539. Steal This Episode

Original airdate: January 5, 2014

The premise:
Irritated with the noisy theater experience, Homer takes to pirating movies and screening them in his backyard, but Marge’s guilty conscious ends up getting him in hot water with the FBI.

The reaction: Internet piracy wasn’t exactly a new, hot button issue when this show aired. Hell, South Park did their Napster episode over a decade before this, and their take felt more biting and was funnier than this. But most importantly, it had a point of view, whereas this episode dances around the issue and ultimately crumples, culminating in a parade of celebrity guest voices taking good-humored jabs at each other and their industry. Homer is sick and tired of people using their bright tablets and being loud at the movies (all while being incredibly loud himself), and starts a movie screening club in his backyard. I thought the point was to avoid noisy people? If the show had developed this argument, or any salient rationale to defend Homer for what he’s doing, there might have been a point to all this. The middle part of the show is a countdown to Marge admitting that she unintentionally ratted on Homer, and I guess we’re supposed to feel bad about it. But why? Even if there were emotional weight to this, it still would stand in stark contrast to all the other nonsense of the wild, incompetent FBI agents and the family hiding out at the Swedish consulate. The trial features Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan to deliver some Hollywood insider jokes, right before we get to our big dumb conclusion. Homer pleas his case by talking about being an underdog, working against all odds to fight the man, a hackneyed plot conceit that the Hollywood bigshots immediately lap up and throw themselves on Homer for the movie rights. First, if they framed this better, and by better, I mean at all, this might have worked. But I was never clear on Homer’s motivations and why he cared so much about this, that his speech is just hollow. Plus, the show does what it always does now, like we saw with Lovejoy’s speech last episode, we have to keep cutting away to people saying their reactions in between Homer talking. Writing dialogue that is convincing and makes sense is too difficult. Let’s half-ass it, and then we’ll have other characters react to blatantly fill in the blanks for the audience. It’s just that easy!

Three items of note:
– The opening features Homer desperately trying to avoid spoilers for the new Radioactive Man reboot. Making fun of comic book movie plot twists is fair game and all, but it was just scene after scene of the same joke. It also felt weird that we got barely one line out of Bart for this whole opening, considering he’s the one that reads the comic books. They could have used him to comment on bringing “nerd” culture mainstream, with him being an old guard fan and Homer being the ignorant mass media consumer who looks down on him or something. Or something. Later, Homer gets set off into his movie theater tirade after reacting angrily at a scene in the movie ending up becoming a giant advertisement. Is this supposed to be a take on all the product placement from Man of Steel specifically? Surely there were dozens of jokes they could have made about the look, structure and plots of the Marvel movies, it felt weird that they went with that one.
– The scene on the prison bus of all the other prisoners reacting gravely seriously toward Homer for his movie piracy crimes felt the most analogous of South Park‘s piracy episode. The police chief takes the boys to celebrity homes a la A Christmas Carol telling them their tales of woe, of Lars Ulrich having to wait a few months to afford a gold plated shark tank, and Master P being unable to buy his son his own Polynesian island (“I see an island without an owner,” a brilliant driving home of the Carol connection). In this episode, it’s pretty much what you’d expect, except nowhere near as funny or clever as the show South Park did over a decade prior.
– Judd Apatow takes his lumps, kind of, as Homer introduces “Life is Funny,” clearly taking on Funny People (“It’s based on his life, starring his family and ad-libbed by his friends. So for the next three-and-a-half hours, enjoy.”) I honestly feels like a line an actor would read off of cue cards at the Oscars. Bringing in Apatow, as well as Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) to voice a “joke” scene from the movie, is basically the show making sure there’s no hard feelings, we didn’t mean it, look, you’re in on the joke! Funny People was an overindulgent, bloated piece of garbage, so seeing this kiddy glove take on it was particularly annoying to me.

One good line/moment: As Bart is about to give his father the step-by-step to downloading movies online, we cut to the FOX logo, with an announcer saying they have to censor this part of the show to prevent people from learning how to pirate, and instead show some NASCAR footage. It was a little overexplained, but a cute idea. It reminded me of hearing about how super paranoid FOX was about the medical marijuana show, and that they were forbidden from showing Homer actually placing the joint to his lips; it could be an inch away, but it couldn’t make contact, otherwise, kids would know how to smoke pot! As with all actually humorous things this show manages, they bring it back a second time, at the ending to cut off Lisa when she tries to weigh both sides of the argument and make some sense of what the fuck the episode was even about. That reminded me of the stupid surfing ending of “The Great Money Caper,” not the best show to bring up memories of.

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6 responses to “539. Steal This Episode

  1. Honestly I feel like a lot of these episodes at their core have a good idea for a story, but they always manage to bollocks it up.

  2. This is a strong episode. My only complaint is that they did Lisa OOC in agreeing to Homer’s piracy.

  3. This is actually the second-newest Simpsons episode I’ve seen. I remember there was some random internet hype about the Simpsons “taking on” internet piracy, so I went to check the calendar and yep, it was 2014 then, so I wanted to see how they were going to “take on” a topic that everyone else took on over a decade before. Ultimately, I had no idea what the point of the episode was when I watched it, and after reading the last few seasons’ worth of reviews, I’m pretty sure there was none.
    The screenshot at the top reminds me that I always find it weird to see more modern, vaguely-realistically drawn and colored characters of other races inserted while the majority of Springfieldians, which are meant to represent American whites, have bright yellow skin and a bunch of them sport blue hair.

  4. Believe it or not, this was a heavily hyped episode when it came out. Lord knows why.

    Yes, it dates very poorly and while you mentioned the South Park episode, Futurama also did one back around 2002, and even THEN the Napster parody was considered a dated parody.

  5. Ererrrrrrrrrrrr

    Don’t forget the end: when the city holds a pirate premiere party for the movie based on the case, he’s suddenly against it since he loses money from the sales. Total fucking 180 from him. Also, he promotes Axe body spray (they didn’t even TRY to parody it, like Aks or Ax) and when Marge tries to stop him, he uses her accidental ratting as blackmail. Fucking despicable.

  6. Mike, I love your blog and want it to continue as long as the show is on, but could you please learn the difference between “conscious” and “conscience”?

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