Original airdate: March 3, 2013
The premise: The Simpsons learn more about Abe’s past, when he was the prim and proper wrestling villain known as Gorgeous Godfrey. As his biggest fan back in the day, Mr. Burns convinces him to make a comeback and fuel his hate fire, but Homer and Marge grow concerned when an impressionable Bart begins to imitate his grandfather’s awful behavior.
The reaction: Boy, we’re learning a lot about Abe’s past this season, aren’t we? So Abe was a pretty boy wrestler? Like him being a songwriter at a jazz club, it just doesn’t make sense to me given what we know about Abe. Would the straight-laced man who booed at Woodstock and chastised Joe Namath’s luscious locks have been wearing his own gorgeous wig and showboating in the ring? Anyway, Mr. Burns randomly shows up to invite the Simpsons to his mansion, where he has an entire gigantic room devoted to Gorgeous Godfrey merchandise and paraphernalia. This also feels off to me; Burns being a wrestling superfan, who is surprised to learn that it’s actually fake? The point, I guess, is that Burns connecting to Godfrey’s character, a pompous jackass who reveled in the crowd’s hatred of him. Abe initially left the scene when the scorn became too great for him, but is wooed back into it thanks to Burns and a terrible song (more on that later). Despite being out of the game for decades, Abe seems just as fit and capable as ever. He’s fighting fellow seniors, but he’s in the ring doing spins and jumping up to tackle guys; look at that screenshot, he’s got nary a wrinkle on him. You’d think that would be the easiest source of comedy for this episode, but it’s not even regarded. The conflict arises in Bart’s hero worship of his grandfather, as he adopts his showboating routine to his little league game, and gets in trouble for it. Why would he be doing this though? We’ve seen Bart imitate things from TV before, but to do cool stuff for the adoration and amazement of others, like “Bart the Daredevil.” He revels in the attention, and the positive response of his classmates, as any kid would want. But to take pleasure in being outwardly hated, what sense does that make? And surely Bart is smart enough to realize that wrestling is all for show, and that the context is completely different. But I guess if Mr. Burns was surprised to learn that fact, I guess Bart wouldn’t have known either. The ending is so cloying, with shots of Abe worriedly watching Bart behave badly, and then giving up his persona because of it (“My grandson’s soul is at stake!”) The Burns/Abe/Bart dynamic reminded me of “Flying Hellfish” toward the second half, but I didn’t want to compare the two because it would be incredibly unfair. One of the greatest episodes ever, versus whatever this mess is.
Three items of note:
– We get a Harlem Shake video as our couch gag, and in a rare feat, they actually aired this when the meme was actually still relevant. I’m sure people were real pissed about it like the Ke$ha opening before it, but my annoyance comes more from the show just not trying to make a joke or a subversion or anything. It’s just them doing the Harlem Shake; just play into what’s currently trending so we can get some press, please! We need press!
– We open with some Storage Wars bullshit, which feels born of one of the writers lying on the couch marathoning the show and not having any other ideas. All the characters put on shades before the bidding war, which I guess is a thing they do on the show. I guess? Again, parodies on the show used to work and make sense even if you haven’t seen the source material. The storage locker the Simpsons win contains old wigs and boas, and when they see it belongs to Abe, they jump to the conclusion that he’s actually been a closeted gay man this whole time. There’s a running “joke” involving Marge wanting to be extra tolerant for her own self-satisfaction of seeming progressive, which feels very strange given her normally open and loving character, and also because she already has experience with an openly gay family member with Patty. When Abe’s true identity is revealed, Marge cries to Homer, “I so wanted him to be gay!” So weird.
– Mr. Burns woos Abe back to the wrestling life the only way he knows how: through song, about how good it is to be bad. This is the first big song we’ve seen from the show in a while, and boy is it terrible. It didn’t help that I had just recently listened to “See My Vest,” and the two could not be more different. “Vest” is a song all about Burns’ enthusiastic mirth about skinning helpless animals for their coats, but that it’s a catchy, upbeat number (amongst other things) is what makes it funny. Burns has always teetered toward being a self-aware villain who revels in being evil, but there is usually always some sort of reasoning or context to his dastardly deeds. In this song, it’s just Burns singing about how much he loves being hated. It’s his Card-Carrying Villain song; there’s no other joke to it other than “I am bad guy.” Then when they quickly run out of ideas for lyrics, they just have Burns listing off pop culture villains like Megatron, Eric Cartman and Voldemort, despite his cultural knowledge normally not extending past the 1910s. Harry Shearer’s performance feels so half-hearted, and I really can’t blame him.
One good line/moment: The Simpsons walk in on Abe carefully putting the finishing touches on his army tank in a bottle. Pretty clever for a quick joke.