Thursday, April 19, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Two - “The kids could call you Ho-Ju!”

Season 4, Episode 12
“Marge vs. The Monorail”
First Broadcast: January 14, 1993

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) catches Mr Burns dumping toxic waste in the park, so the city fines Springfield Nuclear Power Plant $3 million.  Stupidly, the city holds a meeting where all kinds of crazy ideas (and one good one - Mr Snrub's, obviously) are put forward.  The winner?  One Lyle Lanley - who makes the case for a city monorail, whilst dismissing all the townsfolk's fears through song.

Now you know Homer's got to be heavily involved, and after a gruelling training course he is selected pretty much at random to be the monorail conductor (driver, to us Brits), which finally makes Bart proud of him.  But Marge isn't drinking the Kool-Aid, and she investigates the other places Lanley quoted as having monorails.  On arrival in North Haverbrook she meets Sebastian Cobb, the designer of their monorail, who reveals that Lanley is a con artist, embezzling money from the project and using shoddy parts and labour.

They rush back to Springfield, but thanks to Sebastian's urgent haircut, they miss the start of the maiden voyage, which quickly goes tits up.  Not even Leonard Nimoy's presence and a total eclipse of the sun can stop the madness - but Sebastian suggests using an anchor, and Homer is able to embed the "M" from the monorail logo in Lard Lad's donut and save the day.  Lanley, meanwhile, flees for Tahiti - but his plane takes an unexpected stop in North Haverbrook, where he is savagely, savagely beaten.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Mr. Snrub.  I like his thinking!

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
The first rule of Monorail Club: "MONO = ONE.  RAIL = RAIL."

"A solar eclipse...  The cosmic ballet goes on."  "Does anyone want to switch seats?"

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Now it’s time for what you’ve been playing in your head since the start of this post… Monorail.  Monorail.  Monorail.  Monorail…


HISTORY/LEGACY

I believe – in that I can’t be bothered to check – that this was the first full ensemble musical-style number; and even if it isn’t, that’s what I’m writing about anyway, so let’s talk about that and fill this space with music, why not?

To be fair, many of the better known songs have been covered in this series thus far - "We Do", "Who Needs The Kwik-E-Mart?", "Mr Plow" (only a jingle - totally counts though), "Senor Burns" and now "Monorail".  So we're not missing too many of the classics - but here's "We Put The Spring In Springfield" from "Bart After Dark":



There's also the many songs in the "Mary Poppins" pastiche "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiali(annoyed grunt)cious" - I can't be arsed linking all of them.  Oh, and "Canyonero" - but Code Break's version is better.

It's an odd thing with these; I like them as a novelty, and a good musical number reals lifts an episode - though it can't save a bad one (looking at you, "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken") - but I really turned against the idea after the lazy clip episode "All Singing, All Dancing", which simply presented all the songs in a row.  Though even that had the "Paint Your Wagon" parody that was pretty good.

There is one more recent song that we can all agree is a jam, though:


(Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning that the EPA go on to be the main antagonists in "The Simpsons Movie"!)

WHY I LIKE IT

Here we are in the middle of Season Four.  To call Seasons One and Two "patchy" is a tad generous towards their quality, and Season Three was much more recognisable as the show I grew to love - but here, right here is where the writing staff, voice actors, hell even the animators seem to officially kick it up a notch and start delivering a stream of fantastic episodes.  This here is a show just hitting peak comfort and confidence.

And the results?  Well they're just so very, very much fun.  An excellent romp that, refreshingly, shows the whole city to be just as collectively clueless as Homer, focuses on the many follies they have wasted time and money on, and allows seemingly the only level-headed adult in the whole city to be the heroine of the piece.

Add in one of the all-time great celebrity cameos - Nimoy, despite being a repeat guest, didn't outstay his welcome in either episode - and the musical number by which all others should be judged, and you have a slice of The Simpsons...  Nay, animation...  Nay, television itself, which is nearly - so, so, SO nearly - the greatest of them all.

But it isn't quite.  Which only leaves...

Atomic Sourpuss would like to apologise for the lack of research exhibited in this article.  By way of an apology, here is a picture of a weasel – because weaselling out of things is important to learn:


Join us next time when we'll probably pull our usual trick of delaying the end of the series for no apparent reason.  Go us!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Three - “I have to go now. My planet needs me.”

