Monthly Archives: April 2012

227. Beyond Blunderdome

(originally aired September 26, 1999)
Cut from similar cloth of “When You Dish Upon A Star,” here’s a show centered around a celebrity, featuring bits that instead of poke fun at them, serve only to put them on a higher pedestal and kiss their already lipstick-smeared ass even further. In this case, it’s made even more bizarre that said celebrity is Mel Gibson, who at the time was a well-respected and admired Hollywood hunk, and not the anti-Semitic misogynist religious wacko nutcase that he is now. So while seeing Marge and the citizens of Springfield fawn over this man is a little disconcerting now, I can’t hold these uncomfortable-in-hindsight moments against the episode. Which is okay since there’s plenty more to hate here. Homer and Marge score tickets to an advance screening of the remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Mel Gibson. Starstruck when they discover Gibson is at the screening, all the citizens of Springfield give glowing feedback, save a terminally bored Homer. Gibson takes his comment to heart, and flies him and the family to Hollywood to fix his film.

Now, Homer starts out with a dissatisfaction towards Gibson. A Hollywood pretty boy serious actor whom his wife has the hots for; makes a lot more sense than getting buddy-buddy with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. It’s a more interesting role for Homer to play. And when Gibson needs Homer’s help, it’d be neat if he were kind of pressured into it by his family, who’d love a chance to see the sights in Hollywood. Homer starts out resistant to help Gibson, then find that they have a similar interest in mindless bloodshed and violence, and he slowly warms to the guy. That would be engaging and make sense. But, oh wait, Gibson asks Homer to help him, and all of a sudden he’s the guy’s best friend and we get to laugh it up at his insane suggestions to make the film in fast forward and include a villainous dog with shifty eyes. Har har har. The moment Lisa questions Homer’s sudden turn from hate to love regarding Gibson and Homer tells his daughter to shut up, the episode tanks. It’s not really funny when you fear your main character may either have bipolar disorder or have severe brain damage.

The only thing I like about this episode is the revised ending they make, and how absolutely stupid and gratuitous it is. The cheesy action catchphrases, Homer’s dumb cameo, the over-the-top blood and gore; it’s just so wonderfully ridiculous. It also plays to the Gibson we know now, considering the sadomasochistic nature of his later films. The studio execs, expecting this to be their big award picture, are not happy with this. So what do we do? Have a fucking action chase sequence. Boy, am I getting sick of these. So much of this episode just feels so lazy and wrong; the opening with the electric car, the family’s sight-seeing, the executive banter, none of it seemed to work at all. This was the season premiere, but last in the production season of season 10, and it was written by Mike Scully. It’s pretty astounding to just see how far not only the show has fallen, but Scully. He wrote such great shows as “Lisa on Ice” and “Two Dozen and One Greyhounds,” and now we have this slop: a series of dumb easy jokes and insider set pieces, serving as a 22-minute blowjob for Mel fucking Gibson. We’re one episode in and I think this one’s the worst, but I know there’s a lot more awfulness to come. And I apologize for sounding pessimistic, but at this point I can’t really help it.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening commercial for the Elec-Taurus is surprisingly joke-free. It’s like they forgot to include one. Then the rest of the prelude before the screening is pretty dead. We get a fart joke from Marge, more braindead Homer thinking he can drive underwater, and find out that apparently mermaids exist in this universe. Nessie, Godzilla, mermaids, whatever, it’s a cartoon, fuck you.
– I get what they were trying to do with Homer and Marge’s bedside back-and-forth about not opening the envelope. In sitcoms, something could happen at another location, but characters have to wait until they get back home to discuss it. Wouldn’t they have talked about it in the car ride home? Well they had to get back to the standing set since there is no car. But this is a cartoon where they could have discussed it in the car. Also it feels too self-conscious and lazy. And isn’t funny.
– Amusing to see Internet spy Comic Book Guy get tossed out of the screening with his giant “portable” computer. Now we all have iPhones with Internet access and can tweet from the screening or some shit.
– I listened to part of the commentary for this episode, and there’s a lot of discussion about the Simpsons Movie, as there are on many commentaries of this era. The focus group in this episode reminded them of their frantic testing of the movie, examining each and every audience member’s reactions to every frame of film and changing the movie accordingly. It made me pretty angry, but I’ll wait until I get to the movie to bitch about all that.
– Some good small acting moments: I like Homer’s angry muttering while filling out the opinion card, followed by a curt “‘Preciate it!” handing Gibson the pencil back. I also like Gibson’s confused reading of “Glavin?” on Professor Frink’s card.
– I can’t stress enough how fucking stupid Homer’s attitude turn is. He’s almost prepared to punch Gibson in the face at his door, but immediately after he says he needs his help, Homer turns around immediately (“Really? You want my help? Marge, did you hear that? Mel Gibson wants my help. Mel Gibson!”) Fucking unbelievable.
– Hearing Gibson ask Homer to round up the teamsters and Homer demanding someone bring him a latte is pretty painful; he couldn’t be further from the average American schmuck he used to be.
– The new Smith ending, as I said, is the only solid thing here. As dumb as it is, I like Gibson making Curly noises, and the children running in cheering after he decapitates the President for no discernible reason. I also like Homer’s defense of it (“It was symbolism! He was mad!”)
– The entire third act chase is so boring, like really, who cares. The only bit I like is when the executive immediately prepares to cover his ass after they seemingly run over Gibson (“You all saw it, he came at me with a knife, right!”) Then we end with Homer’s ass impaled on the front end of their car. Hysterical, right?

226. Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo

(originally aired May 16, 1999)
This is one of the only latter-day episodes that I have particular fond memories for. I remember loving this one when I was younger, thinking it was the best travel episode, and even ranking amongst the best in the series. I don’t know why, but I just loved the Japan show. And while some parts of it are kinda dumb and slapdash, I have most of the same sentiments now. “Bart vs. Australia” still firmly holds the ‘best travel show’ mantle, but this is still a really entertaining show, excelling in its first and third acts particularly. We start at the newly opened Internet cafe, where Homer is cyber-robbed by Snake, depleting their vacation funds. On the advice of Flanders, the family attends a seminar by mega savings expert Chuck Garabedian, who teaches the value of squeezing every penny. He’s a pretty great one-off character, exhibiting this manic, affirmative persona that is only slightly questionable. I love how proud he is of wearing a dead man’s suit on his urine-soaked yacht with transgender women, he’s truly living the American dream.

Through living the Garabedian lifestyle, the family gets cheap plane tickets, but only if they don’t care what the destination is. So, it’s off to Japan. The second act is basically cramming as many Japanese-y segments together as possible. Sumo wrestling, square watermelons, hyper-advanced toilets… They’re all entertaining as isolated bits, but it’s not as engaging as it would be if there were some kind of through-line plot here. But being a bit aimless is a minor problem in the grand scheme of issues we’ve seen this season, especially since the show manages to stay funny throughout. Although there is the Jerkass bit where Homer throws the Emperor into a bin of used sumo thongs, and then is not reprimanded in the least. I guess the joke is that they’re more polite and that’s why he and Bart are treated so well in jail. But I have a different theory… although I would have loved it if they did, I get why they didn’t make any Mr. Sparkle references in this episode, since it would make no sense if people didn’t get the callback. But why do you think Homer got the five-star treatment? Think about it.

So the family ends up losing their last bill of yen and are out of luck on how they’re going to get home. But salvation comes in the form of Japanese game show “Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show,” hosted by Wink, voiced by George Takei. Part of me can’t tell whether I should be praising the writing, or Takei’s beyond excellent delivery for each of his lines; I guess I might as well praise both. But this section of show is pretty genius; if you’ve seen any one bit of Japanese game shows, this is exactly what they’re like. And actually, this one actually might be even more tame than the genuine article. Even when things get a bit too silly, like Homer getting electrocuted repeatedly, they manage to save it. Or rather, Takei manages to save it (“He seems okay, but he is being burned internally.”) Did I mention I love George Takei? But anyway, we end with yet another fucking action suspense sequence like every damn episode this season, but at least this time there’s a payoff, where it was all manufactured by the show and it was all a big goof. So in the end, I wouldn’t say I have the same unconditional love for this episode as when I was younger, but hands down it’s one of the best ones of this season. Then again that’s not much of a contest. But whatever.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Why would Wired magazine print about an Internet cafe opening in some small town? Minor gripe, I guess.
– It’s really really stupid, but I do like how Snake seemingly robs Homer via floppy disk, as well as his exit (“Yoink-dot-adios-backslash-losers!”)
– Don’t really care for Homer burglarizing Flanders. It’s sort of like taking his constant “borrowing” of his things to the next degree, where it’s no longer slightly amusing and realistic, and now it’s just flagrantly illegal and dumb. Though I do like how Homer just starts making himself a sandwich as Flanders is talking to him.
– Burns seems to be popping up a lot of places where he doesn’t belong; why would he be at the Mega Savings Seminar? But we do get a great bit from Uncle Pennybags (“These yokels are pure Baltic Avenue. …uh-oh! I’m late for the Short Line Railroad!”)
– The Simpsons go to shop at the 33-cent store, with a lot of great background products (Onions?, Cool Ranch Soda, “That 70’s Show” mugs.) There’s also Skittlebrau, the beer that Homer seemingly made up a season or so again. Marge also finds her dress (“Thirty three cents? I paid almost double that!”) and is put off by an odd blue variant.
– Great exchange after Homer smashes the piggy bank (“Homer, you could’ve just unscrewed the bottom.” “A little late for could’ves, Marge.”) I use that line every time someone pulls out a “could’ve.”
– Garabedian appears at random in the Simpsons backyard, which just serves to remind me how later characters will just appears wherever they’re needed for no reason whatsoever. But the payoff to this makes it worth it (“You fat cats didn’t finish your plankton; now it’s mine!”)
– Love the pilot’s announcement upon landing (“Welcome to Japan, folks. The local time is… tomorrow.”)
– Classic bit with Battling Seizure Robots, riffing off of that one Pokemon episode that gave kids epileptic seizures. Never made it here to the States, I guess for good reason.
– I love Americatown. So so much. We’ve homogenized and bastardized every other culture on the plant, so this is the Japanese take on us: the Kool Aid guy marching with George Washington, an astronaut boxing Mohammad Ali, and ET looking up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt. I love the layout too where the tables are all fifty states. Homer bemoans having to sit at “Taxachusetts,” then proceeds to reflect on an anecdote (“You know, I once knew a man from Nantucket.” “And?” “Let’s just say the stories about him are greatly exaggerated.”) He’s also quite amused by the “American” waiter (“Don’t ask me; I don’t know anything! I’m product of American education system. I also build poor-quality cars and inferior-style electronics.” “Oh, they got our number!”)
– I still think it’s a sweet moment when Homer makes Lisa the paper crane out of the yen. And then of course it blows away, and we get Homer saying “D’oh!” in Japanese. I wonder what that actually translates to.
– I love how unhelpful the American ambassador is in helping the family out (“Try getting a job and earning some money. That’s what I did. By the way, ambassador’s taken.”)
– I don’t see Lisa condoning working gutting fish, but I guess it’s not like she had much choice. Maybe one bit of her expressing her disgust would have been nice.
– Great categories on the game show: “Ow, that hurts!,” “Why are you doing this to me!” and “Please let me die!”
– The ending almost works as a stupid subversion of the overdramatic action endings we’ve had as of recent. It’s literally a manufactured ending for the game show, so it’s all playing to that fictional studio audience’s entertainment. Plus it’s pretty funny anyway (“At least we’ll die doing what we love: inhaling molten rock!”) Homer’s shaming speech before they leave is pretty excellent too (“Game shows aren’t about cruelty, they’re about greed and wonderful prizes like poorly-built catamarans, but somewhere along the line you lost your way. For shame.”)
– I guess following my anger toward the Loch Ness Monster two episodes back, I should be just as pissed that apparently Godzilla, Rodin and all the other monsters apparently exist as well. But I’m not, really. It’s just for one stupid joke at the end of a silly episode, not the crutch of the entire third act like Nessie was. I’ll excuse it.

