Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Simpsons: New Orleans Food Montage

Last week, we highlighted when The Simpsons angered some residents of New Orleans with a satirical song describing the Crescent City as full of “Tacky, overpriced souvenir stores. If you wanna go to hell you should take that trip to the Sodom and Gomorrah on the "Mississippi" New Orleans!”

Later in the show’s life, in the season 29 episode “Lisa Gets the Blues,” the Simpson family makes an unexpected detour to New Orleans. It’s a typical 2000s Simpsons entry, there’s just enough to remind you why you liked The Simpsons in the first place, but it pales in comparison to the show’s heyday. Bart buys some voodoo dolls to ward off bullies, Lisa rediscovers her love of jazz thanks to the city and a talking statue of Louis Armstrong(?), and most importantly, Homer discovers the city’s culinary landscape.

As he tells Lisa during a walk through the French Quarter, “Did you know that a man can fall in love with a city? It happens slowly at first. Then when you develop a crush, you find your love just grows and grows.” What follows is a food orgy featuring over two dozen New Orleans restaurants. Can you spot them all?


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Simpsons vs. New Orleans

           In its earliest years on television, The Simpsons generated a lot of controversy from a myriad of figures, but mostly those on the political right. Educators claimed the character of Bart, the young child who dislikes school, set a bad example for young children. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush declared, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” Bush’s comment was remarkable in that a sitting president of the United States attacked a cartoon family for its lack of moral values. The show weathered these early criticisms and became the defining comedy of the 1990s. In the ensuing years, the show still flirted with controversy, especially in the season 4 episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” with a satirical song attacking New Orleans.

            First, some context. In the episode, Marge, wanting to expand her horizons, auditions for the role of Blanche DuBois in a community theater production of A Streetcar of Desire. Her audition for the new musical version of the famed Tennessee Williams play goes poorly. The director, Llewellyn Sinclair, does not think Marge can portray the constantly put-upon Blanche until he witnesses a beaten-down Marge take a phone call from Homer. Seeing her world-weariness, he casts her in the part. Marge, struggling with a scene where she smashes a bottle and threatens the character of Stanley Kowalski (played by Ned Flanders), learns to channel her anger at Homer, who has not been supportive of her endeavors, into her performance. The episode also contains an extended tribute to the 1963 movie The Great Escape as baby Maggie orchestrates an escape from the tyrannical Ayn Rand School for Tots, where the family has dumped her while Marge pursues her theatrical dreams. 

            The episode is a pitch-perfect satire of both community and Broadway theater. Sinclair declares “I've directed three plays in my career and I've had three heart attacks. That's how much I care, I'm planning for a fourth.” He also points to a review of one of his earlier plays titled, "Play enjoyed by all." At one point, Marge is swinging around the theater on ropes as smoke fills the stage accompanied by a laser show. Lisa suggests that the scene is meant to show “Blanche’s descent into madness.”  

            Controversially, the episode also contained a song from the musical about the city of New Orleans. The lyrics are below: 

Long before the Superdome, where the Saints of football play, 
lived a city that the damned call home, hear their hellish Rondelet. New Orleans! 
Home of pirates, drunks and whores. New Orleans! 
Tacky, overpriced souvenir stores. 
If you wanna go to hell you should take that trip to the Sodom and Gomorrah on the "Mississippi". New Orleans! 
Stinking, rotten "vomity" vile. New Orleans! 
Putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul. New Orleans! 
Crummy, lousy, rancid and rank. New Orleans!

The song parodies the song “No Place like London” from the musical Sweeney Todd that described London as “a hole in the world like a great black pit/ And the vermin of the world inhabit it/ And its morals aren’t worth what a pig would spit/ And it goes by the name of London.”  

            A New Orleans TV critic who received the episode before it aired did not see the song as satire, however. He published the lyrics, sans context, in a newspaper the day the episode aired, prompting complaints from New Orleanians. The complaints prompted the president of Fox to release a statement saying, “It has come to our attention that a comedic song about New Orleans in tonight's episode of "The Simpsons" has offended some city residents and officials. Viewers who watch the episode will realize that the song is in fact a parody of the opening numbers of countless Broadway musicals, which are designed to set the stage for the story that follows. That is the only purpose of this song. We regret that the song, taken out of context, has caused offense. This was certainly not the intention of "The Simpsons" production staff or Fox Broadcasting Company.”

            The Simpsons, for their part, threw together a chalkboard gag for the very next episode declaring “I will not defame New Orleans.” As Simpsons producer Al Jean said, “We didn’t realize people would get so mad. It was the best apology we could come up with in eight words or less.” 

The controversy blew over rather quickly, especially after Bart Simpson served as the Grand Marshal of the Krewe of Tucks during Mardi Gras in 1993. Now "A Streetcar Named Marge" ranks amongst the best episodes the show ever produced, thanks to cleverness, satire, and willingness to skewer "rancid and rank" New Orleans.          

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

New NOLA Airport Terminal Open

            After years of delays and four opening days later, the new terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport has finally opened. And if the interior photos and restauranteurs who have set up inside the airport give any indication, then the Crescent City finally has an airport that welcomes rather than underwhelms visitors. 

