584. The Girl Code

Original airdate: January 3, 2016

The premise:
Lisa and her new radical coding teacher team up to create an app that will predict to the real-world repercussions of impulsive social media posts. Such a glib post from Marge at the power plant gets Homer fired, and he ends up a dishwasher at a Greek diner.

The reaction: There’s certainly been an abundance of Lisa episodes lately, what fun. And this one kicks off like “Paths of Glory,” with Martin, Database and the other nerds scoffing at the idea of girls doing STEM stuff, which makes no sense for them to do. They’re taking a coding class (why the fuck a regressive dump like Springfield Elementary would be teaching this is beyond me), taught by a punk, no-nonsense instructor voiced by Kaitlin Olsen (a great talent wasted) immediately takes to Lisa, and they end up working together to develop a new app with a team of female coders. With the instructor’s dismissal of “trouser browsers” and “dongle donkeys,” the episode is trying to be feminist, but really has nothing to say other than “women can do this too.” Midway through the show, they recreate the Silicon Valley opening titles as tribute to another show the writers love (once again, this is a reference, not a parody), but it only served to remind me how that show directly dealt with the issue of women in tech and actually said more than one thing about it. All we get here is that they dress punk, have piercings, and perpetuate the stupid “offended by everything” stereotype. The app they create has a non-threatening British face to it, voiced by Stephen Merchant (another great talent wasted), but Lisa is shocked to find “Conrad” is actually sentient, and doesn’t want to live a life of servitude fixing stupid people’s mistakes before they make them. At first it’s unclear whether this is just a hallucination of Lisa’s sleep deprived brain, but turns out, it’s actually real. Now Lisa must decide whether or not to set Conrad free. So now we’ve piled on the topic of artificial intelligence rights on top of our women in STEM episode? What is this? In the end, Lisa abides Conrad’s wish and faces her fellow coders (“We have a chance to show all the dongle donkeys that women coders can do something extraordinary! But you have to be tough!” “I am a strong female. But deep down, I’m more like Conrad: a fragile soul.”) I have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from this ending. I can’t even hazard a guess, if anyone wants to pull meaning from this, be my fucking guest. Lisa has become a retroactively hated character because of episodes like this, her acting as a smug and hollow liberal/feminist stereotype. The thing is, even though I agree with a lot of Lisa’s causes, these episodes are flaming hot garbage because they ultimately are saying nothing, and in shows like this, actually end up sort of undermining what they’re claiming to glorify.

Three items of note:
– This has been a slow process over the years, but near the beginning when Marge and Smithers have a conversation, you can really tell how off their voices are. Our actors are getting older, of course, but it seems Julie Kavner and Harry Shearer’s characters specifically seem to be getting hit the hardest. Kavner’s Marge just sounds weaker in general, while a lot of Shearer’s voices have gotten more low register.
– Homer is fired after Marge posts a picture of him holding a dripping ice cream cone in front of the cooling towers with the captain ‘Meltdown at the Nuclear Plant!’ which raises Burns’ ire. Turned off by all the tech nonsense going on under his roof, he vows to return to the most low-tech job he ever had: dishwasher at a Greek diner. He gets buddy-buddy with the owner, and then embraces the Greek lifestyle or something. It’s basically multiple scenes polluted with Greek stereotypes. I guess he’s no less of a one-dimensional stereotypical restaurant owner than Luigi, but notice that Luigi hasn’t been given his own plot (at least not yet. Stay tuned for season 30, folks!)
– Displaying the various social media photos and their predicted consequences, Lisa displays a photo of Bob Belcher behind the counter, with the displayed consequence “Restaurant Boycotted by Short People.” I couldn’t understand what the gag was at first, then noticed the Burger of the Day chalkboard reading, “Short People Got No Braisin’ To Rib Burger.” I didn’t even think to read it; on the show, the chalkboard is just a one-off gag that changes every week as a background joke. It’s not really a visual focal point; if Bob were gleefully holding up his burger in front of the sign center-frame, I could actually figure out what’s going on. And what’s the pun there? “Short People Got No Reason To Live”? I just looked it up and saw that it’s an old Randy Newman song, so alright, fair enough. This cameo just seems so random and pointless. Shots fired?

