Original airdate: April 29, 2012
The premise: Bart seeks to dispel his recent ennui with a family vacation on a luxury cruise, but when he realizes his perfect week is only temporary, he schemes a plan to make the vacation last forever.
The reaction: The Simpson family once existed in a world where everything sucked. When they watched commercials for seemingly amazing attractions or products that seemed to be too good to be true, they usually ended up being huge let-downs. The show was a satire on all aspects of modern life, and no subject matter was safe from its masterful ridicule. Nowadays, whether it be celebrities who play themselves delivering softball jokes at their own “expense,” or showing the family at elaborate events and new locales based on the writers’ seemingly wonderful SoCal lives, it seems at times the show isn’t as interested in ripping on things as it is glorifying them. This may be the crowning example thus far, an episode that seems like an extended commercial for the cruise industry. When Bart sees the ad for the cruise line, he’s immediately won over. It looks like the funnest things to ever be fun in the history of fun-dom. Then the family takes the cruise, and it’s the best thing ever. Everything about it is great. More fun than anything else ever. Fun fun fun. Did the writers get a free vacation out of this? The cruise industry seems like such a ripe target for ridicule, but they just let this one slip by. In the context of the story, there’s no room for satire though; the episode is about Bart’s inexplicable melancholy, and his realization that while the cruise is enthralling now, it, like all things, is only temporary. I’ll give the episode some credit, we go into some really dark places with Bart, with him imaging himself on his death bed mourning a wholly unexciting life. There are a few sequences that come close to holding real weight, but ultimately, I’m left not entirely sure why Bart is feeling this way. This type of depression about one’s future seems weird for someone as young as Bart to have; Lisa’s bout of sadness way back in “Moaning Lisa” made sense because she’s always been wise beyond her years, and we see why she feels this way, from her unappreciative school and home life. No matter how many times Bart talks about how unhappy and unfulfilled he feels, I never understood why that was. There are elements of this show that feel like they actually could work, but by the time we get to the third act where all hell breaks loose on the ship that ends up with the Simpsons in Antarctica, it just becomes the same nonsensical slop we always get every Sunday.
Three items of note:
– The opening act is full of sequences I’ve come to expect from this show. To raise the money to go on the room, Bart sells everything in his room in a yard sale. Everything. His bed, his furniture, all of it. This all happens without Homer or Marge saying anything about it, it’s just a set piece where they can kill a little time. The next day, Bart is shocked to find that his funds jar is completely full, like magic! Marge announces that each family member sold one beloved item each, so then Lisa, then Marge, then Homer wait their turns to give their respective joke lines about what they sold. Like the kids talking in the movie theater in “Cheating Bart,” it’s all this super hacky set-up, pay-off style of sitcom writing that this show used to make fun of.
– Bart tricks his fellow passengers that there’s been a virus outbreak on land so they must stay out at sea, creating panic and pandemonium. We get a panoramic view of the ship that mirrors the one earlier in the episode, except all the attractions and amenities are in ruin. Everyone is miserable, everything is dirty and run down, nothing works, but for some reason, Bart doesn’t seem to care. He’s deluded himself into thinking this is all still fun, but it doesn’t play out like a delusion. Like, why is he still psyched? This could have played into some realization that it wasn’t the superficial fun stuff on the ship that was making him happy, it was seeing the rest of his family enjoy themselves that he liked. Instead, we don’t get that confession out of him until the end of the episode. Speaking of which…
– So, the Simpsons end up stranded in Antarctica with a few minutes of show to spare. They run into a hoard of penguins and Bart and Lisa make some observation about how life is about enjoying those fleeting fun moments, blah blah blah, whatever. It all feels so arbitrary. The family is stranded in a freezing cold environment, but when they see the penguins sliding down the hill, they decide it’s time to exposit the meaning of tonight’s episode.
One good line/moment: I actually really liked Steve Coogan as the cruise director. The gag in his introductory video where it keeps cutting to him leaning against different guard rails as he gives his spiel gave me the first genuine, hearty laugh I’ve gotten out of this show in a long time.