Friday, April 17, 2009

The Space Ghost of Comedy Past


Taxes, dammit. But let’s look back at the high hopes that were aroused around this time of year fifteen years ago — in 1994. Yes, it was that year, on April 15, that America made a “contract with comedy,” if you will — in the form of the debut of the retro-surreal TV show Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

In truth, I bring this up not by way of introducing a reminiscence about the show (or the daring packaging for one of its DVDs, festooned with real, non-amusing, uninterestingly lukewarm reviews from various mildly unimpressed critics) but merely in hopes of making you feel as old as I do. Space Ghost Coast to Coast began fifteen years ago, a mere five years after The Simpsons — and five before Family Guy, which turns ten this year.

Isn’t it time you made retirement plans, or perhaps simply started the weary slog toward the nearest graveyard? (Two years left until the twentieth-anniversary celebrations for the release of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Get ready for the grunge revival, if your ears have stopped ringing from the last time we did the 90s.)


Speaking of The Simpsons and Nirvana, have you noticed that in the “college in the 90s” flashback episode of The Simpsons, they more or less imply that Marge and Homer were in college for the entire decade, since Kurt Cobain is alive and stealing Homer’s sound (presumably circa 1990) at the beginning and Clinton is being mocked for the Lewinsky scandal (presumably circa 1998) at the end? Homer’s recovery from his insulin addiction may have taken several years after college, of course. Or as Lisa’s mathematical scrawlings at the beginning of the episode suggest, there may be no hope of creating a coherent Simpsons timeline.

Of course, since the Cobain scene was a Back to the Future homage, it’s also possible that smack gave Cobain himself the power of time travel, making it possible for Homer to invent grunge in 1998, albeit at great risk to the integrity of the timestream.

(Should I not think about it too much? I’m reminded of my friend Ali Kokmen worrying once that an Elmo TV special he’d seen was sloppy about its time travel rules and seemed to suggest that present-day Elmo simply replaced past-Elmo when traveling back in time, arguably a sort of self-murder that leaves one wondering what happens when present-day Elmo returns to his own time. Where is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew when you need him? As for where I’ll be tomorrow night, speaking of comedy, music, and retro stuff: seeing Richard Cheese at Webster Hall.)


Todd Seavey said...

Comedy-music follow-up: the Brown University head librarian who wrote this Abe Lincoln op-ed in the Times today, Ted Widmer:

…is also “Lord Rockingham” of the Upper Crust, who are seen here performing “Let Them Eat Rock”:

Gerard said...

We’re talking about a show where two of the main characters have remained in third grade for two decades, yet includes references to Barack Obama in the most recent season. I don’t think continuity is a primary concern.

Todd Seavey said...

In other comedy news: perhaps the most conservative piece the Onion has ever run:

Todd Seavey said...

Two other things worth remembering about Ted Widmer, by the way: he was a Clinton speechwriter (like Brown cartoonist Jeff Shesol), and he doesn’t like Moby:

Jacob T. Levy said...

I *like* the Simpsons’ schtick of letting the history in the flashbacks move forward in time. It’s the opposite of DC’s “World War II is a fixed point because of the JSA” solution that requires constantly pulling the rubber band farther and tighter. The Simpsons’ *present* is a fixed point, because the kids don’t age. But the show still goofily helps itself to retro-mocking episodes of history that *we all know the show was around for in the first place.* (How can Bart have written “The President did it is not an excuse” on the blackboard if Homer and Marge weren’t yet married when Clinton was impeached? Huh? Huh?)

The Simpsons just merrily drags history along behind it, even as its present doesn’t change.

Todd Seavey said...

I know _The Simpsons_ takes place in an eternal present, but the 90s-college episode was the first time, I think, that this translated into a whole decade being compacted within a single episode into a miniaturized chunk of time, sort of like depicting the first sixteen presidents all fighting in the same battle against the British. Not complaining, of course.

More troubling, as my new blog entry (4/19) will say in a few minutes, is the fact that 2030 is now scheduled to still look like 2002 down at the Trade Center site in Manhattan…

Laura said...

Well, they once depicted the worst five presidents all singing and dancing in the same musical number. Close enough?