One good line/moment: I like how confused and incensed Burns gets when Smithers feebly attempts to explain Marge’s play on words in using the word ‘meltdown’ (“Wordplay is for crosswords and Kazurinskys! We produce atomic energy! We can’t joke about the m-word! How many people have seen this hate speech?”)

583. Barthood

Original airdate: December 13, 2015

The premise:
Bart’s life is chronicled from boy to man, exploring his strained relationship with Homer and his attempts to get out of Lisa’s accomplished shadow.

The reaction: This is like if a flashback show and a future show had a baby, and it was a well-intentioned, but bland and meaningless mess. Bart’s upbringing is marked by the influences of two people: Homer not giving a shit about him, and everything he does being eclipsed by Lisa’s great successes. We start with the former, seeing li’l Bart continually ignored and cast aside by his father. We also see he has a much greater relationship with Abe, which is kind of sweet when we see it carry on into his adolescence. There’s even a somewhat illuminating moment between teenage Bart and Homer (who is smoking a bong with Wiggum for some reason); Homer opens up about how he had Bart at such a young age and he always felt unprepared for the responsibility, as we had seen in the past. It’s a sweet, honest moment, but it’s basically just him saying this outright (tell, not show strikes again), and ultimately ends just repeating the same refrain of him undermining Bart. Meanwhile, from kid to adult, Bart always finds himself unfavorably compared to Lisa; she even ends up eclipsing him at his own high school graduation. Lisa blows up at him, sick of being blamed for his misery for their whole lives. He tells him he’s a great artist, though the only hint we saw of that is briefly seeing him do simplistic boardwalk caricatures, so we end with seeing Bart having his own bike repair shop, and he’s also a mural artist. There are scenes and moments here that might have actually felt somewhat impacting (if they were better written), but it would have helped if the episode had actually felt like it went through a progression. We see Bart grow up over twenty years, but each time jump he’s still dealing with the same problems, and explaining how he’s feeling exactly the same over and over and over again. It’s like watching an episode trapped in a time loop.

Three items of note:
– Like I said, Bart’s relationship with Abe as a kid was pretty sweet, especially him hiding out from the cops as an preteen after a night of shenanigans. It would have helped if Abe had actually imparted some advice or wisdom that would have pushed the plot further, but instead that happens in a thought bubble after he’s dead, just flat out telling Bart what he should do. Finding out that Abe is dead could have actually been a sweet, affecting moment given how much he meant to Bart, but instead, it’s treated as a “joke.” More like a fake out; teen Bart bikes past the retirement home to the neighboring cemetery, does a trick off another headstone and lands in front of Abe’s grave.
– If I can give this show a little credit, this is the first time we’ve seen Bart, Lisa and the other kids in town as teenagers and it actually feels like they’re older. I just remember in “Future-Drama” where you see a crowd shot and if just looks like they pasted the kids’ heads onto teenage bodies. Milhouse’s maturing over the years was neat to see, Martin actually had a deeper voice, unlike previous appearances, and we get a disturbing line from Sherri after Bart thought he was making out with her twin (“The further we go, the more you’ll know the difference.”)
– Obviously the episode is based upon Boyhood, and it’s filled with small references to the film. The more prominent is during the party, a bunch of kids are tossing saw blades at the piano and a photo of Homer, a reference to the film where a bunch of kids are tossing blades into a piece of drywall. I remember watching the movie thinking something terrible was going to happen, like a kid was going to get seriously cut or something, but it didn’t. Later in the film, he’s texting and driving after having told his mom he wouldn’t, and nothing happened there either. Boyhood was fascinating as an experiment, seeing these actors grow up as you watch, but ultimately it kind of felt like not much really happened to justify watching it. I guess it’s more similar to this episode than I thought. Plus, I couldn’t think of another thing to bring up, so there you go, my mini review of Boyhood.

One good line/moment: There were actually a few small moments here, I liked. Of all the future characters, I really enjoyed the brief appearance of a sad Disco Stu sitting alone at the boardwalk (“I used to think disco was coming back. Now I’m just Stu. Nothing Stu.”)

