Archive for February, 2010

Getting the Fear

February 28, 2010

 

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta; Las Vegas; 1971

 “He who makes a beast of himself

gets rid of the pain of

being a man.”

                                  – Dr. Johnson

   I was very excited when I found this reading in my inbox. Thompson is one of my favorite authors, Steadman one of my favorite artists and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas one of my favorite books. It is in many ways one of the defining books of its generation and the selection we just read was easily among its most iconic and well known passages. Of course Thompson’s probably most famous today because of the film version of this book. It was once considered common Hollywood knowledge that Fear & Loathing could not be made into a film. This was a belief that was held for most, if not all of his work.

This is partly because, while funny, entertaining, and well acted, the first attempt at bringing the good doctor’s work to the big screen Where the Buffalo Roam was, as a film, a colossal failure. It was a hodge- podge of Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Great Shark Hunt (Various), and The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat (Oscar Acosta/Dr. Gonzo’s postmortem tribute). Of course nearly twenty years later Terry Gilliam (Director), Johnny Depp (Duke/Thompson), and Benicio Del Toro (Dr. Gonzo/Acosta) came along and gave lie to the common wisdom. Strangely enough that is what Thompson did his entire career.

 

While the film version paid great tribute to the opening of the book it was naturally unable to capture everything. The frantic, hilarious, and frightening nature of the two men on their way to Vegas sets the frenetic pace for the rest of the book, a pace that Thompson was never really able to recapture in his work or in his life. Ending this reading with the “reptile zoo” scene was an excellent choice. The reptiles represent many things not the least of which is the attitudes and lifestyle of Vegas (and possibly America) circa 1971.

 

The Mint Hotel

More specifically the reptiles represent a theme common throughout Thompson’s work. One might even say that it was the underlying premise for everything he wrote. Thompson was a wordsmith in the vein of Mark Twain who said that “the difference between the right word and the exactly right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” For Thompson the word was Atavistic.

at·a·vism (āt’ə-vĭz’əm)  
n.  

  1. The reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence, usually caused by the chance recombination of genes.
  2. An individual or a part that exhibits atavism. Also called throwback.
  3. The return of a trait or recurrence of previous behavior after a period of absence.

 

The savage traits exhibited by the “lizards” are not all that dissimilar from the ones present in Raoul Duke and (especially) Dr. Gonzo themselves. There is a key distinction. The lizard/people are behaving this way because they are convinced that in Vegas this behavior is acceptable. They fall into a prescribed and allowed societal hypocrisy. By contrast Duke and Gonzo know that they cross the line and do so consistently. They do not require the permissive environment of Vegas to live as they please; it is simply a place that they can turn up the volume and be less likely to run afoul of the authorities.

For Thompson it is the difference between a criminal (the lizards) and an outlaw (Duke). It is not that Thompson or his character (the two are somewhat interchangeable but when, where, and how are impossible to pinpoint) suffer from a total lack of morality, quite the contrary. For Duke there is no pretense that he is anything but a thinking animal.

The lizards represent a lust for power and pleasure that manifests itself in an orgy of violent reptilian decadence. Unlike the lizards that are slaves to their baser instincts, Duke is a master of his, more or less. We find out later however, that Gonzo is a slave to instinct albeit a fascinating one, also lacking hypocrisy.

Harder to nail down is Thompson’s notion of the American Dream. By turns one can define the dream as being the outlaw freedom exhibited by Duke or the savage, fat-cat hypocrisy of the lounge lizards of Las Vegas. Perhaps that’s how he intended it to be taken. I will likely puzzle over this story for the rest of my days. However, I am certain of one thing: Raoul Duke found the American Dream in Las Vegas in 1971. The American Dream is dead! Long live the American Dream!

 

Dr. Thompson somewhere in Valhalla

Debbie Almontaser: Sad but True

February 28, 2010

   In my experience the people who believe in the absolute objectivity of their actions, words, thoughts, and opinions are ideologues, zealots, and raving lunatics. However, while no news source, paper or otherwise, can be entirely objective, it can also be said that no news source should strive to be partisan without openly identifying itself as such. Unfortunately reporters like this can sometimes give cover to those who would do us harm. How can I trust the stories in the New York Post when they make such blatant rookie mistakes and tell seemingly outright lies about the subjects they don’t like? It is like the boy who cried wolf. Fortunately if they ever do come across someone truly dangerous I’m sure that I’ll hear about it from more legitimate news sources.

