26 April 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Michael Bay's Pain is our Gain

Welcome again to the Road to a Blockbuster - each week in Summer we're previewing the commercial and critical potential of the next film trying to break out and become a cultural pivot point. But what's that you say, it's not Summer yet? It's true that we're barely a step into Spring, but with Oblivion (2013) last week, it's just feeling as if we're already into the Summer Movie Season. Now, it may have not really been the kind of big blockbuster, critically or commercially that we're craving, but it really feels as if Summer is here. These are high profile, big loud, dumb films that stand up and shout to be heard. So, what of this Pain & Gain (2013)?

Many directors, after establishing some kind of credibility with either audiences or studios, are able to make little passion films after a career-changing film of enormous critical or commercial success. After he was praised as a huge brand innovator and game changer for The Dark Knight (2008), Chris Nolan was able to cobble together Inception (2010). After a long road of independent films, the Coen Brothers swept the Oscars with No Country for Old Men (2007), which gave them leeway and clout to make a really fun and bizarre movie like Burn After Reading (2008). Now, we turn to Michael Bay. What does Bay do when the industry is bowing to him after three epic Transformers films for half a decade? His $26 million passion project is Pain & Gain.

Let that sink in for a second. If Michael Bay could make any movie in the world he chooses a series of wacked out 90s articles about a group of Muscle Heads forming a mini-gang and going on a crime spree. It's a great look into that insane culture of gym rats - getting pumped, believing in fitness, etc. It's quite a special world. And Mark Wahlberg is a Miami Dolphins fan. 90s Muscle Beach Miami was a special place, folks.

This is also Month Three of our Year of the Rock - the third film in as many months to star Mr. Dwayne Johnson. There may be no star that is more likeable right now, although both his film Snitch (2013) and Wahlberg's Broken City (2013) have already bombed this year. Will sparks fly when they team up? It hardly matters - this is a Bay movie, and it looks to be as loud and dumb as it needs to be.

You see, Michael Bay is a true auteur. His films are distinctive, and while he has hack emulators such as Roland Emmerich, McG, and Brett Ratner, no one can shoot a true practical explosion like Bay. They're called Baysplosions for a reason, folks. Pain & Gain has had a pretty engaging marketing campaign, and has even been able to demonstrate a little more plot than the commercials for Oblivion or even the recent Thor: The Dork World (2013) trailer have. This film looks bright, fun, and is geared pretty much exactly to who it's meant to - the crazy testosterone-craving Baysplosion lovers. It's a precise demographic, and while it may not be winning any Oscars, it's still a hell of a fun romp at the movies.

There are legitimate criticisms to Bay's style. Bay movies tend to be real fun and highly illogical, but crazy, aggressive, and populist. They're also extremely patriotic, occasionally to the point of jingoism, obsessed with male gaze, and designed for the 14-year old boy in all of us. Pain & Gain appears to be more of the same, but lays its soul bare and doesn't appear apologetic, which is a tricky tone to master.

"I'M BIG!"
So, what of the T-Shirt factor? This is the ultimate sign of cultural dominance - twenty years from now will we find ironic Pain & Gain T-Shirts for sale all over the Internet? I don't imagine this film will reach the level of other Bay Epics like The Rock (1996) or Armageddon (1998), both of which people still talk about. Yet I feel as if it will rise above a culturally subpar film like The Island (2005) based on its energy and tendency to take itself less seriously. It's a tough genre to make waves in, though, because Musclehead Gym Rat Culture doesn't really get that much play. Maybe all the Jersey Shore kids will get into it. My guess is it becomes a movie treasured by douchebags, but not the nerds of the Internet.

Will you see Pain & Gain this weekend? Or are you getting your pump on instead?

25 April 2013

First Impressions: Oblivion

Last week I predicted that Oblivion (2013) would be a sort of OK film, but would not have the kind of cultural impact where kids wear "Tech 49" ironically on T-Shirts twenty years from now. After viewing the movie and letting it digest for a few days, I won't retract that statement, but I came close. And that should be an indicator of how good Oblivion really is.

