461. To Surveil With Love

tosurveilwithlove(enjoy the nightmares caused by this framegrab!)

Original airdate: May 2, 2010

The premise: When an incident of typical Springfieldian idiocy is mistaken for an act of terrorism, an English security consultant is hired, who proceeds to install cameras around the entire town. Citizens are hired to monitor them all, and none takes to it more than Ned Flanders, who revels in being able to correct the misdeeds and sinful acts across the entirety of Springfield.

The reaction: Another unfocused episode that feels all over the place. We start leading up to the national security incident, which involves Smithers sneaking nuclear material into Homer’s duffel bag for some reason. Then Springfield can apparently afford to hire an outside British consultant to help with their security problems and install cameras everywhere. So it’s an episode about the slippery slope of protecting one’s freedoms by invading their privacy and infringing on people’s liberties? This show can still do satire, right? Like that great episode “Bart-Mangled Banner”? Doesn’t matter, the show then ends up focusing on Flanders, who finds his dream job amongst the hundreds of surveillance screens, tsk tsking his way across town on whatever he deems inappropriate (read: everything). So more turning Flanders into the ultra-conservative mega-prude antagonist, lumbering along to a limp wristed “twist” ending, where the show once again shoots for nostalgia points with Prince Charles quoting a season 6 Ralph line. Same with the Shary Bobbins cameo… who turns into a Terminator for some reason. Oh, there’s also an unnecessary and empty B-story with Lisa’s discouragement that people joke about blondes being dumb. Le sigh.

Three items of note:
– This episode is semi-notorious for its opening; in lieu of the regular title sequence, we get a new segment of everyone lip syncing to Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” which seemed to have infuriated nerds all across the Internet when it aired. Apparently it was a mandate from FOX, who was holding “FOX Rocks Week,” “encouraging” all their shows to include some kind of musical element. So how can we read “encouraging”? That they were forced to do this? Or the Simpsons staff just rolled over and slapped this together? Regardless, even if they did cave, you’d think they could come up with something more original, or even something that poked fun at the network mandate to begin with. But no, it’s just like a straight music video with little softball gags thrown in that tie into the song’s lyrics. Once again the show proves depressing in how amazingly uncreative it is.
– It really is so sad hearing Tress MacNeille voicing Doris. They retired the character and left her silent for a good decade, before bringing her back on a rare occasion. It’s almost as if they were waiting for the old fans to drop off, and the casual ones to not remember or not be bothered by it. Usually she’s given a token line, but here where she has a back and forth bit with Milhouse in complete sentences, it feel so, so wrong. It doesn’t even sound remotely like Grau. Why oh why didn’t they just create a new cafeteria worker? Because that would mean creating a new regular character, which the show clearly isn’t interested in. Who’s the last reoccurring secondary… hell, tertiary character they introduced that you can think of? The best I can come up with is Crazy Cat Lady from season 9.
– Almost as horrible as the bit of Smithers leaving and re-entering the bar to overhear Homer, Lenny and Carl badmouthing him, we have Marge finding the wild party in her backyard and muttering to herself in the front yard so Flanders can overhear her exposition (“I don’t want to get Homer in trouble, but it’s just plain wrong to use that blind spot to turn our backyard into a mecca of misdemeanors!”) Flanders then calls Rod to hold a mirror out the window so he can see. Also, it seems that guy’s at the surveillance HQ 24/7, what’s happening with Rod and Todd? Doesn’t matter, all characters are just props now and appear and disappear when needed.

One good line/moment: The opening with Duffman and the cheerleaders appearing at Moe’s, the direction at the start feels almost exactly like his first appearance in “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson.” So basically I was pleased thinking about that episode. I guess the show’s nostalgia fumes work every once and a while.


23 responses to “461. To Surveil With Love

  1. The best I can come up with is Crazy Cat Lady from season 9.
    My guess would be the gay guys who share an apartment with Homer in that one shitty episode whose name I definitely won’t look up. They appear in a few later epsiodes. And I think the coach who loves throwing balls at kids appears in later episodes, too.

  2. I was just going to say “What a framegrab” before you lampshaded it…

  3. Oh, this episode. Yeah, I hate it too for the reasons you listed. Flanders finding out about the blind spot because Marge talks about it IN A PLACE WHERE SHE KNOWS ARE CAMERAS was lazy even by Zombie Simpsons standards.