Season 10 Final Thoughts
So what a season, huh? All the problems that started creeping in over the last season and a half are exhibited full force here: thin, ineffective storytelling, plot turns and conceits that make no sense, and flimsy characterization, including more and more Jerkass Homer. The laughs are still present in some capacity, but there were a fair share of episodes that didn’t get more than a few chuckles out of me. Humor can absolve a lot, but sometimes an episode just has a shoddy aura to it that leaves you just terminally displeased, which quite a few this season did to me. It still feels like The Simpsons, but there’s something fundamentally wrong. Subtlety and witty jokes are being replaced with bombastic slapstick and over-the-top action sequences; the show’s getting more ridiculous and less grounded in any sort of reality. It’s almost become just another wacky cartoon, not the sharp, smart animated series we fell in love with to begin with. As of now, I think there’s no greater divide in quality than there is between seasons 9 and 10. If season 9 was the show teetering over the edge of the cliff, season 10 was the fall. How far until we hit the bottom? Is there even a bottom? I guess we’ll have to see. Season 11 away.

The Best
“D’oh-in’ in the Wind,” “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken,” “Mom and Pop Art,” “They Saved Lisa’s Brain,” “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo”

The Worst
“When You Dish Upon a Star,” “Homer Simpson in: ‘Kidney Trouble,'” “Viva Ned Flanders,” “Make Room For Lisa,” “Monty Can’t Buy Me Love”

225. They Saved Lisa’s Brain

(originally aired May 9, 1999)
It’s kind of strange at this point that I feel the need to praise the show just for telling a competent, cohesive story and having consistent characterization, but I guess that’s the point we’re at now. There’s a few minor issues with this one, but most are pretty much absolved by being a pretty damn solid episode. Springfield’s role as a town inhabited by impulsive, mindless retards is re-solidified at the start as a riot breaks out at a radio station gross-out contest, which absolutely mortifies Lisa. She writes an open letter to the paper regarding the dumbing down of society and emphasizing the joys of intellectual pursuits, but no one seems to take notice, or so it would seem. Before long, she is sought after and inducted into the town chapter of MENSA. The group is comprised of regular characters we’ve seen before, who all make sense as to being there, and they have an interesting dynamic. They’re not the most tight knit group, there’s a fair amount of squabbling between them, but they at least acknowledge that if nothing else they’re leaps and bounds above the common folk intellectually.

Lisa is quite pleased to be in a group of like-minded smart types, but they are still hindered by the restrictions of their slack-jawed troglodyte town. I like how the group is all talk and no game, as none of them exhibit the gall to go ask a bunch of drunkards to vacate their reserved gazebo. They do however bring this news to Mayor Quimby, who, upon thinking they have even more incriminating evidence, flees the scene, and possibly the country. The town charter dictates that the smartest among them shall govern the town in the mayor’s stead, so MENSA takes over. This leads to a finale in which the group each proposes their own edicts upon the town, which has them squabbling amongst themselves and the lower life forms quite incensed over these sudden changes. A riot ensues, as all season 10 episodes need an action ending, and Lisa realizes in the end that everyone has their own version of a perfect world, and you can’t push your ideals and impressions on others so hastily.