Let's get a few things clear off the bat. "Good" is fairly relative. Here there be SPOILERS to follow - let's make this a discussion of the film rather than a review - It's an incredibly derivative movie, at times borrowing elements from Moon (2009), Independence Day (1996), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Terminator: Rise of the Machines (2003), Total Recall (1990), Wall-E (2008), The Matrix (1999), and Spaceballs (1987). However, even though it mashes together this bizarre conglomeration of elements it does spin a few tropes around, contain some genuine surprises, and in general does a nice job with what it rips off while looking gorgeous doing it. Perhaps it would be best to recount the plot via the rip-offs.
That perfect "oh shit!" moment

Ironic enough, the film's most original aspects come from its initial controlling idea. Think Wall-E starring Tom Cruise with a bit more sex and less garbage. Cruise and his partner are effectively the last people on earth cleaning up the nuclear mess made by the humans themselves in a desperate attempt to counter a hostile alien invasion. Some of the nasty buggers are still running around causing problems for drones and big cleaning machines.

There's a lot of well-placed mystery here, which raises many questions which actually end with a lot of payoff (something Prometheus [2012] could learn from...). Tom is the inquisitive type, driven by dreams of former Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko and a soft spot for books, the great outdoors, and Led Zeppelin (there's been a ton of Zep on film lately - I'm wondering if they made director Joseph Kosinski go back and re-edit where the needle drops on the record player like they did for Argo [2012]). Eventually curiosity gets the better of him, and he's captured by aliens while investigating a crashed orbiting ship full of humans and (WTF) Olga herself. Ooh doggy!

Here's where the Total Recall (1990) parts come in - Tom obviously has met Olga in a past life, but he's had his memory wiped prior to starting his current 5-year mission. It also becomes apparent via some handy Morgan Freeman-driven exposition, that Tom was once a pretty bad dude but now, thanks to an exotic woman, he's back on the side of the good guys.

From here the flick goes really really crazy. When fighting off drones and forced into what is labeled a "radioactive zone" Tom Cruise finds himself face to face with none other than...Tom Cruise. They fight, but in the end, the Tom Cruise with the Yankees Cap beats the Tom Cruise wearing an Ascot. Of course he does. From there the Moon vibes start really settling in. It almost seems really apparent that Kosinski checked out Duncan Jones' underrated 2009 film and then scarfed on the really cool twist at the end. Because Oblivion is slightly obtuse in describing the actual events, I'll recount them here:

In 2017, Planet Earth was visited by a weird floating object called the Tet. We sent our best astronaut (Tom Cruise) and his team, including his wife (Olga Kurylenko), and co-pilot (Andrea Riseborough) to check them out, but they got stuck in a tractor beam. Feeling a sense of dread, Tom ejected the pod with his wife and crew in status, which orbited around earth for like 60 years. Then, the Tet (otherwise known as HAL. Not even really inspired by, just straight up HAL from 2001) cloned a huge Tom Cruise army that attacked the world and then built lots of drones to keep humanity subjugated while the Tet made these huge machines to suck up our oceans ("You're gonna be in trouble cuz they gonna steal your air!").

Let that penultimate fact set in for a bit. Yes, aliens came and cloned a Tom Cruise army. Not for nothing, that shit would be damn formidable. And charming. Moving on-

After humanity had its ass kicked, the Tet kept a few of the Toms around for basic upkeep while the drones demolished everything else. I suppose they studied the little guy, and understanding that humans worked better when they think they're fighting for humanity (Oh! The Matrix!), concocted this little scheme where they used a reproduced image of NASA's flight director (Melissa Leo) and a wacky story about nuclear war and a colony of remaining humans on Saturn's moon, Titan, to keep all the Tom Cruises in check. One of the more clever means of doing this was restricting each Tom to certain areas surrounded by "radioactive zones," which in fact, contained other Tom Cruises doing the exact same thing. Whether or not they all of their own little baseball cap or ascot I don't know.
What a gorgeous wasteland. You got a quarter?

