639. Flanders’ Ladder

Original airdate: May 20, 2018

The premise:
After getting struck by lightning, Bart goes into a coma, where he is haunted by ghosts of the dearly departed, looking to him to sort out their unfinished business, the most insistent of all being Maude Flanders.

The reaction: I’d say the show gets points for trying a different type of story, but those points immediately get redacted since I didn’t understand the point of it or why any of it was happening. We open on Bart tricking Lisa with a screamer prank and posting her hilarious reaction online, basically just ripping off the Scary Maze Game, an OVER TEN YEAR OLD Internet meme. I guess next season will feature Bart first discovering ytmnd. When Bart tragically falls into a coma, Lisa gets her revenge by whispering in his ear to be surrounded by the dead. And so, in Bart’s head, first he encounters Maude Flanders, who is urgent to talk to him, and soon he’s doing the bidding of a bunch of other ghosts just because they tell him to. None of this feels like the extended dream of a child though, which made me keep forgetting this was all a big coma fantasy and ultimately nothing that happened mattered. The conceit reminds me of the Futurama episode “The Sting,” where Fry seemingly dies and Leela has to deal with her grief but also starts hallucinating due to the effects of space bee honey, but then it’s revealed that she was actually in a coma, and her visions were due to Fry at her bedside talking to her and keeping her brain active. This episode attempts that a few times with Lisa saying something and a character in Bart’s dream saying the same line, but that was barely an element of the show. Whereas Leela found herself going mad as reality seemed to bend before her eyes, Bart’s coma world feels just like reality except with ghosts in it. Anyway, Maude wants revenge on Homer, since he was responsible for getting her killed by the T-shirt cannons, so Bart recruits the bullies to ambush him with T-shirts. Then Homer shows up as a ghost and Bart has to deal with him not wanting his father to leave him… Wasn’t this a Bart-Lisa story? Shouldn’t the emotional crux be Bart feeling bad for humiliating her sister? We cut from Lisa apologizing for messing with Bart at the hospital to coma Bart begging ghost Homer not to go into the light? Is this meant to be symbolic? What’s Bart’s emotional arc? What’s the point? Again, part of me appreciates the show trying to tell a different kind of story, but if I have no idea what the purpose of it was, and considering another show already did it extremely competently fifteen years prior, I just wonder why the hell they even bothered.

Three items of note:
– We open with a transformer blowing and the family’s Internet goes out. We see a CONNECTION LOST message on the family room’s updated HD TV, Bart on the floor with his laptop with the Mac spinning rainbow circle, Lisa and Abe’s tablets don’t work… even after all this time, the Simpsons using modern technology still feels wrong to me. It gets even odder when Homer busts out his old VHS tapes, which absolutely mystify Bart and Lisa, leading to a sequence where they are stupidity by the sound of a rewinding tape and the concept of a corded remote. A big element of the pilot episode almost thirty years ago was Lisa being psyched about watching her favorite Happy Little Elves videotape, and here we are now, this show still alive and kickin’ (barely), with the kids not even knowing what a VHS is. This isn’t a criticism, it’s just really weird to see.
– We see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd of ghosts haunting Bart: beyond our beloved popular dead regulars like Marvin Monroe and Bleeding Gums Murphy, we also have Homer’s Vegas wife Amber, Rabbi Krustofski (Jackie Mason appearing again, aiming to rival Glenn Close for most posthumous repeated guest spots), Waylon Smithers Sr., that Fat Pride motor scooter guy, and then two or three other faces that seemed familiar that I didn’t recognize. I guess that had someone go on Simpsons Wiki and pull up the Deceased Characters page or something. Shary Bobbins also gets a line in, which why not, considering that got Maggie Roswell back for Maude. Speaking of which, the whole second act is building toward finding out what Maude wants from Bart, which turns out to be revenge on Homer for causing her death, and like… who cares. Like, really, who the fuck cares. “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly” was almost twenty years ago, does anyone give a flying shit about this? And I’d rather not be reminded of that episode, or of Homer’s gross behavior in it. They wedge in a (full frame) clip of her death in there in case people forgot, and you know what, as bad as that episode was, I would watch it over any episode over the last several years in a heartbeat.
– The episode was pretty much wrapping up eighteen minutes in or so, which was slightly confusing, but that left room for a lengthy, uninteresting tag depicting how and when the Simpsons and other Springfield denizens will die. It’s a “parody” of the ending of the series finale of Six Feet Under, complete with the same song scoring it, a show that went off the air thirteen years ago. I often bitch about the show making incredibly outdated references (I literally just did with the screamer videos earlier), but the show in its prime make a lot of references to TV and movies that were decades old. So what’s the difference? I feel like there are two big reasons. Firstly, as time goes on, and we get inundated with more and more media outlets spitting out more and more content at us, “big” pop culture moments tend to not have a lot of staying power. The series finale of M*A*S*H pulled in over a hundred million viewers in 1983, but flash forward to the Friends finale twenty years later and it had barely half the audience. With so many different viewing options out there, the audience is more fragmented than it’s ever been, and as such, big cultural moments aren’t quite as big and long-standing anymore. Six Feet Under was a pretty successful show, but now, over a decade later, it feels so completely irrelevant, because there have been thousands of other great dramas to take its place since then. Secondly, The Simpsons was born in an era where reruns were king; the major networks and basic cable would constantly run old shows and movies to fill up their airing slots, so when the show would lampoon Citizen Kane or The Godfather, not only are those classic films, there’s a pretty good chance a then modern audience would have seen the movie playing somewhere on TV. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find many channels running content that’s over a decade old, and that’s just on television. We’re living in a cultural landscape that is hyper focused on the now, an inevitability when everyone is connected on the Internet and can instantly make fun of whatever just happened that very day. It’s made The Simpsons‘ hallmark tradition of ripping on pop culture basically obsolete. We saw that clearly last season with their attempt to make a Pokemon Go episode, which came out nine months after the app went big, but most importantly, eight months and three weeks after every late night show, web cartoonist and Internet dweller had made ten thousand jokes and memes about it. Honestly, I really feel like the show should just retire pop culture jokes; between the poor writing and the outdated production schedule, they literally can’t be like they used to.

