587. Love is in the N2-O2-Ar-CO2-Ne-He-CH4

Original airdate: February 14, 2016

The premise:
Yearning for a companion, Professor Frink uses science to reinvent himself into the most desirable man in town. Meanwhile, the denizens of the retirement home start hallucinating from some new pills or something.

The reaction: Remember that ten-second joke in “Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy” where the love tonic turned Frink into a suave ladies man? Ever wanted that idea expanded into a full episode? No? That’s a fucking awful idea, you say? Well, too bad, here it is. I don’t know about you, but I’m perfectly fine with keeping Frink a wacky joke character. I’m sure you could do a whole episode on him, about his latest inventions, him trying to get respect from his industry peers, crazy science hijinks, something like that. But instead we get this, where he tries to find… love? (“Who’s been screwing with this thing?!”) I guess if it “worked” for Comic Book Guy before him, why not do it again? So Frink analyzes a sampling of women saying what they want in a man, and boils it down to making himself taller and losing the glasses. Is this a so-called satirical comedy, or is this fucking She’s All That? This is material I expect to see from a subpar children’s cartoon with a nerd character trying to appeal to girls, it’s such base-level material. The last step is to alter his voice with a chip (Hank Azaria channeling Seth MacFarlene channeling Frank Sinatra), but then when he talks to girls, he’s well-spoken, smooth and suave in his dialogue. Why would the chip eliminate his glavins and hoyvins? Maybe it’s a confidence thing. What shit. So he goes to a yoga class, wins over all the ladies there, and then all of a sudden, he’s sleeping with every woman in town, from Cookie Kwan, Booberella and the Crazy Cat Lady (I guess this speaks to the show’s severe lack of female characters more than anything.) The ending is fucking awful: Frink invites all the women he’s been with to the planetarium to announce who he’s going to pick, then announces he’s created an algorithm to pair the lonely men and women of Springfield together. All the men walk in, sharply dressed, the women gasp in excitement as they get matched up, as sweet, saccharine music plays. What a pathetic display. This is all irony-free, the women are super psyched to be paired up with such losers like Moe, Skinner, Gil and the like. What the fuck is this? Again, this show used to rip empty and saccharine endings like this a new asshole. And why did all the women connect with Frink in the first place? Was he just play-acting like a cool guy this whole time? For an episode all about him, we really barely see him in action or understand his motives. In the end, he’s just content to be alone with his robot wife or whatever. So what’s the point? What did we learn about Professor John Frink? Absolutely fucking nothing.

Three items of note:
– At the Valentine’s party, Homer and Marge are having a nice time, and Homer suggests they live out a fantasy he’s always wanted to do at the plant. I thought this would be setting up a classic gag where you think it’s going to be sexual, but it’s actually something very childish. But, they play it straight, and we see the two of them in silhouette making out nude on Burns’ desk. I guess it makes sense given their exhibitionist past in “Natural Born Kissers.” It also seems like these two are a lot more aggressive sexually in the last decade or so, I guess because they can get away with more of that kind of material nowadays. I dunno, call me a prude, but I think innuendo and misleads are funnier than just watching two cartoon characters furiously make out. Where they go out dinner and dancing, and we cut to them sitting in the car eating fast food rocking out to the radio (someone please tell me what episode that was from, because my brain is burning trying to remember.) Or when Burns tells Homer to show his wife the time of her life, and his immediate response is, “We’re getting some drive-thru and we’re doing it twice!” to Marge’s bright smile. I love that sweet shit.
– I honestly don’t know what to make of the B-plot. The retirement home starts giving out new pills that make the old folks hallucinate elements from their past. Abe gets visions of Mona (I sure hope Glenn Close got a free sandwich or something from her frequent guest voice stamp card at this point), then he ends up running away into his full-blown sepia tone fantasy, until eventually Marge snaps him out of, using his grandchildren or something. I don’t know what the point of it was, or if there even was one. Just sweet, sweet time killing.
– Driving up to the planetarium, Homer and Marge explain what’s about to happen to the audience, because I guess they didn’t bother or forgot to show Frink actually formulating his plan (why give screen time to the star of your episode? That’s time better suited to a vestigial B-plot!) Homer then comments why they’re bothering to recap this information that they already know. Marge’s response? “I like talking to you.” Again, more wallpapering over shitty writing with self-aware meta bullshit. This show was making fun of this garbage over twenty years ago in “Bart’s Inner Child” when Homer explains events the family all knows driving to Brad Goodman’s seminar, capped with Bart’s killer line, “What an odd thing to say!” Now we’re here, and the show regularly pulls this shit because they don’t know how to write, but it’s fine, because if we recognize that it’s bad, then it’s funny! Sigh.

