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Dec. 2 – The Simpsons – “Grift of the Magi”

grift_of_the_magi_promo

“Grift of the Magi” originally aired December 19, 1999

Talk to any fans of The Simpsons and they’ll likely have an opinion on when the show ceased to be great. For most, that occurs sometime after Season 8 of the now 30 season show. Some will argue that, while it may have been past its prime, it was still watchable, reliable, programming for a few seasons following that. Almost no one would consider Season 11, which today’s episode is from, as part of the show’s prime. Season 11 is when the show had moved on from being a character-driven show with occasional wacky antics to a more absurd show with frequent wacky or illogical actions. Such a recipe is fine for humor, but thin on substance. Nonetheless, there are a few gems or moments from Season 11 worth remembering, is “Grift of the Magi” one of them though?

Last year we covered the Season 7 episode “Marge Be Not Proud” for our Christmas countdown, and like that episode, “Grift of the Magi” is not really an obvious Christmas episode from the start. It begins rather innocuously when Bart and Milhouse, trapped in the house thanks to a hole in the ozone layer, decide to raid the closet of Homer and Marge to find something fun to do. They settle on dressing up in Marge’s clothes, complete with wigs that must have been remnants of old Halloween costumes or something, and bouncing up and down on her and Homer’s bed. Homer comes barging in demanding a non-gay explanation for what is going on having seemingly learned nothing from the events of “Homer’s Phobia” and receives a satisfactory explanation from Milhouse that the boys are drunk. In the commotion, Bart fell of the bed and landed on a bowling ball doing enough damage that he needed to be taken to the hospital.

barts broken butt2

Am embarrassing injury, to be sure.

Once there, Dr. Hibbert informs Bart that he’s fractured his coccyx and we all have a good laugh at the silly word. Unfortunately for Bart though this means he has to spend the next several weeks confined to a wheelchair while his butt-bone heals. Upon arriving at Springfield Elementary the next morning, he finds the school is not equipped to handle a wheelchair. Lisa confronts Principal Skinner about this federally mandated requirement and Skinner is forced to find a cheap solution to his problem so he does what any rational person would do – he goes to the mob!

crazy school

That’s some ramp.

Fat Tony is happy to provide the services of his construction company in order to construct a ramp to make the school handicap accessible. The company doesn’t stop at one ramp though, and rather turns the school into something pulled from the board game Shoots and Ladders. Nonetheless, Skinner is proud to unveil the new ramps several weeks later, but is dismayed to see Bart’s coccyx has healed at this point and he no longer needs the use of a wheelchair (how he attended school in the interim is not explained, the type of detail this era of the show could not care less about). Still, Skinner is at least upbeat about the fact that the school is now up to code, until the ramps all crack and crumble into dust. The mob and Fat Tony aren’t exactly known for honoring their work, and Skinner is forced to pay 200 grand for the construction anyways, bankrupting the school. It would seem the school would have had to pay that no matter what had come of the ramps, but again, it’s a detail the show cares little for.

The PTA assembles for an emergency meeting on how to fund the school in what looks like the home of the Flanders’. Moe is there for some reason and proposes funding the school via alcohol sales, but Skinner takes note of his Wonderbread bags for shoes and decides that’s probably not a good idea. Other ideas are proposed, and Marge declares them all terrible. It’s suggested to seek the aid of Springfield’s wealthiest resident, Mr. Burns, but Homer of all people rightly points out that Burns will release the hounds on anyone, especially charity. Skinner decides Burns is their only shot and devizes a scheme to present their proposal via a school play in hopes of warming the billionaire’s frozen heart.

simpsons play

Yeah, good luck with that.

Skinner and a handful of Springfield Elementary’s most recognizable faces show up at Burns’ mansion to perform their play. A very game and naive Burns seems to enjoy the play even though it’s rather obvious and direct about its intentions. A bunch of moronic kids with no schooling cause the death of a Burns dummy, with Ralph ripping off Stimpy to show up as Dr. Stupid to decapitate the Burns dummy while trying to save him following a car wreck. Burns is depicted as rather dim throughout and reacts surprised when Skinner confesses this was all a ruse to get Burns to save their school. A humorous trap door gag closes out the scene with Burns refusing to help.

hope and bart

Bart with his new teacher, Jim Hope.

Bart and Lisa, with school still closed, are at home watching the dregs of daytime television when a news report breaks in to declare Springfield Elementary has been saved. A company called Kid First has taken over the school and their president, Jim Hope (Tim Robbins), is interviewed by Kent Brockman as part of the report. He’s a happy and enthusiastic person who fires all of the old teachers and replaces them with Kid First employees. The kids return to school and find Hope and the new direction of the school encouraging, but they seem only interested in finding out what the children like and Hope even assigns Bart’s class to bring in their favorite toy. Lisa’s class is tasked with coming up with fun names for toys and Lisa proposes Funzo when forced to come up with something. She’s also reprimanded for doing math equations and forced to stay after school.

robo funzo

Run, Lisa! Run!

Bart drops in on his sister who’s being punished with Bart’s usual – the chalkboard gag. He enjoys the “ironing” of him getting A’s while Lisa fails and makes further demonstrations of his lack of proficiency with grammar. When he leaves he turns off the light on Lisa causing her to notice another source of light coming from behind the chalkboard. She creeps into the hall and finds a janitor’s closet next to the classroom. Inside she finds what looks like a viewing area for a focus group who have been spying on Lisa’s class via one-way glass. A weird, little robot emerges from some clutter and causes Lisa to flee in terror. That night, she returns with her parents and Chief Wiggum to show them her discovery, but when Wiggum opens the same closet he just finds janitor supplies.

guard coleman

The writers of the show don’t seem to think much of Gary Coleman’s talents as a security guard.