            “Is there a nuanced answer to 9/11?” First of all 9/11 is not a question. It is a date on which an event occurred. If the question is: Was 9/11 bad or wrong or tragic? Then there is no nuanced answer. The rationalization of the purposeful mass killing of civilians of any religion/nationality/other is not nuanced, it is insane. As far as whether or not our action precipitated the 9/11 attacks I believe it is foolish to deal with it in anything but a nuanced fashion. There is a big difference between understanding mistakes made by the U.S. that gave madmen what they believe to be justification to attack us and arguing that 9/11 was in fact justified. We are also put in greater danger when we dismiss out of hand the possibility (or certainty) that our actions have repercussions.

            I personally feel that in this case an intelligent woman such as Almontaser should have done a better job making sure she was in the clear and not associated with anything that could be construed as lending credence to doubts over the wrongness of 9/11. While it is unfortunate, it is the way of the world. She should have known what dangers could be out there for a Muslim in public life following 9/11. It is one thing to work toward a world free of bigotry but it’s another to pretend that you’re already there. She especially should have been aware that given any chance The New York Post would run her into the ground.

            It seems to me that someone as valuable to the city of New York as Almontaser should not have been fired but in a world of post-9/11 emotion sometimes perception can be more important than reality, for everyone. I believe she was smeared and dearly wish she hadn’t but again in today’s world you have to watch every word you say and sometimes every word you don’t say.

Political Cartoon 2

February 28, 2010

Nick Anderson by Nick Anderson February 24th 2010

Nick Anderson by Nick Anderson February 24th 2010

Slant: Middle

   This is about as straight forward as it gets. It’s not exceptionally insightful. Every political cartoonist has their own Toyota comic and regardless of their political slant they all tend to be pretty similar. I decided to post this one because it made me laugh. The absurdity of the juxtaposition between the top-fuel funny car dragster and the old lady getting into the Toyota and the defeatist attitude of the pit crew chief caught me off guard. Clearly this cartoon is a simple reference to the sticking accelerators in some Toyotas that has recently cropped up.

  While this cartoon does not offend me or make any particular statement that is any different than what anyone else is saying about the issue it does make me curious. Has anyone bothered to figure out how many people have been killed by this malfunction? I can’t find any numbers that seem to have any corroboration. Now I’ll have to dig a little deeper and see what I can find. But then that’s the point. Even if this cartoon or any like it doesn’t offer any real insight into the issue it got me thinking about it.

Political Cartoon 1

February 28, 2010

Nick Anderson by Nick Anderson February 24th 2010

Slant: Middle

   This cartoon touches on the comments made by Republican Party leadership in the days leading up to the recent healthcare summit. The sign on the wall is supposed to represent what President Obama’s intention for the summit was. The comment by the generic Republican (depicted as an elephant) implies that having to plainly state their healthcare goals would be bad for them. The overall statement of the cartoon is that for the Republican Party it is more advantageous to criticize Democratic ideas for healthcare and be silent about their own.

   I was not personally offended by this cartoon as I agree with the general point. Though I will point out that depicting the Republicans as generic by making them all elephants and not the individuals they represent may be construed as mocking the Republicans as homogeneous. I’d like to think that this was purposeful. However, to be fair to the opposition party the tactic of offering no ideas in order to avoid public scrutiny is an old and bipartisan one. The Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. Had they started from a liberal position (single payer) instead of a center left one (public option) then perhaps the opposition would have been scared into playing ball. That is my position and should not be read as being that of this cartoon or Mr. Anderson.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #9: El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer

February 24, 2010

The final show of this group is The Simpsons season eight, episode nine, entitled El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer (The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer). It originally aired on January 5th 1997, the first episode of 1997. I watched this episode by myself on Monday afternoon February twenty-second at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. This episode’s couch gag was a repeat.

This show begins with Homer discovering that Marge has been trying to hide from him that it is time for the big annual chili cook-off. She tells him that she did this because the previous year Homer embarrassed her by getting drunk and acting like a fool. She makes Homer promise that he won’t drink and reluctantly he does. When he arrives Homer intimidates everyone by brandishing his own homemade chili spoon which co-worker Lenny observes, “They say he carved it himself … from a bigger spoon.” He stands before the crowd like an old west gun fighter to music that is a clear take-off on the Ennio Moricone composed theme from  Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966) better known in America as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly which is one of my favorite films (www.imdb.com).

