Monthly Archives: February 2017

490. Replaceable You

2304Original airdate: November 6, 2011

The premise:
Bart enlists Martin’s help for a last minute science fair project: a robotic seal, which ends up serving as the ideal service pet for the downtrodden denizens of the Retirement Castle. Meanwhile, Homer gets a new assistant, who makes short work out of exposing his lackluster work habits and getting him demoted to become her assistant.

The reaction: In the course of watching some of these episodes, I find myself at a bit of a loss. There are times where I’m not entirely sure if a plot has started, if it’s progressing, or where it’s going. So let’s try and break down this show. Bart is looking to one-up Lisa at the science fair (see: “Duffless”) and, seeing Martin conveniently hanging from a tree out the back window, enlists his help (see: “Bart Gets An F.”) They end up creating a fully functional robot seal pet, which is totally plausible for a fourth-grader to make. Alright, fine, Martin’s a super genius, I’ll let them have it, but only if the plot actually went anywhere. It wins the science fair, and then by accident, the kids find that the robopet gives new life to senior citizens, in a treacly thirty-second sequence where we give a sob story to Jasper, the old man smiles at the seal, and then does a waltz with it. As I recalled at this point, the seal is based on an actual real-life therapy robot seal Paro, so this isn’t even an original idea, nor does the show actually do anything coming close to parody with it. A little over halfway through the episode, I’m still not sure where this is going, and we are introduced to our antagonists; from a shadow board room, the head of the table literally introduces himself and what their organization does, like one would do. The funeral business is pissed that these codgers are living longer, thus costing them money, so they need to sabotage those seals. How? By switching two wires in the seal to turn it from docile to feral, as we set up earlier in the show. Like, seriously? This was done as a dumb joke with the cursed Krusty Doll (“Here’s your problem, someone set this thing to ‘evil'”), and here it’s a plot point? So Bart, with Martin silently tagging along, enlists Professor Frink and the college nerds to break them out of prison (why these robots are being held in a cell, I’ve no idea) and then bring them back to the Retirement Castle. And they all dance. Including the funeral people, who I guess are fine that their plan was foiled? What a pointless outing.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot ultimately feels incredibly lazy. Homer is shocked to find he has a new assistant, Roz, voiced by Jane Lynch. I haven’t really seen much of Lynch outside of Wreck-It Ralph, but this is one goddamn waste of a character they saddled her with. She’s super nice and forgiving of Homer’s gross negligence, which is very suspect. This leads to her tattling on him to Burns, who shows up at the Simpson house to admonish and demote him. Think about that. Mr. Burns voluntarily went to a lowly employee’s house in the middle of the night just to say that. Just terrible. So Roz is now Homer’s superior, and she forces him to do a bunch of time-consuming busywork, and just act like a bully toward him. But why? What is her motivation? What is her goal? None of this is explained. By sheer coincidence, Flanders happens to have had a run-in with this woman, and remembers she went berserk when he tried to hug her. So our ending involves Homer crashing Roz getting an award at the plant and convincing Burns to hug her in gratitude, which again, he does willingly. Roz freaks out, folds Burns into a ball and chucks him across the stage, getting her fired. Why does she have this physical aversion? A bad breakup? Abused as a child? What? What? Fucking what. Roz is just generic bitch-in-sheep’s-clothing, but how can you hang a story about someone with no rhyme or reason for their actions?
– This is the first time we’ve gotten Martin involved in a plot for a while. But of course, like every other character, he’s been degraded to his simplest, most one-dimensional form. It’s like most of the writers were incredibly tickled by his “Wang Computers” shirt many moons ago, so almost every one-off joke with him in recent memory has been getting him to say “dirty” words in an academic context, like “homo” or “boner” or “faggot” (a joke they were so proud of, yet cowardly in that they put the actual definition of “faggot” on the screen so you would get it). In the first act, Martin basically just acts like a generic nerd, saying stuff like “Heavens to Asimov!” That’s like some Big Bang Theory shit. After the science fair, he barely speaks at all. Even when they go get help from Frink and the nerds, his own people, he doesn’t get a line in. Similar to the bullies in “Roosevelts,” Martin is demoted to being Bart’s mute tagalong, because writing characters is too hard when you have a premise to limp to the finish line.
– Here’s a perfect example of a shitty scene in modern Simpsons. The kids are on the playground, when Martin approaches Bart. “So, partner, what’s next on the agenda?” Previous to this was the whole Jasper-bonding-with-robot-seal thing. Bart then stammers a bit, “Well, um…” As if he didn’t want to work with Martin anymore. But that never goes anywhere. Their relationship ultimately means nothing in this show. Milhouse interrupts with a creepy shirt featuring a photo he took of Bart sleeping, because I guess they thought it was funny to make him a creepy stalker? After he does his joke, a dodgeball bounces by, which leads Milhouse out of the scene, just in time for the camera to pan over to reveal Grampa and Crazy Old Man standing there. I guess the school is fine with confused old men wandering around a playground full of children. They ask Bart and Martin for more seals, or heroin. Grampa asks his grandson for heroin. And that’s it. Bravo, fellas, helluva scene.

