503. Them, Robot

2317Original airdate: March 18, 2012

The premise:
Mr. Burns replaces the entire power plant staff with robots, leaving Homer as the sole human employee to monitor them. As other businesses follow Burns’ model and the town becomes more desolate, Homer finds himself bonding with his new robotic co-worker.

The reaction: Way back when this first aired, I was asked to help cover this for the Crazy Noises column on Dead Homer Society. Having not watched a new episode in years, I was absolutely flabbergasted at the sub-basement-level of quality before my eyes. Now, having seen every episode before this, I’m not as aghast, but only because my expectations are at the proper low, low, loooooowww level. In this new science fiction universe that used to be Springfield, the entire power plant is run by hyper-intelligent robots, and Homer is chosen to be their supervisor because he burst in Burns’ office to yell at him. It doesn’t matter. Brent Spiner is the voice of the robots, who does a fine job delivering the very basic humor of robots interpreting things literally. Outside the plant, we see Marge and the kids wander through the desolate town, with Marge bemuses the 99% unemployment rate. So, how exactly do these two stories correlate? I was bullshitting the premise up there when I wrote it; we don’t actually see other business hiring robots, nor is it even implied. It’s just Burns fires everyone at the plant, and all of a sudden everyone in Springfield is out of work. That’s it. There is absolutely zero connective tissue between these two plot points. After that, Homer drills holes in all the robots after learning they want to abolish beer, and then then turn murderous and have buzzsaw arms and cut off part of Homer’s skull… yawn. Like, what the fuck is this? He runs to Burns’ mansion, who for some reason lets him in and the two become buddy partners. Then for no reason, the unemployed masses arrive to bust in Burns’ greenhouse and destroy the robots, and then for no reason, Burns gives everyone their jobs back. Problem solved! So, so terrible. This was shitty when I watched it then, and it’s the same watching it now. The only difference is I’m not as disappointed.

Three items of note:
– As is normally the case, the opening story before the actual plot begins is incredibly superfluous. As alcohol is considered a drug in the eyes of the plant, Homer must survive the weekend prior to the plant physical sober. He then finds out he’s going to have to go to brunch with Patty & Selma. This is like a classic set up; the two hags get under his skin, he tries to resist a drink, drama, tension, etc. Instead, Patty & Selma literally say nothing, and the joke involves Marge screaming at Homer for eating all the food that has booze in it. Mimosa! Irish coffee! Cherries jubilee! Lists are funny, right? In the end, his physical doesn’t even matter. Burns is made liable for medical expenses thanks to his unsafe working conditions, leading to him hiring the robots. You really could have done this set-up one of two ways: he either buys the robots because he doesn’t want to deal with safety concerns, or he doesn’t want to deal with the incompetence of the human worker. Both of these seem simple and effective enough; instead it’s like we did a weird unnecessary zig zag.
– This show has its fair share of elongated sequences that go on so long it makes me want to die, but this episode probably has the most of them that I can recall. The loud echoing “D’oh!” throughout the town, Homer reading the tax code, Marge’s aforementioned food list, Homer screaming “Working hard or hardly working?” at the robot, Lenny and the smallest violin (probably the most unnecessarily prolonged bit in the show’s history), and the robots running in the street after Homer and being hit by cars. If I’ve learned one thing from this show, it’s that when you don’t have things like a good story or good jokes, killing time is hard.
– They make a solid point in the episode to talk about how the robots can only move off on a yellow line on the floor. Then we see Homer has drawn a line from out of the plant and onto a baseball field. Not only are there players in the outfield with no line, then later we get the long bit of robots going into the road, who just walk with no regard for the line or not. Are they programmed to break protocol to save a human life? That doesn’t sound like a very Burns thing to me. Or whatever. You can’t just introduce a rule and then break it barely a minute after you say it.

One good line/moment: This is another tough one… man… Moe yelling at the Girl Scout was smirk-worthy (“I ain’t payin’! Two of my shortbreads were broken!”) Even though the joke is painfully set up. We see a flashback where we find how young Moe got his face mangled, then we fade to current Moe. Buuuuut just in case you didn’t get it, we have Marge follow up young Moe’s quote! (“I guess I’ll have to become beautiful on the inside!” “Which he didn’t.”) Wow, did you really need to ADR that bullshit so people wouldn’t miss why the joke was funny? …I take it back, there were no good moments.

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2 responses to “503. Them, Robot

  1. The Anonymous Nobody

    The one reason I know this episode exists is because two years ago, one of my friends was telling all of us about a Simpsons clip that made her lose her shit. It was the clip of Homer screaming “Working hard or hardly working?” and all I could think about was how funny the show used to be.

    Also, Mike, I’m not sure if you ever noticed, but watching both The Simpsons and Family Guy along with reading these reviews make me realize they’ve had similar problems for years now.

  2. Extended jokes are hallmarks of the HD Simpsons.

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