Homer goes from booth to booth sampling the chili and insulting the cooks because none of it is spicy enough for him. However, Police Chief Wiggum has a secret weapon. His special ingredient is “the merciless peppers of Quetzlzacatenango, grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.” Homer tries eating one of the peppers which is so spicy that it causes him to freak out and look for any way to cool his mouth. He grabs an armload of pitchers full of beer. Just before quenching the fire on his tongue Marge appears and accuses him of breaking his promise. She storms off.

After Homer recovers Ralph Wiggum gives him the idea to coat the inside of his mouth with candle wax so that he won’t feel the heat of the pepper. He returns to Wiggum’s booth and in the face of ridicule from the crowd he promptly swallows half a dozen of the peppers. The crowd cheers and Homer regains his fame. However moments later Homer’s stomach begins to ache and he starts to hallucinate. The sights are so freakish that he runs from the cook-off in terror. His hallucinations continue and grow progressively more disturbing. They end up leading him on a trek through an imaginary desert. Marge returns to the cook-off and when she discovers that he made a fool of himself and ran off she becomes angry.

Homer hallucinates a message that instructs him to follow a tortoise. It leads him to a pyramid which he must climb. At the top he discovers a representation of Marge. When he tries to talk to her he discovers that she has no front and no matter where he moves in relation to it her back is always turned on him. The image blows away like desert sand and a dejected Homer sits down. He rants about his circumstance and screams “Why am I here?!” He is answered by a voice that tells him that he’s on a quest for knowledge. When Homer looks for the source of the voice two planets in the sky come together to form eyes. They are set in the floating head of a coyote which melts from the heavens and onto the top of the pyramid in the form of a full-bodied coyote, voiced by legendary musician Johnny Cash, one of my all time favorites.

He reveals that he is Homer’s spirit guide. Homer’s quest is to find his soul-mate, the person with whom he shares a profound mystical understanding. Homer insists that his soul-mate is Marge to which the coyote replies, “Is it?” He dashes off into the desert and leaves Homer in the path of an oncoming train. When it hits him he wakes up in a sand trap on a golf course. He rationalizes that the entire experience was a crazy dream. When he gets home Marge is still furious with him for breaking his promise and humiliating her. He tells her she’s his soul-mate too which she angrily yells, “Don’t soul-mate me!” With his bedding set up on the couch and unable to sleep Homer realizes that Marge doesn’t understand him and must not be his soul-mate. He goes out in search of his soul-mate but everyone he tries explains that they are something else: a friend, a chum, a contemporary. Moe the bartender says that he’s “a well-wisher in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.”

After failing all night he hears the Coyote say “Find your soul-mate, Homer. Find your Soul-mate.” When Homer asks “where?” the voice replies, “This is just your memory. I can’t give you any new information.” This begins a montage of Homer walking aimlessly at night against black with signs fading in and out over the top, all of which suggest solitude or a blocked path. This is a reference to a similar montage in The Lost Weekend (1945). (www.imdb.com) Finally Homer sees a lighthouse in the distance and he believes that the lighthouse keeper must be lonely and will understand him. When he gets there he discovers that the lighthouse is automated and empty.

Homer loses it and after spotting an approaching ship he smashes the light hoping to draw the ship to him so that he can make friends with whoever’s on board. Marge shows up after looking for Homer because she was worried. She managed to deduce that along with other clues Homer’s love of shiny things would lead him to the light house. Homer realizes that Marge does love him and that their differences are only skin deep. Marge says that they have “a profound mystical understanding.” Homer loudly celebrates, “We’re number one! We’re number one! In your face, Space Coyote!” To which Marge confusedly replies, “Space Coyote?” They are interrupted by the impending ship crash but Marge replaces the light bulb for the spotlight. The ship sees it and turns but runs aground anyway. The show ends with the silhouette of Marge and Homer kissing projected onto the night sky by the lighthouse beacon.