One good line/moment: Nelson’s science fair booth “The Science of Why Are You Hitting Yourself?” featuring a box that, when opened, unleashes a boxing glove on a spring to hit some poor kid in the face. And from that we have a not-so-good moment, his booth is next to Jimbo’s, entitled “Pubes: Who’s Got ‘Em?” which features three candidates: Milhouse, Skinner, and Grampa. I don’t want to know how Jimbo found out any of this information. What would Bart say if he walked by? “Hey Jimbo, just curious, how exactly did you discover that my grandfather has pubic hair? Just asking for a friend.”

489. Treehouse of Horror XXII

2303Original airdate: October 30, 2011

The premise:
In “The Diving Bell and the Butterball,” Homer is left paralyzed by a spider bite, but finds he can still communicate through his flatulence. In “Dial ‘D’ for Diddly,” Flanders becomes a serial killer under the belief that God is giving him orders on who to rub out. In “In the Na’vi,” Bart goes native on Rigel 7 to infiltrate an alien race for their precious resources, that may or may not resemble a Hollywood film that was a phenomena for about six months before becoming culturally irrelevant.

The reaction: A problem that would plague modern day Halloween specials is at its worst here, every single segment, including the opening, is a TV or film parody, none of which are of the horror variety. The opening and the first segment are allusions to 127 Hours and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, two arty independent films that most of the regular viewing audience probably hasn’t seen. Having seen Hours and not having seen Bell, neither segment works at all. Why does Homer drive all the way to a canyon to eat candy? And who the hell thought it was a great idea to do an entire segment of Homer farting? And capped off with a now irrelevant Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark joke. How scathing! What does any of this have to do with Halloween? The middle story is the closest to actually being “scary,” with Flanders killing some of our regulars (boring and bloodlessly, I might add). But, again, if you haven’t seen Dexter, what would you make out of the section where they redo the opening titles? This section seemed very familiar; it’s a five minute version of a twenty second joke from “Radio Bart” where Bart tricks Rod and Todd with his radio claiming he’s God, a bit which had more laughs in it than entire seasons of this show have now.  The final segment is the longest, a “parody” of the terrifying film Avatar, by which I mean it just retells most of the movie with some softball jokes when it can be bothered. The story of Avatar is so trite and cliched, it couldn’t be easier to rip it apart, but the show can’t even do that right. Instead we get Tress MacNeille doing one of her five voices as Zoe Saldana alien, and a humorless action packed battle finale. This has gotta be the worst Halloween special yet.

Three items of note:
– They actually got Aron Ralston, whose story 127 Hours is based on, to do a voice for the opening, as the 911 operator Homer calls when he’s stuck. But they don’t even give him a joke. I guess it’s supposed to be funny that he says help will be on the way in twenty minutes, but Homer can’t wait that long to eat candy. They seriously couldn’t think of anything better for him to say? No funny hold music or anything? Come on.
– For a segment all about Flanders murdering a bunch of people, the middle story is extremely tame. I never thought you could make a decapitation boring, but when Flanders cuts off Mr. Burns’ head, it’s just… dull. He slings a rock at Snake’s head (why Homer wanted him dead, who knows), and we get a little blood. It’s not like I’m thirsty for violence or anything, but Halloween shows used to be a little chilling, a little shocking. Now it’s just a venue for “modern” pop culture references that may or may not be Halloween related. We also get a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner bit when Flanders drops a giant boulder on Patty and Selma. There’s no twist to this, they just reference the old cartoons, and that’s it. And Flanders holds up a sign like Coyote does. Remember Homer dropping the trampoline off the cliff in “Bart’s Inner Child”? Yeah, me too.
– It was pretty disconcerting to see a lot of screen time devoted to alien Bart having sex and impregnating the Grand Midwife… I mean, Tress MacNeille alien. I don’t think she actually had a name. I didn’t ever want to hear Bart shout, “I thought you were using birth control!” Also, I sure am glad we got Jackie Mason back as Rabbi Krustofski for one line, commenting on the deflowering of a ten-year-old.

