Monthly Archives: June 2012

275. She of Little Faith

(originally aired December 16, 2001)
So here it is. Having run seasons 3 and 4 with Mike Reiss, and been a core member since the series’ beginning, Al Jean takes over as show runner. He’s remained as such to this day, over ten seasons, whereas prior all others had two, with Mike Scully wrangling four. Now, a changing of the guard really does a series good; a Dave Mirkin show has a different feel than an Oakley & Weinstein one, each run having a different strike at a tone. Hell, even Scully shows have a distinct feel to them. What I get on the whole from Jean’s run, which is basically every episode from now on, is a general airless quality, a stagnation, if you will. There will be some alright episodes, and some terrible ones, but many of them will fall in the painfully average territory. This first one definitely qualifies, though there are more specific things I hate than like here. We start with Homer helping Bart build a model rocket, which ends up careening off course and crashing into the church. Are there any repercussions to this? Is Homer held responsible to pay off the massive amount of damage? Nope! We’re at the end of act one and my hope for change from Jean is fading already.

Who will step up and save the church? Why, Mr. Burns… of course? He intends to run the house of worship like a business, with fan favorite character Lindsay Naegle assisting, selling ad space and product placement. Why the hell is Burns involved in this? I have absolutely no clue; it works so much better to just have it be Naegle alone representing some conglomerate company, then the chuch can be like a subsidiary of Big Business, Inc. or something. All the Burns stuff is painful here; as I mentioned in “Hunka Hunka,” this is his other version, cartoonishly evil Burns, who does despicable, undermining things simply because he’seeeeeeeviiilll. The new sensationalized church couldn’t be more sacrilegious, and it’s enough to cause Lisa to break down and leave in a huff, vowing never to return. She goes on a spiritual quest to find a new faith, finally landing upon Buddhism, with thanks to Lenny, Carl, and special guest star Richard Gere, who is looked upon in the holiest of lights. I guess at this point I really need to stop complaining about celebrities continuously showing up in Springfield for no reason, since it will never, ever stop. Ever.

What pulls this episode below being just average is the bitterness of the third act. Marge is concerned for her daughter’s soul, and enlists the help of the church to get her back to Christianity. I get where Marge is coming from to some degree, but in a lot of scenes she just comes off petty, almost cruel to her poor daughter. Eavesdropping on her prayers, insisting it’s just a faze, tossing out freshly made Christmas cookies in the garbage in front of her face, it all feels very mean spirited, and very un-Marge behavior. Then in the end, it’s not Marge who learns a lesson, but Lisa, who tells the family that she can still worship with them, but in her own way. If that’s what you were going for, what not make the episode more like “Lisa the Vegetarian” and have Lisa be more militant with her new faith? Instead Marge is clearly in the wrong, and remains stubborn and closed-minded until the very end. It kind of bummed me out, which is definitely not a good thing for your Christmas episode.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Homer enlists the college nerds to help assemble the working rocket. Then he proceeds to force them, and Milhouse, to leave during the launch, which really rubbed me the wrong way. He’s supposed to be good friends with them, but now he’s a big jerkass, so get those fucking nerds out of here after I’ve exploited their hard work.
– Nibbles the hamster from “Skinner’s Sense of Snow” makes a triumphant re-appearance. And his “wife” is dressed like Jackie O. Whatever.
– Nice bit between Lindsay Naegle and Lisa (“The old church was skewing pious. We prefer a faith-based emporium teeming with impulse buy items.” “I feel like I want to throw up.” “Then my work is done.”)
– Why is Burns wasting his time monitoring Lovejoy’s sermon? Doesn’t have have a nuclear fucking power plant to run? I honestly just don’t understand why he’s in this episode at all.
– I like the dramatic nature of this runner between Lovejoy and Lisa (“Lisa, it’s still the same basic message, we’ve just dressed it up a little.” “Like the Whore of Babylon?” “That is a false analogy.” “No, it’s not. It’s apt. Apt!”)
– I like “Zagat’s Guide to World Religions,” and we get yet another “Lost Weekend” shot of Lisa wandering past different faith signs, including an incredibly flashy one with rows of lights reading “AMISH.”
– As a cartoon villain, Burns announces he’s keeping all the church profits for himself, laughs evilly and attempts to disappear in a puff of smoke. His ruse exposed, he tosses the stack of money on the table and leaves. Would Burns ever do something like that?
– The fact that Marge and the other churchgoers feel so petty in their attempts to win Lisa back really puts a sour spin on the ending. Lovejoy outside the window waiting for Lisa to take the candy cane feels so weird and creepy, and meanwhile Lisa is the one who makes a realization at the end, not anyone else. It’s the complete opposite of where it feels like they should have been going.
– All the Lenny/Carl/Gere stuff is pretty limp. We also get what I believe is the first Moe-committing-suicide “gag” of the series. He had his head in an oven at the end of “Grift of the Magi,” but that was for the purposes of the It’s a Wonderful Life parody, but this started this hilarious new character trait of Moe wanting to kill himself. Comedy gold! Now, suicide can be made funny (I can think of several examples from “South Park”), but this show just doesn’t have it in it.