This episode makes me glad I chose this season. This is the second consecutive show that is among my favorites. The dialogue is smart and wickedly funny, the situations comically absurd, and the hallucinations inspired. The stranger the visions get the more incredible the animation becomes to meet the task. There is no subplot and while this is the second “Marge & Homer versus their relationship” episode it easily trumps A Milhouse Divided. While you know all along that in the end Homer and Marge will find each other, the way they get there is fantastic. The film references are excellent and fitting. But the icing on the cake is the deep, gravelly voice of Johnny Cash. If I ever go on a spiritual vision quest I want The Space Coyote to be my spirit guide.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #9: El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Homer

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #8: Hurricane Neddy

February 24, 2010

Next in line is The Simpsons season eight, episode eight, entitled Hurricane Neddy. It originally aired on December 29th 1996 making it the final episode of ’96. I watched this episode by myself on Monday afternoon February twenty-second at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. This episode features a couch gag where the family runs into the room but on the wall where the couch was is a sign reading “Vend-a-couch” with a coin slot below it. Homer inserts a coin. When nothing happens he bangs on the machine and a couch falls from above, landing on top of him.

Our story begins with a hurricane approaching Springfield. Of course the Simpsons are woefully unprepared. However, their next door neighbor, ultra right wing, super Christian, milquetoast doormat Ned Flanders has his entire house secured and ready for the storm. Despite almost being killed by Homer’s stupidity the Simpsons and their house survive the storm without a scratch. The Flanders family, in spite of their preparation and faith, has their house leveled. To make matters worse theirs is the only house in the neighborhood damaged and they have no insurance because Ned considers it a form of gambling.

The Flanders’s are forced to move into the Church shelter. It seems as though everything has gone wrong for the family. Their one remaining hope, the store Ned owns in the Springfield Mall, is destroyed by rioters. While he tries to keep his family in good spirits he is falling apart. The Reverend Lovejoy offers no solace and even the Bible offers no comfort, only a nasty paper cut. The next morning Marge arrives and tells them to come home because something incredible has happened to which Ned replies, “Oh what happened, did the rubble burn down?” However, they arrive home to find that the townspeople had rebuilt their destroyed home.

While initially overjoyed Ned becomes more and more disenfranchised as he tours the house and discovers the shoddy job that his neighbors have done rebuilding the home. In fact upon exiting the house after the tour Homer shuts the front door causing the entire structure to collapse. Ned tries to calm himself but begins talking in a stream of gibberish. While Ned frequently adds –iddily or –diddily or –doodely to his words at this point he has descended into near total incoherence. After a moment of rambling he snaps back to reality and begins berating everyone around him for their stupidity. The town is taken aback by the hateful display by the most mild-mannered person in Springfield.

He jumps in his car alone and drives himself through the front gate of Calmwood Mental Hospital. At the front desk he describes what he’s done and tells the woman that he’d like to commit himself. She says “Very well. Would you like me to show you to your room or would you prefer to be dragged off kicking and screaming?” Ned replies, “Ooo, kicking and screaming, please.” He is seized by orderlies who drag him away as he yells. When a nurse delivering medication discovers that Flanders is in the hospital she immediately calls a Dr. Foster. He declares that he’ll be right there and “May God have mercy on us all.” When he arrives Ned recognizes the Doctor from his childhood.

Dr. Foster asks Ned if he remembers what he was like as a child to which Ned says that he was a good little boy. Dr. Foster shows him an old film of Ned as a child behaving hyperactively and abusing all the other children around him. Ned is shocked. In a flashback we see in a meeting with Dr. Foster that Ned’s parents are beatniks who are incapable of controlling him or his anger issues. As Ned’s mother put it, “We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas.” Dr. Foster implements the University of Minnesota Spankological protocol where he gently spanks Ned continuously for eight months. When finished Ned feels fine but has begun to repress his anger and express it only as a “string of non-sensical jabbering” (His doodalies and diddilies).

As the person who makes Ned the angriest, Homer is enlisted to help him. The family comes along to the mental hospital and sets off for a tour of the grounds while Homer helps. On their way down the hall they pass a room with an open door. Inside the room is Ms. Botz, the “Babysitter Bandit” who robbed the Simpsons in Season One Episode Thirteen, Some Enchanted Evening (1990). In a room further down the hall is “The Critic” Jay Sherman who is berating a doctor by repeatedly saying “It stinks. It stinks. It stinks.” Jay is the main character of a cartoon called “The Critic” about a film critic who rates most of his movies by saying “It stinks.” Jay has also appeared on the Simpsons before (A Star is Burns Season Six Episode Eighteen) and is voiced by Jon Lovitz who has been on The Simpsons numerous times as several different characters. [Episode information available at www.imdb.com]

Meanwhile Homer is tasked to provoke anger in Ned by insulting him. However the pre-scripted note cards from which Homer is reading are not doing the trick. Homer goes off script and tries to get Ned to admit that he’s human and that he hates certain things. Finally Ned admits that he hates the service at the Post office … and his parents. This unexpected statement surprises even Ned and makes him feel good. Dr. Foster says that because Ned has stated that he hates his parents it means that he’s cured. When Ned walks out the front door of the hospital he is greeted by the town. He promises that he won’t bottle up his anger anymore and that “if you irritate me you’re gonna hear about it” which garners a cheer from the crowd.  After a moment he says happily “And if you really tick me off, I’ll run you down with my car” causing murmurs to spread through the crowd.

