The Otto Show

By Gabriel, 13 Nov 20, 10

My Recollection.

Medium setting. Me fans are stupid pigs. It was a chicken wing.

Rosie’s was downstairs which only made things worse. The token attempt at air conditioning the old building mustered did nothing but swirl the scene kid miasma. The space glistened in that way that reminds one how fundamentally disgusting organic life is, as an agar-like ectoplasm condensed from the biologically rich atmosphere. The walls seeped with the indistinct organic medium like a mucosa covered in gig flyers, and would tenderly close around slumped revellers, absorbing them into its hungry exudate like a motherly sphincter.  There was a penetrative quality to everything in that space, even entering it felt like pawing at meatus.

To its credit, it had live music which, given the disparity in how much that earns a venue over a cluster of pokies, constitutes a passionate support of the arts. While music critique is its own rich vocabulary I consider myself ignorant of, I could discern no difference between the various local scream-core acts who paraded through the venue. Only two nights stand out, a Kiss tribute band with such a low budget they had the stage presence of a Doctor Who fan film about a splinter group of goth Movellans and the straight edge evening.

The mad aesthetes who ran the venue were already haemorrhaging money by not setting up another room full of vampiric pokies, so it was important to sell booze. Standards were low at Rosie’s, a fact that took a while to get used to but once you were there it reminded one of being in a ball pit and losing sight of your parents. Is this dangerous? Who cares, pour another cruiser down the chud-gullet. The straight edgers, though, they don’t drink, so a venue full of the bastards is as profitable as a pub without pokies. At least, we thought, that meant it would be civil.

Transcendence is a thing that one needs but can never seek. It will, at any given point, look like anything else because it is a finish line that only exists when you’re holding the little paper ribbon. Rebellion is just a step toward this, but it is a step people get stuck on. An enemy is cheap meaning and existence demands a high price, temptation too much for some. The falseness of thingness drives the need to assert the thing, to fill the hollow, so the rebel’s symbiotic relationship with the things they hate make them as much a cog in the system as any of the targets of their ire.

Ignoring the fact that the frenetic movement, pounding rhythm, and thick testosterone haze constitute a ritual induced altered state, this manifests in the straight edgers being a bigger pile of aggressive, troublemaking dicks than any cluster of drunken Brisbanoids I’ve ever had to wrangle.

At this point, tattooed knuckles feel the need to explain that this sample does not represent the group, and that may be, but bucko, if you wanna tattoo a phrase to your arm then you’ve tarred yourself more than my brush could ever hope to. I’m myself and so can only wear the shame of the things I’ve done, weight enough, you join a club then you get the membership perks.  

A big part of the problem is in the “oh yeah?” need of the subculture to constantly prove itself, and this manifests in the fight pit. A fight pit is the skinniest people you’ve ever seen and one mathematically inevitable fat guy in flannelette, who I can only assume is worth more points, showing how loose their shoulder joints are by practicing their whirling angst capoeira at each other but not at each other.

See, unlike most other pits where one uses relatively spongey and durable shoulders and hips to slam into each other, knuckles being wussy-whirlwinded around like the poor souls in one of those carnival disaster videos can kinda hurt. They’re also largely indistinguishable from, you know, a punch. So you can’t just whap someone in the side of the head, even though you want to and that’s the point, the kid who looks like a post-apocalyptic paperboy has gotta spinning lariat in the vague direction of the fat guy in flannelette and “accidentally” wallop him in his avalanche of neck skin. The flannelette guy will then make a show of liking this because STRAIGHT EDGE and because most people who love Fight Club are too stupid to actually understand it.

This can work when the camouflage of numbers has smooshed these nubbiny little egos into one big ball, but when there’re only ten or fifteen of them you get something that resembles when a spider has to mate with a female that’s twenty times bigger than it and a cannibal. People see a Beyblade in jorts coming towards them, know exactly why this is happening, aren’t too keen on it because the collection of counterfeit Henry Rollinses that makes up 75% of all straight edge bands hasn’t quite got the frenzy going yet, can’t look like they’re deliberately avoiding it like some great big pussy boy, and so clumsily hurricane kick in retreat.

