Category: Gabriel Morton versus The Simpsons

You won’t enjoy it on as many levels as I do

The Telltale Head

The Telltale Head

My Recollection

The end is at the start. A serious tone. Not very funny.

The Episode

There’s a few reasons why a narrative may start at its own end before returning to explain how they got there. The first is that it’s a hook. Starting a story with something that demands an answer is an easy way to suck people in because seeing a what triggers our curiosity regarding the how. The second can be to add a framing device to the narrative, such as having a specific character retell what’s happened or otherwise function as the narrative perspective. The third is simply to add variety by differing from a standard narrative direction, and all three can be used in various mixes. This episode does all three and the first one it does quite well. Starting with Homer and Bart walking toward the centre of town, with the head of Jebediah, then getting confronted by the town who have already formed an angry mob really does make me want to see what happened. Easy hook. The second it fucks up almost immediately.

The thing about using a character’s perspective as a framing device for the plot is that they have to be there for the things that the audience sees, especially if the narrative is based on said character actually relating what happened to an in-universe audience. Bart wants to plead his case to his would-be murderers and begins to explain what happened, then the show has scenes that Bart wasn’t present for. This is not a big surprise as the narrative shuffle was something that happened late in production, meaning elements couldn’t be changed to fit the new perspective. That said, it actually does work as a clever way of covering for another problem which is the murderous mob.

In later episodes, the idea of Springfield being easily whipped into a murderous lynching party is, like a lot of the rubber band reality, an established absurdity the show can dip in and out of as necessary. Starting something like this is kind of tricky, though, particularly as season one’s more grounded approach to their world. Later seasons emphasised the comic stupidity of the mob, like when they went to get cider in Bart’s Inner Child, but this one is savage and humourless. They want to beat a child to death for vandalising a statue and that’s a tricky thing to show the start of without highlighting the stupidity of the idea within the context of a sitcom. This episode cleverly uses the nonlinear narrative to hide the start of the mob entirely. The mob is already formed at the start and by the time the show returns to the moment, the narrative has focused the audience on the matter of Bart’s reasons for decapitating the Jebediah Springfield statue. The lynch mob idea is now in the series, and frequently used again, without ever having to really validate it or take it seriously at all.

Aside from the narrative chicanery, when compared to Lisa the Iconoclast this episode is a novel example of the pendulum swing of historical studies. The Telltale Head presents Jebediah wholly uncritically, and Bart’s hallucination of him is an idealised one. It’s the complete opposite of the figure we eventually see, and have confirmed as real, in the later episode. History is a lot like this. Imagine the Twitter habit of competing hot takes but over decades and with academics. People will worship someone, then they’ll be recast as a monster, then they’ll be judged within their historical context and seen as good again. If this keeps up enough there’ll be some kind of split and different camps will form. A whole new area of study, historiography, emerged out of this. It’s the study of the study of history and as absurd as that sounds it’s actually a very dynamic and interesting discipline.

Aside from Bart’s story, there’s a few stray scenes which don’t coalesce into anything meaningful and they stand out because of that. There’s some canonically contradicted stuff about how the Simpson church disapproves of gambling which leads to a tension between Homer and Marge that goes absolutely nowhere and contributes nothing to the plot. These are too connected to be filler scenes with throwaway gags, and I suspect there was probably a B story conclusion here that was cut at some point. The fact that they’re a largely unfunny, stunted B story subtracts from an episode that is already very light on decent jokes but the primary story manages to make up the difference.

The story uses the “why over what” focus of it’s starting in medias res to craft an excellent character episode for Bart. Bart’s perpetual ten has morphed over the years, from what is clearly a child to a young adult with a series of girlfriends and this change happens fairly quickly. This was inevitable as there’s very little you can really do with a faithfully written ten year old (seriously, go look at a ten year old) not covered in Bart the Genius and Bart Gets an F (on second thought, do not go look at a ten year old). Concurrent to this was the evolving nature of cool and how that had to be balanced with Bart’s stories. This early cool was not the unflappable cockiness kind that has Skinner sign its yearbook, and this adds an important layer of vulnerability to Bart. This vulnerability makes his idolisation of the bullies introduced in this episode, the stalwart side characters Jimbo, Kearney, and Dolph, make far more sense than in later episodes like This Little Wiggy. Bart’s love of the bad was always borderline parody, if not something unrealistic enough to be in a fundamentalist pamphlet on the effects of crime novels/crime movies/comic books/movies again/television/videogames. This episode, and similar from the early seasons, works because what later cool makes parody, current vulnerability makes real.

