Tag Archives: The Simpsons

Da na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na That Man!

Batman has always been and will probably always be my favorite comic book hero. There’s something about a man dressed as a bat who comes out at night to pow, wham, and biff criminals to serve up some hard justice that just appeals to little boys growing up in 1990s America, as well as so many others. Batman has consistently worked within the fringes of what is legal and moral in order to protect people from the (sometimes literal) monsters among them, all the while keeping to the shadows in a world as gray as his actions’ ethics. Except for the 1960s, when Gotham City was more colorfully kooky than Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. This strange departure from the normally dark and brooding detective and his grimy Gotham that is as filthy as the bad guys within it may be looked at it with some disdain or at least annoyance from some Batman purists. However, while I too am more on the side of the Dark Knight being, well, dark, I also believe that taking into account the full history of a thing is essential for recognizing its impact over time and its probably bearing on our future. For example, early zoos began as menageries to showcase exotic beasts from faraway lands and frequently housed the animals in poor conditions with little to no idea of what was best for them in the way of food and social development, however now zoos have evolved into conservation organizations that provide a safe haven for endangered and threatened species to educate and expose people to them and their plight, all the while working to establish or restore habitat spaces that will be viable homes for the progeny of the animals in their collection, and in some cases directly rehabilitate species of this generation. Modern zoos are often upfront with the fact that their beginnings were not always graceful and that they have learned much from the mistakes of the past. Now they work to preserve bats all around the world, helping to save the winged wonders that make up roughly 20% of all mammal species for the future.

The environment and entertainment industry are not regularly similar, but in this instance, the world of comic book characters was brought into the forefront of American culture by ABC’s popular series Batman which ran from 1966-1968 and featured Adam West as the Caped Crusader. The television show started in January and a full length film starring the same cast was released later that year in July marking the first time Batman had been brought to each respective screen, and one of the first times any comic character did so in such grandiose fashion. It’s easy to forget in today’s comic crazed cinema that superheroes were not always such popular fare. The 1960s Batman series helped to infatuate America with heroic figures dressing up in costumes to battle bad guys for their well-being. It was colorful, it was campy, but most of all it was centered by a man who knew he had to own it and play the part as straight as he could, all the while embracing the silliness off-screen, which he did for decades after until his death just a few days ago. Adam West passed away last Friday at the age of 88 and left behind a legacy dominated by his time in the bat cowl, but there was more to the man than paving the way for superhero stories and being a role model for children.

Born William West Anderson in Walla Walla, Washington (which sounds like a jump rope chant), West played many a cowboy and cop before he was Batman, among some comedic roles. During his stint as the world’s greatest detective, West was a righteous figure not just dishing out boofs and bams, but also encouragement to be a good citizen, especially to children whom he preached the merits of healthy eating and living and responsible work ethic to.

West beat out Lyle Waggoner for the title role, apparently chosen after being seen in a Nestle Quik commercial where he played a caricature of James Bond. Waggoner eventually got into the DC universe in the role of Steve Trevor in the 1970s Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter. As it happens, West almost got to be the actual James Bond too. Executive producer for the Bond series, Albert Broccoli (not pronounced like the vegetable like I always assumed in my youth) offered West the role of the suave super agent in the film Diamonds Are Forever which saw Sean Connery reprise the role once more officially after the one-and-done by his initial replacement, George Lazenby. Think about that for a moment, Adam West could have been both Batman and James Bond, two of the most iconic and coveted roles in pop culture history, but he turned down the role because he felt Bond should always be played by a British man.

West’s career post-Batman was hampered by him being typecast, but he grew to embrace it, as much for laughs as for capital gain. My favorite of these is when he and Burt Ward (who played alongside him as Robin for those Batman years) voiced the younger versions of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in a SpongeBob episode.

West did find other work outside of his bat-related fame, but most of it was in poorly-received films, some of which he acknowledged were not great, yet he always gave his best in his performance and addressed his true feelings toward the projects with humor. A great example is Zombie Nigthmare an 80s B-movie that is best known now for being the subject of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. West introduced this episode while hosting Comedy Central’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day on Thanksgiving in 1994 and made good-hearted jabs at himself and the character he played in the film.

