Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Simpsons in hi-def: Sharper image

In case you missed it, "The Simpsons" went hi-def tonight, and the producers used the shift as an opportunity to rejigger the opening credits for the first time in the show's history years. You can watch, ironically, a low-quality version of it right now on YouTube, and the higher-quality version should be up on Hulu by morning.

As the episode itself wasn't anything worth writing about (except for me to lament the decision that "That '90s Show," like Armin Tanzerian, is something they'll pretend didn't happen, and that Homer and Marge still went to high school in the '70s), I'll just say that, like any good "Simpsons" nerd, I went frame-by-frame through the whip-pan across the center of town and was pleased with most of the choices of characters with one exception: what's the Roy Scheider circa "All That Jazz" lookalike character doing there?

44 comments:

Andrew said...

Of all the sight gags, my favorite was the image of Ralph making a sandcastle on Frank Grimes's grave.

Anthony Foglia said...

YouTube has a high resolution version also. Click the "watch in high quality" text just under the video.

Anonymous said...

im just goin to thorw this out there even this ahs nothing to do with the simpsons, but i figured if anybody knew it be u guys, do u know if the shield is gettin a box set release any time in the next year or so/

David J. Loehr said...

[W]hat's the Roy Scheider circa "All That Jazz" lookalike character doing there?

Clearly, it's "Show time."

Seriously, though, I wonder if that's a little meta-comment...

Pale Writer said...

Aw. Spiderpig is there. Or Harry Porkins if you prefer.

Carla said...

'what's the Roy Scheider circa "All That Jazz" lookalike character doing there?'

http://www.tvsquad.com/2008/03/30/the-simpsons-smoke-on-the-daughter/

(mebbe? dunno)

Hillary said...

Is the long, extended, couch-chase scene now part of the credits each week? Or was this a special occasion version?

Tom E said...

Alan, I wonder if you have an opinion on this philosophical question:

If a brilliant show runs far too long, do its later, less brilliant seasons take something away from its earlier glory?

I ask this in regards to The Simpsons, because it's tenure in the 90s was so brilliant, funny, groundbreaking, etc. etc. As everyone knows, however, it's been subpar for a long time now. And it doesn't seem like it's anywhere close to wrapping up and calling it quits. Thus, when it's all said and done, the "bad" Simpsons seasons will probably (if they don't already) outnumber the "good" and "brilliant" seasons.

I remember watching reruns of the show on Fox circa 1999/2000, when virtually every syndicated episode was golden. Now, however, it's about a 50/50 chance you'll get a classic episode or a warmed-over "Family Guy" knockoff. I feel like this will inevitably damage the show's reputation for future generations, who will not have any easy way to distinguish between early Simpsons and late Simpsons. Rather, it may just seem like a good, but uneven, show.

(You have to give Jerry Seinfeld props for understanding this phenomenon and putting Seinfeld to rest before it suffered a similar fate. Now, reruns of Seinfeld are always fun to watch because the quality across all of its seasons is almost uniformally high.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

http://www.tvsquad.com/2008/03/30/the-simpsons-smoke-on-the-daughter/

(mebbe? dunno)


Oh, that's definitely where the character appeared. My question was why he gets an opening credits appearance, when everybody else is either a character who appears frequently, or, in the case of Frank Grimes, appeared in one of the show's most memorable (and polarizing) episodes ever.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Is the long, extended, couch-chase scene now part of the credits each week? Or was this a special occasion version?

I'm sure the latter.

But yet another advantage of the switch is that they'll have to come up with all-new couch gags -- that, or re-animate a bunch of the old ones, which I imagine is such a pain they may as well just make new ones.

Bryan said...

it's about a 50/50 chance you'll get a classic episode or a warmed-over "Family Guy" knockoff

Say what you want about the current quality of the show- and it's definitely, more often than not, been sub-par for the last few years- but The Simpsons could never EVER be a Family Guy knockoff.

First of all it's impossible by definition. Secondly, I agree, Family Guy is often hystyrically funny, and I watch it regularly, but it's not brilliant satire (as the Simpsons has been in the past)

Family Guy for all it's gut wrenching humor really has not redeeming qualities - it's just comedy porn.

Bobman said...

I wouldn't say the Simpsons are so much sub-par right now as they are just "par", where the great episodes of the 90's were well ABOVE (well, below if you're really following the golf analogy) par.