A back and forth tantrum-tango played out, people advancing and retreating without touching in the same eerie mechanical manner of a flock of birds twisting mid-flight. The singer is covered in a thick layer of ectoplasm that makes him appear slathered in Vaseline. The rock-em-sock-em-rumba continues to be less a violent paroxysm of inattentive father issues and more a non-contact improv kumite. Each one of these emotionally stunted Dragon Flyz sets off one or more of my trouble alarms to the point where I don’t even register the twitching, Beavis-y looking creature as abnormal until he decides to go Full Cornholio, do a cartwheel, and loose an overhand right onto the nearest head, starting a giant slapfight we had to break up.

The show still had four hours to go.


The Episode.

It’s only when you’re steering a macrocephalic baby about prehistory that you realise Mario doesn’t make any more sense. Bonk is a cave-baby with a giant head who uses said giga-noggin to eponymously headbutt his way about a land of dinosaurs. Bonk was the star of the TurboGrafx/PC Engine platform, a legitimately underappreciated console with a lot of great games. The giant headed baby is ridiculous to me in a way that a portly Italian plumber is not.

Although apparently Mario isn’t even a plumber anymore, a fact that bothers me terribly. Without his profession, the only thing about him is that he’s Italian and making a game mascot out of just some other ethnic group is weird. Why not Spyro the Greek? Croat Bandicoot. Sonic the Negro. Mario is as bad a cluster of stereotypes, but the Italians gave us fascism, so they’re not allowed to complain for another few centuries. The giant-headed baby eats a chilli and turns red. This makes more sense than a magic testicle panda suit.

Including various one-offs and minor characters, Harry Shearer does about 246 characters for The Simpsons, and I mentioned in Principal Charming how this gave the show a major advantage. With a cast of just six, ten on a busy day, the show was able to get, not just a character and setting palette that would be wildly beyond a live action program, but the ability to use said palette in a very nuanced way. The show is in a unique position in that it can promote characters from background joke-fodder to primary players without having to worry about individual contract negotiations, and this means this promotion process can be a slow, emergent one that doesn’t disrupt the audience or story world like an out-of-town cousin.

The Otto Show is, per the commentary track, an experiment in making a character out of Otto. An experiment that, per the commentary track, failed. The why of this failure is not something the commentary track attempts to address, outside of some muttered comments about Otto not being a good character, but this is really a case of poor workmen blaming their tools.

Fundamentally, the narrative doesn’t really try. At his best, another one of Shearer’s voices, Principal Skinner, is a weird, middle-aged virgin Principal who suffers from various Vietnam and mother based PTSDs. There’s no earthly reason this person should have functioned (I use the past-tense as he gets fairly screwed over but his good run is still a great exemplar) as a good character, but he did because his early episodes put in the effort.

Principal Charming works as a character introduction/promotion story because it’s a character driven episode, and one whose romance structure creates the inevitability of character through the necessary romantic target. All the story’s events are driven by character agency. Selma’s loneliness drives Homer’s hunt for a man, Bart’s misbehaviour draws Skinner into Homer’s path, and Skinner’s lovesickness drives him to pursue Patty. The episode uses foundational dramatic structure to create a kind of Skinner-shaped hole and never drops the character agency, using instead a dramatic twist to shift it to Skinner. The result is a story where the narrative’s events are so organic they are ignored, letting the attention fall on a full two-act character story for Skinner.

The Otto Show, conversely, is never about much. Bart wants to learn guitar after going to a concert, which eventually shifts to Otto being fired after an impromptu concert on Bart’s guitar sees him crash the bus. He stays with the family for a while, state mandated hijinks ensue, and he eventually gets his license the anti-sitcom way, by bonding with the DMV’s Patty over a mutual hatred of Homer.

The problem with this story is the near absolute lack of character and agency which starves its supposed protagonist of meaningful development time. Selma’s desire created a space where a character needed to exist. Bart’s desire is to be a wrecked musician, which creates no such gap. Skinner has a natural connection to Bart, and while it may appear that Otto has a similar one, their difference is further illustration of this episode’s problem. Skinner inevitably deals with Bart on an agentive level, one that engages directly with an established pillar of Bart as a character: his misbehaviour. Otto has frequent contact with Bart, and can even be used as a bad influence, but there’s not the same inevitability of meaningful contact that comes from the Principal/Disobedient Student dynamic shared by Bart and Skinner. The shift from Selma to Skinner was the natural expression of character driven events, he was added to a plot in progress, spiced with some dramatic twist. The shift from “Bart wants to be a rock star” to “Otto needs to get his license” is just a narrative contrivance whose disconnection makes the first half of the episode the meaningless abandoned chaff. The episode even highlights this by making a joke of Bart just ditching his interest in the guitar once the Otto part needs the time.