Back at home, Bart and Lisa are once again watching television (this feels like an older episode for the show, where the TV would often advance the plot) and see an ad for a Furby-like toy called Funzo. Lisa had proposed that same name in class prompting her and Bart to head over to Kid First’s headquarters to complain to Hope. There they encounter security guard Gary Coleman, played by himself. He’s a few prawns short of a galaxy, and as he complains on the phone to no one (Lisa points out it isn’t plugged in) Bart and Lisa are able to sneak by and into Hope’s office. There they encounter Hope and resident sycophant Lindsey Nagle and register their complaints about the company’s practices. Hope attempts to bribe away their concerns by offering them a free Funzo, and Bart is happy to accept while Lisa is left frustrated. Nagle confronts the ineffective Coleman to tell him he’s fired, but when he responds with a variation of his signature catchphrase from Diff’rent Strokes (“What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Lindsey Nagle?”) she laughs and re-hires him. Coleman is then seen very proud of himself as he confesses he knew exactly what she was talking about.

funzo attacks

Funzo’s true nature revealed. Notice the lack of snow out the window? This seems to happen a lot on this show.

Once again back at home, Bart is happily adding numerous Funzo accessories to his Christmas list while the doll makes suggestions along the way. Lisa confesses the furry little doll is rather cute, but remarks it could never take the place of her beloved Malibu Stacy. At the sight of the doll, Funzo grabs it and rips the head off tossing Stacy’s body into the nearby fireplace. It then targets Bart’s Krusty doll and the Simpson kids deduce the toy is programmed to destroy other toys and eliminate all competition. They decide it needs to be stopped and to do so they enlist the help of Homer.

grinch homer

Homer doing his best Grinch impersonation with surprising success.

The kids and their dad set out on Christmas Eve to steal all of the Funzo dolls, which Springfield has been sent into a frenzy over, from under the many Christmas trees in town. Homer dresses up as Santa and sneaks into the houses while Bart and Lisa distract the residents with Christmas carols. As Homer causes a commotion at the residence of the Hibbert family, Lisa and Bart are forced to sing ever louder to cover-up the noise. Even though Homer doesn’t seem like a particularly good Grinch, the trio are able to round-up a writhing sack of Funzos and head over to the Springield Tire Fire to dispose of them. As the toys are consumed by the flames, Coleman arrives in a Hummer to put a stop to this toy destruction. Lisa is forced to engage him in a philosophical discussion about the commercialism of Christmas, and even Bart and Homer are surprisingly equipped to do the same. Narrator Clarence Clemons pops in to let us know they talked all through the night and arrived at a compromise the following morning that seemed to satisfy all parties. When the remnants of a Funzo doll emerges from the flames like a Terminator, Coleman springs in with a karate kick to dispatch it, a callback to Coleman practicing his martial arts at Kid First earlier in the episode.

good fire talk

And they talked long into the night.

With the Funzo crisis apparently solved, Lisa takes note of a sullen Coleman as she and her family prepare to head home for Christmas. This prompts Homer to clumsily and sweetly invite Gary to dinner, only for him to shoot back he’s having dinner with George Clooney. Lisa says his name in an accusing tone, implying she doesn’t believe him, and he relents. Clemons returns as narrator to let us know Gary and The Simpsons had a wonderful Christmas dinner. Mr. Burns was also visited by three ghosts the night before which convinced him to fund the school with some money he found in his tuxedo. Moe is shown pulling his head out his oven after seeing what the world would be like without him and finds the will to live. He shows up at the Simpsons’ residence with a Christmas goose, and also to tell them he banged up Gary’s car in the driveway. This gives Coleman one last chance to use his catchphrase, before turning to the camera and repeating it happily to conclude the episode.

“Grift of the Magi” is a fast-paced episode of The Simpsons that really zips through its story with no time for a B plot. It doesn’t even become a Christmas episode until midway through, the only sign of the coming holiday being a throw-away line from Skinner during their presentation to Burns and a Christmas tree decoration in Bart’s classroom. The Try-N-Save also has a brief cameo which is notable because the store seems to only show up during Christmas episodes. The use of guest stars is done well and doesn’t really overshadow the episode, though Coleman’s presence is kind of sad in retrospect. During this time of the actor’s life, he ran into some legal trouble while working as an actual security guard. He had a lot of financial trouble and I wonder if he only agreed to make fun of himself here because he really needed the money.

coleman gifThe third act is where the Christmas stuff really comes in and it’s not exactly an original take. The episode focuses on the frequent toy crazes that come about every year placing the focus on the ugly side of Christmas commercialism, without resorting to being preachy. The episode doesn’t even really have much to say about it aside from acknowledging it happens since it glosses over whatever lesson the Simpsons learned. It works as a source of humor, though I wouldn’t call it clever. I did enjoy how the episode sneaks in quick parodies of the most frequently adapted Christmas stories at the end in Burns’ Scrooge-like turn and Moe’s It’s a Wonderful Life realization. It closes the only lasting plot-point of getting Springfield Elementary back up and running. The closing minutes are also intentionally corny for comedic sake, but the use of Coleman’s catchphrase still feels lame and lands with a dud. As a result, “Grift of the Magi” is not my favorite of The Simpsons Christmas episodes, but it’s not without its moments. It’s good enough.

The whole tone of this one is very of the era it’s from. It’s quite absurd, and even when you think it’s taking itself seriously it’s really not. Characters are constantly wavering between intelligent and dumb depending on what the scene is asking of them. It’s almost like they know they’re in a Christmas episode and are just going through the motions. It’s mostly funny, but also shallow, giving it a (dare I say?) Family Guy vibe.

