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Author Topic: Simpsons  (Read 7715 times)

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Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #100 on: May 19, 2013, 01:57:01 PM »

Huh.  So is the show back down to three acts now?  I think that really makes a difference.  I think the Carl episode tonight was one of the best of the year and I think pacing has a lot to do with it.
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Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #101 on: November 24, 2013, 01:31:24 PM »

Something occurred to me recently: while Family Guy's spent the last couple seasons trying to focus on actual plots and characters instead of just cutting away to references to other things and general weirdness, Simpsons has been going in much the opposite direction.

And, while Family Guy has had limited success focusing on its characters (because its cast consists of Brian, Stewie, and a bunch of one-note gag characters), Simpsons has pulled off some pretty good shit when it's broken form.  The couch gags by Banksy and John K were both excellent, and the best episode of last year was Angry Dad: The Movie, entirely on the strength of its pastiches of cartoons by Aardman, Pixar, et al.  And that Muppet episode wasn't bad either.

Tonight's opening-titles-as-homage-to-classic-Disney-shorts is another prime example.  Wonderful stuff.

So why haven't we had any more theatrical shorts since Longest Daycare, anyway?  It won a well-deserved Oscar and I really think that's the kind of thing Simpsons has done best for the past several years.
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Zaratustra

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #102 on: November 30, 2013, 05:26:20 AM »

The problem is not that Simpsons has changed. The problem is that Simpsons hasn't changed while everything around it has. When it started in 1989, it was subverting the existing 80s conservative family sitcom along with Married With Children and newly arrived Seinfeld, -and- it was an American animated show for adults.

Now everything that is in the Simpsons is replicated a hundred-fold across every part of pop culture - adult men as overgrown children, sassy preteens, people in authority being kind of really dumb.

Same thing with South Park a decade later. Same thing with Family Guy a decade after that, although that's growing older faster because it started at the college boy demographic to begin with instead of the high school one Simpsons and South Park had.

Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #103 on: November 30, 2013, 12:04:47 PM »

I get your point and agree somewhat -- but subversion was only part of what Simpsons had going for it.  It also had some of the best writers on TV, many of whom have gone on to bigger things (former showrunners Conan O'Brien and Brad Bird are two obvious examples).

South Park actually HAS changed, pretty substantially.  It's become something that can be considerably more sophisticated than the simple potty humor it started out with -- but it's also become a soapbox for its creators, who have become more obnoxious as they've become richer and who aren't nearly as goddamn smart as they think they are.  For a show that once dismissed Atlas Shrugged as a "piece of crap" that turned Barbrady off of reading forever, it sure spends an awful lot of time parroting Rand's politics, in a way that only a couple of guys who got ridiculously successful in their twenties can -- and that's when it's not just spending an entire episode whining about whatever particular thing they don't like at the moment.

(NOTE: I haven't actually watched South Park since 2007.)

But Family Guy and South Park both lack the deep characters Simpsons has.  South Park has Cartman and a bunch of interchangeable ciphers and one-joke gag characters, while Family Guy has Stewie, Brian, and a bunch of interchangeable ciphers and one-joke gag characters.  Family Guy revolves around lazier, less-developed versions of the tropes Simpsons already established and characters whose entire thing is that they're just straight-up offensive (Quagmire and Herbert).  South Park tends more toward the latter but at least tends to inject its offensive characters with some likeability -- Timmy and Jimmy have far more redeeming qualities than Cartman does.

As I mentioned above, Family Guy has attempted, in the past few years, to spend less time on the "Remember that time...?" cutaway gags and more on its cast, but this doesn't really work because its cast is just plain not very good.  The Bob-and-Bing relationship between Brian and Stewie -- something that really only manifested after the show came back -- has proven to be its best attribute and a good example of a couple of one-note gag characters turning into something more sophisticated.  The show's also played with its form and format in places -- the aforementioned Bob and Bing episodes have been a real highlight, and while I can't say I enjoyed the episode where they were trapped in the bank vault, I have to admit it was a damned interesting bit of television.

