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Adapted 10/40/70: The Simpsons – “The Greatest Story Ever D’Ohed” April 30, 2010

Posted by Michael Rennett in Adapted 10/40/70 Experiment, Television.
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A couple of weeks ago, I posted a 10/40/70 analysis of The Simpsons season one episode “Krusty Gets Busted” which earned the following quote from the blog Dead Homer Society:  “This is a more detailed animation analysis that I like to get into.  But it does show just how much care and thought used to go into the show.  One suspects that Zombie Simpsons would flunk this kind of test miserably.”  They define “Zombie Simpsons” as anything from season 12 forward where the show “has no pulse and no intelligence but it just won’t fucking die.”  Certainly the point of my analysis was not to privilege earlier Simpsons episodes over the newly released shows and I don’t even know if it’s possible to “fail” a 10/40/70 analysis (perhaps just having uninteresting mise-en-scène).  However, it seems that the only way to demonstrate my own thoughts on this popular split is to analyze one of the “Zombie Simpsons” episodes.  Thanks to online streaming, I was able to watch this season’s “The Greatest Story Ever D’Ohed,” an episode where Ned Flanders takes the Simpson family with him to Israel to undergo a spiritual journey and gain religious enlightenment.  The episode runs a total of 22 minutes, so I used my original framework to set times of 1:50-7:20-12:50:

1:50

Unlike Bird’s episode which works in triangles, this shot seems to be built out of straight lines.  Reverend Lovejoy and Ned are both the same height, which sets them as equals to each other.  We can see the different connections between them in lines:  their eyeline, hairline, chin-line, and the backdoor fence behind them that connect them.

The shot also shows Homer’s slip and slide in the background, which works for two reasons.  First, it keeps Homer’s immature activities in the back of Ned and Lovejoy’s mind since that is what inspires Ned to try to help Homer.  Second, it works as a visual joke when Homer goes sliding by naked later in this shot.  The camera doesn’t have to cut at all; Homer can merely slide through the frame which provides an added humor since we can see Ned and Lovejoy’s disgusted reactions.  Incidentally, I happen to love Ned’s facial expression in this still, with his eyes fully on the left side of the whites, and the full-toothed grimace as he is thinking about Homer.

7:20

This shot continues the theme of straight lines, but this time uses them diagonally to show some depth between the Israeli tour guide and the person who is listening to him for free.  While this shot is a part of the traditional shot-reverse shot relationship, the camera is placed at a lower angle to make the pushy tour guide seem bigger.  It certainly seems to express more than a regular over-the-shoulder shot.

The high level of detail in the background of this shot is also quite intriguing.  We can see the multiple curves in the ceiling drawn with great precision, as well as the off-colored bricks located in the ceiling.  Certainly when compared with “Krusty Gets Busted,” the level of draftsmanship seems to be much better.

12:50

Like the previous frame, the draftsmanship is the first thing to stand out from this frame.  There are details on the walls that make the frame look extremely murky, and even a gap in the doorframe on the right side of the frame that add to the pristine aesthetics of the frame.  Another major noticeable difference from the early Simpsons episodes is the use of shadow on the back of both Homer and Ned.  It helps make the frame looks more realistic and separates the two characters from the background.  Ned’s positioning above Homer places him in a position of power over Homer and his body language certainly conveys his frustration with Homer.

There is also an interesting triangular relationship that appears in this frame for the first time, which I have marked below:

The figure of Jesus in the background, with Ned and Homer in the foreground creates a play on the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Since triangles have not appeared in this episode, this religious connotation can be seen as quite important.  In fact, it certainly foreshadows Homer’s pending “Jerusalem syndrome,” when he believes himself to be the next messiah.

Despite the added triangle, the bulk of the shot still seems to be conveyed in lines.  Ned’s eyeline and hand-line include the portrait of Mary into the shot as well when extended across the frame.  Homer seems to be stuck in between traditional religious reverence which Mary represents and Ned’s aggressiveness.

Overall, there still seems to be a high level of interesting mise-en-scène in The Simpsons despite its so-called “Zombie” status.  While the show may have gotten into a bit of a rut due to its longevity, the visual aesthetics are still as fascinating as ever.

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