668. Marge the Lumberjill

Original airdate: November 10, 2019

The premise: Once again feeling the sting of her boring life, Marge falls into the world of competitive timber sports. She turns out to be a natural and is loving her new self, but Homer worries that her new trainer might be more interested in her than she thinks.

The reaction: Let’s tick the ol’ overused story trope boxes: Marge wants some excitement in her life, a Simpson takes up a new hobby/talent and is immediately a success, Homer is worried Marge might leave him… we’ve seen it all before, and done much better, of course, but at least nothing here is stupid or out of left field. Noticing Marge is pretty skillful at chopping wood, Patty introduces her to Paula, who takes Marge under her wing to be a competitive tree cutter-downer, or whatever you call it. Marge channels her pent-up frustration of being an overworked, under appreciated housewife for over thirty years out on the logs, which feels true to her character. She also is really hung up on not being called boring, as it overtly stated several times (“What could possibly be her motivation?” “I’m… not… boring!!”) This comes as a result of a school play Lisa wrote about the family, portraying Marge as incredibly lame and domesticated. Unfortunately, the Marge-Lisa connection dies soon after that; there’s been a couple shows over the last twenty years about Lisa’s perception of her mother as just a boring housewife, and Marge attempting to make her daughter proud of her, and they’ve all been terrible, but it’s definitely a rich vein the show could mine that was touched on a couple times in the classic era, but could definitely be worth revisiting. Instead, we get Homer panicked that Marge is going to get turned gay and leave him. Oh boy. Paula is presented several times as being a bit too forward to Marge (repeatedly scooching closer to her sitting on a bench, effectively living like a married couple in Portland), but of course in the end it’s just a big misdirect, as she reveals to Homer she has a wife and child. Something Marge didn’t think was relevant to bring up when Homer talked to her about his suspicions about Paula earlier, I suppose. The Homer-Marge stuff actually isn’t that bad, but still feels a bit underwhelming in the end, and again, a dynamic we’ve seen done much better before. Outside of a few unique flourishes, the episode was mostly just pretty boring, which easily makes it the best of the season thus far.

Three items of note:
– Martin, Sherri and Terri make appearances early in the first act, now being voiced by Grey Griffin, an incredibly talented voice actress who has appeared in tons and tons of stuff (probably #2 only to Tara Strong for biggest VO actress on television), most notably being Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Fairly OddParents and as Scooby-Doo‘s Daphne Blake for the last two decades. So, yeah, we recast Russi Taylor’s and Doris Grau’s characters, but Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace’s get put in permanent retirement. I honestly don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to dealing with characters when their performers leave us. There really isn’t one. Do you write them out? Have them fade into the background in a new silent role? Or just recast?  In her very brief first outing, Griffin does a fairly solid job mimicking Taylor’s characters, so that’s good, I guess (oddly, her Martin sounds kind of like Charlene Yi to me). I just feel more than anything members of the cast dropping off our mortal coil speaks more to the needless longevity of this series than anything else.
– This episode’s handling of its LGBT material is pretty good, I suppose, given its not-so-stellar history during the 2000s (friggin’ “Three Gays of the Condo”…) Paula does come off a little bit predatory, which of course is done out of service for the misdirect, but it feels less “gay person seeking to convert a straight” and more akin to Lurleen or Mindy coming onto Homer. Except those characters and their unfolding relationship with Homer were more involved and were much better written. When Homer arrives in Portland to find his wife effectively domestically married to Paula, he’s shocked to see all of the gay in their house. A Janelle Monae poster! DVDs of Orange is the New BlackThe L Word and Tig Notaro’s stand-up special! A pennant from Bryn Mawr, an all girl’s college outside of Philadelphia! Look at all our gay references! Gay people love these gay things! Not quite offensive, only in that it’s lazy writing.
– The show can cross Portland off its big travelogue list, as we get a few bits of Homer and the kids checking out the city as they go to visit Marge. We get an extended scene of them driving past streets with the same names as beloved Springfield regulars (Quimby, Kearney, Dolph, Van Houten, Flanders), as hardcore Simpsons fans will know were Matt Groening’s hometown inspirations to name those characters. But what’s the point of this scene? Knowing this information, I get the reference immediately, and then it just keeps going. There’s no real joke at the end of it (“Stupid Flanders street” barely counts as one). And if you don’t know that piece of trivia, I guess the scene would confuse you enough to go check it out online? And then once you read about it, you’ll just be laughing your ass off, I guess. I dunno.

One good line/moment: A few good moments throughout (Lisa wearing a replica of her own hair during her play was a great touch), but I thought Homer feebly trying to communicate how much Marge means to him throughout the back half of the episode actually worked pretty well, and was genuinely sweet, which is a rarity for these Homer-Marge marital strife shows (“I miss you when we’re separated in a revolving door! I miss you when I’m putting a sweater on over my head! I miss you when I close my eyes during a sneeze! I miss you when the clock springs ahead an hour! We’ll never get the time back!”)