One good line/moment: The animation of Lisa getting stuck in Bart’s underwear and feebly struggling to get out was kind of fun. There have been a couple of fleeting fun animated moments this past season since they switched production companies, but not nearly enough for me to be crowing about what a tremendous difference it is or anything.

And there you have it, season 29 in the can. I’ll give it this, it wasn’t nearly as bad as season 28, which had some of the worst fucking episodes I’ve ever seen. But this is also the very first season I’ve watched and reviewed as it aired, so I’ve had a lot more time to completely forget almost all of it over the last nine months. “Singin’ in the Lane,” “3 Scenes Plus A Tag About a Marriage,” and “Left Behind” stick out as being particularly terrible, not to mention the tone-deaf Problem With Apu response from “No Good Read Goes Unpunished.” Most of the season I recall just being more dull than anything else. So, looks like I’m on hiatus until September then. I’d like to thank everyone reading this for sticking with the blog for another glorious season. I’m sure season 30 will provide even more wonderful, wonderful garbage for me to sift through. I’m so happy FOX canned Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth so we wouldn’t miss out on more episodes of this broken down pathetic hollowed corpse of a goddamn show. Fuck.

(and yes, I know NBC picked up Nine-Nine, before anyone chimes in to deliver that news.)

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638. Throw Grampa From The Dane

Original airdate: May 13, 2018

The premise:
When Abe is in need of an expensive operation, the Simpsons head off to Denmark to take advantage of their free healthcare, but Homer must make a big decision when the rest of the family wants to make the seemingly perfect country their new home.

The reaction: Wherein we find the show running out of countries for the family to visit. Will the Simpsons be going to Uzbekistan in season 35? The series only really had two international family excursions in the classic years, both with a different approach to thrusting the characters into a whole new environment: “Bart vs. Australia” had its fair share of Aussie jokes, but it was mostly focused on the absurd plot based on Bart’s unintentional international incident, and the horrible failures of US-Australia relations. Meanwhile, “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” didn’t really have much of a story, focusing on creating a bunch of humorous set pieces, which worked because they were mostly all funny. But travel shows now are just an excuse for the show to act as a travelogue, showing off famous landmarks and rattling off trivia about different countries. This might be the greatest offender, with many scenes featuring characters literally reading off Denmark facts off their phone, with a tepid little joke at the end not at all worth the preceding info dump. In the third act, a Danish woman comes onto Homer, and three times begins sentences with “We Danes” before saying some generality about Danish people. And really, who was asking for this? I dunno, call me an uncultured swine, but I don’t see an episode full of Danish jokes full of rich, comedic potential. I mean, it could work, if it came from a show that hasn’t had almost twenty years of shit writing behind it. Circling back, the impetus of the family’s Denmark journey is needing an affordable operation for Abe, to address an ailment he never explains. He says it’s “embarrassing” and won’t talk about it, but that point is never really emphasized that much, and I didn’t think anything of it. After spending x number of days in Denmark with Homer trying to get his father into a terrible accident to be eligible for free healthcare, Abe finally comes clean: what he really needs is a tattoo removal. He reveals a heart on his chest with the word “MONA,” wanting it gone since his wife hated him up until her death. It’s unclear exactly what Abe’s endgame for all this was; I guess he went along and flew halfway around the world because he just couldn’t tell his family about this, but then once he does admit it to Homer, they barely even discuss it. You’d think Homer would be affected by this reveal, but I guess he’s already made peace that his mother fucking hated his father after “Forgive and Regret,” so whatever. The writers try and make it tie together when Abe urges Homer not to make his same mistakes and mend fences with Marge after a squabble, but it feels so limp and meaningless. This is one of those episodes that just washed over me with not much of anything really registering, and when your twist features your main character’s father wanting to completely sever emotional ties from his dead mother, and that idea is just completely swept aside, I think that says a lot.

