Monthly Archives: July 2012

298. Special Edna

(originally aired January 5, 2003
For the most part, the citizens of Springfield hate their jobs. It may have excited and impassioned them at one point, but currently all the magic is gone and they dread trudging into work each day. This is especially the case at Springfield Elementary: I’m sure Mrs. Krabappel went into the industry hoping to enrich children’s lives and make a difference, but at this point she’s as eager for school to be dismissed as the students. An episode about reinvigorating her love of teaching and exploring why she got into it in the first place could be an interesting character study. Or, we could not do that, and have Mrs. K be Teacher of the Year. What? Combined with this is the awkward reintroduction to the Krabappel/Skinner relationship, where we see Skinner being a pathetic toadying mama’s boy is holding him back from Edna. Now, he’s always been loyal and with little backbone to Agnes, but we’ve seen in many episodes that she really gets under his skin and would love to escape if he could. Here he’s just sad, copping to every one of Agnes’ whims; that’s basically all that happens in the first two acts, Skinner is about to do something or say something sweet about Edna, then his mother interrupts. We’ll repeat that four times to make sure everyone understands.

So going back, who nominates Krabappel for Teacher of the Year? Why, Bart, of course, who for some goddamn reason has gotten chummy and empathetic towards his teacher. When he sees Skinner cancel their date, he feels bad and offers to go out with Krabappel instead. Why? We’ve seen Bart try to mend fences with Krabappel in the past, like in “Bart the Lover” or “Grade School Confidential,” but only as a result of something he did to slight her. He felt responsible and wanted to make things right again. Here he just randomly asks her out for no reason, then feels bad about her and Skinner for no reason, and submits her for Teacher of the Year… for no reason. And she’s nominated! Never mind that Springfield Elementary sucks and the test scores from Edna’s class, and the entire school, must be dreadful, but she gets the nomination when the judges are shocked that she’s dealt with Bart, “the devil in the blue pants.” Who of course they know about. I guess that’s the gag, except it makes no sense for them to know about “the legend” that is Bart. Whatever.

The plot here is so thin, there’s not much more to mull over. The Simpsons attend the Teacher Awards at EFCOT Center in Orlando, where we take a break from the non-story to take some shots at Disney World, one of the very few good parts of the episode, probably because I’m a theme park fanatic. Skinner follows Krabappel there, but also brings his mother too. The two have a tiff, and then later Skinner discovers that if she wins, Krabappel will never have to teach again, so he has to sabotage the ceremony to make sure that doesn’t happen. Okay… what? So he has Bart pretend like he can’t read, in a sequence so incredibly clumsy. They set up that Skinner feels guilty about it, then Bart starts play-acting, and immediately after Skinner admits it was a fake. It didn’t even take him eight seconds before he had to come clean. It’s just dumb, they should have had him have his own introspective thing about what Edna means to him or some shit. I don’t know, everything here felt empty and clunky. I like the Krabappel/Skinner relationship, as predictable as it seemed, it was really sweet and charming back in “Confidential,” and to see it reduced to its lowest, simplest form like this is kind of sad. Then next season they’d break them up, and many awkward scenes of Skinner trying to rekindle their relationship would follow. Including one of Krabappel giving him a pity fuck on his birthday. Goddammit.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I do like Skinner’s complete lack of understanding of how dates work, it fits with his stuck-up personality, buying apples for Krabappel in place of going out to pick them themselves (“The apples weren’t the point.” “Then why were we going apple picking?”)
– Bart struggling to focus and do his research paper really reminded me of “Bart Gets An F,” which is really unfortunate since this show falls short in every aspect in comparison.
– Krabappel has Bart stay after school to write an actual paper on World War I. We catch them at the tail end of Bart actually doing well, and Krabappel commending him. She seems really pleased that he’s actually learned something, it’s a really nice moment. Too bad the episode has other, less interesting plans on where to go from here.
– I really, really hate how Krabappel was nominated because of Bart. I’m doing a lot of comparing here, but think back to “Stark Raving Dad,” where the mental ward heads are shocked when Marge tells them about their son (“You mean there really is a Bart? Good lord!”) There, the joke works because of how much sense it makes. Homer probably sounded like a raving lunatic going on about how horrible this “Bart” character is, but that he actually exists, he’s completely vindicated and free to go. But here, the joke is Bart’s a really bad kid, so bad that he’s known through educators everywhere as a bad kid. Why? I don’t know, who cares, fuck you.
– I really like all the EFCOT stuff… but not that name. It’s like a stepping stone to shit like Nintendo Zii and Mapple. But they nail all the stuff with the rides, specifically the nature of the pavilions being sponsored by companies. Eastern Airlines lays out its future plans for world domination in the Future Sphere, but even better is that all Marge can comment on is that it’s nice and cool on the ride. If you’ve ridden Spaceship Earth, you know how wonderfully cool it is in there. Even better is the Electric Car ride, sponsored by Big Oil, designed to make it as wimpy and pathetic as possible. This refers to Universe of Energy, a show/ride centered around the advancement of energy technology… sponsored by ExxonMobil. So guess which form of energy is touted the most?
– Homer and Marge make fireworks… literally, in a gag lifted straight out of “Kamp Krusty.”
– “This woman carried me for nine and a half months! I was out for two weeks, then went back in.” Hey, writers, listen to me, take a seat. You may remember an episode you did a while back where you revealed Skinner was an imposter. Kind of controversial, you must remember. That’s all well and good, but even though in that show you hastily restored the status quo, there’s one kind of joke you can’t do: Skinner can’t refer to his youth in regards to Agnes, since he’s not his real mother and he didn’t know her yet. You can’t make those jokes. Someone must have remembered and brought this up, and I’m sure that person was fired immediately for his insolence.
– The Ride of Broken Dreams Enron ride seemed a little too on the nose, particularly with the rider commentary during it, which seemed like an ADR add-in, complete with a guy at the end doing a Carson “Mmmm, that’s good satire!” Way to pat yourself on the back, guys.
– Skinner wants Bart to sabotage Edna’s chances at winning the award. Bart comments, “I don’t wanna hurt Mrs. K!” Who is this goody two shoes, and where the hell has Bart gone? Then we get a worthless ‘Nam flashback of Skinner stealing a cupcake. Like, that’s the joke.
– The only thing in this show I like besides the EFCOT stuff is, surprisingly, Little Richard. I just love his energy through the whole thing (“Is this true, Edna?!”) and how he tells an overly obnoxious Homer to shut up. That was a sweet, sweet moment.
– The ending with Homer crawling into Disney World is good too (“One churro please!” “That’ll be fourteen dollars.” Homer wails, then eventually cops the cash). Then over the credits we get a bizarre song from Homer singing about pie. I guess they were devastated it was cut so they crammed it in at the end, except it’s not particularly funny so I’m not sure why they seemed so desperate to salvage it.

