Gilmore Girls – A Nostalgic Liar or a Compelling Comeback?

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Revivals are a funny thing. One on hand, if a show has been mothballed long enough – and, perhaps more importantly, enjoyed an alarmingly devoted fanbase both during and after its run – then it will automatically be greeted and received with feverish enthusiasm. We will gawk at how that character is now bald and slightly more rotund around the middle. We’ll gawp at how the lead character hasn’t changed one iota, sans for a more nimble nose. We will find the same feelings of sympathy and satisfaction we had when we watched it in our salad days.

That’s all a given. Even a franchise as fraternised as American Pie flushed us with feelings of love and awe when they released their reunion movie. One could even argue (though would probably be forced to leave the room or, fittingly, hide in a toilet cubicle sucking one’s thumb) that Dumb and Dumber To, for all its lack of progression and ‘90s anachronism of a script, gave the audience, for the first fifteen minutes at least, a sugar rush of delight that characters we align so close to halcyon happiness were back frolicking on screen.

But let’s nip this in bud – nostalgia is a pretty liar. You know it, I know it and the makers of these products bloody well know it. It’s the girl you used to have sex with back in sixth form, the one that gave you the thrill and thrust your ex-wife never could. You’re naturally going to be glad to see them when you bump into them at that local bar. It’s the boy who gave you your first dance before jetting off to spend his father’s trust fund, leaving you to ponder what might have been. Nostalgia injects us with a giddy sense of wistful wonder and joy, but when the drug wears off, all these things must be judged on the ‘now’ and not the ‘then’.

The latest fodder to be thrown into the comeback canon was Gilmore Girls. It may have added the extra A Year in the Life, to propose feelings of freshness as opposed to a mere ‘Kirk is back and being goofy’ session, but all in all it was hard to ignore that warm feeling of homeliness that spewed forth. When Rory and Lorelai, the quick-witted, coffee-quaffing duo that demonstrated a solid independence and intelligence that was so endearing, walked together in snowy Stars Hallow, it was like someone had lit a Yankee candle in a room silenced by darkness. All of a sudden, that homely, heartfelt pang rushed through your body and the world felt alright again.

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And as the show has gone through the different seasons, it has certainly been a hoot to see what the characters have been up to. Lest we forget, Gilmore Girls was as much about the town as the Gilmores themselves, a goldfish bowl that always teetered on the right side of Blue Velvet-esque distortion. It was a thrill to find Kirk was still as loveably eccentric as ever (his Oober racket just about worked without being too annoying), it was great to see Digger Styles, seemingly unchanged, drag up his off-centre banter at a funeral, and Babette and Morey were still a queasily approachable couple who you never knew where the line was towed.

However, once dust of nostalgic delight had been swept away, judging A Year in the Life on its merits reveals some flaws that you just wish would go the way of Taylor’s septic tanks. The main issue is the characterisation of Rory. Of course, the whole idea of nostalgia is that we want our characters to have been frozen in amber – we wanted Paul Finch on American Pie to be the same snobby intellectual he was at school. We wanted Mulder and Scully to share the same detached, wry outlook on their work. And, with Gilmore Girls, we wanted Rory to be the same sprightly, sympathetic girl she was in the show’s salad days.

That’s where the danger of nostalgia comes in – Rory has changed and grown up, which is obviously good; too much of the mild, inquisitive teenager of old might have not worked on a 32-year-old woman. However, at the same time, the Rory many viewers envisioned as a grown-up probably didn’t coagulate correctly onscreen. In this revival, Rory seems deflated, downbeat and, in some cases, even arrogant – there was always a defiance and determination within the youngest Gilmore, which is what made her character so endearing and influential. Here, though, it seems wrapped up in self-satisfaction – she shrugs off a website chasing her signature and, when she finally realises she could do with a steady income, decides in an “it’s a living” lurch that it’s the job for her. But it gets worse – she botches the interview after doing zero research or planning, and seems aggrieved when the CEO, however annoying she may be, isn’t won over. For the first time watching Rory, I wasn’t rooting for her.

