628. Haw-Haw Land

Original airdate: January 7, 2018

The premise:
Lisa falls for gifted pianist Brendan (voiced by Ed Sheeran), leading ex-boyfriend Nelson to compete with him musically. Meanwhile, Bart is interested in chemistry for some reason.

The reaction: La La Land feels like a thing of the past at this point (being a frivolously enjoyable, but ultimately meaningless ode to Hollywood circle jerk probably doesn’t help things), but thanks to the show’s long production schedule, we get yet another movie “parody” a year after its cultural relevance. Of course the show doesn’t get much farther than glorified references, with the new boyfriend slightly resembling Ryan Gosling, and the opening recreating the film’s highway musical number, but nothing in the vein of actually critiquing or making any actual commentary on the source material. It’s a love letter to another love letter. The episode itself is another Lisa-gets-a-boyfriend episode, who is slowly closing in on her brother for greatest number of disposable, personality-less love interests voiced by celebrities who are playing children but still sound like adults. Brendan the child savant musician wins Lisa over immediately thanks to an inner monologue explaining it, per usual (“In a lesser musician, that boy’s attitude would be needy masquerading as arrogance. I’m leaving if he can’t sing.” Then he sings. “Oh God. He’s one small step away from destroying all my logic and reason.” Then his pupils turn into music notes and she swoons. I guess the final step was hallucination?) I’ve said it time and time again, this show is crippled by its reliance on tell, not show. Because this show can’t write believable characters doing things to affect the story or other people, we need to have the characters openly explain what’s happening and what they’re feeling to make our plot progress. Midway through, I don’t know why Lisa likes Brendan other than she told us, and that he’s a musician, I guess. They play together, but we don’t get any sense of them enjoying it or why they like each other. But who cares. Midway through, we see Nelson targeting this kid because he’s jealous and ends up singing his heart out to win over Lisa. Even he can’t explain why he’s doing this, being motivated solely because “Lisa’s Date with Density” exists and it’s a reference to a classic episode we can make. But I know why. They wanted to do a La La Land show, they had to come up with a riff on the title, and someone pitched “Haw-Haw Land,” ergo, Nelson had to be involved in the plot. I guarantee that’s exactly what happened.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is one of those premises where I feel like I’m zoning out while watching because I honestly didn’t understand what was happening. While being dragged to a STEM conference, Bart is courted by some smart science guy, who shows him that chemistry can lead to explosions and creating multi-colored goo. Or something. Bart then gets an interest in conducting experiments in his treehouse, which later leads to Homer and Marge growing concerned about what the hell this newfound interest is really about. The finale of the episode is at the talent show, where many suspect Bart is going to perform some kind of dangerous prank, but he actually creates some kind of cool light show? And then he causes pink goo to flood the school. Not a lot of screen time is devoted to this, and it’s a B-plot that felt the opposite of tell, not show, where we’re given so little information that I really wasn’t sure what the point of it was. It certainly wasn’t funny, I can tell you that.
– Lisa is torn between Nelson and Brendan, but after a dream sequence of Lisa marrying Nelson at a strip club and her bringing their baby to visit him in prison, she easily picks Brendan. But Brendan’s performance at the talent show is interrupted when Chalmers and Skinner narrate that he actually isn’t in the school district and must go to another school. And so, Brendan gives Lisa a pat on the shoulder and disappears behind the curtain. I know this show is completely hollow and bereft of any kind of emotional resonance, but is this really the best they could do? I mean, I know it isn’t, but this feels like an especially cheap and shoddy resolution, even by their standards.
– The episode ends with another ancient-feeling reference where Marge addresses the audience that the episode was actually meant to be a Moonlight parody, alluding to the Academy Awards snafu last year where Faye Dunaway announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. Does the general audience really remember or care about that? And who’s laughing at this joke? Marge informs Homer they can watch the movie at home, but he wants to watch X-Men Apocalypse instead. Sigh. This bit will hold up well in five years. I feel like in the classic years, even when they directly referenced films that have fallen into obscurity, they were still contextualized enough that the bits were funny beyond your knowledge of the source material. Like in “Selma’s Choice,” Marge waxing nostalgic of the carefree days her and her sisters spent swimming at the lake by her aunt Gladys, then recalling that was actually from Prince of Tides. I don’t know a thing about that movie, but the joke still works because it’s about how the emotional resonance of mass media can affect our memories and cause fiction and reality to blur. It’s still an effective joke twenty-five years later, whereas in this case, they just needed Homer to say a recent brainless action movie, so they picked X-Men.