I mean, the modern episodes are not as good as the great ones of the 90's, but they're also not terrible - they keep your interest, have some clever lines, make you laugh once or twice. It just suffers from once being great and having to try to live up to that image.

Anonymous said...

I'm almost positive the credits were modified early on (around Season 3 or 4) - I don't think bits like Bart traveling horizontally across the storefronts were there in Season 1.

Jim said...

The Frank Grimes episode was 'polarizing'? Who knew?

there was some funny stuff in the opener, but overall I wasn't terribly impressed by HD. But I'm also a bit befuddled when audiogeeks geek out over the difference between vinyl, CDs and MP3s.

I thought the seventies high school flashback discontinuity was deliberate, 'cause Homer said everything happened twenty-two years ago, and all the cultural references were clearly a decade off.

Andrew said...

The credits were definitely reanimiated once during the early seasons-- it's on the DVD commentary for that season. The character models had evolved enough during those first couple of seasons that the opening animation didn't quite fit with the rules that the animators had established for life in the Simpsons universe.

I was surprised and impressed by how much the HD production improved the look of the show. They may have exhausted most of the story possibilities (eg. the South Park episode "The Simpsons Already Did It"), but it looks better.

Tom E said...


Family Guy for all it's gut wrenching humor really has not redeeming qualities - it's just comedy porn.


That was my point with the Simpsons/Family Guy comparison. 90s Simpsons was transcendent, a real watershed in TV and comedy history. Family Guy is a sometimes funny show with lots of pop culture references. Enjoyable but not brilliant. Recent Simpsons seems to follow in this vein. Although Family Guy post-dates Simpsons, recent Simpsons feels more like FG than older episodes.

I mean, the modern episodes are not as good as the great ones of the 90's, but they're also not terrible - they keep your interest, have some clever lines, make you laugh once or twice. It just suffers from once being great and having to try to live up to that image.

Exactly, but my question still stands: do these later episodes take away from The Simpsons as a whole project, or can we just live with the earlier seasons as something special, regardless of the quality of the rest of the series? Is M*A*S*H season one, for example, tainted by memories of M*A*S*H season eleven? Does late X-Files make early X-Files less interesting?

My point is that The Simpsons has gone on so long, and has been less-than-brilliant for such a long percentage of that run, that at some point we are left with a great show that was only great for a minority of its existence. Is it still, under those circumstances, a great show?

Anonymous said...

I'm totally ok with pretending that 90's show didn't happen. In fact, I was quite impressed with how closely the dance scenes matched "The Way We Was." Of course, the math is off (Homer saying this happened "22 years ago")...but I'll take it.

Bobman said...

My point is that The Simpsons has gone on so long, and has been less-than-brilliant for such a long percentage of that run, that at some point we are left with a great show that was only great for a minority of its existence. Is it still, under those circumstances, a great show?

It's an interesting point. I think its greatness, or how people perceive it, is certainly going to be negatively affected by these later seasons, but not to as high a degree as some might think. It's still way too much of a beloved and "influential" show to sink too low in general esteem.

Anthony Foglia said...

For those of use who still don't have widescreen TVs, was this episode supposed to be letterboxed? There were a few times where either the speaker was, or the speaker referred to, something just out the cropped frame.

Hatfield said...

In response to Tom E., I feel like the best corollaries for that question can be found in music or sports. U2, for instance. They were once a great, brilliant band. Setting my or your tastes aside, many people felt that way, and they sustained it all the way through "Achtung Baby," arguably their creative peak. Now, they are seen as past their prime and mediocre, but I don't think that changes the fact that they were once brilliant and relevant and inspiring. The later years have to be taken into account, but they are still spoken of reverently, even after missteps like "Poop" and "How to Dismantle an Awesome Career" (warning: this sentence may have contained some editorial slips. The offending writer has been sacked.).

So while the lackluster era will undoubtedly inform future people's opinions and perhaps tarnish the legacy ever so slightly, I feel like it'll always be held up as brilliant and one of the best shows ever.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'd say the rock band analogy was the right one. I don't know that I could identify a single Rolling Stones song recorded since 1981, but that doesn't diminish what came before -- even though the mediocre ortion of the band's run is now longer than the classic period.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And, yes, "Homer's Enemy" is polarizing. I despise it and everything it says about middle period Homer, and I know i'm nor alone in that opinion.

Tom E said...