582. Paths of Glory

Original airdate: December 6, 2015

The premise:
Lisa seeks to clear the name of a disgraced female scientist from Springfield’s past. Meanwhile, Homer and Marge worry that Bart might be a sociopath because they’re stupid.

The reaction: Boy, this episode turned from dull to asinine real fast. We start out with what seems like a boring Lisa story: all the other boys become inexplicable sexists to chastise her for being a girl interested in science, she then learns about supposed crackpot lady scientist Amelia Vanderbuckle (or, rather, she reads her Wikipedia page for a minute of screen time), and then goes off to find her long lost great invention. Exciting stuff, huh? Bart tags along with her to an old insane asylum, where he discovers a diary of an old patient, filled with some pretty grim stories. He shares it with his classmates, Chief Wiggum finds Ralph reading them, then he gives the pages to Marge, believing that these are from Bart’s diary. Forget how he jumped to this conclusion, and how they’re not even in Bart’s handwriting, and sound nothing like him, but these pages are from a diary over a century old. They’re clearly very, very, very aged, but who gives a flying fuck about these stories making sense, eh? Marge, and then Homer, automatically assume Bart is a sociopath, and rather than actually do anything about it, they just let Bart get away with whatever he wants. Then later, they have Bart committed to an institution. Which turned out to be a recruitment facility for the military wanting empathy-free kids to man their combat drones. Yeah. Homer and Marge are fucking awful people in this episode, not even attempting to do something to help their child (“We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas!” comes to mind). When they appear sad and frazzled after locking Bart away, are we supposed to feel bad for them? Is this their version of a farce? Lisa intersects with this premise briefly, asking her devastated parents where Bart is, feeling worried about their noncommittal answer, but then goes off to unveil Vanderbuckle’s invention. Who can worry about her incarcerated brother when she can bolster her self image? Bart is released when he expresses remorse after finding the simulated drones were actually real (or were they?), and everything is wrapped up as sloppily and half heartedly as the rest of the episode. More junk to throw on the pile.

Three items of note:
– I didn’t recognize the credited writer’s name and decided to look him up. This is the first and only episode written by Michael Ferris, whose previous credits include the third and fourth Terminator movies, and Catwoman, of which he won a Razzie for. He’s a Harvard Lampoon alumni like a lot of other classic Simpsons writers, but besides that, I’m not quite sure how he came about writing this. Not that it matters, of course, it doesn’t matter whose name is on the script, every episode ends up the same colorless slop by the time it airs.
– Fearing for her son’s sanity, Marge, rather than take Bart to a psychiatrist, or an actual medical professional, instead opts to have him take an online test to see if he exhibits sociopath-type qualities. Conveniently labeled ‘SOCIOPATH TEST,’ Homer comments that they should give it a different name. Marge agrees. As usual, all of this is laboriously explained by our characters, in case we are watching after having undergone serious head trauma. Rather than print out a new page, they use a label maker to print a false title on the front page. Of course, this easily peels off and Bart discovers the truth. Now Bart gets to exposit too! (“Fine, I’ll pretend to be the biggest sociopath in the world!”) It’s scenes like this that really just boggle my mind, the writing on this show is just so, so fucking bad. How do they watch shit like this and think that it’s just fine?
– The sociopath kids in the army twist is so bizarre. It really feels like something out of South Park, they pull the secret government program card quite often. But what are we supposed to take from all this? Bart took advantage of his parents’ frightened state in a hilarious montage where he drives Homer’s car, hucks baseballs at his face, and kicks him out of bed to sleep next to Marge (???), but they openly let him. And again, they’re terrible parents for not trying to get Bart actual help. Instead, they send him away to an asylum they got from a 1-800 number at the bottom of the online test. What the fuck is this test and where did it come from? Bart is visibly scared and uneasy when he’s sent away, and finally returns home almost in tears, and it’s mostly his parents’ fault. This is two in a row for Marge being kind of a shitty parent, and it’s not a good look for her.