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Maybe that’s the point? That we needed to see Rory experience a downfall or two (in the second episode, ‘Spring’, a lot of her walls come crashing down) in order to show the brutal realism of adult life. But it would be more compelling if it was Rory questioning the karmic alignments of life (why is the girl who did everything right being given such a raw deal?), but in actuality it’s of her own doing – her faith in a sketchy feminist drunkard is slightly blind, as is her seemingly unshakeable faith that her portfolio alone will secure her work on a whim.

This is before we’ve explored the deeper issues. A particularly frustrating scene, and one that is thrown away as a comedic sidebar, is when Rory tells Lorelai she had a one-night stand with someone dressed as a Wookie. It’s brushed under the carpet using the standard Gilmore banter boilerplate, but is this what Rory has become? There’s nothing wrong with the odd dalliance in the bedroom, of course, and this is the modern world. She’s a modern journalist. But this is the girl who, at the tender age of 16, couldn’t tell Dean she loved him because she wasn’t sure she meant it. While she admits it was out-of-character, it feels way too dissimilar to Rory to ring true – no matter how tanked Rory gets, the idea of a girl so aligned to responsibility knocking boots with a Trekkie just feels a mighty stretch.

Then you get to the other men in her life. The idea of one of her three suitors occupying a romantic position feels right – otherwise it would just be a trio of shoehorned cameos that linger on past love (i.e. Jess). And it makes begrudging sense that it would be Logan, the man who was born into money and thus can offer Rory a plush pad. But in Rory’s role as ‘the other woman’, a role she seems to happily accept, is that destroying her character further? The old Rory surely wouldn’t be satisfied in being a dirty secret, someone who can watch on happily as a man cheats on his fiancée? Her conscience wouldn’t allow it. And yet here she uses Logan as a pillow as well as a sex-chum, and doesn’t really seem to care that he’s hitched. Sure, she slept with Dean when he was married, but there was a beautiful naivety to her first time. Here it just feels like pointless fucking.

Rory’s story arc rings the least true, simply because it feels like it has too much of an agenda – Rory is built up and knocked down, her previous innocence tarnished in a sea of freelance jobs (surely no journalist these days can afford to fly from London to the USA so frequently?), pointless trysts and an unplanned pregnancy. Gilmore Girls was a delightful reunion that tugged at the heartstrings and gave us the same sense of comfort it did before, but like all things comforting, it can be bad for you in the long run.

 

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Has Anyone Actually Listened To The Hunna?

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When it comes to the end of the fiscal year in The Financial Times, there’ll no doubt be a list concerning what businesses have achieved the most economic growth through social media. I’m sure media-savvy concerns like Starbucks and Spotify will creep in the top 10, but surely another outfit that would feature high would be The Hunna.

To say The Hunna have been omnipresent on Facebook would be like saying Harambe is “partially missed”; they’ve utilised social media adverts to a maddening degree, so much so that fans of anyone from DIIV to Dido have been instructed, nay, implored to hit The Hunna up. If you like breathing, you’ll love The Hunna. If you like the feeling of adolescent angst that comes from the uncertainty of post-Brexit Britain, you’ll love The Hunna; it got to the point where you half expected to log into Pornhub and find an advertisement stating “if you enjoy clit lick, you’ll enjoy The Hunna” (maybe they’ve done that, I’m not sure…Pornhub remains as dusty as my weights room).

At first, The Hunna became more famous for their advertisements rather than their actual music. On an episode of The Simpsons, there was a PR hype frenzy circulated around a children’s television show, Gabbo, to the point where the moniker was merely plastered across the press, raising suspicions until it actually became apparent it was just a dummy. A similar thing happened with The Hunna – their adverts and maddeningly erratic clickbait was so potent that one was curious to what The Hunna actually was, or what music they made – could it be jazz fused with Simpsonwave? Loveless with bongos? The sound of Matt Healy being slowly bifurcated and chopped into Van McCann’s turtleneck?

