729. Habeas Tortoise

Original airdate: September 25, 2022

The premise: On a family trip to the zoo, Homer is shocked to find his beloved tortoise Slow Leonard is missing. Suspecting something is afoot, he reaches out to other online weirdos, finding himself the head of a social group of crackpot conspiracy theorists, all throwing out their own out-there ideas of what really happened to their beloved reptile.

The reaction: As real life continues to outpace satire more and more, I really sympathize with any comedy that bases itself in social commentary. Online conspiracy theorists almost feel unable to be parodied, since the absolute insane shit they genuinely believe, and their reasons behind it, are usually completely absurd on their own, so there’s no way you can really top that without seeming redundant. Thankfully the episode isn’t really about that, and more focused on Homer trying to find comfort in finding a group of peers who don’t look down on his lack of intelligence. We open on a town hall meeting where Homer is mocked for doing something foolish (suggesting Springfield build a library, forgetting the meeting is actually being held in a library), later bemoaning to his family that everyone thinks he’s dumb, which brings to mind the opening of “Secrets to a Successful Marriage,” and probably dozens of other episodes. Homer fretting that he’s stupid? The man’s been brain dead on TV as long as I’ve been alive, how many times does he have to re-realize this? Anyway, Homer finds kindred spirits with the likes of Comic Book Guy, Sideshow Mel, and others, all believing that there’s a greater conspiracy behind the disappearance of Slow Leonard, the 150-year-old tortoise. At one meeting, when CBG is about to criticize a suggested theory, Homer nips it in the bud quick, recalling his humiliation at the start of the episode, proclaiming, “There are no bad ideas. Nothing said here is stupid.” The conspiracy group becomes incredibly close-knit from this point, even leading to an engagement between Miss Hoover and Gil. But then the Simpson family discover something shocking: Slow Leonard walking into their kitchen. Homer explains: he accidentally uncovered the tortoise himself burrowed in a hole in the outskirts of the zoo. Him absconding with the animal is kind of glossed over, but it’s clear that Homer didn’t say anything because he doesn’t want to lose his new friends. Things are pretty quick to wrap up after this: at Miss Hoover and Gil’s wedding, the team’s ideas on how to squeeze info out of the zookeeper get way too radical and violent for Homer’s liking, and he finally reveals the truth, along with Marge, who arrives with Slow Leonard. The final resolution is kind of confusing: Homer keeps the group together by moving on to a new conspiracy (“What is calamari?”), but that doesn’t really address the problem with the group being quick to escalate to radical degrees. It’s just kind of unclear what the point of the episode is. Homer found comfort with people who spouted the same bullshit nonsense as him, but his opening goof about the library was more about him being forgetful and dumb, not believing in the kind of wackadoo stuff these other characters do. Homer’s vulnerability throughout was nice to see, but the story all culminated too quickly and ended all too nicely. Overall, a pretty soft, inoffensive season premiere.

Three items of note:
– I always find it weird when an episode will flip-flop between using real brands and fake ones. Marge says Homer can post his thoughts on “Facelook,” but then later namedrops Instagram and TikTok. I thought maybe it was because we actually see Homer using “Facelook,” but they could have easily just not shown a logo and had it be a generic-looking social media page. I feel like it must be some kind of legal concern. But then in a scene over the credits, we see a cooking TikTok Homer filmed, complete with a TikTok logo in the corner (not the actual one, but it actually says ‘TikTok.’) So why not just say ‘Facebook’ then? I don’t get it.
– The Slow Leonard group is comprised of different types of Springfieldians, from educators (Miss Hoover, Superintendent Chalmers), upper crust celebrities (Sideshow Mel, Drederick Tatum), to civil servants (Chief Wiggum), it felt a little like a missed opportunity to not show (or at least talk about) how their paranoid behavior influences their work life. Peppered throughout the episode are references to other popular conspiracy topics like flat Earth, 5G cell phone towers, and a veiled reference to COVID, which feels like easy writing, like they had a checklist of crackpot tropes to check off plugging into the script. Toward the end when Slow Leonard is revealed, the group initially doesn’t believe it’s really him, with them crafting more insane theories of what it really is. It almost feels like that could have been a better angle to take the episode: Homer supports the unhinged rantings of his new friends as to not undermine them like he experienced, but he ends up fostering a psychosis so far gone, he can’t even get them to believe the truth in front of their eyes. The group actually feels way too nice, maybe they were afraid to push beloved characters like Wiggum or Gil too far in an extremist direction, but why not? The people of Springfield are no strangers to reactionary violence.
– Homer makes a hearty serving of paella to offer his guests at their first conspiracy meeting, and later, the episode ends with him giving a live cooking of the dish recorded for a TikTok. The initial joke, I guess, is that he’s putting in greater effort to create a complicated dish for his weird new friends than he ever would his own family, but I don’t know why they bring it back up again toward the end. It might be a personal thing, though, it still feels weird to me when the Simpsons are eating food beyond a relatively basic meal. Remember the early episodes when they would just be eating weird technicolor mush on a plate for dinner? Bring back the goop!

And finally…: If you missed my post about this in August, I’m going to be branching out a bit and reviewing non-Simpsons content. I already covered The Bob’s Burgers Movie, which you can check out in the last post. I’m going to try to have some kind of a structure to them, so there’ll be an announcement post for my first new mini-series of reviews this Thursday. Thanks for reading, everyone, and hope you like what’s to come.