One good line/moment: Vanderbuckle’s invention turns out to be a sophisticated loom that is actually a calculator, accepting punch cards and generating a mathematical response. This as a concept is a clever idea, a traditionally feminine tool as disguise for a STEM invention. Too bad everything about the unveiling scene itself is awful, with the device having to be elaborately explained and the crowd going nuts about it for some reason. Lisa’s story ends with her desperately seeking validation for her ego, hunting down museum guests to look at the loom, or more specifically, her name on the plaque. Then we get our final tag of Homer using the loom to print Internet porno on. Those writers sure know how to ruin just about everything, don’t they?

581. Lisa With An “S”

Original airdate: November 22, 2015

The premise:
Homer loses a healthy sum in a poker match against Broadway legend Laney Fontaine, and to recoup his debt, she takes Lisa on tour with her for a month, wanting to foster a young talent.

The reaction: This Laney Fontaine character appeared last season, she was about to bang Moe for some reason, then rejected him after seeing his destroyed bar. Now I guess they’re dating. Umm, okay. This episode is all about her, kind of, as she’s reintroduced at Moe’s poker game. When Homer ends up owing her five grand, he invites her to the house to schmooze her, but she ends up taking a shining to Lisa. In the most awkwardly written scene since that Homer Junior episode, Laney tells Marge, “I’ll wipe the slate clean on one condition: I want you to give Lisa to me. For a month or so.” Marge is incensed, then we talk in circles for a bit before she feebly explains she wants to groom Lisa to be a musical talent. Or she wants a surrogate daughter. It’s never really fully explained. Several times through the episode I felt like we were approaching some sort of character development that never happened. She ends up falling asleep next to Lisa on her bed at a motel, which was slightly creepy, but speaks to her wanting a child, but that went nowhere. At least two more times, her show director makes comments about how she’s losing her chops in her old age, which clearly affects her, so I thought we would be going in that direction, where Lisa encourages her she can keep going and Laney return the favor. But that doesn’t go anywhere either. Instead, the conflict is that Marge is uneasy about Lisa being on the road, then when she sees Lisa perform on Broadway to thunderous applause, she’s won over. After the show she apologizes to Laney, Laney sees how sad the mother is without her little girl, then she “fires” Lisa to make Marge happy. Okay? Is this our happy ending? I don’t even know what the point of it was, was Lisa going to be a permanent part of her act? Her act that was unceremoniously cancelled? She’s a fading star, but she’s still playing on Broadway. I don’t fucking know. A pretty nonsense episode.

Three items of note:
– The episode opens with Lisa, Homer, Moe and the other bar regulars singing about their hopes and dreams for the night. It’s actually more rousing and enjoyable than most songs we’ve seen of late, but probably only because it’s lifted from West Side Story.
– During the poker game, we get a look inside Homer’s mind, where we get an Inside Out “parody,” in another display of Pixar ball sucking. So we get Flanders as Joy, Milhouse as Sadness, Willie as Anger… Comic Book Guy as Disgust quips, “Worst jammed-in movie parody ever.” By their own admission, there’s no joke to this. They just loved the movie and wanted to do this bit. Although this is actually pretty topical for them, the movie had come out that summer, so it probably wasn’t even out when they wrote this. Maybe they got an advance screening. Oh, who gives a fuck. It’s another empty reference disguised as a parody, and only makes me more annoyed since I just watched that movie again. It’s so fucking good, I feel like it may supplant Up as my favorite Pixar film.
– There have been a couple episodes in the last few years that involve Marge guilt-tripping/manipulating Lisa, and giving her a happy ending anyway. There was the show where Marge was doing all the laundry for that gifted school and her sublty making Lisa feel bad about it until she gave in, there was the show with Marge paying a girl to be Lisa’s friend, and Lisa just forgiving her without any sort of apology, and now we get this. Marge is seemingly proud of her daughter, but her sorrow look convinces Laney to let Lisa go, conveniently followed by the show director announcing the show was canceled anyway. A crestfallen Lisa tearfully runs back to her family, “Mom, suddenly I really want to go home.” So, again, Marge gets what she wants with no consequence. She had her arc of learning to let her daughter to her own thing, but then the episode turned back on it. Why is this a running thing? Marge always supports her husband and kids no matter what they do, now she’s repeatedly painted as a manipulative guilt-tripper.

One good line/moment: Driving into Hartford, Connecticut, we pass by a road sign reading, “Where Howard Stern Met Fred Norris.” I’ve been listening to a lot of old Stern tapes lately, so I appreciated seeing the reference.