I tried to find feedback, but none was forthcoming. I went onto The Hunna’s Facebook to try and find answers, but aside from finding their relentless campaigning had done some good (they boast a healthy 226,000), I couldn’t find any sufficient answers. Every ‘fan’ of The Hunna confessed that they hadn’t heard a note. “I was told to ‘like’ it,” one said. “I like Adele, so I liked The Hunna,” another chimed. But no one knew whether they were aping Mogwai or Mumbai.

So, I’ve decided to help The Hunna out and actually listen to a record. And, you know something, they’re okay. Just okay. A little polished, a little guilty, but all in all it has the blistering ethos of many modern bands that find pride of place in Kerrang!. I’m not sure I’ll go and watch them, but then again, I do enjoy music played with guitars through amps, so…the chances are I’ll enjoy it.

 

 

D’oh-N-A: How ‘Lisa The Simpson’ Showed the Importance of Family

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While we’re growing up, most of us will reach a clashing conclusion – whether witnessing an over-affable uncle at a wedding, or a feckless father weeping at a wake, we’ll cruelly say to ourselves: “I don’t want to be like that.” Whether we say it loudly or bury it beneath, there are some traits within our bloodline that one wishes to be withdrawn from the family circle. But family is family, and while you cannot escape some harsh inevitabilities, you must also learn to love what you have – Lisa the Simpson is a lesson in both.

Smart, solitary and in possession of a strong social conscience. Those three accurate assumptions of Lisa Simpson’s character are jarringly juxtaposed with those of her family members, particularly the men. It’s something that has come up frequently throughout the series – from Lisa’s brief, but brutish, barbs at the ape-esque Homer in Lisa’s Substitute, right through to the feeling of disassociation in Summer of 4 ft 2 – but has never been tackled as full-on as it is here. In this episode, Lisa finds herself “descending into mediocrity”, and fears that she will inherit the idleness of her couch-dwelling father. It’s sweet but strong, provoking questions of whether Homer was, too, a talented youngster who plunged into passivity.

That query is answered, devastatingly but unreliably, by Grandpa, who informs Lisa of the “Simpson gene”, an absurd but agreeable assumption that, as adolescence ascends, intelligence is replaced with humdrum grades, listless attitudes and boorish pastimes. It’s an ironically dumb plot device, but as it comes from the vegetative vowels of Abe, we’re left satisfactorily unsure of its credence.

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This then leads to the rest of the episode. Being Season Nine, it alas falls somewhat flat – where Summer of 4 ft 2, an episode devoted to Lisa’s emotional turbulence as an outsider, was sweet and funny, Lisa the Simpson feels a little rushed and unsure. But, luckily, any episode featuring Lisa is naturally going to exude pathos, a bittersweet premise and a heartfelt ending.

Another idea that the episode portrays is the importance of family. Similarly to the great Lisa’s Wedding, Lisa may have contrasting interests than those of her family (sans Marge, perhaps), but she still loves and cares for them, as well as possessing enough similar traits to keep the theory of adoption at bay. Here, instead of wallowing in her news, the stoic brain in Lisa ironically compels her to experience the life of an underachiever, which involves watching hilariously kitschy reality shows with Homer and Bart. It’s sweet and funny how Lisa tries hard to harbour a zest for such trash, and I particularly like how she grouses “if she’d started dinner three minutes ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess” when Homer and Bart complain to Marge they’re hungry; that moment feels devastatingly real, when someone who’s an outsider tries hard to conform, adopting the same mannerisms and moans to make them feel compatible.

The integral scene is when Bart and Homer, on their knees furiously devouring squashed up chocolate, entice Lisa to follow suit, ravenously inviting her like a pack of dogs eager for a new cub. Lisa’s cry of “I don’t want to turn out that way…like you!” could have come across as harsh and condescending, but instead it feels like a sombre realisation. The irony is that throughout the episode, Lisa’s inquisitive search for DNA (leading to a hilarious Troy McClure skit), genes and puzzles shows a girl who’s intelligence was as robust as ever. The episode does give us a detailed detour into Lisa’s life, however, as she plunders thoughts into her diary, wrestles with her conscience and then gives her brain some final nourishment, taking in the high culture she enjoys before she resigns herself to “talk radio” and “vulgar mudflaps”. Does cleverness outweigh conformity, or can we live coherently without such intelligent pastimes? The show investigates this with aplomb.