Season 8, Episode 14
“The Itchy And Scratchy And Poochie Show”
First Broadcast: February 9, 1997

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

A much-loved cartoon show has gradually grown stale, with later instalments lacking the insight, sass, shock value and general hilarity of earlier entries…

Anyway, on to this episode (chortle!) – Krusty threatens to axe 'Itchy and Scratchy' due to falling ratings.  After a frustrating time at a focus group that wants both of two mutually exclusive outcomes, Roger Myers Jnr decides that the answer is to introduce a new character; and of course the animal chain of command goes mouse, cat...  Dog.

Having easily been convinced that he has a hilarious voice, Homer wins the role of the new character, who is dubbed Poochie and constructed entirely from attitude, sunglasses and other such pseudo-edgy clich├ęs.  Homer bonds with fellow voice artist June Bellamy as the two do the local promotional circuit, but after an unprecedented hype campaign, the character flops and the studio decide to pull the plug immediately.

Homer believes the character can be saved, and goes off-script in his final recording session in an apparently successful attempt to give him a stay of execution.  However, the show’s producers double-cross Homer by shoddily reanimating the episode to write Poochie out of the show forever, including a legally-binding agreement never to bring the character back.  But at least that much-loved, long-running houseguest Roy gets his own spin-off where he moves in with two sexy ladies!

MAGIC MOMENTS

"Excuse me, Mr Simpson: on the 'Itchy and Scratchy' CD-Rom, is there a way to get out of the dungeon without using the Wizard's Key?"...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
June's tale of exploitation: "I started out as Road Runner.  'Meep!'"  "Don't you mean, 'meep meep'?"  "No, they only paid me to say it once, then they doubled it up on the soundtrack.  Cheap bastards."

And the question everyone is asking in life:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

I think the best we can do here is offer up Poochie’s totally gangster rap in his classic debut, "The Beagle Has Landed":


HISTORY/LEGACY

Despite the aforementioned, legally-witnessed documentation, Poochie has appeared in no less than 14 episodes of The Simpsons - including Matrix Poochie in "Kill Gil, Volumes One and Two" - so one could assume that the jurisdiction only extended to the Krusty The Clown television show, since the aforementioned Keanu-influenced version appeared in "Krusty's Kristmas On Ice Show" in that episode.

Or one could, were it not for the non-speaking appearance (and watch out, because we're going a bit "Inception" here with shows within shows within shows) of Poochie in an episode of "The Itchy And Scratchy Show" entitled "The Tears Of A Clone", shown on the Krusty The Clown show in The Simpsons' Season Eleven episode "Little Big Mom" - a mere three seasons later!

Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder...

WHY I LIKE IT

I’ve picked some landmark episodes in this timeline – which is a nice way of saying, I've gone for some in which fans believe the show jumped the shark, in this, “Cape Feare”, “Who Shot Mr Burns”, “Itchy And Scratchy Land” and “Homer The Great” (although I have had the very good sense to avoid “Saddlesore Galactica” and “The Principal And The Pauper”).  There is a case for this one being the shark-jump moment, but I think more people are simply sore at the target of this episode’s ribbing: us, the fans of the show.

This is an episode of a long-running television series about the making of a long-running television series, and specifically the kind of pitfalls that The Simpsons was largely avoiding at that stage: tampering with a classic formula and introducing radical (pun intended) new elements as a attempt at a quick fix.

And yes, the fans suffer the slings and arrows of a beleaguered production team, even then hearing that their best days were behind them; but I'm willing to take a few lumps for a virtual lifetime of entertainment - and I'd even go as far as to say that if the quality had stayed this high for another couple of years, I wouldn’t have cared if they'd never got to that fireworks factory.

PS: It was all worth it for this...

Image result for roman reigns died on the way back to his home planet
Courtesy...  Erm, well I got it from Reddit.  Happy to credit properly if I can find the source!
Join us next time, ‘cause here comes two!!!

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Engine Blood: Bahrain GP update


* Random thought from research: was the Arab Spring really seven years ago?

* So this was a little bit more interesting!  Vettel and Ferrari's superior tyre management eventually won the day, in a theoretically impossible set of circumstances.  We must of course also make mention of Francesco Cigorini - for it is he who had his leg broken in two places by Raikkonen's unsafe release.  Get well soon, man.  On the minus side, Hamilton's pace from lower on the grid shows that we're in a clear two horse race...

* ...Or does it?  Both Red Bulls were out of the race within five laps of the start, but one with accident damage (Verstappen, of course; he looks every second of nineteen years old at the minute with his shuntiness and petulance) and one with what looked like a software glitch.  They remain the X-factor at present; if they're good they could be right in the mix, but every race that goes by without solid points puts that in doubt;

* We must mention Pierre Gastly and Toro Rosso-Honda's stunning fourth place, though.  This didn't look to be a fluke - great qualifying lap, uneventful but competent race, solid reliability, and Brendon Hartley in the sister car wasn't too far off the mark either, and probably would have scored minor points if not for early penalties.  Good job all round, and a penny for Fernando Alonso's thoughts on a fast, reliable, Honda-engine car;

* Williams, Williams, Williams.  What a shambles.  With Marcus Ericsson celebrating his fiftieth race out of the points by, er, finishing in the points in his Sauber-Alfa-Ferrari-whatever, they are dead last.  This is what you get for having two pay drivers.