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274. The Blunder Years

(originally aired December 9, 2001)
So here we have the last Scully produced episode, and thank fucking God. These last few episodes between the end of last season and the start of this one have been staggering; it’s like he saved the worst for last. This episode is of course no exception, as the show attempts to craft a foreshadowed and meaningful mystery, but fails miserably. But first, our completely unrelated opening: Marge develops a fascination with the strapping lumberjack mascot for Burly paper towels. And by fascination, I mean sick, insane obsession. I get that she’s a sad, lonely housewife and that’s the joke, but when she builds a Burly pyramid and writes a letter to “him” like he’s a real person, it just goes too far. Homer plays a prank on Marge, making her think “Burly” is coming to dinner, then to make up for his transgressions takes her to dinner and a show. At said show is magician Mesmerino, who hypnotizes Homer, triggering a repressed traumatic memory that leaves him unable to stop screaming. Castallenta sure earned his check this week.

Through a series of flashbacks, we find out what really happened to Homer in his youth. We see that he, Lenny, Carl and Moe were best buddies hiking and camping out in the woods. I’m immediately put off by this; I hate in shows or cartoons when they look back at their youth, everybody knows each other and acts exactly the same. Homer and Barney were high school chums, but there’s no reason why he should know the others. And then Fat Tony, Legs and Louie are there too. What? It’s just so uninteresting; why bother having a flashback at all when the character dynamics are exactly the same? It’s lazy more than anything. So what’s the big reveal? Homer unsticks the piping off the drained quarry, letting loose what was blocking it: a human corpse. That’s a fair enough resolution. Then the show becomes the Simpson Family Mysteries; apropos of nothing the family is all on board with going out to the quarry and figuring out what happened. Stilted dialogue abound! (“This sounds like a case that only the Simpson family can solve!”)

With assistance from Chief Wiggum, the Simpsons travel through the piping until they reach the end of the line. A hatch that leads directly to… Burns’ office. Which is multiple stories off the ground. Whatever. Then we get our explanation: the corpse was that of Waylon Smithers, Sr. He worked for Burns many years ago, and managed to keep the volatile reactor core from exploding, but at the cost of his own life. In the flashback, we see that Smithers is caring for little baby Waylon, Jr., who is given off to Burns when he goes into the core. I have the same problem with this as the other flashback stuff: Smithers’ father worked for Burns? Burns knew Smithers as a baby? No. That just makes his relationship with Burns weird and creepy. Why do all these characters need to be connected throughout their entire histories? I get that Springfield is a jerkwater burg where people tend to stay put for generations, but there’s bound to be change over the years of who you associate with. That the writers seem to not understand this or care to come up with new angles to present our characters in is very disheartening.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The only thing I like from the Burly “plot” is Homer’s fake name for the model portraying him: Chad Sexington.
– In the same vein as Hank Azaria’s then-girlfriend Helen Hunt having a guest role, here we have Harry Shearer’s wife Judith Owens. Though basically all they did was play one of her songs, they could have just ripped a CD. Or that’s probably what they did. But what the fuck’s Judith Owens doing performing in Springfield? And why is she the opening act for a hack like Mesmerino? Whatever.
– They try to lay groundwork at the show by having Smithers announce that his father died, but it’s completely unneeded and worthless. Before this, Mesmerino is incessantly heckling Mr. Burns and he just sits there and takes it. More neutered Burns! Did they just forget who this character is? Real Burns would have this man executed.
– Homer gets a flood of memories coming back, starting with the much repeated clip of his jump over Springfield Gorge. Lisa cuts in, “No, Dad, everyone’s sick of that memory.” Speak for yourself. I’d much rather be watching that episode than this slop.
– I’m not a stickler for continuity, but this bugged me a bit. Young Carl mentions that the power plant had just opened, meanwhile in “The Way We Was,” the guidance counselor tells teen Homer that the plant isn’t even open yet. It’s more organic in that episode too; I know we see the plant and the cooling towers ejecting fire, which is revealed later as Smithers, Sr.’s doing, but it kind of bothered me for some reason.
– The whole third act is so alien to me, it really feels like a completely different show. And hey, we have a Burly callback, where a few rolls of paper towels drain a fucking quarry. Fuck you, writers.
– As if the creepy Burns-Smithers back story wasn’t enough, we have another tired Smithers gay joke, where Burns says he told Smithers his father was killed by a tribe of savage Amazon women (“I hope it didn’t affect you in any way.” “We’ll never know, sir.”) This shit isn’t funny anymore; at this point just flat out say he’s gay, it’d be a lot more honest and open the door for some interesting stories. But nope, let’s just beat this horse until it’s a bloody corpse.
– Homer saves Smithers Sr.’s skull in a box, which is not creepy at all, and then we have Hank Azaria fumbling through an ad-lib over the credits. I couldn’t turn the episode off fast enough.