There’s a tension between the length of the series and the original ideas it has available to it that force status quo resets that grow more and more overt as the show drags on. There’s no effort to reset the status quo in these old episodes, just a general disregard for plot and character developments. Season two’s Bart Gets an F is all about Bart trying to leave the 4th grade, it’s been 26 years and that still hasn’t happened. Less overt than this were Bart’s character growth moments at the ends of stories like this one which work largely because the show doesn’t even try to revert them before the credits roll. After a while, it becomes obvious that Bart’s never going to really change, and that’s when the parody cool moves in and the vulnerable child vanishes. The vulnerability in The Telltale Head helps ground his character in the realistic childhood need for a distinct identity, one that manifests in the face of Homer’s dismal parenting as self-assertion through transgression, and this makes one of his most famous acts of misbehaviour his most genuine.

 

Yours in getting kicked out of every Space Mutants movie, Gabriel.

Jokes, lines and stray thoughts.

“You know son, when I was your age I pulled a few boners” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay lol

This episode actually has a title card, which I’m pretty sure we don’t see again until 22 Short Films About Springfield

The mob really is a malicious one and not a funny one which is bizarre for a lot of reasons, I mean, Grampa is in there and he wants to butcher his grandson. It gets worse and worse the more you think about it and that’s why the mob scenes are usually goofy so they enter the joke universe of absurdity. They’re a real threat here, the story and characters treat them as such, which would totally shaft most of the plot were it not snuck in so craftily and disbanded so quickly.

This episode has the first example of Smither’s crush on Mr Burns with the less than subtle line, “The feeling is more than mutual, sir” in response to Burns’ emotional outpouring. Smithers being gay for Burns is so goddamned old that nobody questions it but it’s such an odd thing to add to the series if you think about it. It began as Sam Simon’s idea to make him gay but to never directly draw attention to it. This went out the window immediately because there’s no way to make jokes about him wanting to fuck Mr Burns without explicitly drawing attention to it, so for a while he was essentially a Burns-sexual, with a major coming out episode revolving around Patty instead. By definition, allusions are not explicit but if you pile up enough of them, as subsequent seasons do, it becomes fucking obvious Smithers is just gay. More recent episodes have basically confirmed this.

The scene with the Sunday school teacher is funny both in content and because of her nebulous existence. The children are there occasionally, but largely they are in church with their parents and there’s never been a firm explanation as to why. Bart’s expulsion, mentioned in Bart’s Girlfriend, is about as close as it gets but that doesn’t explain Lisa so I’m marking it as early sloppiness. The content itself, is fairly funny too, because Bart’s absurd questions really are taken seriously by a lot of those Sunday school types.

When Bart asks where the bullies got their stuff, Dolph says, “Five finger discount, man” despite existing in a universe where everyone has only three fingers and a thumb. Jimbo would later use the idiom correctly in Marge Be Not Proud. 

That his full name is Jebediah Obadiah Zachariah Jedediah Springfield amuses me greatly.

The guy who comes out to shoo the kids away from the statue uses looped audio and it’s noticeably mechanical.

Sideshow Bob shows up in this episode! His first appearance and with different hair.

 

 

 

 

The Call of The Simpsons

The Call of The Simpsons

My Recollection

They buy an RV, get lost in the forest, and Homer gets mistaken for Bigfoot. This is one of the first ones I had taped, so I watched it a fair bit. It feels like the first dip into the weirder stories and absurder jokes, which will make a nice change.

The Episode

The chalkboard gag is “I will not draw naked ladies in class” which strikes me as a tad adult for the show and very adult for where the show is at here. The sexuality in The Simpsons has always been the snuggle variety, even the episodes devoted entirely to it have never edged into the crassly adult. Bart’s sitting in class, drawing tits. I want to say it’s tits. I need to believe it’s tits. I can’t keep dong this if season one Bart is sitting in class trying to shade a vulva while Milhouse looks over his shoulder and asks for a copy.

This episode is the first to feature Albert Brooks as a guest star, the delightful being responsible for Brad Goodman, Hank Scorpio, and the one redeeming feature in the movie, the EPA Agent. The director’s commentary for Bart’s Inner Child mentioned that he just improvs like mad, usually bouncing off Castellaneta, and they just trim it down to what they want. You can hear some of this at the end of the otherwise poor The Heartbroke Kid and as limp as that episode was, the fade out riffing between Homer and Tab was fucking hilarious. It’s because of this that I generally consider a fair bit of the throwaway material that comes out of any of A. Brooks’ characters to be something he’s just blurted out himself, making his contributions some of the best small moments across the whole series. Here he plays Bob, the RV Salesman, but we’ll meet him in a moment.