Three items of note:
– I didn’t even remember this until I saw it mentioned elsewhere, the show literally did this plot last year, where the Simpsons took Abe to Cuba to get cheap medical care. I guess I don’t blame them, I barely recall anything about it. I think it ended with Abe co-owning a night club or something? And of course, we already saw Abe needing desperate medical attention two episodes ago. Is the only plot left with this character is him having one foot in the grave? Impulsively, I responded to an episode preview post from Al Jean, asking why they didn’t just make an episode featuring Abe finally dying. His response, “You tell Grampa that!” Lulz.
– The Abe plot starts and stops completely at will when we do all the Denmark travel stuff, and also runs completely parallel to the B-story, where Marge and the kids love this new country and want to stay. Homer’s main gripe is that he’s losing weight and won’t eat as unhealthily as he does in America. I mean, I’m sure Denmark has no shortage of fatty foods he can gorge himself on ’til his heart’s content (or gives out, whatever comes first). It felt like they were halfway toward a decent conflict, then decided this was good enough and broke for lunch.
– Homer rushes from the airport to make up with Marge after their contrived conflict, and because the episode is almost over, they of course need to be okay with going back to Springfield. But her main points are absolutely ridiculous. First, she points out that in the confined bathroom, the toilet is in the shower. Surely that’s something that shouldn’t be surprising to her or worth specifically pointing out a week into their stay. She points out the washing machine is really small too, but these are two things they could easily amend in their own home should they choose to stay. Then she points out how dark it is outside (“It’s eleven in the morning!”) We then see the sun rise and set in about two seconds. I guess all those daytime scenes we saw were playing at 100x speed, we just didn’t notice! This quick plot resolution shit is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it still elicits a groan out of me when I know a superfluous wrap-up is coming, and it never fails to disappoint in how poor it ends up being. Bart’s complaint is that the schools are good here, and as for Lisa? “I want to stay, but no one ever listens to me.” Sigh.

One good line/moment: Dr. Nick’s office is named “Bleeders Sinai Medical Center.”

637. Left Behind

Original airdate: May 6, 2018

The premise:
After the Leftorium finally shuts down, Homer gets Ned a job at the power plant, but once he’s fired from there, Ned decides to become a teacher.

The reaction: This show sure switches a lot of gears over twenty minutes. An opening featuring Homer and Marge’s date night (that admittedly is a little sweet in the effort Homer puts into it) is interrupted in the middle of the night by Ned, fraught over losing his job. Homer begrudgingly refers him to the power plant, where he gets hired as the new head of HR. From there, it’s just a bunch of scenes featuring Ned being a milquetoast weenie, which I find as very boring characterization for him (we have “Viva Ned Flanders” to blame for that.) When Burns impromptu fires him, he cycles through a bunch of odd jobs that don’t quite fit. Finally, fourteen minutes in, Marge convinces him to become a teacher, specifically the new substitute for Bart’s class. At first it was mind boggling to me to see Ned taking his deceased wife’s job with absolutely zero mention of it. But it turns out the writers were holding onto that info for a manipulative ending, where we have Bart apologizing to Ned, saying he thinks he could be as good a teacher as “her,” gesturing to the picture of Edna on the wall as Clair de Lune plays (plus an archival line from the deceased Marcia Wallace). I guess they felt that saving the Edna mention for the very end would act as a solemn, heartwarming tribute, but the fact that nobody mentioned her at all before that point felt incredibly strange. How is this episode not entirely about Ned trying to step into his dead wife’s shoes and whether he’s worthy of taking her place, and the kids’ perspective on this development as well? Did they think it would be too heavy to make it about that? Why not? It certainly would make it more human. All the last minute mention did was reinforce how vacuous and empty the whole Nedna thing was. They literally couldn’t have a plot revolving on Ned reflecting on Edna because there was nothing to their relationship in the first place. It was a soulless publicity stunt from six years ago that was tragically cut short following Marcia Wallace’s death. Ultimately, Ned reaches his class by manipulating them into being docile and God-fearing through some “miracles” Bart rigs up, which I guess counts as our happy ending? Remember the ending of “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baaadaaaaass S ong”? Yeah, me too. On Twitter, Al Jean explains, “One story point conscious decision that Ned was fired for religion in school before and now is using it. Sign of the times.” If anyone wants to decipher that explanation, be my guest, but I don’t understand it at all. Also according to Jean, he’s now the permanent fourth grade teacher now. So, there it is. It only took four years, but we’ve finally filled the vacancy in our major cast. The absentee actor problem with Wallace is a thorny one, of course, and I understand the writers not knowing how soon is too soon to fill Edna’s position, but four years feels way too long, especially given we’ve had scenes in Bart’s classroom before this with no mention or care of the lack of any teacher. I know they wanted that moment at the end to hit hard and be poignant, but it really felt like a huge shrug, especially after how much time has gone by, and more especially being tacked on at the end of such a hollow and meaningless episode. Ms. Wallace deserved better.