So yeah, it’s an episode with a pretty solid story, and it’s equally engaging throughout the whole show. The only gripe I can think of is that normally in episodes where Lisa feels she’s the only bright bulb in a sea of morons, Marge’s role needs to be diminished. We have her encouraging Bart’s stupid, dangerous stunt at the beginning, and then later we see her and Homer in the angry mob that eventually tries to tear down the gazebo with her daughter inside. Just kind of bothered me. But small potatoes; this episode gives us a lot, the MENSA collective, the sarcasm detector, Grandma Plopwell, and guest star Stephen Hawking, who actually is one of my favorite guests, partly because having such a brilliant, high-minded person on the show further solidifies the series’ genius and wide-range appeal. Even the B-plot with Homer’s erotic photography works; none of the scenes go on too long, Homer remains pretty dim and modest, and it has a great payoff. Funny throughout, with a memorable story and nice stuff with Lisa, this is a pretty sharp episode amidst a very trouble season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– More than “Ethnic Mismatch Comedy #644,” I like the promo screen for it with the two actors dancing on a white background, just because I’ve seen that done on many a network. FOX included, now that I think of it. It’s this weird marketing thing where if you show characters are having a grand old time, you’ll want to watch their show, I guess?
– I like Homer’s stunt of his popcorn suit, though I think the title he’s announced by is too clever to have been thought up by him (“It’s Homer Simpson and his Amazing Reddenbacher Dreamcoat, with a number he calls, ‘Kernel Knowledge!'”)
– Don’t get why Burns and Smithers are at the contest, being two halves of a horse. But I do like Kirk Van Houten in a diaper getting clocked in the head with a urinal cake. Doesn’t get much funnier than that.
– Great that Madeline Albright is one of the judges at the gross-out contest, and even better is her feral turn she makes during the riotous food fight.
– Homer gleefully shows off his wares to Lisa (“Look! I got runner-up prize!” “You won second place?” “No, but I got it!”) He gets in a quick “Stealing is wrong” before he goes off to see his prize: a free boudoir photography session. Homer is intrigued. He looks up ‘boudoir’ in the dictionary. Then ‘photography.’ Then ‘boudoir’ again. It’s a well timed scene.
– Lisa’s letter is pretty amusing (“We are a town of low-brows, no-brows, and ignorami. We have eight malls, but no symphony. Thirty-two bars, but no alternative theater. Thirteen stores that begin with ‘Le Sex.’ I write this letter not to nag or whine, but to prod. We can better ourselves!”)
– Great bit with Reverend Lovejoy’s Book Burning Mobile. It can’t be very safe for him to be driving around with an open flame in the back. Much later in The Simpsons Road Rage video game, you can play as Lovejoy driving the mobile.
– Riveting discussions at MENSA regarding the town library: they’re replacing the English literature section with a make-your-own sundae bar (which honestly sounds pretty delicious.) I also love Hibbert’s shocking reveal regarding the reference desk being cleared for an air hockey table (“Even the microfilm?” “Even the microfiche.”) Lisa is impressed (“My family never talks about library standards.”)
– Of course the photographer is Annie Lebowitz, who is oh so disturbed by every aspect of Homer. This subplot is filled with great bits: her Vaseline tub at the ready to slab all over the lens, “Light is… not your friend,” Bart and Milhouse at the window, and Homer’s horror at Marge being more interested in the decorations in the photos than of its erotic nature (“But I was gonna score!” “No you weren’t.”)
– Love Wiggum mistaking the MENSA group’s renaissance costumes as being a bunch of she-males. He’s of no help at all. Hibbert is annoyed (“Why do we live in a town where the smartest have no power and the stupidest run everything? Maybe I should just move back to Alabama.”)
– Quimby’s staff shredding documents, then shredding the shredder, then him taking off on a horse into a private jet to take off, and ejecting the horse out by parachute is pretty great classic wackiness. I also love the lifted sound clip “Faster, you moron!” of Quimby apparently yelling at the horse.
– The MENSA changes to the town are all great: the revised jury duty summons (“You have been chosen to join the Justice Squadron, eight am Monday at the Municipal Fortress of Vengeance. Oh, I am so there,”) and keeping only yellow and green lights (“Stay yellow, stay yellow! Man, I’m making record time! …if only I had some place to be.”) Comic Book Guy takes note of their accomplishments (“Springfield has moved up to #299 on the list of America’s most livable 300 cities. Take that, East St. Louis!”)
– Comic Book Guy dons his Star Trek uniform with a proclamation to his people (“Inspired by the most logical race in the galaxy, the Vulcans, breeding will be permitted once every seven years. For many of you, this will be much less breeding. For me, much, much more.”) The crowd isn’t pleased, especially Willie, channeling a fellow Scotsman (“You cannot do that sir! You don’t have the power!”)
– Hawking is accompanied by the “[celebrity name!]” namedrop that’s been common as of recent, but he’s got so many great bits: calling the town a Fruitopia, “I don’t need anyone to talk for me, except this voice box,” his boxing glove function, and wanting to steal Homer’s idea of a donut shaped universe. My favorite is probably this exchange (“Don’t feel bad, Lisa. Sometimes, the smartest of us can be the most childish.” “Even you?” “No. Not me. Never.”) I also like Homer referring to him at Lisa’s “robot buddy.” Innocently offensive coming out of him.
– Best bit in the whole show is right before the mob tears down the gazebo. Carl is revved up (“Let’s make litter out of these literati!”) Lenny counters (“That’s too clever, you’re one of them!”) before punching him in the face.

224. Monty Can’t Buy Me Love

(originally aired May 2, 1999)
This episode really confused me, as I’m not sure exactly who the main character is. It certainly looks like Mr. Burns, it sounds kinda like Burns, but he acts absolutely nothing like him. This is the first Burns show we’ve had in a long while, and if this honestly is the best kind of material they can give him, perhaps it would have been best to retire him. I’ll set the stage, I guess: the arrival of affable showboating billionaire Arthur Fortune makes Mr. Burns realize that his life is strangely empty without public approval, and sets about to improve his image and be liked. Now we have a big fundamental problem; since his inception, Burns has been a man who holds the common slobbering tube jockey in the utmost contempt, barely even considering them fellow humans. He treats his workers and his assistant like shit and could not be more pleased as punch with himself for it. Now all of a sudden he’s desperate for someone like Homer’s approval? It really kind of betrays the basis of his character.

