There’s a YouTube video out there with clips from The Simpsons dubbed with lines from Breaking Bad.
It’s a great mashup – funny, clever and proof that the creator is a fan of both shows. My favorite detail is that even the opener is a mashup of both the Breaking Bad logo and The Simpsons font. They could have been lazy here but they went all the way. All the details are great – Bart Simpson as chronic fuck-up Jesse Pinkman, Maude Flanders as Skyler White, Cleetus and Brandine as meth heads, Lionel Hutz as sleazy Saul Goodman is spot on, Mr. Burns’ beloved teddy bear Bobo as the bear from the airplane crash and episode openings for season two, the barfing frog prince as junkie Jane is inspired and of course Ned Flanders as Walter White. Ned is particularly good not just because of the glasses and moustache, but because as any Simpsons fan worth his salt knows, Ned is also the Devil. As Ned says, “It’s always the one you least suspect.” And who suspected what Walter White would become? I have a special appreciation for Bart driving what I believe is the Flanders’ Winnebago. Why do I know all this off the top of my head? Because I am a former Simpsons nerd. Stronger than my appreciation for the well executed mashup is my longing for what The Simpsons used to be.
I still watch The Simpsons. It used to be my favorite show. I started watching in high school when it first aired and became an obsessive geek during college. My roommates knew when The Simpsons was on all bets were off – I wouldn’t answer the phone or talk to anyone and I got nasty if someone tried to force me to do otherwise. I was laser focused on my show. It was important ok? After college, I continued my obsession. I was the dork with Simpsons toys in my office, around my desk. In truth, I was a Simpsons dork of the highest order.
I am old enough, 39, to have witnessed the introduction of remote controls, VCRs and DVDs. This is also why I still double space after a period sometimes. It was still called typing class then. In my time, they hadn’t released the series yet so if I wanted to watch it on my own time I had to tape it. To collect a whole season I had to carefully keep track of the episodes I had recorded as they were rerun out of order, only the new episodes aired in order. But I didn’t want duplicates. So I had a card catalog where episodes were cross-referenced by official episode code, official episode name and my own title to help me remember content. Do you understand what I am saying? I had a goddamn Simpsons naming convention and filing system! It’s a wonder I ever got laid. I don’t have the tapes or the toys anymore. I don’t have the space for the toys. I have the DVDs. Mostly, I just don’t wear my Simpsons freak flag as proudly as I used to. But oh how I used to. I loved that show.
The Simpsons used to be daring, smart, funny, stupid and relevant all at the same time. I watched it religiously. I watched all the reruns too. I could quote the show, name characters and the actors who voiced them. I was its great defender and still am a bit. I’m not going to pretend I’m a genius by saying it paved the way for South Park, Seth MacFarlane and all of Adult Swim but I will say it. I like South Park still, I fucking love Archer but not MacFarlane-verse. It’s not an us vs them thing. Seth MacFarlane is like the Tyler Perry of animated shows to me. They have multiple shows each and I don’t get any of them.
I know their fans are legion. My brain knows what I’m hearing is supposed to be comedy but my funnybone does not. So I do not laugh. This is not a judgment on anyone who does. Someone with a Simpsons filing system in their past shouldn’t be judging anyone. Just saying, not my thing.
But The Simpsons used to be awesome. Homer is one of the all-time great characters. An American idiot who, despite outward appearances, is passionately devoted to his wife and loves his family. He hates his job, drinks too much beer, flirts with obesity to the point of needing a dialing wand because his fingers are too fat for the phone and has delivered such lines as,
Beer, the cause of and solution to, all of life’s problems
I am so smart! I am so smart! S – M – R – T!
Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.
Yep – all off the top of my head again. Nerd!
AND. I don’t think The Simpsons gets enough credit for bringing the musical parody back to prime time. I don’t remember any other show in the 90s doing musical parody at all let alone well. And you can’t execute any parody well if you don’t understand it, love it and hate it a little. “Oh, Streetcar!” was the musical of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Marge as Blanche and revealing Ned Flanders’s ripped chest and abs playing Stanley. The Monorail song was a parody of The Music Man. And one of my favorites remains, “Stop the Planet of the Apes I Want to Get Off!” starring tv treasure Troy McClure in a musical take on The Planet of the Apes.