One good line/moment: I got nothing on this either. It isn’t helping that these last few reviews I’ve been writing a day or two after I watch the episode, so whatever fleeting okay moments there were, I’ve forgotten, and can’t find while skimming through the episode. What a tragedy.

586. Much Apu About Something

Original airdate: January 17, 2016

The premise:
Sanjay hands down his share of the Kwik-E-Mart to his now college graduate son Jamshed, who proceeds to reinvent the shop as a trendy health food store.

The reaction: For a show to run for almost three decades now, and make absolutely zero effort to introduce any change, you end up with running jokes, show elements, and even whole characters who start to feel slightly out of date. Apu is one such example; born from a simple stereotype of an Indian convenience store clerk, he has since grown into a more nuanced character, but seeing him after all these years, as television has grown more and more diverse, a hilarious Indian caricature voiced by a white guy seems a little bit off (the show has also done some offensive, borderline racist jokes with Apu over the past decade as well.) I only bring this up because the show calls this out directly, as Jamshed butts heads with Apu, calling him out on his exaggerated stereotyped persona. It felt like another example of the show pointing out the laziness of their writing and feeling like that excuses it, but to me, it just makes things worse. Not-so-little Jamshed makes his return, as does Sanjay, having both been absent for over fifteen years. “Jay,” as he likes to be called, is a recent Wharton graduate, and seeks to completely overhaul the Kwik-E-Mart into a healthy “Quick-N-Fresh” store. So what’s the point of all this? With Jay, I was vaguely reminded of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, which features his complicated relationship with his traditional immigrant parents. It’s a rich topic, and that show is consistently hilarious in dealing with it (helped in no small part with Ansari’s father playing himself, who is just the best.) But we don’t get anything like this. Jay is just a venue for them to make first draft hipster/millennial jokes (“Swipe left on that accusation, bro!”) Didn’t this show have its fill already after that Portlandia episode? We’re just at the point where these episodes feel so empty, they’re about nothing and they’re saying nothing. We get nothing new from the Jay character, his store is filled with limp health food satire we’ve seen several times before, and we learn nothing about Apu except he had a stupid addiction to scratcher tickets. Meanwhile, a subplot involves Bart promising Homer he’ll give up pranking, he does, and then in the end, he starts pranking again. This show is like an empty void.