297. The Great Louse Detective

(originally aired December 15, 2002)
I’ll reiterate what I’ve said in the past, that while “Brother From Another Series” feels like a suitable finale for Sideshow Bob, it doesn’t mean that they couldn’t bring him back. The plot conceit here is actually ripe with potential, and could have been perfect as a return for Bob (we’re just ignoring “Day of the Jackanapes” here, I’m sure none of you mind.) Now somewhat rehabilitated, Bob uses his intellect and experience as a criminal to help uncover an assailant after a member of the Simpson family, bringing him within close quarters of his archenemy Bart, that would actually work. But it doesn’t. It absolutely doesn’t, at least not the way they do it here. Brain dead Homer overload, a complete lack of focus and the complete sullying of one of the greatest, most classic one-off characters kills this episode completely. We start with a family trip to a sauna, which is virtually joke-free, ending in an unidentified man trying to kill Homer by locking him in a steam room. When the police are inept to finding the perpetrator, as expected, there’s only one man they can turn to: Sideshow Bob, who agrees to help in exchange for first pick in the prison production of Man of La Mancha. At least that’s in character.

Strike one: the Simpsons are given a button that will activate a shock collar on Bob if he steps out of line. How often do you think they use that? Many, many times, in a lot of cases just used as a joke for joke’s sake, provoked by absolutely nothing. Even Marge does it once, which is completely outside her character. Speaking of, do you really think she would be okay letting a man who on multiple occasions has tried to kill her son into her house? But that’s the way it is with these later seasons: Marge, and to an extent Lisa, are mostly silent observers on the side lines while the Simpson men get into wacky antics. And by Simpson men, I usually mean Homer. Despite Bob and Bart’s history, the two have barely any interaction in this episode. It’s all about Homer, who is just a complete moron from beginning to end, more so than normal. He starts by listing off his enemies to Bob, which he has a lot of, most of which he names are from the last five seasons. Once a regular average man, now all of a sudden he has a laundry list of people who want him dead. Then Bob sets up a trap with a dummy Homer on the lawn, who is quickly brutally attacked by various members of the community. Patty and Selma drive by, chuck a cinder block at the dummy, ripping its head off, and drive off. Marge’s reaction to seeing her sisters seemingly murder her husband? “These are Homer’s friends and family, they don’t want him dead. They just want him to suffer.” Then Homer tackles his own dummy, like a mentally insane person. Bob asks the others, “None of this seems odd to you?” I feel I don’t need to say anything at this point.

So even though at the start of the scene Bob has been watching fall preview week, Homer is made king of the Mardi Gras parade, as a result of someone stuffing the ballot box with his name. During the festivities, it turns out the brake lines of his float have been cut, just in time for Bob to finally put the pieces together of who the culprit is. Turns out it’s none other than… Frank Grimes, Jr. It’s not really a mystery as there’s no way to get us to this point, but besides that, as a fan, I knew something was up when we saw the guy earlier and he looked and sounded exactly like Grimes. So he wants revenge for his father’s death due to Homer’s idiocy. But Grimes was never married, right? “He happened to like hookers, okay?” Frank Grimes, the serious, button-down self-made man, knocking up a hooker? Okay, great. Why not make it his brother? Steve Grimes? It would be just as dumb, but at least I can buy that. Maybe. Whatever. We end with Bob finally about to kill Bart, but realizing he can’t; as he explains in song, he’s become more invigorated with the thrill of the hunt than the actual hunt itself. So at this point the Bob series is really over, as we’ve seen that he literally cannot kill Bart, beyond the reason that the show would be over. But he’d be back again and again, extending his aims to the entire Simpson family, even though we know that it will absolutely never, ever happen. An atrocious episode; Bob was better left staying down.

