Original airdate: March 30, 2014
The premise: An impassioned speech from Lisa about her father’s brief stint as a referee from eight seasons ago gets Homer tapped to work for FIFA at the World Cup in Brazil. During the season, he is pursued by local gangsters to fix the games, but he refuses, determined to stay in Lisa’s good graces.
The reaction: A major sports organization contacting Homer to work with them after seeing an online video… I guess if it worked nearly ten years ago (!) for “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass,” why not a second time? Though I would much, much rather be watching that episode. As dumb as both examples are, Homer being an obnoxious, crowd-pleasing ham being brought on to teach professional athletes how to showboat actually has some coherent connective narrative tissue, rather than Lisa offhand mentioning her father calling her out once during a soccer match during a B-story in an episode nearly a decade old leading to Homer reffing the fucking World Cup. Without the context of “Marge Gamer,” this narrative leap makes even less sense. Lisa gives a speech on the fly about the nice things her dad has done for her, and him giving her a red card way back when is just one throwaway example. It’s not like she was espousing how honest and unflappable Homer is. But whatever, this is our insanely flimsy excuse to get the Simpsons to the World Cup, so maybe we can get some sweet cross-promotion with sports fans, just like their Olympics show a few seasons back. We also get the family back to Brazil, where we get a handful of callbacks to “Blame It On Lisa,” including reappearances from Teleboobies and the samba instructor. Does it count as fan service if they’re bringing back jokes from episodes that aren’t fondly remembered? Once they’re international, the beats of the story proceed so ham-fisted, the worst we’ve seen yet. When the family is out to eat, Homer walks outside apropos of nothing so the gangsters can randomly appear to offer him a bribe to rig the game. Then we get over a minute of montage repeating over and over that Homer won’t play ball. After that, we get a scene where Bart unnecessarily tells Homer that Lisa wasn’t her first hero choice, with some just plain awful lines (“I’m just examining what kind of person I am and whether I should destroy your happiness forever.”) As usual, we don’t see Homer actually emote and get sad, instead they just keep expositing lines to do the work for them. Later, we get the exact same type of scene when Lisa appears to stop Homer from cheating, and then later again during the showdown with the gangsters, and then being saved by a completely ridiculous Chekov’s gun. It all feels like the minimum amount of effort to push a threadbare story along, with none of the humanity plugged in. Characters just say their lines explaining what’s currently happening, scene after scene after scene. It’s like watching an episode of CliffNotes.
Three items of note:
– The opening act was pretty bad. There’s a school assembly that Skinner can’t get control over (remember when he actually ran the school with inflated authority? Wasn’t that a more admirable and humorous character quirk than spineless wuss?) featuring a fake Lincoln-Douglas debate. The joke is that they stay in character in trying to appeal to the kids, but repeatedly get heckled and have things thrown at them. Over and over again. After the fiasco, the school holds a contest to award the student with the best speech on who their hero is, sponsored by a sandwich chain so they can do a Jared Fogle “parody.” Forgetting the disturbing in hindsight nature of this, it feels far too late to be doing Jared jokes. In fact, the show already did one in a Treehouse of Horror episode in 2005, so maybe this was an old discarded post-it someone found under a couch or something. Then the conflict is that Martin takes Lisa’s idea to do Marie Curie as his hero, which is revealed so laboriously slow. Like, this is supposed to be tense or something? And they play it up like Martin gave a fucking awesome presentation with the kids cheering and going nuts, that Lisa has to top that. What school is this? Then Lisa gives her stupid speech, and because we can’t tell from the writing that it’s supposed to be good, we get shots of the judges and the crowd confirming that they indeed do love it. Again, we can’t tell just from looking at the screen, we need to be told what we’re supposed to feel. For this show nowadays, it’s always tell, not show.
– This episode was the first official reveal of Lunchlady Doris being renamed to Lunchlady Dora through a headline in the school newspaper. When asked on Twitter whether this was just a typo, writer Michael Price replied, “The show introduced Lunchlady Dora after Doris Grau passed away. So we did the opposite of forget.” I’ve talked about this multiple times, and I believe the staff to be full of incredibly compassionate people, but this whole thing feels so wrong to me. They retired her character for a decade, and then one day figured that enough time had passed, dusted her off, and brought in Tress MacNeille to do a half-baked imitation of Grau, and went about their merry way. And I’ll say again, why not bring back Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz? What’s the difference between keeping them silent and bringing Doris/Dora back?
– There’s a quick joke that feels really vindictive to me: on the plane to Brazil, an old woman (later revealed to be the gangster’s mom for some reason) switches seats with Lisa so she can watch premium HBO. We then cut to a very quick shot of a screen displaying three shows, Hung, Bored to Death, and Enlightened. She lets out a disgruntled “Meehhhh!” and that’s it. What’s that about? I’ve only seen Bored to Death which I really enjoyed, and all three shows were pretty critically acclaimed. What’s with this motivation-less dig on HBO? And, per usual, this show has lost all privileges to make fun of any other show on the air. You can’t take shots up when you’re at the critical bottom.
One good line/moment: This exchange from the gangsters was smirk-worthy (“We will get to him. We have our ways.” “Well, what other ways besides guns and money?” “We have two ways. Two very good ways.”)