One good line/moment: I hated the shit out of this one, but I’ll admit I chuckled twice. First in the first segment where Homer goes to decorate the house (“Ah, Halloween, the one time of year where the squalor of our home works to our advantage!”) and second in the final segment with alien Bart sometime post-coitus (“I can’t believe I’m getting combat pay for this!”)

488. Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts

2302Original airdate: October 2, 2011

The premise:
Skinner passes the buck of reigning in an out-of-control Bart to Superintendent Chalmers, who proceeds to inflame the boy’s imagination with the great outdoors. After an incident at an impromptu field trip gets Chalmers fired, Bart and the other kids initiate a school lock down to save his job.

The reaction: I always felt that this show could never run out of fresh ideas because of the enormous cast. Who’s to say Smithers or Willie or even Sideshow Mel can’t carry a story all on their own? But every time the show would try to do this, it would always stubbornly hone the focus on a Simpson and the “star” became essentially an afterthought. A few seasons back I remember they tried to do a Krabappel show in “Bart Gets a Z,” which featured Bart convincing her to follow her dream of opening a muffin shop or something? It was a disaster. So, this episode actually tries to create a character out of Superintendent Chalmers, and while it adds in some potentially interesting ingredients, it never actually goes anywhere or does anything with them. Chalmers is tasked with actually getting Bart to give a shit about education, which actually gives him hesitation. His first solo scene is him in the bathroom psyching himself up, having not actually been an educator in a long time, which actually was a successful scene, until they ruin it with a Family Guy-style cutaway of Chalmers in The Breakfast Club. He reaches Bart by teaching him about the rough-and-tumble life and times of Theodore Roosevelt (I remember Al Jean was puffing his chest out in interviews about how they finally had a president on the show, via archival audio of Roosevelt). We see a lot of Chalmers in this episode; he’s drinking scotch, he talks about missing his wife (whose urn we see in his home), but most of all, he believes in tough love, that boys shouldn’t be coddled, that they need to get some real life experience in the great outdoors to be “real” men, so he takes Bart, Milhouse and the bullies out to Springfield Forest. These are all really great touches, but unfortunately we never really get to see Chalmers in action with these beliefs. We see them arrive at the forest, then it’s the next day where we get a quick scene with Bart and Chalmers before Nelson falls down a cliff in a very awkwardly animated sequence. Even though he’s the superintendent, Chalmers didn’t bother to get permission slips and just took five kids to the woods, so he gets canned. This leads Bart to be invigorated and round up the other boys to stage a coup at the school to get Chalmers back. Jimbo, Nelson and the other bullies are basically reduced to props as Bart becomes their ringleader in the final act. Then the conflict just ends when during a police stand-off, Wiggum accidentally shoots the comptroller in the kneecap and he gives Chalmers his job back. I can give the show a little credit for at least attempting to inch forward with the characterization of a secondary character, but it didn’t go far enough to make this episode feel like it really showed a new side of him. It was close, but no cigar.