580. Friend With Benefit

Original airdate: November 8, 2015

The premise:
Lisa befriends the daughter of a multi-billionaire, but when their relationship sours, Homer urges her to grin and bear it in exchange for them living the good life.

The reaction: For an episode that felt like elements cobbled together from better shows, I was pretty surprised at being somewhat positive about this one. Despite it seemingly being about Lisa and her new friend, the episode is really about Homer living in the lap of luxury and needing to make a sacrifice for the sake/defense of his children, as we’ve seen many times in the classic years, especially in flashback shows. Here, Lisa becomes friends with the new girl, and Homer befriends her dad, who turns out to be an eccentric billionaire who is so pumped up about life that he repeatedly smashes his head into walls. Eventually conflict arises between the two girls, but it’s laid in so slowly and awkwardly. Harper steals the spotlight from Lisa at a David Copperfield magic show, which rubs her the wrong way. Harper gets her a new bike to make up for it, and can’t understand why Lisa would prefer her crappy poor person bike, despite her explaining that Homer built it for her (a sweet detail). So she’s a spoiled rich girl, but the reveal of this is so muted because we barely see any of it. In classic tell, not show fashion, most of it is Lisa recounting how she felt belittled. Actually showing more of this would have made us feel bad for Lisa and sympathize with her, but instead, she almost comes off as rash when she blows up at Harper, who at worst seemed to just be getting a little snippy with her. When we get to the end and Homer has to stand up for Lisa in exchange for his lush rich lifestyle, it feels very arbitrary. He calls Harper snobby, but not only have we barely seen it, he’s seen none of it. It all feels like a very flimsy conclusion. But that’s my biggest complaint for the whole episode. I actually enjoyed most of the Homer stuff, his excitement about living it up and indulging in the finer things he could never afford… it almost struck me as a classic characterization. Despite its issues, I actually came off… liking this episode? It’s a very strange feeling for me. “Halloween of Horror” was stronger story wise, but this one had an alright plot and a lot of successful jokes throughout, like Marge using a tire jack to lower her hair to fit in her night cap, the anti-theft device on the bike which immediately summons Chief Wiggum (“This we show up for,”) and a bunch of good lines (“Welcome to Jambowski Island! Formerly, Haiti!”) This has got to be the best episode since… I don’t know, “Eternal Moonshine”?

Three items of note:
– In lieu of our usual opening sequence, we get a parody of the Disney animated short “Feast,” and for once I don’t put the word ‘parody’ in quotes, because it’s actually a parody. Like the dog in the short, Santa’s Little Helper gorges himself on all the delicious food his masters spoil him with, but that only leads him to become incredibly obese and drop dead. Rising through the clouds, he’s given the option to go to ‘Fit Dog Heaven,’ but instead chooses Doggie Hell because of the promise of free pizza. Writers, take note, this is a parody. You’ve taken the original source material and subverted it in a humorous fashion, instead of just trotting out references verbatim and expecting your viewers to applaud, as they’ve done so many, many, many times before.
– There’s an unrelated opening featuring Homer’s desperate longing for a chair that raises up that helps you stand, and him using crowdfunding to pay for it. We get Carl helpfully explaining what crowdfunding is, and as usual, this feels a couple years too late in terms of ripe satire, but I was actually pretty amused by a lot of it. Homer’s vague speech in his video about helping him “get on his feet,” all the donors being pissed off at the reveal, and his incredibly enthusiasm for a chair that embraced his laziness reminded me of the vibrating chair in “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?”, and for once, it’s actually a positive connection to a classic episode. Plus, it’s not even all that disconnected from the main story. Homer longing for an expensive creature comfort, gets depressed when it’s taken away, then his spirits rise again when he befriends a billionaire. It kind of works, narratively.
– During the not-One Direction concert (this show’s late to the party once again), ‘YVAN EHT NIOJ’ flashes on the screen. Then it says ‘JOIN THE NAVY,’ followed by ‘OOPS.’ First off, more empty fan service. They also referenced it in that submarine show a season or two back; you know you’re in dire straits when you’re trying to elicit a positive reaction by referencing season 12. But also, why would they spell out what the joke is? It’s without context, so the only reason it’s there is as a reference to people who know what that episode is. But if you didn’t, what would you make out of ‘JOIN THE NAVY’ randomly appearing at a boy band concert? Why would they do that?