667. Gorillas on the Mast

Original airdate: November 3, 2019

The premise: Homer is conned into buying a boat, and tries to sucker others into buying shares in it to offset his debt. Meanwhile, Lisa convinces Bart to help her free an orca whale from a water park, which inspires Bart to perform his own selfless act in freeing a gorilla from a zoo, with much more disastrous results.

The reaction: Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an episode where so little happens. Homer is swindled by a smooth talking salesman on a dock into buying a boat, which takes incredibly little effort, and not in a purposefully funny way. They try to anchor (ha ha) his impulsive purchase on his memories as a kid asking Abe if they can get a boat, and he later shows off his fancy new purchase to his dad, but that doesn’t really amount to anything. Nor does his apprehension of telling Marge about his extravagant new purchase, when he finally does fess up, she’s fine with it, so that leads to no plot progression either. Finally, something happens: the boat’s motor starts to give out, and Homer is shocked to hear the repair costs, now feeling he has to share the boat with friends and have them make payments to pay it off. We never actually hear any of these amounts, what Homer paid for the boat or the cost of repairs. If the salesman had tricked Homer into paying an extremely paltry fee for the boat itself, knowing that it was a shit boat that would quickly break down and carry a hefty fee to get it back to working order, that would make sense as a story. And I think that’s what they were trying to go for, except they didn’t actually write it that way. Homer buys a boat for X price, and now is saddled with a bill for Y price, and now there’s concern for some reason. He starts off sharing the boat with Lenny and Carl, which is fine, and then he ends up giving a share to all the usual Springfield suspects: Comic Book Guy, Sideshow Mel, Bumblebee Man, the Lovejoys, the Hibberts, Crazy Cat Lady, and so forth, who all get on the boat at once and sink it. Why were they all together at once? Shouldn’t they have divvied up shifts for when they can use the boat? I have no idea. In the final scene at Moe’s, everyone is at the bar super pissed at Homer, but he placates them by saying how great it was they owned a boat for five minutes, and that turns the crowd around and they cheer for him. It really makes absolutely no sense. I feel like my synopsis here is making the story sound more logical and coherent than it is. As it plays out in real-time, and divided between a B-plot, it really felt like nothing was happening. There was virtually no forward momentum, no stakes, no emotional investment, just… nothing.

The B-plot (or maybe the A-plot, this one seems like it has more screen time) starts with Lisa planning to free a captive whale after being aghast by their awful treatment and living conditions during a visit to a local water park. It’s all incredibly on the nose (the opening shot has the family entering ALCATRAZ WATER PARK “Subject of 5 Award-Winning Documentaries.” All of this is mostly in reference to the 2013 documentary Blackfish, and the ensuing efforts to address concerns of animal mistreatment at places like SeaWorld and to free the orca whales in captivity. It’s an issue that’s still ongoing, but it once again feels like the show missing the boat of a cultural moment by many years. SeaWorld still does have a handful of orca whales, but only because they claim they wouldn’t survive out in the wild. If the episode was actually about that, with the whale having no idea what to do once its cage was opened, or getting killed or seriously hurt immediately after being freed, that might have been interesting. But whatever. Bart is roped into helping out, and feels the strange, foreign twinge of satisfaction of a job well done, dubbed by Lisa as “altruism.” He follows up chasing after their feeling by freeing a gorilla from the zoo, who immediately goes on a rampage through town that we don’t see, and then Lisa calms him down somehow and that plot is over. Bart getting invested in a cause because it involves illegality like breaking and entering would have been an interesting enough plot for a whole episode; in fact, that element of it sounds like “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” which did a mostly adequate job in selling that premise. Here, the idea has so little room to actually grow into anything, so it’s all pretty meaningless. Much like the entire episode itself.

Three items of note:
– Bart and Lisa also enlist Willie to sneak into the water park, as he mentions that he works there during the summer. It feels pretty random, and they don’t give him anything really to do other than make some kilt jokes and at the act break, he plays “air bagpipes,” which is just Dan Castellaneta making ear-grating noises for ten seconds. Ugh.
– Homer hounds Lenny and Carl to try to get them on board (ha ha) his boat scheme. Cutting back and forth to them, we see them asleep in bunk beds with a portrait of Bert and Ernie on the wall. Later, we see them cruising on the boat with their girlfriends, both of whom look like the other in dresses. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this several times, but this joke of Lenny and Carl being inseparable/gay for each other has been pushed to its limits at this point. Who were once just two working schmoes who acted as a sounding board for Homer to bounce ideas off of have now become this weird codependent couple who are obsessed with one another. You can evolve characters’ roles and personalities as the years go on, hell, I encourage it, but these two have been stuck in this role for decades now and it’s not getting any funnier. Because it wasn’t funny in the first place.
– The gorilla is finally set free at Dr. Jane Goodall’s Pennsylvania reserve, where Lisa lays the praise on thick to Goodall, who is voicing herself. The character model is the exact same one used for Dr. Joan Bushwell from “Simpson Safari,” as her character was effectively just a rip-off of Goodall herself. I really don’t care about, mostly because that episode was a piece of shit, but probably much more entertaining than this. Goodall isn’t a very good actor, but it’s not like I expected much from her, and I don’t think there were any jokes in her scene (stringing an eager Lisa along for a maybe sort of chance for a scholarship? I guess that’s a joke? Oh, who cares.)

