Friday, 8 June 2007

A final thought on comedy

To complete a week of me blethering on about comedy, I wanted to say something about The Simpsons. But, you know, it's incredibly difficult. This is my fifth attempt at trying to come up with an original and different take on the Best TV Show Ever. But when in New York I saw Borders in the US actually has a series of shelves in their comedy section simply labelled "SIMPSONS", so I kinda think maybe everything has been said.

That's never stopped me before.

So, yes, my view is The Simpsons is by far the most complete comedy show ever made. 400 episodes. That's 200 tv hours. Phenomenal. But the volume isn't the only impressive thing. If it was Jeremy Kyle would be up there with it, which is so wrong it makes me wretch.

Literally hundreds of characters, the richest cast list of any sitcom ever. At the core a simple totally stereotypical family. Well, that's what they initially seem - they're obviously more complex than that.

Technically, as a cartoon, it started off fairly crude and now is very nicely done. Watch one of the early series and it's not wonderful to look at - although that's probably 'cos the tapes are worn with being played out 9 times a day for decades on Sky One.

(PS, if anyone from Sky One is reading, you should basically just show The Simpsons on a loop 24 hours a day, in a random order. You'd get more viewers. You know it. I know it. But if you did that there'd be no need for Sky One to employ anyone. So it'll never happen)

The voices are superb, revelling in stereotypical accents. And the music/score, often an overlooked part of any show, is utterly brilliant. A Simpsons musical episode is always a total treat. Even if it is just padding for a clip show for the earlier seasons when they couldn't churn out 22 episodes a year.

The writing makes it though. Anyone who says it isn't as funny as it used to be... it grips my shit (a good Northern expression there) that people can say that. Yes it is as funny as it used to be. It has the odd episode that isn't great, the odd one that's just plain odd, but a single episode is usually crammed with more jokes and ideas than every British sitcom ever.

My favourite episode ever is one about cartoon violence. Here's a link to a far-too-detailed description of it:-

The basis is that Marge actually watches Itchy and Scratchy for the first time and says it's too violent, runs a campaign to get it off tv (falling in with a nasty censorious bunch) and the campaign succeeds. The kids get bored watching anything else and go out and play nicely in the streets, help old ladies across the road and an idyll settles on Springfield.

Until the nasty censorious bunch wants to ban a tour of the US of the statue of Michelangelo's David (OK, it's a cartoon, they can do whatever they like) because you can see his winkle. Marge denounces this as that's art and reluctantly admits she can't be in favour of one kind of censorship and against another. Itchy and Scratchy return to tv and the streets are deserted. The pay off is great - see the link for the last bit...

It has my favourite gag in it as well. Bart and Lisa tell Marge she shouldn't get so het up about I&S because cartoons are for kids not for adults, that if they were aimed at her they'd be on in primetime (this within a primetime cartoon series aimed at adults) and cartoons are just full of slapstick violence and cheap visual gags. Homer then walks in, arse hanging out of pants and burps.

Comedy perfection.

tv secret:
If I had a quid for the number of times a British tv comedy person has asked why we've never come up with a show as good as The Simpsons I'd have... around two hundred quid.

The reasons aren't secrets - not enough money is the uppermost one, no way would a British tv company give someone with a good idea the kind of leeway Fox gave Matt Groening (he has TOTAL creative freedom), the comedy writing talent here isn't as broad or deep as in the US, writers aren't valued enough, and, finally, no-one in British tv is brave enough to do it.

tv secrets:
I have had two actual encounters with Matt Groening. The first time I was writing a game based on Krusty the Klown in my pre-tv days.I was a video game programmer don'tcha know. He complained that Krusty's hair was the wrong shade of cyan. I pointed out the Nintendo NES I was writing the game on only had 55 colours in total, and that was the nearest. He grumbled (it was on a trans-Atlantic phone link and a terrible line) that he may as well cancel the whole project then. My boss went pale - millions of quid at stake. I improvised that I could 'stipple' the two blueish shades and that might work - stippling, video-game-fact-fans, is where you do a chequerboard of two similar colours hoping that together, through the miracle of bad television pictures, it might look like a totally new colour. Anyway, it worked, and Mr G said I was a "pixel pixie". I took that as a compliment. My boss gave me a bonus too.

The second time I had created a cartoon sitcom that was funded by a very odd person indeed. He tried to sell it at the Edinburgh TV Festival by ambushing famous people, or paying hotel staff to stick the document under said famous people's pillows. Matt Groening was one of them. I saw him at a function, the day after this had been done, and ran away in horror he'd blame me.

Oh, and I also like Family Guy. That's like Simpsons Lite. It'll always do. But not as good as the real thing...

1 comment:

Fondea said...

You write very well.