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Lisa the Simpson was the last episode of the Oakley/Weinstein era, a display of emotional depth that was simpatico with their seasons. At the end, Homer rallies up the Simpson men to show Lisa there’s hope in her future, but it’s up to Marge to save the day by proving the Simpson women all turn out okay. As a premise, it’s a little disappointing – Bart and Homer *are* smart, but in different ways, but in this episode they’re displayed as slack-jawed simpletons. Luckily, the ending is much more satisfying on a Lisa front, as it not only confirms she will keep her intelligence, but also shows that a lot of her DNA, even from her dad, isn’t such a bad thing to have, particularly his sweetness and compassion. As she cries out “woo hoo!” at the end (followed by a corrective “splendid”), it shows Lisa isn’t ashamed to be a Simpson, and that’s perhaps the smartest thing she, and other family outsiders, could discover.

“Your brain is the best friend you’ll ever have,” Lisa implores at one point. She’s not wrong, but it doesn’t have to be your only friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How ‘New Kid on the Block’ Showed the Pangs of Young Love

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Over its interminable tenure, The Simpsons has portrayed the myriad aspects of love. From flashbacks to future flings, love has always been a topic dripping with comedy and pathos. One character in the Simpsons clan that has, perhaps, had more dalliances than anyone is Bart.

Homer and Marge’s escapades have often been concluded with the sweet premise that they love one another (or, in later episodes, the fact Marge is an enabler to Homer’s unilateral narcissism). Lisa has enjoyed a couple of painfully realistic romances (her crush on Nelson and her crushing of Ralph, to be precise), while even Grandpa has courted several members of Marge’s family, including Patty (shudder). Bart, though, has been utilised as a romantic lead more times than Reese Witherspoon (who, ironically, did play one of his love interests).

So much so, one episode even did a slight Frasier retread when Bart encountered every single girl he’d ever dated (or the ones who returned to do some voiceover work). Such an episode got me thinking about which girl was Bart’s best. The devious diva Jessica Lovejoy is a strong contender, but methinks the right girl was the first one, namely because Bart’s crush was so convincing.

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New Kid on the Block arrived during Season Four, arguably the show’s finest season (although it does have stiff competition from Seasons Three, Five, Six and Twenty Four…just checking you’re still paying attention). An episode sweet and seemingly throwaway, it does impact a powerful message – be careful who you fall for, especially if they don’t feel the same way.

Laura Powers is, to a lot of 10-year-old boys, an instant infatuation. Laura (played brilliantly be Sara Gilbert) is cool, sarcastic but good-natured, with a saccharine shrug and easy-going wit that would no doubt make most guys wilt (they should really have done a futuristic episode with Laura in, just to see what became of her). As soon as Bart meets her in the attic, it’s love at first sight, and something many of us can relate to – although I can’t remember too vividly now, I am sure that as a youngster I fell head over heels for many older girls, attracted to their awareness, elder coolness and just the fact they paid attention to me.

No matter what age you are, we can easily stumble into the cistern of love, especially when we feel that person is slightly out-of-reach. With Laura, it’s obvious that she’s never going to get with Bart (let’s neglect the fact that he’s 10-years-old, for a moment), and maybe Bart himself is aware of that fact, but it doesn’t stop him taking baths, dressing in resplendent Hefner haberdashery and swiftly arranging for Laura to babysit when Homer’s lawsuit begins (a hilarious aside that keeps the laugh count coming). From The Graduate to Fresh Meat, the attraction to an older, more experienced cohort can cause the strongest of pangs.