Film Adaptations are Hard: The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)

Last year when I revisited The Simpsons Movie, I mused about the difficult position movies based on TV shows find themselves in. The leap to a new, loftier medium holds with it an expected increase in scope, to craft a story bigger and “better” than what you can accomplish in a TV show. However, the more you get away from the comfortable traditions and trappings of the series, the less it closely resembles like the source material. So it’s a very delicate tightrope act, where the movie almost feels like it needs to justify its purpose as an actual movie, without feeling too much unlike the TV show it’s based on. I briefly went over what I considered to be the successes and failures of this subsection of films, specifically adaptations of animated series, and how tricky it is to hit that sweet spot. Going over my best and worst list, I had one more entry in the back of my mind, a movie that had yet to be released, one of which I could only speculate where it would fall upon the scale: The Bob’s Burgers Movie.

I’ve always felt that Bob’s Burgers is as close to a spiritual successor to The Simpsons that we’ve got. The 2000s gave us the rise of Family Guy, which undoubtedly was largely inspired by The Simpsons, but its mission statement was more closely connected to the wave of crude adult animated shows budding off the likes of South Park and Beavis and Butt-head. But in 2011, we got Bob’s Burgers, a more gentle animated family sitcom that still reveled in the inherent weirdness of people. It’s much less cynical than prime Simpsons, and the Belchers are a more supportive and close knit family than the Simpsons, but their struggling working class status and tumultuous brushes with authority figures such as health inspectors, landlords or guidance counselors recalls early simple Simpsons stories involving family money trouble or Bart getting in trouble at school. Its sense of humor might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Bob’s Burgers quickly carved out a niche for itself with its charming characters and unique dialogue of snarky asides and puns. I was originally turned off by the show’s simplistic art style (as well as FOX featuring Gene’s fart noise megaphone in every single promo, which made me fear the worst for the show humor-wise), but quickly grew to love the show, feeling it to be a breath of fresh air in the primetime animated landscape. But that was a long time ago. Over a decade, in fact, even though thinking about that makes me feel like a decaying fossil.

Bob’s Burgers is about to enter its thirteenth season, with over 230 episodes under its belt. And as with all shows that run that long… it’s definitely not as good as it used to be. Unlike The Simpsons and (from what I hear) Family Guy, whose shows cratered the earth with their drop in quality, Bob’s slowly slid into a comfortable malaise. It felt like they had run out of the types of stories to tell, and now the show cycles through the same dozen or so basic premises and just shakes up the situations a bit. A new business hurdle for Bob, Louise’s scheming, Tina’s awkward courtships, Gene’s bizarre interests, a lot of episodes kind of feel like they’re treading over similar ground, with characters reacting in expected ways and making the same kinds of jokes over and over. I haven’t given up on the show yet, as it’s usually good for a few laughs per half hour, but I definitely find it hard to remember specific episodes from the past five or so years, with a few standout exceptions (an episode about Louise bonding with Bob over their shared inability to poop in public was, strangely, a recent highlight). It’s just what happens when any show runs this long, it’s inevitably going to grow a little stale unless you shake up the foundations a bit and actively try new things (South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being two of the most successful examples I can think of).

I was kind of surprised when they announced that a Bob’s Burgers movie was in production. Despite its lengthy run on the air, the show never felt like it was a massive hit, but having a decent sized devoted audience big enough for FOX to see fit to keep it on the air. I was intrigued as to how this show would make the leap to the big screen, and eager to see it… but it turned out to be a longer wait than I’d expected. The Bob’s Burgers Movie was originally intended for release in July 2020, but it was delayed for obvious reasons. Also muddying the waters was Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Studios, calling into questions whether the movie would even get a theatrical release at all. In the end, we finally got a May 2022 release date, and I finally went to see it. So, where does the movie end up on the TV adaptations scale? Is it a rousing success, or a spectacular failure? For me, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is plopped right smack in the middle of that scale.

The most basic critique I can give to the movie is that it just feels like an extra long episode of the show. An easy rebuke to this would be, “No shit, of course it feels like a long episode, what were you expecting?” And for some fans of the show, that’s all they really needed it to be. A lot of them loved it, and it’s got a decently high score on Letterboxd. And maybe I’m just a snobby prick who isn’t easy to please (guilty as charged!), but I think a movie should be more than that. With a longer runtime and larger format, you can take the elements of your show and expand upon them, plumbing greater narrative and emotional depths to push boundaries you just couldn’t in a mere episode of TV. Otherwise, why even make a movie to begin with? With the world that had been created within Bob’s Burgers‘ impressively long run on the air, there’s plenty established they could have run with in a feature-length format. But what we got is a story that feels like it could have easily been a two-parter of the TV show. Is it a bad movie? Not at all. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by it.

The film sets its plot in motion pretty quickly: Bob fails to get his business loan extended, leaving him a mere week to pay up or have his restaurant effectively shut down. An already difficult task is made even more impossible when an enormous sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant, cutting off all potential customers. And if that weren’t bad enough, a dead body is discovered at the bottom of the hole, a beloved boardwalk carny named Cotton Candy Dan, with Calvin Fischoeder, Bob’s eccentric landlord and Wonder Wharf owner, being detained as the prime suspect. As Bob and Linda attempt to figure out a way to keep their business afloat to make the deadline, Louise, bristling from being called a baby on the schoolyard due to her trusty pink ears, corals Tina and Gene to help her solve the mystery of who killed Cotton Candy Dan, hoping to save her family’s business and prove her maturity in the process.