One good line/moment: Ehhh, whatever. This season really blows so far.

666. Treehouse of Horror XXX

Original airdate: October 20, 2019

The premise: “Danger Things” is a Stranger Things “parody.” In “Heaven Swipes Right,” Homer dies unexpectedly, and is given the ability to swap into different bodies, trying to find the perfect one for his family. “When Hairy Met Slimy” is a Shape of Water “parody.”

The reaction: Another year, another Halloween special, where I struggle to articulate the same damn criticisms without seeming like I’m exactly repeating myself. Two segments here “spoof” contemporary media, the first one being especially confusing in that it references elements from all three seasons of the Netflix series, cramming so much into a mere six minutes that even as someone who’s watched the whole series, I couldn’t even tell what was happening. Treehouse of Horrors have been parodying horror fiction since the beginning, but a big reason it worked back then is that even within the framework of a reference to another work, they were still interested in telling their own stories. “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” casts Willie as Freddy Krueger, but retold his death and origin story in a very Simpsons way. “The Shinning” recreates a lot of memorable moments from the movie, but also features new elements like Burns and Smithers kicking the whole plot into motion. I guarantee if they did a Shining segment now, it would feature Bart riding through the halls on a Big Wheel finding Sherri and Terri at the end of a hallway, because the name of the game now isn’t story, it’s references. The Christmas lights to communicate from the beyond, the water tank, the Upside Down itself, they’re all there, but ultimately meaningless with no story to hang onto, and what must be absolutely baffling to anyone who hasn’t seen the show. Segment two was just kind of boring, and had no creepy elements to it whatsoever. Neither did segment three, which I guess they only did because del Toro is such a big Simpsons fan. That’s the single biggest causality of these specials: they’re not scary anymore. Not that they were genuinely terrifying, but it was really impressive how this silly cartoon show managed to get pretty unsettling. Marge and the kids getting lobotomized as the Re-Ned-ucation Center. Martin letting out a horrifying death screech and collapsing in the middle of class. The family screaming in agony having their skin turned inside out. The gremlin holding up Ned Flanders’ severed head as he taunts Bart. In the last segment here, Kang bites off Smithers’ head, spits it at Burns to knock him out (complete with a coconut BONK sound effect) and they run away. It’s not so much scary as it is they had no idea how to end the scene and just bailed. Treehouse of Horror segments of old were kind of tense, they had a distinct atmosphere to them. But now, they’re just as meandering and pointless as any other episode.

Three items of note:
– We get a fairly long intro with an Omen parody of Maggie being a demon spawn. We open with Marge giving birth to a baby boy, but Homer doesn’t want another boy, so Hibbert just offers her demon Maggie instead? But regardless, the show already did an Exorcist spoof with Maggie two years ago, didn’t they? This is just the same thing over again. I guess it’s only here as the opening to tie into this being the 666th episode, but if that’s all it is, they could’ve made this a neat one minute long rather than three.
– In the Upside Down (or whatever hilarious name they decided to call it, I forget), we see a dead Uter prominently lying outside the town square wearing red glasses, clearly a stand-in for poor Barb from season 1 of Stranger Things. Odd choice, but there’s no Nancy analogue in the story, nor are they a whole lot of female characters from this show to choose from. Considering Russi Taylor just died, I was surprised they didn’t alter this at all, maybe just do a retake to remove just the Uter layer of the scene or something. I certainly wouldn’t cry insensitive, but it felt a little weird.
– Segment two ends with Homer finally landing on the perfect body to use: Moe. Marge seems perfectly fine with spending the rest of her days making love to the body of a creepy pervert who was unhealthily obsessed with her. Then Maggie shows up and Moe for some reason is now in her body, who tells Marge that he’s very thirsty. What better way to end your spooky Halloween special with your viewer imagining Moe in a child’s body sucking on Marge’s tits? It might be the most sickening thing ever done on the show. Like…  Jesus.

One good line/moment: I think there was one scene I mildly chuckled at, but  I don’t even remember what it was, so I don’t think it really counts if that’s the case.

665. The Fat Blue Line

Original airdate: October 13, 2019

The premise: Fat Tony is arrested following a mass pick pocketing incident, a bust performed by an actually competent investigator from the attorney general’s office. Chief Wiggum is initially discouraged after having his case taken from him, but discovers through his own investigation that Fat Tony is actually innocent.