Three items of note:
– In addition to the main story jumping from plot to plot, we also get a minor story involving Todd’s… relationship with Lisa? It’s just two scenes of her being sort of weirded out by him just kinda being around all the time, and then him revealing a little gingerbread dollhouse he made for her with the two of them inside. Lisa is touched, as revealed through painful dialogue (“Todd, I had you all wrong. You’re a wonderful kid, and I’m happy to call you my pal.”) Todd then tells her he’s glad to finally have a friend and not have to hang around with his brother all the time, at which point Lisa tells him to stop talking and go away. Also, Rod and Todd are inexplicably just hanging at the Simpsons house for some reason. I guess Marge is watching them when Ned is working his new job(s)? But who watched them beforehand after Edna’s death? And we see Bart and Lisa there at the house too, so it couldn’t have been during the week, they’d be at school. They’re just there just because. Later we see the two boys bidding Ned farewell for his first day as a teacher, and they’re just sort of standing outside the house unsupervised. Who takes care of these two small children? Also, I think the only Ned-Edna episode involved her urging Ned to enroll her new stepchildren into public school, which I think ended with him agreeing. But I guess once she died, Ned pulled them right the fuck out, and I guess now they just roam the town aimlessly until their father scoops them up and brings them home after work. No one writing this gave two fucks about Rod and Todd. They even make a joke where Todd doesn’t remember which one he is, which feels like an odd joke to make in the 29th season of your show that you confuse the two children of one of your major secondary characters.
– This episode features a few callbacks to the movie for some reason. First, Ned expresses his gratitude to Homer by making his famous cocoa, the elaborate concoction where he grates chocolate flakes and toasts the marshmallow on top, except here it’s revealed he does it in Homer’s mouth. Later, Ned tries to get Bart not to spitball him at the behest of his ravenous schoolmates, saying, “They’ve been fishing together,” like the scene from the movie where he pats him on the back in the boat, and Bart flinches at first physical contact by an adult, which feels like a very sad child abuse joke. If I remember from the commentary, I think Al Jean and the writers really, really loved the Ned-Bart stuff from the movie, but I always thought it was incredibly saccharine and ham-fisted. I also remember one joke they mentioned was cut where after the Simpsons get out of the dome, Bart spies Ned on the other side, moons the glass, but then it’s revealed to be a heart shape as he runs away. Gross. Thank God that got cut.
– Though the teacher Ned story is more potentially juicy due to the Edna issue, Ned working at the plant is also a story that could have actually been something. We have a few scenes of him trying to bolster company morale and instill good manners and a kindly demeanor on the other employees, but it never actually goes anywhere. We see that Lenny and Carl are annoyed at Homer for getting stuck with this goody two shoes, but then Ned ultimately gets fired out of the blue when he mentions he hasn’t given anything to charity. It’s like they were laying down a few tracks but then ran the train off the rails completely before they even began. But I don’t really care. The episode could have been wholly about either story and it would have been a huge festering mess anyway.

One good line/moment: The SEARS closed forever sign, “Jeff Bezos Rot In Hell.”

636. Forgive And Regret

Original airdate: April 29, 2018

The premise:
On his deathbed, Abe confesses a terrible secret to Homer about their past, and must live with his son’s heated reaction to the news during his recovery.

The reaction: Homer’s upbringing is really quite tragic, as we know from “Mother Simpson.” His mother stood up for what she believed in, and her reward for her unwavering compassion even towards Mr. Burns, her own adversary, makes her a wanted woman and forces her to leave her son for his own protection. Once loved and encouraged by his mother, Homer is now left with his cold and stubborn father, who spends the rest of his adolescence tearing down his son’s self-esteem piece by piece. In present day, Homer can easily come off badly for neglecting and often ignoring his senile, elderly father, but this family history creates a new shade to this relationship, a deep seeded animosity Homer feels towards Abe for never believing in him, always putting him down, and perhaps also blaming him for his mother leaving (especially given Abe’s flimsy lie to young Homer that his mother died when they were at the movies). This is a lot of rich material to delve into, which makes this episode frustrating since it attempts to scratch the surface of it, and ultimately ends on such a meaningless, who-gives-a-shit note. Believing he’s finally on his way out the door, Abe whispers his biggest regret to Homer, but after he recovers, he has to deal with him being furious with him. Finally, halfway through, we find out what happened: when Mona left him, Abe chucked everything she left behind off a cliff, including a box of recipe cards she wrote over many years of baking with her son, a treasured memory for li’l Homer (Lisa irritating exposits, “If this man had had those notes, his life would have been different! He would have had confidence! He would have had his mother with him!”) Any sort of heated discourse between Homer and Abe about this event, or hearing more about their feelings are paved over in exchange for extended sequences of the Simpson family being angry and relishing over their hate boners. Everything falls apart with the ending, featuring Abe attempting to scale the cliff to retrieve the recipes; rather than featuring a father and son heart-to-heart with Abe apologizing to his son for what he did and everything he put him through as a kid and them making peace with Mona’s passing, Homer finds the recipe card box on a ledge near the bottom of the cliff, but it’s empty. Then at a diner at the base of the cliff, it’s revealed that the owner had the recipe cards showered down on her all those years ago, and she returns them to Homer (literally tied up in a bow, as the show gleefully pounds on the fourth wall.) I almost feel foolish for having hope watching this show, but when they tapped directly into such a rich emotional vein from the show’s past, I thought maybe it would actually go somewhere, but the writing nowadays just isn’t strong enough to say anything new or of any substance. Everything in the flashback is so sappily on-the-nose (young Homer tearfully saying “Love you” to his mom as he eats, followed by Mona directly explaining the emotional meaning behind the cards) and they completely sidestep any grievances Homer may have with Abe by putting all vitriol in his mother’s mouth (we end on Homer looking at one of Mona’s notes, “I love you, because your father’s a mean S.O.B.”) I’m not surprised that they managed to bungle an episode like this, but I am a bit disappointed given the little moments of promise that were actually there in the writing.