Speaking of time, the episode’s titular character gets comparably little. Skinner is threaded into Bart’s story at six minutes in and takes primary position at ten, which gives him the time to have his own meaningful arc. Otto’s at the concert, but his threading doesn’t begin until about ten minutes in, and it’s not until about fifteen that he has any sense of agency or even dramatic purpose. Otto’s time in the Simpson house is a sitcom mainstay, but not one without value when building the network of relationships that build character. Here, it’s stripped down to about 4 minutes, leaving little but a skeleton of comic tropes.

There were a lot of easy ways around these problems and this is why I regard Otto’s failure to thrive as a failure of effort as opposed to anything inherent to him. Having Bart interact with Otto at the concert would have given him more time and properly seeded him in the episode, but it could also have set up the necessary character focus. Bringing up Otto’s guitar skill here and changing Bart’s motivations to finding someone to teach him to play would have maintained the character drive, creating the necessary Otto Hole. This would have given the bus concert, and resulting fallout, a connective agency, binding the story together and creating a motivating guilt for Bart helping him. With more time, the funny vignettes of “life with Otto” could have had character along with the comedy, giving the genuinely heartfelt final scenes some support.

Principal Charming is a great combination of early modern Simpsons humour and excellent character work. We know a lot more about Skinner by the end of it, but, more to the point, the episode’s demonstrated care and effort means we felt for him. His moments showed how he was genuine, and earnest tipping into pathetic. His breakdown and recovery in front of a beautifully rendered Springfield Elementary gave his feelings focus and weight.

Making jokes out of Otto isn’t the same as making Otto a joke, but that’s what his focal time does. He gets only two brief moments of feeling, “Oh lord how I did try” and “A sponge!”, and these moments aren’t supported by a plot, let alone great cinematography. There are really two episodes at work here, a Spinal Tap novelty episode and an Otto character episode. The result has some good jokes but is an otherwise forgettable blip between better season three stories and the approaching onslaught of season 4.

It’s a shame. If the show has proven anything, it’s that it can make nearly anyone into a good character. Creepy virgin principal, convenience store clerk, humble TV legend, school bully—none of these screams “great character” and yet each has had often more than one great episode in the spotlight. Otto could have been part of a great dynamic between himself, Bart, and Homer. This dynamic could have been supported with the unlikely but nonetheless honest friendship that developed between a burnout school bus driver and asexual DMV clerk.

But they didn’t really try.

Primitive babies with birth defects and Mediterranean tradies are each about as sensible a choice for digital entertainment mascot as the other, the one we wound up with was a result of far more chaotic winds of fate. The Simpsons is a controlled environment that decides where the wind blows. Principal Charming’s eponymous protagonist had time and often beautiful effort to fill his sails. The Otto Show can barely be bothered to do what it says on the tin.

Yours in realising he’s wearing someone else’s underwear, Gabriel


Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.

Credit where it’s due, that Cornholio Cartwheel Fist is one of the better Special Moves I’ve personally seen.

“London-Paris-Munich-Springfield” was more of a joke to me before New Japan Wrestling did a tour of Australia and skipped Brisbane for fucking Perth.

This is Spinal Tap is a fucking hilarious movie. It’s one of those situations where it wasn’t the first, I think that goes to Eric Idle’s Beatles parody group called the Rutles, but it became the definitive music mockumentary that spawned a variety of imitations. There’s one about rap called Fear of a Black Hat that’s okay but sticks to the beats of Spinal Tap so closely it only ever feels like the rap version of Spinal Tap. Then there’s a Norwegian one called Get Ready to be Boyzvoiced that better develops its own identity and is really fucking funny too.

“Whip eggs at the warmup act” is funny. In Australia, the verb for aggressively thrown is “peg” but I like that there’s a variety to choose from now.

This whole scene is quite good. The shirt and the eggs line tells us what’s going on so immediately and humorously.

Billy Beer was a real thing quasi-peddled by US President Jimmy Carter’s older brother.

Leather tassels crack me up.

“The Spinal Taps” is a goodun and a good example of the principles behind out-of-touch speech. Unnecessary determiners and inaccurate pluralisation are easy starters, but you can get pretty creative.

Homer’s tinnitus joke is another good one, and I love that you can hear Marge enough to know she’s saying real words but still not make them out. Never found anything claiming to know what she said.

It’s not really established why Patty and Selma are at the house. Bald skin cap is an okay line, but their presence is odd enough a thing that it otherwise always gets an explanation.