American Dad is, without a doubt, the better show -- and I don't think it's coincidental that it started getting good right around the time MacFarlane stopped writing it.  It's come to focus less on the odd-couple relationship between Stan and Hayley and more on the odd-couple relationship between Stan and Steve, and it's almost entirely changed Roger from "alien who has to remain hidden but wants to go out in public" to "whatever colorful character the plot needs this week (and also usually a complete sociopath)".  It's got a dynamite supporting cast with characters like Avery Bullock and Principal Lewis, and its Christmas episodes are like nothing else on TV.

Bob's Burgers is now the best thing Fox has running on Sunday night, and it's NOT because it's done anything new or different (although, as I've said, Tina is like no other character on TV) -- indeed, I read an AV Club article last year that argued, pretty convincingly, that the reason Bob's Burgers is so good is that it's pretty much following the Simpsons formula circa season 3.  (Can't find the link at the moment.)

tl;dr I see your point about stagnation and I definitely believe, as I've said, that Simpsons is at its best when it tries to do stuff it hasn't done a million times before.  But I also think that's only part of the answer and there's something to be said for straight-up great writing.
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BŁge

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #104 on: November 30, 2013, 01:41:46 PM »

Help! Moviebob hacked into Zara's account!
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Brentai

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #105 on: November 30, 2013, 03:04:12 PM »

The soapboxing is really what kills modern Simpsons for me. The old stuff did a good job being bold but also being accessible to pretty much everyone, but once it started getting into current events the strategy seems to be to just offend everyone equally in hopes it balances out. See also: SNL on its bad days.

South Park, et al started that way of course, and is probably in large part culpable for the current state of affairs. Sailor Venus.
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Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #106 on: November 30, 2013, 06:00:14 PM »

But on the other hand, Citizen Kang remains a high water-mark in the show's history AND in American political satire -- and pretty much checks every box you just listed.

I think part of the issue is that Simpsons really can't do current events the way South Park can, because of the huge difference in production time for the two shows.  (You want to talk high water-marks in animated political satire, South Park aired the Schiavo episode the night before she died.)  I'd also say they seem a lot less interested in ribbing current political figures than they used to -- remember how often Bush and Clinton showed up?  (Not to mention Nixon.)  Bush Jr. appeared on the show exactly once -- in a photo of Homer punching him in the face, no explanation given -- and while they've caricatured Michelle Obama, they haven't depicted Barack.  It seems like, even as they try to go for more deliberate politically provocative plots, they're a lot less interested in actually mocking any real people.  (Though when they do, they just have Homer straight up punch them in the face.)

In fairness, I DO think that comes back to the question of lead time and the 24-hour news cycle -- something can happen that makes even the kind of broad joke they used to make about Bush or Clinton not work anymore by the time an episode aired.  (One of the MacFarlane shows did an episode a couple of years back that revolved around the Iraq War -- which aired months after we pulled our troops out.  It was pretty weird.  For a less striking example, there was a Simpsons episode where Moe was set to become a judge on American Idol and Simon Cowell sabotaged his attempt on the grounds that he was worried Moe was a threat to his job -- this episode wound up airing on a night where every five minutes it would go to a commercial advertising Simon Cowell's upcoming last episode, which likewise undermined its premise.  Course, they didn't really need to give Cowell any motivation at all beyond being an asshole who likes mocking people when they fail at things, but hindsight is 20/20.)
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A≤

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #107 on: November 30, 2013, 07:31:20 PM »

Family Guy tried once to be current, iirc. The Time Travel to WW2 episode straight up had McCain/Palin pind on SS uniforms, like, just a day or so after it was announced
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Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #108 on: December 01, 2013, 07:23:20 AM »

Well, sure, you can do quick little gags like that.  Bart's blackboard gag can be topical (as with the recent, heartbreaking "We'll really miss you, Mrs. K" message); Huey Freeman can sit in front of an (unseen) news report about Al Sharpton complaining about last week's episode.  My point is that you can't write an entire episode around a recent event.

Simpsons lampshaded this rather nicely in one of my favorite gags, in the Super Bowl ep where the names of the teams are very, very obviously dubbed in after the original recording -- and then, this being during the height of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, they also dub in "President -- CLINTON -- and his wife, -- HILLARY".

(Also, per my copy of the Beavis and Butt-Head movie script, the reason that Chelsea Clinton is folding laundry when Butt-Head goes into her room is that the movie came out right after the 1996 election and, had Dole won, we would have seen a wider shot of her packing her bags.)