Three items of note:
– In case you missed the minor slew of articles from entertainment journalists desperately mustering up the energy to care about this lumbering fossil of a series, this is the landmark episode that bumps The Simpsons in front of Gunsmoke as the longest running scripted primetime show by number of episodes. Thankfully, the self-congratulation is very short, a ten-second opening featuring Maggie gunning down who I presume is the lead sheriff from the Western series. But here we are, the show’s broken its final notable record, and still shows no sign of ending any time soon. A year or so ago, I thought that maybe there was a chance that this latest contract going up to season 30 would be its last. They’d have broken the Gunsmoke record, 30 is a nice round number, maybe this will be the time to finally, at long last, close the curtains. Then there was some article where the head of FOX television saying she’d love for the show going as long as the crew wanted. And now with the Disney deal, the chance of the show ending at season 30 is pretty much nil. I’m sure Disney’s gonna want to keep this cash cow alive, and even if they wanted to cancel it, it wouldn’t be very good press for them to do it immediately after acquiring it. But how much longer could it possibly go? I still hold onto the morbid belief that the only definite show killer would be the death of one of the six core voice actors; whenever that might be, I feel like Al Jean and company wouldn’t feel right about recasting and quietly wrap things up.
– Abe being moments from death is treated fairly seriously. His skin a sickly shade of pale yellow, he regales this horrible secret to Homer, which now in retrospect makes his immediate forgiveness to his dying father hold more weight. We then cut to him staring blankly at the candy machine, desperately awaiting Dr. Hibbert to come in with an update. As all this played out, I started considering what an episode where Abe actually dies would be like. And really, why the fuck not kill him off? I’d be interested in seeing how they’d handle it. It’s just amazing to me that a show pushing thirty years on the air is so uninterested in any kind of change whatsoever (barring the death of a voice actress, i.e.: Marcia Wallace.) The last big “permanent” change I can think of is Selma’s adopted daughter, and in recent major Selma appearances, like her marriage to Fat Tony and her giving up smoking, I don’t even think she appeared.
– Glenn Close returns for the ninth time to play Mona Simpson again, six of those appearances being posthumous. In the flashback, we see Homer’s lively and vibrant mother hoarsely and timidly voiced by a 71-year-old Close. In the same vein, Dan Castellaneta’s young Homer voice certainly sounds a lot deeper than it did in “Mother Simpson,” especially during his song. I don’t mean to shame these great actors for getting older, but it just speaks to how stagnant this show is; they want to keep going over the same twenty-year-old material again and again, not realizing that they just can’t. Because of time.

One good line/moment: There were a few bits in the first half that made me chuckle, like the two dividers in Homer’s car and Marge’s congratulatory balloons (“Speaking Terms” and “You’re Reconciled!”)

635. Lisa Gets The Blues

Original airdate: April 22, 2018

The premise:
After some harsh words from Mr. Largo, Lisa finds herself discouraged from pursuing her musical talents. Perhaps an unintentional impromptu trip to New Orleans will reinvigorate her passion for jazz?

The reaction: Well, this is the first episode in a good long while I actually didn’t dislike. The premise was simple and thin enough, and almost the entire show was padding, but there was nothing really that actively pissed me off, and that’s a big leg-up at this point in the series. Our story kicks off when Lisa is discouraged by Mr. Largo and Principal Skinner, who inform her of the harsh reality that making it big as an artist and standing out among the crowd is a nigh impossible task; for every star that made it big, there’s thousands behind them who just couldn’t swing it. It’s a decent harsh reality to thrust upon this little girl, but it feels so needlessly vindictive on Skinner’s part to actively try and crush the hopes and dreams of his best student out of the blue. But this is enough to get Lisa to completely give up on music, finding herself physically unable to play anymore due to her own self-doubt and insecurities. There’s a section of the first act where Marge tries to be as supportive as she can in encouraging her daughter to keep playing, and it’s actually pretty sweet. She announces they’re all going to visit one of her elderly relatives (specifically mentioning they love music, urging Lisa further), but commotion on their plane flight leads the Simpsons to make a detour to New Orleans. Pretty serendipitous of course for Lisa to get her jazz groove back. Marge tries to help Lisa again, but oddly quickly pawns her off on Homer (“You’re good at cheering her up. I’ll take Bart.”) There goes that mother-daughter story, I guess. Oh yeah, there’s also a B-plot where Bart gets bullied at the beginning, then buys some voodoo dolls, but it doesn’t really matter at all. But surprisingly, Homer actually gives half of a shit, taking Lisa to a statue of Louis Armstrong, then later to a jazz club. Lisa’s mojo is rekindled thanks to Bleeding Gums Murphy’s nephew, who tells her how his uncle thought he was the most promising young musician he’d ever heard (“Kind of an insult to me, but he was pretty passive-aggressive.”) The resolution is a little rushed, but it felt genuine enough; plus we also saw the nephew character earlier in the episode on the street, his head turning upon seeing Lisa, so I appreciated that foreshadowing there (I also liked Kevin Michael Richardson’s Ron Taylor-inspired voice for the character.) This episode felt really refreshing for some reason, it wasn’t anything exemplary, but it at least felt like there was a hint of soul to it. Maybe that’s due to it being co-written by veteran director David Silverman. He’s been with the show since the very start, perhaps the heart of the series could be regained by the man who’s been drawing them since the beginning? I’m certainly not hopeful on the series in general, but I’d be interested to see another Silverman penned show.

