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.

Advertisements

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?

621. Whistler’s Father

Original airdate: October 15, 2017

The premise:
Homer thinks he’s struck fame when he discovers Maggie’s incredibly whistling talent, but fears she might turn into a child star diva. Meanwhile, Marge is enlisted to be Fat Tony’s interior decorator.

The reaction: I couldn’t really make heads or tails out of this one. Plot A involves Homer believing that his ticket to superstardom is being able to whistle well? At first he tries hiding Maggie in his backpack and miming with his lips to look like he’s actually whistling, but he’s exposed fairly quickly. Apparently this talent skips a generation; Abe was a world-class whistler back in the day, and now he and Homer believe Maggie can be a big success. It isn’t until halfway through the show we see that they want to enroll her in an America’s Got Talent Jr.-type show, but what do they win? What are the stakes? Then they manufacture at the last minute that Maggie might be turning conceited and Homer is worried about it. Meanwhile, Marge is approached by Fat Tony at random to be his interior decorator for the old post office he just purchased. She goes along with everything he says, no questions asked. She even addresses him by his first name; at this point, it feels like the mafia are basically family friends of the Simpsons too. She’s ultimately shocked to discover that the building is actually a swanky brothel, even though it has a built-in stripper pole and other such amenities. Seriously, how could she not have known this? Both plots are pretty dumb and meaningless, but even stranger is that for some reason, there’s a runner throughout where Homer and Marge are keeping their recent escapades secret from each other. Why is this? Marge had zero hesitation or reservations about doing a job for the mob, so it’s unclear why she wouldn’t tell Homer, and Homer was super psyched about Maggie’s talent, why wouldn’t he tell Marge? As usual, it all ends up being a bunch of nonsense.

Three items of note:
– I don’t know how many times these shows are ripped apart and pieced back together, but there are times where scenes feel like they don’t connect properly. We open in the middle of the night where Marge is fretting about having friends over the following night. She wakes Homer up and asks if he can watch Maggie, and he agrees. Then we cut to Homer still in his PJs hanging out with Maggie. Is this happening the same night? Is he prep-playing with her? But then we cut to Marge and her guests in the living room, so I guess it’s the following night. But then why is Homer in his PJs? Why couldn’t the first scene have taken place during the day? Again, it feels like this all was rewritten over and over and they just forgot about it. Also, Marge’s guests are Helen, Bernice and Luann, who waste no time in acting like smug bitches toward her, and continue throughout the whole show. Completely unprompted and meaningless.
– Through flashback, we see li’l Abe had a big shot on a huge radio show to display his whistling talents, where he tried off a complicated trip involving whistling in three part harmony through three lips. It’s pretty disturbing, he looks like a weird Futurama creature. Then he ends up blew out the ligaments in his lips, leading him to have to pay a guy to make out with his girlfriend for him (don’t ask.) But cutting back to the present where he urges Homer to foster Maggie’s talent, he then inexplicably does his whistling trick, but this time in four part harmony. Four creepy gross alien lips. But didn’t we just see that he fucked up his lips and couldn’t do the trick anymore? Wasn’t that the whole point of Abe’s only hope being Maggie? Who gives a shit, right?
– One orphaned scene involves Lisa discovering Maggie whistling in her crib, which leads her into an anxious spiral of her feeling insecure that Maggie is gifted and has a talent. It felt like her awful behavior in that “Smart and Smarter” episode, but at least that was kicked off by learning Maggie had a higher IQ. What the fuck does Lisa care if her infant sister can whistle well? Is she that pathetically insecure?

One good line/moment: Mrs. Prince nonchalantly picking up her wedgied son off a coatrack was a smirk-worthy background gag. Kind of a stretch, but whatever.

620. Springfield Splendor

Original airdate: October 8, 2017

The premise:
When assigned art therapy to help cope with her depression, Lisa, with the help of her mother’s artistic talents, creates the graphic novel “Sad Girl.” The comic becomes an instant hit, but a conflict arises when Marge feels Lisa isn’t giving her due credit for her contributions.