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Such a premise is well-worn territory, but writer Conan O’Brien gets enough originality out of the story to make it worthwhile, as well as making it relatable. Bart’s honeyed but unhygienic refusal to wash his hand (after Laura spat on it – something which again makes her both disgusting and distinguished) has both the pre-pubescent putridness of youth and the heartfelt longing of an adult. A lot of us have surely stored away trinkets, give in to foolish superstitions and saved superfluous texts just because it’s from someone we have a deep-rooted crush on. “How do I get her to notice me?” asks Bart at one point, a question we’ve all posed at some point in our life.

Of course, it was never going to end well, and here’s where the story enters deliciously deadly familiar terrain. Laura entices Bart to the treehouse, where the naïve nymph in him deduces this could be a treetop tryst. However, poor Bart has been friendzoned before the term even existed, and Laura informs she’s now seeing self-styled bad boy Jimbo Jones. Such a sequence seethes with realism – not only has Bart, who has been adopting a nice, slightly coy figure during his friendship with Laura, become a trusted confidant, but he has now been replaced romantically by a homely, but hellraising, brute. Go on most shy, kind 18-year-old boys’ Twitter pages and you’ll see statuses like: “why do girls fall for dicks?”, “girls only like shits,” “nice guys finish last” – you get the picture. Here, The Simpsons shows that even if you move the ages, the same rules still apply.

It gets something of a happy ending – Bart, fuelled by jealousy, exposes Jimbo for a wobbly weakling, albeit through the sociopath that is Moe (“I was just gonna cut ya!”), and it ends sweetly with Bart and Laura giving the surly suds server another phone roasting. Sometimes you realise even if you can’t have them as a girlfriend, being a friend is just as good.

 

Fresher 15 – The Songs That Shaped June

1). Band of Horses ft. J Mascis – ‘In A Drawer’

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Taken from the band’s sublime Why Are You OK? album, Band of Horses weave a sense of wonderful nostalgia on the atmospheric, gentle ‘In A Drawer’. To add to the sense of wistfulness, J Mascis pops up – like the loveable neighbour in a long-cancelled ’90s sitcom – to propel the contemplative chorus.

2). Spring King – ‘Detroit’

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Championed by Zane Lowe (although, to be fair, he has done a fair bit of championing in his time), Manchester’s Spring King are the latest band to firmly fly high the British indie flag. Luckily, ‘Detroit’ is just one of many examples of the band’s ability to rise above the indie landfill, a thumping blast of brawny guitars and drummer Tarek Musa’s delivery.

3). Teenage Fanclub – ‘I’m In Love’

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It almost seems like Teenage Fanclub are becoming cyclical with dog years. Almost. ‘I’m In Love’ is their first single since 2010, but as soon as Norman Blake’s harmony-heavy vocals glide over the Glasgow band’s typically sterling melodies, you realise time doesn’t matter when you craft songs this good.

4). Two Door Cinema Club – ‘Are We Ready? (Wreck)’

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Speaking of comebacks, it’s been four years since fidgety Northern Irish trio Two Door Cinema Club bought their brand of dancefloor-ready rock. ‘Are We Ready?’ continues the electro bleeps and bloops that dominated 2012’s Beacon, although the pace changes frenetically and fantastically.

5). Car Seat Headrest – ‘1937 Skate Park’

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A recent lawsuit and an incredibly prolific output may have dented Car Seat Headrest’s clout somewhat, but their latest collection, Teens of Denial, is well worth a listen, not least for this woozy, woobly but brilliantly lo-fi song ‘1937 Skate Park’, which somehow blends Wavves with Nada Surf in an unholy, but wholesome, racket.

6). Slotface – ‘Get My Own’

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A name change from Slutface may have censored this Norwegian band a little, but you’ll never censor their music; their new EP, Sponge State, is a vitriolic statement of equality and involvement. ‘Get My Own’ is the spiky opener, all bulging veins and the kind of brio last heard when Britpop MK II was in full swing.