* And finally, an off the track round-up: noted cockwomble Lewis Hamilton said he didn't feel like he lost the race in Australia.  Lewis: you look like you did...

"The Heartbreaker" Lance Stroll has stopped listening to ex-world champion and fellow Canadian Jacques Villeneuve.  He was quoted as saying: "he's not my guy, buddy".  Also, if we were him we'd be taking all the advice we possibly could, as he is pound-for-pound the worst driver in Formula One...  

And Kevin Magnusson has asked F1's owners, Liberty Media, to ignore advice from the drivers on how to make the sport better, as he believes they do not care about making the show better.  Unfortunately since he is a driver himself, Liberty Media are ignoring his advice.

And THAT'S all the blood that's fit to spill!

Thursday, April 05, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Four - “I think he’s talking to you!”

Season 5, Episode 2
“Cape Feare”
First Broadcast: October 7, 1993

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Bart starts receiving death threats through the post and via ironic song requests on local radio, and though at least one of them is from Homer, there’s clearly trouble ahead for the Simpson boy. With his mortal nemesis Sideshow Bob being paroled, having sworn revenge in tattoo form, it's clear they're not safe, and when a showdown in a local movie theatre threatens to turn ugly, action must be taken.

Turning to the Witness Protection Program, the family are forced out of Springfield – indeed, out of their own identities – to become the Thompsons of Terror Lake, after an afternoon of gruelling (and failed) training.  They drive to their new houseboat with a Gilbert and Sullivan song in their lungs and an overwhelming sense of relief...  But tied to the bottom of their car is Bob, who arrives relatively unscathed in Terror Lake, cactus patches aside, only to have an immediate run-in with his true nemesis: rakes.

After a further incident with some elephants, involving a partial trampling, Bob overpowers and restrains the rest of the Simpson family, before trapping Bart on the deck of the now-moving boat.  Bart outwits Bob by getting him to perform the entire score of "HMS Pinafore" as a last request, which gives the boat enough time to reach Springfield and run aground outside a brothel, where the entire Springfield Police Department just so happen to be - and Bob is arrested, surely never to escape again...

MAGIC MOMENTS

Bob's performance of the entire score of "HMS Pinafore", complete with costumes, props, popcorn and reviews:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
"Uh, we object to the term 'urine soaked hellhole', when you could have said, 'pee-pee soaked heck-hole'."  "Cheerfully withdrawn!"

The rakes, obvs.

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

The entire score of “HMS Pinafore” aside, as that might take a fair while, this episode is blessed with the excellent sounds of The Surfaris' magnum opus, "Wipeout"!


HISTORY/LEGACY

Robert Underdunk "Sideshow Bob" Terwilliger first appeared in Season One's "The Telltale Head", looking somewhat different to his iconic appearance - apparently once the character was redrawn for his defining appearance in "Krusty Gets Busted" later in the season, they did mean to iron out the inconsistencies, but...  Well, here we are.

Suffice it to say that the events of the latter episode leave Bob incarcerated and harbouring grudges towards Bart and Krusty the Clown.  He would attempt to his revenge on one or both of them on a number of occasions, including trying to end television in "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", becoming mayor in "Sideshow Bob Roberts" and going full Lecter to help Homer flush out a potential assassin in "The Great Louse Detective".

Bob is of course voiced by none other than TV "Frasier", Kelsey Grammer - which led to much hilarity when TV "Niles", David Hyde Pierce, voiced Bob's brother Cecil in "Brother From Another Series".  The Terwilliger family has also been expanded to include a wife and a child, in the usual cases of diminishing returns - though oddly all of Grammer's dialogue was cut from "The Simpsons Movie", and the character has appeared even more sporadically since.  Perhaps a rare example of television knowing when to leave a gimmick well alone?

WHY I LIKE IT

OK, so perhaps slightly more suspension of disbelief is required for a Sideshow Bob episode - of which this is easily the best - but I really like them as concept episodes, even when they don't 100% deliver in terms of quality or comedy.  Usually there is no real peril in The Simpsons - did anyone really think Homer would die jumping Springfield Gorge? - so introducing a malevolent attempted murderer is a real switch of gears.