Milhouse still exhibiting traces of confidence.

Homer sitting outside works as a joke because smartphones didn’t exist back then. Though, I once read a thing about a grandpa who took his grandkids to Juggalo festivals and would just sit at the back of the thing clutching a gun.

This is about where some of Homer’s residual horniness fades for a decade or so, leaving gluttony to be his carnal sin. It fits a bit better as a hungry oaf is cute and funny, but a horny oaf is really just threatening.

Weird off-model Comic Book Guy peddling crap shirts. Those things exist, but they’ve become kind of niche in the face of those ridiculous boomer shirts people without a personality wear. People who wear those things are barely fit to be kept as pets.

This episode would have been much better were it either an Otto episode or a Spinal Tap one, and Tap make a really good argument for their case every moment they’re on. Guest, McKean, and Shearer are about 8 years out from the movie here.

Lazy eye on Shearer which looks like an accident but is still funny.

“the other ‘garia” is funny, even if only because it’s an odd thing to be actually able to say. I’ve been calling Bulgaria “Bulge-area” for years and I have absolutely zero intention of ever stopping.

Really, a Simpsons/Tap crossover in a time when it would be done straight faced would have been great.

The repeated, brainless nodding animation on Bill and Marty is a great accompaniment to the dialogue.

I think Nigel Tufnel says “Hungarians” on that last line about soccer teams, but it always sounds like “Hungarios” to me which makes me chuckle. Odd for a Brit to be calling it soccer, too.

Fun Fact: Christopher Guest is some kind of fucking Baron or some shit. I think that crap is ridiculous and should be mocked at every opportunity.

The “Frisbee?” guy cracks me up. Physical comedy is interesting in that overselling it is funny but absolutely no-selling it is also funny. He’s another design that never returns and would be replaced, probably by Otto, these days. Freeze framing it, I found one beautiful frame where he is looking right at the frisbee.

Loads of audience members have hair covering their eyes, which is probably easier to draw.

The “rock-a-doodle-doo” conversation is classic Tap.

As is the whole thing about the wet stage.

Oh, hey look, a one second shot of Otto at the concert. Brilliant!

The Frisbee guy still next to Bart is a degree of continuity that was rarer back when this was made.

The thing about Spinal Tap, and other musical parody people like Weird Al or Liam Lynch, is that they’re brilliant musicians. Being able to make music that is a joke while still being good to listen to as music is a tricky balance, most of Tap’s songs are the kinds of things you’d not notice were daft unless you were really paying attention. This talent helps to really elevate the satire.

Three years before The Rutles was a National Lampoon album, Radio Dinner which had a John Lennon parody called Magical Misery Tour that’s more on the funny side than the fun to listen to side. It takes a pile of Lennon’s angriest quotes and screams them over a faintly Imagine piano beat. It’s fucking hilarious.

The stage hand with the eyepatch and missing arm holding a flare to a pile of what’s probably flashpowder or maybe gunpowder, is a good example of obvious on top of obvious for the joke. Part of getting this to work is to really pay it off, so his burning corpse really lands the laugh.

Bart and Milhouse headbutting always makes me a little queasy. Head to head slams fuuuuuucking suck.

I have been saying “Medium setting” in exactly this way for exactly as long as it has been since this episode first aired in Australia. It’s a perfect example of something that is far goddamn funnier than it has any right to be, off the back of something so terribly subtle as a slight degree of tone. Each word is enunciated like he’s teaching it to a room of second year ESL students, enough to make you hear each phoneme, but not so much that it’s obviously a joke. Even the obvious bald gag is the perfect background to it. It’s a weak joke, but it isn’t meant to be anything more. It’s so perfectly something, yet subtle enough to, amidst the better jokes in this sequence, blur into an almost nothing. Against this, “Medium setting” is, through its just off-perfect normalcy able to stand out as both obvious but not, moving like a 3D eye picture. It also has real broad applicability, you can say “Medium setting” in so many situations, but you have to really strive for that neutral tone.

Only just noticed the chip brand Homer is eating is “Snorfles” which is almost an onomatopoeia for someone wolfing them down.

“Summer Samba” is what Homer is listening to here, and that had bothered me for years.

The problem with Spinal Tap being in the episode is that the opening really focuses on them and they naturally pay it off to the point that it drowns out anything else. We’re five minutes in and there is not a hint of anything that’s not SPINAL TAP. Later seasons would do stories like this, but then drag whatever celebrity back in for plot relevance.

