episodes in this segment were those that I hadn’t liked that much on viewing at the age of 10: Two Cars in Every Garage, Three Eyes on Every Fish, Bart Gets Hit by a Car, and Simpson and Delilah. You might argue that lower expectations caused me to enjoy these ones more, but it seems more likely that I “get” aspects of these episodes that I didn’t before. I remember Bart Gets Hit by a Car confused me no end when I was younger: I genuinely didn’t understand why Bart was wrapped up in bandages one minute and then fine the next. I saw it a fair few times, too – it was one that we’d elected to tape when it was on. But “compensation culture” is still among us (at risk of losing marks for context again, this episode may be more relevant to Britain now than it was in 1991), and I have a renewed appreciation for this episode. Likewise, electoral campaigns haven’t changed, and Simpson and Delilah covers human superficiality in a non-clichéd and hilarious way (of the 3 episodes I’ve picked out, I particularly enjoyed this one – Harvey Fierstein is one of the best guest voices to ever appear on The Simpsons, and I know I’m not the only one that thinks that).

Conversely, some of the episodes that I remember liking a lot didn’t do much for me this time round. My other half proclaimed at the end of Dancin’ Homer that it wasn’t a great episode, I exclaimed that he didn’t know what he was talking about…. But that was based on loving this episode as a youth, and I realised that I’d actually laughed very little on this viewing. The same can be said for Dead Putting Society (though Homer’s annoyance at the lawn mowing forfeit, or rather, the fact that Flanders is enjoying it, had me in stitches), and Bart vs Thanksgiving. Arguably, I’m segregating more child-oriented episodes from those more suitable for the adult audience of The Simpsons. It is a family show, after all, and it successfully appeals to the mature and the younger audience… without simply throwing the odd (unfunny) innuendo in there like a run-of-the-mill Dreamworks animation.

I’m judging season 2 on VERY high standards here, of course. It’s not as though the highlighted episodes are bad (and to define bad, we need only look 10 years down the line), it would just be a boring entry without offering at least some critique.

Now that’s out of the way, I particularly enjoyed the following episodes:

Simpson and Delilah, for reasons highlighted above

Bart the Daredevil, because the ambulance crash will NEVER get old. This is an example of when physical comedy (something Zombie Simpsons heavily relies on) can be brilliant. It’s perfectly timed, and though Homer falling down a cliff twice could be annoying and used as a time killing device, it’s still short and simple (on the second incident, we only hear his cries for a few seconds… though the first clip show says otherwise).

Itchy & Scratchy & Marge, though another fuzzy VHS tape favourite of mine that had previously been viewed innumerable times, always deserves a mention: “I will never watch your show, buy any of your products… or brake if I see you crossing the street.”/”Make it a pie, pies are easier to draw.”

Principal Charming, for Homer’s analysis of his friends and co-workers as potential partners for Selma

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?: If Harvey Fierstein as Karl is the best guest voice, then Danny DeVito as Herbert Powell is a close second, “I’m just silent because of the emotion involved.”

Bart’s Dog Gets an F, for Homer’s self-assured assertion to the neighbour that it could not possibly be his dog swimming in her pool, because he’s looking at him right… “D’OH!”

Brush with Greatness, for the Mount Splashmore counterpart alone.

Lisa’s Substitute, “Just because I don’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

War of the Simpsons, for the marriage counselling scenes.

Blood Feud, for this screenshot:

I’d never looked at this properly before, even though it’s on screen, on its own, for a few seconds. I absolutely love it – it’s so melodramatic. I particularly like the wholesome way the recipient of the important letter is clutching a bowl of soup. Homer and Bart’s attempts to recall the letter are very humorous, too, and the wrap-up “it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened” is just great. Indeed, it is just a bunch of stuff, but it’s logical at least. No comment, Zombie Simpsons.

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!).

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.