Years later, West found a resurgence as he played a wacky version of himself who was certifiably crazy, but also the mayor of Quahog, Rhode Island, the town Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy is set in. MacFarlane helped West earn a new group of fans at Comic-Con and West helped a show that could easily fall (and has fallen) to be a derivative of the Simpson‘s to offer something more unique.

Whether you first saw him dressed as a bat dangling from a hot air balloon constantly asking your grandma how he and Robin were going to get out of this one while she smiled because she’d already seen them all, or if it was when he stabbed the ocean to avenge the sailors it had presumably swallowed up or when he rolled in toxic waste to gain superpowers to battle the gifted Griffins, chances are you felt a pang in your heart when you saw the news of Adam West’s passing. Cheers to you, Mr. West. Thanks for the funny and cartoonish moments always, both from your cartoon and live-action roles.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to send your questions, comments, and suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com, and be extra sure to head back here next week.

Same Bat time, same Bat channel,

Alex

It’s Another Appreciation of the – URP! – of The Simpson’s

If you saw The Simpson’s last night then you witnessed the best cartoon on television today… absolutely show up the long-running show that helped pave the way for it. For those who missed it, yesterday’s episode entitled “Mathlete’s Feat”  featured a guest animation by Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and the team at Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty during the traditional “couch gag” that opens each Simpson’s show. The result was about two and a half minutes of unorthodox traditional cold open that was at least 100x better than the episode that followed it. Observe:

This is how you couch gag, bitch.

Now there is no question that Rick and Morty is the best cartoon, nay, the best show on TV today, but we can’t forget that while it has fallen very, very, very far from its lofty level of quality, The Simpson’s is still an entertaining show, and one that I have previously described is a comfort to have around. For this reason I am happy to see that Fox has extended the show’s contract for at least two more seasons, meaning that the finale that Rick and Morty crashed the party (teehee) won’t be the last time the Simpson family rushes for the couch. However, the show is losing a major player in Harry Shearer, the voice actor who plays key characters like Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and Principal Skinner. The plan for Matt Groening and the gang right now is to keep rolling with someone new doing the voices as close to Shearer’s signature as possible.

Given this recent news I felt it appropriate to look back on one of my favorite episodes, “A Streetcar Named Marge” which has prominent contributions from Shearer’s Flanders. The episode serves as both a parody and an homage of Tennessee Williams’ classic stage play A Streetcar Named Desire. Throughout the episode, the play and 1951 film based off it are loyally and lovingly referenced in such moments as when Homer observes Marge rehearsing her role as Blanche DuBois with the next door neighbor, Ned Flanders, and shouts up at the window “MARGE! MARGE!”

The basic premise of the episode is ridiculous as usual: Marge grows tired of her dull, repetitive role as a stay-at-home mom and auditions for a theater production. Simple enough, yet the production is a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. She ends up winning the lead female role of Blanche, and her success is received with little notice by her family. Homer is particularly indifferent towards his wife’s involvement in the musical. Marge utilizes Homer’s apathy to fuel the anger in her performance. Eventually, Homer realizes that his lack of interest in what makes Marge happy makes him selfish and conceited like Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar. In the episode’s final moments, Homer sweetly apologies for the way he’s acted and promises to be better in the future.

The general theme sharply points out how musical theater can sometimes take certain works, including award-winners like Streetcar, and stretch them too far. My favorite example of this is when Apu, playing a newspaper delivery boy ponders whether to accept Blanche’s sexual advances in a musical soliloquy. Some subtler themes also arise, as in the very beginning of the episode when the Simpsons are watching the Miss America pageant, an event that exhibits the bold fakery of feminine beauty. This pertains to both the false face that Marge as Blanche puts on in her out-of-character performance, as well as the reference to the original play in which Blanche is an aging beauty queen.