Three items of note:
– This episode features Tress MacNeille doing a few lines as Manjula, her first speaking role since the death of Jan Hooks. I guess that puts her in the same category of Lunchlady Doris… sorry, Lunchlady Dora as replaceable guest stars. Why not write her out like they did with Mrs. Krabappel? Again, I really don’t understand what the line is. What separates performers like Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace from the likes of Hooks or Grau?
– Because I guess the show didn’t get its fill from an entire Treehouse of Horror segment out of it, we get a stupid Clockwork Orange moment when Bart is convinced to prank once more. He stares at camera as that music plays, which is all you need. We get what this is referencing. It’s halfway decent in context. But as always, we need to both push it too far, and acknowledge what we’re referencing. So Bart puts fake lashes on his eye like the protagonist of the film, and Homer comments, “I never should have bought that Clockwork Orange video for his fifth birthday! I thought it would help him tell time!” Also, what a belabored set-up for such a weak joke. But I expect nothing less from this show.
– Apu getting called out for being a stereotype is nothing new. Remember “Team Homer” with the bowling team The Stereotypes? (“They begged me to join their team! Begged me!”) Luigi was on said team, who shows up as a capper to the scene where Apu and Jay square off, where the joke is he says he doesn’t like stereotypes, but he totally is one! That’s what I mean when I say all this feels wrong; all of this material the show has already pushed to the nth degree. By season 7 and 8, the show was already ripping itself inside out, making fun of its running gags and being very meta and self-conscious about show hallmarks. That’s why a character like Apu feels almost like a relic to me, but he’s untouchable not only because the series is such a hallmark, but the show doesn’t change anything regardless unless a cast member dies, and sometimes not even then (see: above). I’m interested in seeing the documentary The Trouble With Apu by comedian Hari Hondabolu to see a different perspective on the character. I guess the larger point for me is that I mostly feel about Apu like I do with everything else about the show: it’s all played out, it’ll never change, and it should have died years ago.

One good line/moment: Bart and Lisa teasing Grampa making him think his hearing aid was busted was pretty cute. Nice to see them getting along. The context is that Bart is actually getting good grades now that he isn’t pranking, but is ignored by his parents, which Lisa fully relates to. But isn’t messing with Grampa sort of like pranking? Or is that just child-like fun? Oh, whatever.

585. Teenage Mutant Milk-Caused Hurdles

Original airdate: January 10, 2016

The premise:
Bart falls for his new military vet teacher, but must combat with Skinner for her affections. Meanwhile, he and Lisa must deal with accelerated puberty thanks to hormone-blasted “Buzz Milk.”

The reaction: “Tell, not show” is not just commonplace in episodes these days, it’s the fundamental piece of bedrock this show sits on. It’s to the point where I’ve tried to stop complaining about it so much, but it seems like it just keeps getting more and more egregious. This show is a pretty awful example, featuring piles of exposition performed as characters’ inner monologues. Bart’s new teacher is a beautiful badass war vet, who clearly wins over the room by how cool she seems to be. In case you can’t figure out why Bart would be smitten by this by, you know, his behavior on screen, his mind tells you for us, like we’re listening to descriptive captions (“What am I doing? I’m sitting up straight, my hands are folded like a nerd! Now one’s up in the air!”) The next morning, Bart is well groomed to impress Sofia Vergara (who voices new teacher, whose name I won’t bother to look up), and Marge exposits some more (“Hair combed? Face washed?”) There’s not even a funny third observation, it’s literally just saying aloud what’s on screen. It’s all over this episode, moreso than usual. So what happens is that by way of hormone-tainted milk, Lisa gets a bunch of zits and Bart starts growing a mustache (which looks incredibly disturbing, as seen above). To disguise her facial blemishes, Lisa takes to wearing make-up, which makes her a hit on the playground. The progression of her “plot” is 90% internal monologue (“Oh my God, I’m popular! Hope this doesn’t go to my head. …it went right to my head!”) Later on, she’s all tarted up at a cool kids party, then notices it’s about to rain, and we get twenty seconds of her thinking what’s going to happen when she’s exposed, and deciding to just come clean. When she gives her rambling, nothing speech to the other guests, someone off-screen yells, “Is there a point to this?” Is that the audience surrogate? The main story involves Bart and Skinner fighting for Vergara’s affections. It reminded me slightly of that show a few seasons back of the Kristen Wiig art teacher inexplicably being interested in Skinner. There’s one brief scene of Skinner and Vergara bonding over having both served in the military, so at least there’s somewhat of a connection there, but it doesn’t really matter. But this plot of a boy and his principal fighting over a woman, their jabs and one-ups at each other… it felt like such a sitcomy premise, the kind this show used to make fun of. Among many of this show’s sins, one of its biggest is embracing the old TV tropes and conventions it used to gleefully satirize. Rather than feel above such common television trappings, the show is now content to wallow in the conventional, non-challenging ooze.