Now, to be fair, an episode where Burns tries to gain public praise, perhaps with some secret ulterior motive, could work. But this is just… absolutely baffling. The second two acts of this show are beyond a doubt the most bizarre and odd I’ve seen yet on this show. Act two begins with Burns approaching Homer to get help on being liked, which he agrees to. No reason is given for this; in the past we’ve seen him bend over backwards in fear for Burns when he seeks his assistance for fear of losing his job, but here it’s like they’re old buddies or something. We’ll just see Burns standing in the Simpson dining room and driving around in Homer’s car, like what the fuck is doing on here? Burns has absolutely no teeth here; rather than digging his public image hole deeper and deeper with his crotchety and evil actions, he’s rendered more and more pathetic after each and every scene. They go on a Howard Stern-type shock radio show, and Burns ends up collapsing thanks to the host’s crude candor. The real Burns would have had that jock taken away and executed at the first sign of trouble. He’s always been frail in body, but absolutely ruthless in spirit. But not here.

The episode was really bad enough, but then they make an impromptu trip to Scotland to search for the Loch Ness Monster. Which they then find. …I repeat, they found the Loch Ness Monster. He’s a real thing here. And he’s gigantic, seemingly a huge presence in the now drained lake; it should have been kind of tough for him to hide. But it turns out Nessie has growing powers; when he’s brought back to Springfield he’s significantly smaller, the size of a large water tank. Then later he’s maybe twice as tall as Burns. Aside from the shitty story and awful characterization, there’s also so much in this episode that defies logic and makes no sense, as well as particularly shoddy animation in certain sequences. This episode is pretty astounding, it’s the first show that I can honestly say that not only did absolutely nothing work, it felt like I was watching a different show. Burns being a harmless softie, random inter-continental trips, mythical monsters being real, what thefuckam I watching? All the other shitty episodes this season have at least a few things I can point at as being good, this one’s got nothing. The worst this season, bar none.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Simpsons taking a walk and the Fortune megastore are all bits that appear to have jokes, except they’re not at all funny. Just excuses for Homer to whine and moan, and for his ass to appear on every jumbo screen in range, even though it makes no sense. Some of the jokes don’t even have punchlines, like when Marge comments the megastore is better than the Kwik-E-Mart with Apu in range. The bit just kind of hangs there, then ends.
– I guess we’re at the point where Burns relishing the idea of a talking banana is supposed to be funny. I’d think it would be too silly for Homer, let alone for Mr. fucking Burns.
– Homer and Burns attempt to emulate Fortune’s dollar shower by chucking silver dollars off the rooftops in the town. Which somehow rains down on both sides of the street, and manage to not only break through car windows, but one pierces through Lenny’s forehead, causing blood to spurt from his wound when he takes it out. I don’t expect absolute realism on this show, but at least make shit make some kind of sense…
– Burns has Homer deliver a sizable check to the Springfield Hospital, but since Homer is the one who delivered it, the donation gets put in his name, as well as a brand new wing of the building. How? Why? The check’s in Burns’ name, as well as his account. How the fuck could this happen? Though I’ll say this bit had the only thing in this show that made me smirk, the ‘Cricket Gas’ button at Burns’ desk.
– So we have Michael McKeon in to do his Howard Stern voice, and basically they’re not really parodying Stern as much as emulating his bits, albeit as crudely and basically as possible. And this is even insulting to Stern, who’s a lot more clever than that (not recently though, but that’s a whole other issue). Watching Burns flail about like a harmless old man screaming, “Won’t someone please stop the farting!” is really a sight to see. It’s not even infuriating, or saddening, I just don’t even know how to react to that. The Burns in this show is so un-Burns that I’m not even offended; this is an entirely different character.
– We bring in Willie for act three for no real reason other than we’re in Scotland. I guess the unaffected Irishmen are kind of amusing, but seeing their disinterest in witnessing their entire town get flooded was more sad than funny.
– Frink manages to drain the entire Loch Ness in a night. Then they go down in to inspect the homecoming float, and then they notice the giant fucking monster that’s right by them.
– I’ll say the reverse King Kong ending with the monster flattered by the photography and Burns freaking out is a creative idea, but the staging, the context and the overall shittyness of the prior twenty minutes just didn’t help it at all. Burns’ event is a disaster, and realizes being evil is who he is. Makes total sense. Then we end with Nessie at a mere eight feet tall who works at a casino. Fuck you, writers.

223. The Old Man and the “C” Student

(originally aired April 25, 1999)
There’s something very strange about this episode; it has this odd air to it that I can’t fully explain. I suppose I should start… with the beginning. The town of Springfield scrambles to get ready for a visit from the Olympic committee, who is considering them to host the next games. But in the end, a slightly offensive comedy routine from Bart, who insults all the delegates, has them leave in a huff. It came at the end of a presentation organized by Principal Skinner, who interrupted the head delegate to bring Bart on stage, and apparently heard the routine in a rehearsal and thought it was okay. This whole thing makes no sense and blows my mind. Skinner amused by Bart’s childish antics? Especially in such a high stakes situation, no-nonsense Skinner who gave Bart a thousand days detention for his prior comedy art would allow this? It just does not compute on any level for me. There are dozens of ways Bart could have screwed over the town without Skinner having been complicit, but for some reason they went with this one.

So all the kids are punished with having to do community service, and Bart sends up sent to the retirement home. There he finds voluntary volunteer Lisa is already spending time with the old folks, playing bingo, cleaning them in their sleep and opening up old memories of their pasts. The retirement castle we see here feels decidedly different than days of old. It was always an awful, awful place; run down, dirty, staffed by people who could give two shits about the old fogeys who lives there. The denizens within were also a sad lot, but also crotchety and full of old person vigor. Here, they’re handled with kid gloves, where Lisa and another nurse modeled after Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest seem to be treating them almost too well. Sure, they vacuum dirt and crumbs off them while they nap, but it just doesn’t feel like the same place whose staff attempts to solicit money from wealthy old codgers and pulls the plug on those who haven’t made their payments.

Also a la Cuckoo’s Nest, Bart absconds with the elderly to take them out to sea to have some fun. This of course results in a big disaster, giving us yet another third act action sequence, another absolutely pointless guest appearance, and another ridiculous and stupid ending that ties in with the sort-of B-story. I guess I should talk about that shit. Because Homer has the mindset of a five-year-old, he, for no reason, decides to enter the mascot design contest for the Springfield Olympics. His design, Springy the Springfield Spring, wins, but when the games pull out, he’s left with a crate full of a thousand springs. He attempts to sell them, which only gives us hilarious sequences of him getting hurt, a quick bit of child abuse with using Maggie as a springy basketball, and Moe and Lenny getting one caught in their eye as Homer sits by as an ignorant jackass. It all culminates in him flushing the springs down the toilet, which Marge is well aware of, and for some reason does not burst in the bathroom door and stop her husband before he fucks up the plumbing and causes a bigger problem. With a banal and dumb A-story and fucking stupid B-story, this one’s pretty bleh, but at least nothing here really pissed me off, so it’s got that going for it. High praise.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Great line from the Olympic chairman, breaking up a squabble amongst the delegates (“You’re forgetting what the Olympics are all about: giving out medals of beautiful gold, so-so silver and shameful bronze.”)
– Homer’s first mascot attempt is paper macheting the cat into “Abby the Olympic Tabby.” He’s exposed when the cat’s eyes move and the family realizes what’s going on. Then he presents Springy the spring, which Bart immediately asks, “Those aren’t the dog’s eyes, are they?”
– I like the painstaking cleaning of the entire town, which seems almost like overkill, then cut to the Olympic committee arriving and the chairman inspecting the sewers, deeming them the cleanest he’s ever seen. A nearby Lenny and Carl beam with pride.
– Okay, so we have the kids’ musical number, whose joke is pretty much done even before it begins by Skinner’s introduction (“And now, because the children our are future, here are the children or Springfield Elementary, with a song they call, ‘The Children Are Our Future.’ Children?”) Then we have to sit through a minute of the song of the same joke, which is just a time killer. Then in the credits, I was surprised to see a specific credit to George Meyer for choreographing the sequence. Really? Was that some kind of goof? It had the least complicated choreography of any song ever done on the show ever. It must have been a joke, but it kind of boggled my mind for a bit.
– Chalmers gets in some great dirty lines, citing his home town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania (which Ralph innocently parrots) and his adieu to Skinner and Bart (“Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my vacation at lake Titicaca. Let’s see you make a joke out of that, mister smart guy.”)
– Oh yeah, another thing that bothered me. While the old people get treated gingerly, the kids get no mercy. Even though they did nothing wrong whatsoever, Martin and Milhouse get subjected to gang violence and hazardous medical waste respectively. Hearing Skinner’s smug commentary over the kids’ horrible situations is even more of a kick in the balls considering it was his goddamn fault for allowing Bart to do that stupid routine. Even worse is later when Homer’s going door to door with his springs and Skinner repeatedly punches him in the face for what Bart did. Not only is this violence out of character, but again, it’s Skinner’s fucking fault. So yeah, I hate Skinner in this episode, if you hadn’t picked that up.
– Some good non-sequiturs came from this show, like “You sunk my battleship” and the ever useful “I want some taquitos.”
– The only bit at the old folk’s home that feels like classic material is the edited Gone With the Wind, and Hans Moleman being escorted out by thugs for daring to mention the censored bits.
– Homer bouncing an infant around like a basketball? Flushing the springs down the toilet? Really, Marge should not be putting up with this shit. I guess the joke is that she throws her hands up and gives up after so much of her husband’s wackiness, but it really is kind of sad, even more so than their dynamic has been in the past.
– Another too on-the-nose Smithers joke with his drawing Burns in the nude a la Titanic. This distraction causes their boat to crash into the old folks’ one. Though I do like the reveal of why McAlister’s missed it (“Yarr… two glass eyes.”)
– As much as Homer should not recognize who Jasper Johns is, no way in hell do Bart and Lisa know who Jack LaLanne is. Plus it’s an absolutely useless appearance.
– Grampa’s defense of Bart and the very end moment between them made me realize that they really could have made this a neat episode between the two characters, but instead we got this. I’d also like to mention this episode was written by new writer Julie Thacker. She also happens to be Mike Scully’s wife. Curious how she got the job. Also the case with Brian Scully, who wrote “Lost Our Lisa,” “Make Room for Lisa” and co-wrote “Sunday, Cruddy Sunday,” all fucking awful episodes. Thacker’s got two more in her, “Last Tap Dance in Springfield” and “I’m Goin’ to Praiseland,” so we’ll see how she fares with those. But for this first one… not so good.

222. Mom and Pop Art

(originally aired April 11, 1999)
Homer gets another job. And acts like an arrogant, selfish insane wild man. And nobody seems to have a problem with it. Standard procedure this season. By all accounts I should hold this episode in more contempt than I do. But as I’ve said in the past, humor can absolve many a sin, and this episode has a fair amount of laughs, the most perhaps of any episode this season. Part of it may have to do with having gone through four years of art school, and this show treads upon very familiar territory in mocking pretentious and snobby art types. While the episode handles it pretty sloppily, I do like the core idea of it, that a buffoon like Homer could be praised for his unintentional masterpiece. A spectacularly failed attempt to build a barbeque ends up in the hands (or rather the hood of the car) of esteemed art dealer Astrid, who heralds Homer as the hottest new name in outsider art. Homer embraces this new title, while in the meantime Marge becomes jealous of her husband’s fame given her past artistic talents.