In classic Simpsons fashion, the episode also contains references to other popular culture items. First, while Marge attends stage practice she is forced to place Maggie in a day-care facility. The only one left that is not currently under investigation is Ayn Rand Day Care where helping others is forbidden. Maggie encounters trouble, though, when the facility caregiver cruelly locks away her beloved pacifier with the other children’s pacifiers. Maggie carries on by doing her best to channel Steve McQueen as she is assisted by the other children in her attempts to break into the pacifier locker. As she carries out her valiant efforts, the whistling theme from The Great Escape plays. Once Maggie succeeds in liberating the pacifiers for each child, the babies quietly suck away at them in eerie unison. Homer, Lisa, and Bart come just in time to pick up Maggie and observe the children who do not seem to notice them as they quietly back out of the day care. The scene pays homage to the ending of The Birds. In case you miss it at first, Alfred Hitchcock walks by with his dogs as the family runs away to Marge’s play.

As usual the show is filled with multiple references to American popular culture from high society to film lore to beer commercials with its fanatically colorful and animated (both satirically and literally). The Simpsons have always captivated America and me ever since we first saw them hop onto their living room couch. I definitely love Rick and Morty’s current adventures more than the going’s-on in Springfield, but I will always enjoy classic episodes from America’s original cartoon crazies.

Thanks for reading! I hope you will direct your comments, questions, and hate mail to monotrememadness@gmail.com. I also hope you’ll enjoy the film Mad Max: Fury Road which has earned the honor of Best Movie I’ve Seen This Year… So Far. I doubt it will hold the title with a Bond and Star Wars film still to come, but I imagine it will be in my top five by year’s end.

Keep on surviving,

Alex

I Need About Tree Fiddy

First off, let me send my thanks to Dead Homer Society for placing a link to my last blog at the top of their Friday blog page. I can only assume that means that my two cents on The Simpsons was more highly valued than all the others and that I’m the bestest, most coolest bloggerman, but I’ve been wrong and self-centered before. And even though I don’t agree with their desire to have The Simpsons cancelled, nor do I appreciate their association with anything to do with Ann Arbor during football season (which is year-round here in Ohio), I am happy for the kind words and inclusion nonetheless.

Speaking of cancelling things, England, the country that we Americans more than once called things off with (it’s cool; we’re still friends, and the awkwardness goes away after about 200 years), dodged another boundary-shrinking bullet last week when Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom and not become an independent state. Today I wish to ramble on about this recent decision that could have shook the world as we know it and may still yet. And since I’m the one who writes this thing, I’m going to get my wish. But rather than recapping the detailed results and reactions from the Scottish vote which would require me to have done far more research than I actually have, I want to talk about two main points: the astronomically impressive voter turnout; and how badly I wish that a part of my lineage traces back to Scotland.

In case you haven’t heard about this whole Scotland thing, read up on it real quick by putting down that newspaper and watching this comprehensive explanation of the state of things by John Oliver, aka British John Stewart on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, aka The HBO Daily Show. Thank you, John, funny and educational stuff as always. Of course, this clip aired last Sunday before the momentous election which may or may not have been swayed by his pleas to stick around so as to not have to change his bedspread. Evidently Groundskeeper Willie was less successful in his rallying cry. No matter which side you may have taken, it is truly incredible how many people came out to vote in the polls and by mail. Almost 85% of all registered voters cast a “Yes” or “No” last Thursday. In 2012, during the last presidential election here in the US, only 58% of voters actually voted. In fact, since WWII, the US has never had a voter turnout of even 65% for a presidential election. Sure, country independence is a big deal, but so is choosing who runs the executive branch of your government! So bravo Scotland, you definitely have some very pissed off people on both sides of the independence issue right now, but at least they’re pissed off active voters!

But enough about politics, let’s talk about the awesomeness of the northern realm of the UK that is Scotland. First off it looks a little something like this. Man, I’d love to go there. Yeah, I know it rains a lot, but the desire remains. Secondly, Scotland has a long history of being extreme. Carved by glaciers, the landscape is extreme, and forged by the elements and a continuous assault from England (mostly emotional these days), the people are extreme. And I don’t just mean hardy, many certainly are, but the extreme we all love to see is from a country that boldly declares its national animal to be a unicorn. You go Scotland, you crazy wackadoodles, you go.

