Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwek

By Gabriel, 08 Jan 20, 12

My Recollection

This is the worst day of my life. The land of chocolate. You looken sharpen todayen, mein herr.

The modern wave of gentrification has claimed many a Brisbane pub. They’d argue otherwise. Signs rigorously tested by hives of design graduates plead innocence through trademarked authenticity. Each harkening back to fake pasts and false memories the clientele is too young to even pretend to have. Nice drinks, nice places, pretentious only in their class tourist dishonesty.

The things these pretenders fake, like a lot of history, is grimier than the coiffed hindsight of young entrepreneurs. The remaining true Elders erupt from the ground as though cut from it. Each blends to its environment with a thematic cohesion that only time could create. The Royal Mail in Goodna was, possibly still is, one such place.

The Queenslander is an architectural mutation, a European adaptation to the ferocious antipodean combination of heat and humidity, girt by verandas and with ceilings so high you get vertigo just looking up. When they’re working, they keep the common transportee descendent cool by encouraging air flow, but over the years, many get built up and built in, so each room becomes a stifling oven of stagnant air and human vapours. The Royal Mail was, possibly still is, like that, and it was where my father would go to perform in his band.

Probably the only hard line between pub and bar is that you can run into kids at the former. During the day, these places have enough food, pinball machines, and soft drinks to qualify as a family restaurant. But as the sun sets, and the light beers add up, they become as bad a haunt as any gutter dive.

The chaos of children is, in part, fuelled the adult world’s perceived stability. What youth breaks; adults will fix. The confidence in this is almost instinctive. Even when we see examples to the contrary, and the housing commission stretches exist almost entirely because of it, the order exists, even if only through the institutions we rebel against. A bar is chaos made king. A building full of grownups but devoid of adults. The startled child ego can only recoil in terror while rebellion flees into the soothing arms of order. It’s a child’s first look at the grim reality: there’s nobody in charge. One of The Royal Mail’s regulars hammered this point home.

He couldn’t have been too far into his twenties, but to a child that’s still an adult. He was rail thin, poverty abs that survived juvenile malnutrition by adapting to burn every last fat cell it could which, when combined with a Bruce Spence level of astigmatism, left him looking like the cover of Evil Dead 2.  One time, he offered to give me two dollars for every chair I brought him. I made 22 dollars, a fortune at the time, by taking chairs away and bringing them back. Like a lot of drunks, he really just wanted attention.

The spectrum of Queenslanders is a binary of either the beautiful home of a multi-millionaire or a slouching mass of wooden scar tissue rented to clusters of millennials a broken world has more than prepared them for. Being the latter, every inch of the pub was built over in layers that choked any air flow. Vents had been filled with mid 40s wiring or painted over. Doors had been turned into walls.  Ceiling fans twirled in lazy irony as the moisture in the rooms made the blaring pub rock into visible ripples on reality. It’s the kind of place you’d keep someone if you wanted answers. Having none to give, I fled into the outside beer garden.

True to the daytime family side of the venue, the rear beer garden had a few basic children’s amenities: some swings, a jungle gym, and some benches beside. The Regular popped out one evening to piss behind a tree, spotted myself and a few other bored children sitting by the park equipment, and made his way over to brighten our evening.

One is used to the chaos of children, even forms of adult chaos, but it was a rare sight to see a child’s chaos occupying an adult form. Nobody dared an adult to do a backflip off a fence, nobody bothered. Even cranial aberrations like Devlin, prone as they were to injury through misadventure, were beyond being goaded by anything small enough to be inadvertently used as a couch cushion. So, we were a bit surprised when The Regular said, “Oi, kids, watch this”, or at least the slurred equivalent.

I’ll never know what he had planned. Sometimes history is cruel enough to tease you with just enough to know you’re missing out on something amazing. Sappho, for instance, a poet described by Plato as the tenth muse, exists today in the merest of fragments. Just enough to know that she was good enough to want more. As The Regular leaped from a bench toward the jungle gym, I can only, from this vantage point, guess at what fantastic feats he had intended to amaze us with.