Three items of note:
– This episode features another guest star couch gag, this one courtesy of Ren & Stimpy creator and animation snob John K. While he’s clearly an incredibly talented artist, I’ve never been a fan of anything he’s produced post R & S, and this couch gag is a clear example of his solo style. The designs of the family in a static image are kind of appealing, but in motion, they’re nearly indecipherable. Every part of a character’s body will react and gyrate so randomly and at such a quick speed that I can’t even tell what’s going on.
– There are two bits with Skinner in the first act I take issue with. The episode opens with a school auction, where Skinner is taken for a ride by an anonymous phone call, a wealthy British dowager who buys every single item tallying up to over a hundred grand. Whoever could this mysterious voice belong to? He and everyone else falls for this, and I’m not quite sure why. Isn’t Skinner in MENSA? He was never a dumb character. Later on, we see Skinner finally break with Chalmers, biting back from one of his insults that he’s lop-shouldered from being a POW in Vietnam. Again, I like the idea of Skinner finally reaching his tipping point, but it ultimately feels a little awkward. It also reminds me of previous instances of him reminiscing about ‘Nam. Finding his POW helmet at a swap meet for Skinner is like reuniting with an old friend. In one of the funniest monologues in the entire series, Skinner recalls his three years in a POW camp and the stew he survived on… and his torture of being unable to recreate it back home. He had always been unusually upbeat recalling the horrors of war and that was always the subversive joke, so seeing him act so defensively about it here feels weird and awkward. Also, given the floating timeline of the show, I guess Skinner fought in the war when he was a baby? Either that or Skinner is in his 60s now. Meh.
– The scene with Chalmers at his house with the boys is probably the best of the entire show. With his glass of scotch, he armchair philosophizes his feelings about the infantilization of boys, trying to save these poor wimps and mold them into future manly men. Again, the episode really feels like it could be going somewhere with Chalmers’ behavior, but it just doesn’t stick with it. Their forest trip results in Nelson getting a bum arm, and his mother threatening to sue Chalmers, who, as mentioned before, did not get any permission slips. The scene in Skinner’s office is the antithesis of Chalmers’ philosophy on teaching, and they could have had him standing up for himself and remaining brazen in his viewpoints, but it looks like they just missed the opportunity. In absence of this, it just looks like Chalmers was a big dummy for not covering his ass. Also, Nelson’s mom’s lawyer looks and sounds exactly like Victor the hovercar dealer from Futurama.

One good line/moment: Like last episode, there actually was some good stuff in this one. The middle chunk of the show with Chalmers working with Bart and the other kids mostly works (“I thought teachers only went outdoors to smoke and cry.” “Son, have you ever seen a horse your father wasn’t betting on?”)

487. The Falcon and the D’ohman

2301Original airdate: September 25, 2011

The premise:
Homer makes it his mission to befriend Wayne, the gruff and incredibly reserved new security guard at the plant. Turns out he has a secret past working for the CIA, and suffers from horrible PTSD about what he went through and the people he’s killed. This is a comedy show, by the way.

The reaction: I actually kind of enjoyed the impetus of this episode’s story, with Homer’s desperate need to get this new guy to like him; it had a “Homer’s Enemy” vibe to it. After a violent altercation with Snake at Moe’s, it’s revealed that Wayne (voiced by now three-time offender Kiefer Sutherland) is actually ex-CIA. Through the episode, we see that innocuous things like a piece of music or having a helmet put on his head trigger flashbacks to his past life and the horrors he’s endured, which put him into an uncontrollable violent fit. The bits of the past we see have little jokes in them, but overall, none of this is really funny. This is a very disturbed character with an extreme case of PTSD. But that only makes his actions in the episode more confusing. He’s seemingly haunted by his past and wants nothing more to do with it, and when living with the Simpsons, he proceeds to teach industry maneuvers to Marge and the kids. Two-thirds into the episode, we’re finally introduced to the actual main conflict (?) involving a Ukrainian mob boss who finds out Wayne is in Springfield and wants revenge. We see in the flashbacks during a shootout, the mob boss’ wife was caught in the crossfire and killed. Homer is kidnapped as bait, and is trapped under the ice at a skating rink for some reason. Wayne arrives on the scene, violently murders all of the skating goons, and ultimately stabs the mob boss in the throat and he dies. So what about the thing with his wife? Wayne was indirectly responsible for her death, does he just not give a shit? It’s almost like second-nature for him to revert back to his ultra-violent emotionless state, but is that something he’s conflicted with, or he just doesn’t even acknowledge it? The episode just wanted to have its cake and eat it too with wanting to present his PTSD seriously when they wanted to, and joke about it when they didn’t, but that just led to a very confused character. There were definitely more amusing and/or promising moments in this than most of the episodes to date, but the core of the story here made no sense to me.