Three items of note:
– We open with a “30 Years Ago” card, followed by a clip from the Tracey Ullman short “The Aquarium,” which actually aired in February 1988, but it’s one of the more famous ones, so I get why they’d pick it. But what’s this about? Last year they did the same opening but for the actual 30th anniversary of the characters with “Good Night.” I guess they’re in full self-congratulation mode leading up to finally surpassing Gunsmoke so they figured why not honor their 30th two years in a row? Then we get the opening clouds with the familiar chorus… except the incoming titles reads “The Flintstones.” Pause, rewind. Now it’s “The Stimpstones.” Rewind again. Now it’s “The Simpsons.” I guess I’m supposed to laugh at this? Also, when it pauses on the logos, it’s literally just a still frame. The clouds don’t move, there’s no jostling video effect or anything, it’s just a second or two of a still image. It felt like the laziest of padding for time.
– Marge’s great-half-step-aunt lives in Gainesville, Florida, which Homer is immediately turned off by, then we get a miserable montage of the family, everyone at the airport, and everyone on the plane just hating their lives for having to travel to that wretched place. Not quite sure the motivation for this potshot; I lived in Gainesville for four years in college, and I don’t quite see what the joke is aimed at. Are there college football fans on staff who just hate the Gators or something? It also reminds me that I originally started this blog right after I graduated… almost seven years ago. Hoooollly shit it does not feel like that long ago…
– Newer travel shows feel less like actually satire and more softball love letters to great cities and countries. New Orleans is lovingly depicted through beautiful background designs and showing off its landmarks and key locations, it’s like this episode is a travelogue. Homer falls in love with the boozy town, and we’re also “treated” to a literal one-and-a-half-minute montage of him listing off all of the amazing food you can get in New Orleans as he continuously stuffs his face. It’s all just wonderful, empty padding, but it just kept going and going and going. Also, there’s a lot of him eating sausages and po’ boys where he’s just sucking and slurping contently on this giant phallic object with his daughter standing in the background… I know my mind is completely sullied, but I can’t be the only one who thinks that imagery is slightly off-putting… The final insult is that after this endless montage, Homer is completely stuffed and asks a nearby Pimply Faced Teen if there’s any vomitoriums in town, which leads to another montage showing off five different puking establishments.

One good line/moment: There actually were quite a few good lines here. My favorite one was surprisingly in the limp B-story; while Bart looks at the wares of a voodoo shop, Marge prays for her son’s soul at a nearby small church. There’s a sign out front reading, “Closes At 5.” Next scene, Marge is in the middle of her prayer when he hears the priest locking up (“I need to finish this!” “All day you had!”) It’s a really funny line reading, and actually relies on the viewer having read the sign in the previous scene. This episode ain’t perfect, but it’s good, easily the best this season.

634. King Leer

Original airdate: April 15, 2018

The premise:
Moe encounters his estranged father, and after making amends, he inherits one of his stores from the family mattress business. However, this leads to an all out war between Moe and his brother and sisters’ stores.

The reaction: This is one of those episodes that goes right through you; I watched it, it ended, and it had virtually no effect on me whatsoever. We find out about Moe’s family and their mattress empire, but when li’l Moe chickened out of sabotaging their business rival, his dad excommunicated him. For whatever reason, Marge is incredibly invested in mending this relationship, forcing the family together for dinner, then later urging Moe to get his father involving to make peace between the warring siblings. This all builds to her eventually feeling comfortable enough to give Moe a friendly hug after he refuses his father’s evil orders to taint his siblings’ mattresses. So, poor sad Moe, him getting a new lease on life, Marge inexplicably tolerating Moe… we’ve seen this episode template many times before and I don’t feel like complaining about any of that stuff again. Moe’s father and sister are voiced by Ray Liotta and Debi Mazar, both from Goodfellas, and they dress and act very Italian… but isn’t Syslak Russian? There’s the joke in “Flaming Moe’s” where Moe bullshits about the recipe coming down from his czar ancestors, but it certainly sounds more Russian than Italian. This is also a Matt Selman produced episode, which I guess explains the seriousness of the ending of Moe looking down at his father and siblings and seeing them younger in a happier time. There’s a subsection of diehard fans who still watch this garbage (I guess I would fall into that category now… how shameful) who applaud the Selman shows specifically, and while for the most part they do have slightly better story structure and a clear intent on exploring characters and having an emotional climax, they always fall utterly short because the writing is as poor as ever. I could care less about Moe’s character turn, but it’s our triumphant happy ending and Marge couldn’t be prouder of the little gargoyle. “Moe, you’re a good man!” she croaks. I’m all for marching characterization forward, but I still can’t get behind these two. You can make Moe as cloying and emotionally damaged as you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that he and his establishment have kept Homer away from his wife and children for many, many years. Hell, a few minutes into this episode, we see Homer kiss Marge as she walks in the door right before he bolts out to waste his night away from her at the bar. Marge harboring a quiet resentment toward Moe makes a hell of a lot more sense than her trying to be his life coach as we’ve seen in multiple episodes. But I’ve already made this point before, several times. I can’t help being repetitive when this show is rehashing the same stuff over and over. It’s like it’s their job. Their job. Being repetitive is their job.