Three items of note:
– This episode I guess is the first to really address what has become of Bart’s class now that Mrs. Krabappel is gone. We start with Willie as an ineffective substitute, then they bring in Vergara. By the end of the show, she breaks up with Skinner after taking one look at his mother, and our final tag features a throwaway line about her re-enlisting to Afghanistan to get away from them all. You figure at some point the writers are gonna have to bite the bullet and come up with some solution to this vacancy in the cast. A new character, maybe? But that would be too hard, considering this show has just been recycling the same jokes from the same batch of characters from the first ten seasons for about fifteen years now. I don’t know for sure, but I’m almost positive that over the next few seasons, there will still be no new fourth grade teacher. Again, writing new things is very hard, so why bother?
– As mentioned, the constant expositing is absolutely rampant here. Homer drives along singing what his BAC level is, passes Wiggum, and he comments on what Homer just said. Then Marge appears in a thought bubble, and tells him to pick up milk (“And not just any milk; healthy milk, without any hormones!”) She holds up the carton and holds, so I guess you can laugh or something. Then as we get another close-up of the same carton as Homer walks it to the counter, we get an ADR line (“Woo-hoo! I’m running a basic errand!”) The amount of time that passes between reiterating what’s happening in the story is getting shorter and shorter.
– Homer teaches Bart to shave, which inevitably reminded me of the same sequence from “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” Great relatable bits like Homer tending to his many bleeding areas and freaking out after applying aftershave are replaced with him wanting to eat shaving cream because that darn Homer sure loves food! He’s also a big dummy because he shaves with the strip still on, so he then actually shaves his beard and reveals a creepy-looking chin. He runs to show it off to Marge, but his beard reappears off-screen during a cutaway. Wasn’t it funnier, and visually more interesting, seeing Homer’s beard reappear mere seconds after shaving it with an audible ‘pop’ noise in “Some Enchanted Evening”? Honestly, I really try to avoid doing direct comparisons, especially with similar jokes, but when the parallels are this close, I can’t help but think back to how much sharper and smarter the humor was back then.

One good line/moment: Another outsourced couch gag, this time done by British animator Steve Cutts. “La-Z Rider” is a pastiche of 1980s pop culture, mostly Miami Vice, featuring tough cop Homer and his partner, his cybernetic couch, kicking ass and taking names set to “Push It To The Limit.” It’s a truly bizarre, but wonderfully executed sequence, really fun and imaginative. The level of creativity in guest pieces like this or the pixel opening is just so stunning, that you can just see the clear artistic divide between these and the episodes themselves. Even the couch gags over the last few years have been really dull and lazy, sometimes they just end before there’s even a clear punchline. It’s even more apparent in this instance. For whatever reason, they decided, seemingly last minute, they needed an in-universe “joke” to end the piece on, so we get the family on the couch, having just watched this fake opening title. A hastily animated Homer jots his arm forward to turn the TV off (“Damn reruns!”) Then Maggie rolls by in a little couch with a trail of flames, the other family members remaining static save for their pupils keyframing from right to left. Just lazy, lazy shit to immediately follow a beautifully animated sequence.

584. The Girl Code

Original airdate: January 3, 2016

The premise:
Lisa and her new radical coding teacher team up to create an app that will predict to the real-world repercussions of impulsive social media posts. Such a glib post from Marge at the power plant gets Homer fired, and he ends up a dishwasher at a Greek diner.

