565. Walking Big & Tall

Original airdate: February 8, 2015

The premise:
Homer is empowered by a fat acceptance group to be proud of his size, much to Marge’s chagrin. In an unrelated opening act, Bart and Lisa write a new Springfield town anthem.

The reaction: I feel slightly redundant harping on the exposition laden dialogue at this point, but it’s got to be the series’ biggest fatal flaw at this point. When over half of your script is literally explaining what’s happening and what characters feel about the story repeatedly, what room is left for the actual story to actually happen? This episode is a pretty flagrant offender of this. Roughly nine minutes in, our story actually begins: Homer seeks out a weight loss group, but ends up attending a weight empowerment group instead, and is inspired by their charismatic scooter-bound leader to love himself for who he is. Hearing this, Marge, of course, is not pleased. Homer comes home and reiterates everything we already learned in the previous scene about the group. Later, when Marge attempts to bail Homer out of jail, they have the same conversation and espouse their same feelings on the matter. Then they do it again towards the end before the “climax,” if it can so be called. We’re left with a story about Homer feeling fat and proud of it, consisting of him just repeating that point over and over, but never actually seeing it. There’s one scene of him apologizing to the bathroom scale, but that’s really about it. Because of this, it doesn’t matter how many times we hear Homer repeat the same lines about “wide pride,” or talk about how awesome his new leader is, when we barely see or understand anything that’s being done, or know anything about this new character. It just ends up being a broken down mess of a story where everyone just talks in circles. On top of that, the subject of obesity in America is a rich one; scorn and ridicule of the overweight is a real issue, so the subject matter of this show could really have meant something. I mean, I knew it wouldn’t, but in capable hands, it could. But it’s just a series of never-ending first draft, base level fat jokes. Rubbery sound effects when all the fatties are crammed in a jail cell. The leader slurps up his fries with a straw. When he dies (spoiler alert), the funeral director repeatedly walks in with more and more urns of his remains. There’s nothing more to these jokes than “laugh at the fatties! LAUGH AT THEM!” In the classic years, we saw plenty of gags at the expense of Homer’s and others’ weight, but there was always something more to them, more layers of humor on top, and they never felt scornful. But now, just like “jokes” aimed at gays or other religions, the social satire that this show was once known for now feels very petty and small.

Three items of note:
– The opening act feels completely removed from the actual plot. It almost felt like a throwback to the 2000s when that was more common practice for the show. In a flashback, we see a young, strapping Mayor Hans Moleman present a town song, which is later revealed was a melody sold to many towns the nation over. I guess we’re supposed to be charmed to see him and the Old Jewish Man in their younger days, or smaller goofs like a younger Krusty in a Thriller jacket, but really, who cares? In the present, Lisa volunteers to write a new town song (after turning down Pharrell Williams in his three-second cameo), and she teams up with Bart to write it (following an awkward reminiscence to “Stark Raving Dad”). The episode begins with the old anthem, and this orphaned plot ends with Bart, Lisa and the other kids performing the new one, and both are just terrible and unfunny. What was the last song this show did that was actually memorable? When Weird Al guest starred? They attempt to bring the plot back when Marge begs her children to write a song to sway Homer back to getting healthy, but that just leads to them bickering and complaining about being one-hit wonders or something. It was a really awkward scene.
– I know I just harped on about the expository dialogue, but it really affects every aspect of these episodes. As pervasive as it is, sometimes certain moments annoy me more than others. The kids’ new anthem gets a standing ovation, we see everyone is on their feet in thunderous applause… except Homer, who is firmly lodged in his seat. We saw before the performance he had to squeeze himself into the tight seat, and now we see him struggling to get up, so if you’re watching the screen and have one working brain cell, you understand what’s happening. But lo, here comes Marge to fucking explain it for you (“Homer, it’s a standing ovation! Get up! Our kids just did something amazing! Get up!”) I CAN SEE, MARGE. I CAN SEE.
– There’s a pretty egregious time eating scene of Homer at Moe’s reading off a list of insulting “fat” names he would no longer like to be called. It just goes on and on and on, for forty long seconds. I’m sure that some of them might be halfway amusing, but a lot of them are not, and some not even really jokes (Wide Load, Fatso, Lard Ass, Pudgy Wudgy). Just got to pad this out to make air time, any way they can.