Want to know some of these crazy wackadoodles a little better? Well alrighty then, get a load of these Scots!

Macbeth – Mac Bethad was a real King of Scotland in the 11th century who is now most well-known as the title character of Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name. For any Scots who voted to remain with England and aren’t happy with their decision, consider the words of Lady Macbeth.

“Naught’s had, all’s spent,

Where our desire is got without content.

‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy

Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.”

William Wallace – Also more well-known in contemporary context by a fictionalized version of the true history, William Wallace was a landowner who became a military leader. He successfully defeated the English in battles like Stirling Bridge before being captured and killed after losing the Battle of Falkirk.

Mary, Queen of Scots – You can guess what she did from her name. Mary was one of the earliest female rulers of the British Isles and was killed by another, Elizabeth I of England. Old Lizzy feared Mary might try and take her place on the English throne, a notion helped by the many English Catholics who called for this very thing to happen. Needless to say it did not.

Rob Roy MacGregor– Another real man made legend helped by a 1995 movie (one that starred an actor who respects Jews), Rob Roy is often perceived as a Robin Hood-esque figure branded an outlaw by the rich and beloved by the poor.

William Forsyth – Okay, maybe no one outside of that Plant Physiology course I took for half a semester will know him for his contributions as a horticulturist, but don’t hate on me for painting with wide brushstrokes.

John Paul Jones – No, not the bassist for Led Zeppelin (he’s from Kent, England), this JPJ was a Scottish sailor who fought for American independence from Britain (I wonder what he’d do today?) and is known as the “Father of the US Navy”.

Alexander Graham Bell – Ring ring! Who is it? The guy who invented the telephone and was actually born with the name Bell.

Sean Connery/James Bond – There may have been five other actors to play James Bond over the years, but Connery is the original and the best (well, Daniel Craig’s is the closest to the book Bond) and he’s Scottish! In fact, after seeing Connery play his title character, Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote Bond’s origin so that he hailed from Scotland. This is why the Skyfall estate from the last movie (what was the name of it again?) was in Scotland. Furthermore, Albert Finney’s role as the caretaker was originally written for Connery until they realized that Connery is THE Bond and cannot be anyone other than Bond in a Bond movie. Actually, he can’t be anything other than a Scot in any movie. Soviet submarine admiral in The Hunt for Red October… with a Scottish accent; Irish cop in gang-ridden Chicago in The Untouchables… with a Scottish accent (for which he won an Oscar); but the most hilariously heinous is best pointed out by another Scot.

Craig Ferguson – As seen in the clip, this comedian now hosts The Late Late Show (for only a little while longer). Before that he played Mr. Wink on The Drew Carey Show.

Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty, Mr. Scott –They don’t all have to be real people, do they? Scotty was the man in charge of beaming William Shatner up on Star Trek and he was only one in a red shirt to not meet a gruesome end in every episode. Today he’s played by a considerably thinner Simon Pegg who’s more funny funny, not funny because he’s not trying to be but is funny.

Groundskeeper Willie – consult last week’s post for more info, you cheese-eating surrender monkey.

My apologies to Billy Connolly, Ewan MacGregor, and the Loch Ness Monster (sum him up Chef’s dad), plus all other Scots for not including them in more depth. Please don’t forsake me, though you are a lovably contentious people.

Return to these polls next week for more fun!

Alex

D’OH! Eat my shorts! Ha-ha! Don’t have a cow, man! Ay, caramba!

A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

So said Jebediah Springfield, founder of the town that bears his name. You know the place; it’s in the same state as Shelbyville, Capital City, and what’s left of North Haverbrook after the monorail fiasco. From a high enough peak like Mt. Springfield one can see the neighboring states of Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. No matter where the hell it impossibly is, Springfield is most recognizable as the home of America’s most beloved family for 25 years: [angelic chorus] The Simpsons.