The reaction: There’s certainly been an abundance of Lisa episodes lately, what fun. And this one kicks off like “Paths of Glory,” with Martin, Database and the other nerds scoffing at the idea of girls doing STEM stuff, which makes no sense for them to do. They’re taking a coding class (why the fuck a regressive dump like Springfield Elementary would be teaching this is beyond me), taught by a punk, no-nonsense instructor voiced by Kaitlin Olsen (a great talent wasted) immediately takes to Lisa, and they end up working together to develop a new app with a team of female coders. With the instructor’s dismissal of “trouser browsers” and “dongle donkeys,” the episode is trying to be feminist, but really has nothing to say other than “women can do this too.” Midway through the show, they recreate the Silicon Valley opening titles as tribute to another show the writers love (once again, this is a reference, not a parody), but it only served to remind me how that show directly dealt with the issue of women in tech and actually said more than one thing about it. All we get here is that they dress punk, have piercings, and perpetuate the stupid “offended by everything” stereotype. The app they create has a non-threatening British face to it, voiced by Stephen Merchant (another great talent wasted), but Lisa is shocked to find “Conrad” is actually sentient, and doesn’t want to live a life of servitude fixing stupid people’s mistakes before they make them. At first it’s unclear whether this is just a hallucination of Lisa’s sleep deprived brain, but turns out, it’s actually real. Now Lisa must decide whether or not to set Conrad free. So now we’ve piled on the topic of artificial intelligence rights on top of our women in STEM episode? What is this? In the end, Lisa abides Conrad’s wish and faces her fellow coders (“We have a chance to show all the dongle donkeys that women coders can do something extraordinary! But you have to be tough!” “I am a strong female. But deep down, I’m more like Conrad: a fragile soul.”) I have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from this ending. I can’t even hazard a guess, if anyone wants to pull meaning from this, be my fucking guest. Lisa has become a retroactively hated character because of episodes like this, her acting as a smug and hollow liberal/feminist stereotype. The thing is, even though I agree with a lot of Lisa’s causes, these episodes are flaming hot garbage because they ultimately are saying nothing, and in shows like this, actually end up sort of undermining what they’re claiming to glorify.

Three items of note:
– This has been a slow process over the years, but near the beginning when Marge and Smithers have a conversation, you can really tell how off their voices are. Our actors are getting older, of course, but it seems Julie Kavner and Harry Shearer’s characters specifically seem to be getting hit the hardest. Kavner’s Marge just sounds weaker in general, while a lot of Shearer’s voices have gotten more low register.
– Homer is fired after Marge posts a picture of him holding a dripping ice cream cone in front of the cooling towers with the captain ‘Meltdown at the Nuclear Plant!’ which raises Burns’ ire. Turned off by all the tech nonsense going on under his roof, he vows to return to the most low-tech job he ever had: dishwasher at a Greek diner. He gets buddy-buddy with the owner, and then embraces the Greek lifestyle or something. It’s basically multiple scenes polluted with Greek stereotypes. I guess he’s no less of a one-dimensional stereotypical restaurant owner than Luigi, but notice that Luigi hasn’t been given his own plot (at least not yet. Stay tuned for season 30, folks!)
– Displaying the various social media photos and their predicted consequences, Lisa displays a photo of Bob Belcher behind the counter, with the displayed consequence “Restaurant Boycotted by Short People.” I couldn’t understand what the gag was at first, then noticed the Burger of the Day chalkboard reading, “Short People Got No Braisin’ To Rib Burger.” I didn’t even think to read it; on the show, the chalkboard is just a one-off gag that changes every week as a background joke. It’s not really a visual focal point; if Bob were gleefully holding up his burger in front of the sign center-frame, I could actually figure out what’s going on. And what’s the pun there? “Short People Got No Reason To Live”? I just looked it up and saw that it’s an old Randy Newman song, so alright, fair enough. This cameo just seems so random and pointless. Shots fired?

One good line/moment: I like how confused and incensed Burns gets when Smithers feebly attempts to explain Marge’s play on words in using the word ‘meltdown’ (“Wordplay is for crosswords and Kazurinskys! We produce atomic energy! We can’t joke about the m-word! How many people have seen this hate speech?”)

583. Barthood

Original airdate: December 13, 2015

The premise:
Bart’s life is chronicled from boy to man, exploring his strained relationship with Homer and his attempts to get out of Lisa’s accomplished shadow.