If you’re looking to watch “Grift of the Magi” this holiday season then you have several options. It’s available on DVD with the rest of Season 11 and can probably be found for under 20 dollars. It was also released on the DVD Christmas With the Simpsons which is now long out of print, but not hard to come by. There’s also digital purchases available. If you prefer to pay as little as possible, you can watch the episode at any time with a cable package that includes the FX channel lineup. The app FXNow includes Simpsons World which is an on-demand streaming option for every episode of the show. If you don’t have cable, you can even get a free trial that’s plenty long enough to watch one episode. And lastly, the channel FXX is likely to air this episode more than once this month, so check their listings and setup your DVR to record it if you wish. I’ll try and return to this if I come across any air dates.

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#1 Best in TV Animation: The Simpsons

The_Simpsons_LogoCould it really be another? There have been funnier shows, better looking ones, and shows with better stories to tell, but it’s hard to argue against the show that made prime time animation a thing and has lasted over 25 years. The Simpsons are an American institution at this point. There are people in their twenties who have never had a year of their life pass by without a new season of The Simpsons. That’s pretty incredible. And say what you will about the quality of the show in recent times, there’s still a large body of work that’s among television’s best.

Let me actually start with the argument against The Simpsons being number one. Really, that argument boils down to the show not being very good for the last ten or fifteen years. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a fan of the show willing to argue that the best is happening right now. The general consensus seems to be that the show’s peak was probably seasons two through seven. Seasons eight through twelve have their moments, and from there the show has been in a downward spiral of re-used plot devices and poor gags. After all, how many times have Homer and Marge split-up during an episode only to patch things up in the end? Or how often has Bart pulled some elaborate prank only to feel remorseful after the fact? For me, the best era of The Simpsons probably ended with the season nine premiere, “The City of New York vs Homer Simpson.” It was a promising start to what ended up being a mostly mediocre season. I’d argue though that The Simpsons ever since has mostly remained mediocre and has never produced a truly awful season. Though I concede one should feel fortunate if there’s at least one memorable episode per year that isn’t a Treehouse of Horror installment.

The first family of animation: Maggie, Marge, Lisa, Homer, and Bart.

The first family of animation: Maggie, Marge, Lisa, Homer, and Bart.

Even if I were to go so far as to say that The Simpsons has been bad since season nine, that’s still nearly two-hundred episodes of quality prior to that. Such an episode total dwarfs almost every other series on this list with the only comparable being South Park (which has had its own peaks and valleys over the years). When The Simpsons was operating at its best it was sharp, funny, satirical, but with enough heart to make viewers care about the characters. It operated as a pretty typical sitcom, but one willing to take advantage of the animation medium. Characters never had to age and the town of Springfield could be filled with hundreds of characters without the need to expand the cast.

What made The Simpsons a hit was its edgier brand of humor when compared with other sitcoms. The Simpson family was dysfunctional. Bart and Homer were always at odds with Homer being a rather poor example for the kids. They weren’t as hopeless as Fox’s other family, The Bundys, but they certainly weren’t The Waltons (much to the dismay of then President George H.W. Bush). Bart dominated the early episodes, often getting into trouble and just being a general delinquent. Overtime, Homer moved more and more into the spotlight as his I.Q. seemingly deteriorated more and more each season. Lisa and Marge have mostly served in a supporting role with each representing a foil for the male members of the family. Often once or twice per season one of the ladies would assume a starring role. The supporting cast became robust and episodes would even follow someone from Springfield with The Simpsons serving in a supporting role. It’s hard to pick a best character from outside the family because there are just too many to choose from. The miserly Mr. Burns is so good as the boss character/villain of the series (boss as in Homer’s boss, not video game boss, though he did serve in that role too). Krusty is well known as Springfield’s resident celebrity as is the cartoon duo Itchy and Scratchy. Moe, Barney, Troy McClure (voiced by the late, great, Phil Hartman), Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and on and on it goes. I doubt there’s ever been a larger cast in the history of television.

The cast is positively ginormous.

The cast is positively ginormous.

Every cartoon needs its own look, and visually, the series has always been distinct with its yellow skin-toned characters and circular eyes. Everyone sports three fingers and a thumb and wears the same clothes every day. The quality of the animation was a bit crude in the early going with some of the colors in the first season looking washed-out. As the series became a success, more and more money was tossed its way and the quality of the animation has steadily risen each year. In fact, that’s one thing the current episodes can boast over the classics: better animation. The show is often bright, but not distractingly so, with a lot of Springfield often appearing kind of run down. The main theme of the show was composed by Danny Elfman and is about as well-known as any other television theme. Shockingly, Fox has been able to keep the same vocal talent onboard over the years, though it hasn’t always been easy. There was a time when it appeared as if the rising costs of production due to raises for the cast would eventually kill the series, but now that seems unlikely. Everyone is past their career prime at this point and there’s less of a call for them to leave the show to pursue something else. They’re also all nearing or beyond retirement age and I imagine The Simpsons is a nice source of income they can rely on now. They’re also not stupid and know the show has gone past its peak so they’re unlikely to demand significant raises going forward, unless they collectively all decide they don’t really want to continue working on the show and demand Fox make them an offer they can’t refuse. It must be noted though that The Simpsons hasn’t avoided some tragedy over the years (it would be almost impossible for it to considering how long it’s been on) losing two popular talents. Phil Hartmen, who voiced many supporting roles, was murdered in 1998 while Marcia Wallace, voice of Bart’s hard-luck teacher Mrs. Krabappel, passed away in 2013. Both actors had their respective characters retired upon their death.