What we got was a bit like the movie Cats, a work of art but for none of the reasons its creator intended.

Planting a booted foot onto one of the benches, The Regular threw himself toward the jungle gym with the form and gusto of Pitfall Harry. You don’t see them much anymore, but the 90s jungle gyms were wireframe castles that looked like someone had left reality’s dev tools on. This means that they’ve a space occupied to actual physical presence ratio that borders on hologram. His foot hurtled through this abundant space while a finger width steel bar travelled the length of his thigh and split his nuts like it was helping Jews escape his taint. He made a noise like a partially submerged Moo Box, slumped backward, hooked his leg, and knocked himself out on the jungle gym’s ground floor. For wrestling fans, he was tied up in a tree of woe, looking to all the world like a corpse and only reassuring anyone who happened by that he wasn’t via some breathy gurgling. We toyed with the idea of throwing things at him, but his shirt falling down over his face made the whole scene disarmingly sympathetic.


The Episode.

You wouldn’t know it today, but The Simpsons began life with a strong countercultural streak. The passage of time, something The Simpsons has experienced an irregular amount of, has seen it live to share the world with shows whose creators were children when The Simpsons first hit the air. Modern comparisons, then, make the show look tame, quaint, an almost retro-cute sitcom from a gentler era. But The Simpsons was once the rebel, and the dips into narrative cruelty are the reminders of this.

Modern series are prouder with who they are because you can wear whatever shoes you want when the trail has been blazed, mapped, paved, and lined with pleasant cafes. Modern programming can weave realistic levels of universal unfairness into its narrative cruelty in a way that enhances the story world as opposed to clashing with it.

Narrative is a lot like a set of falling dominos, you can build nearly anything you can imagine, but changes made need to be done with their affect on the overall pattern in mind.

A rebel without an empire is just a bourgeois malcontent. The Simpsons was a rebel, but this could only exist as a less powerful counter to a dominant mode, in this case, the anodyne American sitcom. It’s the point that sets up the counter, the necessary cookie that makes the chocolate chips stand out. Without this, the show is a different beast entirely, and one born so premature that it would not have survived. The Simpsons was never a whole new set of dominos, it’s an old set with some odd new chunks thrown in. Because of this, the show runs into structural problems its saccharine ancestors and acid children are blissfully unaware of.

Season three Simpsons is a show that has found its footing. What began as a show about a dysfunctional family has grown into a show about a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional town. This actually served to better stabilise the story world, as it meant the family could be weird without clashing with its surroundings. But expanding the pattern of your dominos doesn’t change them, it just adds more. Then, this episode adds some dominos that don’t quite belong, The Germans.

The balance of Homer as a character is a tricky one that runs into the kinds of fundamental problems an audience has with the idea of a protagonist. A protagonist is simply a lead, with no secondary value judgements, but the history of film and television is one that illustrates the challenges of a less than sympathetic protagonist. The easiest way out of this is a hero, but heroes typically necessitate competence, and Homer has to be laughed at so he can’t be competent. So, making Homer an acceptable protagonist works by balancing narrative structures that validate or punish the bad things he does to manipulate extra-narrative elements of audience compassion to absolve him of too much guilt or reset viewer patience. It’s the core reason why he’s an idiot. It engenders sympathy, and Homer can get away with things in much the same way a happy golden retriever can.

Naturally, all this is ridiculous, which is why it only works in sitcom unreality. And work it does, because all the other dominos are set up with these needs in mind.

The Germans move through this episode like Frank Grimes without the insufferable mugging for the camera. They are one of, if not the, earliest examples of a form of meta-awareness from the show. Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwek is about Springfield as Homer, a buffoon town full of comic absurdity, a place where the local nuclear power plant can have racoons nibbling wires. The Germans play the straight man, but as foreigners to both town, country, and show, they are less the suffering half of a comic binary and more an awkward block of reality stuffing up all the other dominos. The absurdities of Springfield are shocking to them, not because they’re some snooty, straight laced quasi-antagonists, but because they are normal people who run safe power plants walking around one that’s designed to be as faulty as its star employee.