One good line/moment: There were actually a lot of funny moments in this show, more than I’ve seen in a long time now. The best laugh came from Homer’s complete frustration/disbelief about Lisa’s break-up with Harper (“Lisa, sweetie, I just want to understand: You got in a fight with her because she tried to give you a new bike?!”) You can really hear his complete incensed befuddlement in the performance, but it also speaks to how stupid and underwritten the conflict was as well.

579. Treehouse of Horror XXVI

Original airdate: October 25, 2015

The premise:
In “Wanted: Dead Then Alive,” Sideshow Bob finally kills Bart, but when that proves unfulfilling, he repeatedly resurrects him to murder him again and again. “Homerzilla” is a Godzilla “parody.” “Telepaths of Glory” is a Chronicle “parody.”

The reaction: And now, back to our regularly scheduled Halloween shenanigans, which are just as lifeless and uninspired as ever. The first segment involves Sideshow Bob (not hitting rock bottom after his last appearance, I suppose) who takes great glee in killing Bart over and over and over again. This whole segment is just endlessly seeing this ten-year-old get brutally killed and dismembered, which rides the line of being somewhat absurdly amusing in its overkill (literally), but overall felt more uncomfortable to me. But I can give the episode some credit, this is the first time I’ve been genuinely unsettled at a Treehouse of Horror in a very long time, normally they’re just goofy and dumb and not even trying to be scary. The following two segments are exactly that description, however. The second tale takes on the original B&W Godzilla films, which features a labored set-up, then a long montage of disconnected gags of Homerzilla destroying the town. Then it turns into a satire of American remakes, with a bunch of executives agreeing to remake Homerzilla and fill it with product placement. It’s not so much targeting the 2014 Godzilla as much as the awful 1998 version, which is not a fresh target, although this concept of shitty Americanization is not exclusive to one franchise. But it’s all very rushed, there’s not enough time devoted to the different ideas here, although I’m sure even with a whole episode, they’d manage to screw it up. The final short is even more rushed, at barely four minutes, as we are treated to a re-telling of Chronicle. Bart, Lisa and Milhouse get super abilities, but there’s not even a hint of tension until the end when Milhouse “goes mad with power,” with Lisa says verbatim. But then we see that Maggie is more powerful, incapacitates Milhouse, does a few things, then goes to sleep. For all the effort they put into the last episode, it’s surprising to see so much laziness here. I guess not so surprising, really. Things are getting back to normal.

Three items of note:
– Our special Halloween opening is done by John K, his second piece for the show. As I said for his couch gag, I really do not care for his modern visual or animation style, everything feels very weird and floaty, and characters and body parts twitching for no reason and reacting in bizarre ways. It’s also very long, almost two minutes, time that could have been devoted to expanding the incredibly condensed latter two segments. But if someone else animates something for us, we’re responsible for less work! Yay!
– The inclusion of montages in Treehouse of Horrors always felt wrong to me, like creating a strong creepy, unsettling tone is pretty important, and to blaze through information with a montage seems counter intuitive. But of course, these specials aren’t even trying to be spooky anymore. Here we get two montages, one in the first segment, one in the third. The latter seems especially egregious considering they were attempting to go for the found footage look like in the actual movie with Lisa holding a camera, but they do a montage anyway, albeit with a slightly shaky cam style. They didn’t even make one found footage joke. I guess if they didn’t bother doing it in their Paranormal Activity “parody,” they’re not gonna do it here.
– Kang and Kodos get squeezed in at the end, breaking the fourth wall in commenting on how once again, they’re a mere afterthought. You’d think after twenty-six of these, they’d remember to include them somewhere in the actual episode. When the episode goes into 4:3 for some reason, Kang yells, “Just because it looks like season 4 doesn’t make it season 4!” No shit. It’s lines like this that make me pretty sure the writers know the show is terrible now, but they don’t seem to really care.