One good line/moment: Nothing this week. This one was a real fuckin’ bore.


627. Gone Boy

Original airdate: December 10, 2017

The premise:
Bart gets trapped in a Cold War-era bunker in the woods, and is declared dead after a brief search. Despite knowing the truth, Milhouse uses this to his advantage to get close to Lisa, and meanwhile, Sideshow Bob seeks to find the boy to kill him himself.

The reaction: “Twelfth time’s the charm!” Bob declares when he confronts his adolescent nemesis. As mentioned on many an occasion, all Bob episodes past “Brother From Another Series” feel so superfluous and meaningless. As much as I love “Cape Feare,” it ended up becoming a template for future Bob shows, where rather than have some kind of grand scheme or master plan tied to his pompous, upper class cultural fancies, he’s just an insane murderer who’s out for the blood of a ten-year-old. There’s no creativity, no intent to explore any other facets of Bob’s character; they even gave him a wife and child and they’ve been absent for the last couple installments. It’s just the same song and dance over and over, and honestly, do even diehard fans even give a fuck anymore? Bob is part of a prison gang doing community service when they are all forced to participate in the manhunt to find Bart. Meanwhile, his therapist is trying to get Bob to get past his revenge fantasies and take back control of his life. This maybe would hold more weight if it was better written, and if Bob hadn’t already reformed at least two times already. And pretended to reform more times than that. With the forced assistance of Milhouse, Bob tracks Bart down, tying both boys to an old ICBM (“I Commit Bart’s Murder!” “That’s your justification for killing two kids?”) This gives Bob pause. It’s almost like the episode is commenting how stupid this all is, and ultimately a call with his therapist gets Bob to release them and give up his murderous ways. At least until next time. The tag features an older Bob living in isolation in a lighthouse, writing “DIE BART DIE” in the sand almost like a calming mantra. Or something. If they wanted to write a “final” Bob show that got super meta about how deranged and unstable Bob is for wanting to pick a ten-year-old’s bones clean, I’m all for that, but this watered down fuzzy version of it is just a waste of time. They’ll bring him back. He always comes back, and even less effective each and every time. Sprinkling in fan service like the rake and him singing Gilbert & Sullivan doesn’t help comparisons much.

Three items of note:
– There’s another Wilhelm scream when a bunch of characters trip over a wire grid. Like just a guy falling down prompted a Wilhelm scream, that’s the third one this season. Is this some kind of inside joke between the post department or something?
– In yet another instance of characters reacting less like human beings and more like joke machines, returning from the woods to the rest of the family without Bart, Homer has an internal monologue (because of course he does) on how best to explain that their son is missing (“Okay, this is the hardest news in the world for a mother to hear. Just ease her into it.”) So he says, “You know that sewing room you wanted, but we could never figure out where?” Brilliant. It’s also a repeat of a joke from “Barting Over,” I believe (boy, I wish I didn’t know that completely useless knowledge.) The family receives a subpoena that Bart wants to become emancipated, and what’s Marge’s first reaction? “I always wanted a sewing room, but not like this!” This show was so brilliant because characters would always react honestly. They’d say funny lines, sure, but they made sense in the emotional context of the scene. In these two scenes, Bart is either threatening to leave the house, or missing/possibly dead, and his parents’ first responses involve a sewing room.
– Milhouse gets a scumbaggy moment when he arrives at the Simpson house to tell them where Bart is. Meanwhile, Kent Brockman just announced on TV that they’re giving up the search for no real reason, presuming Bart to be dead. I guess the family just believes it to be true immediately, as Lisa opens the door in tears, embracing Milhouse. He hesitates to tell her the news, and in case we couldn’t figure it out, we have his inner monologue explain (“I came to tell her he’s alive, but this feels almost as good as hugging Harry Horse!”) (I also don’t know if I get the joke. Is Harry Horse just a stuffed animal? I guess that’s it) So Milhouse exploits Bart’s “death” for some sympathy hugs from his sister. Maybe if they had Bart act like a dick to him like he always does, this would have been more acceptable, but he wasn’t. It felt particularly slimy for Milhouse.