So by the end all the machines go nuts and turn on Tom in his own house (and they look exactly like this dude in Terminator: Rise of the Machines), and he escapes to the secret lair of Morgan Freeman, where they've been storing all of humanity's art and crap. What's cool is that this actually elucidates some of the other inconsistent questions in the film. It's really unbelievable throughout that Tom and his rag-tag gang could  have fended off the "Scavengers," as they call the Aliens, with 2017 technology, and then suddenly be capable of setting up a colony on Titan, within you know...a few months, as well as huge planet-cleaning machinery, and incredibly advanced drone and weapon technology, especially after a world-devastating war. As it turns out, yes, this is all unbelievable because that's all alien (although to be precise, there are actually no aliens in this film, just a single intelligent computer and its Tom Cruise Army), and the humans living underground are exactly as crappy and scrappy as they should be, using 2017-level assault rifles and Morse code to get their shit done. That's the kind of fighting and living that would have made a film like Terminator: Salvation (2009) more believable - instead of prancing around in tents where everyone can see, humans must wear radar-reflecting armor at all times and burrow underground lest they be blown to hell.

So lastly, we have an ending very similar to Independence Day. Actually, it is exactly like Independence Day. Tom Cruise flies a nuclear weapon up to the big mothership by exploiting the intergalactic being's trust, and is then able to detonate it, which causes all of the other drones to immediately malfunction. There is some cool ribs on that formula, though, such as opening up a pod that was supposed to contain Olga Kurylenko and instead seeing a gleeful Morgan Freeman face pop out, letting Tom Cruise scream "FUCK YOU!" to a giant computer and then ka-blamo!

By the end, in similar vein to The Dark Knight Rises, the film ends up having its cake and eating it too. Tom Cruise Clone 49 blows himself up in a heroic self-sacrifice. Yet he still gets the girl in the form of another clone, Tom Cruise 52, who finds his blushing bride hanging out in the woods three years later. It may be kind of hokey but it's a satisfying way to end things. Besides, there must be at least 50 other Tom Cruise Clones running around somewhere who could be very confused after they just saw Melissa Leo explode. There's plenty of room for a sequel to rip of Wrath of Khan (1982) or The 6th Day (2000) or whatever.

So all in all, the film looks great, and is actually fairly interesting, if not really built and re-mixed from many other sci-fi films. The soundtrack is also pretty great, even though it seems as if M83 totally ripped off Daft Punk's score from Kosinski's other mediocre blockbuster, Tron: Legacy (2010). It really did just feel like the Tron soundtrack was playing throughout this whole thing, which while not necessarily original, did fit the film. All in all, it's decent, though somehow not original enough to earn that T-shirt acclaim, which is also bizarre, considering it's one of the only big-budgeted non-sequels we're gonna get. At least until Pacific Rim (2013) and Elysium (2013).

Happy summer!

What did you think of Oblivion?

19 April 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Tom takes our spirits to oblivion

It was a long fell winter, folks, but we're here to revive that Grand Old Norwegian Morning Wood Tradition of The Road to a Blockbuster - our weekly examination of the commercial, cultural, and critical potential of those big Summer Tentpole films - you know the ones, the only movies that people actually care about. We left last Summer with some terrible films like The Possession (2012), Premium Rush (2012), and Hit & Run (2012). Since then, Jewish Monsters are all the rage, Michael Shannon has been looking dumbly menacing in Man of Steel (2013) picks and Bradly Cooper overtook Daniel Day-Lewis for an MTV Movie Award. What a wild time it's been.

Go Blue Jays
Now, you may be thinking, "Dammit, it's not Summer yet! It's not even the last weekend in April!" That is true, and traditionally we will take that first Summer Blockbuster Weekend in May with a big dumb superhero movie as our Summer kick-off (this year we get Iron Man 3 [2013] to fit that bill). April, however, has been creeping on May's heady action for some time now. Today we see the release of Oblivion (2013), which is a big Sci-Fi flick starring Tom Cruise that only really got dicked on the release due to its original story. A terrible original story for sure, but it just doesn't really have anything to build from.