Three items of note:
– The opening features Bart being forced to sign up for school band, and after finding out Homer is ultimately financially responsible for his loaned violin, he begins torturing his father, using and abusing the instrument over what looks like a whole week. It made me think, were there any instances in the classic years of Bart fucking with Homer over a long period of time? Usually they were just one-off pranks or jabs, always coming off as precocious childish behavior. Even something as extreme as him busting a chair over Homer’s head in the tub is motivated, where he was trying to test his father’s might against Milhouse’s moms’ new American Gladiators beau. But here, Bart tortures his father for multiple days for no real reason other than to just be a dick, and it comes off as kind of unpleasant. Even in last week’s episode, Bart messed with Homer’s head in order to get to the not-Minecraft convention, there was a reason to it. Here, Bart’s only mission is to make his dad suffer. Funny? Also, at his breaking point, Homer imagines the violin taunting him by rubbing its fingers together (“You see this? I’m playing the world’s smallest violin!”) Wouldn’t the line be better if he said “the world’s smallest me”? Come on, it was right there.
– I’m still not sure what to make of Moe’s family. Moe refers to himself as the “white sheep” of the family, and the gag is that being in the mattress selling business is super evil (“They’re like mortgage brokers without the moral code.”) But the Syslaks don’t seem any more hateful and vindictive than Moe is. And the sister is introduced eating Chinese food with scissors, which I guess is a joke. I guess with this episode featuring Neutered Moe, his family being rude and cruel makes them comparatively bad looking, but I still remember the days of Moe threatening to shoot people and being generally violent and unpleasant, and I just don’t see much of a difference in character.
– Three separate times throughout this episode, characters use the term “reach around,” as in to make an effort to make amends (“It’s not too late to reach around and fix things with your father!”) But… they’ve heard what a reach around is, right? Surely I’m not the only one whose pure, innocent mind has been poisoned by sex terms they learned from the Internet. Was there no one in the writer’s room under 35 to point this out and suggest a quick re-write?

One good line/moment: Nuthin’.

633. No Good Read Goes Unpunished

Original airdate: April 8, 2018

The premise:
Bart seeks to wear down his father’s spirits to get whatever he wants using tactics from The Art of War. Meanwhile, Marge is disillusioned to find her favorite childhood book is a bit more culturally insensitive than she remembered.

The reaction: I’m gonna be exclusively talking about the B-plot here, since there’s a lot to unpack and I really don’t have anything to comment on the Bart story, so let’s go. At an old bookstore, Marge finds “The Princess in the Garden,” and is excited to share this old favorite bedtime story to her daughter, but she’s less excited in reading it, finding it’s full to the brim of horribly offensive and degrading stereotypes. What’s a mother to do? This storyline is the show’s direct response to comedian Hari Kondabalu’s The Problem With Apu documentary, wherein he talks about his feelings about the Apu character as a harmful stereotypical portrayal, talking with the likes of Kal Penn, Aasfi Mandvi, Whoopi Goldberg and others about ethnic stereotypes in pop culture and how they affect those groups. I’d highly recommend it to anyone reading this blog, and it’s definitely worth seeing to inform your reaction to this storyline. Marge and Lisa act as the show’s mouthpieces for their views on the matter, and they are quite… tactless, to put it kindly.

Let’s break this plot down: upon revisiting this beloved story of her past, Marge is horrified to find it full of very insensitive and denigrative portrayals of different ethnic groups, things she never really picked up on when she was a child. This in itself is very rich material to mine from, how nostalgia can whitewash our view of the past and how we want to sweep problematic elements of the things we love under the rug so we don’t have to re-evaluate them. Marge’s solution is to stay up all night and Post-It note the fuck out of the book, recreating it (she comments, ““It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book, but now it’s as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati!”) Trying to make the book more palatable to a modern audience (Lisa), Marge rewrites the entire book, now about a “cisgendered girl” living in South America who rescues horses and fights for net neutrality. Her new protagonist is now effectively a flawless Mary Sue character, leaving Lisa to point out, “But since she’s already evolved, she doesn’t really have an emotional journey to complete, it kinda means there’s no point to the book.” This leads directly into the back-and-forth conversation I transcribed above. So let’s talk about this: the writers view the “Apu problem” as being the crest of a slippery slope, that removing the problematic elements of a narrative means robbing it of its soul and meaning. They also appear to be equating “ethnic stereotypes” with “character flaws,” in that a politically correct fantasy story involves no conflict or personal growth. This all feels like more of the writers’ tone-deaf portrayal of those accursed rabble-rousing SJWs, like that scintillating writing we saw in the Burns University episode. I understand that it’s supposed to be an exaggerated alternative, but it still feels pretty ridiculous.