A neat graphic of the principal voice talent and the recurring characters they voice.

A neat graphic of the principal voice talent and the recurring characters they voice.

Just as it’s hard to pick a favorite character, it’s hard to pick a favorite episode or even season. The show was so good and so consistent in the early 90’s that it seemed to turn out a classic every week. “The Telltale Head” from season one is arguably the show’s first classic, along with the very first episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open-Fire,” which is still the show’s best Christmas episode. “Bart the Daredevil” is another classic with an iconic moment even referenced in The Simpsons Movie. “Homer vs Lisa and the 8th Commandment,” “Bart the Murderer,” “Flaming Moe’s,” “Homer at the Bat,” “Marge vs The Monorail,” “I Love Lisa,” “The Last Temptation of Homer” and so many more. It truly is a daunting task to list the best of the best. Just coming up with a list of the best Halloween specials is hard (which The Simpsons must have a record for most Halloween episodes, easily)!

The Simpsons has been on television for so long that its legacy is likely going to be forever linked to its longevity. It has almost surpassed the show’s reputation for just being a damn good TV show. And how long will it go on? Who knows? The natural assumption would be 600 episodes, or maybe a 30th season, but it’s possible the show just goes on and on until someone too important decides to leave. It likely won’t go quietly as I imagine Fox would not allow the show to just end without making a big deal out of it, and they should. The show deserves as much. If it weren’t for The Simpsons it’s unclear what the landscape for adult cartoons would be. Sure, The Flintstones came first, but The Flintstones were not as nearly as impactful. While The Simpsons embraced the animated form, The Flintstones tried to be a typical sitcom that just happened to be animated. I may not watch The Simpsons on a weekly basis anymore, and really have not since the nineties ended. I still do not look forward to the day when The Simpsons has ended. It may no longer be the best show on television, but I still think the world is a better place with The Simpsons on at 8 PM every Sunday.


Lego Simpsons: The Kwik-E-Mart and Mini Figures Series 2

IMG_0445Last year, Lego released its first set and series of mini figures styled after The Simpsons, the animated institution that has anchored Fox’s Sunday Night lineup longer than Justin Bieber’s been alive. Debate the merits of the program’s more recent seasons all you want, but it couldn’t diminish my curiosity for a set of Legos based on the venerable series. The first set, predictably, was the home of the Simpsons while series one of the mini figures focused on most of the key characters from the show. Because the cast is so large, and the world so developed, there was already instant demand for a series two and Lego has delivered. And for the second construction set Lego tabbed Springfield’s most iconic convenience store:  The Kwik-E-Mart.

A few months ago I blogged on the subject of a series two for Lego and concluded that the Kwik-E-Mart was the most likely follow-up set. The only location that could possibly rival it is Moe’s Tavern, but Lego’s anti-alcohol policy makes that one a no-go right from the start. The Kwik-E-Mart may seem like a smaller set when compared with the Simpsons’ house, but Lego managed to stuff almost as many bricks into it as it did for the house, due in large part to all of the goods being peddled by Apu and his corporate masters. The set retails in the US for the same $200 the house retailed for, which felt high but wasn’t enough of a deterrent to keep me from purchasing it. In hindsight, it’s probably still too high but I think I actually like this one more than the Simpsons’ house, and I’ll tell you why.

imageThe Kwik-E-Mart is fairly large when compared with the house. It’s only one story high but the floorplan is more square and deeper than the house. It too features hinged portions to open it up for viewing/play and the roof lifts off for easy access to the store’s innards. Two of the store’s walls are lined with freezers, one of which features a decal of Frostillicus, and their construction is creative and adds depth. There’s a teeny, tiny, backroom that’s not true to the actual layout of the store, but I appreciate the fact that Lego at least attempted to include it. The other walls are lined with a cash machine, arcade games, and a coffee area. The central desk features a hot dog heater and a donut rack. Behind the desk is the all important Squishee machine and display cases come with copies of Angry Dad and other prints recognizable to Simpsons fanatics. All of the little details, like the puddle of Squishee on the floor or the different levels of the fruit punch and lemonade coolers are creative and extremely well done. Some of the aisle goods are a bit bland, but they’re the exception. Much of the detail of the freezer goods is almost wasted considering how unnoticeable it is and I love that Lego included a lone hot dog wedged between the counters. Adjacent to the store is a dumpster area and the roof features a crude representation of Apu’s garden. It may not come close to resembling the television garden, but it’s great that Lego included it.

A familiar site for Apu.

A familiar site for Apu.

The set comes packed with five mini figures:  Apu, Homer, Marge, Bart, Chief Wiggum, and Snake. Of the five, only Snake is exclusive to the set. Apu and Wiggum feature new outfits with Apu in clerk attire and Wiggum in a donut-stained suit. Homer, Marge, and Bart are essentially the same figures released in wave one of last year’s mini figure line. I understand that Lego likely feels compelled to include members of the Simpsons clan in any set it does, but it could have done something to make these three feel a little special. Marge and Bart could have had screen-printed jackets and Homer could have come with the giant hat he wore to spy on Apu for the local investigative news report. Or he could have been clothed in his clerk attire from the episode he took a part-time job at the Kwik-E-Mart. At any rate, it wouldn’t have required much effort to make these three figures unique but Lego opted not to. Also included is a squad car for Wiggum that can actually fit both he and Snake inside it. Accessories-wise, Lego doesn’t really do guns but there is a piece in the set that certainly resembles a gun (pictured) that Snake can utilize. It’s the same piece that’s also used to create Bart’s spray-paint. Marge has a basket, and Wiggum has some handcuffs. Nothing exciting, but certainly appropriate. The store has the better accessories, including a better looking Squishee cup (when compared with the coffee-like cup the mini-figure of Apu came with) and tiny cans of buzz cola.

image

It’s like kissing a peanut!