One good line/moment: Out in the woods, Homer gives Santa’s Little Helper an item of Bart’s clothing to sniff, hoping he’ll pick up the scent. The dog does alright, sprinting off and leading them to… Bart’s dresser drawer.

626. Mr. Lisa’s Opus

Original airdate: December 3, 2017

The premise:
As an eighteen-year-old Lisa writes her college essay to Harvard, we flash back to moments in her past, where she was at times unacknowledged by her family, and later saved her parents’ marriage.

The reaction: Seems a decent amount of people actually kind of liked “Barthood,” so just as they churned out another crap future show after “Holidays of Future Passed,” now we get a spiritual sequel, only this time focusing on Lisa. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know how much the writers really care about audience feedback at this point. If I could give “Barthood” a little credit, at least I understood the point of it, whereas this second outing feels even more aimless. We jump about in time as Lisa is writing her essay, first back to her seventh birthday, being devastated that no one remembered, then flashing forward to fourteen when she intervenes in her parents’ crumbling relationship. We get a really uncomfortable sequence of Homer angrily leaving the table to go to Moe’s and Marge crying alone in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still hurtful to see, but there’s no real regard to do anything with this dramatic beat or treat it super seriously. Lisa deduces her father needs to make a permanent change, proposing he give up drinking. AA buddy Ned Flanders talks him through the twelve-step program, and then he’s cured! It was as easy as that, huh? There’s no sort of epilogue showing how he kept his promise, no Marge calling bullshit on something she’s surely heard a hundred times before, a huge life decision done just like that. But this is Lisa’s story, and ultimately, what have we learned? The first part goes over how she was unacknowledged for her seventh birthday, so each year after the family overcompensates. How about a future where the family does this all year round, afraid of making Lisa upset again, so teen Lisa gets frequently annoyed at her clingy parents doting over her? Something new, something we haven’t seen before? No? Unlike “Barthood,” which felt like it was at least trying a little bit, this feels like a half-assed future episode, complete with our obligatory future gags, which once again feel like rejected scraps from Futurama and are completely ridiculous (in just six years into the future, King Toot’s has a time machine and Moe has robotic spider legs). Al Jean penned this one, having frequently citing Lisa as his favorite character, but it’s pretty clear after over fifteen years of stagnant storytelling, he’s got no life left in him to communicate anything new.