7). Happy Accidents – ‘Leaving Parties Early’

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With a drawling vocal that recalls The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, meshed with the punky energy of Ash and The Subways, London’s Happy Accidents have an innocence and energy that is incredibly endearing. ‘Leaving Parties Early’ is an angular soundtrack to wishing you were at home with Netflix and Neurofen.

8). INHEAVEN – ‘Baby’s Alright’

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Kudos from Julian Casablancas, plus support slots with VANT and The Big Moon, have elevated INHEAVEN to the next indie suitors. On the evidence of ‘Baby’s Alright’, it’s justified – a propulsive post-punk track bathed in Will Sargeant-esque guitar riffery, the chorus is incessantly infectious.

9). Ladyhawke – ‘Wild Things’

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Nee Pip Brown, Ladyhawke has been missing in action since 2012’s underwhelming Anxiety. Still blending articulate rock with heavy electro impulses, the title track from her third LP is a gloriously rousing slice of poppy melancholia. It’s also relentlessly catchy. Marriage suits her.

10). The Parrots – ‘Let’s Do It Again’

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If you want garage rock in its purest form, it looks like the perfect destination is Spain. After Hinds ripped up the rulebook with their brand of lo-fi rock, The Parrots are echoing those statements with similarly sublime garage hooks. ‘Let’s Do It Again’ has a Beatles-esque classicism, drip-dried into a boisterous rage.

11). Descendents – ‘Victim of Me’

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In a month where pop-punk legends Blink 182 began prepping their new album, it only felt right that their fellow peers Descendents made a long-awaited return. Their first music since 2004, Milo’s malcontents rip through their trademark breakneck punk in under two minutes, without missing their ear for rip-roaring melodies.

12). Jamie T – ‘Tinfoil Boy’

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Beginning with a jagged, Radiohead-esque riff, Jamie T’s new single soon dissolves into a frenzied clash of distorted vocals, muffled but morose drums and some gloomy harmonies. His trademark rap bluster is surprisingly missing in action, instead creating something far more ominous and lurking. Bloody thrilling.

13). Blood Orange – ‘Chance’ 

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Dev Hynes has proved something of a musical polymath since first emerging with Test Icicles towards the start of the noughties. ‘Chance’, taken from Blood Orange’s acclaimed album, is a sultry collection of tranquil synths, Hynes’ hushed howl and a brooding bassline.

14). Methyl Ethel – ‘Twilight Driving’ 

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Perth has proven Australia can provide some excellently atmospheric music, from Luke Steele’s The Sleepy Jackson to, of course, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala. Fans of both will love Methyl Ethel, the project of Jake Webb. ‘Twilight Driving’ has a maudlin groove that’s embellished with some strident horns.

15). Lina Tullgren – ‘Grace’

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A fellow alumnae of Captured Tracks (the home of, among others, DIIV), Lina Tullgren’s new EP Wishlist is an intimate collection of maudlin melodies and Tullgren’s effervescent vocals. Recalling Daniel Johnston and The Mountain Goats – as well as a more traditional Girlpool – ‘Grace’ is a delicate ode to love and time.

 

 

 

 

Ned and Gone – How ‘Alone Again, Natura-Diddly’ Lacked the Necessary Heart

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In the past, The Simpsons‘ brushes with death, or any kind of significant loss, were emotionally devastating episodes that still kept the laughs high and credible. 

When Grandpa’s love interest Bea passed on in Old Money, the crinkly curmudgeon’s chance of a twilight tryst was cruelly tarnished. Even more prominent was ‘Round Springfield, one of the many episodes that belies the belief that the Lisa-centric episodes are the poorest; losing her idol, ‘Bleeding Gums’ Murphy, was the first human loss the Simpsons sister had encountered, and scene-for-scene we empathise with her growing grief. In Season Eleven’s Alone Again, Natura-Diddly, a tragic loss occurs, but this time, the blend of subtle comedy and bereft emotions doesn’t quite coagulate.

