Thursday, May 27, 2010

Handing In My "Simpsons" Card

Okay, "The Simpsons." You've finally convinced me I should stop watching you.

I've been a fan since day one. All right, I never really saw "The Tracy Ullman Show," where you debuted as shorts. But I started watching as soon as you became your own series, when I was all of nine years old. You were such an anomaly - with your characters with weird color designs and ridiculous hairstyles; being the first prime time cartoon in decades; being the controversial "cartoon that swears," which gave the younger set a sense of the forbidden and the dangerous.

But you were more than just the cartoon that swears. You had heart, and a genuine interest in telling stories. By the time your second season got into full swing, you'd nailed down your tone and your style of humor, and you became the funniest show on television.

It's interesting to contemplate how many of your jokes and references were way over the head of my nine-year-old self. But that's what was so great about it. You were talking up to me. You respected my intelligence and knew that I'd understand enough to be entertained... and that the show would open up to me even further as I got older and learned more about life and culture.

I actually learned things from you. Real things! Things like the coriolis effect, what the Sword of Damocles was, and that William Henry Harrison died after 30 days in office.

You were genius. You became more quotable and more referenced than standard-bearers like Monty Python. You added to the English lexicon - and not just obvious stuff like "D'oh," but words like "embiggen," "avoision," "sacrilicious," "crisitunity," and "boo-urns." Needless to say, these words are perfectly cromulent.

You also contributed such practical phrases as "coming up Milhouse," "I'm intrigued by your theories and would like to subscribe to your newsletter," "Bees are on the what now?," and, of course, "Worst. [FILL IN BLANK]. Ever."

Somewhere around season eleven, you took a turn for the... less good. It wasn't a dramatic decline and, like most fans, I was willing to overlook it. You were still a hell of a show, better than most anything else that was on. The popular opinion around this time became, "I'll take the worst episode of 'The Simpsons' over the best episode of just about anything else." Yes, even on a bad day, "The Simpsons" outshone the competition.

But season 11 was a long time ago. And so were 12, 13 and 14. You've just ended season 21. Twenty-freakin'-one! And despite the dissenting opinions of various delusional people (or the people who have a financial stake in the show's continued success), the quality has dropped steadily with each passing season for at least, oh, let's say eight years now.

Today's "Simpsons" is nowhere near the quality of 1990s "Simpsons." And the philosophy that "The Simpsons" is still better than most other shows on TV is simply false at this point, the desperate clingings of hardcore fans. If "The Simpsons" began as a brand new series today at the exact quality level currently featured, any true "Simpsons" fan would hate it. It would be a generic pretender to the throne.

I know this because I myself am one of the desperate clingers. I've held on for so long. As the quality has waned, I've toughed it out. "I mean, how much longer can it possibly go?" I asked myself. "Might as well finish it off and say you were there from the beginning to the end, right?" And so I kept watching, laughing less and less with each episode, watching the heart fade away, watching the cleverness and the well-observed social criticisms become less incisive and then simply vanish.

And still I watched.

And when the movie came out, I was thrilled. By that time, I had moved to Los Angeles. I lived a mere mile away from one of the 7-Elevens that were converted into Kwik-E-Marts to promote the movie. I stood in the long line several times... to get into a mere 7-Eleven. I proudly bought the merchandise. I still have a box of KrustyO's and an unopened can of Buzz Cola (what's in there? Faygo?). And I went to see the movie on opening night at one of the most expensive cinemas in town, the ArcLight. I laughed my ass off and had a great time with other die hard fans. I saw hints of some of that incisive wit of the glory days - like the moment when doom looms on the horizon, sending the bar patrons rushing into the church and the church-goers rushing into the bar. Beautiful! And yes, I loved Spider-Pig.

And then you opened up your Back to the Future Ride-killer at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, and I loved that. All the episode clips and new gags that play while you wait in line are a fun distraction, and the ride itself is a really effective illusion. Great stuff.

And I kept watching the show. Even though, really, it was getting rather painful. But if this is a marathon, then I've started it and I really wanted to finish it... even if my body collapses on me and I have to scrape my way to the finish line by my fingernails.

But then, you did this...

On the May 2, 2010 episode, you set aside your usual theme song -- the song we've all known and loved for over 20 years -- and set your characters to an interpretive dance of Kesha's "Tik Tok."

This forced me to make a very important decision about our relationship. And, well, it's over.

The problem isn't that you tossed aside your beloved theme song for one episode. TV shows do this all the time. In fact, you've done it yourself for every Halloween episode you've made. This sort of thing can be an enjoyable change of pace.

The problem is the song itself. Except for possibly Justin Bieber, Kesha is the worst thing that's happened to popular music in a long time. And it's not like she doesn't have heavy competition in the suckness department - there's a lot to hate about pop music. But Kesha is an absolute offense. It's not just that her music is horrible -- a lot of music is horrible yet acceptable -- it's that she's an absolute fraud, lacking not only talent but imagination. She brings nothing to the table. And THIS is what you set your usual theme song aside for?