Helpfully, aside from all the evil, this episode is also packed with an absolute ton of great sight gags, as it cleverly places Bob into the role of slapstick crash test dummy that is usually reserved for Homer.  This means any horrendous acts he is attempting to perpetrate are undercut by repeated rake thwackings, a grating over cacti or an unnecessarily long line of elephants.

But what really makes this a next-level episode is that the absolute ridiculousness of the ending, which starts with an absurd final request from Bart and goes on to be stuffed with absolutely impossible things happening, feels earned by the quality of the writing up to that point, and even seems, for all its wacky far-outness, like a pretty damn clever way out of the narrative problem.  Once witnessed, few can forget this mad but inspired snowballing of events - in many ways, a perfect episode struture in microcosm.

Join us next time, when we answer everyone’s burning question: when are they going to get to the fireworks factory?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Five - “Homer Simpson!”

Season 6, Episode 25 AND Season 7, Episode 1
“Who Shot Mr Burns?” (Parts 1 and 2.  Yes, I’m cheating.  No, I don’t care)
First Broadcast: May 21, 1995 and September 17, 1995

Special double-length entry!

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

There’s oil in them thar hills, as Skinner and Willie strike a gusher on school grounds after the unfortunate passing of the school gerbil.  As the school plans to bring itself up to code with the income, Mr Burns starts planning to get his hands on the oil, which he eventually manages through some sneaky slant drilling.  Meanwhile Homer is annoyed at Burns’ inability to remember his name, after years of loyal service, which winds up in a violent confrontation.

Burns’ actions have a knock on effect on many of the towns’ inhabitants, with the school losing the money, Moe’s Tavern forced to close due to oil fumes, the Retirement Castle being destroyed leaving the senior citizens homeless, and Santa’s Little Helper injured.  When Burns decides to take things a step further by building a Sunblocker, plunging Springfield into eternal darkness and forcing them to pay for their lighting all day long, even Smithers has had enough and attempts to pull him back from the brink – but Burns fires him for his insolence.

A town meeting is held to discuss the situation, during which Burns confronts his many aggressors (including, but not limited to, Skinner, Barney, Moe, Homer, Bart, Tito Puente, Grampa and Smithers), but produces a gun with which to defend himself and activates the Sunblocker.  Leaving the meeting, Burns has the world at his feet – but an off-screen scuffle ends in him being shot, and he collapses onto the town sundial, critically wounded and surrounded by slack-jawed gawkers…

A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF THAT HAPPENED

…Luckily, it was all a dream!  Mr Burns hasn’t been shot, and is found in the shower by Smithers alive and well.  The year is 1965, and Burns and Smithers are undercover detectives on the hot rod circuit.  Now let's burn rubber, baby!...

No, wait; THAT was the dream.  On waking to find himself a drunken wreck, Smithers turns himself in after remembering shooting an old man – though that turns out to be Jasper Beardly, shot in a bitter dispute about what the sidewalk is for.

As a bunch of hot-heads tear down the Sunblocker, crushing Shelbyville in the process, Springfield Police are making a right pig’s ear of the whole thing, up to and including releasing a would-be supervillain back into society, until Chief Wiggum has a backwards-talking dream brought on by expired cream, urging him to check Burns’ suit for DNA – which turns up evidence which matches the Simpsons.  At that moment, Burns awakens and says two words: “Homer Simpson”.

Homer is arrested but escapes when the police transport is rammed by Jasper Beardly, in a bitter dispute about what the drive-through is for, leading Smithers to put a bounty on his head.  Meanwhile it becomes clear that Burns can now say nothing but “Homer Simpson”, throwing the accusation into doubt.

Lisa puts two and two together and rushes to the hospital, pursuing Homer and pursued by an angry mob, eager to present at least 51% of Homer’s corpse to Smithers and claim the reward.  Burns snaps out of his trance and announces that the shooter was none other than…  Does this count as a spoiler after 22 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case.  Anyway, everything goes back to normal.

TWICE THE MAGIC MOMENTS

"You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars, you know?"...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Smithers attempting to subdue Skinner with a stapler, from range.

Mr Burns’ moment of triumph, as he fairly dances through the town square before his comeuppance.

"Speedway Squad!  In Color", the best spin-off we never got.

Dr Colossus, we hardly knew ye:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
"I've had it up to here with these damn rickets!"

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING, ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble's "Senor Burns" is one of the series' musical high water marks.  But it's all based on a misunderstanding: Matt Groening suggested using Puente, of whom he is a big fan.  However, the episode's writers had never heard of him and assumed he was a singer rather than a percussionist, leading to a hasty search for a singer when this sequence was set in stone...