Three items of note:
– As usual, so much elongated padding. Homer’s song walking into work, Snake and Wayne’s fight in the bar, Wayne’s training flashback where he just fights wave after wave of copyrighted characters… Some of these might have been effective if they were about half the length. We also get a string of pop culture gags that, as usual, are over a year too late from the episode’s original airing: autotune videos on YouTube, and most notably, the badly animated 3D Taiwanese news segment chronicling the bar fight. It’s kind of amusing at first, but there’s no real joke or subversion on top of it. The real news animations are actually funnier and more absurd than this “parody” of it. There’s also that Kim Jong-il musical at the end, which may be the craziest, most Family Guy-esque cutaway the show has ever done. I was almost impressed by how random it was. Impressed and exasperated.
– The ending is really shockingly violent, with Wayne literally torching a bunch of innocent goons with a flamethrower, and their smoldering corpses littered all over the rink. Then, as a goof, he also sets a skating mascot’s head on fire as well. You could say it’s over-the-top for comic effect, but that’s not really the case; it ends up just being really disturbing. I just don’t get what we’re supposed to conclude about Wayne. If the episode had actually been about him overcoming his demons, or making peace with them, or just flat-out admitting that he just really likes killing people, I could have gotten behind it, but instead, he goes through no character progression at all. In the end, Marge has a revelation that as a heartless sadist, he’ll be right at home working at the DMV, almost like an afterthought as he’s walking out the door. But does Wayne enjoy being a violent hardass, or is he haunted by it? We don’t get an answer.
– This episode also features the dramatic reveal of the fate of Nedna, which really is barely worth mentioning, but I don’t have much else to say about the episode itself. We get Comic Book Guy at the beginning announce the reveal of whether Ned and Edna stayed together will hidden in the show, which is later shown in a montage of couples being kept up at night by Wayne’s night terrors (which I guess are so loud, literally the entire town can hear them), and we see Ned and Edna among them, complete with Edna winking to camera. And the episode ends with the two thanking the fans for voting. Groan. I tried to find any record of the actual voting or signs of anyone expressing they cared about this shallow publicity stunt, but all I could find was a nauseating press release. “Pro-Nednas worldwide cheered and anti-Nednites jeered as they saw the couple was bound together for all eternity by a majority of SIMPSONS online fans.” Ugh.

One good line/moment: Shockingly, most of the first act was actually kind of enjoyable, removing Homer’s song at the beginning, and Marge’s random Master Chef fantasy (complete with superfluous guest star [insert celebrity-chef-whose-name-I-forget’s name here]). The reappearance of Charlie, “Sidewalk Closed, Pay Sidewalk Coming,” the start of Snake’s robbery, all not bad scenes and gags. I especially liked Marge cheering Homer up over the Wayne situation with pork chops and the two hugging. I like it when those two show they care for each other, outside of an unearned, out-of-nowhere happy ending like we usually see.

486. The Ned-liest Catch

2222Original airdate: May 22, 2011

The premise:
Through sheer happenstance, Edna Krabappel crosses paths with Ned Flanders, and the two kindle up a relationship. With Edna creating tension for Bart next door, he tries to scheme up a plan to create friction in this new love affair.

The reaction: Didn’t we just have an inexplicable romance between two show regulars? It’s certainly not an impossibility for Flanders and Krabappel to develop a connection, but per usual, the relationship is barely explained and we never know why these two care about each other, ergo we, as the audience, don’t care either. Edna literally falls into Ned’s arms after she fell out of a window, and he just so happened to be walking by. They couldn’t even manufacture some kind of believable meet-cute for them? They have a lunch date, and then we just cut to a goofy montage of them being together. Why waste time developing character motivation when we can just blow over it with a montage? Edna likes Ned because he’s single, and nice, I guess? And Ned likes Edna’s laugh. That’s about all I can glean from this. The two of them together are just so dry that there’s not much to even discuss about it. The emotional climax involves Ned discovering how many partners Edna has had, and it weirding him out. I guess I can understand that, but it turns into a sanctimonious issue when the conclusion involves him “forgiving” her for her past transgressions. This is shades of the new ultra-religious Ned Flanders, browbeating and making subtle digs at non-believers rather than turn the other cheek. I could see it being a cute little bit of him feeling uncomfortable with someone so experienced, but as the climax of the episode? It reminded me of “A Star is Born-Again” where it all builds to Ned deciding whether he should have sex with that actress. I remember wishing that episode had dealt with its premise better, but at least it went somewhere and the relationship itself made a little more sense. Just like Fat Tony and Selma before it, the episode didn’t show me why these two characters cared for one another, and from this limp noodle of a show, we’re supposed to be impassioned enough to vote whether they stay together? Why gives a flying fuck?