Your show has been on the air for TWENTY-ONE SEASONS! Tens of thousands of songs have come and gone in that time. How did you decide that Kesha was the artist and "Tik Tok" was the song you were going to animate? I mean, you could have done the Spice Girls or Hanson. You could have done Britney Spears or Ricky Martin. Bowling for Soup or Hoobastank. Just about ANYTHING would have been better than Kesha.

And talk about miscasting. Do you think Kesha is the kind of music Lisa listens to? You know... jazz fan Lisa. Do you think this is the kind of music Nelson would fist-pump to? Or that Homer "rock reached perfection in 1974" Simpson would sing along to? Come on, people! It's like you don't even know your characters anymore (which could very well be the case if your most recent episodes are any evidence). Or, perhaps even more devastating, it's like you don't even know your fans anymore.

And that's when it hit me. You're not making this show for me anymore, are you? It's for a whole different generation now. A generation that, sadly, doesn't know how great you used to be. You were pandering. You took a horrible-yet-inexplicably-popular song and used it to draw the kiddies' attention away from Facebook for one minute, maybe get them to talk about you on Twitter. "Whoa, 'The Simpsons' just sang Kesha. ROTFLMFAO!!" I'm sure it worked. I'm sure it boosted your ratings. But at what cost?

Some speculate that you were actually making fun of Kesha and her song by doing that intro. Dullards, all. You weren't making fun of it, you were revelling in it. It was a fun little party you were throwing, and the invitees are the people who are stupid enough to think you might have been doing a parody.

So I guess we're finally done, you and I. I held on for a long time... a lot longer than most of the other professed hardcore "Simpson" fans I know. But on May 2nd, you spoke loudly, and I finally got the message. You don't want me to be your fan anymore.

I'll always remember the good times. It's better to have loved and lost, and all that. I hope you're happy with your new Kesha-loving fans. But I guess it's best for both of us if we part ways at this time.

That being said, I'd probably be in for another movie.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Podcast Rollcall: SModcast

Genre: Comedy

What It's About: Whatever's on Kevin Smith's mind! Smith and co-host Scott Mosier riff on topics ranging from growing up in New Jersey to a fear of sea life to Wayne Gretzky. Behind-the-scenes stories about their movies are kept to a minimum, with the focus being on life in general. What it boils down to is two friends having a conversation and making themselves laugh... and you're in on the joke.

Why You Should Care: Smith is a natural-born entertainer, always engaging and funny. Originally known as a writer-director of independent films in the '90s, these days he's a brand unto himself -- a blogger, a published author, a comic shop proprietor, and a live speaker whose public appearances consistently sell out. This podcast, yet another extension of his mini empire, is a sort of mash-up between his blogs and his live appearances.

Frequency: Posts irregularly/when available

Average Length: One hour

As always, if you become a regular listener to a podcast that solicits donations, try to find a way to make the occasional contribution.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A little taste of... Rock Sugar

Just wanted to spread the word about a fun little underground band worth supporting. Ladies and gentlemen... Rock Sugar!

I first became aware of the band thanks to comedian Mike Schmidt, who became enthralled with them towards the end of the second season of his podcast. The band were the first -- and so far, only -- guests on "The 40-Year-Old Boy" podcast, which is usually a solo show.

The fictional backstory of the band is that they were rising stars during the glory days of the '80s hair metal music scene, but ended up marooned on a desert island with nothing but a 13-year-old girl's music collection to listen to for 20 years. By the time they were rescued, their musical style had become a fusion of '80s pop and '80s metal.

...Which is all just a fun way of saying that they do mashups of '80s songs, laying the lyrics of one song over the riffs of another. My favorite is "Voices in the Jungle," which combines Aimee Mann's "Voices Carry" with Guns 'n Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."

Click here to check out the band's site and buy their music. If you were born before 1986, you're certain to get a kick of out this stuff.

Fun fact: Lead vocalist Jess Harnell was the voice of Wakko Warner.

Additional reading:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Podcast Rollcall: This American Life

Genre: Journalistic non-fiction

What It's About: Stories of everyday, average Americans. Each episode is made up of two or more stories unified by a theme. (Occasionally, a full episode will be devoted to one story.) Themes are diverse, from "Know Your Enemy" to "Kids As Adults" to "Obsession." These are typically well-researched, well-told stories of life in these United States.

Why You Should Care: This American Life has been a long-running radio series from Chicago public radio. Insightful and thought-provoking, the show generally leaves you with a more nuanced understanding of the society you live in.

Frequency: Weekly

Average Length: One hour

As always, if you become a regular listener to a podcast that solicits donations, try to find a way to make the occasional contribution.