|Posted by Ratin8tor on July 11, 2012 at 5:05 PM|
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse pop culture.
The Simpsons. The longest running animated sitcom in America. And, as many fans are willing to point out, it's not as good as it use to be. But why is that? Has it gotten worst, or better? Well joining me is Kriken, the man who reviews all the modern episodes of the Simpsons and points out all the stupidity found within it (while being hilariously funny to read too boot). Since he had more reasons for hating the Simpsons then me liking it, I let him start.
KK: I think the first real thing that bugs me about Modern Simpsons is the characters. I really viewed Homer as a father who wasn't perfect, but he tried. If he screwed up with his kids, he felt bad. If I can bring up a few examples I'd like to point to "Lisa's Substitute" for a Lisa example. Lisa loves Mr. Bergstrom and he is a closer father figure to her than Homer was. Homer doesn't get why she gets sad when he leaves and initially feels like her insulting him for it is her fault, but while talking to her to try to comfort her, he realizes it a bit more and is able to tackle three father duties that night as a result. A good Bart example off the top of my head would have to be "King of the Hill" where Homer embarrasses Bart in public, but instead of blaming it on Bart, he decides that he needs to change and it even went as far as him climbing a dangerous mountain just to get Bart's respect. That's just Homer, I could go more in-depth about my opinions of the other characters.
In contrast today, Homer is a cardboard cut-out whose sole purpose is to be a walking punchline whether it be spouting out unnatural dialogue or physical abuse. Now to contrast those two points I made above, in "The Scorpion's Tale" when Lisa tells Homer about her new medicine, all he can say is "If you were a boy, you'd be a scientist"...I mean Lisa just created quite possibly a ground-breaking medicine and all Homer can think of is how to sound as sexist as possible. Surprised he didn't tell her to return to the kitchen while he was at it. And as for Bart, in "Love is Many a Strangled Thing" (Oddly enough these are both season 22 episodes) Homer causes Bart to piss his pants in public, and immediately afterwards, he decides to randomly tries to start the wave with no success. And when they get home, Marge tells Homer to apologize, but instead he insists that Bart shouldn't have self-esteem. He never apologized to Bart in the episode about that incident, instead he felt the need to act like a complete jerk-ass.
That's one example of the character writing the writers view as "funny".
Another problem I have is just how ludicrous some of the plots can be. For example, in "Mothers I'd like to Forget" Bart finds out that he's friends with 3 other boys because they all have the same scars on the backs of their hands. So how do they all get their scars? Initiation of some sort? A pact to remain friends forever? Nope, 4 hot sandwich plastic knives landed on their hands after a fireworks accident... I defy you to come up with something more ridiculous.
Also to piggyback on ludicrous plots, a lot of their plots are completely unoriginal. "MoneyBART" is arguably a "Lisa on Ice" clone with none of the charm. And while storylines like "Bart/Lisa gets a girlfriend/boyfriend" aren't copied, they are very tiring and overused. There have been 5 combined episodes with that storyline in the past 4 years. While that doesn't sound bad, in the first 8 seasons, there were only 4 episodes with that premise (Bart/Laura, Lisa/Ralph, Bart/Jessica, Lisa/Nelson). I know the term "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" but none of those modern episodes are the least bit memorable, I had to re-check them on Wikipedia to make sure, but I could name off the four relationships off the top of my head because the episodes were memorable.
And if I'm not boring people at this point, my last main problem is the "Instant expert" aspect of episodes. I did a whole post about this referencing three classic vs three modern episodes, here's the link if you're interested: http://krikensworld.blogspot.com/2011/10/quick-analysis-simpsons-and-skills.html
R8: Yes the characters have changed a lot in the last few years. Yes they have gone through the process of Flanderization (named after Ned Flanders, where he went from a nice next door neighbour to a Bible-thumping monster) where the character becomes their quirks. And yes Homer's gotten dumber. But that's because we wanted him to get dumber. Look back on the early stuff and what do we often remember the best? Homer hurting himself in stupid ways. The Springfield Gorge jump is the best known example of this, since they repeat it ad nasuam. It was hilarious because Homer was beaten and bruised and we loved it. And there are plenty of great jokes in the early season which involved Homer's stupidity getting himself hurt, and we all love it.
Also we want him to get dumber because we, as a society, are expecting less from TV and Cinema. In fact Homer can almost be seen as mocking us for our own stupidity. Bear in mind we live in a society where Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the 4th highest grossing film of all time. And it's full of low-brow humour and stupid characters. But it's popular, so it's clearly what we want. The Simpsons hasn't gotten worst, it's evolved with our tastes. We don't want clever and cutting humour, we want stupid characters doing stupid things to each other. And if it sounds like my argument is nonsensical, The Simpsons does reflect the modern thoughts of the population.