Three items of note:
– The episode kicks off with Bart on an ADD-level spree of chaos in the gymnasium, which ends in Edna grabbing and slapping him. This shot is kind of weird in itself; she slaps him, the kids running around making noise immediately stop and stare at them. Edna acknowledges this, and then slaps him again. Her first strike was impulsive without thinking, but that second slap feels like an outlet of her years of repressed rage and frustration at her greatest challenge student. This incident could have been the basis of an entire episode, examining the relationship between Bart and Krabappel. Doesn’t that seem like such richer material to work with, rather than just squandering it as the first act to a limp meaningless romance? Of course, it all doesn’t amount to anything. Edna is sentenced to a “teacher holding cell” while her job is in limbo, and Bart, for some reason, takes the time to break her out. And she’s initially annoyed when he shows up too (“Haven’t you caused enough trouble?”) Earlier after the incident, we saw she was mortified about what happened, but now, the first time she’s seeing Bart again, she’s pissed? So the break-out goes bust when the ladder Krabappel is climbing out of breaks. We then see Bart run away and never come back, for no explainable reason. After he had gone through all that effort, including making a full-size Krabappel dummy to put in her place, he just leaves? I guess he had to so Ned could catch her and the episode would continue. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
– Comic Book Guy and Skinner are inexplicably at Moe’s to muse about how they used to bang Edna. Also there is Joey Kramer, who is all alone in his own booth with a cheese sandwich, completely unacknowledged by everyone else in the bar until he speaks up. If you’ll recall, back in the before time, in “Flaming Moe’s,” we had that great scene in the back of Aerosmith’s tour bus of Joey begging horny groupie Edna for his drumsticks back. So I guess this is another fan service attempt, where Joey looks back at the experience fondly, making hilarious references to Aerosmith songs in talking about the sex. Which sounds like a more clever use of a guest star to you?
– So, “Nedna.” The episode ends with Homer and Marge breaking the fourth wall and directly asking the viewers whether Ned and Edna should stay together. I really don’t know what these promotional stunt was born of, or what the point of it was, besides attempting to drum up some kind of interest in this shambling zombie of a show. Of course, the most knee-jerk comparison is “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, a tongue-in-cheek parody of one of the biggest cliffhangers in TV history. I was a mere child when those episodes aired, so all I have to go on are watching old commercials on the promotion of the two-parter, but the whole thing felt completely self-parodying and silly, especially when you finally get the reveal that the real shooter is something that no one could have seen coming. With Nedna, there’s no joke to it, there’s no twist, no commentary, just whether these two characters with no chemistry should get together or not. It’s like when they push and pull a will-they-won’t-they relationship in a bad sitcom for an attempt at ratings, but worse. I just can’t imagine what Simpsons fan would care about something like this. I’d look up to see if there’s any data as to how many people bothered to vote, but I don’t really feel like it.

One good line/moment: I think there was a line or two I chuckled at, but instead, I’d rather bitch about one last thing, a gag that I think typifies the state of this show now. An act begins with the school bell ringing, and all the kids run out, excited. Brief pause. Then the teachers run out, equally as excited. The shot is about eight seconds long. Does it sound familiar to you? In “Lisa the Simpson,” we had the exact same joke, but done a little differently. We get a similar shot of the bell ringing, but we see the kids and the teachers running out at the same time. And the shot is half the length at just four seconds. It’s much shorter, and also funnier, because it implies that the teachers didn’t waste any time booking it and are just as eager to leave as the students, if not more so. It’s not one of the show’s subtler jokes, but it happens kind of quick that it could be a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it type joke. Nowadays, it’s like the show doesn’t feel it can risk any jokes that aren’t make explicitly clear and emphasized, and a lot of times, potential gags that could be funny are ruined either because there’s too much set up or they last way too long. Also, as we see time and time again, the show goes back to the well, consciously or unconsciously, to revisit old plot lines and jokes, but they all feel like pale, lifeless Xeroxes that don’t get what the point of them was. That shot of everyone leaving the school is a perfect example: by doubling the length to pad time, you mess with the timing, and the joke is nowhere near as funny. This series is just full of these moments now.