A big part of this column is a desire to predict cultural reverberations. What movies will we get to see as Burger King toys and 7-11 Cups? I always wanted a playset to reenact scenes from The Master (2012), but that dream is dead. More importantly, which films will we gather around to discuss a year from now, sit down on a hungover Sunday afternoon two and a half years from now, make fun of for being awful ten years from now, and then ironically put on a T-shirt twenty years from now? That is the true lifecycle of a movie, my friends. So, how does Oblivion stack up?

So far, Oblivion has been walking that fine line between "kind of cool" and "retarded." It's true that it's Tom Cruise returning to Sci-Fi after some success in action films like Jack Reacher (2012) and Mission: Impossible V - Ghost Protocol (2011) lately. Mr. Mapother IV gets a lot of criticism, but he really doesn't star in awful movies that often. For every Knight and Day (2010) there is a...well, an M:I:IV-GP. Sure the little dude's off his rocker, but he's been somehow pulling off legitimate action roles for nearly the past thirty years and remains one of the planet's biggest movie stars, despite what any of the haters say. AND in this movie he's wears a Yankees hat. That's pretty cool.

In your face it explodes!
Wrong. No one likes the Yankees. And no one really gives a crap what story Tom Cruise is in if it's not interesting. And, by all early accounts, Oblivion is boring as hell. Director Joseph Kosinski made one of the better looking and better scored films of 2010 in Tron: Legacy, which did kinda-sorta OK at the Box Office, and at least laid the groundwork for some nice coherent world-building for a cool TV Show. Tron: Legacy should have been a great movie. It built on the previous film enough while simultaneously engaging earlier fans without stranding new ones. The chief problem was that no one really gave a shit about Tron (1982) and somehow the film never connected with audiences despite looking straight-up awesome. That's really only because the story was convoluted garbage half-based on a film no one saw thirty years ago (and few are chomping at the bit to put ironically on a T-shirt), and the other half-based on Jeff Bridge's character from The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) trapped in the worst parts of The Matrix: Reloaded (2003). If that reference makes no sense to you, or you can't fathom that cultural juxtaposition, then Tron: Legacy probably didn't work for you. You're in the majority.

So what does any of this have to do with Tommy's post-apocalyptic Oblivion coming out today? Evidently the picture's damn near gorgeous, but if you can piece together a storyline from all of the trailers and commercials, that's about as good as you're going to get. The flick will probably do nicely at the Box Office, although it's a busy time of year, and with the recent tragedy in Boston, people may not feel like going out and watching a movie about the end of the world. It'll get swept under the rug as the better marketed Pain & Gain (2013) comes out next week and then all hell breaks loose when Iron Man 3 drops the week after to officially kick off the Summer Season.

As Morgan Freeman says, "Cigars are cool and I don't give a shit if they wouldn't last 60 years underground."
What's Oblivion's T-Shirt status? Thank goodness there's already a plot summary on Wikipedia so I can make references to "Tech 49." I don't see it as being that cool or catching on, primarily because the title "Oblivion" is pretty damn vague, and searching for it only gives me images and articles about The Elder Scrolls IV (2006) anyway.

03 April 2013

The Long Halloween Vol. IV - Simpsons Edition: Spring Break

Hello once again and welcome to The Long Halloween - Norwegian Morning Wood's year-long glance at the greatest television specials you may pair with each monthly Holiday. Now, we've already covered April, but considering that many of our young schoolchildren are on break this week, here's a little bonus for you: "Bart on the Road" (S7;E20) - the greatest Simpsons Spring Break episode of all time!

"I didn't think he'd do 'Moon River,' but then BAM - second encore!"
That may be overly specific. As far as Spring Break episodes go, Arrested Development offered
a nice one in "Spring Breakout" (S2;E17) that surely demonstrates a lot of the older Spring Break traditions - namely going to a sunny beach area, getting a nice day drink on, and screaming and cheering for everything that's even slightly awesome.