            The old airport terminal was 50 years of hodgepodge planning. Terminals were added, upgraded, closed, upgraded again, and renovated. With multiple security checkpoints, scattershot parking, and lackluster food options, there was little positive to say about the old airport terminal. 

            In the old terminal, you were lucky if you could find hot food, mixed in amongst the Hudson Newses, in any given concourse. The food options were so bad that Eater, instead of having an airport food guide like they did for other airports, just recommended visitors eat at restaurants near the airport. In the new terminal, promising options from local chefs abound. First, there are the national chains like Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A. Then there’s local spots like Folse Market from chef John Folse, Emeril’s Table from Emeril Lagasse, a MoPho outpost from Michael Gulatta, Mondo from Susan Spicer, as well as a CafĂ© du Monde so you can get your beignet fix at the airport. And good beignets, not whatever the ones they had at the old terminal were. There is also a large mural honoring the late Leah Chase inside Leah’s Kitchen.  

            The layout of the new terminal is much more streamlined. Instead of individual security checkpoints for each concourse, there will now be one large security checkpoint with many more lanes. There will be three concourses, A, B, and C with 6, 14, and 15 gates respectively. Like at the old terminal, there will be short term and long term parking garages adjacent to the new terminal. Additionally, there will be a separate area for taxis and rideshares to stage while waiting for fares.

            Even with the new terminal opening, traffic will be a problem for the foreseeable future. Currently, there are flyovers from Interstate-10 to the old terminal. There are no such flyovers currently in place. The state did not allocate the funds to build them until well after construction on the terminal had begun. So they will not be completed until 2023. So passengers arriving on I-10 from New Orleans will have to make their way through three traffic lights on the heavily congested Loyola Drive. Passengers coming from Baton Rouge will have to navigate two stoplights and an already congested off-ramp. So while the new terminal will be a boon to New Orleans, it’s going to take longer to navigate  in the short-term. At least now, there’s good beignets to soothe the souls of stressed travelers. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Saints Half-Season Check-In


           Now that the Saints are enjoying their well-deserved bye week, we thought it would be a good time to check in and see how their season has gone so far. In short, it’s gone pretty damned well. 

            According to Football Outsiders playoff odds, New Orleans has a 96.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. Additionally, they have a 91.6 percent chance of winning the NFC South. In FO’s simulations, they win an average of 12.4 games and have a 62.9 percent chance of earning a first round bye. Additionally, FO gives the Saints a 12.7 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl. 538 is similarly optimistic about the Saints’ chances, projecting them to finish 13-3 and giving them an 18% chance to win the Super Bowl, second to the New England Patriots. 

            What is more remarkable is that the Saints have taken a 7-1 record into their bye week after losing quarterback Drew Brees for five weeks due to a broken thumb. Under backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints won 5 straight games against a mixture of good (Dallas and Seattle) and bad (Jacksonville, Chicago, and Tampa Bay) teams. While Bridgewater has gotten most of the press for filling in for Brees, a closer look at the Saints reveals how the defense and special teams have helped carry the team to the precipice of the playoffs. 

Once again, Michael Thomas is one of the best WRs in the NFL 


            Currently, the Saints rank 7th in Football Outsiders DVOA, just behind the Green Bay Packers. Even without Brees, New Orleans is 6th in offensive DVOA. Part of that is due to Bridgewater, who given his first significant playing time in years, has done everything the Saints have asked him to. He has a completion percentage of 67.7%, right in line with his expected completion percentage of 67.3. Bridgewater has also held onto the ball, throwing only two interceptions in seven games while completing nine touchdown passes. 

            Bridgewater, however, has had a lot of help. Wide receiver Michael Thomas currently ranks second in FO’s DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Despite missing several games due to injury, running back Alvin Kamara is 9th in running back DYAR. The Saints have also benefitted from not turning the ball over, ranking 3rd in turnovers per drive. They have similarly benefitted from excellent starting field position, 2nd best in the league. Having elite offensive players, a shorter field, and not turning the ball over have helped the Saints weather the loss of Brees. 

Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen


            Last year, the New Orleans defense finished 11th in DVOA. This was a remarkable turnaround from years past when the Saints routinely had the worst or second worst defense in the league. Thanks to the team investing significant draft capital in defensive players and the defensive acumen of coordinator Dennis Allen, New Orleans currently sits 6th in defensive DVOA, halfway through 2019. The Saints are 8th in opposing points per drive and 6th in plays per drive. They have been similarly balanced in stopping the run and passing games. They rank 11th against the pass and 7th against the run. 

            In two of the five games without Brees, the defense held its opponents to 10 points or fewer. Additionally, garbage time touchdowns by the Bears and Buccaneers inflated the Saints points allowed per game numbers. 


 Special Teams 

            The real surprise for the Saints has been the special teams. In recent years, New Orleans special teams, similar to their defense, languished near the bottom of the league. Under new special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, the Saints rank 12th in special teams DVOA.  Kicker Wil Lutz has been just above average this season (0.9 expected points added), as has punter Thomas Morstead (1.1 points) but the real standout has been the punt return team with 6.5 expected points added, best in the league. The kickoff coverage has been especially disappointing, however, costing the Saints -6.7 points. 

            So while Bridgewater and Saints head coach Sean Payton have received much of the credit for the Saints ability to withstand the loss of Brees, the defense and special teams have held up their end of the bargain as well.