Original airdate: May 4, 2014
The premise: Homer wakes up in a world entirely made of LEGO, but he begins to get flashes back to his flesh-and-blood reality featuring he and Lisa finding common ground through building playsets together.
The reaction: “It’s not selling out, it’s co-branding!” Whatever lets you sleep at night, guys. This Homer line opens the show, as this episode was meant to coincide with the release of the new Simpsons LEGO figures and sets. But, to this episode’s simultaneous benefit and detriment, it also came right off the heels of the wild success of The LEGO Movie. Despite it being written and directed by super geniuses Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the brilliant minds behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Clone High, most people weren’t really expecting the movie to be as absolutely astounding as it was. It surely reignited people’s love of LEGO, so that probably helped this episode coming out during the wave of it. But, it also leaves the show in a weird place where all their cute LEGO jokes and sight gags are kind of unconscious retreads of material from The LEGO Movie, except not as sharp or gorgeous looking. But there’s no real point to comparing and contrasting these two, so let’s drop that and look at this for what it is. With pretty great looking animation and a shocking amount of jokes that actually land, this is definitely the strongest episode I’ve seen in years, but a mostly shit script holds it back from any notoriety for me. Even in CG LEGO, the never-ending problem of characters reiterating the plot and saying how they feel is in full force here, in particularly obnoxious fashion. In the real world, Homer bonds with Lisa over her LEGO sets, but is hurt when she blows him off to hang with some older girls. So he takes refuge in his coma-induced LEGO world, “everything fits with everything else and nobody ever gets hurt,” a line that is repeated verbatim at least five or six times. As he talks with others and bonds with Lisa, he continues to explain what’s happening and say exactly what he’s feeling over and over. His epiphany comes from realizing “the fact that kids grow up is what makes time with them special.” How do I know? Because he says that verbatim, and in the previous scene, he monologues all of the things he’ll never do if he’s stuck in non-progressing time. We don’t see Homer getting bored with doing the same thing day in and day out, or have a realization based on something someone else says; the only thing the writers can do is have Homer literally say aloud what his conflict is, what he feels about it, and how he can fix it. In the limitless imagination world of LEGO, the storytelling is still stuck in one dimension as always.
Three items of note:
– This episode also suffers a little bit in comparison to a similar episode of Community that aired within a month of this, wherein a 40-year-old Jeff Winger goes into a coma, taking refuge in a G.I. Joe-styled dream where he can revel in his nostalgic youth forever. It features cartoon Jeff getting flashes back to his life-action self, as well as acknowledging that they’re all just action figures, similar to the moments in this where LEGO Homer gets flesh fingers and gets flashes of his ink-and-paint “real” world. “G.I. Jeff” is a thousand times better written than this slop, so that doesn’t help.
– The scenes in the real world are written even worse than the LEGO stuff. Homer finds himself enjoying playing LEGO with Lisa, and spends an entire scene expositing that fact. Later, he walks in on her hanging out with three older girls, who all get their own dialogue explaining why they’re there, because hell if I know. They’re bonding over “The Starving Games” book series, and boy, I wonder what that’s a parody of? Terrible, just fucking terrible. The ending tag features them going to see the movie, where they show it’s just a trifling love triangle that the girls are going apeshit over. I’ve seen the movies, haven’t read the books, and I’m not, nor have I ever been, a young girl, but I don’t know if that’s the biggest appeal of this series. I’ve seen a couple other parodies that hinge on Katniss and the two guys, but it was never really a huge critical part of the movies. Maybe the writers’ daughters are all about the romance angle and so they wrote it that way, but it felt a little reductive and tone-deaf to have the only parody angle be that the Hunger Games is just like Twilight, part two.
– It really is impossible to watch this and not think about The LEGO Movie. The ending with Bart showing up in his giant robot, hodgepodged together out of various in-congruent styles and franchises felt exactly like the finale of that movie with Emmett and the gang building their machines to fight back against Lord Business. I don’t know the facts, but I’m pretty certain all of these similarities are unintentional, but it still stings a bit when they lampshade it at the end, as Homer describes his adventure (“I had this crazy dream where I was in a world made of LEGO bricks and learned important lessons about parenting!” “Isn’t that kind of the plot of-” “No it’s not. It’s a new plot.”) As usual, pointing out your shitty writing doesn’t make it any less shitty.
One good line/moment: This is always a struggle, at times an impossibility to pick out something I actually enjoyed, but as I mentioned, this is easily the best episode they’ve done in a while, with a lot of gags that worked. My favorite scene was the church with Lovejoy, which was strong through almost the whole thing (“What if everything isn’t made of plastic? I think there’s more to this world!” “You mean, like decals? The Orthodox don’t use them, but we are a reformed congregation.”)