Hatfield:

I can understand your point when applied to an artist/group of artists over a career, and maybe we ought to consider The Simpsons as something like that. After all, writers on the show have come and gone, just like creative players in a band or ensemble. In a way, The Simpsons is more a comedy troupe, like Monty Python, than a unified creative product. I can live with that.

Alright, I think I've thought through this issue sufficiently now to call it a day.

Hatfield said...

How could you ever think about this stuff enough? Real issues come and go, but pop culture landmarks are forever! Kidding (though not as much as I should be).

And Alan, the Stones were my other choice, but I felt like I'd gone on long enough. Plus, being born in the 80s, I felt it more appropriate to discuss an 80s group, much as I love "Exile on Main Street," "Let it Bleed," et al.

Jim said...

And, yes, "Homer's Enemy" is polarizing. I despise it and everything it says about middle period Homer, and I know i'm nor alone in that opinion.

/shrugs/ I like that one.
I guess I missed a discussion. Are the 'periods of Homer' spelled out anywhere. Homerpedia?

The Simpsons definitely peaked a few years ago, though I couldn't say when off the top of my head. There are still flashes of brilliance, though.

Jon Delfin said...

I notice the price of Maggie went up (on the scanner). And was it always the case at the beginning of the credits that Bart was in the third classroom to the right of the door as the camera found him, but the intermediate two windows disappeared when the camera pulled out and panned back to the door to pick him up on his skateboard?

Freeze-frame and slo-mo are not the animators' friend. Let's also say that you shouldn't look too closely at Maggie and Marge in the car prior to the new payoff.

Andrew said...

"Homer's Enemy" may be polarizing, but I'd wager that it's not anywhere near a 50/50 split.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, I know I'm in the minority, but it's far from a minority of one.

EOTW said...

Count me as an old school SIMPSONS fan. Yeah, the show has lagged here and there, but if I'm near a TV on Sunday night (not often), it's on. As for FAMILY GUY, I think it is a sign of how bad taste can get you everything.

John said...

"Homer's Enemy" is interesting in that it's Jerkass Homer (who I hate with a passion); but is still funny. "All About Sect" falls into that category, too.

The last few years, with rare exception, have sucked. Despite that, "The Simpsons Movie" was pretty good. What does that tell us?

1) The Simpson's writers now do better when working on a long-term project. (End the show and concentrate on the films!)

2) John Swartzwelder and John Vitti kick ass.

3) The show would benefit from greater involvement by James L. Brooks.

filmcricket said...

The Simpsons definitely peaked a few years ago, though I couldn't say when off the top of my head.

I could: Season 8. I haven't found it funny since then, and stopped watching around S10. The Armin Tanzerian episode was the jump-the-shark one for me.

The music discussion reminds me of this: "Top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s. Go. Sub-question: is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins? Is it better to burn out or fade away?" Doubly appropriate since that was about the last decent film Cusack made.

Tom E said...

Yeah, I think "Middle Period Homer" is "Jerkass Homer." Not to bring in Family Guy again, but one of the major flaws of that show is that the characters are pretty much unlikeable in every way, especially Peter. Homer always had a good heart, even if he doesn't always realize it, and it really held the show together. When Homer is just acting like a dumb jerk the show loses me.

PFJ said...

Wait, what does Homer do that is so terrible in 'Homer's Enemy'? He's not being a jerk, he just really, really wants to be Ol Grimy's friend. It the issue that he is too dumb in this episode?
Also, put me on the side that wishes they had stopped a while ago. I prefer my bands to cease to exist after their greatest period (My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel) then limp along after them and disappoint with so many records.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the price of Maggie went down. It used to be $847.63 and it's now $486.52. And yes, I freeze framed the new opening specifically to devote the new price to memory.

Anonymous said...

I loved the new credits but if they were switching to HD, why didn't FOX air the show letter boxed? As a guy with a standard def TV, several times a character who was talking was half off the side of the screen. I understand this would look fine on an HD TV but I don't have one of those yet!

P.S. Homer's Enemy rules

Anonymous said...

The main title sequence has been altered before: They replaced the original one in Season 3, because the old one utilized animation that was by then 'outlawed' on the show, and it featured both by-then-off-model renderings of the main characters and also a number of nondescript background characters which could then be replaced with (by-then) 'regular' secondary characters.

The main titles have always been 'specialized' for the Halloween TOH episodes, and then, beginning 3 years ago (iirc), they created a "Winter-ized" version of the regular titles which have since been used for Xmas-themed episodes.