Part of the problem of this comes from the countercultural streak. The core threat of the episode is Homer getting fired. This is meant to be something sympathetic, something bad to our protagonist who here is getting a heroic rub by virtue of suffering a classic sitcom injustice, but The Germans are never portrayed as villainous. Quite the opposite, in fact, the narrative goes out of its way to show them as being pretty much the best employers one could ask for, and people who genuinely care about the safe operation of a nuclear power plant. The normal thing, the clichéd thing, would be to make them villains worse than Burns. Cast Montgomery as the devil you know, one you’ll help get his plant back because, as bad as he is, he keeps our hero employed. But The Simpsons likes to eschew the cliché.

Part of this works. Having Burns want his plant back for a totally horrible reason, and rehiring Homer for another one, are funny through their inversion of the tropes. Burns’ rehiring of Homer can even function as a minor piece of canonical cover for Homer’s constant buffoonery. Burns continues to forget who he is, except when he’s hiring him back to await a deeper punishment that always gets forgotten. A tighter version of this idea wound up being the explanation for Zoidberg’s continuing employment in Futurama, once the series had made his character an obnoxious burden. But the part that doesn’t, Homer being fired, is just as significant a plot point and the emotional crux of the episode.

In the anodyne sitcom, the dad would be fired due to some accident or injustice. It needs to be this way to make his narrative goal a just one, and to have it reset the show for the next episode. But, The Simpsons has a counter cultural streak, so the necessary cliche’s aren’t present. Homer has no goddamn right to be sour about being fired because he’s a dangerous incompetent who has no business being near a deep fryer let alone a nuclear plant. There is no injustice in his predicament. Homer’s explosion at Burns is about him being fired just so Burns could be a bit richer. This is not even what happened in the episode. Burns sold the plant and The Germans went out of their way to keep people employed. Homer was fired because, in any sane world, he should be fired.

But this is not a sane world, it’s a sitcom. Homer is where he is supposed to be, it’s The Germans who are the interlopers, dragging with them a reality that has no place in Springfield. They are a domino from another set and placing them here has led to a problem. The right thing has happened in the wrong place for it to happen because the writers considered only a single piece and not the whole. Homer is at his most wrong when the story demands he be right.

Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwek is a funny episode, and the jokes are of the modern style that can act as a beautiful volunteer to distract from what’s going on behind them. It’s things like this that carried the show even through measurably bad episodes like Homer’s Enemy. Wacky new things in place of your dominos will stand out as odd. They’ll be funny through their incongruence and make for some fun new patterns. The Germans are not a grotesque display of lazy meta, but they demonstrate the gaps inherent to the genre, gaps that one can never remove and only cover for so long.

Yours in not being all smiles und sunshine, Gabriel.


Jokes, Lines, and Stray Thoughts.

The opening joke with Snappy the Alligator is a solid piece of ridiculousness given a veneer of realistic possibility by being about a weird billionaire and his gay toady. Adding a foreign element to a joke construction like this, it’s often literally foreign cultures or ideas, creates a maybe space the weirdness uses to appear possible. People who have lip plates may have rectal bowls, you don’t know.

It also sets the tone for the episode well, this is a sillier one.

The whole thing with the stock is weird as it goes nowhere and is done by the end of act one. It doesn’t factor into anything and seems to be used only for a few basic jokes at Homer’s expense. It could have been used to give some more weight to Homer’s firing, as Marge does talk about how the wild sum of 5200 dollars is a boon for the family, but it’s never brought up. It doesn’t even cause anything in the story, it’s not the driving factor behind anything that happens. Unlike a lot of the other dismissed preambles the show uses, this one is odd because it is both innately tied to the main story, and doesn’t occupy the main character of said, meaning it could have easily continued as a B or reference point for some jokes.