The reaction: This is like if a flashback show and a future show had a baby, and it was a well-intentioned, but bland and meaningless mess. Bart’s upbringing is marked by the influences of two people: Homer not giving a shit about him, and everything he does being eclipsed by Lisa’s great successes. We start with the former, seeing li’l Bart continually ignored and cast aside by his father. We also see he has a much greater relationship with Abe, which is kind of sweet when we see it carry on into his adolescence. There’s even a somewhat illuminating moment between teenage Bart and Homer (who is smoking a bong with Wiggum for some reason); Homer opens up about how he had Bart at such a young age and he always felt unprepared for the responsibility, as we had seen in the past. It’s a sweet, honest moment, but it’s basically just him saying this outright (tell, not show strikes again), and ultimately ends just repeating the same refrain of him undermining Bart. Meanwhile, from kid to adult, Bart always finds himself unfavorably compared to Lisa; she even ends up eclipsing him at his own high school graduation. Lisa blows up at him, sick of being blamed for his misery for their whole lives. He tells him he’s a great artist, though the only hint we saw of that is briefly seeing him do simplistic boardwalk caricatures, so we end with seeing Bart having his own bike repair shop, and he’s also a mural artist. There are scenes and moments here that might have actually felt somewhat impacting (if they were better written), but it would have helped if the episode had actually felt like it went through a progression. We see Bart grow up over twenty years, but each time jump he’s still dealing with the same problems, and explaining how he’s feeling exactly the same over and over and over again. It’s like watching an episode trapped in a time loop.

Three items of note:
– Like I said, Bart’s relationship with Abe as a kid was pretty sweet, especially him hiding out from the cops as an preteen after a night of shenanigans. It would have helped if Abe had actually imparted some advice or wisdom that would have pushed the plot further, but instead that happens in a thought bubble after he’s dead, just flat out telling Bart what he should do. Finding out that Abe is dead could have actually been a sweet, affecting moment given how much he meant to Bart, but instead, it’s treated as a “joke.” More like a fake out; teen Bart bikes past the retirement home to the neighboring cemetery, does a trick off another headstone and lands in front of Abe’s grave.
– If I can give this show a little credit, this is the first time we’ve seen Bart, Lisa and the other kids in town as teenagers and it actually feels like they’re older. I just remember in “Future-Drama” where you see a crowd shot and if just looks like they pasted the kids’ heads onto teenage bodies. Milhouse’s maturing over the years was neat to see, Martin actually had a deeper voice, unlike previous appearances, and we get a disturbing line from Sherri after Bart thought he was making out with her twin (“The further we go, the more you’ll know the difference.”)
– Obviously the episode is based upon Boyhood, and it’s filled with small references to the film. The more prominent is during the party, a bunch of kids are tossing saw blades at the piano and a photo of Homer, a reference to the film where a bunch of kids are tossing blades into a piece of drywall. I remember watching the movie thinking something terrible was going to happen, like a kid was going to get seriously cut or something, but it didn’t. Later in the film, he’s texting and driving after having told his mom he wouldn’t, and nothing happened there either. Boyhood was fascinating as an experiment, seeing these actors grow up as you watch, but ultimately it kind of felt like not much really happened to justify watching it. I guess it’s more similar to this episode than I thought. Plus, I couldn’t think of another thing to bring up, so there you go, my mini review of Boyhood.

One good line/moment: There were actually a few small moments here, I liked. Of all the future characters, I really enjoyed the brief appearance of a sad Disco Stu sitting alone at the boardwalk (“I used to think disco was coming back. Now I’m just Stu. Nothing Stu.”)

582. Paths of Glory

Original airdate: December 6, 2015

The premise:
Lisa seeks to clear the name of a disgraced female scientist from Springfield’s past. Meanwhile, Homer and Marge worry that Bart might be a sociopath because they’re stupid.

