Original airdate: March 17, 2013
The premise: Inspired a renewed childhood love of comic books, Mr. Burns adopts the superhero persona Fruit Bat Man. Meanwhile, an Easter festival debacle is blamed on Bart, leading to a mock trial with Lisa at his defense.
The reaction: Back in the day when I was still regularly watching this show, I remember reading about the upcoming episode “Simple Simpson,” featuring Homer as the superhero Pie Man, and thinking it was the dumbest thing ever. It actually turned out not to be the worst, but it’s a stroke of pure genius compared to this. Senile bucktoothed old mummy with bony girl arms Burns as a superhero? And him wanting to thwart crime and stand up for the little guy? He and Smithers randomly end up inside the Android’s Dungeon, he remembers reading comics as a kid, and he connects with a Batman type character as a fellow billionaire misanthropic recluse, then he decides to be Fruit Bat Man! Smithers just placates his beloved’s mania by paying people off and creating elaborately planned scenarios where Burns can swoop in, save the day, and be the beloved hero. When Smithers finally reveals this, Burns is crestfallen. This isn’t like him helping him cheat at golf, this comes off as incredibly sad and pathetic. Burns may have his moments of naivety, but he’s a very ruthless, formidable character. There’s so many times in recent years where the easiest thing seems to just make him into a big joke, but it robs the character of his vital essence. But most of the episode is a big trial, where Lisa defends Bart for some prank he didn’t do, with Janet Reno as the presiding judge. It’s pretty damn boring. There was a Bob’s Burgers episode this season featuring a kids trial that had a pretty similar set-up, but that had characters that still have some soul and vitality to them. The ending features the two plots coming together (two episodes in a row, I’m shocked) where Lisa for some reason entrusts Burns in exposing the truth to prove her brother innocent, which he does. And then that’s it. And then they do an Avengers parody, but with all the old characters and they’re called the Dependables! Get it? Remember when this show had clever writing?
Three items of note:
– Janet Reno seems like such a bizarre booking. How many of the young people watching the show now were even alive when she was a relevant political figure? Turns out Abe knows her from arguing in front of the Supreme Court (literally outside the building) when she was Attorney General back in 1998. From that, I guess they became pen pals for some reason. Also, the scene gave me “That 90’s Show” flashbacks of the show’s floating timeline wallpapering over the classic years. Abe (and Jasper and Crazy Old Man) look twenty years younger, but of course in season 9, they were as old and cantankerous as ever.
– We have a montage featuring Burns thwarting “crimes” and the people Smithers has payed off to play along: Homer, Lenny and Carl (plant workers), Krusty, Sideshow Mel and Mr. Teeny (owe Burns money?), and the Crazy Cat Lady (mentally ill person). Then we get to Burns’ house party, featuring dozens of people who Smithers happily hands out stacks of cash to. There’s also two hot young socialites who take Burns back to the hot tub. I sure hope they were paid the most handsomely of all. Again, the middle portion of this episode is Burns as a sad, pathetic old man who has no grasp on reality, a portrayal that feels so anti-Burns to me.
– I think this is the first instance of Lunchlady Doris being referred to as Lunchlady Dora. I think it wasn’t until a year or so later when her name was actually in print in an episode that fans bitched on Twitter, and one of the writers’ confirmed the name change was out of respect to Doris Grau. I still don’t get it. If was out of “respect,” why not keep her retired like they had for over a decade? Or create a new lunchlady character? If this is the excuse they’re using, then why not bring back beloved characters Roy McClure and Lenny Hutz, and have Hank Azaria voice them? Was Doris Grau any less of a respected performer to them as Phil Hartman?
One good line/moment: Witnesses are called to question Bart’s character; the greatest of which being Moe, who tearfully gets through his experience of being traumatized for years over Bart’s prank calls. It’s an amusing conceit, although as usual for this show, any humorous idea gets drawn out for twice as long, and then they even bring it back again for a callback in the final scene. Good enough.