The Three Fingers of Evil

It doesn't take much, it really doesn't. I've destroyed human civilisation before and I'll do it again.

I remember watching the temples of Atlantis topple into the sea. Stone towers scattered to the wind like sand castles against my mighty pincer wotsnames. I cogitated for some time over the matter of crushing civilisation back then, but it was the excessive and indulgent use of oak paneling and brick-effect walls in Atlantean sitcoms that finally convinced me to do it.

Like I say, it doesn't take much.

You might be interested to know that just about the only thing that has saved you from destruction for this long is The Simpsons. Ever since about season two, when it stopped being a bit wonky looking, and they introduced the rest of Springfield, and Homer went from being a crap drawing of Fred Flintstone to being the finest fictional character in the history of literature - ever since then, The Simpsons has been just about flawless. For who knows how many episodes, The Simpsons has operated at breakneck speed without a single duff joke. Not a one. Morally impeccable and politically unshakable it has provided the higher moral ground, the very conscience of an entire culture on every issue known to western man. There is nothing The Simpsons has never spoken out about and it has never been wrong. Culturally, politically and historically its importance can never be underestimated. It is without equal the best fictional audio visual media product your species has ever produced, and as close to absolute perfection as you can ever reasonably expect to see on a syndicated network. Until recently.

Fact is, it's gone shit. You know it. I know it. They know it. We all know it. Most of you 'know' this because you read it somewhere (possibly just now) but one or two of you may have actually taken the liberty of forming your own opinion or analysing something and realised for yourself that, yes, The Simpsons really has gone a bit wank. Those of you with souls and hearts and brains will have noticed that The Simpsons has become what most other people thought it always was, that it has finally bought into its own P.R.

There is an episode of Futurama (we'll come to that show in a minute) where Bender is exploring a heap of garbage from the twentieth century and comes across a Bart Simpson doll which exclaims the legend 'eat my shorts'. Bender then eats the shorts as requested and responds with a Homeresque 'Mmmm shorts'. Genius. Says it all.

The sad thing is that that is precisely how most people will remember The Simpsons after they finally stop repeating it (whenever the hell THAT will be).

"Hey, its the Simpsons! TV's most dysfunctional family. Look at Homer, will he ever stop eating? And that Bart, what a scoundrel. Hey Lisa, no one listening to your left wing propaganda? Never mind, go play your 'saxomaphone' and you'll feel just fine! And hey, here comes Marge. Her hair sure is tall!"

No. I think not. This a lie. That show never existed. The truth is that The Simpsons has sat upon the throne of Fox primetime for the best part of two decades telling the world, and the American public specifically, the truth about EVERYTHING. Unashamed unafraid unabated truth and honesty. The true face of the devil, the monster revealed in all its colours. And it has showed you so clearly and so loudly and so often that you have never dared to listen, but nor have you dared to turn away - because you know it is the truth. Irrespective of its corporate ties or the boundaries of scheduling, The Simpsons has repeatedly forced open your eyes and pulled the rug out from under you and always with a smile - but all most of you have ever dared to admit to seeing cast before you is some jolly little cartoon sitcom about a stupid fat guy and his wacky kids. This show has never existed, not since the Tracy Ulman Show, it is an urban myth. A corporate myth. A lie.

But lately that myth has been trickling its way into reality. The marketing lies about The Simpsons circa 1989 are fast becoming the true face of The Simpsons today. Homers increasing dementia, for example, has peaked to the point where he is now an outright psycho case. But not a well rounded or thought out one, just a lazy comedy catalyst for dysfunctional one liners and 'wacky' moments. He has gone full circle and become once more that frightening rubber mouthed Flintstone clone of yesteryear. The whole family have become 'dysfunctional'. This is something that was never previously the case. They live in a dysfunctional world but they have always been a perfect family, an impeccable close knit unit that has survived hundreds of ordeals and near death experiences. And therein lies the genius. The Simpsons have always been able to say just what they damn well please about YOU (yes you) because,

"hey, they're so dysfunctional! That Bart Simpson. Why should I pay any attention to anything he has to say. Underachiever and proud of it, right?"

WRONG. Its just easier to shrug of the horrors they unmask if you believe that.