This is one of my all time favorite episodes. Ned Flanders is a character that, because of his close physical proximity as the Simpsons next door neighbor, straddles the line between second tier character and main character. This story finally gives us some explanation as to why Ned is the way he is. He is moral, kind, self-sacrificing, loving, and would give anyone the shirt off his back. However he is also self-righteous, judgmental, presumptuous, and holier than thou. His qualities, both good and bad, represent an ideal Christianity and a power-structure/business model Christianity that seem to be in direct conflict yet somehow are embodied in this one man. We finally get a look into his past and we are shown how he became this strange contradiction.

While the focus of the entire plot is Ned this is carried off in a way that does not minimize the more popular and funnier characters of the Simpson family itself. It also does an excellent job of giving very brief moments in the spotlight to various other characters from around Springfield in the reconstruction scene. This is a hilarious, touching, interesting, surprising and well crafted episode that tells a great story and achieves its humor without the use of a subplot whose only purpose is as a vehicle for jokes that won’t fit in the main story. This episode is without question a five.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #8: Hurricane Neddy

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #7: Lisa’s Date with Density

February 24, 2010

Episode seven of The Simpsons season 8, Lisa’s Date with Density, originally aired on December 15th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. The couch gag for this show has the Simpsons living room furniture on the ceiling. They run in, on the ceiling, and sit on the couch. A moment later they all fall to the floor. This episode begins with the hood ornament being stolen from school Superintendent Chalmers new Honda and Homer retrieving a discarded auto-dialer from a dumpster following a police raid. Principle Skinner quickly discovers that school bully Nelson Muntz was responsible for steeling the hood ornament and sentences him to do janitorial work as punishment.

When Marge discovers Homer’s plan to use the auto-dialer she is concerned that Homer will be arrested or will swindle all their friends and neighbors. She turns out to be right as Homer programs the device to call everyone in town and insists that “happy dude” can provide them with eternal happiness if they mail one dollar to the Simpsons’ address. Meanwhile at school Lisa, bored of band class, watches out the window as Nelson sprays Groundskeeper Willie with a garden hose. For disrupting class she is sent to detention where she continues to watch Nelson from the window. She soon discovers that she can’t stop thinking about him and realizes she’s developed a crush on the bully.

Lisa confesses to Nelson that she has a crush on him and invites him over to her house. Nelson reluctantly agrees. Despite his apparent boredom with Lisa he invites her to his house. She goes and discovers the ramshackle existence that Nelson lives. He behaves inconsiderately toward her and on the way home she feels foolish to think she could be with or change Nelson. Marge tells Lisa that she can change a man, citing Homer as an example. When she points out the Homer is the same as he ever was Marge insists that you can change a man. Lisa decides to try to change Nelson.

While on a date at the Springfield bluff overlooking the town she probes Nelson to find if there’s anything beneath the surface. Bored with her questions Nelson kisses her and they discover they like it. Nelson’s bully friends Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney show up and make fun of him for hanging out with a girl. Lisa insists that Nelson has changed and wants nothing to do with them. Nelson takes them aside and tells them he hasn’t changed at all. They tell him to prove it by coming to play a prank with them. Nelson decides to stay with Lisa.

While the bullies are in the midst of egging Principle Skinner’s house Nelson arrives without Lisa and joins in. When the police arrive Nelson runs to the Simpson home and asks Lisa to hide him, insisting that he was set up. She agrees. The police arrive and break down the Simpsons’ front door. “I thought I’d find you here,” says Chief Wiggum. He fires his gun several times alarming the other officers. A cut reveals that Wiggum didn’t shoot Nelson but instead destroyed Homer’s auto-dialer. Homer comes downstairs and Wiggum says, “See you in court Simpson. And don’t forget to bring that auto-dialer with you or we have no case.” The inept police leave. Nelson accidently slips up and reveals to Lisa that he lied to her about being a part of the prank. She realizes that she was foolish to try to change him. Lisa decides that she can’t be with him and though they part ways it is rather amicable.