But when the producers ultimately decided to upgrade to HD-final-rendering for its animation, they planned to do so beginning with the first episode from the current 2008-9 production batch. [Which is the episode that aired last night; there are now so many holdover episodes from each preceding production batch that "new season" episodes never debut until the second half of each season.] The introduction of HD in the show happily coincided with the digital-broadcast-only rollout/deadline, which has been anticipated for years.

Alan, don't get too hung up on the appearance of the "Joe Gideon" parody at the top of the whip-pan. All he is is a 'good-luck charm' - meaning that he was included as a character that was originally modelled *at the same time* that this main-title-art was being created. [The 'digital' main titles have indeed been under production since the time that "Smoke on the Daughter" was getting animated, and they've been ready for the roll-out for quite some time.]

'Gideon' is in there in the same location that other such characters were in the previous whip-pan: the Winfields - the elderly next-door-neighbor characters who were originally conceived to be like "The Mitchells" of Dennis the Menace. They quickly fell by the wayside, but they always remained in that whip-pan art. Sure, Gil or Frink might have been more welcome sights than "Gideon"... but animators are a suspicious bunch.

Besides, the overhaul was responsible for the new inclusions of Kodos & Kang, not to mention God and the Devil, arguing. The cost of your small dissappointment is worth it!

Personally, I find one of the funniest touches to be the visual inclusion of thekedgi

Anonymous said...

"... but animators are a suspicious bunch."

Oops - meant "superstitious bunch".

[And ignore that last error of a final paragraph, too]

Tom E: All that your all-too-typical snarkery proves is the 'teen nostalgia' rule - whatever pop cultural item you encounter when you are in your teens will *never* live up to that incarnation in its - and your - later years. The show hasn't changed nearly as much as you have, and you - like most - resent it. See it through your nostalgia-glasses if you'd like, but the show is still fantastic, it just isn't "you" show any longer. Get over it.

DolphinFan said...

I'm pretty much an easy date when it comes to anything Simpsons, but I can say that I enjoy episodes like this one more than I did "That 90's Show" because they aren't sneering at the idea that some continuity is a good thing (particularly on a show that has made so much use of so many continuity-based running gags). Having an alternate history for any show is fine as long as it fits, which this one did.
Regarding FAMILY GUY: I HATED that show when it first came out because it was nothing but random jokes with no context; now that they manage to put together cohensive central storylines and make the throwaway gags acceptably zany (like last night's off-the-charts hilarious riff with Peter Griffin responding to Christian Bale's real-life meltdown), it's a good show.
Rgarding HOMER'S ENEMY: The premise of that episode was to put someone who was normal by real-world 1997 standards (Frank Grimes) into the Simpsons' universe and show that such a person would be unable to survive there. It's a provocative concept so I'm not shocked it's split the show's fan base.

dez said...

As a guy with a standard def TV, several times a character who was talking was half off the side of the screen. I understand this would look fine on an HD TV but I don't have one of those yet!


I watched it on a friend's HD widescreen plasma and it was cut off on the sides there, too. He could have had it set up wrong, though.

And I love "Homer's Enemy." Jerkass Homer doesn't bother me nearly as much as it seems to bother other fans.

Michaela said...

I have but one thing to ask: Since when did Carnivale start making a widescreen plasma TV? Et tu, obscure reference enthusiasts?

pixelwax said...

@Anthony Foglia: Perhaps the FOX broadcast differed across distributors. On Comcast in Seattle it was most definitely "aired" in letterbox unless that was JUST the opening sequence.

John said...

Maybe they upgraded to a Sorny? :-)

Tom E said...

Anonymous: I don't mean to be snarky. Feel free to disagree on the show's current quality, but I don't think it's a particularly controversial opinion that the show is not as good as it used to be. I merely wondered how other people thought about good shows that go way past their prime.

And, hey, I thought the movie was pretty good, and reminded me why I liked the show so much to begin with. So it's not like I'm convinced that it can NEVER be good.

Anonymous said...

"Feel free to disagree on the show's current quality, but I don't think it's a particularly controversial opinion that the show is not as good as it used to be."

No, I emphatically agree that its not a 'particularly controversial opinion'. Its just that its also not a particularly *accurate* statement either - for the obvious reason I gave, which explains the lens through which one render's one's opinion. Its a subconscious dynamic which one wouldn't normally bother to assess, and which is observed universally in humans by experts in psychology.