The episode starts on a common story idea, middle class jealousy and particularly Homer’s insecurity in the face of Flanders’ better life. Bart is mowing the lawn with a fairly standard push mower while Rod Flanders, making his first appearance, drives by on an expensive looking ride-on. There’s a faint bit of out-of-character snark from Rod here although this is probably less “out-of-character” and more the behaviour of a normal child pre the Flanders’ fundamentalist turn. Flanderisation, the trope named for Ned, is the process where a formerly nuanced character degenerates into a parody as subsequent episodes and seasons focus on the stand-out elements. Like a lot of oversimplifications, this one gets inaccurately thrown around. There’s a difference between a character being whittled down and elements we’d never had a chance to see coming out. There’s little to nothing in the early episodes that contradicts Flanders’ being a weirdo fundamentalist, we just never really see any parts of his life that would show this. Adding further weirdo fundamentalist elements to his character is less a degeneration and more natural expansion of the idea, and the series has always given him his moments of depth to more than compensate. Rod is a better example, he’s a different character in the earlier seasons and gets warped into the creepy fundie kid as time goes on.

I knew a few of these back in primary school. One time we had an Aboriginal elder come in and tell us some stuff about their beliefs and one of them went crimson, screaming and crying about how it’s only Jesus. Literally had to be taken out of the room sobbing about Christ. He had the pale, frightened look of a child that was recovering from cancer even though he wasn’t and the outburst was so batshit insane that nobody, teachers or students, ever brought it up again.

As Bart is complaining about the family lot in life when compared to the Flandereses, Homer reminds him to be happy with what he has and not to try to keep up with other people. Cue Flanders driving up in the Land Behemoth, the RV that is parked in some mystery dimension for most of the series. Unlike a few one-off episode items, this one actually continues to exist, being seen in season 6’s Lemon of Troy and referenced as something Flanders never uses in season 11’s Grift of the Magi. Because a setup needs a punchline, Homer and the family immediately head off to buy an RV.

Here’s where we meet A. Brooks’ Bob, who I think actually shows up in a really late season episode but I’ll cross that shitty bridge when I come to it. It’s funny because his character is supposed to be a kind of predatory salesman who takes obvious boob Homer for a boob but this episode was 2 financial crashes ago so he comes off looking reasonable. Homer wants to buy The Ultimate Behemoth, to spite Flanders, but the evil salesman checks Homer’s credit rating and then refuses the loan based on information that suggests Homer is unable to pay. He even mentions that if he advanced Homer that much credit, he’d go out of business. This is because this episode comes from a time when debt hadn’t been turned into a product. In a modern episode, Homer would be given a loan he could never pay because the company that gave it to him would take that debt, cut it up into pieces, mix it with other debts, have a crooked company rate the debts as safe, then sell it off in portions to people who think these safe interest payments are a good investment. Then your economy collapses because a Bubba with no income, job, or assets can’t pay off the McMansion he bought.

Well, not the Australian one. Dollarydoos are indestructible and Australia’s population is a bit over a dozen on a good day so nothing of note ever happens here.

So, following a display of now extinct capitalist responsibility, Bob doesn’t sell Homer a million dollar RV and gets him to settle for a beat-up junker. It’s enough for Homer to wave in Flanders’ face and take the family out for a camping trip in the woods, so he does both.

It’s funny because the Homer’s purchase being a pile of crap feels like it’s going to be a plot point but it isn’t. The takeaway from this is that Bob’s RV is actually a great place to buy an RV. Nothing in the rest of the episode suggests that this RV was some kind of lemon that was palmed off onto the credulous Homer. It’s used, sure, but it works fine and would be fine for a family camping trip if it were driven by anyone but Homer, who nearly drives the family off a cliff. It’s a bit of cartoon reality that they’ve been driving in a beat-up RV for a few minutes and are now on a cliff so far from civilisation they’ve no idea how to get back, but here they are. “The Simpsons have entered the forest”, says Lisa.