One good line/moment: Maggie and Abe feeding each other “Baby’s First Peaches” and “Senior’s Last Peaches” was a cut one-off joke.

564. The Musk Who Fell To Earth

Original airdate: January 25, 2015

The premise:
Elon Musk arrives in Springfield, and bizarrely inspired by Homer’s asinine non-sequiturs, works towards making the town a more efficient place to live.

The reaction: It’s not a good sign when an episode starts giving you strong “Lisa Goes Gaga” vibes. The conceits of the two shows are pretty similar: a mega guest star appears in Springfield out of nowhere, acts like a slightly exaggerated version of themselves, and effortlessly makes the town a better place. Just as we saw with Gaga’s inflated persona, the “joke” is that Musk is a quiet genius, and he doesn’t emote, and just espouses his ideas and world views with no joke to them. They have a running gag that they do four times where they push in on his face as dramatic music plays as he’s thinking of an idea, even that reminded me of the weird moments in “Gaga” of her getting psychic visions of people being unhappy. The plot here is that Musk finds himself attracted to Homer’s nonsense non-sequiturs, being able to turn them into ideas for inventions. That leads him to wanting to make the nuclear plant more efficient, but ends up putting it in the deep red under Burns’ nose, creating massive lay-offs. We had seen Springfield turn into an advanced utopia of sorts, but now it’s in disarray, and people hate Musk’s guts. But whenever we see Musk, he doesn’t seem affected at all, he’s just enthusiastically prattling off idea after idea to a bored Homer. When you put your guest star and focal point on a pedestal, making them infallible and ever-awesome, what kind of story can you get out of it?  We saw it with Gaga never having any sort of moment of clarity about her incessant pushing and forcing an eight-year-old to bottle up her feelings or that she peddles meaningless platitudes about self-esteem and affirmation, Lisa just forgave her for no reason and Gaga went out with a bang. Here, Musk similarly goes through no arc. Homer doesn’t want to be his friend anymore because none of his ideas work, I guess? And then Musk seems kind of sad when he leaves in his little rocket ship, missing his one true friend. There was a moment half-way into the show where Homer gives Musk a big hug, and he seems very uncertain about it, and after a few seconds, warms up to it and hugs him back. In a show that actually cared about good writing, I thought it might be a character turn where Musk, once monotone and emotionless, learns how to emote, but he goes too far, and starts being incredibly clingy and annoying, and that’s what drives Homer away. But of course not. This show was once famous for presenting celebrities in subversive, interesting, and even sometimes, downright mean lights. Gone are the days of holding Tom Jones at gunpoint, blowing up Spinal Tap’s bus, or getting Buzz Aldrin to say “Second comes right after first!” and holding for an awkward pause. Now celebrities arrive to save the day, to be fawned after, and to do absolutely no wrong. I still think the Gaga episode is worse because of the complete and absolute bungling of Lisa’s story, but this one isn’t far behind.

