Original 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.”