Also an in-story reason for why Homer is getting dumber is because the crayon in his brain is starting to do serious mental damage, hence why he's getting dumber as the series is going on
A challenge aye? You sir have clearly never read my blogs. Time to come up with something truly absurd:
I'd type it out but it's much more fun to link it and get people to read it. But sure the plots are getting ludicrous. That's because The Simpsons Already Did It. Same goes for the piggybacking problem. Any show that goes on for 20 odd years is bound to start repeating itself eventually. It's inevitable. Take Doctor Who, which celebrates it's 50th Anniversary next year. As much as I love the show, I will admit they use the same stories over and over again. But does that make it a bad thing? At least the writers try to come up with new twists on the old stories. Failing that, what's wrong with copying your more successful older siblings? If they do remake old Simpsons episodes, changing nothing but upgrading the animation, would they still suck? Sure we'd complain about how they are just repeating themselves, but would it really be that awful?
As for the "Instant Expert" subject (interesting blog, btw), well how else are they going to move the story along? Oh sure, it's interesting to watch Homer become an astronaut or Bart study for his test, but that gets old. What audiences want to see is the skill set being implemented quickly enough to make the story more interesting. Would we really want to watch an episode where Homer goes to hair cutting school and learns to do it etc etc. Furthermore, Homer would never go to school to begin with (Clown college aside, obviously). Hence why corners do need to be cut to make the story work better in the long run.
At the end of the day, the Simpsons is a cartoon. While some say that it's technically an 'animated sitcom', it is a cartoon. It follows much the same logic and rules found in most cartoons. So can we really hate it for doing that? Do we ever question why Elmer Fudd ogles Bugs Bunny when he really shouldn't be? Or how Mickey Mouse got a job as a ghost hunter? No we except these things in order to make the story work. Perhaps the Simpsons use to try and be a proper sitcom, but now it's evolved (or devolved) into a cartoon. And as a cartoon it's perfectly fine.
KK: Excellent point, Homer was the victim of physical abuse in early seasons. The only other instance of a family member I can think of being the victim of physical abuse is Bart with the strangling, which I’d like to point out now was funny then because it was impulsive by Homer, I cannot think of any particular moment back then when Homer with a clear mind strangled Bart. As I pointed to in my “Lisa the Drama Queen” review, Homer smacked Bart once for stealing his line (Impulsive) but then had time to think and smacked him again, turning it into child abuse. A point I was leading to with that was Marge can’t be abused because of spousal abuse and well…yeah spousal abuse isn’t funny. Also, from what I heard in the commentaries, any time the writers tried to put in “Homer strangles Lisa” it would be met with a harsh reaction. Where was I? Oh yeah back to that instance, don’t forget that the scene started off with Homer confronting Bart to prevent him from jumping the gorge and him falling down was “accidental”. There’s a feeling of cruel irony there as Homer had good intentions but a bad result. Now a days, the physical humour would come from Homer pulling on a rope and sandbags would fall on him. Why did he pull on the rope? Why sandbags? Because knocking Homer on the head with no set-up is funny, right?
I’ll concede that point, if shows like Family Guy and whatever else Seth McFarlane is pumping out can succeed, it’s hard to argue that a studio would not want to put out something profitable. On that same argument though, if you take a look at the all-time ratings, the five lowest rated episodes have all come from the past three seasons (The Daughter Also Rises: 4.33 Million, The Great Simpsina: 5.00 Million, Politically Inept with Homer Simpson/Million Dollar Maybe: 5.11 Million, Moe Goes From Rags to Riches: 5.12 Million) and season 22 was the lowest rated season of all time with season 23 on pace to break that. It does have a lot of viewers still, but the audience is getting weeded out as this progresses. Also to argue the “We don’t want clever and cutting humour” people will quote and reference the classic episodes as jokes quite often, I don’t hear nearly as many references to newer episodes.
Actually to bring back up a commentary point, I remember them saying that Homer loses 5 IQ points a season and according to the staff, as a result it dropped to 0 by season 13. I wish I could remember the exact commentary where they said that, but I found that humorous. Although it does explain why he is what he is today.