One good line/moment: I did enjoy seeing Bob take a stab at being a college professor, and being incessantly irritated by his intellectually inferior students (“Rubbish! Drivel! What is this Game of Thrones they’re referencing?”)

578. Halloween of Horror

Original airdate: October 18, 2015

The premise:
After getting traumatized by Krustyland’s Halloween Horror Nights, Lisa decides to sit the holiday out, but terror comes home thanks to a trio of disgruntled thugs who are out for Homer after he got them fired from Apu’s Halloween pop-up shop.

The reaction: It’s interesting that after all this time, we never got a “proper” Halloween episode. Outside of brief glimpses we’ve seen in the first few wraparound segments of Treehouse of Horrors, we’ve never been privy to seeing how the Simpsons celebrate the holiday, until now. This show is also a rarity in that it seems like the writers actually gave a shit, crafting a logical story with an emotional payoff and some real tension, albeit at the expense of laughs. One of the best things is seeing Lisa actually act like a child for once: she’s super psyched to be old enough to go to a Halloween event, but ends up getting scared out of her mind by the realistic looking monsters and ghouls. Things get real bad from there; Homer and Marge are dismayed to find Lisa has retrieved “Tailee,” an old stuffed raccoon tail she used for comfort when she was younger. As a result, Homer stays home with Lisa for a Halloween-free night. But unfortunately, the house ends up besieged by three jerks who got fired from their cushy temporary Halloween shop gigs thanks to Homer’s idiocy. We get a lot of dramatic music, stingers, some use of shaky cam, and some pretty great acting from Dan Castellaneta and Yeardley Smith being genuinely out of sorts and scared. They surmise that they can alert others for help by using other holiday decorations, namely 4th of July fireworks. Unable to light the fuse, Lisa offers up Tailee to help (“This ratty piece of polyester has been soaking in face oil for eight years.”) This ending feels straight out of a movie, as Clausen’s music drops out as Lisa offers up her sacrifice, then swells again as the fireworks start going off. The framework and story progression is pretty solid and it’s a sweet Lisa story, but the problem is that it’s not really all that funny. There’s long stretches in the second half where the tension, scary moments, and Homer spouting the moral of the story completely eclipse attempting to be funny. The episode held my attention, and it’s definitely the strongest episode story-wise we’ve seen in almost a decade, but ultimately, it just makes me wonder what a true Halloween episode from season 4 or 5 would have been like.

Three items of note:
– We open with a meta moment with Homer and Flanders explaining that Treehouse of Horror is in fact next week (“It’s gonna be Psycho with Skinner’s mom, Muppet Wizard of Oz, I’m Scarecrow Fozzie, and then one where furniture gets smart and takes over the world or something.” “Sounds chilling!” “Eh. People love it.”) Homer’s apathy toward the annual specials feels very representative of the writers, given how awful the Halloween shows are nowadays. Also, Kermit was the Scarecrow in Muppet Wizard of Oz. And it’s the shittiest Muppet movie ever made.
– The Simpsons are all gung ho about Halloween at the start, elaborately decorating their house in preparation of the night. But after Lisa’s big scare, everything frightens her, which leads Marge to sadly request Homer take down their display. A barren house incites Bart, which motivates Marge to drive him around Halloween night in search of the perfect place to trick-or-treat, leaving Homer to care for Lisa. This all may seem fairly simple, but it was pretty stunning to me to watch an episode where logical plot progression resulting from characters acting believably.
– Marge and Bart end up staying out too late, and they end up bearing witness to sexy adult Halloween, featuring the denizens of Springfield in risque costumes and getting into PG-level shenanigans. They even have a Rocky Horror-esque song to go along with it. This scene fell completely flat for me. What scathing commentary, some people use Halloween as an excuse to dress sexy? These guys are on the cutting edge here.

One good line/moment: For once, this section is not a chore. I had a few chuckles, but I laughed aloud at a line from Homer as Bart gets upset at them taking down the decorations (“Lisa goes nuts and you turn us into… into skippers?!” “I know what this makes us.”) He’s seething in his delivery of this. Plus this ties into the beginning with Homer and Marge admonishing neighboring homes who don’t celebrate. Again, plot and jokes threads that connect. Just like a real story!