Three items of note:
– When he lands in the Simpson back yard, Lisa is immediately at the ready to explain exactly who Elon Musk is, and there’s a runner throughout of her always trying to suck up to him (“Maybe we’re the same, two lost ships in the intellectual sea, each of whom could inspire the other!”) Remember when Lisa was eight? There’s a scene with her and Musk in the back of the car, where Musk is writing down his dialogue on a notepad for some reason, and he rips each new page out over and over and over as Lisa talks over it with commentary. It’s so, so, so bad. At the end of that scene, we get the first instance of Musk being inspired by Homer’s gibberish, which is pretty self-explanatory, but of course, we need Lisa to explain what’s happening (“He’s taking your Homer-isms and turning them into his own great ideas! This is the most inspirational moment in my life!”) Please, shut up-ah your mouth, Lisa.
– We also get some limp Burns this episode, who lets Elon Musk do whatever he pleases with plant operations until it’s too late. Smithers, for whatever reason, doesn’t trust him, and we see him fretting about it and confront Burns, and later the two make up, but really, it’s just empty time filler. And Burns releases the hounds indoors for whatever reason. He also attempts to use a trap door. I feel like those are the only few elements left of vindictive Burns. Before, they were hilarious exaggerated touches to his villainous, but grounded character. But now, with how neutered the character feels in most appearances, the jokes feel awkward and out of place.
– Speaking of which, Burns plans to have Elon Musk killed in the third act, which also feels incredibly odd. Surely there are plenty of other options he could have come up with to dispose of Musk besides murder. And then when he arranges snipers to take him out, they’re all old, enfeebled, and promptly die upon taking their first shot (“Recoil was pretty bad.”) Burns is old and out-of-touch, but he’s pretty smart, there’s no reason he’d rely on these geezers to take care of business for him. Remember the hit man from “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”? I sure do, and I really wish I was watching that right now.

One good line/moment: Nuthin’. Elon Musk was boring as fuck. Despite it being kind of a clusterfuck story-wise, I enjoyed his appearance in season 20’s South Park a whole lot more. Even his acting was miles better.

563. Bart’s New Friend

Original airdate: January 11, 2015

The premise:
Homer is hypnotized into believing he’s a ten-year-old, and Bart is delighted to find Homer is a much better best friend than a father.

The reaction: This episode got some minor buzz, as it was based on an old spec script Judd Apatow had written twenty years ago that I guess the crew found at the bottom of a dresser drawer or something and decided to actually use it. Apatow wrote it back in the show’s heyday, and I can’t even imagine them doing a premise like this back then. But it’s almost impossible to judge; like all other episodes “written” by guest writers, this one went through the rewrite machine to where it’s indecipherable and indistinguishable from the rest of the slop. Homer is forced to actually do his job for once when the other sector 7G safety inspector retires, leaving him a work-obsessed mess. The family goes to a circus to calm his nerves, where a hypnotist turns him into a kid. From that point on, the work plot is over. You’d think it would be potentially funny, and a no-brainer story-wise, if you had Burns or Smithers interacting with Kid Homer, or Lenny and Carl try to bring him to Moe’s, and them being shocked that Homer doesn’t like beer, and so on. But nope, nothing. All we get is an off-hand remark from Lenny and Carl that the retired safety inspector came back, said as they are observing Bart and Homer from their backyard for absolutely no reason, because I guess they forgot about the first act’s plot and crammed that line in last minute. Kid Homer really doesn’t do much of anything in this episode, and after he comes home from the hospital, interacts with almost no one except Bart. The thin premise is Bart feels closer to his dad as a kid and doesn’t want him to go back. They attempt a sweet, serious moment of Homer saying goodbye to him before he’s turned back to normal, but it holds absolutely no weight whatsoever. We saw them playing in a montage, but that was sandwiched between two exposition-heavy sequences of them of Kid Homer talking about how he would never want to grow up like adult Homer, and Bart talking about how he doesn’t want him to change back, and then they repeat them two or three more times just so you remember it, per usual. It’s just another episode where they want you to care about something, but there’s so little we actually see of that thing, rather, we’re just told we should care. As usual, it’s tell, not show. Hmm. Well, given how interminably long Apatow’s last couple movies were, maybe this episode has more in common with his original script than I thought. Zing!