The Kwik-E-Mart, minor nitpicks aside, is a success for Lego and fans of the Simpsons. As for series two of the mini figures, it’s somewhat a success but not as obviously so. First, let’s talk about the bad. As expected, each member of the family gets another figure. For Homer, Marge and Lisa, they’re given more formal attire. For Homer and Marge it’s their date attire we see from time to time while Lisa is wearing the dress we most often see her wearing when the family attends church. Bart is dressed as his alter ego Bartman, which was expected. Joining him is Milhouse as Fall-Out Boy. I don’t think anyone was clamoring for another edition of Milhouse, but at least he pairs well with Bartman. Maggie is also back but this time she’s exactly the same as she was in series one. This is unacceptable. Lego could have at least put her in her white onesie she sometimes wears or her starfish snow suit. Unfortunately, Maggie comes packed with Santa’s Little Helper (who really should have been included with the house last year) so fans who want to have a complete Simpsons’ family will have to pick her up again (Lisa comes with Snowball). The other members of the wave include some familiar faces: Willie, Professor Frink, Dr. Hibbert, Pattie, Selma, Smithers, Hans Moleman, Martin, Comic Book Guy, and Mrs. Krabappel.  It’s easy to second-guess Lego here as should we really have received a Frink before a Skinner? Dr. Hibbert before Sideshow Bob? Complaints about the selection aside, most of the new characters look great. My only gripes there are with Hibbert and Frink’s lab coats, which are printed on instead of being actual pieces. Comic Book Guy also, like Wiggum from last year, appears too thin. I wish Lego would do something to make the really obese characters stand-out as such, but it’s apparent they’re not going to do that. The included accessories for each character make sense, with the Simpsons’ pets being the obvious stand-outs. Willie probably should have come with a rake, and Hans a cane, but that’s no great omission.

Like all of Lego’s mini figures, these are released in blind bags. Those willing to swallow their pride and hang out by the display case feeling-up the bags should have little trouble in coming away with a complete set with minimal doubles. I was hasty in my first attempt and mistook a Selma for a Pattie, a Hans for Martin, and a couple other screw-ups. I ended up keeping one double, the Hans, and made use of the many Barts that have been released by swapping heads and depicting Hans as he appeared in the episode “Burns’ Heir,” when he briefly joined the Simpsons.

The two sets side by side.

The two sets side by side.

In the end, this wave of figures and the Kwik-E-Mart are fun and rewarding for longtime fans. They also accomplish the goal of making fans hungry for a series three. There are numerous essential characters that have yet to be featured and still plenty of Homer and Bart variants that Lego could fall-back on. As for a third set, Springfield Elementary seems like a logical resting point, though some sacrifices would have to be made to keep it in scope with both the house and Kwik-E-Mart in terms of the amount of bricks. Other locations that could be featured are The Android’s Dungeon and Krusty Burger. Series one sold well, and as far as I know series two has continued that trend so a third seems likely. Hopefully Lego can come up with a worthwhile successor to the Kwik-E-Mart, but even if they don’t, there’s a good chance I’ll buy it anyways


Revisiting The Simpsons as Lego

Lego-The-Simpsons-episodeLast July, I made a post about 2014’s newest addition to the Lego family:  The Simpsons. Two of the world’s most popular brands teamed-up not just for a Lego-themed episode of the iconic television show, but also to bring several of the show’s many characters to life as little three inch plastic toys. The big addition was also the release of The Simpsons’ house in Lego form which covered the bulk of my post.

Well now it’s 2015, and if this Lego fan-blog can be believed, we’ve got a new round of Simpsons Lego merchandise to look forward to in the spring. And considering the snow is piled high outside my home right now, spring can’t come soon enough. I ended that post from last summer wondering about what was to come as it pertained to Lego and The Simpsons. There was the possibility that The Simpsons would be one and done, and had they been, it wouldn’t have been a slight. An entire wave of mini figures was devoted to the brand and The Simpsons house is positively massive by Lego standards. It’s questionable how well a brand that is mostly aimed at older individuals would sell as a toy, especially considering that the show is no longer as popular as it used to be. Truth be told, I have no idea if kids today watch The Simpsons as I did when I was young enough to be interested in Lego as a plaything. Still, I hoped we would see more from Lego concerning The Simpsons because there is so much left untouched as it stands now, and my Simpsons’ house could use some company.

Maggie doesn't have many looks on the show, but this is her most popular aside from her traditional blue onesie.

Maggie doesn’t have many looks on the show, but this is her most popular aside from her traditional blue onesie.

Here’s how 2015 is currently looking: We’ve got another wave of mini-figures on the way and at least one more building set. The lineup for mini-figure wave two is quite appropriate given what came out last year and what would be expected of a second wave. First off, there’s a new version for each member of The Simpsons family. Collectors and fans of the show are probably disappointed by that as we already have two versions for each as it is, but anyone who has ever followed a toyline as a kid or adult knows this is par for the course. Just like every wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures needs another version of each turtle, expect future waves of Simpsons figures to contain Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Maggie. I was kind of hoping maybe Lego would just include another Homer and Bart, given that they’re the two most popular, but oh well. At least we’re getting Bart as Bartman, a pretty popular version of the character, and while we don’t know what Lisa and Maggie will look like, both are being bundled with one of the family pets, Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II, who really should have been included with the house last year. Homer and Marge are both in their “Sunday best” so I take that to mean Homer’s blue suit and Marge’s long, green dress that the duo often wear to church. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lisa and Maggie are similarly dressed, though I’m kind of hoping we get Maggie in her starfish-like snow suit.