The basic idea of the stock joke seems to be “Homer is an idiot” which we know, and this is less a Homer is a funny idiot and more a Homer is so dumb he hurts his family, which is just sad.

Homer doesn’t say the things he’s thinking about, pretty much after this, and that’s for the better. It overdoes the joke a bit, even if his muttering of “hot wax” is comical.

There’s really no structure to this Itchy and Scratchy episode, like, no setup or anything. Scratchy is already tied to a pole, it’s just him getting a nail to the face.

The wiki feels that all the other characters rolling up in hideously expensive cars is a goof, as $5200 ain’t gonna cover that kind of car, but it’s more likely that they had more stock and better brokers.

The Germans saying that the beer is swill and only a swine would drink it to Homer’s face is fucking funny.

I love the eternal joke of Europeans apologising for their poor English using pretty much perfect English.

An East German wouldn’t’ve had a big company. Soviets weren’t wild about that.

Marge acting like $5200 is going to be the thing that saves the family is odd. Like, really? I could understand if it was that a week, but that’s a paltry lump sum to be dazzling to anyone not living in a trailer and trying to scrounge up meth money.

Lenny’s surgery is the only time we see him without a muzzle, and he’s the only character to have kept his after the mid-90s muzzle purge.

Some basic rich jokes here, layered to further punish Homer, but Charlie develops a bit of fun characterisation with his purchase of an old timey roadster. He’s one of the better wacky side characters who gets a few good lines and moments here and there.

The tuba is the funniest instrument and it delights me people practice for years just to blow into a big, brass fart trumpet. There are tuba experts.

“Well they can’t fire me”



This interaction is funny but it’s a funny that only works because its cruelty and reality juxtapose with the sitcom’s comic unreality. These can be funny, but when the joke points out a fundamental problem with your plot, they’re not worth it. We shouldn’t be thinking about this because it breaks the series’ foundational reality. It’s a light example of what would eventually kill the series.

Phil Harman played the fat German. Apparently, he was reasonably fluent and helped with the episode, which is odd as the grammar of the title is wrong. Though, some of this is due to German’s stupid gendered nouns which require one of 3 determiners for male, female and neuter. This system is cosmically fucking retarded, so they get a pass. My hat is a man, my house is a lady, every fucking noun has a gender, and you don’t want to misgender my milk bottle so have some extra articles on hand.

“I’m drunk right now” Been there, man.

Homer could really have just thrown Mr Burns under the bus, blamed everything on him and said that all his ideas were thwarted. There really could have been at least something to alleviate the blame, because without it the episode just further highlights how Homer shouldn’t be there.

Homer’s ID card popping into existence only when necessary for a joke or plot point is something that the series does a lot.

Burns’ Elvis impression is funny.

Homer actually saying “woe is me” kind of fits him. He’d be too dumb to know that a lot of archaic phrases make you look like a goof.

Marge sleeps naked. This seems like a woman thing, as every girl I’ve dated has also slept naked. I sleep in a tank top, boxers, and sleeping trousers, and dammit, I maintain I’m not the weird one here.

Jigsaw puzzles were what people did before phones.

It’s an irreconcilable tension. Homer can’t do that job and be the buffoon at the same time. Any slight tilt toward competence at such a complicated job would make his comic stupidity frustratingly out of character. Most sitcom dads have had low or no skill jobs as a result of this.

Like, Homer is dumb, but you can mostly forget that most of the time. Him talking to The Germans is embarrassing, it’s the kind of thing you see from children of multi-generational educational withdrawal families.

That said, the Land of Chocolate is funny. Part of what carries it is what happens when the fantasy ends. Homer singing with his eyes closed and the “zat was ten minutes ago” are the kinds of harshness that work well when countering something as dumb as Homer’s fantasy. The extreme of one balances the other.

Biting the dog is funny. The dog yelping in pain and running away is Simpsons funny.

Announcing who’s fired via the intercom seems really harsh, but it was necessary for the function of the scene.

They stopped putting ash and bone meal in pet food which is why you don’t see white dog shit anymore.