A nice run of concert gags. Fat girl on what really sounds like proto-Squeaky Voiced Teen. Seen that in real life, too. People think it’s about the leg strength but a lot of it is core.

It’s not just focus on Spinal Tap either, the whole concert—puddles, deflated Satan—are Spinal Tap gags. This whole sequence is theirs.

“grey little lives” is a great line.

Nigel got Jaspered, should have just waited for another laser to return his vision.

“Spanish Flea” almost didn’t make it into the episode due to rights hassles. It’s an odd thing to be specifically looking for but it does fit so perfectly into the moment of Homer not noticing a riot. That he knows the lyrics, too.

Kind of spiked tail quality to the curtain Bart’s swinging on.

Marge lets the fact that Bart was nearly crushed at a riot slide far too easily. This woman is a crusading ninny, she’d flip her shit about this and want to ban all music. But there’s barely any time for Otto in his Otto episode, so there is absolutely none left for something like this.

The shared look after, “is Milhouse okay” is better than any line could ever be. Great use of the footsteps to tyre screeching, too.

A beautiful little detail in this shot of Milhouse lying beaten under a pile of chairs, is that it has to zoom in on him after he starts begging for help. He’s not even centred in the shot, which really adds to the joke of him being forgotten.

Milhouse pain is in that magical space where everything that makes it worse, makes him even more pathetic, just makes it funnier. His torn shirt, his feeble arm shift, his tiny little eye pleading for help. Hahahaha.

The guitar being shit is the obvious comic twist on Homer’s “we already have a guitar”, but again the addition of a tinny Pop Goes the Weasel and Maggie’s grasping hands help buff the basic format.

Banging the guitar on his own head is a good example of Homer doing something that is funny for viewers but also works as a natural behaviour he’d engage in. Balancing voice in comedies is actually tricky. One of my pet peeves from earlier generation sitcoms is the habit of having characters deliver dialogue that is funny for the audience, but also funny within the show’s fictional circumstance, only to have no character acknowledge the latter. Colonel Homer is an exemplar for the authorial and character comic voices meshing nearly perfectly. A lot of the dumb things Homer says are funny for us, in character for him, and perceived as charmingly funny by Lurleen. Marge ignoring the head bashing is in character for her, as she her character is used to Homer’s dumb behaviour.

I’ve never seen a guitar with a speaker in it that isn’t also a toy, but it gets around the problem of carting an amp around.

In 99 easy lessons! My father is basically a guitar genius and spends most of his spare time twiddling away at one or another. I was never musical, though I took up the piano as an exercise. Whereas Pa can self-improve, I really needed external lessons to help direct and focus me. People tend to mistake predilections for innate skill, but what they do is mask practise. To me, dad is just good at guitar, what I don’t see is the staggering amount of time he has invested in it. Similarly, I was literate at the age of 3 because I enjoyed reading and spent all my time doing it. When you enjoy something, you don’t realise you’re doing hard work. An average person can get a bachelors level understanding in anything, its just easier to do what we enjoy than motivate ourselves to do something we don’t.

“Or POW!” is another one of those ones that you shouldn’t think about too much.

“Me Fans are Stupid Pigs” to the immediate braying of the audience reminds me of internet fame.

“Slag off” is an interesting one. Having to come up with a word that sounds sweary but not too close for the draconian network TV rules of the US is no easy challenge, but “slag” isn’t half bad.

Milhouse’s innate patheticness makes him quite malleable. Rocker Milhouse seems perfectly natural, as does nearly every other version we see of him. There are a bunch of drawings of him as things as far out as tattoo parlour operating trans-lesbian. Looking at his eyeshadow, nose piercing, and undercut, none of it seems out of place.

Bart’s worship of self-destruction has an honesty to it that elevates him a notch above the dullards whose child egos want everything that causes a downward spiral but maintain the idea that it won’t happen to them.

Lisa’s passive-aggressive talenting at her brother is some quality burn. There is a real in-character art to a lot of Lisa’s cruelty, either in hiding the severity of it behind high speech or the simple subtlety of it here.

“Polly-Wolly Crappy” is a terrible burn but Nelson actually says “burn” which has gotta be a pretty early usage of it in mass media. That 70s Show absolutely popularised it, but it wouldn’t air for another 6 years from this episode.