The reaction: Marge-Lisa episodes in recent years have always felt pretty sour to me. They’re two characters who don’t share many interests and sometimes don’t see eye to eye on things, but more than anything they have a deep love for each other. Despite this, the past few shows of this type has seen Marge either acting horribly or being incredibly petty and catty, with no real apology or sincere reconciliation by the episode’s end. This time, we see Lisa as the thoughtless one, as the show shoehorns in a contrived conflict halfway through. We open on our eightieth show about Lisa feeling miserable, and at the suggestion from a community college therapist, takes to drawing out her life through comic panels. Finding her daughter struggling artistically, Marge lends her abilities, and the two end up creating a visually and narratively stimulating representation of Lisa’s sad lot in life entitled “Sad Girl,” which sort of looks like a blend of “Ghost World” and Alison Bechdel’s work (Bechdel voices herself later in the show). In a “classic” case of Simpson-becomes-instant-success, the comic gets out and is a wildly popular hit with women everywhere. Lisa was initially mortified to find that her work was published without her knowledge, but when she sees young women and girls clamoring over “Sad Girl,” the notoriety goes to her head. Do we really find out why audiences are relating to Lisa’s story? Maybe she could have been the figurehead of disenfranchised youth? But this isn’t delved into; we see the likes of Lenny, Carl, Apu and Sideshow Mel reading the comic, and then instantly Marge and Lisa are at Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, where halfway through the show, our character conflict shifts into gear, where we see Marge is discouraged that people aren’t giving her as much credit as Lisa. During their panel, they hammer this home multiple times (the scene ends with a booming announcement, “Lisa wins! Marge fails!”) Following this, Lisa smugly patronizes Marge’s request to include a storyline about her, and when Marge calls her out on her raw attitude, Lisa fires her. Act three introduces Martin Short as an eccentric flamboyant who wants to turn “Sad Girl” into a musical, but only takes inspiration from Marge’s visuals, discarding the story almost completely. So with the shoe on the other foot, Lisa proceeds to pout and moan about be unacknowledged, still not caring about her mother’s feelings. In the end, Marge is the one who extends the olive branch and sabotages the show for Lisa’s sake, while Lisa gets away with a paltry apology at the very end (following Marge’s own apology, of course). Character conflicts nowadays feel so manufactured and meaningless, and they feel even worse when they’re so one-sided like this. It’s not great when in shows like this, “Pay Pal,” “The Marge-ian Chronicles” and so on where you come off not liking Lisa or Marge; they’re the easier characters to get behind.

Three items of note:
– Shockingly, they actually utilized Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko in a plot line, after making only a few background appearances multiple seasons after her debut. She discovers the “Sad Girl” loose pages on the steps of the community college, and decides she’ll publish them herself. For no particular reason, mind you. It’s not like she thinks they’re great or anything, the dialogue is literally, “A graphic novel! I’ll sell this at my husband’s store.” She just decides to organize, clean-up, and self-publish this book within the span of a week. And I guess Comic Book Guy, despite knowing Lisa, didn’t really give much of a shit. When confronted by Lisa and Marge, Kumiko offers no explanation, makes a joke about harikari, and pledges she’ll burn the books “on a pyre and disperse them to the seven winds.” In her first notable appearance since her introduction, she continues to be nothing but a shallow, walking stereotype.
– Midway through the show, we get a montage of Lisa and Marge working together set to a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation,” reworked as “Collaboration.” Interestingly, it’s performed by Kipp Lennon, who is most famous in Simpsons lore as the singing voice of Leon Kompowski/Michael Jackson in “Stark Raving Dad.” He also did the shitty 30th anniversary Big Bang Theory theme parody opening from last season as well (no fault of his own, of course), and I also saw him perform “Happy Birthday, Lisa” live at the Simpsons Take the Hollywood Bowl show. It’s pretty sweet that the show has kept a relationship with Lennon after all these years.
– The ending features an animated “Sad Girl” sequence of a lonely Lisa being picked up by a happy Marge, which lifts Lisa’s spirits. And then a dance number. It reminded me of the ending of “Moaning Lisa,” which featured a similar dilemma. Marge initially imparts Lisa with the same awful advice her mother gave her, to bottle up her emotions completely, go along with what the other kids say, and “happiness will follow.” But, seeing firsthand how quickly Lisa is taken advantage of and undermined by her teachers and peers, Marge grabs her and takes it all back; feel whatever you have to feel, and no matter what, she will support her. And that’s all Lisa needed to hear. It’s a really emotionally complicated scene, and it feels like such a satisfying and earned ending. With this end tag, Lisa has a thought bubble, “I’m lonely.” Then Marge pulls up, and it’s changed to “I’m not lonely anymore.” I get this is a simplified end tag played after the story is over, but the resolution of this show, and most episodes, is basically just like this. Plots start and stop with characters just announcing as simply and directly as possible what they’re feeling, with no real regard or care as to why. Of all of these junky sad Lisa episodes, “Moaning Lisa” is still the gold standard they all must stand before.

