Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Compare & Contrast: Suspense Show Takeoffs

"For the love of God, help me!I've been here for four days and a turtle's got a hold of my teeth.There he is!Come back here, you.Slow down!I'll get yeh!" - Abe "Grampa" Simpson

"This is the worst assignment we've ever had." - Agent Scully

"Worse than the time we were attacked by the flesh eating virus?" - Agent Mulder

"Ow!He bit me with my own teeth!" - Abe "Grampa" Simpson

"No, this is much more irritating." - Agent Scully

Whether it's shadowy terrorist networks and shady politicians, a government conspiracy to collude with aliens, or any other formula for dramatic mystery, people like to be in suspense about what's going to happen next.What nefarious plots will the heroes uncover?What dastardly twists do the villains have up their sleeves?Will the leads fall in love and kiss (or possibly get naked) on screen?

All of these things are a rather far cry from the reasons people watch animated comedies.So when it comes time for a parody, it helps tremendously to know that you're here to poke fun at your source material and not merely repeat it.For a good example of the former, there's "The Springfield Files".

The X-Files became a parody of itself toward the end as the conspiracy kept getting strung out and strung out (and strung out) because it was one of FOX's few hit shows and they couldn't bear to let it die.(When Troy McClure shows the FOX "Programming Chart" later in Season 8, they weren't kidding when it was just that, The Simpsons and Melrose Place.)But in its prime, The X-Files was a popular critical darling that kept audiences' rapt attention with inventive monsters of the week and a nefarious global conspiracy that unfolded ever so slowly.

The Simpsons took The X-Files and made fun of all of it: the inherent goofiness of the FBI investigating "paranormal" crimes and creatures, the endless breadth of conspiracy theories, and the unusually drop dead sexiness of that pair of agents.It wasn't mean about any of it, a show as silly and relentlessly serious about itself as The X-Files isn't exactly a hard target for satire, and the two lead voices were happy to show up and have a little fun at the expense of their meal ticket.

But "The Springfield Files" never feels like an X-Files episode or even tries to copy one.Mulder and Scully are there, of course, but they're hardly the protagonists and they basically disappear as soon as they ascertain that Homer's a drunken idiot who shouldn't be taken seriously, which doesn't take long at all.The "alien" turns out to be Mr. Burns, which the Springfield mob understandably tries to kill anyway.

Even the quick departure of Mulder and Scully laughs at The X-Files.Scully tells Mulder that they have to go since this is obviously not an alien, and then she gets annoyed and just walks off in boredom as he launches into his elaborately insane "truth is out there" speech.Meanwhile, real crime, Moe smuggling exotic animals, is happening right in front of the FBI.Along the way they have time to throw in Leonard Nimoy parodying himself and his lesser television accomplishments, FOX, and Friday nights.

That's not Leonard Nimoy!

"Homerland" manages none of that, and instead seeks to recreate, more or less as closely as possible, scenes and characters from Homeland.For starters, there's the opening, which like their parody from a couple of seasons ago, basically requires you to have seen a relatively obscure cable show to get what's going on since it's little more than a remake with Simpson characters substituted for the regulars.The plot and even the musical cues are more or less direct copies, and poor Kristen Wiig is asked to do little more than alternate between being crazy and being suspicious in a Claire Danes role that has just that one joke that they repeat over and over again.

They're so concerned with faithful reproduction that the scene where Lisa catches Homer "praying" is practically a shot-for-shot duplicate of one on Showtime, except that Homeland didn't have the daughter exposit needlessly.You don't need to be a fan of Homeland, or even really know anything about the show, to know that's a bad idea.This is some of Lisa's actual dialogue:

Lisa:It looks like he's praying . . . to the East.The Middle East!Mecca.

As a feat of bad writing that's kind of impressive.It's quadruple expositive, including explaining one thing thrice over, and for that extra special Zombie Simpsons kick it involves Lisa acting uncharacteristically suspicious of Muslims.

What's going on around all that crappy dialogue isn't helping.Shows like Homeland and The X-Files, which rely on twists and discoveries and secrets, set up those kind of scenes carefully.Zombie Simpsons just tossed this one in with no explanation because, hey, there was one like that on Homeland.

Making matters yet more incoherent, Zombie Simpsons asks scenes like this to be treated as part of a serious mystery - hence Lisa's shocked reaction to seeing Homer "pray" - but doesn't treat anything else with even a scrap of care.Things are whispered to and around Homer in scenes where other characters are standing right next to him, he keeps muttering his plot in case anyone had forgotten (the audience included), and the ending - which falls well short of the full runtime despite all the repetitive flashbacks - is unironically happy and just, with Burns being a complete idiot and getting arrested.

He actually says "Oopsie" here, like he's a toddler in a paper towel commercial.

In "The Springfield Files", the big Burns reveal matches the rest of the mystery in deliberate silliness and contains lines like "The most rewarding part was when he gave me my money".In "Homerland", it's Burns expositing himself into jail for no reason whatsoever and has lines like "Wait a minute, Burns.You don't have a functioning AC system at a nuclear plant?That's against the law!".As usual, where The Simpsons made sense and kept things fun, Zombie Simpsons produces an intermittently serious mess.
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