So as I said, all the stuff involving the art world really worked with me: the Eurotrash snobs, the visit to the art gallery, and various discussions of famous artists, like Claes Oldenburg (“He must be a hundred feet tall!”) and Christo (“Killer umbrellas! Of course!”) I also kinda like the back half of the show where Homer’s attempts to recreate his work is treated with mockery. It’s the same kind of work as before, and therefore it’s not interesting. A “piece” like his first one took raw emotional effort, whereas these new ones were calculated to emulate the original. It’s like he went commercial and sold out. But I think maybe now I’m bringing in too much art theory into this. And even though the ending is absolutely, positively stupid in every single logical way, part of me still likes the idea of Homer taking the idea from a William Turner painting to create the grand canals of Springfield. How it could possibly happen and why all the townspeople are seemingly not infuriated by this, I still enjoy the ending.

Alright, enough praise. Despite my kind words, Homer is as big of a raging ass in this episode as he’s been the rest of the season. Forcing Lisa to lay down the cement for his grill, answering the door with a shotgun, then placing it in Maggie’s crib, Homer is still a maniac, in more respects than one. You’ve got the scene where he sketches Lenny and Carl nude, which I don’t know what to make of. The joke is that he’s gay, I guess? Or something? He grows incredibly pompous of his new success, and when his fame runs dry, he demands people fear his wrath, for some reason. Also really stupid is the runner about Marge being jealous. Not only does Homer need to spell it out for the audience (“It’s like Marge’s dream come true… for me! Isn’t that great, Marge? For me!”), it doesn’t really go anywhere. They could have had Marge reinvigorate her past passion, but have her paintings be mocked for being trite, and then Homer come to her defense, or something. But no, Marge is upset, but then in the third act takes her husband to the museum to inspire his art. And then they kiss at the end. Again, it’s like all the other characters just become accessories to Homer’s madness, in whatever capacity the scene calls for. This episode basically has the same share of problems as most of this season, but God help me did I still like it. Its consistent jokes and sharp jabs at the art community save this one.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Like the beginning with showing Homer’s abandoned home projects, painting the garage (with painted note “Start here tomorrow 7/17/95,”) and the snake in the family piano.
– Mom & Pop Hardware is a great set piece right off the bat with “A Subsidiary of Global Dynamics, Inc.” mocking how gigantic corporations try to mimic a humble old-fashioned operation. Homer originally goes there to do some handiwork (“I’m planning some expert home repairs and I need a pair of bolt cutters, or wire cutters, or something to get the lock off my toolbox.”) He then comes across a video advertising an amazing do-it-yourself barbeque pit, albeit with some disclaimers (“Lighthearted apron not included. Snapping fingers may not make food appear.”) When he fails spectacularly, he brings it back later, and notes with a flashlight that he does have the box and receipt, just in many tiny pieces amidst the monstrosity of concrete and grill parts. Also great is Squeaky Voiced Teen as “Pop” trying to score with teen harlot “Mom,” which seems to have gone smoothly when Homer returns later.
– The Homer barbeque freakout is just way way too big. Though I do love the line, “Why must I fail at every attempt at masonry!” I saw a great Internet pic taking the scene of Homer looking at the perfect grill on the box against his disastrous attempt, comparing it to the writers looking at old classic episodes and looking at theirs (“Why doesn’t mine look like that?!”) Seems pretty apt to me.
– Man, I hate hate hate Homer answering the door with a shotgun. Then Marge later comments, when she and the kids are hiding behind the house, “Is everything okay? I got worried when I didn’t hear any shots.” So this is a regular thing, that Homer apparently kills people who come to the door to sue him? And Homer can also spew out an average settlement from his many lawsuits against him. This show is officially a cartoon. And I mean that in terms of an absurd exaggeration of characters who are vaguely human, whereas before the show was a cartoon of an exaggeration of actual people.
– Don’t like how Homer knows who Jasper Johns is as he name drops him, but I do like that they made him into a kleptomaniac for some reason (“You squeal on me, I’ll kill you!”) Kind of like how they made Stephen Jay Gould an asshole.
– I love the bit with Burns before he buys Homer’s sculpture (“Years ago I blew the chance to buy Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ for a song! Luckily, that song was ‘White Christmas,’ and by hanging onto it I made billions.”)
– Love the Eurotrash (“We are a drift in a sea of decadent luxury and meaningless sex.”) My favorite line in the whole show is after the big letdown of Homer’s follow-up pieces (“You’ve gone from hip to boring. Why don’t you call us when you get to kitsch!”) Followed by a strained laugh. Hilarious.
– Even though the scene of them in bed has plenty I hate, like somehow Homer’s recently announced show is in Art in America, and him being a selfish dick to his wife, I do like Homer’s compliments of his wife’s art (“Your paintings look like the things they look like.”) It’s basically every non-art person’s reaction to art, their gauge on if it’s good or not depends how realistic it is.
– I like all three of Homer’s latest pieces, topped with his “thing de resistance,” “Attempted Birdhouse One,” complete with a squawking bird inside. No one offers a bid, save Moe (“I’ll give you two bucks for the bird if it’s still alive.”) Cut to the sculpture, with no bird.
– Homer’s trip to the museum to be inspired only served to discourage him, which is a sentiment I’ve shared; seeing others work is inspiring, but also is a bit intimidating if it’s work that’s really good. I’ve found myself quoting him in those situations (“These guys are geniuses. I could never think of something like soup or a pencil.”) I also love his art nightmare (“Soup’s on, fat boy!” “Andy, no!”)
– The flood ending is fucking stupid, but without it, we’d have never gotten that classic Milhouse line from him wearing flood pants (“Hey, they’re working! My feet are soaked, but my cuffs are bone dry! Everything’s coming up Milhouse!”)