  4. His is another episode that I was sure I had seen yet had absolutely no recollection of….At least until you brought up the Kei$ha music video. My God, this is the sort of thing classic Simpsons would have ripped to shreds if they were forced to air it. But here, it’s a straight up commercial and Kei$ha puff piece, as if Al Jean was promised a BJ from Kei$ha in return for this. And this is NEVER brought up again in this or future episodes despite being ripe for meta humor. Even Family Guy mocked its previous uses of the Conway Twitty cutaway.

    “The best I can come up with is Crazy Cat Lady from season 9.”

    The parson that looks and sounds like Bing Crosby, who I think first appeared in Season 20 is the newest of recollection. His role seems to be as Lovejoy’s “boss” whenever there is a plot involving the Church and he’s shown up more than once. A pretty low-rung character, but at least he’s new.

    • The few “new” characters of the last few seasons all follow the same pattern:

      Unoriginal stereotype
      -Julio, as ThomS mentioned
      -the black lady who tells Marge, “Lady, you don’t know Dylan!” in Chief of Hearts (I’m pretty sure she’s been in other episodes?)

      Ripoff of actual person
      -The Parson
      -Steve Mobbs

      • Was the guy that goes “Yeeeeeeeeeeees?” on the show before Season 9? God that shit’s annoying.

        Also, the B-story with people giving Lisa shit for being blonde was so irritating that I wanted to tear out my own intestines in fury and hang myself with them.

    • The Ke$ha thing makes me think back to the days when something would be mandated (e.g., The Critic crossover) and they’d then spend the entire episode shitting on it. I love when Jay is leaving and he says something like “If you’re ever in my–” and they cut him off saying “Don’t count on it.”

      Now they just embrace it, apparently thinking “OMG SIMPSONS DOING SOMETHING TRENDY SOOOOOO FUNNY LOLOLOLOLLL”

  5. I haven’t seen this episode, but anyone else think the premise sounds more creepy than funny? I dunno, maybe it’s because the omni-surveillance thing as described in this synopsis isn’t really satirical but is actually happening. But besides that, someone like Flanders at the helm (and by that, I mean the modern Flanders: The worry-wart, ultra-con, intolerant Flanders), pushing their beliefs on others while watching from afar… that’s all kinds of disturbing.

    As for the couch gag, it barely even qualifies as a couch gag. It’s just the townspeople raising the Simpson family on the couch. That’s the best they could come up with?

  6. This episode is terrible. That screengrab of Flanders is very creppy and will gives me nightmares if I keep thinking about it, Mike you pretty much summed up this episde in a great wat and Flanders screengrab above is very similiar to the one of Milhouse crying, drawn by MG or the same artist, perhaps, in another episode?

    See here: http://forums.joeuser.com/14992

  7. I meant *creepy above, lol. Also, this episode reminds me of a movie from the 90’s, with Sharon Stone, I think, that takes place in an apt. building with a whole bunch of camera’s set up, spying on people.

    On a side note, Mike, this reminds me, this episode and others, of a trope I saw on the website TV Tropes, something like this: The Simpsons is a mouthpiece for the show’s writers, like Seth McFarlane and his views are on Family Guy.

  8. Yes, Writer On Board is the more accurate usage. It basically references whenever it’s blatantly obvious that a writer is using a character as a soapbox for their personal views. Which can, 9 times out of 10, make the characterization look off and/or the dialog look forced. A good example is Homer’s rant on George W. Bush in “The Father, the Son, & the Holy Guest Star”. Since when does Homer give a crap about foreign policy?

  9. That Flanders face is SO unnatural, there’s a Family Guy style eyes in the Season 23 premier episode just to add too.

  10. This episode was on FXX last night and it still pisses me off about the town and school suddenly thinking Lisa’s dumb because of her hair color. She’s been repeatedly shown to be the only competent student in Springfield Elementary! Plus, Ned’s “tsk tsk tsk” noises irritate the piss out of me too. I hate this episode. So much.

  11. I thought with the Republicans out of the White House they might’ve toned down on Flanders being this uber-Conservative. I guess the writers didn’t get the memo.

    • Well based on the timeliness of the wrtiters’ “parodies” and “social commentary,” I expect we’ll get an episode about Obama’s election around 2019 or so.

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