Original airdate: November 13, 2011
The premise: In her attempt to be a fun mom, Marge, Bart and Lisa stumble upon an Ethiopian restaurant and really enjoy the food there. They start a food blog which becomes an enormous hit, while Homer becomes increasingly alienated from his new foodie family.
The reaction: Here’s the rule of thumb with these Simpson-becomes-instantly-successful episodes. You don’t need to see a character actually working on their craft or what they have to do to actually get famous. Why bother? That would waste too much time. And who needs explanations for why things are happening anyway? Just skip all that shit. In this episode, we have Marge, Bart and Lisa decide they want to start a food blog, and then we get a montage of them eating a whole bunch of food, being on the cover of magazines, their blog being well revered, etc. And after that, they’re established and well-respected foodies. It’s just that easy. Bart can win multiple awards for an animated short he apparently directed, Homer can sub in for Tommy Chong and be universally embraced, and Lisa can perform magic tricks from a decades-old veteran with the greatest of ease. It’s not worth complaining anymore at this point that the Simpsons were once treated as a normal upper-lower-middle class family, but this insta-fame shit just isn’t entertaining. If any character can effortlessly do anything, then what’s the point? But the main thrust of the story is Marge finally feeling like the fun parent, and her hoping to keep it that way by keeping Homer out of the loop. Her jealousy and motivation is repeated at least four times through the whole show, in case you forgot. This leads to an exciting finale where Marge gives Homer the wrong address to a new restaurant, and he winds out in a shootout at a meth den. Ultimately I didn’t feel that much sympathy for Marge considering how stupid her situation was. Homer felt bad that he was being left out of the family, Marge brings her into the fold, and then proceeds to have paranoid anxieties and nightmares about her husband co-opting this new passion and hogging the spotlight. Then she basically unintentionally gets him almost killed by lying to him. It just felt extremely immature and senseless of her, but all is forgiven at the end, as always. This is definitely one of the worst ones yet; when you have not one, but two subject matters just begging to be goofed on, and you instead turn it into a giant commercial for them, then what business do you have being a supposed comedy show?
Three items of note:
– This episode is a prime example of the writers losing touch with the show’s world. Remember when we saw Homer open hundreds of Krusty Bars to get tickets to the candy expo? Well now, not only does Springfield host its own E3, but Homer just happens to have VIP tickets without any explanation. Once they arrive, we get a twenty second panning shot of a whole bunch of sign gags they wrote (all subpar MAD Magazine-level name changes like Y-Box, Electronic Crafts, and of course, the new game system, the Funtendo Zii Zu), and on top of that, they have Bart read a bunch of funny acronyms. Forget that Lisa and Homer don’t really have much interest in games, this all feels born of the writers having attended E3 (as VIP guests, surely) and paying homage to the event, which ends up being a glorified advertisement rather than any kind of parody. The same goes for the whole rest of the episode; this isn’t so much of a send-up of foodie culture as it is a warm embrace of it. Instead of any kind of snarky commentary, it’s just scene after scene of Marge and the kids gushing about all this wonderful food (also, why the fuck is Bart into all of this? He and Lisa basically just become interchangeable line dispensers in the latter part of the episode). And of course we get a bunch of celebrity chefs to add to our guest star list, and they can do their obligatory “let’s-lightly-rib-ourselves” lines. South Park did an episode about this subject matter a year prior to this and it’s lightyears ahead of this softball affair.
– When the car starts to smoke, Marge pulls off the highway into Little Ethiopia. She is terror-stricken, locking the doors and trying to reassure her kids. But the area doesn’t look run down or especially dark and creepy. It’s just like a little berg with a bunch of foreign signage. That’s the act break, and when we return, we see the city block that previously appeared abandoned now has a whole bunch of normal looking people enjoying the night life. It struck me as very odd, I don’t know. I get they’re trying to make Marge into someone who never steps out of her comfort zone, but she ended up coming off as just mildly racist. Maybe it’s just me. Also strange that Springfield has a Little Ethiopia district. I mean, we have seen Two Guys From Kabul. But as we see through the course of the show, this isn’t Springfield anymore, since there are an endless amount of upscale and trendy restaurants covered by the food blog. Remember when Springfield was just a shitty little town? Yeah, me too.
– This is not a new point, but the resolution of this episode really bugged the fuck out of me. Marge incapacitates the meth kingpin by chucking a ball of deconstructed apple pie down his throat (mighty fine aim she’s got there). That leads to him flashing back to when he was a kid and the taste of his mother’s homemade apple pie. It’s a shot-for-shot recreation of the pivotal moment of Ratatouille (directed by show veteran Brad Bird) when humorless critic Anton Ego is won over by the eponymous dish. But, as I have said repeatedly in the past, this is not a parody. This is a reference. You’re just recreated a thing from a movie exactly, with no twist or added commentary or anything. I guess the joke is that it’s a guy who cooks meth who’s having this memory? It’s just lazy, lazy writing, something that Family Guy is most famous for (and most reviled by me), and it happens all the time on this show now. Just terrible.
One good line/moment: The guest voices were all superfluous, showing up in Marge’s ultimately unnecessary dream (did we need to be informed once more that she’s jealous of Homer?), but the ending of it was kind of amusingly unexpected, with Gordon Ramsey taking control and taking her dream away from her. Or maybe I was just thinking of Cartman impersonating Ramsey in that aforementioned South Park episode.