644. Baby You Can’t Drive My Car

Original airdate: November 4, 2018

The premise:
Homer and Marge get hired at a new, trendy self-driving car company with a fun, laid-back work environment, but become conflicted when they find the company is stealing personal data from its drivers.

The reaction: Sometimes I do actually feel bad for this show, since it’s gotta be so hard to come up with new ideas that not only the series itself hasn’t done, but also social satire topics that haven’t been tackled sufficiently by other shows either. This isn’t to say different shows can’t deal with the same subject matter, but if you’re going to double dip, you’ve got to have something new to say, and pretty much every time this show goes to an already frequented well, it brings back swill. The fun business campus of CarGo (is that even a joke name?), corporate spying and taking advantage of consumer data, even the self-driving car itself, all topics covered by HBO’s Silicon Valley, in much greater detail, and much more cleverly and intelligently. As usual with this show, the targets here feel so much like a first draft: lavish office toys and doo-dads that never get used, nerds talking nerd talk, the elements that other shows like Silicon use as their base to build upon, this show is content with using them as is for their actual big jokes. This outing is also ostensibly a Homer-Marge episode; when Marge rouses the coders’ spirits with a hearty game of foosball, she’s hired as some kind of morale booster for the company, despite one of Marge’s core character traits that she’s a no-nonsense worrywart fuddy-duddy. When it’s revealed the self-driving cars listen in on your conversations and transport you directly to the company’s corporate sponsors, Homer flies off the handle while Marge is not too quick to abandon the company she loves for whatever reason. This seems like it should be reversed, but no real reasoning is given why either character reacts or feels the way they do about the situation. Mr. Burns meanwhile investigates CarGo after the plant goes understaffed to see the secret to their success, and despite being wowed by their business model of keeping workers at work for no substantial extra cost, he doesn’t decide to actually do anything about it. In the end, he, Homer, and eventually Marge shut down CarGo, and the episode just abruptly ends. Watered down satire seen much better in other shows, and a Homer-Marge story that tells us nothing new or interesting or funny about the two of them, but it killed another twenty minutes, so throw that episode up on the board!

Three items of note:
– We start with a prime example of the show’s bad habit of taking potentially amusing quick jokes and elongating them, thus ruining them. Homer goes through the Krusty Burger drive-thru, where he is presented with his nuggets. “Chicken nuggets?” Homer inquires. Cashier Shauna’s eyes darts. “Yess…” she responds noncommittally. That, alone, would be decent. But then we keep going. “Including things that ate or were eaten by a chicken!” Belabored line, and unnecessary, but not awful. But then, we get a thought bubble from Homer of what those animals or things might be, an elephant, a rat, a boot, basically just a repeat of the hot dog bit from “Lisa the Vegetarian.” Homer contently drives away, chicken nuggets on his dashboard, and he sings a song about them, a sort-of parody of a Jim Croce song that’s not really amusing at all. This nugget bit could have been more than sufficient if left alone after the first five seconds, but it just kept on going, eventually being part of the impetus for Homer losing his job, by choking on his nuggets, careening into a construction area at the plant and flying his car upside down through Burns’ office window. Later, during a montage with the self-driving car, we open with seeing a Krusty Burger box labeled “Chicken” Nuggets as Homer sings the Jim Croce song again, in case you weren’t already sick of those two jokes from before. Unbelievable. I assume the writers and staff just love to hear Dan Castellaneta sing, but did they really think they struck gold with the chicken nuggets bit?
– Homer is gobsmacked to discover the lush cafeteria at CarGo is free of charge to employees. As “Pure Imagination” plays, he’s overcome with emotion and goes on a binge. A lot of the posing and camera movements are pulled straight out of the classic “Land of Chocolate” sequence (I guess as a tribute?), but as usual with all references to the classic years, all it does it reinforce how empty and shallow the show is now. “Chocolate” featured Homer at his more feverishly and deliriously happy, in this fantasy world made entirely out of chocolate, skipping merrily down to Fudge Town and marveling at the “CHOCOLATE HALF PRICE” sign in the store. Here, Homer’s just excited he gets to eat a bunch of normal food. Do we need to devote an entire minute to this bit? Homer already said he loves working there, he doesn’t need to be sold anymore. It’s just unfunny nonsense that adds nothing.
– The coders at CarGo act very much like classic Revenge of the Nerds type nerds, making those crazy nerd noises (can’t think of how to best describe them) as Marge calls on them to power down and have some fun. Also part of the staff are the old college nerds, but with different sounding voices, because who gives a shit about looking that crap up to make sure the voices are correct, right? But it all feels so easy, and at this point, so detached from reality. Silicon Valley shows us a wide variety of different types of tech nerds, from the traditionally socially awkward, to the over compensating, to the overtly weird and creepy. This show has no interest in delving into anything of the sort; they’re just a bunch of fucking nerds.

One good line/moment: Homer’s “Holy crap!” taking the self-driving car to the church with its drive-thru confessional (Lovejoy immediately closes the window upon seeing Homer). Marge surmises the company must be up to some monkey business, then cut to the two of them returning to work flanked by monkeys, with Homer wearing a “Marcel’s Monkey Rentals” shirt. Contrast with the fucking endless nugget bits, these jokes are quick, aren’t overstated, do their job and get out.

Just as a heads up, next week’s review is definitely gonna be late. Getting married tends to make one a little tardy, or so I’ve heard…

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643. Treehouse of Horror XXIX

Original airdate: October 21, 2018

The premise:
In “Intrusion of the Pod-y Snitchers,” strange alien spores start to infect Springfield residents, replacing them with pod people . In “MultipLisa-ty,” a crazed, dissociative Lisa enacts her bloody revenge on Bart, Milhouse and Nelson. In “Geriatric Park,” Mr. Burns opens up a scientific facility rejuvenating the elderly with dinosaur DNA, which of course goes horribly wrong.

The reaction: These Halloween reviews are somewhat of a slog to write, mostly in that I’ve had the same two major criticisms of them for the last twelve or so installments. First off, most of the segments are parodies of contemporary films, but light on the actual “parody” aspect. The second segment I think is supposed to be the story from Split, except it’s just Lisa talking in goofy voices for five minutes until we get the tired “explanation” of why she snapped. Bart wrote on her paper and got her an F on a spelling test! What a knee slapper, huh? Moments before the reveal, we see her snarl and growl as she pushes Milhouse into a newspaper crusher and has Nelson impaled on a forklift. None of it is shocking or scary, it was just very bizarre and uncomfortable watching this young girl murder her classmates for no reason. “Geriatric Park” came as a result of spending a couple minutes listing what words rhyme with “Jurassic” and building a flimsy story atop that. What monetary gain does Mr. Burns have for opening this facility, where he spent $30 million on giant doors alone? Surely it would be exclusive to those who can pay through the nose for this experimental treatment, not open doors to elderly riff-raff like Jasper or Hans Moleman. But none of that matters, they all turn into dinosaurs where we get some bloodless decapitations and limbs getting ripped off for some tepid gags (Willie shoves Kirk’s head in the “Heads” bin! What a riot!) But the bigger problem that’s hung over these annual events for a while now is the lack of any sort of dramatic or scary tone. Characters react to terrifying and deadly situations with no regard for the danger they’re in to spout off their labored jokes. Moments before her demise to the pod spores, Lisa gets in a lengthy jab about YA dystopian movies. Despite being chained to the wall and terrorized by the love of his life, Milhouse gets in a couple random humdingers (“I think encores are a ridiculous tradition! Just sing your songs and go!” “Careful, Lisa! If you keep yelling like that, you’ll get vocal polyps! Like Adele!”) Think back to the classic Halloween segments; though they had their goofier moments, the characters always treated the scenarios seriously. The kids at school were terrified that Willie would kill them in their dreams. Seeing his happily lobotomized family, Homer fearfully escapes Flanders’ Re-Ned-Ucation facility. Bart was ultimately driven mad at the gremlin on the side of the bus. Here, after seeing Groundskeeper Willie’s corpse with an axe through his head, Milhouse reacts to an effigy of himself burning with, “Wish I could burn the calories off that easy.” You can almost hear the corny laugh track playing. I’ve said it many times before, if the characters don’t give a shit about the stories they’re in, why in the hell should the viewer? This is a problem that plagues the entire series now, but it’s especially an issue in the Halloween shows where the life-or-death stakes are seemingly so much higher, but the characters don’t seem to care in the slightest.

Three items of note:
– We’ve actually already seen a Simpsons take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in one of the first Treehouse of Horror comic books I read as a kid. Not that the show can’t encroach on territory the completely unrelated comic series did, but it doesn’t help when they do it much, more worse. The comic starts in media res with Homer being hauled off to the insane asylum screaming about pod people, then telling his story from the beginning how everyone in Springfield slowly got replaced by emotionless pod copies who preferred tepid tap water to beer, much to Homer’s horror. The story wraps up at the end when Homer is vindicated, but everything goes off the rails as other post-apocalyptic cliches appear, and Sideshow Bob destroys the fourth wall revealing their entire existence is a fictional comic book. Re-reading it, it’s filled with a lot of fun moments, humorous lines, and even in a comic, a sense of real danger and risk. In “Pod-y Snitchers,” the alien species run Mapple, and are able to infect the planet from above because everyone is busy staring at their phones. Wow, what insightful social commentary for 2018. The twist ending has everyone’s consciousness being transported to an alien utopia, but then what was the purpose of the pod duplicates staying on Earth? Bah, who cares.
– Upon finally being “snatched,” Lisa goes into full 2001: A Space Odyssey mode, seeing flashing images of plant-related things. We then get a reprise of Homer and Bart’s “You don’t win friends with salad!” conga line from “Lisa the Vegetarian.” Is this supposed to be an ironic echo? Or yet another instance of the show reaching into their past for positive recognition points. We also get a short clip of Luci the demon from Disenchantment smoking, so maybe this is just all random, because that ain’t plant related. And I still couldn’t care less about a season 2.
– On the helicopter ride to Geriatric Park, the aircraft flies past five other facilities for each of the five Jurassic movies, with the brilliant punchline of the final one having the subtitle “This Time It’s Safe.” Later, when Burns reveals his grandiose facility, there’s a song set to a soundalike of the Jurassic Park theme touting how suspiciously safe this all is. What a biting commentary, huh? “Itchy & Scratchy Land,” which aired a year after Jurassic Park was in theaters, completely nailed this category of joke with the helicopter pilot’s “possi-bly” blunder. Why did they even make this segment? Everyone’s made their jokes about this series at this point. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was an even more absurdist take on the franchise than this segment, and I actually laughed during it too. A lot.

One good line/moment: Eh, I got nothing for this. I don’t know what I would consider the worst Treehouse of Horror, but this one has got to be up there. They’re just so completely unremarkable and disposable. The only segment in the last decade or so that actually felt like it took some kind of creative risk was that one from last year where Homer ate himself, but even that was just more gross than shocking.

642. My Way or the Highway to Heaven

Original airdate: October 15, 2018

The premise:
Seeing a shortage of the population in Heaven, God and St. Peter decide to lower the bar for entry a bit, observing three tangential stories of non-traditionally virtuous Springfielders.

The reaction: I’ve never been fond of these “anthology” episodes. While the Halloween shows are (well, were) finely crafted horror parodies with a distinctly darker tone from the series itself, these episodes just felt like plug-and-play re-tellings of other stories with a few paltry jokes sprinkled throughout (Lisa as Joan of Arc, Bart as Batman, Homer as Paul Bunyan, etc.) We actually haven’t had a proper one in almost a decade (Season 20’s “Four Great Women and a Manicure”), and I can’t say I’ve missed them. These three tales aren’t exactly copying public domain or documenting historical figures like episodes past, but the inane, pointless feel of the segments are present all the same. The wraparound features God and St. Peter debating what sinless non-Christians they should allow into Heaven. First up is Ned Flanders, who tells of his prior debaucherous days as a door-to-door salesmen of kids trampolines which turned out to be incredibly dangerous. After saving a young Homer from getting struck by lightning, he has a vision of seeing Jesus and vows to turn his life around. He talks about his godless life performing depraved jobs like painting dots on dice and putting bikinis on mannequins, but he’s clearly uncomfortable about doing all of it in the flashbacks. He acts like the exact same Flanders, so what’s the purpose of the story? Next up is something about Marge’s French grandmother hiding American troops from the Nazis, which feels exactly like a “Simpsonized history” segment from the old anthology shows (a younger Abe and the barflies as the Americans, Rainier Wolfcastle as the head Nazi). Grandma Bouvier is an atheist, and she lets you know it (“Because I don’t believe there is a God above, we must make our own Heaven.”) They then stop the Nazis. Part three is Lisa telling a fantasy story about a princess who rejects her gross materialistic life to make peace with herself through Buddhist teachings. And in the end, she does. These last two stories are so, so boring. There’s no investment, no stakes, no subversion to the storytelling… it’s just so bland and meaningless. I always want to give this show a little bit of credit when they try to do something different, but it only really counts if they actually, y’know, try something once they decide on a non-traditional format.

Three items of note:
– We get to see Flanders’ hippie parents at the start of his story, indoctrinating him with their carefree, rule-breaking, color-outside-the-lines rhetoric. From “Hurricane Neddy,” we saw young Ned was a little hell raiser, why not lean into that in this story? You could make a whole episode about a young, amoral Flanders and how he eventually came to be one of God’s favorite apple polishers. But like I mentioned, he acts really no different in the segment than he normally does. In his near-death experience, Jesus proclaims him a sinner who, in his selfless act of saving li’l Homer, took his “first step” on the road to redemption. Wouldn’t this line hold more weight if he was a complete dick before this? It’s also revealed that Ned got a hideous scar above his lip from this event, which I guess gives us the answer to the question that Simpsons fans have been feverishly asking for decades: why does Ned have a mustache? Boy oh boy, what a treat for us fans. Wouldn’t he want to keep his lip bare if he viewed the scar as such an important marker of this divine intervention?
– I was really checked out of this one by the halfway point. The WWII segment was just so uninteresting. It ends with the Nazis getting beaten up in a big fight set to “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which I’m sure the show has used multiple times before in a French setting. And not even in any funny ways, unless you consider Abe shooting a photo of Hitler or Lenny opening up the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the tavern to be hilarious jokes. Lisa’s segment features a grand song about her desire for less, but none of it seems like it’s trying to be funny. It’s sort of parodying Disney princess songs about wanting more from life (Lisa cutely titles her story, “The Princess-Not-Affiliated-With-Disney. Unless we’re now owned by Disney.”) But it just doesn’t go anywhere or do anything interesting with this set up. She sets off to find enlightenment, and then she does. That’s all.
– As much as I try not to think back to the classic era, an episode like this immediately makes me recall the likes of “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” or “Homer the Heretic.” Episodes like these were like morality plays, with characters discussing and debating serious questions about faith, humanity, and the difference between right and wrong. Homer stealing cable for the family made him grapple with real moral dilemmas, whittling away at his excuse making until he descended further and further into a paranoid panic before finally doing the right thing, saving his soul in his daughter’s eyes. What are the stakes in these stories? What are they trying to say? Two of them aren’t even technically about our characters, so why should I care what happens to these fantasy people? It’s not like the episode has given me any reason to.

One good line/moment: Wherein the show once again gloms onto the success of a more contemporary cartoon (Rick & Morty, Adventure Time), Homer is flung into the Bob’s Burgers dimension for the couch gag, viewing their opening titles from inside the restaurant, then attempting to hide when the Belchers turn around to observe him through the glass. This seems to have been animated by the Burgers crew as Homer looks and moves a little differently, and we get an amusing back-and-forth between the Belchers as they watch this crazed jaundiced man flounce about their restaurant (“If he’s robbing us, I feel sorry for him.” “No, don’t say that! We’re fun to rob!”) It’s just sad to go from this segment to the episode itself; the Belchers feel even more authentic, humorous and full of life when immediately followed by a sterile, shambling corpse. Even entering its 9th season, Bob’s Burgers is still a joy to watch, the closest to a spiritual successor to The Simpsons as we’re ever going to get, in my opinion.

641. Heartbreak Hotel

Original airdate: October 7, 2018

The premise:
Marge’s longstanding dream of competing on her favorite reality show is immediately dashed when she and Homer are the first to be eliminated. Homer tries to raise her spirits by helping her embrace their new temporary life at the fancy hotel they are required to stay in until production wraps.

The reaction: Even if you don’t keep up with them, reality competition shows are still alive and kicking; genre forefathers Survivor, Big Brother and The Amazing Race are still going strong with respectable ratings (on CBS, the only network to still actually get ratings). But reality show parodies really feel old hat to me, with every show and that show’s mother getting their shots in during the reality show boom of the early 2000s, including this show, with “Helter Shelter” in season 14. So even though the characters comment that their favorite show “The Amazing Place” is in its 48th season, none of their reality jokes feel like anything I haven’t already heard over a decade ago. But unlike “Helter Shelter,” which was all about parodying the current TV landscape, this episode isn’t really about that… I’m not sure what the message of it is, exactly. Marge is a huge “Amazing Place” fan and has submitted tapes to be on the show since the beginning, so Bart and Lisa convince the producers to accept her, with her sob story being a great marketable angle. Unfortunately, she and Homer fail the first challenge immediately on arrival and are eliminated. To keep the mystery of the competition show from being ruined, the two must stay at a swanky deluxe hotel for six weeks until filming is finished. Marge is despondent she failed to live out her dream, and just as she was getting over it, she discovers that Homer was responsible for failing the challenge and gets extremely bitter. When the show’s producer returns, announcing one final challenge for the losers provided they dump their partners for it, Marge immediately accepts, but ends up failing that too by her own fault. So what’s… the take away from this? The show ends with Homer basking in for once not being responsible a screw-up, rather than actually comforting her in some way, or Marge apologizing for him for how awfully she treated him and dropping him like a sack of hot rocks to be on the show one last time. She was a hue fan girl who blew her one big chance… and that’s about it. It’s one of those episodes I’m not sure how exactly to critique because I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it. Every season there are always a decent handful of episodes that feel more pointless than normal to just pad the season out; pretty surprising to see one already as show #2.

Three items of note:
– A brief montage sequence of Lisa editing together Marge’s old audition tapes to make a new one to submit while Bart goofs around is set to library music frequently used in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I don’t know if the song is actually royalty-free or they had to acquire the license to used it, but that score is so intrinsically tied to Sunny that there’s no way it was unintentionally used. So why is it there? Bart feeds Santa’s Little Helper marshmallows until he gets super fat while Lisa is on her computer… that’s it. It would make more sense if it were played at Moe’s as Homer and the gang are talking about something or plotting a scheme, at least the reference would make sense. Here, it’s just… random.
– I guess once they decided to name the show after the Elvis song, they figured they could have Homer sing a parody version of it, trying to sell Marge on the cushy lifestyle they could live up stuck at the airport hotel. He sings the first stanza with no music, then there’s a weird brief pause, and the music slowly starts to come in during his second stanza. It’s hard to explain without actually watching it, but the whole sequence feels halfhearted, like they didn’t want to fully commit to a music sequence, or just didn’t want to bother.
– Act two (I think?) ends with Marge discovering it was Homer’s fault they failed the first challenge. After commercial, we come back to an elaborate black and white sequence of the two returning to their hotel and proceeding to bicker back and forth with each other. It’s an elaborate three minute tribute to the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Castellaneta and Kavner channel Richard Burton and Liz Taylor as they banter back and forth, invite over guests (another couple voted off the show), Marge flirts with the other husband, and she and Homer argue some more. First off, who the fuck is this parody for? This is a fifty year old movie; I wouldn’t have known what they were doing if I hadn’t read about it first. But here’s the thing, they’ve done this parody before. In season two’s “War of the Simpsons,” during Lovejoy’s marriage counseling, we spend a moment with John & Gloria, a bitter couple (also voiced by Castellaneta and Kavner) who are based on the two leads of Woolf. But here, you don’t need to be familiar at all with that film to understand what’s happening and find it funny. Their angry yelling over each other is amusing (“Queen of the harpies! Here’s your crown, your majesty!!”) and the kicker of Lovejoy’s request for them to look into each other’s eyes immediately making them do a complete 180 on their attitudes and solving all of their problems is just perfect (as is Lovejoy calling at them as they leave to remember their eternal happiness when he passes the collection plate the following week). This scene takes about a minute, has a lot of jokes, and works within the plot, providing an absurdly positive marital contrast to the following scene with Homer and Marge. In this episode, it’s just Homer and Marge performing the script to Virginia Woolf. With some variables changed to match the episode’s plot, there are entire sections and lines taken verbatim from the film. The neighbor, Nick, is voiced by George Segal, playing the same character as he did in the film, which I guess the staff was tickled by? There’s no parody element to this, it’s just the character performing straight scenes from this movie for no reason. The only attempt at a unique joke is Marge and Nick doing a three legged foot race that’s supposed to simulate sex (Marge repeating “In! Out!” before they collapse on the bed). The whole sequence is just embarrassing and baffling, a complete time waster in place of actual character development. We already know Marge is upset with Homer, we don’t need a three fucking minute sequence devoted to elaborating on that fact.

One good line/moment: There were actually a few brief moments I chuckled at: some PAs pushing Homer in front of the camera when the crew arrives at the house to film Marge, the confetti being vacuumed back up into the sky after the bait-and-switch of Marge actually losing, and the sequence of Blue Haired Lawyer monitoring Marge’s call home to make sure she doesn’t reveal anything about the show wasn’t bad either.

Wherein I become a content creator begging for cash: After being asked about it in the past, and once recently, I decided to open a Ko-Fi for donations, which you can find at the bottom of the right sidebar. I’d considered a Patreon in the past, but I feel I don’t generate enough to content to justify people paying monthly. But if you’ve enjoyed my many years of suffering through Zombie Simpsons and want to give back any amount you’d like, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m really glad people have enjoyed my writing through this entire journey and comment to tell me so, and that’s really enough thanks for me and incentive to keep slogging through the muck; you shouldn’t have to feel obligated to contribute, but I figured having the option if someone wants to is no big deal.

640. Bart’s Not Dead

Original airdate: September 30, 2018

The premise:
Bart ends up in the hospital after being dared to jump off the Springfield dam. To keep from getting in trouble, he asserts he went to Heaven and met Jesus while in his coma, a story which catches the attention of Christian filmmakers looking to make Bart’s story into a movie.

The reaction: I’ve scrolled past a handful of articles on Twitter of entertainment sites commemorating the 30th season of the show, almost customary to acknowledge the milestone of the increasingly irrelevant series, as they previously had done with their Gunsmoke-breaking record last season. But my heart goes out to these writers, as well as anyone who has to actually cover these new episodes, because really, what the fuck is left to be said about this show at this point? I guess I should know more than anyone by now. I’ve seen the show attempt to buck convention, to try new things from time to time, but with very, very rare, fleeting exceptions, this show has been the same variety of ramshackle for the last decade plus, and I don’t really see them doing any major repairs any time soon. This premiere takes aim at exploitative Christian cinema when Bart BS’s a sob story about meeting our Lord whilst in a coma, catching the attention of money-hungry pious producers. The premise is cribbed from the novel-later-film Heaven is for Real (and its less fondly regarded cousin The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven), stories meant to inflame one’s faith with tales of present day, “real life” miracles. I’ve never seen one of these Christian films, but from what I’ve read of them, they seems like very ripe breeding ground for satire, but, per usual with this show, they seem as content as ever to keep things in first gear, with softball critiques like “They keep all the money for themselves and not the church!” There’s a personal component here of Lisa acting as Bart’s guilty conscience as his lie grows bigger and bigger, and Homer’s guilt for encouraging him to take the dare and encourage his initial lie in the first place, but it’s all very surface level and nothing we haven’t seen before (Homer’s insistence Bart follow schoolyard protocol felt reminiscent of “Bart the General” or “The Telltale Head,” except if you replaced human characters with cardboard cutouts.) So, yeah, nothing really flagrantly awful, but just a very bland episode with a good amount of missed potential. Again, there’s really only so much I can say that hasn’t already been exhaustively covered in the other six hundred and thirty nine reviews… but as long as this show keeps plugging away, I might as well keep on tailing this shambling, barely-functioning jalopy, inhaling and critiquing its noxious exhaust until I die. Onward, season 30!

Three items of note:
– The bullies dare Bart to jump off the dam, which he does, plummeting hundreds of feet before smacking head first into the outcropped ledge below him. Now, the title may claim otherwise, but Bart should be dead… right? I know almost all realism has been completely thrown out the window at this point, but this feels like way too much. If falling from his treehouse in Bart of Darkness landed him with a broken leg, this stunt should have cracked his skull open. Last season finale he got struck by lightning and was in a coma for days, but here, he appears to be in no pain and awakens with no problem at all.
– Marge grills Bart for proof he’s not making up his come to Jesus story, so he tells her he also spoke to her father, Grandpa Bouvier. Overcome with emotion, Marge believes him, excusing herself. She then proceeds to remain absent for most of the rest of the episode until Bart reveals he lied, save one scene where she tells Lisa she coasts through life on blind faith and getting wine drunk. It’s a stretch to me, but if Marge really believes her son actually spoke to her dead father, don’t you think she would want to know more? That it would have really affected her? That she would have told her sisters? Even after 30 years, we barely know anything about Mr. Bouvier and his relationship with his daughters; an episode really examining Marge’s thoughts on her dad and learning more about him could be incredibly interesting. But that sounds pretty tough to write, so I’m certain they’ll never do it. But putting the Simpsons on another reality show? That sounds like a draft someone could bang out on their lunch break.
– I honestly and truly don’t go into these episodes trying to nitpick (do you really think I care enough to pay that great attention at this point?), but each episode usually has some “wrong” stuff that leaps out at me. Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot auditions for the role of Lisa, and they don’t even make a joke about how this full grown woman is auditioning for the part of an eight-year-old. Was it cut for time? Bart is played by what looks like a little person (he comes up to Gadot’s midsection), voiced by the 5’11” Jonathan Groff, so I don’t know what that’s about. Also, that framegrab above is from the finished movie, where we can clearly see the ceiling and stage lights of the sound stage. But it’s not a joke; we previously saw the exposed set in a previous scene during filming, so they probably just directed this scene the same way and either didn’t realize or just forgot. Again, these seem like nitpicks, but moments like these really stand out to me. Back in the 90s during the advent of VCRs, this show used to reward you for paying attention, where every line of dialogue, background sign, every element of the show was there to add to your viewing experience, not detract like in examples like these. I have no doubt the entire staff of this show works very hard, but somehow a lack of care seems to come out in the end that really baffles me.

One good line/moment: Two things I actually genuinely liked: Emily Deschanel auditioning for Marge doing her Julie Kavner impression (ruined slightly by the tortured running gag of Homer thinking she’s actually his wife), and Jesus beating up Bart in his dream, a well done use of shock humor.

Bonus (unrelated) thoughts:
Originally I thought I’d write a paragraph or two of my thoughts on Matt Groening’s new Netflix show Disenchantment, but five or six weeks since its release feels like an eternity to me now, and I don’t know how much care I have left to give about it. Sadly, the ten episode first season failed to make much of an impression on me. The show felt very much like season 1 Futurama, setting up this new fantasy world and establishing the core characters and their relations with each other, but unlike Futurama, doing it incredibly half-heartedly. The world of the series feels very static and uninteresting; from the trailer, I thought after escaping her arranged marriage, Princess Bean and her two new weird friends would travel the lands and she would try to find a sense of purpose, but instead, they just kind of bum about the kingdom doing fuck all, until the last three episodes decides it wants to be serialized, but by that point, the show hadn’t made me give much of a shit about its characters, so what’s the point? It’s not an awful show, I got sporadic laughs from it, most coming from Elfo, who was my favorite character, thanks to a great performance by Nat Faxon. But his refreshing characterization of his lovable naive openness to this strange, new world (“I like war, but I wouldn’t say I love it”) quickly takes a backseat to his unrequited crush on Bean, a boring and overplayed trope. There’s not enough about the show I liked to really recommend it, but I think it’s possible to be salvaged in its second season… but I wouldn’t hold my breath over it.

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.)

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.”