In this episode the focus of character development is on Lisa and secondary character Nelson. This is the main plot of the episode and while it isn’t very funny in and of itself (with the exception of Milhouse degrading himself in order to win Lisa’s affections), it is touching and deals with an important part of childhood: the crush. The decision to explore this subject by pairing two opposites in good girl Lisa and bully Nelson was a good one as their confusion as to why they’re together is shared by the audience. We are able to explore this confusion at the same time as the characters.

While the main plot isn’t terribly funny the subplot makes up for it. Homer’s auto-dialer scam is woven through the episode as a series of brief interludes that show Homer’s lack of consideration on a macro scale by annoying the whole town. When an argument about the auto-dialer’s incessant calls between neighbor Ned Flanders and his wife Maude keeps waking Homer up he yells for them to shut up. This hilariously illustrates that not only is Homer a jerk he’s completely unaware of it. Finally the main plotline and the subplot are wrapped up almost simultaneously with a wonderful misdirecting of the viewer to believe that the police are after Nelson, rather than there to foil Homer’s scheme. Between good character development and a hilarious subplot, this is a solid episode.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #7: Lisa’s Date with Density

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #6: A Milhouse Divided

February 24, 2010

Episode six of The Simpsons season 8, A Milhouse Divided, originally aired on December 1st 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. This time the couch gag sees the family sit at the couch with Bart glowing green. Homer gets up and adjusts the TV set which causes Bart to glow red. Homer sits back down and smacks Bart on the head which returns him to normal.

When Marge becomes upset by the family’s usual disconnected, anti-social dinner routine she decides to throw a dinner party. Among the guests are Kirk and Luanne Van Houten, parents of Bart’s best friend Milhouse. They argue all night. The couple’s bickering progressively becomes more and more petty and vicious. When a game of Pictionary turns into an all-out verbal brawl Luanne silences the room with a demand for a divorce. After a long, awkward pause Kirk agrees and whole-heartedly endorses the idea.

While Luanne relishes her new found freedom Kirk has moved into an apartment complex for sad, lonely bachelors. Though he tries to put a good face on things he can’t keep up the charade once he is fired as manager of the local cracker factory. Meanwhile their son Milhouse begins acting out, his behavior going unchecked by either parent. Both of the adults are so wrapped up in their own lives they ignore their son’s behavior. Luanne even begins dating an “American Gladiator” named Pyro.

Even with the example set by the Van Houten’s divorce Homer learns nothing and continues to ignore Marge and behave in an inconsiderate manner. Kirk tries to continue to be upbeat while pursuing a singing career but he admits that he wishes he was still married to Luanne. He says to Homer, “One day your wife’s preparing your favorite meal, the next you’re thawing a hot dog in the sink of a gas station bathroom.” Homer tells Kirk that such a thing can’t happen to him because he and Marge have a marriage built on a strong foundation of routine. After returning home Homer finds that Marge has left him hot dogs thawing in the sink.

A depressed Homer turns to Lisa for help to save his marriage. He reminisces about their wedding at a crappy casino chapel called “Shotgun Pete’s.” Lisa replies, “You’re very lucky to have Mom.” The next morning Homer surprises Marge with theater tickets. She is grateful but wants to go back to sleep. He begins to over-compensate for his selfishness by doing things that he thinks are considerate but in reality are annoying like trying to give Marge a haircut. When he realizes that his attempts are not working Homer files for divorce without telling Marge. When she and the kids return from the dentist office Homer calls her into the living room in a serious and melancholy voice.

When she walks in and flips on the lights she sees the room full of her friends and family who all yell surprise. Homer asks her to marry him. She is overjoyed but says that it’s not necessary. Homer replies, “Oh yes it is, I got us a divorce this afternoon.” He explains that he wanted to make up for their lack-luster wedding and he wanted a chance for their marriage to be perfect from the very beginning. During the reception after the ceremony Kirk is inspired by Homer’s gesture to Marge and he gets on the microphone being used by the band that Homer hired. He begins performing his song, “Can I borrow a feeling.” Not only is he a terrible singer, the lyrics are awful. After finishing the first verse he asks Luanne to remarry him. Taken-aback she says, “Oh God, no.” At which point her new boyfriend kicks Kirk out of the party.