*Reads over the stories* The writers called, they asked you to stop stealing their ideas for future episodes. But in all seriousness, they sound amusing; they’re absurd, but entertainingly absurd. And I present a counter with an absurd storyline from Price himself:
The key note here: “…Homer and Bart obtaining a small steam-engine train from the amusement park and restoring it to run in their back yard. This attracts the attention of fellow model-train enthusiasts like Rev. Lovejoy and Comic Book Guy…” Didn’t know CBG was into trains.
It’s actually a good argument for why it should be off the air. If original ideas come to “Homer goes to Antarctica to find the lost treasure of Julius Caesar” I feel like it’d be time to hang it up. While money is a good incentive, it should not be the driving force for creative thought. I’ve always felt like if you lose inspiration for what you do, first take a break to clear your mind, if you cannot find your inspiration, it’s time to call it quits. I’ve questioned my own inspiration at times, but after some time, I can usually find it again and get back to work. And for the times I couldn’t find the inspiration, I would quit. And as for retelling stories, if I can point back to “Bart gets a girlfriend” they did it twice, but on the second time, they added a new element to it to make it fresh. Unfortunately today, if you have a basic understanding of the show, the stories are usually predictable with very little to distinguish one telling of a certain story from another if that makes sense to you.
Well like I pointed out, when we see Homer struggle in “Deep Space Homer” it gave a “Rocky” feeling, we wanted to see Homer succeed, he was human, he was interesting, when he failed we could feel bad for him. While I’ll admit having the skill set needed being implemented quickly does cut down on time, the writers don’t really utilize their time, a lot of the times, there will be scenes I feel like are wasted. Using the haircutting example, they had Homer listen to women’s gossip while cutting their hair and as a result, it tired him out. They never really did anything with the gossip, for example, they could have had Homer look at oh say, Lenny and realize that one of his clients has a crush on him but he can’t tell Lenny. Thus any time he runs into Lenny (For the sake of this argument let’s say 5 times) Homer has to pretend like he didn’t hear the gossip and in the end bursts it out in front of everyone. Is that clichéd? Yes. But there is an actual plot behind this and potential for actual jokes. Instead the episode is “Homer cuts hair, Homer wants out of the hair business” and nothing really in between. Back to the skill set itself, Homer just picks up hedge trimmers and perfectly cuts Patty’s hair like he’s done that for years. So Homer has a natural ability to cut hair, okay a bit stupid, but I’ll buy it for now, but then later when he tries his hardest to screw up, he is incapable of it. Now I’m no writing expert, but that just sounds very Mary Sue-ish to me, how would I relate to him? I don’t know.
Well for me personally, the show became a parody of itself it just feels lifeless if that makes any sense. While things like HD do make it more appealing to look at, there are times it feels sterile because of the HD. There’s a certain charm in hand-drawn animation, a certain example for me at least is the school. For the hand drawn episodes, the school was portrayed as you’d figure; cracked, run-down and just feels like an underfunded school. Without saying a word, I can tell based on the design that the school is crap and nobody inside cares. Now, the school feels… too perfect if that makes sense, the lines are crisp, the school looks nice, it just doesn’t feel like an underfunded school. That sounds like a huge nitpick I know, but like I said, there was a charm to the imperfections, it gave the school itself character and made it something special. Now it just looks generic.
R8: You say “Why did he pull on the rope? Why sandbags? Because knocking Homer on the head with no set-up is funny, right?”. Well, it is, if you were too look at it as an absurdest comedy.
It struck me as I was watching one of the latest episode that it's not all to dissimilar to Monty Python. They have a joke, then move onto the next scene. There is no real connection of plot at any point between these scenes, they just happen because they're funny. The show has moved away from being a plot-based story to a 'gag a minute' show full of absurdities.
Yes the show is losing viewers, but that's because people are getting oversaturate with it. Doctor Who in the 80s, near the end of its run, was seen as rubbish. But after about 15 years we see that there were some gems in there that we couldn't see at the time. Sure the Simpsons may look bad now, but that's because we get classic episodes every day (at least in my country we do). We overflow with Simpsons. However if they stopped repeating the old stuff and only had the new stuff, people will probably find it better since it isn't as easy to compare.
As for Homer's intelligence, the only rule is that “he can't forget his own name.” Other than that, yeah, he's gotten pretty dumb.
And why wouldn't CBG be into trains? Sure he's shown no interest in the past, but you can't have a show that survives for so long without fleshing out these characters and revealing hidden parts of their character. Otherwise you just wouldn't have a story.