While I often make the vain claim that my birth was the highlight of 1989, I will set my narcissism aside to declare beginning of The Simpsons of higher world importance (but my coming into existence still trumps the going out of existence of the Berlin Wall). First starting in the comically distorted mind of Matt Groening, The Simpsons found their way onto TV when he was asked by producer James L. Brooks for a recurring set of animated sketches on The Tracy Ullman Show, a variety show that Brooks created to help advance the talents and career of the English comedian it was named after. After three seasons of supporting this cause, the crudely drawn yellow characters got their own show that Brooks also jumped on board with and on December 17, 1989, the world was presented with the first full half hour of the Simpson clan and all of their friends and neighbors in Springfield.

It seems fitting that the longest-running American television show is technically a spin-off that certainly is more well-known than the show it originated on. Sunday, September 28th will mark the beginning of the 26th season of the show. While everyone’s in agreement that the last few seasons (and by “few” I mean like 10 or so) haven’t been as good as earlier years, there is no denying that The Simpsons still have plenty of funny left in the tank and seem set for a long time. Isn’t that right clip-show song parody of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”? Of course considering the comic genius and brilliant talents of some of the Simpson alumni, many of whom have left the show for grander personal projects – such as Sam Simon, Brad Bird and Conan O’Brien to name a few – it is not shocking that the overall episode quality has decreased. Also consider the fact that as a result of The Simpsons incredible success and appeal the primetime adult-oriented cartoon was no longer a surefire failure for a network to avoid at all costs but a show that probably has a longer-lasting formula than live-action and is cheaper to produce and more merchandisable. Some of The Simpsons audience and younger generations that probably would have watched The Simpsons have shifted their focus onto some of these other cartoons. Many such shows have come (and gone) along over the years since The Simpsons, but a few stand out above the rest. Such as…

King of the Hill (1997 – 2010): Chronicling the daily life of Hank Hill, a Texas propane salesman who tries to live and enjoy an honest life and teach his son Bobby, not the brightest boy, how to do the same, usually with major hurdles to jump – often Hank’s family and friends – in this endeavor. Created by Mike Judge, the same guy who made the much more irreverent Beavis and Butt-Head and movies like Office Space and Idiocracy, King of the Hill had major lasting power of its own and was usually the most wholesome of all these cartoons with lessons to be learned. But rest assured that there is plenty of beer gulping, belly scratching, and belching to be had amongst Hank’s country coterie.

South Park (1997 – Present): Speaking of irreverent, no show, animated or live-action, has “gone there” as far or as often as South Park has. It has evolved from silly construction paper cutouts of crass fourth-graders to socially-conscious satire that holds back for NO ONE. Seriously, show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone say what they want one way or another. In order to purport Tom Cruise as gay in the famous episode that deconstructs $cientology, their compromise with Comedy Central’s legal department was to physically place Cruise in a closet for half of the episode, which is appropriately called “Trapped in the Closet”. And that’s one of the lighter episodes. Watch “Scott Tenorman Must Die” if you want to see the personification of evil arise in Cartman. And definitely worth a mention here is the episode entitled “The Simpsons Already Did It” which sees Butters’ Professor Chaos fail to conceive an original prank because there is nothing you can do that hasn’t already been done by someone on The Simpsons.

Family Guy (1999 – 2003, 2005 – Present): The clearest example of a Simpsons-influenced show with its dumb, fat father, bizarrely attached and forgiving wife, three children in a nuclear family (though not quite as nuclear in Quahog as in Springfield), and a large cast of crazy supporting characters. Family Guy has never measured up to The Simpsons in my eyes, but it has surpassed them in the eyes of others, most probably from being a more recent infusion of Simpsons-esque humor that tends to push society’s buttons a lot more fiercely (but nowhere near as hard-hitting as South Park). Unlike The Simpsons who have had a steady run for all 25 years, Family Guy has been cancelled and promptly brought back because of its popularity. Whatever your preference, often, not always, but often liking one usually means you’ll probably appreciate the other. A cross-over episode that finds the Griffins in Springfield airs on Premiere Sunday, September 28th, and may help to increase much-desired viewership in both shows because if there’s one thing fans can agree on it’s that there are less of them watching either show than in previous years.