Otto is actually good at the guitar, and if he is able to manage his time well enough to drive a school bus then he could absolutely be in at least a moderately profitable local band. It’s a sign that the cultural perspective of the show is still rooted in the halcyon prejudices of the non-existent good-old-days. This guy has a genuine skill that is very marketable, but it’s an instrument so it’s okay to still regard him as a failure. I know a few folk who, while probably never becoming famous or anything, make a perfectly good living playing music they enjoy. Such a concept frightens the chuds, so it can only ever be sneered at.

That said, Otto’s realisation is a good joke with excellent delivery.

We’ll let Otto getting that sound out of a dinky speaker slide.

I mean, I knew buskers back when I lived in West End who could get around a hundred bucks on a good day.

There’s a thing Donald Glover does in Atlanta, one among many, that’s fucking great, and that’s that he lets you see jokes being set up. Characters who look like they appear out of nowhere are actually visible in earlier shots if you look for them, Teddy Perkins and Tracy for instance. Similarly, as Martin points out that they are late for class, Chuck is seen in the background moving in for his wedgie. The “surprise entry” is a basic comic principle, but things like this show how you can improve on the simple with subtle depth.

 He probably crawled under the seat to get to him. Excellent stealth tactics.

 Some STELLAR freeze frames from this bit, too.

“Just try to go limp” is a great Otto line.

There’s a static quality to the shot of the flaming tyre near the screaming children that juxtaposes with the dynamic madness of the scene’s concept which really nails the joke home.

I’m going to assume that only the drummer was killed when Spinal Tap’s bus crashed.

As a point on how things have changed, imagine the Lady Gaga episode but where her train crashes and she dies midway through the episode.

The shift in energy from Spinal Tap’s quite conversation going uphill to the screaming children tearing downhill is great comic contrast.

Absolutely loving the near impossible to actually see images of the bus driver screaming in terror before he dies.

Two frames is all he gets

I mean, probably not a lot of survivors.

Police picnic notable mostly for having non Eddie and Lou police.

I’ve seen this “how’s my driving” gag show up elsewhere but I can’t remember if it’s in a Simpsons episode or not. Part of me feels like it was in a National Lampoon or similar tier film.

I love that Otto doesn’t even make it to the school.

Assuming Skinner knew about the 14 other crashes and kept Otto on for budgetary reasons. Things like this are actually good tools to maintain absurdities within your reality. Like Zoidberg at Planet Express being a good doctor, just a terrible human doctor, and was later shown to have a close relationship to The Professor. Cheryl in Archer had the chance at using her connection to extreme wealth as a good reason to remain employed by Mallory, but, like a lot of that show’s basic character work, Adam Reed just stopped caring.

“Never got one” is a lot funnier than lost it. “Oh wait, these aren’t mine” is also a great topper on the already funny use of underwear as ID.

Driving without ever having a license, crashing the bus, nearly injuring students: suspended without pay. Ah, public schools.

We don’t have school buses in Australia, really. You just walk or get driven or whatever.

Skinner being on the bus at the close of the school day as opposed to the next morning is a good detail.

Skinner has uncharacteristically TERRIBLE posture. Seriously, as someone who has to go to physio a bunch, don’t fucking sit like this.

“One palindrome you won’t be hearing for a while” is a great Skinner line. Again, though, for a while? He’s not, you know, fired? I feel like I’d be fired if I nearly killed a bunch of kids through absolute recklessness. Maybe public schools in the US are that fucked? I should get employed as a teacher there. I’d be able to run a variety of my more sinister human experimentation programs and still not feel like I’m damaging anything important. Hell, most of them would help.

Ralph in his rare orange shirt. This gives a staggering +25% chance to crit.

I vaguely remember kids in a year 7 excursion singing Wonderwall but that’s about it for bus singalongs.

I’ve never heard of Hail to the Bus Driver, suspecting its either real or based on something else as it strikes me as too odd to be made up for this. Upon research, it IS based on an American folk song that is based on a British nursery rhyme that is based on a 1679 Viennese tune which I will link here because A: that’s an amazing story and B: THIS FUCKING ALBUM COVER!

Stories like the above are part of what I love about history. A 1679 tuba anthem showing up in a 1992 animated sitcom is the kind of thing nobody could have predicted. The things that linger with humans are fascinating and make you wonder about what from now will be around in 4-500 years.

I can’t stop hearing the song as Hail to the Muff Diver and now I pass this curse on to you.

This scene with Patty and Selma is a real beaut. Starting with Patty chuckling gives us the end of a joke that “nose caught in the toaster” is the start of, but “we’ll watch the tape tonight” is punchline for a joke we weren’t aware was happening. It’s hiding a forwards gag in a backwards gag, brilliant construction.

