The Slow Painful Death of The Simpsons

November 21, 2007

The people that know me know that I used to be massively into The Simpsons to an embarrassing degree.  The girlfriend and I could have entire conversations consisting of nothing but quotations from the show.  Yes, we were those people.

But the love has faded, and I swear it’s not my fault.  We had a good relationship, this show and I, and I stuck around for much longer than I should have.  But all the effort I was putting in wasn’t being returned.  As the years went by, the show’s enthusiasm for itself peetered out, and now it just doesn’t even try anymore.   I’d heard the show recently made an attempt at reconciliation with a movie, but it’s too painful to go back.  Not for twelve dollars per ticket anyway.

Some of you may have experienced the horror of finding a past love on a youtube video making an idiot out of themselves.  This is what happened to me yesterday when I happened across a clip of this Sunday’s episode guest starring indie comic book “celebrities” Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes.  The clip has predictably been taken down, so I’ll give you the gist of it:

There’s a new comic book store in Springfield for some reason, but it’s the arty hipster type of store rather than the nerdy pisshole normally seen in the show.  There’s some attempts at jokes about the three comic book writers, such as how Alan Moore writes dark, serious superheroes; how Dan Clowes creates books that appeal to intelligent loners like Lisa but he really wants to write Batman; and how Art Spiegelman…….uh………well he doesn’t get a gag until a little later when he throws on a Maus mask and yells, “Maus is in the house!”

Oh how droll.

Anyway, Comic Book Guy shows up and complains as usual.  Frustrated in his failure to lure customers back to his store, he goes on a feeble rampage through the store.  The three comic book creators don’t like this one bit, so they tear off their shirts to reveal rippling muscles (a la Groundskeeper Willie), and then beat down the fatty to the tune of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

As the clip played, it was made quite clear how inept the creators behind this show have become.   The animation is fancier, but somehow far less charming and engaging.  There was a distinct lack of jokes, and what they tried to pass as jokes were so awkwardly fumbled that of creating laughter, there is instead a singularity of anti-laughter, sucking in all hilarity in the vicinity.  All that’s left is the sound of me groaning.  (Groening?)

It’s impossible to determine exactly where and how the show went off the rails, but before I stopped watching the show altogether, I noticed a worrying tendency of the writers choosing to not weave the jokes into the narrative, and but rather have the characters loudly proclaim the ridiculousness of the situation, as if we couldn’t tell.  I suppose you can call these meta-jokes since they’re sort of commenting about the scenario at hand. 

An example of this:

Homer steals nine Segways at once, all stacked on top of each other, while yelling, “I’m stealing nine Segways at once!”

And the worst offender off the top of my head:

A tiger attacks Bart and bites his arm.  So Bart screams, “It hurts when the tiger bites my arm!”

It’s like if instead of telling you a joke, I skip the whole ordeal, and even the essential punchline, and merely yell the explanation of the punchline at you: “The genie misheard the word penis!”

It’s like….yeesh. 

It’s exactly like yeesh.

But it’s not a joke; it’s not even a joke about a joke.  There’s nothing funny about a character pointing out the obvious.  There are no layers, no audience interaction.  There used to be irony between what we knew and what the characters knew.  Now, the show parodies itself more than real life.

And now I, some idiot with a dumb website, will fix the show by offering actual jokes for the previously described scene, free of charge.  And unlike all those other people on the internet who have their own suggestions, I’m actually correct:

-Alan Moore is not dressed weirdly enough.  The guy is a practicing sorcerer, or something, play up that angle.

-Art Spiegelman should have been wearing the Maus mask the entire time.  And when someone asks him why he’s wearing the mask, his reponse would of course be, “What mask?”  An obvious joke, but at least it’s a joke.

-When Lisa fawns over Dan Clowes about how Ghost World made her feel that she wasn’t alone in the world, Clowes should have said, “Oh no, there’s plenty of you.”  And then he could pull out a tape recorder play short sound clips of different girls saying, “Like I wasn’t alone.”  And of course the last voice would be Lisa’s.

-You could keep the Batman joke in there, but lose the whole spiel about the utility belt (Why was he pointing to what looked like a penlight when he said, “That’s where he keeps his change!”  Also, the wizard’s key and so forth.) 

-After Art Spiegelman tells Alan Moore to chill out after his corporate rant (which should have been more colourful), Alan Moore should have cast a spell on him to, I don’t know, make him burp, to go with an old chestnut.  Alan Moore would then chuckle evilly.

-Bart’s response to Alan Moore’s question, “So you liked it when I turned Radioactive Man into a blah blah blah who’s not radioactive?” should have been, “Yeah, it was so true to the character!”  Because the current, “I just like it when he punches people,” doesn’t work when it seems logical that Radioactive Man would punch less people if he was a jazz critic, or whatever the line was.

-Comic Book Guy should tried to use pornography instead of ninja weapons to entice kids to return to his store.  Though this probably wouldn’t have gotten past the censors.  And the Hip Comic Guy should have responded with something, anything, better than, “That’s weak.”  Which is.

-And Comic Book Guy’s rampage was boring.  Add some music cues for Christ’s sake, and play up the pettiness of it.  As it is, he’s just hitting thing with a sword.  Whoop dee doo whoop dee doo.

-Instead of ripping off their shirts, the League of Independent Comic Writers (or whatever the line was) should have donned costumes.  Alan Moore could throw down a smoke bomb, revealing some crazy wizard outfit and proclaim that he’s “Captain Magician!”  Art Spiegelman could’ve just put a bandit mask over the Maus mask to become “Power Maus!” And Dan Clowes wouldn’t change at all and just yell, “Dan Clowes!”

-What’s with the Sousa march?  Surely a 60’s Batman theme parody would be more appropriate?

And there you have it.  It may not spectacularly funny, but it’d be better than what we got.

If Matt Groening is reading this, I work cheap for the writing credit.

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