HISTORY/LEGACY… AND BEYOND!

The story heavily showcases beloved side character Jasper Beardly, or Homer’s Dad’s Friend as TV Clangers expert Tim Worthington assures me he is actually called, is probably best known as Frostilicus, the frozen man and Moon Pie enthusiast in the Freak-E-Mart in "Lisa The Simpson".  To say he is very stuck in his ways is perhaps an understatement, and one which will doubtlessly lead to a-paddlin’.

And of course, the whole concept of the story is an obvious parody of one of the most popular and deeply penetrating televisual events of all times – Dallas’ “Who Shot J.R.?” arc.  Ewing patriarch J.R. was shot at the end of the show's third season, broadcast on 21 March 1980, with the culprit…  Does this count as a spoiler after 38 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case...

Anyway, whoever it was, not being revealed until 21 November 1980.  The appropriately-titled episode "Who Done It?" was the highest rated television programme of all time, until the finale of M*A*S*H aired in 1983.  No wonder other shows have wanted a slice of that success!

WHY I LIKE IT 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Still to this day the only two-part story in Simpsons history (although there was more recently a single, hour-long episode, fact fans!), held up by many as the show’s crowning achievement and imbued with a level of hype almost approaching that of “Who Shot J.R.?”, this is the story that cemented The Simpsons’ status as a worldwide pop culture phenomenon.

It really helps that both parts are absolutely jammed with must-see scenes - and not just jokes either, but Burns' gradual fall into cartoonish supervillainy in part one is deftly handled, and works well to make you hate a character who, whilst definitely an antagonist in the first few seasons of the show, wasn't ever depicted as a directly threatening character, over the space of just over twenty minutes.

Critics have noted that the outcome is a bit odd and unbelievable - that's unbelievable in a universe where an evil billionaire blocked out the sun, mind - and that as such the payoff takes the shine off the build up.  It's an assessment to which I have to blow a raspberry; suspension of disbelief is key in enjoying pretty much any scripted entertainment, and for a product of this much quality, I'm more than happy to make the extra leap.

Join us next time in the blog that's going to get you...  Some ice cream at the store, since we're saving so much money on Diet Cola!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Engine Blood weekly round-up, 26 March 2018

* AUSTRALIAN GP SPECIAL!!!

Yes, after testing told us absolutely nothing, now a race has told us absolutely nothing, with Seb nicking a win due to strategy.  Hamilton didn't seem to get too far away from the pack, but it'll be impossible to tell where we are for the next few races.  Still: at least we've already had one unpredictable result, which is basically one more than last year;

* A Darwin Award for Haas, who have maybe three races to capitalise on being the best midfield team before McLaren and Renault catch up, but instead somehow managed to not secure the wheels to their then-fourth and fifth placed cars - beating bloody Red Bull at that stage! - which in turn caused the safety car periods that gave Vettel the win;

* Other than that, business as usual.  Williams were shameful, but of course they would be, their drivers are foetuses; a Honda engine self-destructed, and for once Alonso wasn't on the receiving end; and Carlos Sainz had a whinge for no apparent reason;

* Valtteri Bottas, we hardly knew ye?  His contract is up at the end of the year, and with Ricciardo, Ocon and Wehrlein waiting in the wings, Toto may already be handing him his coat and saying "so you'll be off, then."  We're sure Williams would happily have him back;

* And finally, off the track: noted cockwomble Lewis Hamilton recently railed against the lack of diversity in Formula One.  And you know what - he's got a bit of a point.  He is currently the only non-Caucasian Formula One driver.

We'd argue that this isn't necessarily a problem with the sport, though it is definitely a problem for the sport.  It's more of a socio-economic problem; less black and West Asian families have the kind of disposable money necessary to be able to indulge their children in karting and other low-level motorsports, giving them no chance of being able to be spotted by sponsors or young driver programmes, meaning Lewis' own path to the sport is a pipe dream for almost everyone.

What they could really do with is a benefactor - someone who is earning an obscene amount of money, who instead of spending it on, say, recording albums that will never be heard in state-of-the-art recording facilities, or appeasing regimes that have terrible human rights records, or employing a phalanx of social network experts that still can't save him from shitting the bed with a transphobic tweet, could instead sponsor and mentor children that would otherwise not have the chance through those key early stages of their career.

But where would they find one of them, eh?

And THAT'S all the blood that's fit to spill!  Great to be back, America!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 10. Stupid Mercedes. So stupid.