Homer and Bart go to find civilisation while Lisa and Marge stay at their makeshift camp, oh and the writers decide to ignore Marge’s character and everything that happened in the last 5 minutes. During the drive, Marge is correctly assuming Homer doesn’t know what he’s doing and is constantly cautioning him. Somehow, Homer nearly killing them and leaving them stranded in the forest with only the clothes on their backs changes her mind completely and she happily believes that he’s an experienced woodsman. This extends to letting Maggie follow Homer and Bart as they go looking for help. There is no indication that Homer is even aware Maggie is following them, and Marge just shrugs it off like she’s secretly hoping Maggie vanishes so she can have some time to herself. It’s badly written and it’s done for no sane reason. It’s not like anything Marge and Lisa are doing can’t have Maggie there as well and the great payoff for separating Maggie from everyone is her befriending some bears. This is an early look at the power of Maggie’s pacifier, and the way that the world sorta bends around her, but it’s also a fucking stupid reward for throwing Marge into the retard-pit again. It gets about one good joke in but I suppose it was more about needing to fill time and having nothing for Marge and Lisa beside them being the competent pair.

Homer and Bart mistake Maggie’s pacifier sucking for a rattlesnake and run off, before falling into a river and over a waterfall. The pair wind up naked which is something I’ve always thought is a bit weird. I’ve never been over a legit waterfall, but I’ve been down waterslides and even some gentler rapids and never been in danger of losing my swimmers let alone a full set of clothes. I don’t think the writer, John Schwarzwelder, was molested by a waterfall but I believe he was molested close enough to one to make him believe they had the power to strip you and leave you alone and confused in a forest.

Homer and Bart’s journey through the forest is essentially a series of skits. Homer attempts to catch a rabbit for him and Bart to eat, but his trap is more of a rabbitpault and his second attempt, bumrush a shrub, results in him getting mauled by a variety of woodland critters. He then fists an active beehive, eating some bees as he gulps down the honey, and runs screaming into a mud puddle being filmed by a nature photographer. His stumbling out, covered in mud, incoherently shouting through a mouthful of bees and honey, results in the outside world thinking they’ve footage of Bigfoot. It’s about now in my first re-watch of this episode that I get a feeling of how actually incoherent the plot is. It has a touch of that Kill the Alligator and Run thing where story beats are such significant changes that the episode feels like several opening acts stitched together instead of one episode. Homer being mistook for Bigfoot is either a second act or a throwaway gag, here it’s the conclusion to an episode that pays just enough real attention to the idea of a human being mistook for Bigfoot to point out how stupid it is. Up to his getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, it all makes perfect, if cartoony, sense. But then scientists, including Marvin Monroe who has met him, continue to debate his status as a human.

There’s a limit to how far the rubber band can stretch and this teases what The Principal and the Pauper would later rub in everyone’s face. The extremely absurd, like a second Homer walking passed the window works because it exists as a joke within it’s own bubble universe and isn’t acknowledged by reality proper. Homer being mistook for Bigfoot when he’s a mud-covered, bee screaming atrocity is comic absurdity but perfectly within constraints. Being in a tube, in a lab, talking to people he’s met, who then give a press conference about how they can’t tell if he’s human or not does not. Absurd humour is like good surrealism, it needs the reality it’s subverting. Drawing the punchline of this joke out kills the reality and gives nothing in return, a lazy finish to a haphazard episode.

Jokes, lines and stray thoughts.

One of the features the RVs are sold on is having deep fryers and I don’t remember deep fryers ever being this big a deal. You can buy them now for 30 dollars, were they once some baffling piece of high-tech shit available only to the wealthy?

I really can’t get over how the unscrupulous salesman from 1990 is now the pinnacle of lending responsibility. Anytime after about 2006 and they’d have tethered Homer to a loan worth millions and then shunted that debt down the line.

“I’ve murdered us all” echoing around the valley makes me chuckle.

“It’s like a third sense” isn’t a very good idiot line because the number’s too damn low. Homer wasn’t a full-scale retard until much later and I’d expect him to reasonably name his fucking senses here. Making him overshoot to 7 or something, leaving a mystery 6th, or omitting it at all would have been better.

Okay, I’ve been waiting for this, this episode finally has a joke that made me think about it for ages and ages afterwards and it’s still as good as I remember it. While Homer and Bart are out being fellated by a waterfall, Lisa and Marge are being good at surviving in the forest and we’re shown this by seeing them tidying up around the camp as though they were at home. Marge picks up a squirrel. She doesn’t acknowledge that at all, neither does Lisa or the squirrel though it does do one of those little chirps. Then she sits it on a log next to an arrangement of similarly frozen squirrels.