The green pen/red pen scene is another one that emphasises leaning in to the obvious jokes. The setup is obvious, so the viewer knows a gag is coming, but Otto’s response is so wildly inappropriate that it breaks beyond the expected boundaries of surprise to be even more surprising. Like a present the size of a shoebox containing a whole car. You knew there was a gift inside, but what was in it still surprises. It’s such a good choice too. There is no earthly reason for Otto to ask what he does, and that fact that it’s simple curiosity and not prejudice or anything gives it an innocence that makes it all the more baffling.

The way Otto reacts to hitting the last traffic cone makes me think he thought that was what you were supposed to do.

Misspelled bus.

Skinner screaming at Ralph is another example, it’s so harsh. Also, Ralph is the perfect choice for character to start singing in that situation.

The raw fury on Skinner’s face is glorious.

The twitch is another beautiful touch.

The average scene with Otto and the landlord is that the door wouldn’t work, leading to the discovery that he’s been evicted. The lean-in gag here is Otto’s list of screamingly obvious things, including a sign, that make the scene ridiculous.

“I had mustard?” is one of those things that you feel when you’ve lived in some shitholes.

“You can really taste the chutney”

The pining for a brand name Dumpster is a good escalation on the scene. I figure you’d live in a dumpster to sleep, and only if the weather were bad. Otherwise, you’re just sitting in a bin.

Those bin lids can be real heavy. A kid in Goodna got solidly brained in pretty much this exact fashion.

Otto’s groan is great voice acting by Shearer.

Maggie just drifting away on the soundwaves is a good visual.

Oh so NOW the house has an amp.

Bart really taking his job as tambourine player seriously. I think he’s using it again in the Whacking Day episode.

The recording of Marge joke is solid.

Otto’s dad being an admiral is something that could have been better built on.

“That line didn’t work for my dad and it’s not gonna work for you” is another great example of how something funny can conceal something fucking horrible. Like, imagine Grampa begging to stay. This was referenced in Bart the General.

Hut moochers.

Homer’s support hinging on simply having someone to step on is a good look into his oafish side.

You can just sit there watching TV all day, but I don’t recommend it. Though, these days that’s basically a dying hobby. People sit on the Internet all day now.

The escalation of Otto’s literature requests is solid. Something with no words, Ann Rice novels, and then the Home Girls section of Picture magazine.

“the only thing I was ever good at” proceeds to play complex solos on a guitar.

There’s genuine emotion in this scene between Marge and Otto, and there’s elements of a relationship here that would have been useful for Otto as a character and the series as a whole. Giving Marge an outlet for parenting stories that could stand-in for an older Bart we never see. Even just for this episode, this moment shows Otto as genuinely sad about his predicament. It’s some of the little real work he gets in his own story.

The “I can’t hear myself think” line leading to Homer hearing himself think is such a good joke. The split between Homer and his own mind is both a funny comment on the nature of his stupidity and the source of some real creative jokes like this one.

Hey, the guitar is ditched. This is a decent anti-sitcom moment from the show, like the conclusion itself, but its wasted through its disconnection. The unicycle is a good third item, though.

Some “bad house guest” moments.

The treasure in the crawlspace is a nice dip into the ridiculous.

“This is not Happy Days and he is not The Fonz” “Heeeeyyyy, Mr S” is a great little reference because it exists perfectly well within the structure of the moment.

At about 20 minutes in, we get some actual dramatic stakes in the form of getting Otto the pass the driving test. Can he? How will the Simpson family help him? All these questions would be a normal episode but, fuck it, let’s just jam it in with less than 90 seconds to go! What was the story before this? Something about Bart wanting a guitar?

“This time I’m hung over”

“I’ve been tried as one”


Great run of lines.

None of this outburst matters because it’s barely a solid joke. Otto flipping out over being called a sponge but not a bum is the kind of gag that could have worked if the surrounding moment weren’t making a joke of the closest thing to a core narrative this story has.

I really think more could have been made of this story, and that includes Otto’s friendship with Patty. There’s an innocence to Otto that makes the idea of him getting together with her every now and again to laugh at Homer feel natural. It would work better if Otto’s vengeful attitude toward Homer had some actual basis, but the whole issue with this episode is a real lack of care.