Tidbits and Quotes
– I guess kind of worth noting, this is the first episode that was completely digitally colored, though it really doesn’t look too different than the last two seasons or so. It’s just one more step in creating the cold, sterile look of a modern day Simpsons.
– The spa set-piece is a lot of dead air, and just so many desperate, bizarre attempts at jokes. The masseuse asking ten-year-old Bart to write him a check? The yoga instructor doing his Johnny Carson? What?
– Wiggum ordering his prisoners by level of craziness is a pretty clever joke, but they just keep it going too long. Having the one guy react indignantly, Wiggum addressing him by his crazy name, then the mild-mannered guy revealing to be incredibly crazy. The act of Wiggum asking the two to switch seats, the normal guy and the disheveled guy, is funny enough, but then they just kill the joke.
– The show’s first shot at Disney’s California Adventure, which aside from west coasters and theme park nuts like myself, speaks to absolutely no one. And is just a pathetic pot shot really. And then they do it again next season in “My Mother the Carjacker,” a joke they were so proud of they even used it in the promo.
– Considering how they restrained Bob, it would have been neat if they had this episode just be full-blown Silence of the Lambs, with Homer and Bart going to Bob in prison to help track down the murderer, with Bob making increasingly vague threats to Bart. South Park did a similar parody when they had Officer Barbrady talk with an incarcerated kid about a toilet-papered house. But this show just isn’t that clever anymore, unfortunately…
– “This man has tried to kill me so many times, it’s not funny anymore!” You’re damn right. The show has been self-referential in the past, but the way it does it now just feels so pointed and gutsy. But gutsy in a way the show has no right to be. Yeah, these Bob shows aren’t funny anymore, yet you keep on fucking making them.
– Bob has a heart-to-heart with Apu about the dying art of robbery (“You were quite the gentleman. Today’s robbers, they are all snatch-and-grab; you understood the dance!”) What? Dressed as Krusty, Bob demanded Apu give him all the money, he took the money then ran off. He’s basically on the same level of someone like Snake, where’s the difference? Plus Bob was imitating Krusty, so he wasn’t being himself, persay. And plus it’s not like Bob revels in committing crimes, he sees them as a means to an end. The writers just referenced this old episode without really remembering correctly or understanding it at all.
– The assailant pokes a gun through the door at Moe’s and tries to take Homer out. Rather than going out and taking chase, Homer and Bob just sit there. And we get a montage of Moe’s precious memories with his pickle jar. Then next scene Bob is watching a pathetic TV parody. What is happening in this episode?
– Homer has been crowned king of Mardi Gras (“Woo hoo! Good things do happen to bad people!”) It’s a small line, but it’s very bothersome. Like Homer acknowledges the bad stuff he’s done and doesn’t think he’s an alright guy?
– Fat Tony and his goons gun down some guy right in the middle of the parade and no one even bats an eye. As long as your joke works, guys, don’t worry about shit making sense, it’s a-OK.
– I do like how Bob saves Homer by use of his old performing skills, shooting himself out of a cannon.
– Why the fuck do Homer and Bob go after Grimes on stilts? They could have caught up to him a lot quicker on foot. And Bob I can see, but Homer able to use them? Just… whatever.
– So we have our dumb music number and end on Bob getting shocked once more. The writers need to go back and watch the rake scene from “Cape Feare” and realize why it’s funny, because apparently all they see is someone getting hurt = funny, as we’ve seen countless times with Homer.

296. Helter Shelter

(originally aired December 1, 2002
There are times writing about certain episodes when words start to escape me, because I just have no idea what the fuck is happening in certain scenes. Or, in cases like this, entire acts. The show had taken some obligatory pot shots at reality TV recently, but here is their full episode of it, and it couldn’t be more bizarre and ridiculous… in the worst way possible, definitely in one of the worst episodes of the series. We start with our mostly tangential opening with the Simpsons getting sky box tickets at a hockey game in exchange for Homer not suing the power plant for getting injured on the job. The box is so incredibly opulent, why focus on the game when you can get a massage or dip in the jacuzzi. So Homer and Bart begin to act pompous and holier-than-thou, which I guess is funny because the environment changes their entire demeanor? This kind of “joke” will occur later, but I just don’t get it. Homer acts like he is rich and earned this right to be above commoners, but he can’t actually think that, can he? So is he play-acting? I haven’t a clue, really.

After helping a player make a shot (using her hockey knowledge from “Lisa on Ice,” a nice callback), a Russian player gives Lisa his hockey stick, which gets mounted on her wall. Unfortunately, the stick was filled with dangerous termites, which start eating away at the house. It will take six months to exterminate the whole house, leaving the Simpsons homeless, and with every hotel in town booked to boot. So where do they end up? At a TV studio looking to be on a brand new show, where a family gets to live in a house, but must live like it’s 1895. Yep, that’s their only option. Why not live with Flanders? Patty and Selma? Not ideal options for Homer, but hey, that could provide some comedy. So whatever, the family are in this 1895 house, and everything about it is not funny. Plus, I don’t quite understand why people would like watching this show. Reality TV is all about sensationalism, quick cuts, music stings, what’s hip and new. Would modern viewers care about a family living in an old-timey house? It’s like a reality show on the History Channel.