Three items of note:
– The writers try to shoot for nostalgia points with the random reappearance of Leon Kompowski (still voiced by Kipp Lennon) as he and Bart add new lyrics to their song for Lisa’s fourteenth birthday. Never mind that in our current floating time line, Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly Lisa’s entire life, but that doesn’t really matter. The question I ask again and again about moments like this, who are they appealing to? What longtime fan is going to lose their shit at the out-of-nowhere cameo appearance by a character from over twenty seasons ago? And they don’t even do anything new with him, the song sounds exactly the same. Speaking of, the tag features a new version of “Those Were the Days,” a song the show parodied twenty years ago in “Lisa’s Sax,” which itself was parodying “All in the Family” twenty years before it. Ugh. But now Homer and Marge are waxing nostalgic about their youth growing up in… the 90s (“And we have real heroes then/Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn/Mister, we could use a man like Richard Simmons again!”) I guess this is for all those “That ’90s Show” enthusiasts out there. Ever get the feeling that sometimes the writers really hate the hardcore fans?
– A Harvard security guard yells at Homer to move his car with a “hilarious” Boston accent, which Homer can’t interpret so he has him slowly repeat himself. Didn’t this show blow through all of its Boston jokes already after that show last season? I guess not.
– The show ends with Lisa feeling discouraged by her overachieving college roommate. She’s lifted up with some encouraging words for Bart, and then ends up cheering up her other roommate, who she walks in the room on crying. These were honestly two pretty effective scenes, actually kind of genuinely sweet. For as dull and meaningless as the rest of the show was, I got a glimpse of an ending that felt like it should have been tagged onto another show. But for the entire scene of Lisa and Other Girl, I was just waiting for the punchline that she was going to be a lesbian. I knew they were going to do it, and at the very, very end, just when I thought we were in the clear, they just couldn’t help themselves. Lisa’s inner monologue cries, “I have a friend!” Then Other Girl holds her hand and winks at her (“Ohhh… maybe more than a friend!”) Cue laugh track. It just feels so incredibly lazy. A sexuality bait-and-switch can work as a punchline, just look at the reveal at the end of ParaNorman. But that joke worked because there were multiple reasons why it was funny, none of which explicitly having to do with the fact the guy was gay. Here, the entire gag is “she’s a lesbian!” And yeah, how great of them to callback the quick gag in “Future Passed” where we see Lisa in succeeding Christmases from college bring home a guy, a girl, then two girls. At least that was framed as an “experimenting in college” quick joke, not a capper at the end of the emotional climax where the sexuality is the punchline.

One good line/moment: Lisa gets her Harvard acceptance from a drone waving the college flag. Upon acceptance, the other reject college drones above go into a laser fight to the death.

625. Singin’ In The Lane

Original airdate: November 19, 2017

The premise:
The Pin Pals reunite… sort of, with Homer, Lenny, Carl, Barney, and new coach Moe. The team rises through the ranks to the state finals, where they face off against some pompous hedge fund assholes.

The reaction: “Team Homer” is our latest classic rebooted for the purposes of nostalgia fumes. Remember that thing you loved from over twenty years ago (holy crap, twenty-two years to be precise)? Here it is again! Except with only half the Pin Pals, and now it’s a sad Moe story we’ve seen a hundred times already. Mr. Burns gives Homer four tickets to a basketball game (don’t bother asking why), so he invites Lenny, Carl and Barney, leaving Moe crestfallen. To make it up to him, Homer suggests they reform the Pin Pals. Moe alludes that Apu’s octuplets kept him from continuing to play, and Otto is completely ignored. So now the new Pin Pals are Homer, Lenny, Carl and Barney, leaving Moe as their “coach” due to his fucked up wrists. They quickly make the state finals, which are held in a glitzy high-rise alley, and their opponents are a gaggle of entitled Wall Street douchebags. These characters, or specifically their conniving leader, are nonsensical. I haven’t a clue what these characters are supposed to be parodying or making a commentary on; they’re rich and snobby, I get that, but then their leader is constantly throwing cheeseburgers at people for some reason, and revels in being able to make Moe cry over his pathetic life. So they’re juvenile bullies, like the popular kids on the schoolyard? How basic could this be? King Douche makes a bet with Moe, and if Moe loses, he has to give up his bar and his “good name” (couldn’t be worth much) which Moe dreads leading up to the very end. It’s up to Homer to make a final strike to win, but then Moe has a fantasy sequence about leaving his bar and going to France and living a great life… and then he wants Homer to lose so he can have the fresh start from his dreams. But the Pin Pals win, but Moe doesn’t give a shit, he’s back to being miserable and thinking he has no friends… despite having just won the championship game with his friends. Then cut to Moe going back to the bar and being surprised by the gang (“You guys are my friends!” “That’s right!” “Yeah, we sure are!” That’s actual dialogue.) Then they leave Moe to go to another basketball game, which I guess is supposed to be a joke, but this is like double whiplash of motivation in under a minute of screen time. But really, none of it matters. How many times are we going to do this sad pathetic Moe song and dance? It never amounts to anything, and it’s fucking boring and meaningless, and now, they’ve dug up the corpse of a beloved classic for “Sad Moe is Sad Part 87.” Good use of resources, guys.