Three items of note:
– The couch gag felt pretty lazy and not well thought out. It’s Homer, Marge and Bart as the Three Bears coming home to find Lisa/Goldilocks has defiled their couches, done in a nondescript classic (sorta) animation style. The Bears are irate, Lisa screams, they get into a huge tussle… then we end on Marge, Bart and Lisa feasting on Homer’s ripped apart body. Huh? What happened here? Why would Marge and Bart be eating their husband/father? Homer getting hurt or maimed is just par for the course for couch gags at this point, it’s like a get-out-of-scene free card. All it did was make me think of the bit from “Treehouse of Horror XI” where Goldilocks is viciously mauled and killed from behind the door, complete with ear-curdling screams and blood pooling. Now that was wonderfully grim.
– There’s a scene here that’s pretty indicative of the tell, not show problem. The bullies go to beat up Bart, who retorts that Kid Homer will beat them right back if they do. Then we get this (“That’s not your friend, it’s your screwed up Dad.” “Pretty sad, really.” “We’ll leave you alone.”) And then they leave of their own accord. It’s just these characters standing and explaining what we already know, and surely they must have seen Homer before they walked up to Bart and almost wedgie-ed him. Then we get this gem from Bart (“You did it, Homer! You saved me from the bullies! You’re the coolest kid I ever met!”) Homer didn’t do anything. He literally just stood there, motionless and silent. The scene is all about how great Kid Homer is to Bart, and he didn’t have to do a thing. Why have characters do any actions relevant to the story when characters can just say that they did them? It’s so much easier to just tell the audience what’s happening and what characters think about stuff than to, you know, actually show that stuff is happening.
– Bart takes Homer to Itchy & Scratchy Land to enjoy a little more time as a kid. It’s jarring how the theme park humor was so on point last episode, but now, everything’s back to normal. We get a Soarin’ “parody,” which goes on very long, and is just a bunch of limp gags going over areas of Springfield, in very awkward flat 2D zooms. Unlike last episode, nothing about this is riffing on Soarin’, it’s just, “Hey, look, this is Soarin’!” It’s also a very unique ride to recreate, something that I think if you hadn’t been on it, you’d be a bit confused as to what it was.

One good line/moment: As a sucker for theme park gags, this one made me chuckle (“We’ve only been on two rides!” “You should’ve used Fastpass.” “Fastpass can’t solve everything!” “Spoken like a kid who’s never lived in a non-Fastpass world.”)

562. The Man Who Came to Be Dinner

Original airdate: January 4, 2015

The premise:
The Simpsons are tricked into boarding a UFO to Rigel 7, Kang and Kodos’ home planet, where they are kept in a zoo and must escape before they are devoured by Rigelian royalty.

The reaction: In the last decade and a half, this show has drifted further and further from any semblance of realism, so a concept this alien (laugh track) as this honestly doesn’t phase me that much. I remember seeing some adamant contention online about this episode when it aired (and a “D” rank from AV Club, and they treat this show with the kiddiest kid gloves ever), but I kinda don’t get why. What sanctity is this show be protecting at this point? All my goodwill is drained at this point; if anything, I’d respect the show more for doing more crazy shit like this. Shockingly enough, I found this to be the most bearable show in a good while, in that it felt like I was watching a subpar Futurama episode. Also, why the hell does this feel more science-fiction-y than the goddamn crossover? Anyway, we start with the family taking a trip to Dizneeland, a set piece that I actually kind of enjoyed; I’m a big theme park nerd, and a lot of the jokes were pretty well done. Through a ridiculous contrivance, the Simpsons are catapulted into outer space via a space craft disguised as a ride building (whatever) and end up in the clutches of Kang and Kodos. From that point, as mentioned, it becomes B or C-grade Futurama: the space gags, all of the stuff involving Rigel 7 and the other aliens; I’m surprised they didn’t have J. Stewart Burns or another Futurama alum write this one. Actually, Al Jean, writer of last week’s train wreck, shares the writing credit with David Mirkin, which I guess makes sense given the show started getting crazier (in a good way) on his watch during seasons 5 and 6. The actual plot I’m slightly fuzzy on: the family is kept at a zoo (which we had seen a year prior in Futurama‘s “Fry and Leela’s Big Fling”), and explained to that the Rigelians are a learned species, and that “at the end of a life well lived, there is one final ritual: we must eat one of you.” Who is he talking about? They must eat an alien creature before they die? Is this just for royalty, or for everyone? I wasn’t really clear as to what this section was all about. I guess it doesn’t matter, but even in a batshit crazy show as this, some logic and meaningful plot progression would be helpful. A lot of this material is more bizarre than funny, but in this specific scenario, I can accept it because the entire episode is set up to be out-of-this-world, literally. I’m certainly in no rush to watch this one again, but I can honestly say it was the funniest episode I’ve seen in maybe over a decade. Yeah, I’m as surprised as I assume you are.

