Simpsonic Weekend

Fabulous weekend here at Futility Central, with baseball on the back burner after I delivered this week’s Hit List

• Friday night, we caught the opening of the long-awaited Simpsons Movie, and while it wasn’t a gut-busting revelation, it didn’t need to be. [Semi-spoiler alert; skip to next bullet]. Other than the expanded length, the movie didn’t differ from the show spectacularly on a writing level. The main plot was engaging and amusing, the jokes were very funny, worth repeating even days later, the sappy moments were kept to a minimum, there were a few lines I missed due to the laughter that I’m sure will expand my appreciation upon another view. As the New York Times Anthony Scott wrote in his review, “In other words, I’d be willing to watch it only — excuse me while I crunch some numbers here — 20 or 30 more times.”

The real treat was what a visual feast the movie turned out to be. The wider screen, larger color palette, shadows, and complexity of the large crowd scenes were all enough to remind you that this wasn’t just another episode of the ultimate nuclear (powered) family. The common complaint among my friends was the minimal roles of secondary characters. Comic Book Guy and Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel — two of my absolute favorites — had prominent supporting roles, but Montgomery Burns, Smithers, Patty and Selma, Lenny and Carl, and numerous other favorites drew the short end of the script. And one of the key subplots, Homer’s pet pig, went unresolved.

Still, that hardly added up to disappointment, even in the face of all the hype that’s been building towards a movie that’s seemed inevitable for at least the last decade and a half. I’m 37, and I’ve been watching the show since its inception; while I hadn’t seen the Simpsons in their original guise on the Tracey Ullman Show, I was a fan of Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip, and thus primed for the show’s inaugural episode back in 1989. While I certainly saw a few people older than me at the theater, I was a bit surprised how young the audience ran. Kids as young as eight or nine could be heard giggling in the audience, though they probably had a leg up on their peers; one was even witty enough to offer “floor popcorn” to his fellow patrons as we exited the theater. Doubtless he’ll be joining the show’s writing staff in season 33.

• The Hit List had more than its usual share of Simpsons references in honor of the movie, but in retrospect it would have been far cooler if I’d thrown down the gauntlet and injected purple-goo Simpsons flavor into all 30 donuts, I mean entries. There’s a brilliant article from a couple years back where each team was matched up with a Springfield character, so it’s not like my idea would have been a first, but given the extent to which the column’s warped humor has been influenced by the show, it would have been an appropriate homage. D’oh!

Anyway, the trading-deadline flavored Hit List found the Yankees ranked third, thanks to their feasting upon crappy Devil Rays and Royals pitching. What little baseball I saw this weekend reminded me that even as the Yanks work their way through the soft portion of the schedule, this remains an uphill climb. Eight games back in the AL East, a more reasonable four and a half back in the Wild Card, they still need to play .690 ball to get to 95 wins, a fact will temper any temptations to make a blockbuster and instead confine them to attempts to make Kyle Farnsworth an ex-Yankee, if not by burying him in the Meadowlands than by trading him to the Tigers for a bag of Gary Sheffield’s hate mail and a one-legged batboy to be named later.

Trading Farnsworth might be the single biggest move to make the Yankees watchable again, particularly if highly-touted Joba Chamberlain shows up to take his spot. Regarded as the Yanks’ second-best pitching prospect behind the soon-to-return Philip Hughes, Chamberlain was recently shifted to the bullpen at Triple-A Scranton in an attempt to provide the Yanks with an internal option for upgrade. As the New York Times notes:

In Chamberlain, the Yankees have a prospect with a refined repertory and, by all accounts, a solid makeup. The Yankees still view him as a starter for the future, but he has been scratched from his start Monday for Scranton and will work an inning of relief instead.

The plan is for Chamberlain to throw another inning Wednesday, but it is not a stretch to think he could be with the Yankees by then.

Asked when Chamberlain might be promoted, Manager Joe Torre said: “The only thing I know is he’s in Scranton, and that’s certainly something that’s going to be looked at. As far as what date, I don’t know.”

Promoting Chamberlain presents a health risk; it is late in his first professional season, after pitching in the Hawaiian winter league, and the innings in the majors will be intense. Chamberlain had triceps tendinitis at the University of Nebraska, an injury that caused some teams to pass on him in the 2006 draft.

Yet the benefits could be enormous. Chamberlain throws 98 miles an hour and could overpower hitters the way Francisco Rodríguez did for the Angels and Bobby Jenks did for the White Sox in their first seasons, helping their teams win the World Series. The Yankees, who are four games out of a playoff spot, do not have a shutdown bullpen. Their relievers allowed 9 runs and 16 hits over their last eight innings.

I’ve got tix to Wednesday’s game. Perhaps I’ll get to see one of the season’s more anticipated debuts.

• Saturday, we went to go see Sonic Youth reprise their Daydream Nation double album in the delightful setting of Williamsburg’s McCarren Park Pool, an empty 70-year-old, WPA-built public facility that’s the size of three Olympic pools. Reproduced live in its entirety, Daydream Nation‘s soaring, interwoven guitars, chugging drums and alien melodies never sounded better — appropriately huge given the album’s landmark status. The 71-minute opus seemed to passed in about half that time even as I mentally followed along with every lyric, anticipated chord changes and shook in time to shifts in tempo that I’ve heard a hundred times. Meanwhile, the band careened around stage in a way that told the audience that they were enjoying the ride down this familiar road every bit as much as we were.

I’ve been listening to Daydream Nation since my Brown U. freshman roommate foisted it upon me by play the creepy, oddball and out-of-character track “Providence” on repeat about a dozen times in a row one afternoon in the fall of 1988. It took a bit longer for me to gain appreciation for the beauty and intensity of the band’s oeuvre, but they became one of my favorites even as they broke out of the indie rock ghetto to infiltrate the incredibly boring world of early ’90s mainstream rock. The handful of friends I saw at this show — some who have been part of my life since college, others who I hadn’t seen in five years or more — evoked thoughts of even more distant friends who’d have given if not a limb then at least a couple fingers to see this particular show. Not for nothing is the album’s title crucial to its following; we’re all bonded together as part of a very large secret society: the daydream nation, indeed.

• In honor of the above (well, not the Yankees and certainly not Farnsworth), I present one of my favorite MP3 treasures: Sonic Youth playing the Simpsons theme from the “Homerpalooza” episode circa 1996. Enjoy!

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