The situation with my laptop is pretty much the same as before, though I did manage to find a quiet, out of the way spot in the West End Building to watch which helped with the lack of volume. This episode is another of the standard requirements that appear at least once a season on this show which I call the “Homer and Marge work on their marriage” episode. This doesn’t necessarily hurt the episode on its own as there are many, many funny episodes revolving around the couple trying to fix/improve/save their marriage, this particular one is not quite as funny and compared to the other episodes of season 8 it would have to be considered to be at the bottom of the pile.

While it reinforces the basic reason that the Simpsons are so beloved – the love between Marge and Homer – it is lacking in some ways. For example it lacks a sub-plot of any kind. The viewer assumes that one is being introduced when they see Milhouse behaving badly. Considering that Milhouse’s name is in the title of the episode this is not unreasonable. However all we get is one scene and nothing more. Another key flaw is the episodes reliance on gags not integral to the storyline. While most of them are funny they do nothing to further the story or even echo the depth of the characters involved. While enjoyable I have to rate this episode a two. A two for the Simpsons is as a good as a four for most shows but a two never the less.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #6: A Milhouse Divided

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #5: Bart After Dark

February 24, 2010

Episode five of The Simpsons season 8, Bart After Dark, originally aired on November 24th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Friday afternoon February nineteenth at the Brooklyn College campus on my lap-top. This time the couch gag is a parody of the Beatles album cover for “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967) featuring the Simpsons standing in front of their couch wearing the same outfits as the Beatles with dozens of minor characters behind them in an outdoor setting.  This is especially fitting since every season of The Simpsons has at least one musical episode and Bart After Dark fits that description and its plot is a parody of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” 1982. (www.imdb.com)

This episode begins with a news report of a tanker crash spilling millions of gallons of oil. Marge and Lisa volunteer to help clean up the spill, taking Maggie with them and leaving Homer and Bart alone. At the clean up Marge and Lisa find nothing to clean but rocks. Homer and Bart turn the house into a pig sty. When Bart goes to the park with Milhouse to fly a remote control airplane the town bully Nelson Muntz takes over and ends up crashing the plane into the grounds of a house that the children believe to be haunted/a Frankenstein factory/a zombie brain transplant lab. Bart climbs the gate and retrieves the model plane from the roof, breaking a stone gargoyle in the process, but when caught by the “witch” his friends flee.

She takes Bart home and insists that he be punished. When Homer resists the idea she threatens to come back and speak with his mother. Homer forces Bart to work off his debt at the “witch’s” house.  When he gets there Bart discovers a house full of scantily clad beautiful women. The “witch,” Belle explains to him that it is a house of Burlesque. He immediately takes to the job working his way up from handyman to doorman. Meanwhile, when Marge and Lisa realize that they have nothing meaningful to do in the clean-up effort they head for home. At the Burlesque house a performer is sick and Bart takes his place on stage to warm up the audience with bad jokes. He kills.

Homer barges in to take Bart back, but he’s so enamored with the girls that he stays. From there, in his role as the doorman, Bart deals with his own school principal. Homer is confronted by the church council, leading to an argument in the middle of which Marge and Lisa return home. When Marge finds that Homer’s letting Bart work in a Burlesque house she freaks and confronts Belle, demanding she shut down her house of ill repute. Belle refuses. Marge goes before the town council to have the Burlesque house shut down and reveals all its patrons.

They form an angry mob to take down the house but when they arrive and begin the demolition Homer breaks into song, convincing them not to. Belle and her girls join in. They sing about how ubiquitous the services of the Burlesque House are and its tradition in Springfield. However, Marge shows up late and though she gives pause, she accidentally runs a bulldozer into the house, destroying part of it. Marge works off the damages with a ventriloquist act.

This is the first episode that I’ve viewed on my laptop. While the picture is not nearly as nice as on a decent sized television it does have a few advantages. As long as you can overcome the distractions provided by the various applications on your computer it narrows your focus in a way. With the smaller screen you are able to take in the entire picture. However, the speakers on my laptop are of inferior quality so there were several situations where I had to rewind and review in order to hear things.