And look at that! I’m officially at the half way point! Holy crap, I can’t believe I’ve got another 222 episodes left… Well, thanks to everyone who’s read this long, or those who are just checking in, but we’ve still got a long road ahead of us. But we’ll get through it. Together. Like a big happy Simpsons family.

221. Simpsons Bible Stories

(originally aired April 4, 1999)
Here we have the first non-Halloween show featuring three different stories of a similar theme. We’d get a lot more of them as time went on, with more and more tenuously connected themes (classic literature, historical figures, famous ships?) Now considering past “Treehouse of Horror”s have been fantastic, there’s no reason why these kinds of shows can’t work, but there’s a big difference between something like a classic TOH and this episode. When taking a theme or a specific source material, you need to give it some kind of twist or new interesting angle to make it memorable on its own. Even something like their “Nightmare on Elm Street” parody, which played very close to the original movie, still felt original as it integrated itself so well into the Simpsons universe in making Willie Freddy Kreuger, a perfect match. Here, there doesn’t seem to be as much thought put into things. It’s basically just Simpsons character re-enact stories from the Bible. You know how every story is going to play out the moment it starts. Not that that’s really bad, but it’s not really good either.

The wrap arounds occur during a scorching hot day in church, causing the Simpson family to doze off and dream about themselves in Biblical times. First is Marge, who imagines herself as Eve and Homer as Adam in the Garden of Eden. After that, Lisa dreams of Milhouse as Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. And finally, Bart has himself as David facing off against Goliath’s son. I honestly don’t have that much to comment on these specifically; there are jokes that work through all three segments, but as I said, it’s all just so banal. Though there’s something that kind of works in the Bart segment. The conceit of Goliath II, the training montage, “A Bart Simpson Dream,” it feels like a bombastic action movie, which is exactly how would Bart would dream, and want to interpret a Bible story like this. This theme isn’t flawless though, since I don’t think Bart is clever enough to come up with the twist at the end (or have his dream self arrested for that matter), but it gives an idea of how these stories could have had unique flair to them. This isn’t present at all with Marge and Lisa’s. So yeah, these episodes are pretty middle-of-the-road; nothing offensive, but nothing really special either. I’d be surprised to find if anyone called any of these three-story shows their favorite episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Act one’s pretty risque for having Homer and Marge nude the entire time. …um, I guess that’s my whole comment. Also, why is it acceptable to show a guy’s butt and not a girl’s butt on TV? It’s not like you can see any genitals. Toward the end when Marge lands on Homer after being expelled from the garden, her hair is completely stuck to her back to cover her ass, which makes no sense. Not that I’m some perv or anything, I’ve got ten billion website to cater to those needs.
– I do like Flanders as God, and this being the only situation where Homer would have to cow tow to his almighty neighbor-eeno (“Oh, Adam, you’re too kind.” No, you’re too kind, and wise, and righteous. I can’t believe you don’t have a girlfriend.”)
– I like the “general-interest” magazine People God gives Marge having a picture of, who else, Adam and Eve.
– Kinda clever having Snake as… Snake, and Homer’s line, “You’re pretty uptight for a naked chick.”
– Great contrast of Milhouse’s quick and quieted “Letmypeoplego…” followed by Skinner’s loud and emphasized “Let your people go?!”
– Great bit of Skinner dictating (“Giant eye, dead fish, cat head, cat head, cat head, guy doing this…”) I imagine in Egyptian times it pretty much went like that.
– I’m not a big fan of the finale where the kids literally flush the Red Sea. It feels like something the Rugrats would do in their Passover special. But following that are two great bits, first Skinner (“After them! In the temporarily dry sea!”) and then when they’re flooded with Wiggum, Lou and Eddie (“Hey, chief, he splashed me!” “Hey, nobody likes a cry baby. You just splash him back!”) I also like the very end where Lisa struggles to skirt around the tumultuous future of their people (“It looks like we’re in for forty years of wandering the desert.” “Forty years? But after that, it’s clear sailing for the Jews, right?” Ummmm, more or less… hey, is that manna?”)
– I don’t get the King Solomon bit as to why Homer would want Lenny and Carl killed, but I love the People’s Court of Jesus Christ versus Checker Chariot. Jesus’ stern look as he straightens his file folder labeled “My Accident” cracks me up.
Another shot of Mike Scully’s fucking kids in Jerusalem. Seriously, you can tell it’s got to be someone on or related to staff since they look more detailed than regular background characters. I remember Groening (I think) talking about how annoyed he got when animators would insert themselves into shots. It’s the same thing with this.
– I like how Bart’s attempts to climb the Tower of Babel are thwarted; the two times he throws his grappling hook, he ends up snagging a guard and pulling them down to their deaths.
– Nice homage to Fantasia with Nelson emerging from the fire like Chernabog in the final segment of the film.
– I’d be annoyed with the dumb deus ex machina of Ralph reappearing at the end with no explanation, but again, I think it works as a kid’s dream, and mimicking similar dumb deus ex machinas in mainstream movies. But then, again, I’ll say no way Bart is clever enough to come up with the end reveal that Goliath was actually an incredibly competent king (“To us, he was Goliath the Consensus Builder.”) I’m also not bothered by the apocalypse ending; this clearly isn’t a canon episode. It felt more lazy than anything, which is saying a lot since the episode up to that point was pretty lazy.