Ned is an incredibly likeable character, but it is easy to see why Homer finds him such an antagonistic enemy. More prominent in the earlier seasons, Ned was presented as the man Homer wanted to be – he had respect from his kids, seemed well-off financially and genuinely had good luck, a contrast to the toil and graft Homer had to endure.

However, while episodes focused on, say, Krusty the Clown and Mr. Burns were intriguing insights into secondary characters, giving them vital layers in the process, the shows that cast their net onto the Flanders flock have been surprisingly damaging. Hurricane Neddy did as much carnage as the gales that destroyed the neighboureeno’s house – instead of Ned’s resistance to rage being part of his good-natured psyche, instead it was because he was a mentally unstable time bomb, his anger suppressed because of a repressed childhood.

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Death was handled with a deft touch in previous Simpsons episodes, but here it is dealt in a clumsy fashion. Perhaps the key reason is while in the past killing characters off would have been a conscious decision, in this episode it was a mere obligation – Maggie Roswell, the voice of the departed Maude, quit over a pay dispute. The writers could have replaced her, seeing as Maude’s role was only tertiary, but instead they saw it as a chance to create a ‘gimmick’ episode. It’s that word that is, sadly, key to what ensues.

Watching the episode now, I am left feeling bereft, and not in the intended way. By this point in the show, scripts were vetoing heart in favour of cheap laughs, and this very episode arrived hot on the heels of the critically-mauled Saddlesore Galactica. But after that slice of sewage, Alone Again… presented a chance to be a jolt of overwhelming despair, as Springfield’s happy-go-lucky resident experiences an irreparable, loss. It was, in short, a chance for written redemption. Regrettably, it doesn’t deliver.

There are so many missed opportunities in the show that you almost feel like pausing and pointing out in wonderment. What could have formed the show’s emotional arc appears far too late, and far too briefly – Ned has a crisis of faith, turning his back on the Almighty and questioning why He took Maude away. Here, you feel was a moment that could have sparked a show filled with emotional investment. Instead, it’s treated as a quick joke to demonstrate Ned’s unflinching worship. However, even his anti-God outburst (a diatribe about the church chocolate) is flimsily handled.

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Then there’s Homer’s role in the show. One of the best scenes in the episode is Homer being awoken by Ned throwing stones at the window, unable to sleep as he cogitates the loss of his wife. It’s a genuine scene that feels real and heartening, but, again, it’s instantly ruined by crass comments about Homer parking in the ambulance bay. Think back to Old Money, when Homer was inadvertently responsible for Abe missing Bea’s final night, and the heavy sense of remorse he felt. On this show, he was both indirectly and directly responsible for Maude’s death, and seems to take perverse glee in announcing it. Quite why Homer is so prominent in the episode is a mystery; although his attempt at making a dating video provokes some chuckles, it steals valuable script time from the story’s main plot.

What could have been an episode that delivered loss and transience in a comedic manner instead became a blurred tonal clash of meta commentary (Maude’s funeral), lowbrow commercialism (the “Let ‘Er R.I.P.” t-shirts) and, worse, hardcore nudity (Ned’s pixellated, and ample, genitals).

The only part of the show I truly liked was the end, when Ned, reluctantly hopeful, says “my name’s Ned Flanders, and I’m here every week, rain or shine.” It garners sentiment, but then you stop and realise within the half an hour, there really wasn’t any. In an episode that was meant to be sad and funny, that’s perhaps the most devastating thing.

 

 

 

 

Fresher 15 – The Songs That Shaped May

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1). Beck – Wow

After the sun-drenched rocker ‘Dreams’ last year, Beck returns with a song that mixes his eclectic approach with a more modern twist. His trademark drawling howl doesn’t rear its head until right at the end; before then we have Spaghetti western whistling, Rivers Cuomo-esque rapping and an enviable amount of samples. “Giddy up,” he shouts. Ok.

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2). Radiohead – Burn the Witch

Taut, scary violins and an immersive percussion all introduce Radiohead’s comeback single, a snippet of their critically acclaimed A Moon Shaped Pool. Driven by Thom Yorke’s typically empowering vocal work, ‘Burn the Witch’ continues to build into a thrilling crescendo.