Three items of note:
– We get a brand new opening, “The Shrimpsons,” with all the characters as fish! That’s… something, I guess. But really, what the fuck is this? It’s just the opening titles beat for beat, except everyone’s a sea creature. Fish Maggie is put in the same grocery basket and shakes her little fin at Fish Gerald, Fish Lisa plays a coral saxophone, Fish Wiggum shakes his little baton, Fish Marge and Maggie beep their starfish horns? There’s a few isolated cute elements, like Apu as an octopus clinging its children close, but no thought or consideration was put into elevating a piece like this to any kind of point. What you see is what you get. As the YouTube description helpfully puts it, “They are just like THE SIMPSONS, but they’re fish!” Does this count as a special treat for the fans? It’s a new opening title that had to be planned out, storyboarded and animated, and all that effort for what? This is actually depressing me a little more than I thought on retrospect, like this is what the show thinks is a highlight. What even is this show anymore? It’s either redoing the same stories and gags over and over again, or just throwing random shit at the wall and seeing what gets a reaction. Like they just spitballed different nouns and landed on making everyone fish. I fucking hate it.
– The newly rechristened Pin Pals begin their league play, as we get a quick breeze through rehashed “Team Homer” jokes. Funny team names are back, except much less amusing. We see “Selma’s Exes” featuring Sideshow Bob, Disco Stu and what looks like “Fit” Tony (despite Fat Tony appearing later on his own mafia team), but this is basically just like “The Homewreckers,” except with the subtlety removed. We also get the reappearance of the Holy Rollers (with the Bing Crosby Parson replacing our dearly departed Maude), but instead of them removing the hoods from their robes as heavenly light basks upon their blessed faces, Ned Flanders high fives a floating Jesus that apparently everyone can see after he gets a strike. Ugh.
– Two episodes in a row, the show has used the Wilhelm scream. There’s a side “story” where Lisa convinces the abused underlings to dig up dirt on the hedge fund people. Then later they show back up, walking in to “Little Green Bag” in slow-mo a la Reservoir Dogs, following a light-up sign titling it “The Hateful 8-Year-Old, Directed by Quentin Tarantino.” It’s fucking terrible. Over a decade ago, they did the same bit with Lisa walking with her adopted animals, and it sucked back then too. Lisa reveals each team member’s Achilles heel, and one of them does the Wilhelm scream. I know it’s a staple for movies and TV shows to sneak it in, but normally the key word is “sneak,” to put it in the background or as part of a large action sequence or something. Last episode it was done as someone jumped out of the way of the runaway monorail, but in both instances, it felt like the purpose was, “It’s the Wilhelm scream! Us using it counts as a joke, right?” No. No it doesn’t.

One good line/moment: Yeah, not a damn thing. Definitely the worst episode so far.

624. The Old Blue Mayor She Ain’t What She Used to Be

Original airdate: November 12, 2017

The premise: 
Marge becomes mayor of Springfield, but is disheartened to find her approval ratings are directly linked to how much she publicly mocks her oafish husband.