The idea itself is very basic and even quite dull were you to write it down. Marge picks up a squirrel like she’s putting some abandoned toy back in its spot. Good absurd humour is a lot like good horror in that it works best on an almost subconscious level. Even though the action is front and centre, there’s no attention drawn to it. There’s nothing that alerts the viewer that there’s a joke happening and it only lasts 3 seconds so it’s an easy one to miss. There’s always an authorial voice in a text and this is most visible in comedy as the attention drawing shots, lines, pauses etc that indicate a joke is happening. You’ll see these even if the joke goes over your head. So there’s a craftiness at work when a show that typically draws your attention to the jokes avoids doing so at all. This masking of the authorial voice, the joke structure, lets what’s happening exist within the reality of the narrative and this subtly enhances the absurdity of the action. It plays the mind off against itself because it will fight to make sense of it but be thwarted at every turn. Nobody admits that it’s strange. The show doesn’t admit that it’s strange. It lasts for 3 seconds. Are you sure you even saw it? Are they dead? Did Marge just kill a squirrel with her bare hands and lay it beside others to eat later?  Like the Xenomorph scuttling about the Nostromo, most of it is invisible but its effects are profound and lingering.

Homer’s trap has no means of keeping it down or any kind of tripwire but the nice pause between the rabbit being flung and the eventual sound of it hitting the ground gives it a pop.

Castellaneta gets full credit for the amazing voice acting going in to Homer being mauled by the animals. It’s panicked, fearful, and disgusted all at once. The joke would be pretty dull without it.

I like the look into the absolutely dysfunctional relationship as the bears are wandering about with Maggie. Christ, what a dick.

Shooing the bears away with Maggie on top is a solid joke just for the way Maggie appears and nobody does anything. Her entire adventure goes wholly unnoticed by the cast which, character dents aside, is a reasonable Baby’s Day Out joke.

This was before the town had firmed into a solid regular cast so there’s a few things in this episode we don’t see much of again like stray newscasters and other people with Homer’s muzzle.

Look kids! Paper clickbait!

 

Yours in wanting a separate fryer for every part of the chicken, Gabriel.

Bart The General

Bart The General

My Recollection

Herman saying that the pincer movement can’t fail against a 10 year old. Movie references. Nelson’s bi-racial buddies, more students we never see, victims of the move to modern animation.

The Episode

Ah, time to sit down and watch another episode of– shit this one’s in a hurry, it skipped the intro sequence and couch gag.

This episode feels more like an episode of Doug than it does The Simpsons. The first half is a standard run through an average child’s problems augmented by fantasy sequences to convey the emotional weight of the small made huge by limited perspective. The second half is the first step The Simpsons takes into the lucrative world of “references”. References are where one text references another by replicating visual, audio, or narrative elements. Wowza! I wonder if this fascinating new thing will take off.

Referential humor is something that gets a bit of a hard wrap and not undeservedly so, though I’d add that it’s less the existence of it and more the preponderance of it that draws negativity. Each, then, should be measured separately. It’s not a text’s fault if you’ve seen shitloads of the same thing in a week and it’s foolish to think that in a world full of active creators a random assortment of them should not do a thing because another random assortment has done it that week. It’s an invalid critical perspective. You’re the problem, so shake it off if you want to accurately assess something. This is not to say you can’t argue that a text is over reliant on them or uses them lazily, those are measurements within a text’s active control and are thus valid. But the tired old thing of not liking something because there’s a current surge in its popular use is childish contrarianism and not critique.

It’s a sign of how an early episode could have a real narrative focus, given that it had the luxury of fresh characters to explore, that you can summarize it in about a sentence. Lisa makes cupcakes for her class, Nelson’s friend steals them, Bart gets into a fight with the friend and then Nelson, and finally Bart enlists Grampa’s help to take down a neighbourhood bully.

GAZE ONCE AGAIN INTO THE WHEEL OF ETHNICITY!

GASP IN HORROR AS YOU SEE TWO CHARACTERS CURSED BY FATE AND WRITING STAFF ALIKE!

Nelson’s homunculoid little chums are what happens when you and your brother pick the same character. They are literally called Yellow Weasel and Black Weasel respectively because Groening had run out of family members and streets to name characters after. They stop being real people and become group shot filler pretty early.

LOAD THE HEADCANON

They are the result of Moe Szyslak sexually assaulting two women who had passed out in his bar.

The opening ten minutes are a fairly dry take on bullying from a child’s perspective with a not-quite-Kenobi-ish-enough-to-count-as-a-reference appearance of Homer in a thought bubble reminding Bart to punch balls. That moment itself is interesting more for it’s historical positioning as a very early example of how far rubber band reality can stretch than for how funny it is. Bart’s fantasies, about an unstoppable Juggernelson and his own funeral, smack heavily of Doug which, while it appeared 3 years later, made this stuff its bread and butter as The Simpsons moved on. This Dougian approach to Bart, noticeable here and in moments like his struggling with the aptitude test in Bart the Genius, was abandoned as Bart matured into something resembling a young adult trapped in a child’s body.