485. 500 Keys

2221Original airdate: May 15, 2011

The premise:
The Simpson family dig through an old drawer filled with the brim with old keys and all go on their own mini-adventures to see what they open, the most prominent of which involving Lisa uncovering a mystery at Springfield Elementary.

The reaction: I really wasn’t quite sure what to make of this episode as I was watching it, waiting for an actual plot to kick in. I’m still not entirely sure, but it feels like they tried to do something in the vein of “Trilogy of Error,” but instead of three plots running concurrently, it’s basically one plot with three other teeny tiny plots that serve as deus ex machinas for the main plot. The primary narrative is Lisa discovering a hidden room underneath the school, an immaculately advanced classroom, but everything in it is fake. As more clues are gathered and testimonies are heard, it starts to unravel, but it’s all just really really boring. And the reveal is just as dull: the school lost their grant money, so they had to create a farcical photo shoot to make sure they didn’t come under scrutiny. And then told Otto to drive a bus full of rented dummies back to the store… except he sank the bus, and thought they were actual children. So what was the plan, exactly? It doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, Homer breaks into the Duff Brewery and steals the Duff Blimp (a “Lisa the Beauty Queen” callback?), then he just flies it, and then picks up Lisa toward the end. Bart tries to cause mischief with a bunch of keys and fails, and that’s it. The worst is Marge, who’s left with a key for a flatulent wind-up toy that ends up traveling across the whole town. Marge could easily outrun it, or bend over and pick it up, but instead she just follows it everywhere. And eventually it knocks over a tree that saves Homer and Lisa. So look, they all connect! Set-up! Pay-off! I remember thinking that Da Vinci Code mystery episode a few seasons back was kinda unremarkable, but it’s a thrill ride compared to this. Zzzzzz…

Three items of note:
– For the opening gag over the clouds, we get the grand reappearance of Hank Scorpio flying in a Globex Jet, voiced by Albert Brooks. One of the greatest and richest characters ever to come out of the series, returning thirteen years later, his awesomeness diluted to a quick three-second goof done in the name of fan service. Look, it’s Hank Scorpio! Slap your fins together, you neckbearded superfans!
– Chalmers tells Skinner that he oversees fourteen schools, which could have fucking fooled me. This whole season, he’s been glued to Skinner’s hip, in school and out. I get that’s the “joke,” and I know I’ve mentioned this many times, but his character’s presence has been completely diluted at this point. When Chalmers would show up and yell “SKINNER!!”, you knew shit was about to hit the fan. His appearance meant something was gonna happen, and his interplay with Skinner would be really funny. Now, the two just show up as a poor comedy act/codependent relationship, or whatever the fuck.
– The dramatic climax is particularly confusing and annoying. Homer and Lisa splash down into the lake with all the other mannequins, and then after staying afloat to do a back-and-forth joke, then sink under the water and are apparently trapped under there. But… there were only like 25 mannequins. And we see at least two shots where there’s only like a small mass of them. Just swim around them. You can easily see open water, just swim around them. But it all happens so quickly and haphazardly that I can’t even tell for sure that we’re supposed to think Homer and Lisa are in grave danger. Soon after they go under, we get that goddamn pooter toot thing that comes in and saves the day, so I’m not sure if I was supposed to be worried or not.

One good line/moment: The returned wedding cake outlet “I Don’t” was a surprisingly amusing set piece. Like, it may be the most clever thing from this whole entire season. But then for some reason, they decide to have a thrilling minute-long action scene after that with Homer driving home on a cliff edge. Ugh.

484. Homer Scissorhands

2220Original airdate: May 8, 2011

The premise:
Discovering he has a natural talent for cutting hair, Homer opens up a salon, but quickly becomes fed up with his female clientele’s never-ending chattering. Meanwhile, Milhouse puts his heart on the line for Lisa, and is promptly rejecting. When he quickly finds new affection, Lisa becomes suspicious, wondering if this new girl has an ulterior motive.