Quick announcement: after half a year, I’ve finally managed to start my DreamWorks blog, Desperately Dissecting Dreamworks, where I’ll be reviewing all of the films of the DreamWorks canon, similar to what I did in the past with the Disney films. I’ll be updating every week or so with a new movie. The link’s on the right if you care to check it out.

273. A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love

(originally aired December 2, 2001)
I guess the writers just love neutered Burns. It’s astounding how he barely even resembles his former self anymore: whimpering like a puppy, completely out of sorts with everything, and without any contempt for the common man. And any episode featuring Burns smiling more than he scowls is of no interest to me. This show is garbage like the last two, but a few token great lines kind of elevate it, but saying this is the best of the three is not high praise at all. Following a completely disposable bit with Homer writing fortune cookies, Burns seeks out true love. Why’s that? Because his fortune said so. Burns is a stubborn, joyless old codger who I’m sure decided a long time ago that he was better off alone. But now he’s off to find the woman of his dreams! Weeeeeee! More lazy, lazy writing. There could have been a more streamlined and sensible reason for Burns to want to settle down with someone, but fuck that, we’ll just slap on this tangential beginning and have Burns act completely out of character. That works.

Burns finds his lady love Gloria, a meter maid voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a woman who cannot be any older than forty. So, really, what is the love connection here? Why on Earth would Gloria go out with a man over sixty years her senior? I wish I could have an answer for you, but it’s never really addressed. I can’t even discern any personality traits for Gloria; who is this woman and why does she love Mr. Burns? When the big climax happens and Burns is inflamed enough to burst through a cabin up in flames to save her, there’s a giant lingering “WHY,” since we know absolutely nothing about Gloria and don’t care about her. This episode is actually strangely reminiscent of “Dumbbell Indemnity” with Moe: a character-less character falls for one of our less desirable regulars, Homer assists in their love life in some capacity, the police get involved and both climaxes revolve around a burning building. It’s worse here though, as it’s an even bigger stretch for a woman to be involved with Mr. Burns. The only explanation that would make sense is if she were a gold digger. That would work. You could even have it be a big Smithers story, where he sees her for who she is, and maybe he has to acknowledge that Burns is happy with her regardless and not expose her true intentions. Something more interesting than whatever the fuck we’ve got going on here.

So it turns out Gloria’s ex-boyfriend is the lowlife criminal Snake, which totally makes sense given that we saw she was a cop earlier. Not to say this can’t happen, but there’s absolutely zero dialogue addressing this fact. It’s as if the writers just forgot, or just didn’t give a shit. Either or is fine. So Snake ends up kidnapping Gloria and Homer and Burns has to save the day. When we get to the point where Burns is talking about how much he loves Gloria and that nothing is stronger than the human heart, I realize that Mr. Burns is basically dead. Honestly, this is it, how much more could you betray this once fascinating and hilarious character than this? The episode ends with he and the Simpsons walking into the sunset. That should not happen. EVER. The man who once vowed to spend every waking moment to make Homer’s wishes go unfulfilled has now enlisted him to help with his social life twice now. This isn’t Burns. In “Homer vs. Dignity,” he wasn’t a softie, but he was like some kind of cartoon villain, gleefully pranking people and being generically evil. So this is Burns now: either a clueless old pushover, or Snidely Whiplash. Might as well kill him off at this point.

