Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Unreliable Nathan

In addition to keeping up with the latest on the tube (it's not a tube any more, is it?), the A.V. Club regularly discusses classic TV shows.  They've been working their way through The Simpsons and are now up to season 4 (twenty years ago!), where the show really hit its stride.

Nathan Rabin just reviewed the second episode, "A Streetcar Named Marge," which was preceded by "Kamp Krusty" and followed by "Homer The Heretic," all classics.  Later that season came "Mr. Plow," "Marge vs. The Monorail" and "Last Exit To Springfield," to list some highlights. Rabin seems to agree that "Streetcar" is a classic, but his review still has some odd stuff in it.

For instance, he says of Llewellyn Sinclaire, the Jon Lovitz-voice community theatre director, that he's "once one of the greatest one-off Simpsons characters of all time." Okay, this is his big episode, but he also makes quick appearances in "Sweets And Sour Marge" and "Flaming Moe."

In the subplot, with Marge in a play, Maggie is left at the Ayn Rand School Of Tots.  Rabin notes:

...pacifiers are seen as signs of weakness and consequently confiscated. In a parody of The Great Escape, Maggie eventually liberates the pacifiers and shares them with her imprisoned brethren, an act of altruism Rand herself surely would have frowned upon.

Even as a cheap swipe at Rand it doesn't make sense.  The pacifiers were confiscated.  Rand would almost certainly approve someone returning them to their rightful owners.

But these are small, almost ridiculous, nits to pick.  The thing I really noticed was this:

Watching “A Streetcar Named Marge” today it’s important to remember that the episode came out years before Waiting For Guffman and Hamlet 2, at a time when parodies of egregiously awful community theater and questionable musical adaptations weren’t such well-worn fodder for comedy.

Come on, making fun of bad acting, local theatre and dumb musicals has been a mainstay of comedy for I don't know how long.  Off the top of my head, in the popular 1980s stage production of Nicholas Nickleby, the first half climaxed with a ridiculous provincial theatre production of Romeo And Juliet (invented for the play, not in Dickens). Then there's Forbidden Broadway, the revue that mocks bad musicals, which opened in the 80s and is still updating itself.  There's also Soapdish (1991), which has a bit about a disastrous dinner theatre production of Death Of A Salesman.  And I don't think a TV season has gone by where at least one sitcom didn't do a takeoff on bad community theatre.

I'm sure readers can think of numerous examples that predate The Simpsons.  It's not that The Simpsons did it, but that they did it so well.  In fact, they've done similar things a number of times since, but rarely has it been so memorable.


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