The remaining supporting characters rumored to be a part of wave two are a mix of popular characters and those that pair well with other figures. Martin naturally fits in with Bart, Milhouse and the other kids while Smithers can finally be placed alongside Mr. Burns. Groundskeeper Willie and Comic Book Guy are fan favorites and it’s nice to see the retired Edna Krabappel included as well. Some notable omissions though are still present. It’s nice to have Edna, but it would be better if we had a Principal Skinner to pair her with. Milhouse as Fall Out Boy is likely included to pair with Bartman, even though it doesn’t make much sense from the perspective of the show and it just makes me want a Radioactive Man (Rainier Wolfcastle) as well. Dr. Hibbert and Professor Frink have been around awhile, so I’m not disappointed to see them included but I personally would prefer Lenny and Carl. There are images of a head mold for the infamous criminal Snake floating around the internet and he is noticeably absent from the list for wave two. My guess is he is being bundled with the Kwik-E-Mart set which will probably also contain another version of Apu, or better yet, Sanjay or Manjula. I’m curious if they’ll sneak another version of one of the Simpsons into the set as well, maybe a version of Homer as a Kwik-E-Mart clerk.

Which brings me to the second part of this post: what I want going forward! We know we’re getting a Kwik-E-Mart which is both logical and welcomed, but we don’t have confirmation for anything else. So here’s a small list of ways Lego could bring Springfield to life (as lifeless plastic):

That's a pretty extreme reaction to Lego's choice to bypass you, Moe.

That’s a pretty extreme reaction to Lego’s choice to bypass you, Moe.

1. Moe’s Tavern: Let’s get this one out of the way upfront. I want it. You want it. Anyone who has any interest in Lego versions of Springfield wants it, but isn’t going to get it. Lego has a pretty strict policy against alcohol and certain forms of violence, and a Lego version of Springfield’s most famous dive is probably out of the question. I’m hopeful that Lego could compromise and give us mini-figures of Moe and his number one patron, Barney, even if they’re in less memorable versions. Moe could be in his casual attire he sometimes wears on the show while Barney could be depicted as either the Plow King or as he was when he got sober. If Lego really wanted to give us Moe’s Tavern while saving face they could always do Moe’s Family Restaurant, which is just Moe’s Tavern from when he decided to try to be more like TGI Friday’s. It’s better than no Moe’s at all!

2. The Android’s Dungeon:  I mentioned this one last year, mostly because it just makes so much sense given the market Lego is courting with The Simpsons. The Android’s Dungeon is the infamous comic book shop run by Jeff, aka: Comic Book Guy. It played a prominent role in the Lego episode of the show and would be a natural set to include a Radioactive Man to pair with Fall Out Boy. Lego could also bundle it with Homer as Angry Dad when he came to resemble the Incredible Hulk or versions of Bart and Lisa from the Halloween special where they became superheroes. I’m actually surprised this set hasn’t already been announced.

These are definitely going to be on display in my house come Christmas time. If I can wait that long.

These are definitely going to be on display in my house come Christmas time. If I can wait that long.

3. Springfield Elementary:  When Department 56, a company known for crafting ceramic Christmas Villages, partnered with The Simpsons last year to do a series of Simpsons inspired ceramics it selected The Simpsons house, the Kwik-E-Mart, and Springfield Elementary to focus on. Lego should do the same. The school would probably end up out of scale when placed beside 742 Evergreen Terrace, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. As long as it includes a classroom (complete with chalkboard gag), cafeteria, and Principal’s office I’ll be happy. It would pair extremely well with the children of Springfield already released as well as Groundskeeper Willie and Edna. Skinner could also be included along with Lunch Lady Doris and Superintendent Chalmers. Willie’s tractor and shed could be a part of the package and Lego could even include some of the students who have yet to be released. There could be a school bus with Otto. There are so many possibilities! Like the already released home for The Simpsons, this would be an expensive set but one I’d be willing to invest in.

4. Krusty Burger:  We already have a Krusty, so why not the fast food restaurant that bares his image? Krusty Burger would be an attractive piece and would fit in with the Kwik-E-Mart as a smallish-scaled release. It could include another version of Krusty, maybe Sideshow Mel, as well as Mr. Teeny and everyone’s favorite local teenager, Jeremy, the squeaky-voiced teen! If we need to toss-in another member of The Simpsons family, how about an obese Homer?

It sells itself.

It sells itself.

5. Vehicle sets:  New buildings are nice, and probably preferred, but if Lego wanted to do cheaper sets they could always turn to vehicles. One fans would be sure to eat up is Homer as Mr. Plow, one of the show’s most famous episodes. Naturally, that would pair well with Barney’s Plow King. A police cruiser for Wiggum that includes Eddie and Lou seems plausible. The Homer, with Herb Powell, would certainly be an interesting vehicle to behold. Any of Burns’ vehicles or the family’s station wagon would also make sense. If it can’t be included with Springfield Elementary, then Otto’s bus would also be a good one and would be another way to introduce more children of Springfield. Sadly, we probably would never get a Duff Blimp given the previously mentioned alcohol policy, but a man can dream!

There are countless other sets that would be welcomed but didn’t crack my top five. Ned’s house would make sense given it sits right next to The Simpsons’ and we’ve seen the interior of it many times on the the show. Something incorporating the Nuclear Power Plant would make sense, even if it’s just Homer’s control deck or Burns’ office. Burns’ mansion would also be interesting, complete with hounds, and a version of Lard Lad Donuts would fit in nicely with the other smaller builders I proposed. It’s probably unlikely that Lego supports The Simpsons line long enough for even half of these to get produced, but as long as it continues to sell well, Lego will likely keep putting out stuff. If you liked last year’s offerings and if the Kwik-E-Mart turns out well, let Lego know with your dollar that you want to see more of the many locations around Springfield!