"Bart on the Road" doesn't deal with any of that, though - it's essentially a vacation road-trip episode that primarily features Bart driving Milhouse, Martin, and Nelson across the Upper South. Yeah, that is kind of strange. There are some fantastic moments along the way, though.

From the get go, the set-up is spectacular. Principal Skinner sends all the students to work with their parents because his travel agency ("Hell, Principal") misbook his flight to Hong Kong a day early. While Lisa visits Homer at the Nuclear Power Plant, Bart ends up with Patty and Selma at the DMV (because of course, homemaker isn't a real job...). His aunts deal with the typical yokels ("Hot damn! "No more sittin in the dirt at the drive-in!") and while there he makes a fake ID and voila - hijinks ensue. It's also nice to note that apparently, ID lamination takes 2-3 weeks.

What to do with a fake ID (which by the way, Bart still has in his possession by episode's end)? Bart and his friends (also by the way, it seems as if Nelson has become one of Bart's core buds at this point, though he's still a bit of a bully) go to a bar, but are a bit unenthused by Barney and the rest of the alcoholics. They also go to see a film that has neither nudity nor eating, but emblematic of the certain mysticism an R-rating gives to movies in the eyes of kids, even when they're not all that scandalous.

"Well, I don't think I was rehabilitated, but I guess they needed the extra bed"
They finally decide to rent a car and hit the road through the heartland of this great nation. Their route is actually kind of bizarre, but the kind of thing a kid would plan. Sure, they never do make it to Macon, GA, despite Nelson's strangely invested interest in the town. It's also the first of two references to Branson, MO for whatever reason, the second coming in "The Old Man and the Key" (S13;E13), which also features the popular Bronson, MO. After a stirring show by Andy Williams (Nelson is so weird here), they finally decide on journeying to Knoxville, TN to see the World's Fair and its fabulous Sunsphere.

Some of the best moments on the way involve Nelson hitting people like Milhouse ("He sure did.") and an irate father driving in the lane next to them ("ALRIGHT! BACK TO WINNIPEG!"). To be honest, one of the most impressive things about this episode is how good of a driver Bart is. Despite not understanding cruise control, he handles himself pretty fine without any major collisions or even any police interference. And that hitchhiker bit may be one of the better underrated anti-jokes in Simpsons history.

Of course, Milhouse got the idea to visit Knoxville after reading a guidebook from 1982, but that's besides the point. When they get there they find a kind of Gummo-Knoxville and a Sunsphere full of thousands of boxes of unsold wigs. Their car is crushed by the Sunsphere and Bart eventually becomes a courier (shepherding around things like eyes to Hong Kong and 500 Big Macs to Marlon Brando's island - jeez that latter joke may be the best of the episode). So, now back to Lisa:

Lisa spent her Spring Break hanging out with Homer at work after they had such a good time together on Skinner's fake "Take Your Child to Work Day." They pretended to use spacesuits ("This is much funner with a second person") and Lisa even revealed her crush on Langdon Alger, who sounds like just about the perfect Lisa boy. Lisa is suspicious of Bart's flimsy excuse for leaving (The National Grammar Rodeo in Canada), but doesn't put up too much of a stink. When Bart desperately calls Lisa, though, she has no choice but to tell Homer and get him to order a replacement command console for the Power Plant from Oakridge. She, however, swears him to secrecy because Bart made her promise not to tell anyone.

What a Spring Break for Marge...
What follows is one of the better Simpsons ending
s, where Homer and Lisa are cheesed off while Marge is just blissfully ignorant. She's so proud of her little Grammar Rodeo star. Later at night, every loose end in the episode is wrapped up to Marge's utter confusion and Homer's snickering ("No, Bart has never been to Hong Kong" "No, my son's car was not crushed in Knoxville" "No, Bart is not available tomorrow to deliver a human kidney to Amsterdam"). It's fantastic.

So, happy Spring Break, folks. Take a road trip to the border states, or maybe just hang out at home and learn about Owls.

Give a hoot - what are you doing for Spring Break?