Tidbits and Quotes
– George Takei returns as the waiter at the Chinatown restaurant, and is completely wasted with maybe thirty seconds of screen time. Why didn’t they have him be the manager? He had more lines. Or why not both? In fact, have him voice every character in the episode. I’d love to have seen that.
– The fortune cookie plot really makes no sense to me, I can’t even be bothered to pick it apart to analyze it. The only bit I like is that faux Woody Allen has a tiny wastebasket to match the tiny paper he’s using.
– The split-second we see of Smithers’ complete lack of interest in Burns’ “womanizing” just makes me wish this episode was more about he and Burns’ relationship. He basically disappears in the second act for no reason at all, why not focus on him more? But no, we’ll just have him moan in terror at the sight of girls’ tits and asses and get him out of the episode.
– The interplay between Gloria and Burns is painful, every line feels so forced and unnatural. I don’t get any sense of why these characters like each other at all, let alone are in love. The only bit I like on their date is when Gloria comments, “I really feel safe with you. It’s like going out with my brother.” Burns immediately thinks, “Yes! It’s going great!”
– We need Homer in the scene as Gloria is dropping off Burns at night. But how do we get him there? “Stop that dog! It has my gum!” Well done, raises all around!
– Nice exchange after Gloria and Burns bust a rug on the dance floor (“I gotta admit, you can really shake it.” “Oh, yes, it’s totally voluntary.”)
– “Put my hand on her knee. …I said ‘her.’ And I said ‘knee.'” So Homer put Burns’ hand on his genitals. What’s with all the Homer gay jokes?
– The bit in the montage of Burns and Gloria sucking face at the movies is disgusting. Honestly, this story makes absolutely no sense. The whole age issue is completely swept under the rug. If it had been more of a focus, and treated in a slightly more serious light, I could maybe buy this, but this episode could care less about being anything but completely bargain basement.
– My favorite line in the episode? “Can I have some ice cream? I finished my pizza.” Homer’s been dragged around by Burns the entire episode, in that shot, he’s like a kid, looking around aimlessly, not caring about what’s going on. I don’t know why, but I laugh. I also love Burns announcing he’s about to “expel some urine.” I used to announce it that way myself for a while.
– The Pistol Whip dream of Homer’s is pretty good, as is this line from Burns (“I don’t understand. She was my sexy young fiancée, he was my sexually virile best friend, and they just drove off in my Bugatti Sexarossa. How could this ever have happened?”) And Wiggum commenting on Lou setting his sniper sights on Homer (“That’s a sweet shot, he’s tied to a chair!”) See, there are some good jokes here. It’s just everything else that’s absolute shit.
– The ending with Gloria going back to Snake is abrupt and makes no sense. I guess that’s one character trait I can give her: fickle. Then oddly enough Gloria would reappear every now and then, still with Snake. Like, she’d just randomly show up for a line every couple of seasons. Why bother? Why pay Louis-Dreyfus to come in for one line of a character nobody cares about?

272. Homer the Moe

(originally aired November 18, 2001)
My word, I thought “The Parent Rap” was bad, but at least it had some semblance of a story with a beginning and end. This episode has a completely unrelated opening and ending, all completely out of nowhere, and a middle filled with a bunch of random elements that are both dumb and make no sense. It’s perhaps the messiest show we’ve seen so far. Our opening features Bart digging a hole. Yep, that’s it. The family becomes increasingly worried about his behavior, then we get some bizarre Chinese satellite monitoring nonsense, and then it’s revealed that it was all a story Homer was telling at the bar (“Eventually, I become king of the Morlocks.”) Aside from the fact that none of it actually happened, this has got to be the oddest standalone first act, but honestly, I was more interested in finding out why Bart was digging that hole than I was with anything that happened in the rest of the episode. How did they come up with this? And why did they think it was funny, or made any sense at all as a story Homer would tell? Three minutes in and I’m already annoyed.

Moe finds he’s lost his vigor for his work and decides to take a sabbathical to his old college Swigmore University, and of course leaves Homer in charge of the bar. Now, Moe attending a bartending school works as a quick joke, but as it went on, it kind of bothered me more. I’m sure Moe never dreamed about being a bartender, and as such, he’s not a very good one. Instead he shows up at the college and is looked on as a valued student. Moe’s just some creepy sleazebag who opened his own shitty bar, now he’s some kind of campus hero. Moe’s professor informs him a renovation to his workplace may be in order. So Moe’s is torn down to make room for “m,” a bizarre post-post-modern club to cater to the most pretentious, high-minded and pompous. A joint that looks like it came with an incredibly high price tag, one I’m sure Moe had the funds to afford. Or wanted built in the first place. Homer and the others feel out of sorts in these new surroundings, and eventually have a falling out with Moe. This leads Homer to put up his own bar in his garage, as at this point he never goes to work anymore ever and can do such a thing.