“It was a chicken wing” is a great example of something that works as an idea but could never be shown. Like, Homer wandering about with a chicken wing stuck to his face is just dumb, but the story is great. It’s like how the phrase “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” sounds cool, but a guy screaming “HAVOC” at the top of his lungs isn’t.

Otto and Patty having margaritas, talking shit about Homer, is the kind of intertwining a modern show would do. The Simpsons just wound up sticking its side characters into every available slot without care.

The ending is nice, the subtlety of driving straight through the stop sign hides in the shadow created by Otto driving the bus up onto the kerb.



10 replies to The Otto Show

Larger, More Powerful Alex on 19 Nov 20 said:

I feel like writer's trouble with making Otto more of character had to due with when they were writing him. Otto is a shallow parody of gen X written by the older generation that were self aware enough to realize if they went to deep they risked exposing how little they understood the youth.

Gabriel on 21 Nov 20 said:

See, that was my first thought, but The Simpsons is a show that deals in sometimes wildly broad strokes, so Otto being a similar patchwork of general "burnout youth" tropes wouldn't be any greater problem. Each character is an amalgam of sometimes decades apart expressions of their thing, but the series tends to focus on the more timeless core components. Otto may be technically Gen X, but large chunks of his stereotype structure stem from tropes and attitudes from the prior generation's hippies.

And some of the better work the show did was when it was being written by a bunch of comedy nerds who'd never been married, let alone had a family. This distance let them see each family member as an individual character more than an archetype bound to their family role.

Magnumweight on 21 Nov 20 said:

I'd find it funny that Homer is literally listening to elevator music, but I've been listening to Girl from Ipanema a lot recently and you forget that old classics stay around for a reason.

I wonder if Otto would ever be given a sobriety arc ala Barney, though I do like drug addled Otto

Not much to say about this episode, a few good jokes but it just kind of comes and goes. I'd blame it on being trapped between more memorable ones like Colonel Homer and Black Widower before it and Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes? after

Gabriel on 22 Nov 20 said:

It's a half measure of two solid ideas. The more I watched the Spinal Tap section over, the more I thought about how great a full episode of this would have been. Having the three actually there and a writer's room who were big fans would have meant a grounding in the original tone combined with new voices, which would have been amazing.

Then the more I thought about Otto as a deeper character the more I realise he got shafted. The idea of a friendship between him and Selma, united in making fun of Homer, is the kind of touching human connection that both would have been served by.

So these two distinct things almost cancel each other out. Focused episodes like Colonel Homer and Black Widower smother the weak Otto section, and blistering efforts like Bart's Friend Falls in Love trounce it for raw humour.

BobSagetOoosh on 23 Nov 20 said:

Sorry if this has already been asked or answered elsewhere, but roughly how much extra material is there in the audio recordings? Just trying to justify my jumping from $2 to $12, cause I'm really enjoying watching along with these.

Gabriel on 23 Nov 20 said:

It varies. The catchup recordings have a "Bonus Retrospective" bit at the end where I use the distance between writing and recording to come up with some more ideas. Since they've synced up, I've been doing Q&A, where Patrons can post questions in the audio section comments and I'll address them. These add anything between 10-30 minutes of extra material per article, give or take.

There are other things that come with that level, though, like the prior tier stuff or merch, but Aaron handles that section so I'd check the Patreon for more details.

MrWishart on 17 Nov 20 said:

"One of my pet peeves from earlier generation sitcoms is the habit of having characters deliver dialogue that is funny for the audience, but also funny within the show’s fictional circumstance, only to have no character acknowledge the latter."

I feel that has come full circle now: If you watch the first season of How I Met Your Mother, nearly every single funny line is followed with a swift cut to one of the other cast members reacting to it. It's pretty distracting once you notice it

Also something I liked about Frasier: You'd get Niles and Frasier occasionally cracking each other up, in character, with their more witty lines

Cliff Excellent on 17 Nov 20 said:

A few American sitcoms do this thing where they have a perfectly good joke, but then have a character reply in a way that's basically just explaining the punchline. Like if the 'This time I'm hung over' line was followed by 'Wow, you shouldn't drive while you're hung over'

It's very annoying, and I'll take weird silence over that. Although having the characters laugh at each other's jokes every now and then is a fine middle ground

Gabriel on 21 Nov 20 said:

That's less a solution to diegetic reactions to occasionally non-diegetic comic lines and just a case of bad writing.

Gabriel on 21 Nov 20 said:

Yeah, but that's preferable to characters just standing still while they wait for the laugh to die down.

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