HISTORY: Three histories here, really - the classic Silver Arrows years that partially pre-date Formula One itself, engine supplier to first Sauber, then McLaren, and finally buying the then-world champions Brawn to turn into their own team.

Brawn, you say?  Formerly Honda, formerly BAR, formerly Tyrrell.  When Honda used the 2008 financial crash to jettison their F1 team (along with BMW and Toyota), Ross Brawn carried the team on, invented the double diffuser and took the team from last the previous year to first in 2009.

Mercedes' stint from 2010 was patchy, despite the return of Michael Schumacher, before bursting to life when they hit the ground running with the controversial new technical specs in 2014.  Quite frankly, they have dominated ever since.

SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT:

From BBC Sport.
Doesn't look too different to last year's winning affair, except for some pointy detailing on the rear wing that is also carried by Ferrari, Red Bull and Sauber.  If it works, expect all the other teams to be rocking them by Azerbaijan.

THE DRIVERS:

44. Lewis HAMILTON (GB)
77. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN)

Where do we start with Lewis?  Equally fast and frustrating, scintillating and smug, rapid and repugnant, pacey and punchable.  He doesn't like it up 'im, and he'll fall to bits if threatened by someone in an equal machine, especially a teammate, but when the muse moves him and he's in the best car, he's off into the distance.

Between his posturing, his social media idiocy (don't mention the transphobia!), his R 'n' B album, his playing of the race card and his constant references to Ayrton Senna, he is the Hollywood Hogan of F1 - dominant, devious and unshakeable in his belief that he's bigger than the sport.  We'll never say he's not good.  Just that we really, really don't like him.

Bottas, on the other hand...  He's Rubens Barrichello, version 3.  After Hamilton's dummy hit the floor when Rosberg smartly pipped him to the 2016 title, then (in a spectacularly smug move) retired from Formula One to avoid getting soundly decked by Hamilton and Vettel the next year, Bottas moved to Mercedes from Williams.

His job is to come second, unless Hamilton is out.  That seems very unambitious for a Finnish driver, and atypical of the usual "all or nothing" mindset of his countrymen in motorsport.

LAST YEAR: 1st in Constructors' Championship, 668 points.

44. Lewis HAMILTON (GB) - 1st, 363 points, best finish: 1st (China, Spain, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, America).
77. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN) - 3rd, 205 points, best finish: 1st (Russia, Austria, Abu Dhabi).

Hamilton's fourth world title was based on an extremely good run just after the halfway point of the season, at the Asian circuits that many (rightly) believed would better suit Ferrari, and at which Ferrari had a terrible run of luck and accidents.

Still, you've got to be in it to win it, and in it he most certainly was, especially after an early-season wobble when he thought Bottas might be another title contender; something that, in hindsight, he really, really wasn't.  Any hope of extending his Mercedes career must be based on a real year of contendership this year - or Ricciardo would seem to be nailed on for the seat.

PROSPECTS: Aw man, they're going to win again, aren't they?  Unless Hamilton literally CAN'T win by mid-season, and decides to retire from the sport (which, to be fair, is a possibility - if he's not 100% involved, he's 0% involved), and Bottas out-Raikkonens Raikkonen as a wingman, they've got to be the odds-on favourites.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 9. Best boys

HISTORY: The only team on the grid that can draw a legitimate line all the way back to the genesis of the Formula One World Championship way back in 1950, Scuderia Ferrari hold every conceivable record worth having - most wins by constructor, most constructors' and drivers' championships, most consecutive championships - and every single successful driver in Formula One either drove for, or wishes he drove for, the red team.

In short: these are the daddies of F1.

And the greatest Ferrari driver of them all?  Some say Alberto Ascari or Gilles Villeneuve, both gone before their prime.  Some say Nigel Mansell - those people are invariably British, and very, very wrong.  For it was the legendary Michael Schumacher, the greatest ever to drive in anger; five of his record seven world championships came during a crushing reign with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, when all was swept before them.

And since then?  A fallow period.  Worse came in the eighties and nineties though, and with a combination of pedigree, budget, two of the very best drivers in the game and the bit between their teeth, no-one is ever willing to count them out.

SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT:

From Ferrari, accessed via BBC Sport.
Other than looking a bit like a Ferrari-branded flip flop (cheers, Rich) thanks to the halo, this is a good-looking piece of machinery - and less white than recent years, which pleases us.  Ferrari should always be as red as possible, sponsorship aside.

THE DRIVERS:

5. Sebastian VETTEL (GER)
7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN)

After a stellar start in the Red Bull young driver programme that saw him win a race in a Toro Rosso, Vettel was always likely to take a WDC at some stage.  I don't think anyone was expecting four in a row, including two tricky down-to-the-wire jobs in 2010 and 2012.