After suffering for a bit, the family gets used to living like the olden days, and starts to speak and act like they were back then too, for no reason. The network needs to spice up the show, so they bring in David Lander, aka Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley to live in the house and taze people. Was this a thing on reality TV where they’d bring in washed up celebrities to be on shows with regular people? I dunno, but one scene later, they airlift the entire house off the foundations and dump it into a river. And the house floats perfectly straight up somehow and survives mostly intact down a waterfall. Then it collapse upon stopping at a bank. So what is happening? Where the fuck are they? The Simpsons just resign themselves to wandering around, not knowing where they are or what’s happening. I guess the show now is just a family lost and confused. Then they run into some other people, victims of a Survivor clone who were lost and never recovered, wanting revenge on the network heads that stranded them there. One of them says they’re in the Amazon, so I guess we finally know where we are. So they flew that goddamn house all the way to South America? Anyway, they revolt against the crew, and then they’re back home. I really don’t even know how to comment, because I don’t understand what exactly happened in this third act. Was there a point to this that I missed? I find it hard to believe that there is, but if someone can enlighten me, please do. But what I did understand from this show I absolutely hated. Complete garbage.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The sky box luxuries are exaggerated enough, then they have Larry Holmes there for no apparent reason. And it’s just ridiculous since Bart off-handedly mentions him, then he appears immediately.
– Moe, Barney and Otto notice Homer up in the sky box, and logically decide to get on each others shoulders to reach him. Bart and Homer comment from above like pompous arrogant assholes for some reason (“Heads up, dad. Here comes the scum.” “Why can’t they just be happy for my success?”) Homer then dumps scalding hot fudge on them, something that certainly would give them horrific burns, and would get him kicked out of the arena. But, nope.
– I don’t like that it’s Raphael, the sarcastic guy, who’s the terrible exterminator who gnaws at a table like a termite. Normally he’s competent at his jobs, they could have just made this some other guy.
– They recreate the King of the Hill opening, but it’s just like the Sopranos bit a few episodes ago, where it’s not really a parody, as it’s just them recreating something note for note.
– I get them the family not wanting to live with the noise at Lenny’s, but they could have stayed with Comic Book Guy given they had no other options. I’d love to see that episode. I also like that CBG has some kind of meta awareness, referring to the Simpsons as “our favorite family.”
– “I’m Mitch Hardwell, creator of the 1895 Challenge, and by ‘creator,’ I mean I saw it on Dutch television, and tweaked the title.” So yeah, network executives steal other peoples’ ideas. But don’t worry, if you missed that joke, they’re going to repeat it again… twice.
– Bill Cosby auditions for the show, who is not nearly as funny as the bit from “Children From a Lesser Clod.” One executive comments, “We need a family that hasn’t been on TV forever. Let’s try the Simpsons.” They’re thrilled with them having a tiff at the dinner table (“They go to pieces over nothing! They’re perfect for reality TV!”) In the shot we see Marge and Lisa glaring at each other. What? For what reason? That’s the thing, this series has been marketed as a dysfunctional family, but it really isn’t. The only nutty cog is Homer, everyone else is generally normal. It makes no sense to me.
– To judge whether the show is doing good or bad, we cut to the residents of the retirement home watching, which makes sense that they’d like it since it’s all old timey. But is this the show’s demographic? Geriatrics? I guess it must be.
– Homer walks outside one morning, only to step into a big river. The other members of the family rush out to see what’s happening (“Lisa! Explain!” “I guess the network made our show more exciting by dumping the house in a river!”) Right, that’s a conclusion I would come to immediately. I think other thoughts would strike me first. Like, “What the fuck is happening?” “Holy shit, the house is in a fucking river!” “How did we not notice that the house was lifted into the sky and brought here?” And so forth. Homer then goes back in the house and has a dialogue with the network exec through the confessional camera, even though it’s seemingly just a one-way feed. But whatever.
– I still don’t know what to say about the third act. What aggravated me most is that we’ve never told what’s going on; we don’t know where the family is. They could be just outside of town, and therefore, could just up and leave if they wanted. If the network exec told them they dumped them in the Amazon, or explained whatever new show they were planning to do with them, then I could understand. But instead it’s like… whatever. Bart makes an off-the-cuff comment, “Is it just me, or are you guys getting sick of crazy adventures?” It isn’t just you, Bart. It isn’t just you.

295. Large Marge

(originally aired November 24, 2002
A transparent gimmick episode if I ever saw one… but I don’t remember my thirteen-year-old self complaining much about that. But now thanks to the Internet, I’ve seen every cartoon character in every sexual position imaginable, so who gives a crap if Marge’s tits are bigger this episode. How do we get so bankrupt of ideas that we come around to this plotline? And how do we possibly get implants stuffed into Marge anyway? Well, here’s the setup. Homer and Lisa help out at a Habitat for Humanity-type organization, only to have the former flocked by Lindsay Naegle and Cookie Kwan, both desperate for a suitable husband. The two ladies pull up, unnaturally narrate who they are and what they want, then focus in on Homer. Lindsay’s had many interactions with him at this point, and must know what a moronic clod he is. Marge ends up driving by and bears witness to Homer seemingly flexing for these women, which ends up being an amazingly insulting fake-out, where he was just demonstrating how his wife gave birth to his children, much to Naegle and Kwan’s cooing. Stupid.

One odd thing that struck me here is that Marge is kind of… dumb. Like she’s always had a strong air of naivety to her (“Well anyone who beats you up isn’t your friend,”) but she’s usually savvy enough to put two and two together in most situations. Seeing her husband, a humungous tub of lard, flexing his non-existent muscles for two women… does not compute. There has to be another explanation. And even if that is what was happening, Marge would have confronted her husband point blank, as she’s done in the past. Here, she meekly asks him in bed whether he still finds her attractive anymore, and is discouraged by his non-committed answer. So pushed by Manjula, she gets liposuction, which makes absolutely no sense for her to need and for her to do, and then the implants Mayor Quimby ordered for his assistant end up in her by accident. The surgeon tells Marge he can remove them in forty-eight hours; I guess there’s a medical risk if you rush things? I dunno. So the rest of this story is basically all men paying more attention to Marge, and her seemingly not being able to understand why. They even do a song about it, where the cast very obviously just stares at her breasts, which by the way may be the worst the show has ever done. Not just content-wise, but it’s so without purpose or a catch. You stack it up with the others, there’s no comparison. “See My Vest.” “We Put the Spring in Springfield.” “You’re a Bunch of Stuff.” Yeah, that’s really the title. Later this season we’ll get “I Love to Walk.” Ugh.

There’s a B-story here too, which almost gets equal screen time with the other one, but still feels like complete filler. Bart and Milhouse watch Krusty’s guest appearance on the old Batman TV show, and imitate his stunt on the playground, to disastrous results. As is the current trend, parents and the community at large blame Krusty, and now the two boys must help repair his reputation. The Batman segment is pretty fantastic, but beyond that this story is pretty thin, which seems ridiculous given the satiric potential of the material.¬†South Park made a whole movie about it, for God’s sakes, these guys can’t even squeeze it into eight minutes? Anyway, Marge ends up becoming a convention model, and between her back spasms and men pinching her ass all day, she begins to realize having an ample bosom is quite a burden. The two plots collide when Bart orchestrates a stunt to have Krusty save the day, rescuing Milhouse from being crushed by Stampy the elephant, who reappears for no real reason. But the plan goes awry, Marge distracts trigger-happy cops by flashing the crowd, Krusty manages to rescue them, Marge gets her old boobs back, the end. Not as offensive as I thought it would be, but still pretty awful. And not really offensive at all; the show as of late rides this line of being innocuous, then trying to “shock” you with mentioning hookers, or someone saying ‘penis,’ but when it comes to this show that’s all about Marge’s tits, they hold everything back. I’d almost respect them more if they went completely crass and objectionable, but instead they took the safe route.

Tidbits and Quotes
– “We’re building homes for the homeless!” “You know it’s gonna be bad, but you just can’t prepare yourself!” The six thousandth joke about Homer’s long-running hatred of charity.
– It’s stupid and makes no sense that they’re there, but dammit, I still love the Three Stooges stuff with Carter, Bush and Clinton. They just match those personalities so well.
– Homer mentions Bart being “El Barto,” once again reminding me how they never really used that bit on the show at all. Besides “Homer’s Odyssey,” can anyone remember a time El Barto was mentioned on the TV show at all? It was mainly a thing with the comics.
– Yeah, the Batman show is the best part of the episode, with Adam West and Burt Ward as themselves. Krusty plays Clown Face, “the painted Pagliacci of Perfetti,” who along with his henchman, Hoo, Hah, and Hee, trap the dynamic duo in a merry-go-round of doom (“Show our guests to the twirly gates!”) Good thing Batman always carries his Bat Carousel Reversal Spray (“What don’t you have in that belt?” “Patience… for harlequin hoodlums like yourself!”)
– We really rocket past Marge’s decisions this episode. She just snap-decides to get the liposuction, then later snap-decides to go into modeling. Unlike Homer, Marge is not so quick to act. It took her desire for danger to slowly bubble until she decided to be a cop, it takes her longer to process and think things through. But hey, we gotta keep this plot moving, so let’s hurry it along, even though there’s minutes of filler we could shave off to devote to developing the main plot more.
– The plastic surgeon from “Pygmoelian” returns; I love Azaria’s read on him (“I’ll come back alright, and I’ll bring my husband to do a little malpractice on you!” “Your husband? I’m sure he’s going to be furious.”)
– I remember seeing promos for this episode and there were a few scenes in the commercials that never made it to air, like Marge ducking down to hide her breasts in the double-sink, and her desperately pointing at her face as Bart has locked eyes with her chest. Even that stuff’s a little bit daring, but they cut it all out.
– I kind of like the cutesy innocence of Homer discovering Marge’s new breasts and the two enjoying each other… and then Homer falling off the bed.
– “Mom! What happened? Your endowment’s bigger than Harvard’s!” “Well that cinches it. Lisa gets the prize for best off-the-cuff response.” “Actually I saw them earlier and I was working on it in the hall.” So, upon seeing that her mother’s breasts were noticeably larger than before, instead of confronting her about it, Lisa, an eight-year-old, decided to spend her time to come up with a clever joke to make and act surprised upon seeing them for the first time. Also Homer just used the word ‘cinch.’
– Good thing Mr. Burns, Mayor Quimby, Moe, Dr. Hibbert, and every other secondary character were all at Luigi’s so they could all do that musical ode to Marge’s breasts. And in the end, Marge is still naive about the whole thing.
– Homer takes his wife to Marge. Lenny and Carl fawn (“You’re a lucky man, Homer!” “Yeah. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without looking at Lenny!”) So yeah, they’re gay now. Lenny and Carl are gay lovers. Thanks, writers.
– Krusty’s show has been handicapped, now unable to do anything dangerous or imitable. The crowd is restless; Nelson yells, “Bring out Mr. Teeney!” Who’s there with the other bullies, Martin, Sherri and Terri… basically the audience is 90% kids from the school. What is this, a field trip? But why design new kid models when you can just use the old regulars?
– Bart just randomly shows up in the Friar’s club steam room to talk to Krusty (“How’d you get in here?” “The doorman died.” “Oh no, he was my agent!”) See that works, an improbable event masked with a good joke.
– There’s really no reason to have Stampy be the elephant. It’s not like that gives Bart’s plan some safety since Stampy never listened to him in the first place. It’s just more call-backs that intend to get some recognition points from the audience. Well if they remembered Stampy, they must be good writers!
– I love the cat calling vendors (“Hey lady! I like the way your body looks!” “Stop objectifying my mom!” “I will, in a second. Woo, hey baby, you’re an object!!”)
– “Hey, it’s that clown who hates children!” “And flags!” “I say we judge him by what he does next!” More fucking narration explaining what’s happening, disguised as a “joke.” It’s just like the “It’s Lisa, and she’s winning us back!” line, and I fear we’ll have more jokes like this in the future.
– That shootout drags on so long, with Stampy just hanging there in his hind legs. He’s kind of got a lot of weight on him to stay hanging in the air like that, it’s like they’re in a freeze frame before Marge flashes her tits.

294. Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade

(originally aired November 17, 2002)
I got no intro in me for this one, so let’s just jump right into it. We start with the Simpsons finally getting a satellite dish, because I guess they can afford it now. At least they give the courtesy of explaining how with a joke; Homer claims he can get one with “no risk.” Smash cut to him at the track winning his bets on the dog “No Risk.” Wouldn’t it have been funnier if he lost though? But whatever, so satellite means an endless opportunity for TV gags, but all of them pale to the stuff we saw in “Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment.” Endless viewing options keep Bart occupied for two whole weeks, when he should have been studying for a grade school aptitude test. When the test is done and the results are in, there are two startling announcements: Lisa has done so well she’s being bumped up to third grade, and Bart has done so poorly he’s being bumped back to third grade. So Bart and Lisa in the same class? That’s an idea that could possibly work. Maybe?