The reaction: I’ve previously talked about how one of this show’s most crippling handicaps is its dogged resistance toward any kind of evolution of its characters. In a fictional landscape of so many different personalities, locales and commonplace scenarios, it feels like they’ve all played out in relatively the same way for decades, and for a show that’s now in its thirty-first season, that’s a major problem. Take this episode featuring Fat Tony and the Springfield mafia. Born as loving tributes to classic mob films like The Godfather, and the at the time recent cinematic success Goodfellas, they quickly became beloved characters, with a small handful of notable appearances in the classic years. Each appearance seemed to bring something new: “Homie the Clown” showed their appreciation for Krusty’s buffoonery, spearheaded by self-professed Italian stereotype Don Vittorio. “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” ended with them facing down the Yakuza. Even appearances as late as seasons 12 introduced memorable new members like Johnny Tightlips and Frankie the Squealer. But sadly, like the rest of the cast, Fat Tony would just become a one-dimensional shadow of who he once was. He gets framed for stealing a bunch of wallets and is put in prison, and it turns out Johnny Tightlips was responsible, who places himself as the new mafia head. Does any of this matter? Do we get a better idea of Tightlips as a character, or any of the other mafia members? What do Legs and Louie think of this betrayal? None of this is explored. Instead we get a healthy helping of tired mafia/Italian jokes: Tony says goodbye to his wife and mistress before being incarcerated, makes toilet spaghetti in prison, and says a bunch of funny Italian words and expressions. One scene just ends with Tony and Louie just muttering nonsense to each other for like ten seconds. Running alongside this is Chief Wiggum feeling sad he’s been replaced on the force, and eventually helping crack the case to save the day, a premise we’ve seen play out a whole lot better in “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.” Wiggum fell apart back then because being a cop was all he knew how to do, and without that, he’s completely listless. But here, he’s discouraged that people don’t respect him? Didn’t we just get this with Homer last week, to absolutely terrible results? But don’t worry, just like she does every now and again with Moe and others, Marge is there to believe in him, just because. The ending features her randomly appearing before Wiggum walking down a crosswalk with Maggie to deliver a drive-by “I believe in you, Chief!” It’s almost as if years of meaningless, unprompted encouragement from Marge that’s rung completely hollow has led to this moment. Remember the sweet moment in “Twisted World” where Fat Tony is first confronting Marge, but needs her help to actually turn her car off? Moments like those go a long way in humanizing these silly cartoons, and they stick out in my memory. But shit like this? I’ve nearly forgotten it all already.

Three items of note:
– Time for a quick guest star line-up. The show opens with the Simpsons going to the local Italian street fair, the San Castellaneta Festival. I guess we’re supposed to laugh at that name. On stage, Mayor Quimby introduces Aquaman himself Jason Mamoa to kick off the festivities. Quimby mispronouncing his name and calling him “Superfish” felt reminiscent of his none-too-flattering interaction with Leonard Nimoy in “Marge vs. the Monorail.” I honestly don’t mean to do direct comparisons to classic episodes like this, but sometimes they help illustrate points. A celebrity like Leonard Nimoy appearing at an event at a podunk nothing town in the 90s? Sounds plausible. But a big modern celebrity like Mamoa? Nah, dawg. Later, Bob Odenkirk shows up as Fat Tony’s lawyer, and I’ll be honest, I absolutely can’t believe the restraint on their part to not make him just a yellow Saul Goodman. Perhaps that’s thanks to his brother Bill Odenkirk writing the episode, but I was pleased that, as minimal a role as he had, Bob got to play a different kind of character. On the subject, El Camino, the Breaking Bad movie, just came out and it’s absolutely wonderful, if you haven’t watched it yet, why are you still reading this? And if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, then go watch that first. Also, Better Call Saul, which I think is better than Breaking Bad. FIGHT ME.
– Wiggum’s big break in the case is uncovering a video online, “Tony D’Amico Age 23 Rare Interview,” a casual interview at a pool hall where Fat Tony flat out says the one crime he would never, ever commit is pick-pocketing. Who was filming this and why? Beats me. But watching the scene again reminds me, Fat Tony’s dead, remember? His role was assumed by his cousin Fit Tony, who was a fitness trainer prior to filling his dead cousin’s shoes. So this video shouldn’t matter at all, it’s the wrong Tony. But really, who gives a flying shit who it is, but then that’s the point, isn’t it? Crafting a story about the death of Fat Tony ultimately means nothing if you’re just going to replace him and pretend like none of it ever happened. In the same vein as Principal Skinner and Snowball II before him, it’s not cute or subversive when they do this, it’s just bad, cowardly writing.
– Towards the end when Fat Tony and Johnny Tightlips enter a stand-off, we get a reference of the infamous final scene in the series finale of The Sopranos, as the “tension” escalates as “Don’t Stop Believin'” plays. The Sopranos is one of the biggest shows of the last twenty years, and the ending was so culturally notable at the time that even myself, a person who never watched the series, recognized the reference immediately. But, as always, what is being added to this pop culture allusion? What is the joke here? We see Maggie parking her Fisher Price car (forget why she’s not with the rest of the family), but that’s basically it. I remember way back in season 13’s “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge,” they recreated the Sopranos opening with Fat Tony, at a time when the series was still going strong in its third season. If I recall, it’s a “parody” in the modern sense for this show in that it just shot-for-shot recreated something and considered that a good enough spoof. But here, we’re twelve years removed from the final episode of The Sopranos, and a parody like this feels so out of left field. Then again, I could equally complain about the couch gag, which is a recreation of a scene from last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which also feels like such an ancient reference now. I’ve talked before about how the advent of memes and the Internet have kind of ruined pop culture referencing for any show with an extended production, as they’ll always be late to the party after ten million people have done their own takes. And yes, that’s discouraging, but ultimately, it really shouldn’t matter how much time’s gone by, a pop culture reference can still be funny as long as there’s some kind of unique satirical take on the source material, and as usual with this show, there’s absolutely none to be found. The only “joke” is that the controversial cut to black that ending the legendary series is displayed here as Wiggum opening his mouth to camera about to suck a bullet out of Homer’s ass cheek. Well done, guys.