Lisa is not receptive to this version either, leaving a distressed Marge to ask, “What am I supposed to do?” “It’s hard to say,” Lisa replies, then directly turns to camera. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect.” She then looks to her bedside table, which contains a framed photo of Apu. “What can you do?” “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge comments. “If at all,” Lisa adds, as they both look to camera. The kicker of this whole scene is Lisa lamenting how a character once “applauded and inoffensive” is now considered politically incorrect. Forget the fact that it’s liberal mouthpiece Lisa crying about SJW PC culture, but it’s basically the show saying we never personally found Apu offensive, so that means he isn’t. That the outrage about this character is a brand new invention, rather than only coming about due to underrepresented voices finally having a small portion of the media spotlight to talk about their long-held feelings. It’s less of the writers not understanding any of the points made in and around the documentary, and more of them saying they don’t particularly care that much, and we may or may not actually do something about this if we feel like it. What a stance.

I think this entire controversy is exemplary of a large issue, in that The Simpsons as a show is completely anachronistic in our present day. The show was originally created as a response to bland, limp-wristed sitcoms of the 1980s, featuring a classic Americana 1950s-style nuclear family. Its rude and outlandish characters and biting social satire certainly stood out in a sea of “safe” shows like Full House or Home Improvement. But as time went on, as the show entered the 2000s, then the 2010s (and very soon, the 2020s), the television landscape changed. Culture itself is ever evolving, In addition to this off-kilter show becoming widely respected and accepted (counter-culture becoming culture), it had outlived the very shows it was lampooning in the first place. But rather than grow or change to counter this, or redirect focus and progress, the show retreated backwards, handicapping itself to its pre-established world and Flanderizing everyone in the cast with it. This is a show that hasn’t budged an inch in over a decade; while we see characters using smartphones and the occasional storyline about a current issue or trend, the characters, the setting, the comedy rhythms, the types of jokes, all completely stagnant and unwavering. It’s a show trapped in time, with no desire to change or attempt to reinvent itself, and you just can’t do that when you’re pushing your thirtieth season. Just look at the show’s complete inaction regarding a post-Mrs. Krabappel Springfield Elementary. Marcia Wallace’s final speaking role was in 2014, and Bart still has yet to receive a new fourth grade teacher. This is a bit of an extreme example, but rather than actually create a new character and explore different dynamics within a major setting of the show, the writers decided just not to bother. It’s easier just to not show a teacher in Bart’s class anymore, or if an adult it needed, throw Skinner and Chalmers in there to do their tired old schtick. Growth is hard, and this is a show that has proven time and time again that it just doesn’t want to bother trying new things, let along rethink old ones.

The character of Apu was created in an entirely different, much, much, much whiter pop culture climate. I mean, The Simpsons premiered a few years following the Short Circuit movies, where no movie producers or executives seemed to have an issue with a white actor donning brownface to play an Indian, while actual Indian actors were extremely hard to come by on mainstream television and film. I feel like Apu has more dimension and nuance to him that elevates him beyond a baseline stereotype, and there are plenty of jokes involving him in the classic seasons that are based in his unique character and not just being a rote stereotype. But, at the end of the day, he’s still a jolly servile Indian convenience store employee voiced by a white guy doing an exaggerated accent; the character is rooted in a seemingly innocent, but still present smidgen of racism. It also certainly didn’t help that over the years, like the rest of the cast, Apu became more of a one-dimensional stock character, and there were plenty of cringe-worthy gags where the only “joke” is him acting like a wacky foreigner, speaking in tongues, dancing a funny Indian dance, and so on and so forth.

The fact of the matter is Apu was always offensive. It certainly wasn’t offensive to the room of white guys who wrote the character, or Hank Azaria who rattled off the thick Indian accent to the guffaws of said writers, or to myself and throngs of other white fans who love the character. But to Hari Kondabalu and multitudes of other Indian-Americans, they don’t agree, and their viewpoints and rationales are valid, and worthy of listening to and understanding. There certainly wasn’t any malice or abusive intent in the creation of Apu, but in a modern context with more unheard voices at the public megaphone being able to speak their piece, he certainly is a character worthy of re-evaluation. Whether or not this storyline was just a stop gap acknowledgement before this gets “dealt with at a later date” as Marge claims, this episode really did feel like the show telling Kondabalu and company to go fuck themselves. His arguments, and the discussions that followed the documentary, all completely dismissed with the reductive rhetoric of saying people nowadays are too overly sensitive and PC. Since the episode aired, Al Jean has retweeted a few reactions from fans applauding their slam on political correctness. “Loved how you guys handled this non-issue,” one viewer complimented. “People just want to cry about everything nowadays b/c it makes them feel like they’re doing something. Don’t ever change!” Well, the show hasn’t changed in over fifteen years, why start now?

One good line/moment: Fuck it.

In closing, this brilliant tweet: