The premise: Springfield’s football team bags an all-star athlete, arrogant 22-year-old Grayson Mathers, who is quickly scooped up by Mr. Burns to be the sponsor of his failing brandy business. When a hungover Grayson stumbles through his first game, Marge takes him under her wing and cares for him, softening the footballer, much to Mr. Burns’ chagrin.
The reaction: This is another episode in recent years that seems to be focused on a brand-new guest character, in this case Grayson Mathers, played by Beck Bennett, who we’re introduced as a cocky, brash young athlete who has no filter, spouting off self-obsessed quips like “I do me” and “Truth bomb!” Mr. Burns chooses the pro-baller to lift up his struggling booze enterprise, and all-too-quickly softens to Grayson’s charms (“To friendship hugs!” he toasts, in what may be the least-Burns quote ever spoken). A disastrous first game causes everyone in Springfield to turn on him, all but Marge, whose motherly instincts kick in as she invites Grayson into her home to nurture him. There, Grayson’s backstory is revealed: when he displayed talent from a young age, his parents shipped him off to Football Academy, where his entire life has been entirely devoted to the game (“It helped me avoid the distractions that come with being a kid: friends, laughing, that junk.”) This man who was practically bred in a laboratory to be a perfectly marketable all-star athlete, with no concept of a loving family or social norms, that concept is an intriguing one, which the show kind of scratches the surface of, as Grayson finds himself more and more comforted by being a part of the Simpson family. But it’s not nearly enough, as the back half of the episode is devoted to the “hilarious” schtick of Marge and Burns butting head as Grayson’s “parents,” warring over who knows best for him. Even though Burns’ heart had softened to his new surrogate son, he’s aghast at Grayson’s newly proclaimed “momma’s boy” status (“Where’s my bad boy? Marge Simpson, what have you done?” Harry Shearer croaks out.) You can guess what the dialogue is from there, with the two bickering as if they’re actually co-parents, and as if Grayson is their real son. They both get invitations from Grayson to a sports awards show, and resolve their differences after getting blasted on brandy. Then Grayson announces he’s got a fiancee, and the episode is over. A pretty boring episode, all in all. There was the finest germ of an idea within the Grayson character, but it’s surrounded by a bunch of uninspired sports jokes and the tepid Marge-Burns dynamic. Bleh.
Three items of note:
– I had forgotten whether it was established that Springfield has a football team, then I looked it up and kicked myself for forgetting the amazing “Homer Loves Flanders.” The name Stan “The Boy” Taylor is funnier than anything in this episode, that’s for sure. The Springfield Atoms also made a few other appearances within the last decade or so, I guess most notably in the Boston episode, but who cares about those.
– John Mulaney makes his second appearance as fan-favorite character Warburton Parker. Remember him? He helped Homer and Bart go viral with their family fights? It was a season premiere a few years back? Remember what a funny and memorable character he was? He helps Mr. Burns with his brandy re-branding (how could they have not used that joke? It was right there), showing a slideshow on the benefits of celebrity sponsorship, with some surprisingly terrible caricatures of George Clooney and Ryan Reynolds. They look like those terrible gifts you can buy where a shoddy Simpson-ized portrait of your family.
– When Mr. Burns confronts Marge and they argue back and forth, the image starts to wobble as if they’re being “shot” with an actual camera, but it ends up looking like either you’re a little bit drunk or the Simpson house is out at sea. Then Mr. Burns slams his fist against the wall and collapses to the ground, and I realized this is their Marriage Story “parody.” Both he and Adam Driver both yell “You’re winning!” as well. I’ve seen Marriage Story, but like all new movies pre-COVID, it’s basically been completely memory holed, with the scene only being recognized by me thanks to it being immortalized in meme form. I guess that’s why they figured they could do the reference, since I’m sure a lot more people have seen the Adam-Driver-punches-wall memes than even saw Marriage Story. That’s kind of interesting, between this and the show referencing its own meme culture (steamed hams, Homer sliding into the bushes), it’s like the series going from parodying pop culture to referencing memes about pop culture.