02 April 2013

Does your introduction to a new TV show affect how much you like it?

Over the past few years I have heard nothing from my peers except statements such as " You would absolutely love Breaking Bad!" or "How do you not watch The League?" or even dare I say it, "Hey, The Big Bang Theory's a good show!" Lately that has been transformed into "You gotta watch Game of Thrones!" or "Archer is the perfect show for you, man!" I probably have a brain issue or something, because when I hear things like this, my desire to check out the show in question drops tremendously.

It may just be my natural contrarian nature. Or it may be the fact that I'm too proud to get into a show that I didn't discover for myself or bring others into. I started watching LOST at Season 5, but that was after all my other friends had long since stopped watching - what fools...Moreover I find it arrogant for others to think they can dictate what I like. For that reason I'm in love with Always Sunny but not The League. I will continue to giggle my pants off at Workaholics but ignore Archer. And I'll have my Walking Dead instead of Game of Thrones.

A path to any show tends to be pretty personal. I am honestly wondering if anyone else out there feels the same way I do. By nature I gravitate towards the downtrodden and cultish - these are shows that understand and cater to their audience, thus offering a very specific form of entertainment. You can wear this target like a badge of honor and know that you were selected as one of the few fans. I'm proud to say I caught on to Always Sunny and Community in their first seasons, but I'm also aware that this kind of thinking is the worst sort of Hipsterite Pretension.

Like I said, by my nature I generally abstain from mainstream or popular works. However, when the obscure becomes the norm for my group of friends I tend to bounce back against that. For that reason, I've become an authority on the last three seasons of How I Met Your Mother, mostly for the fact that it becomes something I can only share with a small number of my peer base. That show, while certainly broader humour than a show like Community, has enough niche and in-jokes to reward its long-term fanbase, and getting into that recently has paid off.

To some extent though, especially with long-form serial dramas, I feel like I've reached my quota. I was into LOST for a bit, and then got into the characters of The Walking Dead from reading the comic books. It's tough to also invest in Mad Men or Breaking Bad, no matter how good those shows seem to be. While I mentioned enjoying shows that reward its niche fans, what makes it more difficult to get into something like Breaking Bad is exactly that - jumping in now feels like overstaying my welcome at a party I wasn't invited to. I can't be a poser.

There's options, of course. DVDs and Netflix exists to allow any viewer who desires to to catch up during a long weekend. To be honest though, even with increases in binge viewing, that kind of marathon just isn't worth the time. There is no organic internal reason for me to become invested in a show like Breaking Bad or The Wire except for the fact that everyone else seems to applaud it.

Seriously, her name is worse than Quvenzhané Wallis
Game of Thrones is another badge show that everyone else also suddenly seems to be really into. While I have gotten along perfectly fine for nearly thirty years without HBO, I get chastised constantly for not going out of my way to find a way to see it. Ten years ago I had a strong interest in The Lord of the Rings. While it would seem as if that should make a transition to A Song of Fire and Ice palatable, my biggest stumbling block there is honestly that my Fantasy Knowledge Bank is full. I spent the past decade and a half exploring (again - an internal, organic interest) the Houses of Beor, the obscure journeys of Alatar and Pallandro, and the Oath of Fëanor, and all the other crap that sprung from Tolkien's giant crazy head. Before that I spent twenty years on Sci-Fi so I can stand here today and recall every single unnamed Bounty Hunter from The Empire Strikes Back (1980) from memory (Bossk, Dengar, IG-88, Zuckuss, 4-LOM). My nerd brain is tapped out. I can barely keep the name of Danaeryus Tannegran in my head. I did that from memory - what is the real spelling? Daenerys Targaryen? Great. I just can't do this. It's exhausting.

I think I've come to my breaking point with Archer though. I have to wade it slowly. I resisted the show at first because I thought that the voice acting was all very obvious (Jessica Walters in a similar crazy bitch mother role to Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth [now, there's a show I watched every night it was on ten years ago] lacked originality to me instead of being pitch-perfect), especially H. Jon Benjamin, who I believe is a very good voice actor for the one voice he has, but is now tremendously overexposed. I really still only hear Coach McGuirk in my head. Still, the fact remains that it is one of the smartest shows on television, the writing is crystal clear, and that bit about Nightcrawler being Archer's favorite animal with a prehensile tail really got me. I identified with that.