This is one of the more interesting episodes so far but it features little character development and while it’s clear that the house survives Marge’s onslaught, it is never seen or heard from again. This episode attempts to deal with sex in both frank and minimally titillating fashion but it falls a bit flat and while the musical number is catchy as always, it somehow falls short. The animation is great but while the cartoon Burlesque house is convincing most of the humor occurs early in the show and it comes up a bit short of the rest of the episodes.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #5: Bart After Dark

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #4: Burns Baby Burns

February 24, 2010

Episode four of The Simpsons season 8, Burns Baby Burns, originally aired on November 17th 1996. I viewed this episode by myself on Thursday night February eighteenth at my apartment on DVD and a 27 inch television. The couch gag we’re led in with sees the Simpson family represented as life sized and shaped clear bluish balloons that all drift toward their spots on the couch but when they get there, they all pop. This episode centers around Homer’s boss, nuclear power plant owner and local tyrant, C. Montgomery Burns and his unexpected reunion with the illegitimate son that he never knew he had.

While on his return from his alma mater Yale, Mr. Burns’ train is temporarily delayed by an abandoned couch left on the track. A local man sees the stopped train from his souvenir stand and rushes over to hawk his wares. He moves window to window until he sees Mr. Burns whom he recognizes from an old photograph he keeps in his wallet. The man runs after the train but cannot keep up. He yells to the attendant on the rear of the caboose to ask where the train is headed. The attendant replies “Springfield.” The man says “Yeah, but what state?” The attendant’s response is drowned out by the train’s whistle as part of a series-long running joke about the uncertainty over which state the Simpsons live in.

On the way home from a trip to the cider mill the Simpsons see the man from the souvenir stand on the side of the road hitchhiking with a sign reading “Springfield.” They debate whether or not to pick him up so long that they arrive at their house. Homer turns around without letting anyone out of the car and picks up the hitchhiker. When he shows the family the picture of Mr. Burns and asks if anyone knows who he is they each respond with an example of how Burns had wronged them in the past. Without a word they drop the man off at Mr. Burns’s mansion. When Mr. Burns comes to the door the man introduces himself as his son, Larry (played by Rodney Dangerfield).

Mr. Burns reveals that in 1939 at his 25th Yale reunion he spied his college sweetheart and promptly courted her twenty-one year old daughter and after a brief fling Larry was conceived, born and sent to an orphanage. Larry stays with his newly discovered father and goes to work at the power plant alongside Homer. After a disastrous cocktail party where Larry’s boorish manners cause trouble amongst Mr. Burns’ high-society friends, the old man tries to get his son into Yale. The recruiters for the school made it clear that admitting Larry would require the donation of an international airport.

When it becomes clear that Mr. Burns is fed up with Larry, Homer suggests that they fake Larry’s kidnapping. When they go through with it, though Mr. Burns wants nothing to do with Larry, he demands that they get Larry back as a matter of principle. No one steals from Montgomery Burns. Homer stashes Larry in the Simpsons’ basement until the ransom call, during which he tries to get Mr. Burns to say he loves Larry, goes awry. Marge discovers the fake kidnapping and forces Homer to take Larry back to Mr. Burns. The second they walk out of the house they are spotted by Kent Brockman, local news anchor, in the channel 6 news chopper.

Homer and Larry flee. After several unsuccessful attempts at hiding they hole-up in a movie theater. When their rudeness disturbs the only other person in the theater, local creature Hans Moleman, he reports their location to the police. The police corner Homer on the roof and are about to fire when Larry jumps between Homer and the cops. He explains that the kidnapping is a hoax. Larry asks if Mr. Burns can love him. The old man tries but just can’t do it. He apologizes for not being able to be the family that Larry needs. This reminds Larry that he has a wife and kids whom he told that he was going for coffee a week ago. Larry declares the entire scene a party and from nowhere come drinks and party favors. “Anyway You Want It” by Journey starts playing and the entire crowd responds by dancing to end the episode.

This scene is a takeoff on the ending to Caddyshack, where Rodney Dangerfield’s character, Al Czervik, does almost exactly the same thing (www.imdb.com). This episode is very similar in many ways to the previous one. However it differs in a principal way and that is that in this episode the character development is divided in half between Mr. Burns and the one time character Larry. Even though the character development is, in terms of screen time because of the split, less than with Moe in The Homer They Fall, Mr. Burns is a less malleable character and therefore the growth has a somewhat bigger impact. Among the show’s second tier characters Moe Syzslak and CM Burns are probably my favorites. While the dialogue is not quite as rapid-fire funny in this episode the star power of Rodney Dangerfield and his performance balances the scales.

The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #4: Burns Baby Burns

Rating: 3 out of 5