Homer’s advice of projectile spam and ducking mids doesn’t really work against a character with Nelson’s range and health so, on Lisa’s advice, Bart turns to Grampa for help. Early Grampa had an actual character trait in his endless letters of complaint, a trait that got moved to Flanders later on as the senility jokes became Grampa’s meat and potatoes. This is not Grampa’s first appearance but it’s his first point of focus in the series and there’s a note of meta to this introduction. One of the production notes the writers received was on the use of “family jewels” in reference to testicles, one they ignored to absolutely no penalty, and the term is amongst the words Grampa is demanding advertisers never put on TV again.

This is a real great line in public attitude stratigraphy, here in 1990 we have a note about the use of FAMILY FUCKING JEWELS being a bit much. Anyway, here’s a shot from Brother’s Little Helper nine years later.

Ah the degeneration of culture. Sure there’s morons inventing genders to cover for their absolute lack of personality but, on the plus side, I can watch shows with swears.

After Jasper successfully wrestles the still unnamed Abe’s newspaper away from him, Grampa admits he may not be the best source of help and takes Bart to see Herman. Herman, (based on Simpsons writer, great novelist, and noted loon, John Schwartzwelder) is an interesting case of a very early side character who fell into such a suitable niche that he’s neither moved nor had a whole episode devoted to him. Here’s where The Simpsons leaps into its first major intertextual piece where Bart’s turn as General draws from Patton and Full Metal Jacket, using scenes, lines, music, and shots from both quite heavily.

There’s a threefold use to references. The first is adding layers of depth to theme, character, and narrative via allusions or direct references to existing works. Sorta like taking someone else’s big Lego spaceship and jamming your smaller Lego spaceship on top of it to make it look like one bigger, cooler Lego spaceship. In comedy it’s a simple, arguably cheap and lazy, means of creating surprise by hiding a familiar thing in an unfamiliar place. Finally, they can be used to fill time. They operate on a continuum between covert and overt, allusion and reference, and each, admittedly vaguely defined, spot on the spectrum serves a different purpose.

If you wanna look clever, you want to be subtle about your references typically to the point of them being invisible to anyone but people also familiar with the subject you’re referring to. These will often go unnoticed and occasionally be mistaken for original work by the referring text. These are less common in comedy because anything too subtle won’t work as a joke, though esoteric stuff often pops up in throwaway lines as a treat for the few who pick up on them. Generally, comedy will overtly signal that a reference is happening to invite people in on the joke and this episode is a good example of this. These kinds of references occupy a kind of middle ground because, while overtly signalled, they fit within the existing context of the referring text’s universe and narrative. The creativity behind this fit is what raises a good reference joke over a bad one. The way the referred text and reference text fit together will itself structure a joke or broader comment, adding the kinds of depth typical to literary allusions. At the far end of overt are things like Epic Movie or Family Guy cutaways. The ____ Movie movies are perfect examples of the laziest of reference humour because the referenced things contain no extra work in either turning their existence within the referring text into jokes or thought about how they are supposed to add to the narrative. They are simply known things in an unexpected place. Family Guy’s have so little relation to the underlying universe that they are wholly removed from it, requiring their own diegetic bracketing. This contrasts with American Dad which, while superficially similar, has enough absurdity within the foundation of it’s narrative world to connect the bizarre jokes to it in a meaningful way.

I feel like this entire part of the story exists purely for this exchange between Nelson and Bart:

Bart: I’m afraid I’m going to have to teach you a lesson

Nelson: Oh yeah? You and what army?

Bart: This one.

It’s a quality moment but I feel like it’s let down a little by the lack of build up to Bart’s guerrilla army. His need to fight Nelson makes sense, but the threat of Nelson, who is introduced in this episode, to the other children isn’t that well established. The entire idea of a horde of children taking down a bully with water balloons is into the rubber band reality’s stretch, but you don’t need to pull it as hard if you set a few more things up. The episode would have been served better by, and had the time for, a moment where Nelson’s threat to the larger student body was shown.

The absurdity of this as a resolution is acknowledged by the episode, Nelson points out that the second he is untied he’s going to beat Bart up, but the actual ending of Nelson signing a post-war document of surrender isn’t much better. Bullying is effectively dealt with in really only two ways, long form social change and removing the bully. Neither of these are an option for a sitcom so they’re going to be stuck with a kind of hand-wave fix. Pointing out the ridiculousness of one doesn’t improve the other. Bart’s direct address to the audience about war is another oddity. This kind of thing was generally saved for the Halloween episodes which exist in their own side reality. It adds nothing but a reminder of how clumsy the early seasons could be.

Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.

There’s actually a few in this episode that got a good laugh out of me.

Homer appearing as an advice apparition to Bart and saying, “Remember the family jewels, son” kind of gets funnier the more I roll it around in my mind. Like when you say the word “truck” over and over again till it loses all meaning, the more you strip the context from this moment the funnier it gets. Imagine your dad communicating with you telepathically to remind you of testicles. Cause that’s all that’s happening here. He’s not reminding Bart to specifically punch testicles, he’s just reminding him that testicles are a thing. “Remember son, picture nuts”

Lisa describing Grampa as the, “toughest Simpson alive” then saying, “Yeah, remember the fight he put up when we put him in the home?” is a great cruel joke. I like throwaway lines whose brevity and unassuming presentation belie a really cruel scene. Lisa knows of her Grampa’s impressive strength and will to fight from the time she and her family physically ejected him from their home and locked him up in a retirement tomb. I imagine her cackling with laughter while doing it. This is a kind of iceberg joke. As a scene, it wouldn’t really work but as a sneaky reality hidden beneath a throwaway line we get a sense of an absurdity without the unpleasantness of witnessing it.

“Graaaaaaaaaaaaampaaaaaaaaaaa…”

Grampa saying “horny” makes me chuckle.

There was originally going to be a running gag where Herman had a different story for the lost arm every time he was asked but it was cut from an episode and never returned to again. As much as I like a running gag like that, Herman’s comfortable position as a seldom-use makes his losing his arm in a school bus accident and not a war suit him well.

Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel. Black weasel. Yellow weasel.

Birthday balloons are terrible water balloons. They don’t burst on contact, I’ve seen them engulf an 8 year old’s head like The Blob before driving the confused child’s head into the ground.

 

Yours in keeping my arm inside the bus at all times, Gabriel.

There’s No Disgrace Like Home

There’s No Disgrace Like Home

My recollection

The song Marge sings, taking the padding off the mallets, and the electro-shock therapy with the seldom seen again Marvin Monroe. About the only interesting thing Monroe ever did was pitch the Monroe box to Grampa Simpson. This is reflected in the fact that he only appeared in 13 episodes and was canonically dead until the writers got bored and needed a shitty joke in season 15.

The Episode

You didn’t burst out a cunt the fully formed, rad character you are today, that took some time and growth. With some occasional exceptions (sans a massive change, Rick and Morty feels pretty set out-of-the-box), early seasons in a TV series will have characters that can differ a bit from their popular conceptions. The Internet gave a name to this, a mirror of the “jump the shark” concept, called “grow the beard” named for the appearance of William Riker’s facial hair heralding the arrival of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s quality seasons. There’s No Disgrace Like Home is clean shaven Riker. A close shave, too close, and now Riker is bleeding. You made Riker bleed and Marge is acting like Homer. Are you happy now? Am I? Well I’ve committed myself to 11 years of writing these, so no. This episode has no beard, few jokes, and no honour.

The story is literally a bizarro version of later seasons, wherein this mirror reflects to us a vision of Homer being the stable anchor of an out-of-control family who don’t respect or appreciate him. There’s a company picnic! This is being held by a remarkably always on-character Mr Burns and a now WHITE Smithers. Ah, white Smithers, I finally have something to identify with. Burns Manor, and Burns himself, are all here in recognizable form: a demented late 19th century robber-baron so devoid of humanity that he needs to rig and win a father/son sack race by himself to feel joy. Mr Burns, his loathing of gelatin desserts, and his desire to release hounds on his employees are the highlights of another dull tread through season 1 mediocrity.

Homer just wants his family to not be a puddle of worthless scum for a few hours so his boss won’t fire him for… reasons? This seems to happen in cartoons a lot, bosses able to fire you for things that are insane or have nothing to do with work. Maybe this isn’t cartoons and is a reflection of what happens when the USA successfully eliminates its unions. One guy gets fired because his kid says he doesn’t want to be at the company picnic. Capitalism is freedom! So with their potential slide from lower middle class to my level, Toilet Person, as a threat, the family decide to be a fresh batch of fuckknuckle cookies anyway. Bart is understandable as that’s his character, so he can be a tool and it won’t stand out. Shine on, you shithouse emerald.

“You spoke! You spoke! Now LEMONDADDY gets to suck on a certain little boy’s ears!”