After realizing he’s sold out, Moe goes to make amends with Homer, only to be surprised at him running a bar out of a residence. Homer counters that it’s actually a hunting club, and when Moe catches him that all clubs are required to actually go hunting, Homer insists he’s going to shoot a turkey the next day. So our ending involves Lisa and Moe trying to keep Homer from shooting a turkey. I have no fucking idea how we got to this point. I guess the writers felt like they wanted to do another Thanksgiving episode but couldn’t figure out a story around it, so they decided to cram it in here. But there’s literally two minutes of episode left and we’re completely off the rails with this random-ass ending. Then R.E.M. appears for some reason, and we get a beyond forced, attempting to be sentimental ending where Homer and Moe make up. The level of laziness has reached an all-time high with these last two episodes, it’s absolutely staggering. Perhaps once we wade through these Scully holdovers, the series will stabilize a little bit, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Tidbits and Quotes
– “That’s odd. He’s outside, digging.” “Probably digging for drugs.” “There’s no drugs out there.” “No… of course not.” THIS IS LIKE THE THIRD FUCKING TIME THEY’VE DONE THIS JOKE. WRITERS, PLEASE STOP.
– I honestly don’t even know what to say about the hole plot. I’m almost curious to hear the commentary, but I don’t have this season’s DVD. But I’m sure they don’t address it at all, or mention it briefly and laugh about how stupid it is.
– I do like how Moe decides who runs his bar by way of a pissing contest (“Oh, don’t look so proud. That was wind-assisted.”) Also good is Homer’s lack of understanding of Moe’s business (“Hey, what are you doing? I gotta pay for that!” “No, Moe, you’ve got it all wrong. People buy beer from you.”)
– If I may do a quick compare and contrast, compare the first act break here to that of “Homer the Smithers,” both in which Homer is left in charge of a job he has no experience for. In “Smithers,” Homer is befuddled by his new responsibilities, and the one question he has time to ask Smithers, he doesn’t get an answer to: what to do in case of a fire? Then we see Burns’ office is on fire. Just his luck. In this episode, Moe is out the door two seconds before there’s a giant explosion. He goes back in to see the bar in ruins, and Homer very cavalierly says, “I thought you had to go.” In the days of old, misfortune and bad luck befall Homer, and he tries to sort it out in his own dim, stupid way. Nowadays, Homer causes his own messes, and either disregards them, or belittles those who call him out on it. Which of these two sounds better as our lovable protagonist?
– I like the saloon doors at Swigmore U, but the whole set piece still bothers me for my aforementioned reason. Also, what they did with Moe’s professor was really in poor taste. This show, especially the state it’s in now, is far too silly to pull off dark comedy, especially making as grim as someone dying of cancer drown themselves funny.
– Homer attempts to fix the skipping jukebox a la Fonzie by hitting it with his fist, and he ends up breaking the glass and bleeding profusely from his hand. Like, copious amounts of blood. This is one of the earliest instances of ridiculous and gross cartoonish violence being used in the series proper. When did this show start crossbreeding with the Treehouse of Horror segments?
– I feel the crazy ultra-hip bar could have been good fodder for jokes, but it just doesn’t work here. The only thing I care for is Moe’s explanation of the place (“It’s po-mo! …post-modern! …alright, weird for the sake of weird.”)
– So apparently Homer has the technical prowess to construct and program a working sentient robot. …okay.
– Being the great main character he is, we see that Homer is forcing his children to stay up until all hours of the night cleaning glasses and slicing lemons. Child abuse is funny!
– Homer somehow got in contact with R.E.M. and got them to perform in his garage. And they believed his dumb lie. Whatever, who cares, fuck you.
– This is a really small thing, but when Homer’s hunting his target, he does a really quick roll on the ground before getting back into his prepared stance. When did he get some nimble that he would do a roll like that? It’s just more sacrificing character traits in favor of whatever the fuck is happening in the scene, however stupid or ridiculous it may be.
– My God, I thought the “Three mistrials later” from “Children of a Lesser Clod” was bad. This makes that hand wave look brilliant. We have a still shot of Moe’s Tavern restored, with this voice-over (“How’d you get the bar back to normal so quickly, Moe?” “It’s a snap when you use certified contractors.” “Like the ones found in your local yellow pages?” “Exactly.”) Astounding. They didn’t even bother to write an ending explaining what happened, so they just threw this together at the last minute. Lazy, lazy, fucking lazy.

271. The Parent Rap

(originally aired November 11, 2001)
This is almost like Mike Scully’s last hurrah: the last episode of his production run, and he co-wrote it. His last show was also a premiere, “Beyond Blunderdome,” and it was garbage, and hey, so is this one! It’s just one insultingly stupid plot turn one after another, which cranks it up to eleven at the third act when absolutely nothing makes sense, and worst of all, none of it is funny. Things start out fair enough when Bart and Milhouse end up accidentally taking off with a police car. They end up in court, but thankfully Judge Snyder is a big ol’ softie pushover, with his classic writ of “boys will be boys.” The bit with the Simpsons talking about how court time is quality family time since they’re there so often is a bit conflicting to me: they’re clearly not an average American family anymore, but to be fair, how can they be after twelve years on the air? I’m on board with the episode until Judge Constance Harm takes the stand, a boring Judge Judy-type no-nonsense judge who doles out unique punishments, in this case ordering Bart and Homer being tethered together, citing Homer’s negligent parenting as a source for Bart’s behavior.

This plot immediately makes no sense. How is Bart expected to go to school, Homer go to work, change clothes, do normal everyday functions, anything? But all of this can be hand waved if there’s humor about, but all we get is Homer screaming about night terror cobras or some shit. I’m shocked that they actually addressed that Homer works nights thanks to this new arrangement, but then does nothing interesting with it. Things come to a head when Marge and Homer are about to make love with Bart in the room, but Marge reconsiders. Why… was she considering in the first place? This leads to a fight between Homer and Bart, and Marge, at her wit’s end, cuts the tether. But not so fast… Homer looks at the loose end and sees a live video of Harm “through the magic of fiber optics.” Okay, let’s just say that Marge cut the rope right where the video screen was, that’d be dumb enough, but this is a live video, where she can both hear and see what’s happening, and her anger can set the rope on fire. The dumbness is off the charts. Severing the tether could have triggered some kind of alarm for Harm and she could have phoned them, sent police to their house, anything but this unbelievably stupid thing.