Three items of note:
– This episode was directed by series forefather and animation extraordinaire David Silverman, his first in eight years. He had done a couple Treehouse of Horrors before then, and I was a little disappointed that there weren’t a lot of visually dynamic scenes or bits of neat character animation as he’s known for. The only thing that stood out was at the very, very beginning with Homer driving and getting more and more irate at Bart and Lisa’s constant “Are we there yet?”s. The timing felt a little snappier than normal, and I felt we’d be seeing more nice moments like this going forward, but nothing else really jumps out at me thinking back.
– When the family first go into space, we get an extended sequence featuring Homer eating chips in zero gravity, in an incredibly extended tribute to “Deep Space Homer.” Again, I don’t really understand the purpose of this kind of fan service. Are we supposed to jump up and applaud that they’re doing this gag again? And outside of just copying something that’s already been done, they alter it to make it worse; the humor of the pure serene, and quiet, joy of Homer indulging in salty snack food is replaced with him squabbling with Bart as he eats some of the chips. Bah.
– We even got a neat couch gag that wasn’t done by a guest animator for once, with a bunch of classic art parodies on a gallery wall, and the Simpsons observing them on a gallery bench. Then, almost to bookend, over the credits, we have a tribute to Star Trek with stills of the characters re-enacting classic scenes. Even though it’s the exact same thing Futurama did over the credits of their own Star Trek episode fifteen years earlier, it was still neat, and helped by Alf Clausen’s amazing Trek-inspired orchestration.
– Tress MacNeille voices the alien leader of the rebellion, which is another of her voices that sounds like we’ve heard it a thousand times, but later, I actually very much enjoyed her as the Rigelian Queen, where she got some good laughs (“This ass is most disagreeable,” “I have seen many glories and have only one regret: that my breasts aren’t bigger.” “I don’t see any breasts.” “…and those will be the last words I ever hear.”)

One good line/moment: Wow! For once, I actually have a bunch of stuff to choose from! There’s a bunch of gags that work on Rigel 7, but I’m a sucker for anything ripping on Disney Parks, and most of the first act jokes were pretty successful. Making fun of Tomorrowland’s outdated view of the future, Hall of Diznee C.E.O.’s (No Shareholder Questions), and the politically correct Pirates of the Caribbean, which given recent news, feels more timely than ever (“They revamped this ride because of massive complaints from two people.”)

561. I Won’t Be Home for Christmas

Original airdate: December 7, 2014

The premise:
Marge kicks Homer out on Christmas Eve for coming home late, but when she finds it was only because he stopped to keep a terminally Moe company, she and the kids go out to look for him.

The reaction: I was mildly intrigued to see Al Jean has the solo writing credit on this one, the first since “Day of the Jackanapes” over a decade ago. I wonder what in particular made him want to jump back in and take charge of writing this one. But whatever the reason, it feels no less lackadaisically awful as the rest of the lot, this one feeling even more purposeless than normal. The conceit is that Homer’s getting off work on Xmas Eve, and Moe both causes him to crash his car in a snow bank by the bar, and then begs and pleads with Homer to not leave him all alone. It’s less of the actually effective and endearing sad Moe, and more of the pathetic and cloying sad Moe, throwing himself at Homer’s mercy, and perching on his… head? But Homer has to get back home to his family, or Marge will be quite cross. What is he to do? Well, Moe’s predilection to suicide is well known to everyone in town; there’s even been at least two past holiday episodes featuring “hilarious” sequences of him attempting to take his own life. So, why not give Marge a ring or a text and tell him his ol’ buddy needs him for a couple of hours. Or, better yet, take the poor man home so he can have a nice, warm Christmas with some caring loved ones. Instead, Homer is radio silent all night, returns home, and before he can give any sort of explanation, Marge boots him out of the house. Homer attempts to return to Moe’s, but the doors are locked, for some reason. A little later, Moe drops in through the Simpson chimney for some reason, and despite not knowing Homer got in trouble and is currently out missing, explains what happened that night. This freak appearance by Moe is enough to make Marge do an instant 180 (“This is what I was hoping for, for it not to have been completely his fault!”) On Homer’s end, we just get a random assortment of scenes of him wandering around places open late at night: talking with Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart, going to a late night movie with other lonely freaks, bonding with Flanders by his Leftorium kiosk for some reason… it’s all like him trying to find a place that will have him for Christmas, or somewhere he can do some good, or something? Then Marge finds him and everything is okay, as she gives another one of her patented joke excuses for her husband’s terrible behavior (“I’m not going to always assume that you screwed up, because I realized that maybe there’s a good explanation for what you do, or a crazy one that’s pretty entertaining.”) I don’t think I’ve seen an episode this aimless since the iPad show a few seasons back. The simplicity of it would almost be charming if it were actually building to something and was, y’know, well written. And with jokes. Jokes would’ve been nice.