The reaction: Boy, this episode turned from dull to asinine real fast. We start out with what seems like a boring Lisa story: all the other boys become inexplicable sexists to chastise her for being a girl interested in science, she then learns about supposed crackpot lady scientist Amelia Vanderbuckle (or, rather, she reads her Wikipedia page for a minute of screen time), and then goes off to find her long lost great invention. Exciting stuff, huh? Bart tags along with her to an old insane asylum, where he discovers a diary of an old patient, filled with some pretty grim stories. He shares it with his classmates, Chief Wiggum finds Ralph reading them, then he gives the pages to Marge, believing that these are from Bart’s diary. Forget how he jumped to this conclusion, and how they’re not even in Bart’s handwriting, and sound nothing like him, but these pages are from a diary over a century old. They’re clearly very, very, very aged, but who gives a flying fuck about these stories making sense, eh? Marge, and then Homer, automatically assume Bart is a sociopath, and rather than actually do anything about it, they just let Bart get away with whatever he wants. Then later, they have Bart committed to an institution. Which turned out to be a recruitment facility for the military wanting empathy-free kids to man their combat drones. Yeah. Homer and Marge are fucking awful people in this episode, not even attempting to do something to help their child (“We’ve tried nothing and we’re all out of ideas!” comes to mind). When they appear sad and frazzled after locking Bart away, are we supposed to feel bad for them? Is this their version of a farce? Lisa intersects with this premise briefly, asking her devastated parents where Bart is, feeling worried about their noncommittal answer, but then goes off to unveil Vanderbuckle’s invention. Who can worry about her incarcerated brother when she can bolster her self image? Bart is released when he expresses remorse after finding the simulated drones were actually real (or were they?), and everything is wrapped up as sloppily and half heartedly as the rest of the episode. More junk to throw on the pile.

Three items of note:
– I didn’t recognize the credited writer’s name and decided to look him up. This is the first and only episode written by Michael Ferris, whose previous credits include the third and fourth Terminator movies, and Catwoman, of which he won a Razzie for. He’s a Harvard Lampoon alumni like a lot of other classic Simpsons writers, but besides that, I’m not quite sure how he came about writing this. Not that it matters, of course, it doesn’t matter whose name is on the script, every episode ends up the same colorless slop by the time it airs.
– Fearing for her son’s sanity, Marge, rather than take Bart to a psychiatrist, or an actual medical professional, instead opts to have him take an online test to see if he exhibits sociopath-type qualities. Conveniently labeled ‘SOCIOPATH TEST,’ Homer comments that they should give it a different name. Marge agrees. As usual, all of this is laboriously explained by our characters, in case we are watching after having undergone serious head trauma. Rather than print out a new page, they use a label maker to print a false title on the front page. Of course, this easily peels off and Bart discovers the truth. Now Bart gets to exposit too! (“Fine, I’ll pretend to be the biggest sociopath in the world!”) It’s scenes like this that really just boggle my mind, the writing on this show is just so, so fucking bad. How do they watch shit like this and think that it’s just fine?
– The sociopath kids in the army twist is so bizarre. It really feels like something out of South Park, they pull the secret government program card quite often. But what are we supposed to take from all this? Bart took advantage of his parents’ frightened state in a hilarious montage where he drives Homer’s car, hucks baseballs at his face, and kicks him out of bed to sleep next to Marge (???), but they openly let him. And again, they’re terrible parents for not trying to get Bart actual help. Instead, they send him away to an asylum they got from a 1-800 number at the bottom of the online test. What the fuck is this test and where did it come from? Bart is visibly scared and uneasy when he’s sent away, and finally returns home almost in tears, and it’s mostly his parents’ fault. This is two in a row for Marge being kind of a shitty parent, and it’s not a good look for her.

One good line/moment: Vanderbuckle’s invention turns out to be a sophisticated loom that is actually a calculator, accepting punch cards and generating a mathematical response. This as a concept is a clever idea, a traditionally feminine tool as disguise for a STEM invention. Too bad everything about the unveiling scene itself is awful, with the device having to be elaborately explained and the crowd going nuts about it for some reason. Lisa’s story ends with her desperately seeking validation for her ego, hunting down museum guests to look at the loom, or more specifically, her name on the plaque. Then we get our final tag of Homer using the loom to print Internet porno on. Those writers sure know how to ruin just about everything, don’t they?