Things are sensible at the start: Bart is actually doing well, though only because he’s been through it before and has memorized answer keys, while Lisa is struggling a bit with the new challenge and is slightly frustrated. Their teacher is voiced by, surprise surprise, Tress MacNeille, and unlike Krabappel or Hoover, has no real discernible personality. I don’t even know if she has a name. The only thing I got is she’s apparently a bitch since she scolds Lisa for being upset and raises Bart’s grade out of pure spite. The class goes on a field trip to Capitol City, where the identity of where Springfield is is obscured even further (“The time has come to redesign our state flag. This Confederate symbol is an embarrassment, particularly as we are a Northern state.”) They are assigned to create a new flag in groups, leading Bart to sabotage Lisa’s efforts and greatly offend Governor Bailey, who we haven’t seen since way back in season two, here voiced by… guess… Tress MacNeille! Who sounds less like Bailey and more like Joan Rivers! Maggie Roswell was back on staff, why not get her to do it again? Honestly, MacNeille is very talented, but not at creating distinct ancillary characters. At a point, they all start sounding the same.

Bart and Lisa get into a scuffle right as the bus is about to leave, leaving them stranded. Then they start wandering around in the woods and get lost. But… what? They were right outside the capitol building when they tumble down a hill, then see the bus drive away. They could easily climb back up and go into the city and ask anybody for help. But instead they just wander around the wilderness for some reason. Why? I guess because this gives us the chance for the two to have a heartfelt reconciliation that lasts one scene and feels obligatory rather than sincere. And then the two are saved by some unkempt hillbillies who were lost on field trips and decided to just live in the woods. These characters with an insane back story show up and we only have two minutes of air time left. What is happening? So they’re reunited with their parents, and Skinner literally announces that status quo is God and has Bart and Lisa put back in their normal grades. This was just the writers throwing up their arms going, “Yeah, there’s no reason to make things go back to normal, but we’re doing it anyway.” Why not keep Bart and Lisa in the third grade? Develop that teacher character a bit more, throw in some new kid characters, why not? Oh yeah, that would require some work and creative thinking. Never mind. Yet another clunker.

Tidbits and Quotes
– We open on Animal Survivor, which is like Survivor… with animals. Some of these TV parodies featuring animal casts have kind of bothered me, like this, Monkey Trauma Center, the When Dinosaurs Get Drunk special, the parody aspect get washed when the show seems completely asinine, or just impossible to film. Definitely in the case of the dinosaur one, but what is Monkey Trauma Center? Is it just monkeys they put in doctors outfits and have them roam around a hospital? But then the title card makes them have human mannerisms? I think I’m thinking way too into this…
– “If I wanted reality, I’d finally have this lump looked at!” You mean one of those anger lumps from “I Am Furious (Yellow)”? Come on guys, that was only like ten episodes ago.
– As a completely beaten down housewife, Marge just sighs and submits to slicing pie into her husband’s mouth as he lies on the couch in his own filth.
– Bart’s sleep deprived hallucination seems to go on too long. Like the “Hava Naglia” could have been shaved by half. Just killing time…
– The “M.C. Safety and the Caution Crew” stuff is fine, but pales to what South Park did in their “Butt Out” episode, which had the twist on top that the assembly made the boys want¬†to smoke so they wouldn’t be as lame as them.
– The Capital City Goofball is apparently in politics, and still in costume. And colored incorrectly, and not voiced by Tom Poston. I am not pleased.
– What kind of third grade field trip has the kids stay overnight at a hotel? And provides Bart a child-sized robe?
– When Skinner announces that Milhouse has taken Bart’s place as class clown, the writing is on the wall for the awful ending. Again, why bother complaining about character motivation through all this? Skinner certainly wouldn’t do this, nor would he bump Bart back up a grade for no apparent reason. And Lisa, the girl who pressured her mother to try to get Skinner to get her pushed into the third grade by any means necessary, apparently is fine with being a big fish in a small pond in second grade. So rather than tackle a challenge, she slinks back to the easy and familiar? That is not Lisa Simpson. To echo the final line of the show, “That’s just sad.”

293. How I Spent My Strummer Vacation

(originally aired November 10, 2002)
Now this is truly a historic show… as in it’s the last one Mike Scully ever wrote. He had last season’s premiere episode, which was garbage, and wouldn’t you know it, this one ain’t much better. I have a lot to talk about with show, but let’s get something out of the way first. This episode is about Homer attending “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp,” a one week program held right outside of Springfield where adults receive superstar training from the Rolling Stones and other infamous artists. To complain that this story makes no sense is an absolute fool’s errand. Why even bother waste my time complaining about it? The reality of this series has already been shattered, so this doesn’t even feel that egregious to me. I guess when you have such huge guest stars, you feel the need to really showcase them and put them on a mantle, but look back at “Stark Raving Dad,” where the show took the biggest celebrity in the world and made him a hulking, bald, ugly mental patient. Now we have the Rolling Stones on and Homer fawning how awesome they are (well, most of them.) But whatever, when I gave up on the story, all I was hoping was that characterization made sense and that it was funny. I got neither.

Let’s rewind a bit and highlight this episode’s fatal flaw. Homer ends up so wasted that not only can he not remember how he got home one night, but he also spaced that he was filmed on a show “Taxicab Confessions.” He and his family watch as he drunkenly admits that he could have had a rock star life if it weren’t for his goddamn wife and annoying kids, which the other Simpsons take to heart. So what happens after this? They send Homer to the camp, and not only that, empathize with him (“Even though what you said about us was incredibly thoughtless and hurtful, you had a point.”) So in honor of him going to work and actually being a decent father… sometimes, they blow their vacation fund on this camp. Then Homer acts like a loudmouth party rocker during the camp for some reason. Since when is it his dream to be a rock star? It’s more of the kinetic high-energy Homer of later seasons; what happened to the lazy son-of-a-bitch I know and love? So then when camp is over, he’s crestfallen. The whole first minute of act three is him whining and sobbing like a four-year-old; I don’t think I’ve thought this before, but Homer is absolutely pathetic here. Not a good quality for your lead to have.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards basically feel sorry for Homer and allow him to be a guest at their benefit concert the following night. Homer manages to welch a bunch of front-row tickets for his family and friends, and is all ready to rock out on stage! Except the musicians just want him to do the mic check. Why the fuck did Homer think he would be performing? The whole ending makes absolutely no sense, we get the sad music as Homer walks on stage to the crowd cheering, but we feel absolutely no sympathy because Homer is completely deluded, yearning for a dream that we never knew he fucking had, and makes no sense for him to have. Then he does the mic check, and the crowd is disappointed, for some reason, even Marge for some reason, who I thought would be smart enough to realize that Homer was not going to perform (“Why is he performing the duties of a roadie?”) Then the Stones prove to be just as moronic; rather than pull Homer off stage, they drive a giant fucking Satan head around the stage and end up crashing into the audience. Then they have to apologize to Homer. That’s what this whole show is: Homer being an inconsiderate, hyperactive moron, and everyone else having to apologize to him. I wasn’t as pissed off as I was with “Parent Rap,” but this episode is just abysmal, and a real uncreative waste of such high profile guest stars.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Sympathetic Moe of later years can go two ways for me. I kind of like showing his crushing desire to be accepted in certain situations, but feeling bad for not giving Homer a beer without paying? And then offering him a free beer? The man who would even give one to Iranian hostages? I don’t think so.
– Homer arrives home, only to find that it’s dinner time. He’s quite confused (“Wait, was last night the night we set the clock ahead eight hours?”)
– I don’t know what I feel about the Disco Stu bit. Him admitting he hates disco is sort of like the jokes we’ve had with ancillary characters in the past (“Yarrr, I hate the sea and everything in it,”) but I dunno. I just feel kind of bummed that Disco Stu is apparently really depressed in his lot in life, and I know how fucked up that is for me to be concerned with the well-being of a tertiary character, but I love Disco Stu. I just want him to be happy! Is that so wrong?
– The editing of the family watching Taxicab Confessions is so sporadic, we cut back and forth way too many goddamn times. We cut back twice to have the family laud Homer for being so nice, then like four more times when things start to go sour. You really only need half of those cuts to get the message across, instead it just lays it on way too thick. The family loves Homer! Now the family hates Homer! Yeah, we get it.
– The family acts evil and laughs maniacally when Homer gets in the car for no real reason. The fake-out is drawn out so long and handled so clumsily.
– Here’s the only complaint I’ll give about the fantasy camp. All the other campers are known faces of course. Here’s the line-up: Otto, Barney, Apu, Wiggum, Herman, Louie, Kirk Van Houten, Dr. Hibbert, Frink and Gil. Now let’s put aside the notion that a lot of those characters have seemingly no inclination towards rock ‘n’ roll. A one-week instructional course taught by the Rolling Stones has to cost a pretty penny. I’d say even more than the Simpsons can afford, but let’s say the vacation money covers it. I would be generous in saying maybe half of the people there could afford it. But completely broke characters like Otto, Kirk and Gil? Homer’s band at the end consists of only the first four characters, so you don’t even need the others. They have no lines anyway. And the others have barely any. What a bunch of crap.
– There are a few choice lines here I laughed at, first one from Mick Jagger (“Remember, rule number one: there are no rules! Rule number two: no outside food.”)
– The bit with drugged up insane Homer in the morning may be the most awkward scene in the series’ history. It’s so completely bizarre, out-of-character and unfunny, combined with we’re just as uncomfortable during the scene as the other characters.
– My favorite bit in the whole show is definitely Elvis Costello’s twinging eyebrow, and his shock when Homer rips off his hat and glasses (“My image!”)
– Really, they filled the camp with recognizable faces, but Homer gets 85% of the lines. Why include them at all if you’re not going to have them talk?
– I like the musicians have to get home to do menial chores (“My lawn’s not going to mow itself!” “And I’ve got to put up the storm windows. Winter’s coming!”)
– “I was so close to being a rock star that now there’s a chance it might not happen!” Homer is truly a lunatic in this; why should we feel sympathy for a character this deluded?
– Mike Scully, and two other characters who look like they could be staff, appears waiting on line for the men’s room at the concert.
– Homer escorts his family to their front-row seats. Marge comments, “I’m so proud of you, Homie!” Proud of him? You were there when you saw your husband cry like a little bitch until he got what he wanted. What the fuck is there to be proud of? Why does everyone assume Homer’s going to get on stage and be a rock star? Wouldn’t they care more about seeing the Rolling fucking Stones perform than this fat idiot?
– I hate everything about this ending… except (“Test one, test two, test three, test four, you test me like the water in El Salvador!” “Wooo! El Salvador!”)
– Actually, the biggest laugh I got was at the end when Richards takes a drag off his cigarette while Jaggar is talking. He blows out smoke, then it just holds on his open mouth. So while the scene goes on for another three more seconds, Richards is just standing there wall-eyed with his mouth open. It’s kind of telling when my favorite part of the episode is an animation mistake.