So The Simpsons has gone a bit off kilter. But more to the point duff jokes have been slipping in. It's getting hit and miss. Hit and miss is the best most comedy shows can hope for, but for The Simpsons this is unacceptable, and a sign of its imminent demise. What has kept the show so great for so long is simply it's impeccability. Because The Simpsons has always been better than EVERYTHING else, it was in a position to say what it damn well liked about anyone and anything. Because it was better written and better made and smarter and funnier than every other show in the world it could cut you open, right there on prime time and you just plain didn't have the moral ground to argue. You could sue, but you couldn't argue.

But now those days are gone and it has lost that high ground and it's not in the position to take the piss anymore and you have nothing left to act as a conscience for the nation and your civilisation is fucked and nothing can save you and there's nothing you can do about it. So there.

Unless you count Futurama. The fact that Futurama is set in the future is neither here nor there. It provides an excellent catalyst for humour and the show depicts probably the most rounded and thought out depiction of the future in the history of sci-fi writing, but you almost expect that. Futurama is no more about sci-fi or about 'the future' than The Simpsons is about a 'dysfunctional family'. That's just backstory. The truly brilliant thing about Futurama is that it made a leap of logic that no other 'adult' cartoon has taken - and NOT made a show about a frigging family.

Futurama is NOT to The Simpsons what The Jetsons is to The Flintstones. The difference is more like that between, say, Rosseane and Friends. Futurama is unique because it is a cartoon about the so called 'family of the 21st century' a circle of friends. This and this alone allows the writers to explore whole new issues and regions of society that they never could on The Simpsons. No one in the cast of characters has any real bonds or responsibilities which makes for (and we thought it couldn't be done) even faster, sharper, more relevant and (most significantly) sexier content. Couple this with the fact that the show got to START its life with a quality of writing that it took The Simpsons ten years of hard work to achieve, and you have the makings of what could be an absolutely legendary show.

But now Futurama's been quasi-canceled, or at least murdered by scheduling, while you keep The Simpsons 'alive' on a fucking drip. You canceled the WRONG FUCKING SHOW you dippy bastards. Now what the fuck are you gonna do?

I know! We'll do a spin off. We'll hire even MORE of the best writers away from The Simpsons and get them to work on 'The Homer Show'. Only we'll call it Family Guy. That'll be a REALLY fucking brilliant idea.

We'll get The Simpsons, right, an intricate and multi layered show that functions simultaneously on several different levels - then extrapolate ONE element from the show and try to pad it out into an entire series. Hey, it worked really BADLY on The Critic, maybe it'll work even worse this time.

And guess what? It does! It works really REALLY badly! Who knew?

Do you remember years ago there was an episode of The Simpsons which featured a spoof educational film about the constitution? I'm sure you can remember it if you try really hard. Hell, it has probably been repeated somewhere in the world sometime in the last forty five minutes. Anyway, this episode featured an 'educational film' which was drawn and animated intentionally to look like some sort of retarded seventies Terry Toons looking drug commercial style shite, and featured a very authentic hideous round faced child and a 'talking constitution'. Now, one day it would appear that somebody somewhere in the world looked upon this charade and thought,

"Hey, that spoof seventies cartoon with the intentionally insipid bubble faced characters and those detestably ugly sideways mouths, that's a great look for a new show!"

Now experience might lead you to assume that such a blissfully uninformed 'creative' decision could only have come from some long toothed TV executive with his head so far down the u-bend looking for his secret stash that you couldn't really expect him to tell what decade it is anyway. But if the insipid P.R myths about the show are to be believed (which they aren't) then it would appear that the entire show was presented fully formed to the networks by some starry eyed young independent cartoonist name of Seth Mc Farlane.

This is either true or it isn't. If it isn't, and the truth is that young Seth turned up with a half-arsed idea for a show at a time when the networks were desperate for something new, so they took it upon themselves to pimp him as 'the new Matt Groening' then fucked with the premise while he played poster boy - then that's almost okay. That's no more or no less than you would expect. But if it IS true, and the little cunt really did 'develop' the entire premise on his own, then one is left with no option but to reason that he must be the very spawn of Satan himself.