Lego Simpsons

lego-simpsons-minifigs-01When I was a kid, the coolest and most colossal Lego sets were often pirate ships or castles. These things required hours upon hours to assemble and cost a lot of money. My parents, when looking to spend money on me at Christmas or for a birthday, opted for video games or a bicycle as a “big” present, not massive Lego sets. I had a cousin who was rather fortunate when it came to gifts. He usually had all of the best stuff before anyone else, be they new Ghostbusters vehicles, gaming consoles, and so on. He also had some of these massive Lego sets but anytime I would visit his home they were always just partially assembled, as if construction was started one day and then forgotten. I always wanted to get my hands on such a set (the commercials made them seem like they contained endless amounts of fun) but the closest I ever got was a lone keep that came with a dragon. It was rather small, but I liked it plenty and got many hours of enjoyment out of it. Prior to that, I only ever had a general set of Legos. They were housed in a hard, red, plastic case and I would just build whatever. There was an included book that contained plans for numerous objects but rarely did I ever make use of it. Typically, I would build a pick-up truck or Jeep but then wouldn’t want to disassemble it to create anything else.

Among those bricks was a lone Lego mini figure. This was the 1980’s so the mini figure might have been new, or maybe not. I had other generic Legos before this collection and never had I come across a little figure before. He was rather plain: a black shirt and blue pants with a black baseball cap. I thought he was pretty cool though and started noticing these more and more in toy stores and commercials. I especially liked that I could rip him apart and even take off his head without breaking him. It seemed absurd but was a lot of fun especially when I would later get mini figures dressed as knights and armed with swords to apply a purpose for figure decapitation. Over the years the mini figure has become quite popular and in the last dozen years or so the mini figure is no longer just a generic pirate or knight, it’s Luke Skywalker or Batman. The mini figure is now sold both with sets and separately, and for a brand, having a Lego version of one of your characters is like a new rite of passage. Lego, because of its popularity, is able to strike deals amongst rivals so that consumers are able to pit Lego Superman against Lego Hulk. Lego has spread to video games, and most recently, to film. The brand has never been more popular than it is today which is why we now have The Simpsons in Lego form.

I’m not sure how the agreement started, if those behind The Simpsons reached out first to Lego or vice versa, but The Simpsons entered the Lego universe in 2014 in both television and the material world. An episode of The Simpsons aired this past May featuring the show’s many characters in a Lego setting. Interestingly, these Lego versions of the Springfield residents were more faithful to the Lego brand than the actual Lego product which arrived at retailers a couple of weeks before the episode. The Lego version of The Simpsons characters are unique, though represent a new trend not solely reserved for The Simpsons brand, in that they make use of the standard mini figure body but have unique head pieces. This creates a more aesthetically pleasing mini figure, though it does disappoint the Lego purists out there. In my hunt for these, I encountered one girl who was a Lego fan, not really a Simpsons fan, who wanted a couple of Marge figures thinking her hair would just be a Lego piece that attached to the usuall Lego head piece. She was likely disappointed to find that it wasn’t when she got home.

Nelson doing what Nelson does.

Nelson doing what Nelson does.

Lego put out sixteen figures in May, and they are a collection of usuals and some that may have surprised fans:  Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Grandpa, Ned Flanders, Milhouse, Ralph, Nelson, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Mr. Burns, Krusty, Itchy, and Scratchy. A pretty solid collection, especially when one considers Lego’s policy of no alcohol references which may have played a role in not having a Moe or Barney. Itchy and Scratchy are the sort of oddball choices given that they’re cartoon characters in the show, but few are likely to complain. Because the show’s cast is so massive, there’s going to be characters missing and it would have been impossible to satisfy fans with just one wave (I’m not aware of a planned second wave, but these seemed to sell well so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more). Wiggum could certainly use some help on the force, while Flanders is missing his boys, and what’s a Burns without a Smithers? There’s tons of characters people likely want, so hopefully if a wave two does come around Lego doesn’t waste slots on variants of Homer and Bart.

Each mini figure comes in a plastic pouch that conceals the identity of the figure inside. Retailing for about four dollars, some may be willing to give in to chance and pick them blind but anyone with some extra time and a little determination can prod at the bags and figure out who’s in each one. The head sculpts of the figures make this easy, but also the included accessories. Bart’s skateboard is pretty easy to pick out, as is Nelson’s baseball bat. The hardest ones for me were Ralph and Milhouse as both characters are the same size and their accessory is a flat square Lego piece. This meant finding the head, and being extra certain. I ended up with three Ralphs before I found a Milhouse. The accessories are pretty cool though. The piece that comes with Ralph and Milhouse is a bit overused, but they’re all printed differently and contain some classic show references such as Ralph’s “I Choo Choo Choose You” valentine and Grandpa comes with his newspaper with the headline “Old Man Yells at Cloud.” Homer comes with a unique donut piece and TV remote and Burns has a transparent Lego head piece with Blinky the fish printed on it. Maggie has Bobo the teddy bear, and Itchy and Scratchy each come with an instrument of violence. All of the figures look really good, the only one that looks off to me is Wiggum because he should be morbidly obese. Instead, he uses the same body as every other figure with no attachments to make him look fatter. Homer, since his shirt is white, has a line printed on him to mark his bulging stomach, but since Wiggum wears dark blue, the same technique doesn’t really work.