And would you really quit if your inspiration died if Fox was still gleefully giving you sacks full of money :P. But the Simpsons have done it all already, so you need to explore new grounds with it. Plus, like I said, the show is more of an absurdest parody that lets the jokes take precedence over the story. Hence why it doesn't matter why Homer goes to Antarctica, as long as it's funny.
Yeah, I can't argue the fact that Homer (And all the characters) are becoming Mary-Sueish, not without repeating myself about how the jokes are more important then the plot.
Yes the school looks generic, but it is the generic everyday school. Besides, how many jokes can you make where 'the school is falling apart' before you've done them all? And yes the old style was nice, but change is unfortunately necessary to keep up with the world nowadays.
Overall I still like the show for the simple reason that it's an absurdest cartoon. They exhausted the story ideas years ago, so they instead turned to focus on the jokes. Sure the story doesn't flow, but neither does any episode of Monty Python. But people still find that funny. So yes, the Simpsons is a bit of a parody of itself. But as long as they keep genuinely trying to be funny, I can't fault them for their effort.
KK: This is undeniably true. However, after nearly 11 seasons of plot-heavy material, the switch to the Monty Python feel is jarring. Making it worse is that they attempt to continue the idea that the show still relies on its plots – however, these ‘gag a minute’ bits exist with the plot but make no attempt to be cohesive. Take my latest review as an example – the set-up to the plot involved Marge’s birthday and missing a phone call from a celebrity. After they got the plot about Bart’s graffiti going, the bit about the phone call is immediately lost – there’s neither resolution nor punchline. It just…happened. On the other hand, Classic Simpsons set-ups tend to either tie in (like Radio Bart, giving Bart his titular radio) or had a punchline (like Bart’s Comet, which has the prank weather balloon that, in the end, is taken out by the deadly comet).
Well to sort of contradict myself, high viewership does not always mean high quality. For example, Season 12 was the highest rated season of all time, but I really could care less for that season. Sure I liked some episodes from it like Trilogy of Error and HOMR but that season also has episodes that I hate like Homer vs. Dignity, Tennis the Menace, Simpson Safari and Bye Bye Nerdie. Only time will tell how good or bad these episodes truly are. For example, Homer’s Enemy was hated when it initially aired, but has since been loved over time. However in five to ten years we’ll be able to look back and judge them based purely on how they do by themselves. On a related note, while you make a good point about it being easy to compare to the classic episodes. However, even if they stopped airing them, it’s easy to access the older episodes – if you can’t afford the DVDs, then a quick Google search will turn up the old stuff. Still, I try judging the episodes on their own qualities – they just, in my view, don’t hold up under their own merits.
Well for that I’ll point to the episode “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” while there was no real set-up for CBG being a genius, there wasn’t really a problem with it either. CBG is a nerd, so to imagine him being a genius and having comic books isn’t hard to fathom. The train interest might be set up nicely in the episode itself, it’s just harder to fathom that it will be.
While money’s nice, I’m not sure it was worth reducing the characters to their current states. If I can use a comparison to football, two great players (Jim Brown and Barry Sanders) had excellent careers but retired in their prime. Many felt like they could’ve gone on longer, but Sanders said he retired because he’d lost his passion – he couldn’t bring himself to go on just for money. Due to their premature retirements, they’re remembered as great players. The Simpsons are closer to Bret Favre – sure, great long career, but many were wondering when he’d finally retire because he was becoming ineffectual, and, like the show, people still expressed surprise learning, no, he was still around.
Honestly, having been in several schools that underwent renovation, there were several other, more down-to-earth-yet-funny jokes that could’ve been made. For instance, during one of my classes, a ceiling tile broke and rained down insulation material. It would’ve functioned as a quick joke and shown that the school was run-down. If they really needed to exaggerate it, they could’ve claimed the insulation was asbestos. As for change, while change is necessary, it’s odd the direction they chose. When hand-drawn, consistency could be difficult – using a computer, not only could the school’s run-down design be kept consistent, but they could also tweak it towards increased damage with greater ease – for instance, a growing crack in the wall, paint peeling off to show an anti-war poster from the 60s underneath. Sadly, they seem to stick with one model that shows little variation – and, as I noted, looks ‘cleaner’. As I noted, it’s a nitpick, but I feel they’re wasting good opportunities.
I appreciate the time you put in for this reply and thank you for the well-reasoned reply you gave me. Hopefully, anything I’ve said here will assist in your post later.
So there you have it. A (VERY) long look at modern day Simpsons, both good and bad (as well as giving a decent amount of weight to both sides of the argument). I'd like to thank Kirken again for doing this with me. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.
Categories: In Too Deep