Three items of note:
– There’s a gag here that’s exactly like one from “Super Franchise Me,” where a thought bubble appears to extend a joke out further for no reason. Upon learning the lottery is a big sham that helps no one, we get this exchange from Homer and Apu (“Doesn’t the money go to schools?” “You have been to our schools, what do you think?”) Not a bad joke on the sad state of public education. But no, I guess because we need to spell the joke out further, or we need to kill more time, or both, we get a thought bubble from Homer featuring he and Marge at the school and them having to bring their own toilet paper or something. Was that really necessary? We’re in season twenty-freaking-six, we’ve seen how shitty Springfield Elementary is, I can connect the dots without you scribbling it in for me.
– Thinking back on it, in creating such an elaborate set-up to keep Homer out late, including tampering with the bar clock, it almost seems like he was intentionally keeping him out so Marge would be angry. Later on, at the Simpsons, he seems just fine, fine enough that he attempts to lock lips with Marge not once, but twice. What’s that all about? And Marge doesn’t seem too perturbed about it either. I guess the suicidal angle wasn’t much part of it after all, Moe was just being a huge asshole.
– We get our first mention of Edna officially being dead in the Homer-Flanders scene, which feels especially deep and overall kind of saccharine. I feel like it would hold more weight if the episode was actually about something, instead of just wandering from vignette to vignette. Is it a parody of empty, schmaltz-filled Christmas specials with overplayed morals of kindness and brotherhood? Or is it one and the same with those trite exercises of pseudo-entertainment?

One good line/moment: When the Simpsons arrive at the retirement home to see if Abe has seen Homer, the old people are all up and about to swarm the new visitors and request things of them. Crazy Old Man demands, “Make them turn the TV to CBS!”

560. Covercraft

Original airdate: November 23, 2014

The premise:
Homer teams up with the other neighborhood bands to form a small town cover band, with Apu as the lead singer, who uncannily channels the sound of 80s crap rock. It isn’t long before the washed up band Sungazer shows up to tap Apu to join them on their new tour.