Why? Well, let's look at the evidence shall we? Let's just assume for a minute that we owe these people nothing and that we are perfectly within our right to dissect and analyse the things they feed into our homes. With that in mind let's start off by admitting to ourselves that this 'family guy' character, Mr so-called 'Peter Griffin'(what an exciting name), is nothing more than an ungodly hybrid of Homer Simpson and Hank Hill from King of the Hill and that that's all there is to it. That's all he is, in character and appearance. No more no less. If you ran a morphing sequence between a picture of Homer and a picture of Hank, there would be 'Peter' slap bang in the middle. Round eyes. Three fingers. Pink. That's it.

King of the Hill is valid as a series because it dissects the American family in a much more sedate, and in many ways subtler way than The Simpsons. Nothing particularly outlandish ever happens in King of the Hill, which gives it the opportunity to explore ideas that don't fall within The Simpsons range simply because a certain pacing is expected of it. In many ways King of the Hill has taken up the role of being the 'cartoon about a family' from The Simpsons, which has gone on to cover a much broader social spectrum. But Family Guy sits, by design, between these two stools. It is at the same time more sedate and family oriented than The Simpsons, but more 'wacky' than King of the Hill - which effectively means it serves no Goddam purpose.

But it doesn't end there. The elder son is a non-specific dufus, the wife is indistinguishable from the wife in King of the Hill, and the daughter is a cut and paste copy of DARIA of all things. Now THERE was a turgid piece of crap if ever there was one (and there was). But my main bone of contention (no pun intended) is with the bloody dog. The dog and the bloody baby.

For a start let's get one thing out of the way. In the same way that Dad IS Homer/Hank, and the that the daughter IS Daria and that their neighbors ARE Hanks neighbors - the baby IS Brain from Pinky and the Brain. Small, posh, evil, plans for world domination. Classic cartoon stereotype. Lazy comedy shorthand. The difference between the baby and Brain, tough, is that Brain starred in his own show , the premise of which was to document his repeated failed attempts at world domination. Family Guy, on the other hand, has its own very different agenda and so can only dedicate so much time to the whole 'evil baby' notion. Subsequently, inevitably, they can't keep the 'evil' motif going much beyond the first episode and the character soon deteriorates into being nothing more than a slightly upity British stereotype - about as 'evil' as Gomez Addams.

Now with that said let's examine the set up between the baby, the dog and the rest of the family.

Comedy shorthand number 1. The baby can talk but the adults can't understand/ignore what the baby says ala Rugrats, Look who's Talking and so forth.

Comedy shorthand number 2. The dog can talk to the baby, because everybody knows that small children can talk to animals and see ghosts and stuff.

Comedy shorthand number 3. The dog can talk. Its a talking dog. It acts like a human and it can talk.

ERROR. ERROR. A COMEDY PARADOX HAS OCCURRED!

Anybody who has ever understood a damn thing about comedy will realise that this set up has one conceit too many. You can't have a talking baby AND a talking dog. You JUST CAN'T. Its the rules. This is not bending the rules this is simply not understanding them. By establishing too many abstracts in the basic set up you will reduce the impact of any new rogue elements introduced for comic effect.

Furthermore you can't have a baby that can 'sort of talk' co-existing with a dog that can talk proper. You can't have a baby from Rugrats AND the dog from Dilbert. It's one thing to make a cut and paste show with no original content, but its just plain incompetence to mix your stolen elements badly.

"But Family Guy is so much more edgy than The Simpsons. It pushes it that little bit further."

Fuck off. If this is what you believe than you have truly never understood a damn thing that was presented to you and you don't deserve the hundreds of hours of honesty that The Simpsons has generated for your benefit. Family Guy is about as 'edgy' as the fat round bouncy ovular cretins that populate its cast. It lacks the pure unabated rage and anger that drives South Park (which contrary to inherited belief is BETTER than it used to be) and it doesn't have the authority of The Simpsons as 'big king of culture'. In fact Family Guy is little more of than a hybrid of those two shows at their worst.

There was a period a few years ago when South Park, originally a low budget high brow monster of a show built on furious rage and an impeccable political stance on all matters, deteriorated into an elaborate 'fart fest' because a new much wider demographic of morons had tuned in, who never really understood the show and just wanted to see what 'shocking' thing they would say next. The 'South Park phenomenon' peaked with the cinematic movie, where Matt and Trey got all that crap out of their system, and after that most people stopped tuning in and the audience was reduced to its original core. Subsequently, free from the bonds of popularism, South Park has become sharper and angrier and better than it as ever been before.