If Lego had stopped there with The Simpsons it still would have been cool, but they didn’t. Enter The Simpsons House!

IMG_0153

Consisting of over 2500 pieces, the home of The Simpsons is a large set that is a site to behold. I couldn’t resist the call

The Couch.

The Couch.

of it, even if it was excessive, and purchased my own set. The set contains bricks to construct the house and also Homer’s famous pink car complete with dents. Included with the set is another version of The Simpson family plus another Flanders. Each figure differs slightly from the stand-alone ones; Homer is dressed for work and Marge has an apron, Ned is dressed for grilling while Bart is missing his slingshot from his back pocket. Most also have half-closed eyes while Maggie has a more neutral expression compared with her other figure’s concerned look. The differences are minor, and while some may see this as a missed opportunity to get more figures, Lego pretty much had to include a set of the family in both the house set and the retail figures. Perhaps the addition of Flanders could have been re-evaluated. Lego could have just made him exclusive to the house set and put someone else in the mini figure release. The only thing I feel they really messed up on was not including Lego versions of Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II. Both pets are featured on the box as part of the family but are strangely absent from the set.

The cut-away view of the house.

The cut-away view of the house.

Lego had a somewhat difficult task of creating a three-dimensional set of an animated home. Early in the show’s life, the house didn’t seem to always have a defined layout but over the years the animators and artists have clarified this more. The first floor is pretty standard though: through the front door is a short hallway with a closet at the end and stairs on the right. To the left is the den, to the right the dining room. Up from the den is the living room which has an entryway on the top right which goes into the kitchen which wraps around to connect with the dining room. On a few occasions there’s been a bathroom on the first floor as well as a rumpus room. There’s also a basement entrance somewhere and the door to the garage. Lego, perhaps fearing the set would be much too large, chose not to really adapt the true layout of the house and attempted to just hit on the important stuff.

The other side of the cut-away. The room on top is removable.

The other side of the cut-away. The room on top is removable.

From the outside, the house looks pretty great, almost perfect. There’s the bay windows on the front, the ancient TV antennae on the roof, and even the chimney looks good. Veteran viewers will notice that while the garage is in the right place, the house doesn’t wrap around behind it like on the show. This becomes a bit of an issue when constructing the second floor as it’s pretty cramped. Aside from that though, the house looks great. Inside on the first floor there are just two rooms: the kitchen on the left and living room on the right. The living room is kind of an amalgamation of the den and living room from the show. The famous couch and TV are present (modeled after the old tube TV from the earlier seasons) from the living room, while the rug and piano are there from the den. Missing is the fireplace since the chimney is on the other side of the house and there’s no ceiling fan, as well as other things. There’s a closet of sorts tucked behind the stairs where

Marge can store her vacuum, and the sailboat picture is above the couch where it should be. Breaking from logic though, is the entryway to the garage being right in the living room with no door to separate it. This doesn’t make much sense and is kind of disappointing. Over in the kitchen, the color scheme is pretty faithful to the show between the two-toned floor and the pink and orange cabinets. The included table is kind of odd looking but more odd is the absence of a fridge. How are The Simpsons supposed to live without a refrigerator? Plus that ugly green fridge is kind of iconic, isn’t it? The kitchen is also pretty cramped, especially with the table in it, but space had to be sacrificed in order to make the living room larger.

 

A bird's eye view of Bart's room and part of Lisa's, as well as the garage. Grandpa is apparently over for a visit.

A bird’s eye view of Bart’s room and part of Lisa’s, as well as the garage. Grandpa is apparently over for a visit.

On the second floor, the biggest casualty is Maggie as she doesn’t get her own room. Instead, she gets a crib in Homer and Marge’s bedroom. Bart and Lisa’s rooms are done rather well with Bart’s shining brighter because his personality is captured well. Homer and Marge have a larger room but it’s strangely empty and doesn’t connect to the bathroom. The second floor should have two bathrooms, but there’s only one and it’s too small to even get a bathtub. The roof rests right on top of the house and garage as opposed to snapping on so that users can easily remove it to access the rooms underneath. Bart’s room and the top of the stairs also just rest on top of the second floor so it too can easily be lifted out to access the living room while the whole house can open vertically for a cut-away look at everything. The garage is roomy enough to fit the car in comfortably, and even includes numerous power tools for Homer to neglect. Outside the house is the mailbox as well as Ned’s grill. There’s also two lawn chairs and Bart has a skateboard ramp. The wife and I assembled the entire house over the course of about a week. We didn’t do construction on it daily and took our time though impatient builders could likely put this thing together in a day with some determination. The instructions were easy enough to follow and thankfully only a few stickers are involved (I assume hatred for stickers is pretty much universal amongst Lego builders).

We're all filthy perverts for looking at this.

We’re all filthy perverts for looking at this.

It’s easy to nitpick this set because it’s not all that faithful to the show and the show has been around for over twenty years. Fans of The Simpsons are intimately familiar with how the house is supposed to look so it must have been intimidating for Lego to even tackle it. Inaccuracies and all, this is a set worth investing the time in for Simpsons enthusiasts. Lego did do a good job of getting the smaller details right like Bart’s half-open desk drawer and the “Property of Ned Flanders” sticker adorning the air conditioner hanging off the house. It’s my hope that Lego does not stop here. We already have an Apu mini figure so how about a Kwik-E-Mart? And it would be a shame if The Android’s Dungeon were not created, at the very least, as a Comic Con exclusive or something (I assume Moe’s Tavern is a no-go considering the alcohol policy). Lego could easily milk this franchise for a lot more, so we’ll see what the future holds, but if this is all we get then at least it looks cool and The Simpsons have a place to sleep and watch TV.