I’ve been laid-up sick for the past few days and have had a lot of quality time with an old friend, TV. Thanks to my ReplayTV, I had a lot of good stuff queued up and waiting for me.
I was watching one of my recorded episodes of The Simpsons, “Jaws Wired Shut”. I know the title because my ReplayTV displays titles on its listing of recorded shows. Usually nobody pays attention to show titles, but now I know that episodes of Seinfeld are named after a prominent noun, like “The Contest” or “The Soup Nazi” and episodes of Friends all start with “The One”, like “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break” or “The One with the Breast Milk”. Titles for The Simpsons don’t follow a strict pattern, but are usually puns or cultural references, my favorite being “You Only Move Twice” in which Homer moves his family to a new town to work for a super-villain.
Anyways, the “A” plot of this episode, which as usual bears only a tangential connection to rest of the show, was the Simpsons going to a movie. Actually, you could call this the A2 plot, as the A1 was a brief bit with a gay pride parade. Homer becomes increasingly enraged at the pre-movie advertisements, previews, and announcements and eventually snaps.
I can identify with this. As I mentioned, I’ve been pretty sick for a few days and the only extra-apartment activity I’ve been up for is going to the movies. I’ve started to go a little stir-crazy, so I’ve seen four movies in two days, namely (ranked in descending order of enjoyment): The Italian Job, 28 Days Later, Hulk, Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle. Yes, Charlie’s Angels has a great look and kinda functions as very-soft core porn, but the action sequences and dialog are just stupid.
So I’ve sat through the pre-show activity at Loews Cineplex Boston Common four times. Usually don’t mind watching the previews. An exception is the preview for Marci X, which tries to entice us with Lisa Kudrow rapping. Yikes! Usually, though, the only frustration is that they give away too many juicy plot points and spoil the best one-liners. The preview for Italian Job is a good example of this. Preceding the previews, however, is a growing sequence of TV-style commercials. Particularly annoying is dance number from K-mart and Joe Boxer informing me that there’s more to life than underwear. It only 60 seconds, but seems MUCH longer. Roger Ebert addressed the issue of pre-movie commercials in a recent edition of his excellent weekly Movie Answer Man column.
Getting back to “Jaws Wide Shut”, I saw it originally in prime time and remembered a line from Homer while he’s waiting for the movie to start that had gave me a good belly laugh. The Simpsons is one of the few shows on TV that makes me laugh out loud, so I was looking forward to it. But it wasn’t there. They cut it out. When a show moves to syndication, the broadcasters cut bits out to make more time for even more commercials. I think I heard Shatner once joke that this extra editing is why Star Trek flourished in syndication after doing so poorly originally.
I wasn’t sure I was remembering this line correctly, so I fed my guess to Google. It directed me to Simpsons Syndication Cuts Guide, Season 13. Some serious Simpsons fans have compared the original and syndicated versions second-by-second, and created this annotated reference. They’ve even developed their own markup to map between the two. The comment before the line I noticed was missing gives a sense of Frederic Briere’s dedication: “One of the most heavily edited 90 seconds ever! My timings are as accurate as I could make them, but they’re all good to within half a second or better.” This is just one of the many detailed references this site provides. For example, did you ever want to see Lionel Hutz’s case history? While I was there I stumbled on some details about the upcoming season 15. I’m looking forwad to the fall.