Early Lisa was a little more bratty and this is often seen as a sloppy early character trait before she developed out of it but I think it’s part of her and something that does pop up from time to time. She may be a measurable genius but she is still a child, and forgetting the former has flanderised her into a parody of the latter in later seasons. Here though, there is less a sense of childish mischief and a more, as the French say, bartesque purposelessness to it. There’s not a whole hell of a lot but it manages to sit awkwardly compared to the calmer person she’s been in even the earlier 3 episodes so it adds another lump of poo to a shit salad of an episode.

Marge comes off worst here, not only at the picnic but for the entirety of the episode. Some cite her almost neglect of Maggie as being out of character, she dumps her in front of the TV and wanders off, but she has frequently danced on the line of poor mother with the youngest Simpson so I argue that this is within the scope of Marge as a character. Maggie’s been dumped in a ball pit, been given a pacifier in spite of the directions of Dr Wolfe and is often ignored so Marge dumping her to be raised by Television and a Thunderdome-like civilisation of other abandoned babies is fine. The rest of the episode, less so.

I’d disagree again, because I am right, about the assessment of Marge getting drunk as being out of character as it sort of sneaks up on her. She doesn’t just make a Homer like beeline for a bottle of vodka, so the active agency of the character isn’t directed toward getting hammered. Take that away and you have the “never drinker” getting drunk and that functions as a fair excuse for character differences and the hi-jinks that follow. Trust me, I was drunk for 8 years and did bar work for 6, the most insane Jekyll and Hyde changes in people are in the ones who never drink. Me? Fucking stable as a carpenter’s level because I’m 4 years into a bender and this is just who I am now. It’s the fucking normals and office types you’ve gotta watch out for. They don’t know what evil lurks in the hearts of men, I do, I’m Alec Baldwin.

The scene is an interesting blending of cartoon reality and reality, which later episodes milked for a joke but here it doesn’t know if it’s a collective hallucination the characters are experiencing or a comic novelty the audience is. Having a musical episode or sequence within a show that isn’t one otherwise requires either a good explanation or it has to never be acknowledged. Musicals are their own, aberrant level of reality so cancerous they kill anything they sit beside if not adequately quarantined or cured using the healing power of Gwyneth Paltrow sweat. Marge gets hammered and sings, which is normal, the other housewives sing along with her in a coordinated bit, which is less normal. Fun enough for a joke but it’s seen occurring as its own absurdity in the background of other, normal scenes. As with absurdity in earlier episodes, later seasons directly address it to make a joke out of it such as in the “We Put the Spring in Springfield” song in Bart After Dark. Here it just kind of occurs and stands as a signpost that the creative team hadn’t exactly hammered down The Simpsons reality yet. Reality levels are important considerations when discussing something and I don’t see them brought up much so I’m harping on them a bit here. LEARNING IS FUN!

Characterisation aside, the story starts somewhere sensible and flows into a real situation a family may find itself in. Homer is not disappointed in his family so much as worried they aren’t functional. It’s a love based concern that does fit the character even if it’s a little serious. The comic buffoon can have honest moments of serious emotion, I’d argue that those are even necessary to keep them from devolving into parody, so structuring an episode around this is not out of character. What is out of character is Marge. The only times Homer is concerned and Marge isn’t is when the fault that is causing concern is Marge’s. $pringfield is a good counter example to this episode. The family was going to hell and Homer was either worrying openly or coping poorly. Here, Homer is concerned and Marge just doesn’t care. She is not even slightly embarrassed about getting hammered in front of Homer’s boss. She wants to shovel food into her face in front of the TV and isn’t interested in a nice family dinner. This is not Marge. This is Moe in Marge’s skin which was a fanfiction I wrote and an actual episode in season 33.

Gabriel Morton versus The Simpsons: The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

Gabriel Morton versus The Simpsons: The Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

I can recite whole episodes of this fucking show by heart. It’s my third parent and, much to the chagrin of my biological parents, the one I spend the most time with. When I die, my life won’t flash before my eyes, but I’ll get a pretty kickass Simpsons marathon. It’s the cultural product this period in history will be known for and it will be studied and deconstructed at least until The Humungus’s raiders destroy the last library. It began, in Australia, on February 10, 1991 which was over a year after it had premiered to great success in the US. The speed of cool is a damn sight faster in the age of the internet, so back then you just had to hear about things like this and wonder if you were ever going to get to experience them. Fortunately, Channel 10, which would later become a Simpsons rerun network, bought it and I’ve been using it to replace useful information in my head ever since.

Every week, I’ll be watching the episodes, in order, relating how they interact with the brain of an obsessive as I go. I hope to complete this before the series is finally cancelled. I have also bitten off more than I can chew.

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