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3). The Gotobeds – Bodies

Sub Pop’s latest signing play to the label’s strengths – rollicking out of the traps like Yick at their most ferocious, ‘Bodies’ is a rip-roaring slice of grunge/pop that explodes into a Cribs-style chorus.

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4). Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dark Necessities

Swapping long-term knob twiddler Rick Rubin for Danger Mouse was a masterstroke for RHCP; on ‘Dark Necessities’, the sound recharged and refocused, as the five-minute opus contains a thrilling guitar riff, a haunting piano motif and, of course, Flea’s warbling bass.

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5). The Strokes – Oblivius

While it might not have been the album many Strokes fans had been hoping for, their new EP Future Present Past has shown the band still have a handy way with lo-fi, strutting anthems. ‘Oblivius’ sounds like a mature take on Is This It‘s twitchy riffs, before giving way to a glorious chorus.

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6). Dinosaur Jr. – Goin Down

Another band on the comeback trail, of sorts, is Amherst’s finest Dinosaur Jr. While ‘Tiny’ is the official lead single, the trio aired ‘Goin Down’ – the opener to new record Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not – on Later…, and its yearning chorus, chunky riffs and typically squalling solo suggest we’re deep in ‘The Wagon’ country.

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7). The Orielles – Jobin 

Halifax’s finest are well and truly back with their Jobin EP, three strong collections of harmony-addled, reverb-drenched rock. The title track is a bittersweet piece of mid-paced majesty, taking Teenage Fanclub’s knack for melody and twisting into a chorus-dabbed yearn.

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8). BRONCHO – Fantasy Boys

Sounding like a more expressive Christopher Owens, BRONCHO’s ‘Fantasy Boys’ also shares Owens’ knack for layered melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Building from a riff steeped in echo, the drums continue to uplift it into a genuine anthem.

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9). Yung – Commercial

Like with Sub Pop, when a band signs to Fat Possum, you half know what to expect. Denmark’s Yung have certainly done their homework – sounding like early Posies and a deeper Bully, ‘Commerical’ is roared along by a propulsive bass line and wonderfully scuzzy guitar work.

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10). Catfish and the Bottlemen – Anything

The Llandudno rockers are now firmly in the arena-rock pantheon, but they still have a handy way with a tune. The Ride might not be big on originality, but it’s big on tunes, and ‘Anything’ is one of the best. “I don’t wanna picture our firstborn, if you’ve stopped discussing names with me,” Van McCann shouts.

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11). Let’s Eat Grandma – Deep Six Textbook

Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton are both childhood friends, but there’s nothing innocent about Let’s Eat Grandma. Sinister, eerie vocals bathe ‘Deep Six Textbook’, along with an ambient beat straight out of Beach House’s textbook.

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12). sir Was – Falcon

“This loneliness is not for you and me,” sir Was instructs on this dark, brooding slice of trip hop. Joel Wastberg, aka sir Was, has won plaudits for his minimal approach, and ‘Falcon’ is a good example of the Gothenberg muse’s knack for dark samples and Miike Snow-esque vocals.

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13). Seratones – Choking On Your Spit 

A fast-sliced, Kings of Leon-style slice of rock, ‘Choking On Your Spit’ has grit and sawdust running through its two-minute run. Alongside this southern-fried riff though is singer A.J. Haynes, who blows away any remaining cobwebs with the kind of warble that can stop traffic.

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14). Savoy Motel – Souvenir Shop Rock

A jam band by nature, ‘Souvenir Shop Rock’ is the perfect introduction to Savoy Motel’s restless funk rock. With wah-wah guitar solos and strident trumpets, escape to the ’70s with this irresistible banger.

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15). Band Of Skulls – So Good

The leather-clad trio are back with new album By Default, which branches out their brand of bruising rock with more funk and feel. ‘So Good’ was the first cut from the record, which had a danceability that Alex Kapranos would doff his fringe to.