The reaction: Character motivation is important, it helps us understand why people are doing things. These days, this usually boils down to one fleeting mention, or some minimal conversation that turns into the crutch for an entire episode. Here, Marge runs for public office after being subject to sexist comments from Mayor Quimby at a Town Hall meeting. It felt a lot like the open-faced, on-the-nose sexism Lisa has been subject to in a couple shows, but I can stomach it more here coming from an infamous womanizer. But the episode itself isn’t about women’s rights, or Marge wanting to prove herself and win on her own merit. I’m honestly not sure what is driving her or what she wants to do. During a debate, she catches a glimpse of the tire fire glowing in the distance, and talks about how for her whole life, she’s wanted to get rid of that toxic eyesore, which the crowd enthusiastically agrees with (why, I’m not sure). Then, after she’s sworn in, she makes two attempts to close it and fails, with Kent Brockman reporting on her failings each time. It’s like she ran on a platform of one issue, because that’s what she did. Marge is the mayor of Springfield, what does she want to do with that power? Crack down on teen hooliganism? Pour money into public schools? Clean up the streets, literally? Surely there’s plenty of things you can do that are in line with her character. But instead, we have this bizarre occurrence where a focus group laughs uproariously at Homer’s dumb antics in the Simpson kitchen as Marge tries to give her address. So now, Marge’s entire political platform is based upon giving cutting jabs about her husband’s weight and stupidity, to the crowd’s unwavering applause. So what’s the commentary here? Crowd-pleasing theatrics overshadowing actual politics? I honestly haven’t a clue. In the end, Marge paying Homer a compliment results in the entire crowd leaving and grumbling, and I guess that’s the end of her run, where the status quo is covered in the tag. This episode feels like it’s a result of the writers pulling nouns out of a hat. “Marge” becomes “the mayor”! We haven’t done that yet, have we? Perfect! I want a script in twenty minutes! Actually, make that fifteen.

Three items of note:
– The episode opens with the latest town wide snafu caused by Mayor Quimby. A new skyline park is opened on the same infrastructure of the long defunct monorail track, but upon turning on the power, one of the old decrepit monorails returns to life and started careening down the restored track. Don’t quite see how this makes sense, but whatever. We get a brief reappearance of Sebastian Cobb, which is promptly run over by the monorail, which ends up careening off the tracks and landing on and demolishing a statue of Leonard Nimoy. I’m honestly surprised that they did that to a dearly deceased guest star. It might have been the best thing in the whole show, a rare showing of actual balls.
– Marge goes on the campaign trail (no mention of this actually being election season, but whatever. I guess anyone can run for mayor at any time in this town) and over a montage of her talking to voters, we get a song to the tune of “Oh Susanna,” which for some reason sounds like it’s being performed in an echo chamber. Not quite sure what that’s about. We also have a few lyrics sung by Marge herself, and boy oh boy, is her voice strained. Julie Kavner is pushing 70, I just feel bad for these moments where you can really hear her voice giving out. Our favorite family is getting older and older…
– Disheartened in having to mercilessly mock Homer for poll points, Marge visits Quimby at his estate to ask him if it’s possible to balance a personal and political life. In retirement, Quimby admits he’s now faithful to his wife for the first time in decades, which doesn’t exactly help Marge’s worries. So what is the point here? Power absolutely corrupts? Once removed from office, creeps and predators will just turn back to normal? As usual, there is no point to something like this, it’s just a plot necessity to get Quimby back in and push Marge to her inevitable, obvious decision.

One good line/moment: I’m sure there was something, but nothing I can immediately recall. This was definitely the most boring one so far. I can at least say this season isn’t as aggressively terrible as last season, but honestly, it’s all splitting hairs at this point. It doesn’t help that last season started with two of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen.

623. Grampy Can You Hear Me

Original airdate: November 5, 2017

The premise: 
Abe gets a hearing aid and is shocked to discover what his family says about him under their breaths. Meanwhile, Skinner evicts himself from his mother’s house after finding out a terrible secret.