The director’s commentary mentions there is no regularity to what financial stress does to the Simpson family.

The shot of the overburdened power outlet while Homer says, “No problems here” is a really bad joke. The whole scene’s gag is “Homer isn’t safe yet feels he should be safety inspector of a nuclear plant” and literally everything in the scene is already communicating this. Homer says “who are they to say I’m not safe” while jamming a fork in an operating toaster. WE FUCKING GET IT. HE DOES NOT NEED AN EXTRA BIT OF DIALOGUE TO TELL THE AUDIENCE THAT HE FEELS UNSAFE THINGS ARE SAFE. THE VISUALS AND LINES WE HAVE ALREADY SEEN HAVE DONE THAT ALREADY. It’s the kind of garbage you see in the modern show, where they don’t want you to miss that there’s a joke happening. The best of the series throws them at you and lets you miss them, it’s why the show can be rewatched.

I like how the daycare is just in Burns’ unaltered office.

Burns doing a bunch of hobbies to good comic effect is why things like Family Guy do cutaway jokes. Writing a scene to have a lot of good lines that relate to what is going on is actually hard (Veep succeeds marvellously), skipping about lets you do the 3 jokes you have without having to strain a brain cell.

“Honey for your children… FOOLS!” is great. It’s Burns by himself, screaming at bees for being so easily dominated. Wacky but perfectly in character.

“And do you see that queen over there? Her name is Smithers.” The commentary mentions this as their first example of Smithers being gay but that was already done in Homer Defined where they literally confronted the fact that Smithers is gay for Burns. Still a good line though.

The prank calls are based on actual things, the Tube Bar Tapes, which were a series of recorded prank calls from the mid-70s that were traded around. They’re wild. The guy who runs the bar is this gravel voiced monstrosity called Red, who actually falls for a bunch of these things, and flies into rages when he figures it out. They play out almost identically to how they do in the show. It’s almost elderly abuse, but it’s funny. The guy sounds like Lawrence Tierney swallowed barbed wire

Moe being genuinely delighted by Bart is wonderfully wholesome.

“Ah the mirthless laugh of the damned” is such a good line. A lot of Burns’ cruellest class remarks are. As someone from those classes, he is not exactly wrong.

“Sector zeben-gruben” is a great gag, one of the little gems of subtle callbackery.

The conflict here is so forced. Burns going into a blue-collar bar is not wildly out of character but could have done with more setup, and Homer is just flat out wrong about everything. The basic idea of Burns missing the fear that came with governing the lives of a pile of morons is a good one, but the execution is poor. I’d have had Homer succeed at the plant in some other role, and have that success fuel his confidence to confront Burns. This would have had a decent dramatic inversion, Burns as episode protagonist succeeding causing the inevitable reversal of Homer’s fortunes, and could have been tied to Homer growing overconfident or something. At the moment, none of this works and the whole scene is bothersome as a result.

The scene with Burns shifting his tone with the Germans is good, though. This is a quickie fix that works within the structure of character and plot. His “Ooh, the Germans are coming” routine is a good cap to the scene, too, and is made by The Germans saying permutations of “stop that” while the whole thing is going.

“I got my job back” is a good episode end point, a combination of completion of one story and narrative promise with a good juxtaposition gag. His smile is so dumb and genuine that it perfectly counterpoints Burns’ malice.



12 replies to Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwek

SteelCladGamer on 11 Jan 20 said:

Why didn't the Germans inspect the plant before they bought it?

Paul Ryan on 09 Jan 20 said:

"Marge acting like $5200 is going to be the thing that saves the family is odd. Like, really? I could understand if it was that a week, but that’s a paltry lump sum to be dazzling to anyone not living in a trailer and trying to scrounge up meth money."
That's basically how much I have in my savings account. Feels bad, man.
(Not to mention that that's like $15k in today's money, after inflation and converting to AUD)

Gabriel on 09 Jan 20 said:

I have less, much less, and even with the conversion, good though it may be, it's not enough to warrant the reaction it gets. Marge literally describes it as the "miracle we've been waiting for" and says "Kids, I think everything is going to be okay from now on."