The reaction: I assume the impetus for this episode was one of the writers saying, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if Homer was great at cutting hair? Y’know, because he has no hair? Get it?” So not only is this yet another “Simpson becomes an instant success” episode, but it’s almost like a parody of itself, as Homer appears to be impulsively and supernaturally gifted to the point that his insane talents torture him. It almost could have worked on an absurdist level if the premise hadn’t been so stupid. Let’s just go along with the fact that either Homer is insanely gifted or that every other hairdresser in town sucks, that the women are literally throwing themselves through windows for Homer to do their hair. Dumb, but alright, whatever. Then we get to why Homer gets fed up and wants to quit; women be gabbin’ so much that he just can’t cope with it! You know how women get, right, guys? Then, for some reason, all of the husbands are at Moe’s, and Homer is haunted by knowing about their character flaws and foibles from their wives? Why would that matter? He’s not friends with Lovejoy or Wiggum or Skinner, what does it matter that he knows this stuff? So the story ends with Marge helping Homer weasel out of his predicament, by showing up dressed to the nines at a big gala ball and convincing everyone that Marge’s jaw-dropping new ‘do was done by another stylist. Who? Why, Julio, the flamboyant stereotype, of course! We just saw him earlier in the season, what happened to him? Maybe the episode could have featured him going to war with Homer after losing his customers. Or something. So what happened in this episode? Homer discovered he was naturally awesome at something, and then got tired of all the money and attention, and then just stopped doing it. Exhilarating. This episode feels the farthest away from Homer’s initial characterization that I can think of: a dogged, none-too-bright everyman who gets spit in the face by life is now a gifted savant who is extremely popular and beloved, whose only conflict is his fame being too great. Blecccccchh.

Three items of note:
– Two discussion points for the B-plot. First, Milhouse’s new belle is Taffy, voiced by Kristen Schaal. This episode is sort of right at the cusp of her becoming big into voice-over; Bob’s Burgers had just begun, and Gravity Falls was but a year away. I absolutely, positively adore Schaal; she’s got an incredibly distinctive voice and personality, and is a phenomenal comic actress, and as happens to a lot of guest stars, she is absolutely wasted on a nothing character. Who is Taffy? Can one even come up with one character trait she has? Why does she love Milhouse? Why does she randomly break up with her at the end? None of these questions are answered; Taffy barely gets enough lines as it is. Remember girls like Allison or Alex Whitney? They were real people with specific personalities that made sense in their own stories. Taffy is just a utility to this Lisa-Milhouse will they-won’t they bullshit, and a criminal misuse of Schaal. So secondly, this whole thing between Lisa and Milhouse. Was their kiss supposed to be fan service? Is this just like the writers’ collective wish fulfillment, since they were probably all little Milhouses in their youth? (to be fair, so was I). Lisa has never been interested in him (except as a big sister, of course), definitively states that to him at the beginning of the episode, then at the end, kisses him and says to never give up. I just read this as more waffling to keep the status quo. It’s not like they’re going to explore Lisa’s conflicted feelings or anything, it’s just an exercise in futility. But whatever, look! He said the “Everything’s coming up Milhouse!” line! Remember that? Forget the fact that he was caught by a magical eagle for some reason! Remember that great line you fans love? Do you ‘member? Oooh, I ‘member!
– As usual with these shows, there are a lot of jokes that run twice as long, if not longer, than they need to. The whole bit at the start of the B-story of Milhouse discovering the real beginning to Finding Nemo feels like a really belabored joke, it feels like it takes too much explanation to get to the punchline. It also of course supposes you’ve seen Nemo, otherwise it makes absolutely no sense. Another mash note to Pixar, I guess. Also interminably long and ear-piercingly aggravating were Milhouse’s theremin ode to Lisa and Wiggum making his incredibly annoying noise.
– Let’s talk about the timeline of this story. Wiggum confronts Homer during the day about doing his wife’s hair for the policeman’s ball that will take place that night. He says “tonight.” Homer has closed his shop for good, but I guess Wiggum made that annoying noise and it forced him to reopen. Next scene is Lenny walking in to a completely full store to talk to a despondent Homer. What, is Wiggum holding a gun on him? To not only do Sarah’s hair, but keep the business open… for some reason? After that, it’s nighttime, where Lisa is doing her digging on Taffy, and Marge helps Homer plan their scheme to get out of his predicament. After that, it’s daytime where we see Lisa stalking Milhouse and Taffy, which she does all the way into the night. And then after that is the policeman’s ball. So that’s not “tonight,” that’s the following night. It seems kind of nitpicky written out like this, but if the writers don’t seem to care about the natural progression of the story and things making sense, then why should I as a viewer?

One good line/moment: The sign gag for the Policeman’s Ball, the Thin Blue Line-Dance was pretty good.