Harm now has Marge in her sights, believing that she is a bad parent. When Marge refuses to admit to that fact, Harm has both her and Homer put in portable stocks, which is even more dumb and inconvenient. They manage to break free in order to enact revenge on the judge, coming in the form of a giant banner labeled “BIG MEANIE.” I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this is… I suppose it’s Marge’s softball vengeance, but this is our third act, there should be something big going on. It’s as lame as George Bush’s “Two Bad Neighbors” banner. They do the deed on Harm’s houseboat, only to be stalled by Harm’s freaking guard seal. Then Homer chucks a cider block, attempting to hit Harm, but ends up plowing right through the hull of the boat, sinking her house. So let’s see, Homer basically has an attempted murder charge, destruction of property, and I’m sure many, many other serious offenses here. But let’s hand wave all that, because Bart has a random, poorly set-up speech to make about how his parents are good and how everything is his fault. But then Snyder reappears so we can end the episode with no consequences. When your characters can do anything and get away with it, and weird impossible stuff can happen without much of an explanation, it makes your show… kinda stupid.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Wiggum has a Miranda Rights Teleprompter on his dash (“You have the right to remain silent.” [punch in the belly]) He uses it later upon arresting Bart and Milhouse (“You have the right to remain… silent? That doesn’t sound right…”)
– I really like the pathetic song-and-dance Bart puts on, with his cross and innocence routine, played against the old softie Snyder. Knowing it’s basically a done deal, Homer is anxious to get out (“I’ll bring the car around.”)
– Jane Kaczmarek is Judge Harm, who is basically doing her own voice (or at least as Malcolm’s mom from Malcolm in the Middle), which is basically like Judge Judy. And it’s really not that funny. But I guess the writers thought different as she kind of became the new permanent judge from this point out. I’m sure we must have seen Snyder come back, but I was surprised (and disappointed) the next few times we see a court scene and she’s there.
– All the Homer/Bart stuff in the second act is boring and stupid, and to top it off, dialogue that explains the story (“We’re sure learning a lot about each other!” “Yeah, this tether has some pluses!”) Then the Moe’s scene, which has a lame, now incredibly dated, Bush reference, Homer keeping his son outside in the cold for hours on end, and Moe inexplicably robbing Homer at gun point. Hi-larious!
– Lisa mentions that the tethering actually has been quite beneficial, in that Bart might get to be on the honor roll. Really? Well it would have been nice to see that, give an interesting twist to this plot that the unusual punishment is actually working. Instead it’s all just dumb unfunny jokes.
– At the beginning of act three, we see Lisa confront Bart about feeling remorse for their parents being punished for what he did, but it’s so quick and meaningless that it still makes his turn at the end feel incredibly random and like a cop out.
– To escape the stocks, Homer and Marge use Flanders’ buzz saw. Of course now, Homer’s whole arms fit through the stocks, when before it was his hands. But whatever, who cares, fuck you.
– Such a lame, uninspired joke where you see ‘BI’ on the banner, then it’s revealed as ‘BIG MEANIE.’ Oh my God, it’s gonna say ‘Bitch’! They can’t do that, can they?! Come on.
– Honestly, this really is one of the worst endings we’ve seen thus far. If that cinder block had hit, Harm could have basically been killed. Whether Homer had intended that or not doesn’t matter, and in the end, he still ended up destroying Harm’s house. And what happens in the end? Absolutely fucking nothing.

270. Treehouse of Horror XII

(originally aired November 6, 2001)
A lot of the decline of these Halloween shows came from loss of tone. What were once special and unique stand-outs in a season would now just blend right in with all the rest of the monotony. A lot of this edition feels indicative of that: most of the time I feel like I’m watching a regular episode, but with more fantasy elements in it. Take the first segment, “Hex and the City”: a gypsy lays a curse upon Homer, causing all of his loved ones to undergo hideous transformations. Marge grows hair all over her body. Bart’s neck elongates itself. Lisa starts to turn into some bizarre centaur. But everyone’s just kind of sitting around the breakfast table talking like normal, no sense of any shock or worriment from anybody. If the characters don’t care, then we don’t. Also Homer’s kind of a jerk in this one, stubbornly refusing to admit he’s cursed, despite the horrible things happening to his family. I get that’s the joke, but you’d expect a bit more of a positive reaction of him trying to rectify the situation. A big non-ending caps off this humdrum segment.