Futurama (1999 – 2003, 2010 – 2013): If you really want a more recent infusion of Simpsons-esque humor than where better to start than with the show actually made by the same people?! A creation of Simpsons-life-breather Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, Futurama follows the adventures of Philip J. Fry, a dim-witted 20th century pizza delivery boy who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen at the turn of the century on New Year’s 2000 and thaws out 1000 years later. My personal favorite cartoon, Futurama allowed the Simpsons staff to play around with a new cast with about as few limitations as possible. Cartoons already have more room to run around than live-action shows, but when they’re set in the scientifically-advanced future the opportunities seem endless. Unfortunately they apparently were as Futurama was cancelled not once, but twice. Originally cut from the team in 2003 when Fox just stopped ordering and paying for new episodes. I guess they thought they already had a good enough Groening cartoon on Sunday nights. Of course Fox is infamous for making bad calls with how they air shows often leading them to cancel good TV series way too early, especially if they take place in space and I like them. But Comedy Central came to Futurama‘s rescue with an order for made-for-TV movies and eventually more seasons before cancelling them again just last year. Have no fear though Futurama fans! We’ll get at least one more chance to see our beloved buddies from New New York when they jump into a Simpsons crossover of their own called “Simpsorama” early in this upcoming season.

This newest season of The Simpsons is the last one that Fox, the network that has aired the show for its entire run, has a contract with the show’s producers. And FXX, the newest member of the Fox broadcasting family, recently completed a record-breaking marathon of every Simpsons ever originally called the Every. Simpsons. Ever. Marathon in which they spent 12 days playing all 552 episodes in chronological order and I spent much of most of those days laying on the couch eating while watching it. Now FXX is showing four hour blocks of The Simpsons five days a week, and that’s awesome, but does all this spell out the end of everyone’s favorite crazy family? Almost certainly not. Groening doesn’t seem to want to end the show anytime soon and I doubt Fox does either. Get rid of the greatest thing to ever grace your system of networks? Why would you, even if it hasn’t been as good as it once was. They are boneheads, but nobody’s that stupid, right? (Maybe I shouldn’t have asked that.) Nevertheless, even if we’re not watching every new episode religiously each week it’s still a comfort that The Simpsons are on TV. Other shows, comedic and dramatic, animated and live-action, come and go, but The Simpsons keep on truckin’ without even needing to pull over for a bathroom break. President George H. W. Bush once said, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like The Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.” I love living in a society that hears that now and replies, “Who the fuck are The Waltons?” I’ll tell you who they’re not: they’re not the family with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or their own theme area in Universal Studios parks (the highlight of my latest trip to Universal Orlando was drinking a Duff at Moe’s). Way back in 1992, The Simpsons had what many consider now to be a prophetic moment. I wish the clip was still online but c`est la vie. Bart and Homer are watching TV and learn The Cosby Show is ending after so many years.

Bart: “Hey dad, how come they’re taking The Cosby Show off the air?”

Homer: “Because Mr. Cosby wanted to stop before the quality suffered.”

Bart: “Quality Schmality! If I had a TV show, I’d run that sucker into the ground!”

Homer: “Amen, boy, amen.

Realistically, yes, someday The Simpsons will end and it will be a sad day for America and the world when they go off the air. We’ll probably even have an officially recognized holiday called “Simpsons Series End Day” or something that only banks will take off work for but all will celebrate. Until that fateful far off future day let’s enjoy some good old mind-numbing television. We might learn a little about ourselves too. And hey, turn it to channel 47, The Simpsons are on.

Thanks for reading, especially since you could have been watching TV. As always drop me a line in the comments or at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Brave your way back here next week for a topic more to the liking of Groundskeeper Willie.

Go Aberdeen,

Alex