So what does this amount to? An angry nerdy rant? A confession that I'm maxed out on the characters I can follow? Or maybe that I'm just simply a huge egotistical prick who hates being told what to do or who to like. Let me know what you think - are you more likely to enjoy a show you discovered on your own or one all your friends recommend?

Sound off below and happy channel changing, amigos -

01 April 2013

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - April Fool's Day

Here we are again folks - it's The Long Halloween - our year-long look at the greatest holiday television specials to get you in that special mood to celebrate an arbitrary occasion once a month. We began highlighting just anything, but we quickly ran out of stuff to talk about. This year we've focused on the one show that has enough episodes to cover just about every holiday out there - The Simpsons. Our pick for April is unconventional to say the least - it's an April Fool's Day episode, but it only really uses the holiday to frame a narrative around a clip show. It's a testament to the writing of the series, though, that even this throwaway clip show contains some really great original material in its tight story as well as a relevant and natural means of bringing up past footage.

The episode, of course, is "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show" (S4;E18). We don't often get clip shows anymore in mainstream series, and if we do, usually it's a clever spin on the template. The major rationale for the large amount of Simpsons clip shows in the earlier seasons were both to give the writers and animators a break as well as to cut production costs while FOX could sell it for the same price in syndication.

The episode remains my only real knowledge of how April Fool's Day was started, from pagans who were cheesed off at Christians on their new year (April 1). So naturally, this episode revolves around a few April Fool's Day pranks that eventually cause Homer to lapse into a coma. Homer duct tapes Bart's eyes shut, making him think he's blind, and then gives him some milk he had been keeping next to the furnace for six weeks. As revenge, Bart manipulates Homer into drinking a severely shaken up can of beer that causes the house to explode and Homer to lose the ability to walk. Homer eventually regains the ability to walk ("I've tried everything...") but falls into his coma after being crushed by a candy machine.

There is a surprising amount of new footage in this episode and it's all great. From subtle things like Leo Sayer records melting to other great jokes ("We're going to need pretzels, I repeat, pretzels") and even some sly movie references (Barney replicating the ending of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest [1975]). An underrated moment is when Homer is disappointed he won't be able to continue his life's work and Marge mutters with a perfect hint of sincerity and sarcasm, "Society's loss, I suppose." There's also a bizarre Mr. Burns moment where he bursts in and claims how much Homer has wronged him by asking for money (which Burns denied him).

As for the clips themselves, there is an incredibly smooth integration of earlier momen
ts into the story. Since the characters are essentially reminiscing about the life of Homer Simpson, it's a fairly natural set-up. The show also presents itself as very self-aware of how forced and hokey the whole thing is (Grandpa talking directly about how comas are similar to watching old clipshows on tv). There's also a nice reflection when Bart brings up a great episode of Itchy and Scracthy ("It was a good episode...of our lives").

There's other weird stuff here. A Treehouse of Horror clip made it in somehow, which kind of blurs the line of whether or not that episode was canon, but the flexible reality of The Simpsons allows that to slide. There's also an expanded bit of Homer's fall into the Springfield Gorge from "Bart the Daredevil" (S2;E7), which is still hilarious.

An interesting thought occurred to me while re-watching this: the kind of set-up for these clips almost foreshadows the familiar Family Guy set-up. A character starts saying "Remember that time when you..." and then the show cuts to a funny non-sequitur. The difference of course, is that even in a clipshow there's actually still some touching moments between Homer and his children. Repeatedly while Homer is in the coma, both Bart and Lisa genuinely reflect on how much he means to them. The episode of course ends with Homer losing 5% of his brain and choking Bart, though, which ties the whole thing together really well.

What do you think? Is this the greatest Clip Show of All Time?
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