One good line/moment: Eh, I got nothing for this one.

664. Go Big or Go Homer

Original airdate: October 6, 2019

The premise: Stuck supervising the new crop of power plant interns, Homer is introduced to Mike, an excitable elder millennial who considers him his idol. He begs Homer to be his mentor, which Homer happily accepts, feeling unappreciated at home and by the town at large.

The reaction: Boy, the writers must have been laughing their tits off at this Mike guy, it feels like 70% of all the dialogue in this episode is just his motor mouth saying… jokes? I think? For an episode that focuses so heavily on this character, I am completely lost as to who he’s supposed to be and what I’m to get out of his “character progression,” or what that even was. Mike is a 35-year-old voiced by the 49-year-old Michael Rapaport, who I’m not at all familiar with, so any kind of inside joke paralleling or connecting Mike’s personality with his voice actor is completely lost on me. “Homer’s Phobia’s”s John was effectively a yellow John Waters, but his personality and identity was wholly realized within the episode on its own. Anyway, Mike is one of a dozen new interns at the power plant, who immediately sticks up for Homer when he gets stymied by the others asking him actual questions about the plant. Mike looks up to Homer thanks to countless news stories about SNPP’s numerous near-meltdowns over the years always featuring Homer at the epicenter of the crisis (despite Homer being a town pariah at this point, I guess none of these articles Mike presumably has obsessively read over and over again at this point implicate he was responsible for these disasters). The first half of the episode is just him going on and on about what an honor it is for him to worship at Homer’s feet and how fucking amazing he is. But why? Mike is not a scientist or an engineer (“Why not follow my hero into the world’s greatest calling: nuclear whatever!”) He never asks Homer any questions about his job or any specific interest in what he does. It’s not even broad like he admires Homer’s “courage” for taking charge and averting all those meltdowns, like it’s just a general heroism he looks up to him for. It’s just… nothing. Mike looks up to Homer because that’s what we wrote in the script. He wears a basketball jersey throughout and is obsessed with the sport, namedropping numerous players; why isn’t one of them his hero? That doesn’t come into play in the story, I guess it’s just another hilarious quirk from this great new character.

Homer meanwhile doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He’s thrilled someone is giving him the respect he thinks he deserves. But Mike also has an incredible anger issue. Multiple times in the episode, when someone nearby is insulting Homer, his face goes red and he goes off on an insult comic tirade against the ignorant clod who would dare insult his beloved mentor. One of his victims happens to be Bart, during a family dinner with Mike and his pregnant wife as invited guests. Despite witnessing Mike verbally abusing his son to his face to the point of tears firsthand, Homer doesn’t say a damn word when Marge throws him out of the house, and never apologizes to her or Bart about it (“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” “Once would be nice!”) The conversation immediately pivots off of Marge attesting this adult man that screamed at her young child is a dangerous lunatic, to Homer whining that she and the kids don’t respect him like Mike does. But yeah, Mike actually appears to be mentally unstable, and it was getting more and more overt I thought the episode would eventually have to deal with it. Instead, Homer decides to actually attempt to be a mentor, in his sole action of expressing interest in Mike’s dumb-ass idea: a business that sells pizza by the slice instead of entire pies. He gets a food truck thanks to a legitimate loan from the mob, leading to he and Homer to get chased to a junk yard by Fat Tony and company, who then lay down their arms because they like Mike’s dumb-ass idea and can also use it for money laundering oh who gives a flying shit. In the end, Mike’s business with Fat Tony is a big success, Fat Tony makes Homer tear up when he calls him a great mentor, and shots over the credits show Mike thriving with his work and family and living a wonderful life all thanks to Homer believing in him! Ohhhhhhh boy! He isn’t delusional or has serious anger issues to work on, he’s just a goofy character that we all love! Mike the adult intern! This one was a real head scratcher, again, I honestly have no idea what they were going for with the Mike character, and as the episode is solely centered around him, that’s a serious problem. His insane actions and serious character flaws clash dramatically with the clean, safe happy ending we’re given, and none of the random pieces thrown at us fit together whatsoever. A very dumb, strange, dumb, dumb, dumb episode.

Three items of note:
– Homer begins his talk to the new plant interns blending a bunch of millennial stereotypes together, but thanks to this show’s floating timeline, the 38-year-old Homer would now have been born in 1981, making him… a millennial! What a scary world we live in. When we get to the point the show is still airing and Homer is as old as I am, I think I’ll just instantly turn into a fossil.
– Mike blows up at Mr. Burns to stand up for Homer, and as thanks, he ends up getting shot in the face point blank with an old musket by Burns (filled with hundred-year-old pellets that merely embed themselves in his face). Certainly an unexpected ending to the scene, but one that is ultimately pointless, as there are no repercussions from this event, and Mike’s food truck is shown thriving in the power plant parking lot at the end, so everything’s all good!
– There really isn’t a whole lot of other specific stuff to comment on, since this episode is so absolutely heavily focused on this one-off character we will (God willing) never see again. I guess members of the staff just really love Michael Rapaport, or are like good friends with him. Doing some quick Internet research, it appears he’s a pretty big sports guy, so I guess that explains Mike’s sports obsession. He’s also responsible for this, which I guarantee is ten thousand times funnier than anything in this abysmal episode.

One good line/moment: Mike giving Bart a vicious verbal beat down leaves the Simpson dining room speechless, except for Lisa, who is adorably laughing her ass off at her brother being made the fool for once. Yeardley Smith’s performance is just lovely, and it got a big genuine smile out of me for once, as it effectively added a joke to the truly horrific and shocking moment, some expert comedic timing I haven’t seen from this show in years. Ignoring the fact that the show did absolutely fucking nothing to address or deal with Mike’s transgressions following this scene, it was an honestly great moment.

663. The Winter Of Our Monetized Content

Original airdate: September 29, 2019

The premise: When an outlandish fight between Homer and Bart goes viral online, a social marketing-savvy hipster seeks to make them into profitable Internet celebrities. Meanwhile, Lisa fights back against the school’s new privatized detention system.

The reaction: Aaaaaaaand we’re back, and boy, what a low impact dud of a premiere. Not having watched this show in four months, coming back to it, it’s really surprising how thin the storytelling is. So with our A-story, Warburton Parker (voiced by John Mulaney) appears to basically narrate most of the episode in talking about how he can monetize Homer and Bart’s father-son fights online, after their original live video was watched and laughed at by everybody in the whole damn world (example #659 of a Simpson becoming an instant success/worldwide phenomenon overnight). So Homer and Bart are totally onboard with doing these fights… but why? For money? Warburton gives them a $5000 check at one point, but we’re never told how much cash they’re getting and what they’re doing with it. For the fame? They pay it some lip service, and we see Homer and Bart are both recognized by their peers, but they don’t seem to regard that all that much either. But amidst their videotaped brawls, the two find that they enjoy each other’s company, which ultimately gets them in trouble when Comic Book Guy leaks a video of them hugging. But these two incredibly brief bonding scenes barely even feel like they’re related to the story. This is an episode where in my head I’m already coming up with three or four different angles this story could take to actually work as a story, but instead, this just feels like an incredibly thin outline that they created scenes around and shoved through production. And honestly, I’m not making like I’m a super smart writer or anything, it just seems like obvious stuff they might do. Like where was Marge during all this? She could have been involved, chastising Homer and Bart for promoting violence and sewing discord in the family. Or maybe Homer and Bart’s renewed relationship would make their fighting seem less “authentic,” and Parker could start making lies or something to make them get at each other’s throats even more. That would have made him more of, like, a character, instead of some rando who just walked into the Simpsons’ backyard and wedged himself into their lives for fifteen minutes. Instead, there’s just no emotional element at all, Homer and Bart just waft through the story until the very end, when they decide that it’s stupid and they don’t want to fight anymore, and that’s the end. Boy, I can’t wait for twenty-or-so more episodes of gold like this!!

Three items of note:
– I don’t really have much to say about the B-plot. Lindsey Naegle comes in to run detention, having the kids make children’s license plates. The idea of privatizing detention and hand-waving child labor is potentially interesting, but of course the show does basically nothing with the idea. The resolution makes absolutely no sense; when the kids strike, Chalmers has the brilliant idea to replace them with the teachers, a group who “will do anything for money as long as it doesn’t involve kids.” So we see the faculty happily making license plates, and that’s the end of the story line (Ned Flanders is not present in the group, as it still seems the writing staff keeps forgetting and re-remembering they made him the new fourth grade teacher). But surely the teachers aren’t working for free after school hours? Naegle stressed she wanted “free” labor. But if this is during school hours, who’s watching the kids? Fuck me, I guess, for wanting this story to make sense and have some kind of coherent conclusion, right?
– The animation during Homer and Bart’s first fight stood out to me. It’s definitely more fluid than the standard fare for this show, which we’ve seen a bit more of since the production switched from Film Roman to Rough Draft (Rough Draft has worked with the show from the beginning, so I don’t know if they took over production in full, or are working with another American studio. I can’t seem to find a conclusive answer.) Anyway, it’s a welcome change to get scenes that have a bit more life in them, but watching this scene, while containing more drawings to make the movement more fluid, it all felt kind of floaty, mainly because there were no sharp, distinct poses to really ground the action. The show in its hey-day was a champion at really, really funny and expressive poses, but in the more rigid structure the show is created in now, we really don’t get much of that at all anymore.
– When Parker tells Homer and Bart they’ve gone viral, they excitedly do the flossing dance, accompanied by a chyron reading “DON’T SUE US, BACKPACK KID.” I believe last season they had a bit of Bart flossing, but honestly, at this point, this joke feels very, very tired. I think I talked about before how in this instantaneous meme-ing age, trying to do topical pop culture references on a TV show schedule is a complete fool’s errand, since everyone instantly makes fun of things as they happen immediately on social media. Parker also makes a joke about Homer and Bart getting more views than the Murphy Brown reboot, which is one hell of an obscure reference. I understand that the joke is that it came and went and no one remembers it, but fuck, that reboot ran last season, the company I work at created promotion for it, and I didn’t even remember it.
Speaking of references, the B-plot kicks off when Lisa is sent to detention, kicking off with a “Making a Misbehaver” opening title sequence, which mimics the open to the Netflix show Making a Murderer. I have not seen it, so to me, this sequence means absolutely nothing to me. For the hundredth time, recreating something from pop culture exactly does not count as a joke. I remember It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did an entire episode based off of Murderer, but it mocked the conventions of a documentary-style show and created a new narrative that fit and made sense within the world and its characters. Having never seen Murderer, the episode still worked for me because it fit into the show’s world and made jokes with and around the parody. Here, the “parody” means nothing to me, and to someone who has seen the show, I guess they just smile and nod because they get the reference?

One good line/moment: Nothing I can really recall. This one was a real snoozer. It’s gonna be a loooooong season.

662. Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion

Original airdate: May 12, 2019

The premise: Desperate to find the kids health coverage, Marge’s last resort is crystal healing from some weirdo new age store. When the crystals seemingly work wonders on Bart’s ADD, Marge takes a greater interest in the newly defunct business, opening her own new age healing store out of the garage.

The reaction: Marge starts a new business, taking on new age medicine, Bart feels bad for lying to his mother… all of this ground we’ve trodden over before, making for a real thud of a season finale. Our plot goes into motion with Mr. Burns eliminating children’s health plans from his employee benefits, and Marge needing to find an affordable alternative to Bart’s Focusyn ADD medication. I guess they worked out the kinks of that drug over twenty years time. I get that it’s implied that Bart is a rambunctious scamp that needs to be drugged to contain himself, but the fact that we never see such a thing makes any contrast the show seek to create not as effective. Out of options, Marge wanders into a new age healing store, where she’s informed of the magical power of crystals. Wearing one around his neck, Bart comes home with an A paper, winning Marge over on this kooky new treatment. Eventually, she comes upon the healing store’s inventory when the owner joins a cult (Marge seems relatively nonplussed by this), and eventually opens up her own shop to sell to her eager-to-buy friends. When she eventually expands her marketplace to the likes of fairy traps, moon potion and brain powder, it’s unclear exactly how much of this Marge believes to not be a big fake scam. She had a moment of internal conflict when she initially picks up the business, questioning how much these products actually do work, but after that, she’s just selling this shit happily with no real qualms about it. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers Bart’s been using the crystal to help him cheat on his tests by convoluted means, and eventually forces him to tell Marge the truth. At the exact same time, angry customers come at her wanting refunds, revealing the crap never worked after all (at this point, weeks must have gone by, what took them so long?), Marge closes up shop and that’s it. Last episode featured her wanting some excitement in her life starting a business, and I commented it would have been better if we actually saw some of that instead of her just telling us. I guess I got my wish. She was proud of what she accomplished, but rather than show any actual reflection about it, or any kind of satisfying wrap-up to whatever the hell we just watched, instead our final scene features Homer in a leotard working out to a women’s exercise tape. Sigh. This is the second episode written by new writer Megan Amram; after seeing “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” I wrote that I was interested in seeing what her next show would be. Well… there it was. Fuck me for trying to find a hope spot, I guess. Her first show felt like it had a little personal identity to it, but this one is just like all the rest, written and rewritten and rewritten in the writer’s room until it’s just like a bowl of flavorless mush.

Three items of note:
– Two thirds into the show, Marge is confronted by Piper (Jenny Slate, another great comedian wasted), owner and proprietor of a new age kiosk at the Shelbyville Mall, pissed that Marge’s store is cutting into her business. So are Shelbyvillians driving to the neighboring town to get their holistic bullcrap? The only clientele we’ve seen thus far are familiar faces (Cookie Kwan, Sarah Wiggum, Helen Lovejoy, etc), so whatever. Heated up by her newfound success in business, Marge decides to take Piper head on by opening her own kisok across from hers. In Shelbyville. Why didn’t they just make this at the Springfield Mall? And haven’t there been a handful of episodes from the past fifteen years re-framing Shelbyville as an affluent, high-class well-to-do city who mock their hick neighbors? Oh, who cares. Right as Marge is reigning supreme over Piper, Bart admits his lie, and then the likes of Luann and Nelson’s mom show up to complain that her shit don’t work (driving all the way to Shelbyville to complain, I guess. Did they carpool?) Blegh.
– Ned walks next door with one of Bart’s A papers to compliment Marge on the success of her “pagan hogwash.” For a moment, I was wondering why the hell he would know about Bart’s grades, but then I remembered that one year ago, they officially made him the new fourth grade teacher. We even get a small scene with him later before Lisa exposes Bart’s cheating plan. Now, I’m a freak who still watches this garbage show and obsesses over details way too much, and I forgot that Ned was the new teacher. They haven’t mentioned or shown it once for this entire season. The school has always been primary set piece for this series, and a new teacher for Bart is a mighty big role, let alone it being a major secondary character we’ve known since the show’s beginning. This is a tremendous change in the dynamics of this show, and it hasn’t been explored at all. How does Ned differ from Mrs. Krabappel, his dead wife? How does he feel about filling her shoes? What is his dynamic with Bart, Nelson, or the other students? How does he get along with Skinner or Willie or Miss Hoover, his new co-workers? These are all very rich questions a writer would hypothetically be interested in exploring. But why the fuck bother? We’ll just keep writing the same shit, and only mention Ned as the teacher if we absolutely have to. What kind of mentality is that?
– Bart initially balks at Lisa demanding he tell Marge the truth. She rebuffs, “You don’t realize how bad this is, do you? You betrayed the one person who still believes in you.” Just when I thought they were going to actually have a nice Bart-Lisa moment where he reflects and processes what he’s done, we go into a silly, upbeat montage set to The Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama” featuring Homer tossing Bart into a lion’s den and Marge fending them off, and Marge helping Bart write his chalkboard punishment. Following that, Bart is aghast (“Oh my God! She’s shown me nothing but love! How do I make this guilt go away?”) Terrible. I think back to the great writing from shows like “Marge Be Not Proud” where Bart and Lisa talk about how Marge’s anger and disappointment is manifesting in a different way (“Her heart won’t just wipe clean like this bathroom countertop. It absorbs everything that touches it, like this bathroom rug.”) And then when Bart asks how he can fix it, Lisa shrugs. Because she’s an eight year old kid. What beautiful, realistic, and funny writing. It’s a true rarity when characters on this show actually talk or react in a fashion that feels like they’re believable people, rather than just joke-spewing automatons jittering about for twenty minutes until they run out of juice.
– So this show has already mined material out of new age hippy stores almost twenty years ago, with some of the only good material from “Make Room for Lisa” (“Namaste.” “And an ooga-booga to you too!”) But more of this show reminded me of one of South Park‘s best earlier episodes “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” where the gullible morons of South Park are tricked into buying the expensive wares of holistic medicine by “native” Americans in a shop run by Miss Information. A sick Kyle needs a kidney transplant, and this new age bullshit makes his parents feel like they’re actually doing something, but it’s really just making it worse. When Stan asserts that a doctor at the hospital told him that Kyle needs an operation or he’ll die, Miss Information retorts, “Well, of course the doctor told you that, because he wants to make money!” Then she turns to charge Kyle’s mother hundreds of dollars for some more crap. It’s a pretty great episode that actually has something to say about this topic, as well as telling a personal story with the main characters (the only person in town with Kyle’s blood type is Cartman, and he isn’t going to give up his kidney quietly). None of this, of course, is present in this whimper of an episode.

One good line/moment: There were a handful of smirk/light chuckle-worthy moments. I did enjoy that Marge’s makeshift store was called “MURMUR.”

And so ends the momentous 30th season. Thankfully it seems like season 28 is still the absolute low point of the series thus far, with the two seasons following it seeming like the attempted scraping and clawing out of the deep, dark hole they’ve been plummeting down since the year 2000. It’s hard to really rank these seasons how little I enjoy any of this shit anymore, but I given season 30 a bit more credit over season 29 for containing a couple of interesting ideas and concepts that unfortunately were completely squandered (“Krusty the Clown,” “The Clown Stays in the Picture”) and for “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” an episode that wasn’t perfect, but I could at least feel like there was a ghost of a new, authentic voice behind it. As this season wraps up, The Simpsons is now officially a Disney property. They’ll be exclusively streaming on Disney+, airing on Freeform, and our favorite family’s faces will likely be plastered all over many a Disney corporate event. The show is still signed on for two more seasons, and at this point, I really don’t see any end in sight at this point. What else will Disney attempt to squeeze from this withered husk of a series? How long can the show possibly go? Tune in this fall for the soul-shriveling continuation of Me Blog Write Good! As usual, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you guys enjoy reading this thing, and as long as this show refuses to die, then neither will this goddamn stupid blog. Bring it on, season 31.