Minor Scenes: Marge and Moaning Lisa

I’ve been throwing around the idea of a new series, one that allows me to get some shorter posts out on this blog more often as well as provide an opportunity for me to look at smaller things that I don’t have a lengthy enough response to warrant a full essay.

The Simpsons | Season 1 Episode 6 | Moaning Lisa

While the show didn’t hit its comedic stride until a few years later, the first three seasons of The Simpsons are hard-hitting tragi-comic realism that somehow how got made under the guise of being the Bart Simpson experience.

The first season in particular is monumentally depressing at times (remember the time that Homer tried to commit suicide three episodes in?) yet alleviates this with absurd humour and a glimmer of optimism. It was, after all, a show about a dysfunctional family struggling to get by financially and emotionally, which is what makes the celebrity-stuffed morally-careless extravagance of some of the later episodes so unpalatable.

‘Moaning Lisa’, along with season 2’s ‘Bart Gets An F’, is the kind of episode I refuse to watch with friends, because I know I can’t get far without crying. This is in many ways the quintessential Lisa episode, and works effectively as an origin story. Like many children, not even just the smart ones, she is stifled and feels burdened by sadness. She finds a little solace in expressing herself artistically through music. It’s simple but it works.

This scene in particular is one that always stood out to me, and thankfully it’s one of the clips uploaded by one of those very helpful Simpsons Youtube channels that come around once in a blue moon.

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Death and the Passage of Time in Twin Peaks: The Return

One of the most unexpectedly powerful moments in Twin Peaks: The Return, a series that gave us many poignant scenes, involved none other than Carl Rodd. Harry Dean Stanton’s character, who we had previously seen stealing the show as the grouchy manager of the Fat Trout Trailer Park in the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, has changed a lot since we last saw him.

Other than the usual signs of ageing, he seemed a little more relaxed and generous, and while his exhaustion is still present, now it seems more melancholic than beleaguered. Continue reading →

Bojack Horseman: The Anti-Sitcom

There’s been a lot of talk over the last several years of television being in a golden age. As with most artistic periods, there isn’t a clear consensus on where it began nor what kicked it all off. While The Sopranos gave us long-form storytelling that managed to be episodic while gradually deepening our understanding of its characters and what they tell us about ourselves and the world we live in, it’s hard to say that all television was purely escapist beforehand when The Twilight Zone was taking audiences to strange new places in 1959 and Star Trek looked forward to a progressive future in ‘66. But one thing that has by its very essence remains consistent and unaltered by an increasingly self-reflexive medium is the sitcom. That brings us to Bojack Horseman, which is itself part of a new surge of adult-orientated animation in the U.S and Netflix-exclusive content.

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Bojack Horseman: Whiplash Comedy

The following is an article I wrote about Bojack Horseman last summer after season 2 was released. It was meant to be published somewhere but that kind of fell through, and ended up sitting in my Articles folder for a year. I thought I’d post it here, as with the release of the third season it’s not as pertinent to be hosted anywhere else. I will likely be writing another article on the show in the next few weeks.

Bojack Horseman returned for its second season this year on Netflix, and came back in a big way. The first season was fairly hit-and-miss, only really coming into its own when it engaged with the sad reality of Bojack’s life. The combination of tragedy and comedy, depression and animal puns, was never truly reconciled – until now. Season two does a lot of things right: the treatment of its female characters, its satire of Hollywood, its excellent depiction of bipolar disorder – but what elevates it on a moment-to-moment level is how it handles the tension between its dramatic and comic elements. Too many shows, adult-targeted cartoons especially, tend to land twenty minutes of comedy before one character sums up what they’ve learnt from the events. There are some exceptions – Community follows this structure before deconstructing and poking fun at the trope, while It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia often uses this climactic moment to show that the lesson learned is pointless, or avoided entirely. Emotional stakes tend to reach their peak by the episode’s end here too, but Bojack isn’t scared of injecting pathos into the otherwise ridiculous, or ending a devastating scene with irreverent humour.

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Twin Peaks Podcast

I was a guest on Sean Fallon‘s podcast From First To Last, where he talks to people about the first and last episodes of their favourite shows. I chose Twin Peaks (obviously), and while we mainly talk about the pilot and the series finale ‘Beyond Life and Death’, we also talk about the show in general and David Lynch’s filmography.

You can find it on iTunes now, as well as on Podbean.

Lynchian Horror

At some point you have probably come across the term “Lynchian.” It’s often used thoughtlessly to explain away weird imagery and seemingly ineffable behaviour in film, but it’s in the popular vernacular for a reason. David Lynch’s particular outlook and cinematic approach has made him the authority on dream-like ambience. The distinct sense of unease in his movies often comes from his interest in the uncanny; a “disturbing unfamiliarity in the evidently familiar.” The abstract concepts he puts on screen inspire fear because they are uncomfortably close to our own reality. In Twin Peaks, the ceiling fan on the landing of the Palmer household is shown at a low frame-rate, as if asking us to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and wonder what is wrong with the picture presented; objects and behaviour normally associated with normalcy, stability, and positivity are corrupted.

In The Philosophy of Horror, Noël Carroll attributed feelings of horror and the uncanny to apparent transgressions of cultural and conceptual categories. The most effective horror is often that which pushes us beyond the boundaries that give us stability. Even the most intelligent viewers carry their own preconceptions of what a narrative needs to achieve, and what the right emotional response is for a given moment. Examples Carroll provides of these categories are “living/dead,” “me/not me,” and “flesh/machine’,” dichotomies that are common in the horror genre because they challenge the principles that give us comfort, and make the world comprehensible.

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Cesspool on the Potomac: The Ironic Bite of ‘Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington’

Revisiting the first few seasons of The Simpsons brings some surprises. While the first nine or so seasons are hilarious, the first three bring a lot of heavy emotion into play early on. In season one the family have to convince Homer not to commit suicide, and season 2 has some of the most upsetting moments of the show – Bart’s breakdown in ‘Bart Gets an F‘, Homer dealing with imminent death in ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish‘, and Grandpa gaining then losing a companion in ‘Old Money‘. Season 3 is a sort of transition into the golden era of the show, and as the straight-faced realism starts to give way the episodes get funnier, but are still rooted in morality. The fact that the show was doing this in the early 90s, before adult humour and mature themes became more prevalent in animation, is pretty damn brave. There’s no timidity in ‘Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington‘, and even when it seems to shy away from real satire, it does something special.

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