(Sorry I couldn’t find an English dialogue version but the singing is intact.)
This is genius! I think you have to be a fan of musicals to appreciate how much they packed into 1:47. The song structures, the music that doesn’t quite match the tone of the lyrics, the forced rhyme, choral work and condensing the highlights of a movie into a minute takes real talent.
This was 1996. This may have been prescient. How many musicals are now based on movies from the 70s and 80s – Footloose, Xanadu, Dirty Dancing, and all the Disney stuff. And anyone who thinks a Planet of the Apes musical is a stupid idea – first, is missing the point – and second, clearly does not know about the musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie. Yeah, that happened. And yes, it was a colossal failure.
I don’t think I’m reaching too far to say The Book of Mormon owes a little something to the Simpsons musical parodies. I loved The Book of Mormon. I think it’s perfect and I don’t want to take any thing away from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. But I think these parodies on The Simpsons set a precedent for the terrific musical parodies on South Park. Having got their feet wet on tv, stretched with their own films – I’m So Ronery from Team America was a sign of things to come – they ended with a fully realized musical. A musical that won 9 Tonys so it’s not just me.
Also The Simpsons housed a lot of talent. Conan O’Brien was a writer there before getting his own show. Simpsons writers went to other great shows like Seinfeld, Arrested Development, The Office(US), Portlandia, Parks and Recreation, Futurama, Monk and one of my other favorite shows – King of the Hill.
Let me tell you something – Bobby Hill is one of the best characters on tv – ever. Certainly one of the best kids. He is so complex – weird and awkward, kind and enthusiastic about all the uncool things, delightfully pear-shaped and not afraid to kick a dude in the stones while shrieking, “That’s my purse!” Bobby is a truly unique character. I can’t even think of anyone to compare him to. Raul – help me out here – let’s talk Bobby. There is someone else I unabashedly adore with Simpsons roots. Greg Daniels. I don’t know if his middle name begins with an “O” – it doesn’t, I just checked – but it should because he is a god. His credits include SNL and Seinfeld and he is creator of the American Office, King of the Hill and Parks and Recreation. Who is this guy? Comic superhero. Visionary. Genetically modified? If someone has a list of people to cryo at the apocalypse, add his name pronto. If anyone can make us laugh at the end of days and/or our alien overlords, it’s this guy.
So what happened to The Simpsons? It didn’t just get old. That’s too easy. South Park has been on for 15 years and is still as gross, astute and funny as ever. The last episode was called Eat, Pray, Queef. No, I blame The Simpsons show runner system. It used to be, every season was run by a different writer or writing team. I think this gave each season it’s own flavor – weirder, darker, sweeter – and I suspect created some healthy competition to have a solid season and a chance to come back and do it again. Then by season 13 they went with one showrunner for the rest of the series, Al Jean. Now The Simpsons had started to slip before season 13. I think season 9 was the last solid season. Season 10 was uneven but mostly good but by season 12, things just got strange. But there was a trend that began in season 10. The shows started to get sweeter. I loved that The Simpsons had heart, but I didn’t want to see it all the time. And then when it went under one guy, it kept that sweet tone and when it tried to be edgy it was like my mother using “dis”. It was out of place, way too late and just wrong. But I love them anyway.
I don’t tape The Simpsons anymore, or rather I DVR it and immediately delete it. I stopped buying the DVDs and I sold the toys. I will watch it limp along to a landmark 25 seasons and then I kind of hope it stops. Breaking Bad’s creator Vince Gilligan has said that the show is going to end with the fifth season. He had a very clear idea for the show depicting the fall of a man, and really Breaking Bad may be the best show about men ever. His vision is for five seasons and so five seasons it will be. The Simpsons’ glory days are long gone. It’s become like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. A comfort, funny in a familiar non-threatening way and also not surprising. I hope it will end before it becomes The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.