The reaction: This show had a very strange flow. We start on the “main” plot, but a few minutes in, we introduce a B-plot, which leads directly into a C-plot, which then ends up getting the most screen time, with sprinklings of the other two stories mixed in. And this show was extremely short; minus the extreme padding at the beginning and end, it’s barely seventeen minutes long. Let’s get the less interesting stories out of the way. Abe walks into the Simpson kitchen to show off his new hearing aid, but before he can announce the gift, we conveniently have the Simpsons narrate to themselves all the damning information Abe needs to get pissed (“Thank God he can’t hear us!”) Then he disappears. Then he comes back. We’ve seen episodes with Abe feeling disrespected by young’ns, but those require actual thought and development, not being crammed up against two other stories and forgotten about. Meanwhile, Lisa urges Bart to help her break into the school to change a typo on her paper, which she frets and worries about getting found out after she changes it. It’s paranoid academic Lisa which, again, we’ve seen much, much better and more realistically in the past. The most screen time goes to Skinner, who leaves Agnes’ house when he finds out she hid his Ohio State acceptance letter from him when he was 18. I’d mention how this contradicts “The Principal and the Pauper,” but who gives a flying fuck at this point. He wanted to join their marching band, so he goes to Ohio State to tell them about this for really no reason, then storms around angry. Finally, he goes and confronts Agnes about it, and she tearfully explains how she didn’t want him to leave her all alone. She also tells him she hates marching bands. Skinner accepts her apology, because he has to, because status quo. If these stories are going to be so threadbare and meaningless, could they at least try a little harder with these reconciliations? Not even mentioning how out-of-character this is for Agnes. I remember that curling episodes years ago featured a similar treacly moment between these two. If we’re going to get vicious bitch Agnes to this emotional level, there needs to be some build-up. But that’s a tall order for this show at this point.

Three items of note:
– All the tricks in the book were made to bring this one to length; it’s almost like a modern version of “The Front,” in more ways than one. We get our long opening titles (which features Maggie holding up a bottle of Szechuan sauce to the camera. Love us, Rick & Morty! LOVE US!), as well as a really long couch gag that starts off as the family coming to Ellis Island at the turn of the century, then turns into a timeline going to the 50s, then going into space? It’s stupid. When the show is over, we get our hundredth instance of the show acknowledging how much tags suck with Homer flipping through his script page and noticing there’s more following the natural end of the story. This show has had four acts for almost a decade now, you’d think at some point they would actually utilize it in some satisfactory fashion, instead of just be meta and make fun of it over and over. I still don’t get why they even have to do it. But whatever, onto the most egregious time killer. Following the executive producer credits, we get a little short! It’s “Everyone Knows Hans Moleman”! Does this seem familiar? The theme is an intentional soundalike of “Everyone Loves Ned Flanders,” so it’s clear they’re trying to reference themselves. Do I need to tell you it’s terrible? Cashier Shuana (shudder) tries to scan Moleman’s arm and it comes up as “0.00.” Is the joke that he’s worthless or disregarded? Or both? Oh, who cares.
– I normally steer clear of comparing specific jokes to classic episodes, but it’s difficult when the set-ups are so clearly similar. Lisa has a nightmare that she’s about to win the presidency, but news of her minor transgressions from second grade prove to be her undoing. It’s identical to a bit from “Lisa on Ice,” but done so, so much poorer. The dream in “Ice” is dynamic, we see Lisa being sworn in when a roving reporter comes in, dramatically announcing Lisa’s failing grade in gym class. Lisa is arrested and sent to Monster Island, which of course, is only a peninsula. It actually feels like a kid-like dream, where it’s Lisa’s worst fears, but then you get this ridiculous silly bit at the end, which has its own jokes in and of itself. In this episode, it’s just a guy standing in a newsroom who gets told via headset about Lisa cheating, who then calls it for her opponent, Kenny Hitler. And that’s it. It’s so less creative and boring.
– There’s a “joke” on Miss Hoover’s chalkboard that I can’t quite figure out: Five states whose capitals start with the same letter as the state: Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Oklahoma, This State. If Wikipedia is to be believed, those are the only four states that meet that criteria, so I guess this is the writers punking the fans, sending them on a wild goose chase. But does anyone still care about the “truth” of where Springfield is? There’s no answer, that’s the point. Again, where Springfield is was a great running gag, but like all running gags, the well starts to run a little dry when you’re going for almost thirty years. So I guess the joke is wasting die hard fans’ time. Are they supposed to, once they realize there is no fifth state, laugh upon realizing they’ve been had? Where is the joke aspect here?