But as I said, writing and animating an entire episode that's as timely as the South Park Schiavo episode is just impossible for a bigger-budget network show.

Related: I just read a Legends Revealed about the 'Nsync episode, which includes this paragraph:

Quote
The episode, which has a U.S. Navy officer secretly forming a boy band around Bart and his friends as an attempt to brainwash kids into wanting to join the Navy, has gained a bit of a bad reputation in the years since its release as helping to popularize a specific type of Simpsons episode that has become more and more prevalent over the last decade plus, which is an episode that seems to be geared around the celebrity guest stars in the episode more than anything else. The episode itself, though, is quite good.

I'm inclined to agree.  Modern Simpsons doesn't just date itself in terms of political references, it seems really interested in playing with flavor-of-the-month stuff like currently-popular celebrities and the latest gee-whiz Apple gadget.

I think the major difference between, say, New Kids on the Blecch and the Lady Gaga episode from a year or two back is that the show isn't actually built around the 'Nsync cameo; you could take them out of it and the episode would still stand on its own.  That's not the case with the Lady Gaga episode; if you took her out you wouldn't have an episode.

It's not that there weren't early Simpsons episodes where the plot WAS written around their guest stars -- Stark Raving Dad and Homer at the Bat are both absolute classics, and their guest stars really WERE essential to their appeal.  (And both, oddly enough, were in season 3.)  But I don't think they're quite the same as what the show does with its celebrity guests now.  For starters, Michael Jackson playing a mental patient who thinks he's Michael Jackson is a stroke of fucking genius.  And as for the softball team, while it's a who's-who of early-'90's all-stars, it's more about them being all-stars than about the episode being specific to WHICH all-stars were in it.  You could rewrite the thing with current players and it would still work, with all the ridiculous made-up traits and all (Strawberry as kiss-ass, Scioscia just wanting to do an honest day's work, Boggs having very strong opinions about who was England's greatest prime minister).  They also seemed a lot fewer and farther-between.  Guest stars playing themselves has been the norm in recent years, while in the old days they'd play one-off characters (Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Bergstrom, Danny DeVito as Herb Powell, Beverly D'angelo as Lurleen Lumpkin, etc. -- when someone like Adam West or Leonard Nimoy showed up to play himself, it was usually a quick cameo, not a central role in the episode).

I think they've started swinging back toward the guest-stars-as-unique-characters idea; last year's use of Tom Waits as the leader of the survivalist group is a good example.  And Neil Gaiman's appearance in the previous season's heist episode is an example of a guest star used absolutely perfectly -- a role that serves as the punchline of the episode and says something ridiculous about the celebrity, but mostly involves him staying out of the way while the plot works itself out.
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Zaratustra

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #109 on: December 01, 2013, 07:58:02 AM »

I think that might be from Matt Groening and team being sort of Hollywood outsiders, and modern Simpsons writers / Seth McFarlane being whatever the opposite of outsider is. Surprised there hasn't been a Simpsons Star Wars special yet.

Rico

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #110 on: December 01, 2013, 08:22:30 AM »

Leonard Nimoy ... not a central role in the episode.
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Thad

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Re: Simpsons
« Reply #111 on: December 01, 2013, 09:38:23 AM »

I think that might be from Matt Groening and team being sort of Hollywood outsiders, and modern Simpsons writers / Seth McFarlane being whatever the opposite of outsider is.

MacFarlane started as an outsider, but yeah he sure isn't one now.

Brooks is about as big an insider as you can be, but he was actively courting outsiders in the early days of Simpsons.

I wouldn't say that most of the writers now are insiders -- the show purportedly pays dick and so they're more likely to be Fans Made Good than established writers.  But the current showrunners may well be another story.  I don't know; I don't even know who the showrunners are at this point.

Per Wikipedia, it's been Al Jean since season 13 (and also seasons 3 and 4, with Mike Reiss).  So that's interesting.  I wonder if he's really changed his approach or outlook that substantially, or if he's been subjected to external pressures, or if it's all in our head and you're right and the show really hasn't changed that much.

Surprised there hasn't been a Simpsons Star Wars special yet.

Luke, be a Jedi tonight
Luke, be a Jedi tonight
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And do it for Chewie and the Ewoks
And all the other puppets
Luke be a Jedi tonight.
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