581. Lisa With An “S”

Original airdate: November 22, 2015

The premise:
Homer loses a healthy sum in a poker match against Broadway legend Laney Fontaine, and to recoup his debt, she takes Lisa on tour with her for a month, wanting to foster a young talent.

The reaction: This Laney Fontaine character appeared last season, she was about to bang Moe for some reason, then rejected him after seeing his destroyed bar. Now I guess they’re dating. Umm, okay. This episode is all about her, kind of, as she’s reintroduced at Moe’s poker game. When Homer ends up owing her five grand, he invites her to the house to schmooze her, but she ends up taking a shining to Lisa. In the most awkwardly written scene since that Homer Junior episode, Laney tells Marge, “I’ll wipe the slate clean on one condition: I want you to give Lisa to me. For a month or so.” Marge is incensed, then we talk in circles for a bit before she feebly explains she wants to groom Lisa to be a musical talent. Or she wants a surrogate daughter. It’s never really fully explained. Several times through the episode I felt like we were approaching some sort of character development that never happened. She ends up falling asleep next to Lisa on her bed at a motel, which was slightly creepy, but speaks to her wanting a child, but that went nowhere. At least two more times, her show director makes comments about how she’s losing her chops in her old age, which clearly affects her, so I thought we would be going in that direction, where Lisa encourages her she can keep going and Laney return the favor. But that doesn’t go anywhere either. Instead, the conflict is that Marge is uneasy about Lisa being on the road, then when she sees Lisa perform on Broadway to thunderous applause, she’s won over. After the show she apologizes to Laney, Laney sees how sad the mother is without her little girl, then she “fires” Lisa to make Marge happy. Okay? Is this our happy ending? I don’t even know what the point of it was, was Lisa going to be a permanent part of her act? Her act that was unceremoniously cancelled? She’s a fading star, but she’s still playing on Broadway. I don’t fucking know. A pretty nonsense episode.

Three items of note:
– The episode opens with Lisa, Homer, Moe and the other bar regulars singing about their hopes and dreams for the night. It’s actually more rousing and enjoyable than most songs we’ve seen of late, but probably only because it’s lifted from West Side Story.
– During the poker game, we get a look inside Homer’s mind, where we get an Inside Out “parody,” in another display of Pixar ball sucking. So we get Flanders as Joy, Milhouse as Sadness, Willie as Anger… Comic Book Guy as Disgust quips, “Worst jammed-in movie parody ever.” By their own admission, there’s no joke to this. They just loved the movie and wanted to do this bit. Although this is actually pretty topical for them, the movie had come out that summer, so it probably wasn’t even out when they wrote this. Maybe they got an advance screening. Oh, who gives a fuck. It’s another empty reference disguised as a parody, and only makes me more annoyed since I just watched that movie again. It’s so fucking good, I feel like it may supplant Up as my favorite Pixar film.
– There have been a couple episodes in the last few years that involve Marge guilt-tripping/manipulating Lisa, and giving her a happy ending anyway. There was the show where Marge was doing all the laundry for that gifted school and her sublty making Lisa feel bad about it until she gave in, there was the show with Marge paying a girl to be Lisa’s friend, and Lisa just forgiving her without any sort of apology, and now we get this. Marge is seemingly proud of her daughter, but her sorrow look convinces Laney to let Lisa go, conveniently followed by the show director announcing the show was canceled anyway. A crestfallen Lisa tearfully runs back to her family, “Mom, suddenly I really want to go home.” So, again, Marge gets what she wants with no consequence. She had her arc of learning to let her daughter to her own thing, but then the episode turned back on it. Why is this a running thing? Marge always supports her husband and kids no matter what they do, now she’s repeatedly painted as a manipulative guilt-tripper.

One good line/moment: Driving into Hartford, Connecticut, we pass by a road sign reading, “Where Howard Stern Met Fred Norris.” I’ve been listening to a lot of old Stern tapes lately, so I appreciated seeing the reference.