One good line/moment: There’s a cute bit involving Skinner desperately wanting to tell his tale of woe, but Bart and Lisa don’t care in the slightest (“Are you asking?” “I was stretching.” “Then why’d you only stretch one arm?” “It was the only arm that needed stretching.”)

622. Treehouse of Horror XXVIII

Original airdate: October 22, 2017

The premise:
“The Exor-Sis” is an Exorcist “parody.” “CoraLisa” is a Coraline “parody.” In “Mmm… Homer,” Homer becomes a cannibal when he discovers the most delicious flesh is his own.

The reaction: Segment one was pretty disposable. Everyone and their dog has done an Exorcist parody at this point, with the spinning head and projectile vomiting. I guess the funny part is supposed to be that it’s a possessed Maggie with Kevin Michael Richardson’s voice. I miss James Earl Jones. Then again, FOX has that Exorcist TV series, so maybe this is just corporate synergy. Segment two features some pretty excellent looking CG animation mimicking the stop motion look of the original film, which is nice to look at, but story-wise, there’s not much going on. It felt like the disappointing Tracey Ullman segment from a few Halloween shows ago, where each family member goes off to kill themselves/get buttons sewed on their eyes for no real reason one after another. Segment three opens with a disclaimer from Lisa to warn how disgusting the following story will be, which definitely perked my interest as to what this show feels it needs to forewarn. And yes, Homer repeatedly cutting off limbs and body fat until he’s a hobbled amputee was pretty nauseating. I can at least give this show credit for actually getting a visceral reaction out of me, and for being the first actually chilling element of a Halloween show in I don’t know how long. But tonally it didn’t feel like it struck the right balance; I’d rather they had gone even creepier with it instead of setting the montage of him eating himself to happy music, and the resolution of him going to therapy with Marge over it. The best Treehouse of Horrors balanced scary and funny effortlessly; the whole family having their skin ripped off and twisted inside-out was shocking, but seeing them immediately don hats and canes and sing A Chorus Line made for an epic finale. Homer’s carcass being fed to people the world over? I don’t know what to make of that ending. Is it funny or disturbing? Or both?

Three items of note:
– The opening is another CG segment with the Simpsons as candy bars in a bowl fearing being taken, until eventually they’re the only ones left in the bowl and are left on a top shelf to rot. Then they feast on the suicidal Easter bunny or something. I didn’t really get what they were doing. Was this meant to be a take on Sausage Party or something?
– The ending of the Coraline segment is kind of strange. Normal Homer strangles Button-Eye Bart, causing him to lose his head as shown above. Then Button-Eye Homer retaliates but ends up impaling himself. This throws Button-Eye Marge into a rage, who transforms into an evil spider similar to Other Mother from the film. But after that, we cut back to the normal world to see the two families are now living together, with Homer hanging with his two wives. Then Button-Eye Homer shows up acting as regular Homer’s errand boy. How did this come about? There’s clearly some narrative connective tissue missing.
– When the family returns home, Homer answers the door in his newly hobbled state, looking almost emaciated in his torso. When Bart asks him why he’s got oven mitts on, Homer says he wants to look more elegant after watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Being served the sitcom set-up, Bart delivers the punchline (“Elegant? With your waistline? I don’t think so.”) You can almost hear the laugh track. This type of hacktacular comedy writing isn’t anything new for this show now, but in this context, it feels even stranger considering Bart’s looking right at his now extremely slim father. It’s out-of-character and makes no sense in its context, but I guess the joke was just too great to resist.

One good line/moment: The CG animation on the Coraline story was fun to watch, the designs and the detail were pretty spectacular. Though my enjoyment took a slight hit at the start thanks to Lisa’s first line on entering this new world (“For a Halloween show middle segment, this is amazing!”) Pat yourselves harder on the back, will you, guys?