292. Treehouse of Horror XIII

(originally aired November 3, 2002)
Here’s the part where I talk about how depressing it is that these Halloween shows are declining in quality, since I can’t think of any new way to start these. Or I could just jump in immediately. That’s a better idea. “Send in the Clones” is a decidedly goofy segment where Homer buys a magic hammock only to find it creates mindless clones of himself. At first he reaps the benefits of them, able to fulfill multiple boring family and work duties at once, but when he finds the clones are capable of terrible things, he abandons them all out of town… with the hammock. Soon an army of Homers is created and starts destroying the town, and they must be stopped. I kind of like the first half of this, with all the dummy Homers subbing for the real one, but leading up to the end things feel kind of lazy. The Homer clones eat everything and all go to the Duff brewery? Come on, that’s too easy. It almost seemed like they were setting up the clones were going to off Homer, which could have been interesting, but then they turn it into a joke (“It would take three clones to kill the original Homer! …I mean, four!”) That’s another odd thing about this segment, everyone acts so casually and jokey when there’s strange or horrible things afoot. It’s like a normal episode when the characters don’t seem to care, but even more bizarre here given the fantastical things that are happening. Oh, and the ending was completely obvious too.

“The Fight to Creep and Scare Harms” is really strange, I’m not even sure what to make of it. Lisa sees a tombstone of a young man killed by gun violence, and is inspired to plead with the town to ban all guns. Her wish is granted, but when Springfield is defenseless, gunmen of the old west rise from the grave, led by said young man William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. I get the idea here, that without guns, five men are able to completely take over the town with their six shooters, but it really doesn’t feel right. Why can’t they get help from another town over? Then there’s the scene where they’re all at Moe’s, and the whole Simpson family is there of course, why couldn’t anyone else just ambush them with giant bats? Or torch the place? I dunno. South Park unintentionally took this idea (Simpsons did it!) in their “Pinewood Derby” episode, but it works a lot better there. Then Homer steals Frink’s time machine, goes back and has everyone repeatedly shoot the graves of the dead ghouls, causing them to rise and run like hell, and Lisa cops that guns are the answer. I can’t even say I hate this one, even though I want to, because I feel I really don’t understand what they were going for. I’m still puzzled.

“The Island of Dr. Hibbert” is the only segment that kind of works… kind of. The Simpsons vacation on an island resort run by Dr. Hibbert, who had long ago gone mad. Turns out it wasn’t the best idea, as Hibbert has been spending his days turning humans into animals, and the Simpsons are next on the chopping block. Seeing all the animal-ized characters is visually interesting, and neat how it reflects their characters, like Agnes Skinner as a kangaroo with Skinner in her pouch, Wiggum as a pig (not much to change to the model there), and of course Disco Shrew. But why is Dr. Hibbert doing this? He has one mad spiel about how he feels humans should never have evolved, but it doesn’t really fit who he is. It’s basically they wanted to do a Island of Dr. Moreau parody, and figured they had to go with Hibbert since he’s the doctor. I almost feel like an idiot talking about reason or sense in a Halloween show, but you need at least some in there. Burns and Willie work as villains since they’re already crass and mean, Hibbert not so much. But it’s the best of the three, though that’s not saying an awful lot. Definitely the worst one so far, though I have a creeping feeling I’ll be repeating that in later seasons.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The opening seance with Maude, voiced again by long last by Maggie Roswell, felt uncomfortable to me, and really showed how the writers really had no concern about dealing with offing Maude. To create such crass comedy based on senselessly killing the wife of an important character (“Maude! You look as pretty as the day I buried you!”) It just kind of made me cringe. And not much has changed: the latest Halloween show where they pathetically tried to parody Dexter showed a devilish Maude apparently being Satan’s love slave. What the fuck, guys?
– Really, why didn’t the first segment end with the Homer clones trying to get rid of Homer? It was set up, it makes the most sense, hell, they even released a promo card of the clones ganging up on the original. They could intimidate him with their dumb clone voices, and it could be creepy and weird, but still funny since they’re mindless Homers. But instead we’ll end with getting rid of them with helicopters carrying giant donuts. The potential for creepiness and scares in a Halloween show is basically gone, and been replaced by the same sad attempts at comedy we see in the show proper.
– The only joke in the segment I like is the slow bit where Homer shoots the clones that know how to get back into town. It’s pretty well timed. I didn’t even laugh at Peter Griffin in the sea of clones; any pot shots the show makes at other media nowadays feels kind of pathetic, given how poor the series has gotten.
– Going off of “Brand New Badge,” I bizarrely didn’t mind Maggie shooting all the mobsters, but her apparently being a mass shooter would become one of her personality traits is something that’s not so cool with me. So here we are, an episode later, doing a gag showing a giant box labeled “Maggie’s Guns.” It’s a Halloween show, but still, what?
– The only joke in this segment I like is when Billy gets upset when Homer starts playing piano. He said to play pian-ee, which is more like jangly old Western-type music.
– Why does Frink pull Homer aside to tell him about the time machine? Why the fuck didn’t he just go back in time himself? They didn’t even bother to explain it.
– Frink’s dying speech as a turkey is good, but kind of went on too long.
– I love whenever Marge actually attempts to be funny (“‘House of Pain’? This must be where you pay the bill!”)
– Cat creature Marge I’m sure set off signals for a lot of furries out there. Even though it’s so dumb that he didn’t notice, I love how shocked Homer is by it after the fact (“Oh my God! She’s become a monster! Which I have to admit, I sort of suspected during the sex.”)
– Why would Hibbert turn Flanders into a female cow? Because we need a joke where Homer has to milk someone he doesn’t like. Why not make it Patty or Selma? Actually… no, that would be incredibly creepy…
– I like that Comic Book Guy is the leader of the manimal clan, it kind of fits him that he, normally an social outcast, would be on top in this fantastical situation.
– Kang and Kodos get wedged in at the end. It’s feeling more and more like an afterthought lately (“Look at that island! It’s shaped like our number four! Makes you think.”)