But Family Guy, shite that it is, seems to have learned nothing from this and is content to be predictably 'sick for sicks sake' in the manner of South Park at its worst. Mix this with the hit and miss inconsistency of latter day The Simpsons and you have yourself a show. Sort of. Sick, my friends, is easy. 'Sick' humour is what you do when you can't think of an actual joke, or when you are ignorant to the true significance of an issue. If a baby shits its pants in the middle of church service this is arguably very funny, but it does not make the baby an anarchic comedy genius.

"But I like Family Guy, Mantis. It's funny. You can't tell me it's not funny."

Yes I can. Because it isn't. Sure, some of the gags are quite mirthsome, but when you've stolen The Simpsons quickfire format, and a bunch of its writers, you are going to come up with a good joke once in a while. Law of averages. But just because something is funny, it doesn't mean that it IS funny. Farting is funny. Falling over is funny. Only it isn't. None of the gags in Family Guy have any weight to them. For the most part Family Guy is comfortable to rely on the sort of post-modern pop culture gags that The Simpsons would only use if they had two or three self-defacing gags to back up and justify such comedy laziness - and then it uses them to ice over a bunch of old comedy storylines that (and I'm getting sick of saying this) The Simpsons has already done better, faster, and sandwiched in between about three other story lines in the course of the same episode. Family Guy is just Animaniacs with dick jokes.

Postmodernism, like 'tasteless' humour, is piss easy. Which is why Futurama uses its 'celebrity head in a jar' motif with such careful and selective irony. If all that was required for one to be funny was to list a bunch of stuff and have scenes that look a bit like scenes from other things, then Scary Movie would be the height of cinematic achievement and The Critic would have lasted more than ten episodes. But this not withstanding, even when there IS a good joke on Family Guy, it comes across as hollow to anyone with a soul because it's just not in a position to be funny. The show IS a derivative piece of corporate crap with no role on God's green Earth, so its really has no moral stance to mock anybody else. Comedy is the weapon of choice for defacers of falsehood, and to abuse it is an affront to decency. It's like back in the day, when Bill Hicks used to have some questionable pro-smoking material, but he used it to segue into material about the hypocracy of Governmental anti-drug campaigns and, moreover, you knew there was a certain helplessness behind it. You knew that Bill feared that the smoking would one day get the better of him, and he played on this and it made the delivery stronger. But Family Guy, sorry, its a bit like Saddam Hussein making Hitler Jokes. Just doesn't really come off.

"Oh but it knows what it is. It's quite self aware"

And that makes it alright does it? Are you 'aware' that you are a complete bastard? After all The Simpsons has done for you. After all its hours of service this is how you repay it? By tuning into this tiresome aestheticaly repulsive rubbish? Well congratulations. Well done. You now OFFICIALLY can't differentiate between genius and crap. Here's your certificate to prove it. Its a magical talking certificate that sings a faux educational seventies style song about what a cunt you are. Isn't it cheeky.

"Hey, chill out Mantis, it's only a cartoon."

Yes, it's only cartoon, and it's also the only thing you've got left. The news is full of lies, documentaries are full of lies, most live comedians have to be very careful what they can say on air and, frankly, that only leaves cartoons to tell you what's going on in the world. Cartoons have been parodying the politics of the day for centuries. It's an age old tradition. People can take it from cartoons. The truth, in all it's horror, seems easier if it comes from the mouth of a wacky drawing - it lightens the load. So cartoons, and cartoon makers have a God damn responsibility to do what they are doing and do it right. And I'm sorry, but Family Guy just isn't down with the plan.

A hundred years from now, when your civilisation has crumbled, you better pray that future generations find a collection of Simpsons DVD box sets before they find anything else, because maybe then your crummy society might actualy be remembered fondly. Your children's children will watch The Simpsons on their post-apocalytic wooden DVD player and they'll think:

"You know, some people back then actually knew what the fuck was going on. They weren't all just a bunch of stupid pig ignorant monkeys with their hands covering their eyes and ears."

On the other hand, if they find the remnants of a Family Guy box set they are likely to curse your souls and spit on your graves. And rightly so.

The Atlantis Mantis.

P.S. 2DTV is also shite.

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