His shuntiness (definitely a word) as a youngster was undeniable, but as he's matured, he's largely silenced the doubts of all but the very nay-est of naysayers, showing he can race, overtake, (largely) keep his cool under pressure - well, he's better at that than Hamilton and Verstappen, anyway - and you'd have to think his marriage to Ferrari will push him up to Fangio's long-standing record.  Mind you, we said that about Alonso...

Surely this is Kimi Raikkonen's last year.  The two get on very well, for all Kimi's bluster he's quite happy to play rear gunner at this stage, and Ferrari will be keen for Vettel to get a title under his belt before any driver upheaval, but he's simply not delivered to the extent that you'd expect either a former world champion, or a younger, hungrier driver to reach.

Who next, though?  Verstappen is much fancied, but we think he'll stay at Red Bull. It's too early for Leclerc, sight unseen.  Could we see them revive their interest in Hulkenberg or Perez?  These are questions for the silly season, around August time.

LAST YEAR: 2nd in Constructors' Championship, 522 points.

5. Sebastian VETTEL (GER) - 2nd, 317 points, best finish: 1st (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary, Brazil).
7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN) - 4th, 205 points, best finish: 2nd.

Looking at the gap, you wouldn't believe these guys were in with a shot at both titles until past the halfway point of the season, but that's F1 for you.  Could a more motivated second driver have taken more points from Mercedes, particularly a shaky Bottas?  That's one for speculation only.

PROSPECTS: You never want to count them out, but a combination of Red Bull snapping at their heels, Raikkonen running out of steam and the post-Schumacher requisite multiple changes in operational staff could make this a muddled campaign.  Still favourites for second at least.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Six - "Eine minute, eine minute! Ach! Das Wagen-phone ist ein nuisancephone!"

Season 6, Episode 16
“Bart vs. Australia”
First Broadcast: February 19, 1995

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
A BUNCH OF STUFF THAT HAPPENED

Bart becomes fascinated with the difference between water drainage above and below the Equator…  My God, how did I manage to make that sound so boring?...  Which leads to him making a reverse charge telephone call to a boy in Australia.  When the boy’s father discovers the outrageous bill of 900 dollary-doos, he takes it all the way to Prime Minister Andy, who takes decisive action.

After ruling out prison, against Homer’s better judgement, the United States Government agree to send Bart to Australia to publically apologise.  The family experience “Australian culture” until the apology, after which it is revealed that Bart is also sentenced to the highest possible punishment for his crime: a “booting”, which is literally a kick up the arse with from a man with a giant boot.

The Simpsons flee, and the US Government successfully argues Bart’s punishment down to…  A booting.  Bart seems ready to take his medicine, but instead treats his tormentors to a patriotic mooning, forcing America to withdraw its diplomatic presence from Australia as quickly as humanly possible - but as the family leave by helicopter, and witness the rise of an invasive swarm of chazwozzas, they are blind to the threat clinging to the underside of the chopper...

MAGIC MOMENTS

Everything Australia-related, from the rise of the chazwozza...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
To Prime Minister Andy...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
And a great subversion of one of "Crocodile Dundee's most iconic scenes:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Bart's Southern Hemisphere phone montage, including Hitler in Argentina and the literal fall of a South America president.

The US-Australia negotiation after Bart's escape: "so we're in agreement: she won't be allowed near the phone again."

ALL SINGING, ALL DANCING

Er...  Again, we're a bit stuck here, though some of the incidental stings reference "Waltzing Matilda".  So let's go for the none-more-Australian offering of Men At Work with "Down Under"!



HISTORY/LEGACY

The Simpsons Are Going To…  (shudder)

Yes, those five little words that struck fear into the heart of every Simpsons fan, as it heralded an always-random travel episode, usually straddling the line of racism with embarrassing clumsiness.  We've already touched on "The Regina Monologues" - one of the times The Simpsons went to the UK, along with a future trip in "Lisa's Wedding" - so let's look at a few others, why not?

First, the less good.  "Simpson Safari" took the family to Tanzania for some slightly patronising depictions of Africa, though their riffing on Jane Goodall produced the surprising killer line "...So: I notice your house smells of faeces!" from Homer.  "In The Name Of The Grandfather" saw them buying a pub in Ireland, and the writers putting together a range of NI and ROI landmarks with seeming disregard for their actual location.

And no round up of unfortunate trips would be complete without "Blame It On Lisa", in which Brazilian culture was somewhat jumbled up with other vaguely South American ephemera.  The tourist board decided to sue Fox over its broadcast, although found that parody is protected under the First Amendment.  Still, bad blood there.  So of course they went back in a later episode.