One good line/moment: I thought the artwork of “Sad Girl” was well done, especially the sequences where the drawings become animated. There’s also some pretty good animation with Martin Short’s character. As much as I love Film Roman, I feel like there’s been a noticeable shift in the visuals, with a couple episodes from last season and just these first two episodes of this season sporting some bits of character animation and other sequences that feel like a little work was put into them. I guess the show is just being produced by FOX Animation now. I don’t know why Film Roman got the boot; was it a financial concern like (allegedly) Alf Clausen’s firing, or something else? But either way, it’s not like it’s a humungous step forward visually, and ultimately none of that means squat if the scripts are just the same old slop.

Sorry this is so late, I’ve gotten wrapped up a bit in a new job. I’ll try and post new reviews sometime within the week a new episode airs. I’ll see if I can get to “Whistler’s Father” sometime in the next few days.

619. The Serfsons

Original airdate: October 1, 2017

The premise:
In a medieval fantasy world, Marge must face her mother’s impending death. Lisa conjures up the cash needed for a healing amulet, but her use of magic gets her imprisoned by the authoritarians of the land.

The reaction: There’s a reason that these fantasy setting episodes are reserved for three-parters; gimmicks like these tend to grow thin after a couple minutes, and then you’re left with just a regular story that just has different backgrounds and character designs. Even with Game of Thrones wrapping its seventh season, and the show already having recreated its opening title sequence at least twice over the last few years, amongst other references, I guess the show hasn’t glommed onto this pop culture staple enough, so let’s do a whole GoT/Lord of the Rings/medieval fantasy hodgepodge episode, make it the premiere, and soak up some mild press because of it. I don’t watch or know much about Thrones, but to me, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of attempted referencing done here. In fact, most of the story up until the last third feels like it could have been done as a normal episode, and it would have been just as boring. Marge’s mother is turning into a White Walker… err, Ice Walker, and there’s not much the Simp… Serfsons can do about it. There’s a magical amulet that will cure her, but it’s way out of their price range. Nine minutes into the episode, Lisa reveals she has magic powers and turns a nugget of lead into gold, and laments she must keep her powers a secret lest she be imprisoned and exploited by the royal family. Prior to this, we hadn’t seen anyone using magic, or really even seen anything magical, outside of some weird goblins and creatures. As always with this show, it’s tell, not show. There are two “stories” going on, Marge having to deal with her mother wanting to die, and the peasants rising up against the kingdom, led by Homer in the final act. The players storm the gates in an assault that felt like the end of the Futurama movie “Bender’s Game” but worse, and I didn’t care for “Bender’s Game” all that much. In the end, with her daughter’s blessing, Jacqueline Bouvier takes off the amulet, goes full-on White Walker and takes down the dragon and herself. I don’t get why she has such a big role in this. Does this parallel Thrones at all? Whatever. It’s a little weird how much of a failure this one was (well, not really); gimmick episodes like “The Man Who Came To Be Dinner,” and to a lesser extent “Brick Like Me,” removing the characters from their normal setting at least gave way to different kinds of jokes and situations. Despite its fantasy location, this episode just felt very… normal. And normal for this series now is “absolute trash.”

Three items of note:
– Unable to afford the amulet, Homer drowns his sorrows at Moe’s with the regular Joes there. Later, he works overtime at the plant by pushing a wooden power generator whilst being whipped, which we’ve already seen in the “real” world in “Rosebud.” Outside of minor accoutrements like Willie being a Warcraft orc slavedriver and Burns sprouting tiny magic wings (??), the story and the characters feel like it should just be taking place in the real world. The old Treehouse of Horrors, and even the earlier three-story episodes like “Bible Stories” felt like they were different worlds through their tone and framing. This feels like really bad fan fiction or something.
– It’s a bit of a struggle for Julie Kavner to do a consistent Marge nowadays, let alone her much hoarser mother. Jacqueline sounds like Jackie Earl Haley’s villain character from The Tick in this episode (slightly obscure reference, but it’s fresh in my head since I just watched it. There’s a plug, go watch The Tick, it’s on Amazon Prime, it’s great).
– The high elder magicians or whoever thwart Homer from intervening with them taking Lisa by casting a spell on him, making his toenails rapidly grow and wrap themselves around, encasing him in a tangled toenail ball. Gross. This reminded me of an episode of the old Nickelodeon cartoon The Angry Beavers where the titular beavers try to look cool by letting their teeth grow out. The ending involves things getting out of hand when their teeth get exaggeratingly long, with brother Norbert being trapped in a giant toothy sphere. Anyone remember this? Ahh, nostalgia.