The reaction: Boring… so boring… When you’re getting flashbacks to “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation,” that’s not the best sign. We’ve got Homer, Lovejoy, Kirk Van Houten and Dr. Hibbert together in a dude band… okay. These are four personalities I don’t see gelling, but of course, the latter three don’t exhibit any real character or really do anything except stand in the background and occasionally say a line about how great things are going (“Guys, are you feeling this? Are you feeling this?” “I’m feeling it.” “I’m definitely feeling it.” “I felt something earlier but I was afraid to bring it up.” “I think we all felt something.” ACTUAL DIALOGUE) The real highlight of the band is Apu, who sings in a completely different voice that’s not Hank Azaria’s (I think) due to some bullshit about 80s wuss rock bleeding into his brain after years of all-night Kwik-E-Mart shifts. So now it’s like “Strummer” meets “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet,” except a drunken Barney being discovered lying on the bathroom floor singing in an angelic voice is actually funny, and this shit isn’t. They sing covers from the fake 80s band Stargazer, and like we’ve seen with style “parodies” this show has attempted over the last few years, they more or less just replicate shitty songs, not actually write jokes and make fun of them. Later, Stargazer shows up, and despite being a fictional band, Kirk names off all four members individually when they first appear as if they were actual celebrities that they always namedrop all the time. They want Apu to replace their dead band member, and he agrees, but Homer gets jealous about his friend’s newfound fame. The writing is so fucking bad… here’s how this goes. Apu gets on the tour bus, and we get this exchange from Kirk and Homer (“Gotta say, I’m kind of jealous of Apu getting a break like that.” “Not me. I’m nothing but happy that our friend is heading for fame and fortune.”) Then Apu flies away in a helicopter, that I guess was on top of the tour bus that nobody noticed, shouting how they’re gonna play Las Vegas. Homer then breaks (“I want his fame and fortune so much!”) The whole episode is this, and for the thousandth time, is nothing new: characters just explaining what they’re feeling and what’s happening. Every fucking episode is like this now. In the end, Homer’s anger subsides when he finds Apu is being held against his will by a contract, they scheme and get Sungazer sick, and Apu gets his buddies back together to play to thunderous applause at a packed house in Springfield. So it’s like the ending of “Strummer,” except not as bad, considering it’s a fake 80s band that Homer and company are replacing and not the Rolling Stones, and I also could give less of a shit. Ugh.

Three items of note:
– Our opening features Moe getting into a back-alley fight with his neighbor, King Toot himself, played by Will Forte (I guess ownership has changed hands since “Lisa’s Pony.”) So many super talented guest stars have been completely and utterly wasted over the past decade-plus of shows, and now Forte joins them. Occasionally we see guest stars put in extra effort on their end, like Willem DeFoe did last show, but they have absolutely zero material to work with. The Last Man on Earth, created by and starring Forte, would premiere on FOX a few months later, and is such a wonderfully cringey and dark series, and he is masterful in it. Shit like this is beneath him. MacGruber is smarter than this. …it’s actually a surprisingly funny movie, go watch it.
– There’s a line early on that really annoyed me. Homer first plays his bass in the garage attracting the attention of the other Simpsons. Lisa comments, “It’s so cool to have another musician in the family!” Let’s ponder this. Lisa is smart enough to be able to see right through her dad that he isn’t truly serious about being a great musician. He bought it on a whim, thinking it would be easy, or he was suckered into it. Which is what happened. It happened at the same store that Lisa was in. She was there when, over the course of what must have been a couple hours, he was suckered into buying the bass and a whole bunch of other musical equipment. But this show has the memory of a mayfly, so I guess they forgot Lisa was in that scene. But again, the line makes no sense if Lisa was there or not. It’s just empty, meaningless dialogue that pushes the story forward; it doesn’t matter who says it, as long as we explain what’s happening. And in the end, Covercraft is a big local hit, so I guess Homer and company were instantly great, just like every other character that tries a new skill. Wonderful.
– The stupid story with Apu, besides the thing with his voice, is that he only feels comfortable singing at the Kwik-E-Mart, so Homer has him wear his uniform under his clothes so he’ll feel comfortable. Later, he attempts to sabotage him by stealing the uniform back when he’s on stage with Sungazer. This feels so fucking thin, like the plot of a shitty tween sitcom or something. And I guess we’re just forgetting about Homer and Apu playing around the world as the BeSharps then. I don’t care that much about continuity at this point, but it doesn’t help when they put a framed picture of the BeSharps on Apu’s dressing room wall for the sake of fan service. So they remember the episode enough to throw in a reference to it, but not enough to realize that it makes their flimsy premise completely fall apart.

One good line/moment: Guitar Central (Where Dreams Become Purchases) was a decent set piece; the conceit of the salesman preying on mid-life crises and over-complimenting them into buying as much as possible was good, not perfect, but there were some alright lines (“Usually it takes years to learn such neck confidence!”)

559. Blazed and Confused

Original airdate: November 16, 2014

The premise:
Bart’s new teacher is a bonafide sadist out to humiliate and injure him, so he plans to humiliate him at the local “Blazing Guy” festival. The whole family is invited too, saving Homer’s skin from Marge after forgetting to reserve their big camping trip.

The reaction: Were people clamoring for the Simpsons to take on Burning Man? …oh, sorry, Blazing Guy? Since Mapple, this show has been doing this all the time, so this is nothing new, but they drive the knife further in toward the end of the show when a woman slips and says “Burning Man” before correcting herself. They realize this isn’t satire, right? This is like material straight from the trash bins of MAD Magazine. But before we get into all this, let’s address our set-up. Willem DeFoe returns to the show after nearly two decades to play Bart’s new psychopathic teacher. This reminded me of Tina Fey as Lisa’s bitch teacher from a season or two back, where they can just get away with openly torturing a student, but even worse in that Mr. Lessen not only humiliates Bart by shaving his head, but also purposely electrocutes the child as well. He’s a complete maniac, and I don’t entirely know what we’re supposed to feel about this. But Bart wants his revenge, and eventually discovers that Lessen is going to play a pivotal role at the upcoming Blazing Guy festival. That seems kind of odd; is this a set-up to some kind of joke how people of all kinds might enjoy such a festival and let their hair down? How looks or first impressions might be deceiving? Nope. There’s no discussion or explanation whatsoever as to why Lessen is there in the first place. Eventually, the Simpsons haul ass to Blazing Guy, and when we get there, there’s no material to be had. The only joke is, over and over, boy, aren’t these festival people weird and crazy? They’re so weird! And crazy! You get it? Oh, and we’ll have Marge drink some drug-laced tea and hallucinate! That’ll be funny, right? In the end, Bart’s plan to cut Lesson down a peg succeeds, and he’s fired, and that’s it. No twist, no examination of what’s wrong with this psycho; the Tina Fey episode gave a disposable bullshit last-minute reasoning for her actions, but at least it was there. With any of these episodes, rarely does it feel like there’s ever a purpose or a real meaning toward these characters’ actions, but that of course won’t stop them from expositing what they’re doing every step of the way. Another stagnant outing for the pile.

Three items of note:
– Bart’s plan to learn more about Lessen seems unnecessarily convoluted. Through a secret camera in the teacher’s lounge, he catches him sweet-talking Miss Hoover. After that, he creates a fake online profile for her that he friend requests, therefore giving him access to Lessen’s Facebook. Good thing Lessen friended the fake Hoover instead of the real one. Then, to find out what Blazing Guy is, Milhouse scrolls to a video labeled, “Blazing Guy: An Explanation.” “That’s convenient,” he comments. It sure is, buddy.
– I keep having to dock my expectations for these episodes lower and lower as these storylines seems to have so little ambition. One such moment was when Lisa eagerly ran into a drum circle to jam on her sax, and then proceeds to be joined by a few other musicians playing crazy instruments, which seems to be creating a bit of a musical discord. At least to me it seemed like it. I thought maybe Lisa would feel uncomfortable to have these other people step on her toes or overshadow her or be annoyed by their music, or something. Anything. But no, absolutely not. Later on, we see Lisa is still jamming with them and everything’s fine. Despite it being the entire back half of the episodes, there’s no jokes made about Burning Man at all, it just seems like a fun cool place that you should definitely go to. It’s less of a parody and more of a commercial, bizarrely enough.
– After spending two scenes re-explaining his intention to humiliate Lessen, Bart comes across an emergency services tent with big barrels of fire retardant. It says what they are on the cans, but that won’t stop Bart from reading it out loud and saying he’ll use them to enact his plan. Jeez, I’m surprised Milhouse didn’t run in with an iPad and start playing a “Fire Retardant: An Explanation” video. Then Bart douses the gigantic Blazing Guy statue with retardant and not a single person seems to notice. Sigh.

One good line/moment: David Silverman makes a cameo at Blazing Guy performing his trademark flaming tuba, which was pretty sweet to see. But then in the climax, Lessen steals his instrument to shoot flames at Bart, which was much less sweet.