“House of Whacks” has more potential, but I feel it falls a little bit short. Like the first one, everything up until the end feels like a normal episode… albeit with a hyper-sophisticated super house with the voice of Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan of course is the standout here, with a fair share of great lines (“This is Constable Wiggums. We’ll be right there. Remove your knickers and wait in the bath.”) as he attempts to off Homer so he can have Marge all to himself. Or itself. It’s kind of slow to start, but once Brosnan puts his plans into action, things start to pick up, with some neatly animated stuff with the various appendages and functions of the house as they attempt to thwart Marge from leaving and finish Homer off once and for all. I think the ending works too, with sending the house’s CPU off to Patty and Selma. A psychopathic machine, yes, but I guess Marge feels her sisters can deal with anything it can dish out. Not perfect, but it’s definitely memorable, and the best of the three segments here.

“Wiz Kids” is kind of forbearing, as it’s a story based on a pop culture item that is decidedly not Halloween-y, which we’d see plenty more of in the future. But Harry Potter’s kind of magical and fantasy, so it works well enough. A big annoyance is why they actually have the boy himself in class. Before that shot, we have the title reminiscent of the Harry Potter logo, the music queue sound-alike of the theme, we see it’s about magic, and the kids go to Springwarts School of Magic. At that point, we get the parody; we don’t need to have Harry fucking Potter sitting there in class to give a tepid joke. It’s such a small moment, but it just bothered me a lot for some reason. Anyway, there’s not much here in terms of story: Mr. Burns as Lord Montymort wishes to eliminate Lisa, the best wizard in school, for his own evil purposes, and enlists Bart to help him, who then feels bad and saves his sister. Whatever. There’s enough jokes here to keep it watchable, but I’m not too enthralled by this one. On the whole, this was an alright Halloween show, but that’s not too great praise considering they used to be season highlights. Ah well.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The Simpsons take a stroll through Ethnictown, a place where, as Homer puts it, “hard-working immigrants dream of becoming lazy, overfed Americans.”
– Tress MacNeille is the gypsy… of course. Though I do like her childish taunt when Homer comes back at the end (“Ah, the curséd one. How’s that curse I cursed you with, Cursedy?”)
– Lenny and Carl give Homer advice on how to absolve his curse (“I was hexed by a troll, and a leprechaun cured that right up.” “Hey, you know what’s even better is Jesus. He’s like six leprechauns.” “Yeah, but a lot harder to catch. Go with a leprechaun.”) Then they are crushed and killed by a helicopter, a particularly poorly animated sequence. The body clearly falls on top of them, then when it tips over, we see that they’re crushed under the landing bar. Pretty sloppy.
– I really like Castallaneta’s insane crazed leprechaun character. I guess the writers did too because later he would show up in regular episodes. Like in “real life,” leprechauns apparently exist. Well, I guess if elves exist, then why not leprechauns? Goddammit.
– In addition to Brosnan, they got in Matthew Perry to do one line, for some reason. They also have Castellaneta doing Dennis Miller, and he’s specifically credited as such at the end for doing an impersonation. This show has its cast mimic celebrities all the time, why specifically mention it? Maybe because the other two are the genuine article, but then why not have someone imitate Perry if it’s just one stupid line? Whatever. Who cares.
– I remember as a kid… very much enjoying the sequence of Marge taking off her robe from behind. So does Brosnan, apparently.
– Not too big on the cavalier nature of Homer discussing his beloved wife, but it’s such a contrived, stupid line that I laugh anyway (“Lucky, schmucky! I knocked her up. But, she’s stuck now. We’re married till death do us part, but if I died, she’d be completely free, for man or machine.”) As he walks off, Brosnan repeats, “Machine, eh?” Dramatic music sting. Homer pops his head back in to confirm (“Yep, a machine!”)
– I like how despite how sophisticated the Ultrahouse is, the basement is as plain as can be.
– It’s gratuitous and stupid, but I still love Bart’s failed man-toad vomiting abomination (“Every moment I live is agony!”)
– Montymort and Slithers debate how to stop Lisa (“We’ll need a go- between to get it away from her.” “How about Satan?” “No, no, I’m ducking him. His wife has a screenplay.”) Yeah, so a gag about how Hollywood types try to get their loved one’s scripts off the ground by schmoozing? Reminds me of the teamster jokes in “Clod,” these gags don’t really appeal to people outside LA. All this stuff reminds me of the classic Krusty line from “Last Temptation,” “When your lazy butler washes your sock garters, and they’re still covered with schmutz!”
– Like Skinner using the amnesia dust twice, once to cover Milhouse’s failed invisibility trick, then to cover the audience’s disgust over his misguided ramping up of Lisa (“a sorceress so powerful, she made tonight’s refreshments out of dead people!”)
– The post-credits scene of Brosnan, the leprechaun and the toad thing is so bizarre, but it’s probably the best thing in the whole show, if only for more insane cackling from Castellaneta (inter-cut with “Can I turn on the radio?”)