If you gave me 15,000 today, I'd be thrilled, but not "everything's okay from now on" thrilled. The episode should have set up a problem or something that the sum would solve, otherwise, it's still a wild overreaction. A few million or something, alright, that's "we don't have to worry anymore" money. But even 15,000 is only gonna last me about a year on my current expenses. It's a sum that covers rent, but doesn't buy a house.

Paul Ryan on 09 Jan 20 said:

Maybe it's a Malcolm in the Middle situation where the family's standards are so low that even their miracles are boring?
Setting it up with an unanticipated expense would have been a good idea though.

Gabriel on 10 Jan 20 said:

It's mostly that it's treated like something big in content and plot placement, then it disappears.

Magnumweight on 09 Jan 20 said:

I do enjoy the "person from the 'real' world visits Springfield" episodes, especially Radioactive Man and Homer's Enemy, though for some reason this one doesn't seem to click as well for me these days. Possibly it might be because Homer getting only $25 seems a little too depressing and it takes up a bit much of the first act, as you've pointed out.

Come to think of it, a lot of sitcoms from the 90's seemed to have an episode about a foreign investors buying the protagonists' place of work, the Drew Carey Show springs to mind.

Gabriel on 09 Jan 20 said:

Massive buyouts by foreign investors were a big thing in the 90s. The Germans were originally going to be Japanese, but they opted not to as it was so frequent a thing to be cliche.

Radioactive Man skews a little outside the "normal person" thing because they are part of a core joke that the Hollywood types are more normal than Springfield's citizens. So they are real only as a function of a joke.

Homer's Enemy has a lot of solid jokes, but they are at the expense of the story world and to an obnoxiously meta degree. It always surprises me that the episode rates so highly. If this episode doesn't click, I'd bet Homer's Enemy will have worn out its welcome as well.

Magnumweight on 10 Jan 20 said:

I suppose one of the reasons Homer's Enemy clicks so much for me has to do with knowing how ultimately dark the episode becomes and the ending is like nothing I saw at the time, so I guess nostalgia. I can see how the meta would grate, it just doesn't seem to bother me as much.

I like it for the same reason I like the recent Uncut Gems, you have this oppressive one damn thing after another plot where just when you think nothing else can go wrong, even more shit happens. It is different because most of the movie's bad shit happens because of the protagonist while Grimes' misfortune happens on the whims of fate, much like how you pointed out the differences between Moe and Milhouse.

Gabriel on 10 Jan 20 said:

The fact is, the episode IS funny. There are a bunch of episodes deep into the mortal wound territory that are very funny in spite of being bad. "Kill the Alligator and Run" is an awful, awful episode but it's damn funny.

It's less that people enjoy the episode and more that it's frequently topping Best Episode lists that blows my mind.

Magnumweight on 10 Jan 20 said:

The Best Episode thing is probably because of how dark the ending is, I'd wager. It's the kind of thing that sticks out in the mind.

Kill the Alligator and Run feels like they tried to shove too much wacky in at once, it feels like 5 episodes going on at the same time and the ending is asinine

Larger, More Powerful Alex on 10 Jan 20 said:

Homer's Enemy followed by The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase Spectacular feels almost like the logical end point for the series. Both are extremely meta and seem to feel like the writers saying 'fuck it, lets see just how far we can stretch the Simpsons reality before leaving it'. When they aired they were pleasant abnormalities, now they are pretty much the norm for modern Simspons. Reminds me of the last season of Seinfeld except instead of going out on top they just kept creating rehashes of the few interesting experimental episodes.

Gabriel on 10 Jan 20 said:

The Spinoff at least functions a bit like a Halloween or other non-canon episode, but yeah, part of why they worked was their novelty status was confirmed through their rarity. They ultimately functioned as wounds to the series, holes that kept bleeding, but an animal with a few bleeding holes can still walk for a while.

Comment on Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwek

To reply, please Log in