So, which ones are good?  Well...  To be fair, aside from their American travels, The Simpsons are usually on shaky ground.  Thirty minutes is not long enough to build a picture of an entire alien culture, so there will be unfortunate lapses into stereotype, for shorthand if nothing else.  So let's just say "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" gets extra points for having Godzilla in and proceed to the end...

WHY I LIKE IT

...Because this is easily, EASILY the best “The Simpsons Are Going To…” episode, probably helped by being amongst the very first (as we conveniently forget the execrable “Crepes Of Wrath” from Season One, in which Bart goes to France and clearly leaves the jokes in America), this is proper laugh-a-minute stuff.

Most heartening of all though is Australia’s reaction to the episode, and the show itself.  After a public outcry at the time, the county eventually took its roasting in fine spirits, leading to some of the biggest and most vociferous clusters of fans in the world, and a petition during economically bleak times to officially change the name of the currency to the Dollary-Doo.  You didn't get that with Brazil.

This episode set a template, though we may wish it had broken its own mould, and as such carries a certain extra importance in the series' history.  But more than that it's simply a fantastic piece of comedy, with laugh after laugh at a breakneck pace, plus lovely details like the frazzled Simpsons stumbling off the plane with crinkled clothes, and is must-see TV any time it's on.

Join us next time at the blog that couldn't possibly solve this mystery.  Can...  YOU?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 8. Lucozade and yes we do make that joke every time

HISTORY: Originally an attempt to weld a mediocre energy drink to high-performance thrillseeking, Red Bull started as a motorsports sponsor (including of Sauber in Formula One) before branching out into team management, snapping up the ailing Jaguar team from a grateful Ford.

Several years of mediocrity with David Coulthard followed, before they nicked two key assets from feeder team Toro Rosso: Renault engines and a young up and comer called Sebastian Vettel.  Roll on four consecutive World Drivers' Championships in the first half of this decade.

It's not like they've been bad since - solid top three basically every year - but the rule changes for 2014 caught them trouser-free, and Vettel would soon be off to Ferrari.  Cue several years of whingeing about their underpowered Renault engine whilst making phenomenal cars from an aerodynamics perspective, helped by their master designer Adrian Newey.

SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT:

From BBC Sport.
I mean, it's alright like, but their "special edition" livery that was axed even before testing was really cool and progressive, and they clearly should have gone with it.  In fact, here it is, so you can be the judge:

From Racefans.net.
See?  Much better.

Bellends.

THE DRIVERS:

3. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS)
33. Max VERSTAPPEN (NED)

Australia's sweetheart, and a damn sight more personable than Mark "The Canberra Milk Kid" Webber, Ricciardo is the eternal neutral's choice.  Whether drinking a "shoey" on the podium or climbing forlornly from his car after one of his regular mechanical failures last year, it must be remembered that he looks a bit like an Easter Island head, and that's alright with us, since it's good for a cheap laugh.

Meanwhile, Verstappenmania is running wild, brother...  These writers remember being at Spa-Francorchamps back when Max was in Toro Rosso and beholding a sea of orange.  Surely a return for the Dutch Grand Prix can't be far in the future, as they're burning money until that day comes again.

With Ricciardo looking set to depart for McLaren at the end of the year, Verstappen will have the chance to carry the team on his shoulders, probably with Gasly or Hartley as his teammate - this year will be make or break in terms of him building the maturity to show he is capable of more than occasional fast laps, shunts and temper tantrums.

LAST YEAR: 3rd in Constructors' Championship, 368 points.

3. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS) - 5th, 200 points, best finish: 1st (Azerbaijan).
33. Max VERSTAPPEN (NED) - 6th, 168 points, best finish: 1st (Malaysia, Mexico).

See, there's all the proof of Verstappen's youth you need right there - wins more races, still finishes behind his teammate in the championship.

The Red Bull was hardly bulletproof last year, and would probably have stacked up better against Ferrari had the Renault engine had a tad more poke, and they certainly caught up by the halfway point, becoming spoilers in the title fight - quite literally when Verstappen cost Vettel a near-certain victory at Singapore with a naive move off the grid.

PROSPECTS: This one's all about the engine.  It's amazing that a team can stay a solid third in the title hunt and snipe race wins from Mercedes and Ferrari with a phenomenal but underpowered car, and if Renault deliver, all bets are off.

Driver motivation will also be key, with a whining brat and a want-away being a difficult portfolio to manage - but look for their complaints to suddenly dry up if Renault deliver.