As far as Bob’s plots go, the restaurant in risk of being shut down and Louise wanting to prove she’s not just a kid are pretty commonplace, but that’s not exactly a strike against right out of the gate. I was enjoying the first thirty minutes or so quite a bit as Bob’s situation just got worse and worse, and his growing despair over how he was going to dig himself out of this ever deepening hole (ha ha). There’s two great scenes with just Bob and Linda where she tries to get him to stay positive, and they’re very effective and funny. Of all the inter-playing characters on the show, Bob and Linda have always been my favorite; Linda being a bright light of optimism shining through Bob’s woeful pessimism. Sadly, when we get to the second act, Bob and Linda get relegated to B-story status as the bulk of the film follows the Belcher kids as they try to crack the case of who killed Cotton Candy Dan. And I dunno, but a murder mystery about who killed a brand new character with no connection to our main characters doesn’t sound like much of a Bob’s Burgers movie to me. It’s ostensibly about saving the restaurant by saving Mr. Fischoeder, but it still feels too far removed from the family to make it feel like really personally matters to our heroes. It really only matters to Louise, but only as a point of pride in being “mature” enough to figure out whodunnit, with Tina and Gene acting as tagalongs, chiming up with expected commentary. They have their own minor C-stories (Tina wanting Jimmy Jr. to be her summer boyfriend, Gene trying to find a new sound to perform at the Wharf), but it really becomes the Louise movie, which is a bit weird. I kind of wish the plot of the movie was more directly about the family and kept them together more, since some of the funniest stuff in the show is the five of them reacting in their own ways and bouncing off each other.

While I’m certainly not judging this story as a serious murder mystery, considering it’s the main plot line of this movie, it’s not the meatiest premise to watch unfold. Our first stop is to visit the carnies, hoping the kids’ old pal Mickey will be a friendly conduit between the two groups, but not so much. Micky, along with being a beloved recurring character, feels like the perfect person to give this plot more weight and more connection to the Belchers, but he’s just in this one scene. Another carny gives Louise information about a fight involving Dan and Felix Fischoeder, leading him to be the prime suspect. A visit to Sgt. Bosco also gives them the info about a banana cuff link found on the victim, belonging to the real killer. Later, when in the Fischoeder’s secret room under the boardwalk, Louise sees a group portrait, seeing the unique cuff link on the arm of Fischoeder family lawyer/beleaguered cousin Grover. She also notices a bite mark on his wrist that had never been seen before this point, matching the jagged tooth she has belonging to the victim, and then that’s it. Again, I’m not expecting an intricate mystery here, but all of this is just kind of… okay. For an episode of TV, I would be more accepting of it, but for the plot of a big movie, it just doesn’t feel like enough. It more feels like Louise more or less stumbles onto the answer. There’s a few funny moments along the way, but not a whole lot for me to get super invested in story-wise.

As it’s revealed that Grover Fischoeder is the real killer, he regales his plan half in song, which acts as a huge info-dump of his motives, his entire plan, and his dream of bulldozing Wonder Wharf and the neighboring block (which includes Bob’s Burgers) and turning it into an upscale entertainment destination, information I wish was spread out in the movie just a little bit to make this reveal a little more meaningful. This twist also feels incredibly reminiscent of the two-part finale of season 4, which featured Felix Fischoeder’s grand plans to tear down the wharf in exchange for upscale condos, and him being willing to kill his own brother to do it. Perhaps they thought that fans would more easily go along with Louise’s early deduction that Felix is the killer, making the real truth be more unexpected, but that almost shines a brighter light that this basic premise has been done already, and honestly, much better. In the two-parter, we spend the entire first episode checking in on Felix, learning of his ambitions and frustrations with Calvin, until the cliffhanger where he holds his brother and Bob at gunpoint, leading into part two. In the movie, we barely spend any time with Grover up until his reveal, so it just functions as a twist you might not have seen coming, but not very satisfying in terms of him being a villain. Also, he intends to have the whole Belcher family, including three children, buried alive to cover his tracks, which not only did it feel a little bit too dark, but the fact that Grover seemingly has no qualms murdering kids made me wish he’d had more of a presence in the movie to build to this point.

It’s weird how Grover’s plan to demolish Bob’s block to put up a giant parking lot is really quickly brushed over. Like that literally is a plot for a movie right there. Not the most original plot, to be fair, but one that would feel more intimate to Bob’s world. A threat that wouldn’t just close Bob’s down, but completely decimate his building and the entire block. Maybe the whole neighborhood could have been mobilized to help save the wharf, with Bob needing to actually take charge and be hopeful for once. Then we could get some more moments from our familiar faces: Jimmy Pesto, Mort, the old couple that runs the craft shop, Marshmallow, all fan favorites who we’d love to see. Instead, a large amount of these B-tier characters make incredibly brief appearances in the film, with maybe one or two lines if they’re lucky. Bizarrely enough, a lot of them show up dancing during the credit sequence, with one featured per card, which felt kind of weird to me, considering how almost all of them had no role in the movie whatsoever, or didn’t even appear at all, like Linda’s sister Gayle. Maybe this was their way of giving these characters presence in the movie in some form, but all it did was make me wish we’d seen more of them in the film itself.
There’s moments dotted throughout the movie that feel like teases of things I’d love to see more of. When Bob and Linda talk about their financial woes in bed, there’s a very quick shot Linda narrates over where we see an excited Bob and a pregnant Linda sitting outside the vacant, for lease storefront of the restaurant, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to actually see that scene. The series has really only shown us incredibly brief flashes of the past, quick shots of the kids as babies mostly, and it’s something I’ve always wished we’d seen more of. This is a personal want, but it definitely would have been something exclusive to the movie that the show hadn’t touched yet. Showing Bob actually getting the restaurant, maybe from a younger Mr. Fischoeder, would have tied him more into the history of the town and the wharf, as well as giving us a view of a more hopeful, optimistic Bob. I also just love seeing this side of Bob; as distressed and overwhelmed as he typically is, his restaurant is his true passion, one he loves just as much as his family. He loves what he does, and seeing that passion in his younger self compared to his current day self would have been great to see. This bedtime scene complements a moment toward the end where the family is trapped in the hole; when Linda starts to give up hope, Bob starts to panic, recognizing the importance of his wife’s undying optimism to his life (“I’m gonna do for you what you do for me! I am not gonna give up! I’m gonna Linda this!”) It’s a very touching moment that I wished was lived in more, and again, made me wish the Bob/Linda story was more central to the film.

I’m also somewhat mixed on the emotional climax, where Bob corrects Louise on the origin of her pink ears: Linda made them inspired by a similar pink hat Bob’s mother wore, whose face we see in one shot from little kid Bob’s POV looking up at her. It’s a very sweet moment (“You remind me of my mom, Louise. With the hat, it’s kind of like you two have met. I keep forgetting that you never did.”) When we were first getting teases from Loren Bouchard about what the movie would be about, two plot items were revealed: we’d learn about Bob’s mother, and we’d learn about the origin of Louise’s ears. So here we get our answer, with those two plot bullet points combined into one. It’s a lovely moment, but it just kinda left me wanting to know more information. We know so little about Bob’s mother, and the info tease that we’d learn more got my interested, but I was just hoping for more. At the end of the film, we see Louise do the “dead man’s drop” on the monkey bars and her ears come off, but she puts them back on off-camera. Her personal journey is over, having learned her ears were born not of weakness but of strength… but part of me wishes we’d seen Louise hatless. It would be like the South Park movie where we see Kenny without his hood in a big epic reveal, just to see he’s got the same copy-paste face as any other character. The kids on the playground all gasp as we finally see Louise… with normal dark hair just like her siblings. I feel like I’ve been repeating myself a lot in this, and I acknowledge this is another personal want, but again, I kinda expect a movie to give me something I haven’t seen from the show, and it just feels like we got a bunch of morsels rather than something to sink our teeth into.

Along the same lines of vague talking points about the movie leaked in advance, this movie is a musical, which made absolute perfect sense to me. Since the beginning, music has been a pretty pivotal element of the series, be it Gene’s unique talents or the numerous amazing and weird songs featured through the years. Sitting down to watch the movie, I was expecting a full-blown musical. It even has an elaborate opening number, “Sunny Side of Summer,” with each of the five Belchers setting up their wants for the film in hopeful fashion before life starts to come crashing down on them. However, sad to find out, there are only two other songs in the movie. “Lucky Ducks” is performed by a group of carnies, grousing about how lousy it is to work for a suspected murderer like Mr. Fischoeder, with Louise countering that she’s going to find out who actually did it. It’s a fun number, but it seems like if the carnies had more of a role in the story, it would feel more important. Then there’s “Not That Evil,” the “villain” song by Grover Fischoeder, which is really part song, part spoken word, as Grover gives his enormous info-dump of his entire plan and the fate of the Belchers and Fischoeders. And as impressive as David Wain’s falsetto is, I really only consider it half a song, so that leaves us two-and-a-half songs total. That’s not much of a musical in my eyes, especially compared to Broadway-caliber productions like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Steven Universe: The Movie. I feel like there’s a certain section of fans who don’t really like all the music in the show, so they didn’t want to alienate that part of the audience, so that’s how we ended up with a half-measure.

As a semi-related aside, the movie crew also created a short film, “My Butt Has a Fever,” which had an unusual release, appearing in front of certain screenings of Doctor Strange 2 at certain theaters in early May, randomly airing on FXX before the movie came out, and eventually ending up for free on YouTube as well as the Blu-Ray release. The short is pretty simple, with the Belcher kids hijacking talent night with a rousing musical number about shaking your buns, much to the chagrin of school counselor and stickler prude Mr. Frond (the conceit actually feels very reminiscent of the Do the Bartman music video). It’s a lot of fun, with a catchy song and excellent animation (I was actually more impressed by the sequence of Mr. Frond chasing the kids backstage than maybe any of the more visually elaborate shots from the movie). It’s such a great piece, it makes me wish it were actually in the movie. They could have worked it in somewhere. Tina’s C-story could have been beefed up by some kind of love ballad ode to Jimmy Junior, we could’ve gotten more singing from Linda, or Teddy… the songs of Bob’s Burgers are always really great. The aforementioned two-part episode the movie cribbed its premise from also featured two mirroring songs: “Nice Things are Nice” and “Bad Things are Bad,” two wonderfully dumbly titled songs sitting in the middle of part one and part two, where the characters sing of their desired wants in the former, and their woeful predicaments in the latter. I just wanted more music.

Visually, the movie definitely feels a lot like the show, with the obligatory filmic shadows added to the characters and environments that make everything pop more. Some of the backgrounds are actually really gorgeous, particularly the Fischoeder estate and the secret wharf clubhouse. The animation is beefed up as well, with everything feeling much more fluid. It’s all very fine, but there’s not much in the movie that really blew me away. The car chase under the boardwalk was the only real stand-out sequence, or at least what I could see of it. The entire scene is so, so dark that it made it difficult to see everything that was happening, which was discouraging since it all looked very exciting and well-done. I get it’s after sundown under the pier, but they could have just artificially lightened the scene a bit more and I don’t think it would have detracted. I had a similar issue with when the Belchers are trapped in the hole. Louise’s Kuchi Kopi flickers on and off a few times, illuminating the scene, but the majority of it takes place in a similar pitch darkness, during the emotional climax of the movie that I really wish I could see the characters faces for. For all of its faults, one of the best things The Simpsons Movie had going for it was its excellent direction by David Silverman, and all of the inventive shots and really well animate sequences throughout. This movie was directed by show creator Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman, a supervising director since the first couple seasons of the show, who also animated this classic music video prior to joining the show. I guess there’s not a lot of action moments within the story, but I kind of wish there was more visual variety, like the aforementioned running backstage scene from the short.

While it feels like I’ve basically backed up a dump truck and shit all over this movie,  I really don’t dislike it. The Belcher family is still innately charming after all these years, and there were genuine laughs sprinkled throughout the entire film. The cast are all as game as ever, with Kevin Kline and Zach Galifinakis as the Fischoeder brothers being usual dependable highlights. There are some genuinely beautiful looking shots throughout the movie, with the art direction really being pumped up. But I feel for it on the whole the same I feel about the show for the last five or six years: mild to moderate enjoyment. It’s sad, but it’s just like Lisa Simpson says, after so many years, characters just can’t have the same impact they once had. I actually watched the two-part season 4 finale before rewatching the movie just to see how similar the plots were, and I was struck by how much fresher the show felt then. It’s hard to really pinpoint exactly why, since a lot of the humor is similar throughout, but the writing just seems a lot sharper. I guess it’s sort of similar to watching a season 3 Simpsons episode before turning on the movie. Maybe not quite as extreme quality-wise, but similar.

The Simpsons Movie really is the closest point of comparison to Bob’s, but I feel like I’m down on them for different reasons. As we discovered from the soul-crushing behind-the-scenes commentaries, as well as being rewritten and overthought to death by veteran writers cowering in fear over test screenings, The Simpsons Movie was made to be accessible to non-fans, so it felt much broader than the series, jettisoning a lot of the unique charm of the show (whatever was left of it at that point at least) for more easily digestible storylines like Bart wishing his daddy was nicer to him or whatever. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is almost a mirror image to that, in that it very much feels like a regular, extra-long episode of the show. I wouldn’t say that someone who’s never seen the show before wouldn’t enjoy it, but it most certainly would help. The Simpsons worked extra hard to make their movie feel like a BIG movie, whereas Bob’s didn’t seem quite as concerned with that. I most definitely give the edge to Bob’s in terms of which one I enjoy more, but just like with The Simpsons Movie, I definitely lump this movie in with latter season Bob’s in that I probably won’t be going back to revisit it anytime soon. But it’s definitely worth watching for any fan of the show, or even a casual fan. It’s a gorgeous 2D animated film, which is an extreme rarity nowadays, and a nice, sweet ride for what it is. But to me, it was just missing that special sauce to make it feel like a movie worthy of the series.

RIP Philip J. Reed (and a Me Blog Write Good announcement?)

Two weeks ago, I logged onto Noiseless Chatter, the writing blog of Philip J. Reed. I’ve mentioned his hysterical ALF review series here a few times, but he covers a lot of different movies, TV shows and other larger topics, and I’m just a fan of his writing in general. I was briefly perplexed to find the latest article with the subject line “Thank you all,” but it didn’t take long into reading for my heart to sink like a stone. The post was effectively his digital suicide note. Frantically searching his name on Twitter, I discovered it was true. Philip had passed away.

There’s part of me that still has trouble believing it. I didn’t know Philip personally. I’d only been following his blog for the past four or so years, and left a couple comments here and there. But his voice always felt personal and comforting, an ease of writing that really came across as conversational. This was certainly strong when utilized for humorous fashion, ie: the ALF reviews, which I’ve literally laughed out loud at re-reading multiple times over, but he also was powerful when it came to honestly emotional pieces. I’m actually helping to create a full mirror archive of the blog (in his final post, Philip mentioned he’d paid the site hosting through the end of the year, and to take whatever you’d like from it), and in going through the years, I’m running across posts I’d never seen before, with Philip talking in naked detail about his past personal struggles and trauma he’s had to deal with. It feels especially raw to read posthumously, but even those posts have a certain beauty to them. The emotions so real, and his talks of depression and social alienation are pretty relatable elements of the human condition. I came for a man screaming curse words about an 80s puppet show, but I stayed for the power and genuine-natured writing. I can only hope that he’s in a place where he’s finally free of his demons, and that he knew, in some small way, how much his writing meant to so many people. I really hope he did.

All of this got me thinking about my rinky-dink blog here. I certainly don’t consider myself a writer like Philip, but I do like what I do and am really touched that I have any sort of loyal readership who’s interested in hearing me bitch about a thirty-plus-year-old TV show. But looking at the range of topics Philip covered made me think about possibly doing the same. A couple years after I originally left the blog, I briefly (very briefly) returned with a new one (Rewatch, Review, Recycle), meant to replace Me Blog Write Good, starting up a Futurama retrospective, as well as intending to review other movies, TV shows, and so forth. I got through two episodes of Futurama, and a review of Sausage Party, before dropping the blog completely, and eventually returning to Me Blog Write Good a few months later. But I’ve been thinking about other things I could write more about. In our media landscape where everything is just “content” and there’s so much to watch and play, it feels like it’s harder for things to stick with you, since you just consume one movie or video game and feel like you need to move on to the next one. Writing about The Simpsons definitely has made me think about the show more, so I feel like it would do the same for other stuff too.

Here’s a few sample ideas:

– I have no desire to revive the Futurama review series, but with the show being resurrected once again on Hulu, I thought I could pick out like a dozen episodes over the course of its entire run to talk about in the lead-up to the new series, and then review the new episodes as well (coming out I assume in the back half of 2023).
Clerks III is upon us, and as a semi-recovering Kevin Smith fan, I’m being unconsciously driven back like a moth to the flame. I haven’t watched any Smith movie since having my brain blended in a lemon juicer during Tusk, but I wanted to re-watch the seven View-Askewniverse movies before seeing Clerks III, which could be interesting to write about.
– I’m a big fan of the Ace Attorney video game series, and have intended on revisiting those games, so I could go through the games in order by a case-by-case basis.
– Then, of course, any movie, TV show, or video game that I feel particularly struck by, and want to get my thoughts out about.

I just wanted to gauge interest if you guys wanted to read any of this stuff. Rather than start a sister blog up again, I figured I would just merge this with Me Blog Write Good as an all-purpose blog. I could also easily just abandon this idea since I’m kind of a fickle bitch (I’ve done it in the past!), so we’ll just see what happens. No matter what, I’ll be back to jump into the breach that is The Simpsons season 34 next month, but don’t be surprised if something new pops up before then. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

Anyway, I feel bad for co-opting a post about a man’s death with my own bullshit, but honest and truly, thank you, Philip. It was always a pleasure pouring through your latest posts, and I’m sure a lot of people can say the same thing. Take care. And you’re the one who’s out of this world (sweet baby).

728. Poorhouse Rock

Original airdate: May 22, 2022

The premise: Bart gains a newfound respect for his father after coming to work with him, resolving that he’d like to have a job and a lifestyle like him one day. However, a wise musical janitor (voiced by Hugh Jackman) throws cruel reality in his face, singing about the death of America’s middle class and the sorry future prospects of the younger generations.

The reaction: The creative inspiration for this episode was an Atlantic article from 2020 examining the lifestyle the Simpson family leads, and how, financially speaking, it was slightly exaggerated in the early 90s, but now a complete fantasy in our modern day. Homer Simpson, a man without a college degree, is able to hold down a job that pays well enough to be the sole breadwinner, living in a nice-sized house and is able to support his three children. That sort of living situation isn’t so easy to come by in modern day America. It’s yet another example how core elements of this show that was once a potent social satire feel so outdated three decades later, but crafting an episode examining that fact is a novel idea. Before we get there, though, we get half the episode setting the almost too elaborate groundwork. After an extensive first act culminating in Homer’s shock that Bart doesn’t respect him (this is news to him?), he takes the boy to work with him in the hopes he’ll see him in a new light. Bart is pretty quickly won over by the power plant’s complimentary snacks, free office supplies, and Homer’s ability to boss around interns to do his work for him. The morning after this visit, he comes down to breakfast dressed as his father, openly stating not only does he immensely respect Homer, but he wants his exact life when he grows up. This feels… off. Bart has always felt like the toughest Simpson to write for in more recent times; he’s not as easy to turn into a broad stereotype (Lisa the liberal scold, Marge the worrywart, Homer the insane maniac), since he’s a snarky bad boy, but also an ignorant kid. I feel like Bart could have been easily enamored by seeing how little Homer does at work each day, yet his position is held in high regard and he gets a substantial paycheck from it, that framework of doing very little for a lot would be very appealing to Bart, and also set the satire in motion in commentating on the comparatively cushier jobs once held by boomers and gen x’ers. Instead, Bart is in awe of Dr. Phil playing in the break room and Homer’s moronic ploy of cashing his paycheck in singles to create a money shower in the car. Bart comes off as just too naive to me. The back half of the episode is the all singing, all dancing portion, as Hugh Jackman’s magical mystical janitor character appears to regal Bart with the tale of the death of the American dream, from the post-war boom to the awful, awful present, care of unchecked capitalism’s boot firmly on the neck of the working man, preventing poor commoner kids like Bart from having any kind of future like his parents once enjoyed. It’s a musical opera, with material that all feels like warmed over leftovers you might have seen on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, especially getting one of the final numbers where the elderly of Springfield sing about how they listen to FOX News and vote for the GOP because of their fearmongering. None of it feels like very inspired satire, and none of the songs are very memorable, despite an admittedly strong performance by Nancy Cartwright. It just feels kind of pointless, given the show isn’t going to change to reflect any new reality this episode is illuminating, and there’s no real solution the episode can give, since there’s no attainable solution to this issue. The best they can do is highlight “firefighter” as an evergreen job, since the world will never be not on fire, literally or metaphorically, which is kind of cute, but I guess for Bart, that means he’s going to be a fireman? It’s a pretty non-ending, but I don’t really know what else they could have done. In the end, this feels like it could have been better off as a YouTube short “response” to the Atlantic article, but as an episode itself it doesn’t really hold together, and again, holds up a greater magnifying glass to how this series is so bizarrely out of time.

Three items of note:
– Homer originally lucked into his power plant job in the early 80s, but now thanks to our floating timeline, and if the events of “I Married Marge” and “I Love Lisa” are still considered “canon,” Homer started working at SNPP in 2012, and they bought their home a few years later, well after the housing bubble collapse and Obama bailed out the banks rather than help any of the  customers they fucked. These aren’t really criticisms, since I’ve bitched enough about the out-of-time thing, but more horrifying reminders of how much closer and closer I’m getting to Homer’s age. I’m already uncomfortably close to his original 36, so thinking of him getting hired by the plant and Bart’s birth occurring a year after I graduated from college and a year after I started this very blog is pretty frightening to me.
– The opening bit involves Marge inviting her lady friends over to watch a “very classy historical British streaming show,” of course meaning Bridgerton. Oh, sorry, I meant Tunnelton. Get it, because it’s the opposite of a bridge… [sigh] Honestly, can they just not show the shitty “parody” titles for these things? Just don’t even show them. They namedrop Netflix, you give enough context clues, we know what you’re doing. The show did plenty of TV and movie parodies in its heyday where they were just watching the shows, or if they did shake it up, it was some absurdist variation of it, like “Knight Boat.” But Tunnelton is just Bridgerton, so who fucking cares, just call it Bridgerton. You already said Netflix, so what’s the difference? Also Miss Hoover is among Marge’s guests, which felt like a weird addition. Have they ever hung out together? Also present are more usual suspects Luann Van Houten, Bernice Hibbert, and Sarah Wiggum, still voiced by Megan Mullally, which is currently causing one NoHomers poster to go mental (“I heard Sarah speak as Megan, I got up and seriously screamed out ‘FUCK’ and threw my remote at my TV.”) Who knew there existed Sarah Wiggum fans?
– The couch gag features character designs by Spike R. Monster, a Venezuelan fan artist who has gained some Internet fame for his depictions of the kids of Springfield as teenagers, including in webcomic form in the aptly named Those Springfield Kids. They’re a very talented artist with a fun take on the Simpsons style; I actually follow them on social media and was very surprised to see the announcement about his involvement with the show officially. The show has had guest artists do couch gags, but they’ve always been by famous animators, and they’ve also featured already completed fan works, like the 16-bit couch gag or that potato ink thing? (sorry, I’m a bit tired writing this and I don’t feel like looking it up) But this feels like a first, where they got an actual fan artist do official character designs of their fan fiction to depict on the show itself, and honestly, that’s pretty damn cool to me. Spike and his girlfriend “Meatgirl” are both great artists and big fans of the show, new episodes included, as clearly shown in Spike’s thread of artistic tributes to every episode of this season. It feels like a wise move to reach out to the fans like this, and honestly, they’d be smart to continue doing stuff like this. I’m sure the show has always sought out fan feedback, but I feel like now more than ever, they should take heed to whatever the hardcore fans are really responding to and run with it. It doesn’t matter what a grumpy curmudgeon like me thinks of this show, people like these two artists are the real true and loyal fans, and it was honestly really cool of the show to make this guy’s day by offering him this opportunity.

So once again, we’ve reached the end of another season. Hot diggity damn, can you believe it? I can definitely say this has been the most interesting year the show’s had in a good while, with a number of more experimental episodes (“A Serious Flanders,” “Pixelated and Afraid,”) and character exploration shows (“Boys N The Highlands,” “Girls Just Shauna Have Fun.”) They even “officially” filled the fourth grade teacher slot with a new character, though what they do with her remains to be seen. The success of these more non-traditional episodes will vary on who you ask, but it’s certainly admirable of the show to try something different than just settle for the same old stuff. Of course, some of these efforts were spectacular failures, as this season had its fair share of truly awful episodes (“The Wayz We Were,” “Mother and Other Strangers,” “Bart the Cool Kid,” “Pretty Whittle Liar,” “An Octopus and a Teacher.”) But fan response, from what I can gauge of it (mostly from random Twitter comments and lurking around No Homers out of curiosity), seems to really be keen on these more ambitious efforts, and you know what, good for them. I’ve long been perplexed as to who this show is being made for and what people are getting out of it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to enjoy this show. It comes from a place of non-understanding than any sort of scorn. If the fans actually watching this show to enjoy it are actually excited about these new chances the show is taking, then hey, that’s just lovely. And honestly, it’s making me a little curious if they’ll continue doing weird new stuff like this in season 34, and that’s something I’ve never, ever said about an upcoming season. While there’s only one episode in the past year I can look back on with any kind of real fondness (“Portrait of a Lackey on Fire,”) that’s definitely one more than usual. So smell yah later in September, losers. This blog’s gonna go down in flames only when this show goes first!

727. Meat is Murder

Original airdate: May 15, 2022

The premise: Krusty’s empire is bought out from under him by Gus Redfield, former burger-store-owner-turned-billionaire whom Krusty ruined in the past. Gus seeks out Abe Simpson, his former partner, wanting to give him a seat on the board of his company, populated by his own selfish children with their own agendas.

The reaction: This is another one of those episodes where the premise is largely carried by a guest character (or characters, in this case), but there’s not a whole lot given for me to actually care about these newbies. The big twist at the end involves all these characters we just met, while Lisa and Abe just sit there and react, and I’m doing the same, wondering what I’m supposed to be feeling. But before that we have a ton of set-up to do. In a flashback to fifty years ago, we see Krusty, coming off of a flop set at a comedy club, stopping at “Worth-A-Try Burger” for a bite, only to be impressed by the food, so much so that he agrees to help do promotion for them. We later find that when Krusty tried to take a larger cut from the restaurant, they told him to get lost, only for him to set up his own competing Krusty Burger, eventually becoming the only game in town, leading to the media empire he controls today. In present day, Gus Redfield reemerges, the former owner of Worth-A-Try, now an insanely wealthy business tycoon, who enacts his revenge by buying out the entire Krusty conglomerate. Then it’s revealed that Abe was Gus’ right-hand man, who he reunites with and offers to go into business together. So finally with the episode almost half over, we get into our story: Abe is worried he’ll screw up this new opportunity, so he takes Lisa with him (affectionately referring to their team-up as “Grampsa,” in a pathetic and mewling attempt at sentimentality that’s repeated twice). Homer and Marge just let the doddering old man take their daughter on a private helicopter to God knows where, where Gus introduces them to the fellow board members, his spoiled, mooching children. I don’t know how much of this specifically parodies HBO’s Succession, but I don’t care since I haven’t watched it, and this material should be able to stand on its own. Gus’ daughter tries to warm herself up to Lisa, pledging she wants to take control of the company to make it more eco-friendly, in a charade they thankfully don’t keep up for long like it’s genuine, as we see she’s looking up research of Lisa’s greatest interests to best con her into taking her side so she can convince Abe to vote her way. So the board meeting to overthrow Gus results in a tie, with Abe as the final vote, who bucks outside influence and stays true to his old friend. Then Gus reveals this whole thing was a set-up, bringing in Abe as a ringer vote to maintain control and finally be able to relinquish his children’s control of the company. All I’m doing is describing this incredibly involved plot because I don’t know what else to really dwell over. Like I said, this entire premise is focused on the lives and business aspirations of four new characters that aren’t very interesting who have little connection to the Simpsons at all. Meanwhile, Abe’s worry about “the Simpson curse” plaguing him to make the wrong decisions doesn’t really hold weight since I don’t even know what’s at stake. What even does this company do? What does Gus want to do with full control outside of firing his kids? What will Abe get out of this? Who cares. In the end, Abe plays up his senility to make his vote invalid, resulting in a deadlock vote that doesn’t really defeat Gus, just puts them in a squabbling limbo as Lisa and Abe just leave and go home. In the end, I don’t know how to even react to the episode on the whole since it felt like nothing that happened mattered, what little of it I really felt I understood. I’m kinda just checking my watch for this season to come to a welcome close.

Three items of note:
– So how the hell old is Krusty? Fifty years ago, he looks and sounds exactly the same as the present. In “Day of the Jackanapes,” Krusty claims he’s been in show business 61 years, which always felt like a weird line, but maybe if he’s considering being a class clown in Hebrew school as a kid, he could be in his 70s. I guess the same could be said here, if you think Krusty could be in his 20s in the flashback, but it’s still curious. I suppose the joke is that with all his clown make-up on, Krusty’s remained age-less. Also, it seems like they’re doing a little tribute to The Founder, the movie recounting the life and times of Ray Kroc and how he fucked over the original McDonald brothers for their franchise. It’s never really been delved into, but I always assumed Krusty’s media empire was built on his TV show and all the merchandising tie-ins all sprung from that, but this episode seems to imply that Krusty Burger was where he had his initial success and everything else sprang from that. None of these are really complaints, it’s just interesting stuff I noted.
– There’s an awful lot of great voice talent wasted in this episode: John Lithgow, Krysten Ritter, Seth Green, Paul F. Tompkins… Lithgow, especially, getting the most screen time as Gus. The character’s plan was to act flighty and borderline senile to give the impression that he could be overthrown by his children via boardroom vote, but I never got that impression from the dialogue he’s given prior to the reveal. That’s a shame, since I feel like Lithgow definitely could have given a great performance with that kind of role, but he just wasn’t given the material to support it. Instead, he does an unfunny riff on Willy Wonka‘s “Pure Imagination” and shouts a lot. Cool.
– The other Rayfield board members include a guy from Shark Tank, Angela Merkel and TikTok’s very own Charli D’Amelio, someone I know nothing about and am not in any rush to change that. I’m reminded of when they had Justin Bieber on in the heat of his popularity and fans were up in arms, for what amounted to an incredibly brief cameo, complete with a “warning” at the bottom of the screen announcing when he was going to appear. Here, I’m sure some fans will be similarly annoyed, but her appearance is no more pointless than any hundreds of other ones I can name. I’m more curious how this booking happened; Justin Bieber was, at the time, a very identifiable celebrity even the older writing staff would have known about, but D’Amelio had to come from either one of the writer/producer’s teenage children telling them about her, or the result of researching who’s a hip young celeb that the kids like is who we could book on the show. Was this an attempt to get younger people to tune in? I really have no idea.