269. Simpsons Tall Tales

(originally aired May 20, 2001)
So after “Bible Stories,” we get “Tall Tales,” another three-story episode, and I’m just as ambivalent to this one as I was with that one. There’s nothing really to hate here, but also not much to love; these episodes always kind of have a phoned-in feel, where I’d rather be watching a normal twenty-minute story. While riding the rails to Delaware, the Simpsons have a run-in with a kindly hobo, who regales them with three tall tales. First the legend of Paul Bunyan, a big lovable oaf who of course is played by Homer. Then we get the story of Johnny… err, Connie Appleseed, played by Lisa. And then we have Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn… not really a tall tale, but whatever, portrayed by Bart and Nelson. Oddly enough being a non-religious type, I remember less of the specifics of these stories than I do the Bible ones, but for what I do recall, a great deal of liberties were taken in these renditions. So at least I can credit this one more than “Bible Stories,” which played most of their stories fairly straight to the source material.

There’s amusing bits and moments throughout all three stories, but it’s a little difficult reviewing these episodes. I find there’s a lot more going on in Halloween shows to elaborate on, but these are a bit thinner and don’t have much to really comment on. I’ll say what stuck out to me the most was the odd feeling I got from the wrap-around. All the Simpsons felt like a weird unified entity, all reacting in unison to almost everything the hobo did; it’s kind of hard to explain. But then they also had Lisa be the mouthpiece for the audience, another example of a few this season where they’ve done this just to have another character shoot them down and call them stupid for having valid complaints. And when the strange, creepy smelly man starts to take off his clothes and ask for a sponge bath, none of them even bat an eye. Marge doesn’t object, try to shield her children’s eyes, no one acts disgusted, it’s just like a wacky comedy bit. It’s a small moment like that that reminds me that any semblance of realism this show once had has pretty much evaporated, and this is what we’re left with: Homer scrubbing the cracks and crevices of a homeless man’s body. Eight more seasons to go…

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open the show with the dialogue we saw at the end of “Behind the Laughter,” but here taking place at the airport rather than in the Simpson living room.
– “Stupid anti-fist-shaking laws!” Really? That sounds like a line that I wrote in comics I wrote in middle school. Between that and “The Simpsons are going to Delaware/riding the rails!” the dialogue feels clunky from the start.
– Like the hobo vernacular for those with homes being “no-bos.”
– I honestly don’t have much to say about each segment. The only bit I liked in the first act was Big Holes with Beer National Park. The love montage between gigantic Homer and normal-sized Marge is pretty sweet, but is then ruined when Homer asks when they’re going to consummate their relationship, if only because of the mental picture it gave me. I mean, really, his genitalia has got to be bigger than her.
– The running gag of the easy-to-kill buffalo is kind of amusing, as is the Simpsons changing their last name to Bufflekill. But the story kind of just ends as Lisa randomly returns to the troupe with apples and saves the day. I do like the wrap-up with the hobo at the end (“And thanks to that little girl, today you can find apples in everything that’s good: Apple wine, apple whiskey, apple schnapps, apple martinis… uh, Snapple with vodka in it, apple nail polish remover…” “Don’t forget apple sauce.” “Yeah, I suppose you could grind some pills into it.”)
– The cast members do their darnedest at Southern accents in the third act, and are mostly successful. It’s definitely the funniest of the three: Nelson reckonin’ he can get a new neck from a cat, Marge bolting after Grampa finally turns down his shotgun, leaving Missouri and entering Missoura, the photo of a young lady flashing her “privates” (the best line of the show, “All for Silas, all for Silas!!”), Apu’s indictment of the high prices at the 99-cent store, the powerful-weak Derringers… Now I’m just listing stuff though. There’s not much to evaluate with these shows, it’s just mentioning what was funny about them. Just like “Bible Stories,” this one’s amusing enough, but wholly disposable.

Season 12 Final Thoughts
After seemingly hitting rock bottom last season, the series is just as ramshackle as ever: plot turns that make no sense, sorry attempts at humor, slapdash characterization for whatever is convenient for the scene… A few new awful things cropped up this season. Firstly, a lot more direct shots at the viewer, sometimes through Lisa commenting about how something makes no sense or is questionable, followed by her being interrupted or belittled for her point. There were plenty of times when the writers deliberately pointed out how their shit made no sense and figured that made it okay, but all it did was further emphasize how the writing was shit. Quite ballsy, but doesn’t make for a good show. Also on the rise are the number of crude, tasteless sex jokes, which all feel very out-of-place and strange. This show has slipped in plenty under the radar in the past, but being more overt about it is clearly not their strong suit. But here we are the end of Mike Scully’s reign of terror. When Al Jean took the helm, things seemed to level off a bit in terms of quality. Will this be a good thing? I guess we’ll have to see.

The Best
“A Tale of Two Springfields,” “Pokey Mom,” “New Kids on the Blecch,” “Trilogy of Error.” Yeah, just four this time. And three of them shock me that they ended up on the best list. Things are looking mighty grim.

The Worst
“Homer vs. Dignity,” “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” “Tennis the Menace,” “Day of the Jackanapes,” “Simpson Safari”

I’ll start up Season 13 at the start of next week; see you then.