552. The Yellow Badge of Cowardage

Original airdate: May 18, 2014

The premise:
Bart becomes a town hero for winning the annual last day of school race, but he’s wracked with guilt over it being a sham; he won by accident after Nelson attacked front-runner Milhouse, which Bart did nothing to try and stop. Meanwhile, Homer works with a childhood hero to create a magnificent 4th of July fireworks spectacular.

The reaction: Boy, what a whimper of an episode to go out on. Springfield Elementary has an end-of-the-year race that the entire town holds in high regard for some reason. Remember when the school was a dumpy embarrassment? Milhouse trained hard for this, is in the lead, then the bullies, who had been taking bets on the winner, get worried that they’ll have to pay off Martin, who overheard Milhouse’s rigorous training and put down a huge bet on him, so they must sabotage the race. Why would they feel obligated to pay Martin at all? They’re fucking bullies. So Nelson corners him in the woods, beats him up, and Bart turns away and does nothing, as seen in an overly dramatic fashion. Then he ends up winning and feels guilty of taking the glory from Milhouse… this feels so belabored. Meanwhile, Homer teams up with an old hero of his, the man in charge of the annual fireworks display, to put on a big show, so that kills some more time. The two plots intersect at the show, when Homer and old man get into a fight for no real reason, and the barge they’re on tilts perfectly ninety degrees, leaving the fireworks pointed directly at the crowd. How the hell is this happening? And is this supposed to be a moment of tension? You can’t have silly cartoon physics and expect us to treat this as serious simultaneously. Bart views this as a way to redeem himself, and he drives a bus in front of the incoming fireworks, saving the day, and having Milhouse take the credit. Through this show, we’ve seen two groups of crowds, one at the ceremony awarding Bart, and the other at the end on the beach. When Bart admits the truth about the race, the crowd fiercely boos. Agnes yells, “Bart’s a coward!” Krusty follows, “He lied to us!” Forget why they or this whole town gives so much of a shit, but why are they saying this? Why the fuck does every single character just announce what they’re feeling or repeating what’s going on with the plot? It’s the same shit at the end. The crowd are saved from being set on fire, and Lenny, calm as can be, unprompted, to no one in particular, asks, “So who’s our hero?” When Milhouse exits the van, Sideshow Mel chimes in, “Milhouse is our unlikely savior!” Then a guy in the crowd yells, “Quit explaining everything!” Well, I guess we can chalk this up as an awful trope that the writers acknowledge is terrible, but will continue to use regardless. Is it too much to ask that maybe in the coming seasons, we’ll see a little bit less of this endless incessant over-explaining expository dialogue every single goddamn episode? Is it?

Three items of note:
– The couch gag features the family running into a panel at Comic-Con, and Comic Book Guy asking if there will ever be another movie. The joke, I guess, is we see that everyone but Maggie has fled after the question is asked, leaving her worried. Or embarrassed. I can’t tell. But it’s basically a joke stolen from a Futurama episode four years prior, where Bender asks the same question, and Matt Groening’s head in a jar fires a laser at him in response.
– Lisa serves as narrator for two bland, down-to-earth stories, because I guess the characters always saying exposition is not enough, we have to have a narrator do it too. A perfect example of how shitty this is is near the start of the B-story. Homer seems particularly emphatic about demanding the fireworks show must go on despite town budget cuts. We flash back to a young, starry-eyed Homer watching the night time festivities, and behind him, out of view, we see his parents angrily bickering. Lisa explains, “It was the one night of every year that he couldn’t hear his parents argue.” Alright, fair enough, I can get behind this, I understand. But wait, let’s make it even more clear! Lisa continues, “He figured it was because they loved the fireworks just as much as he did!” Then we bring Glenn Close back to say a handful of words as we see Mona and Abe complain. Then later, she’s gone, and we get more sad, pathetic single parent Abe like we saw from that horrible dog show. And then it keeps going, and Lisa explains even more (“With his mother gone, Homer needed a hero, and no one was more of a hero than the magical little man behind the controls.”) I could watch this show with my eyes closed and understand most of what’s happening, it’s like I’m listening to an audiobook with all of the shit they openly explain.
– Another sequence ruined is when Homer and old man get boxes and boxes of fireworks from… somewhere, and they’re strapped to the hood of the car. “Now drive slowly and carefully…” old guy says. So we’re setting up this sequence where he drives through some rough and dangerous areas that could set off the fireworks. Alright, there’s some smirk-worthy comedic potential there. But, for whatever reason, the characters narrate what’s about to happen before each joke happens (“It’s in the cobblestone district.” “Oh thank God, a rickety bridge!” “We’ll be safe in the gas lamp district.”) Are they doing this show for radio? Why are they explaining everything we’re seeing? I keep asking this over and over, but I honestly don’t get it. Why? Why? For fuck’s sake, why. Toward the end of the montage, we see a barrel catch on fire, and then when they park, Homer throws his cigar on the pile, and then nothing happens. But it’s not even like the joke is that nothing happens, like Homer lighting the grill in “Lisa the Vegetarian,” they just move onto the next scene. Just terrible.

One good line/moment: I kind of liked Homer’s enthusiasm about fireworks at the start, and like I mentioned, the idea behind his childhood nostalgia for it (“The Fourth of July is the one day a year our city puts on her high heels and tube top and leans into America’s car window! God bless her!”)

NOTE: I’m going to be taking a break next week, I’ve got a lot of really important stuff on my plate, so my holy crusade through yellow-toned muck will have to wait. I will return though, don’t you worry…

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17 responses to “552. The Yellow Badge of Cowardage

  1. Do they not realize that “cowardice” is a word and would’ve worked just fine for this title?

    • But “cowardice” doesn’t sound like “courage,” so the guy barely paying attention might not realize the title is a pun on “The Red Badge of Courage.”

  2. What a splendid season finale, isn’t it?
    But let’s face it: at least it’s not an episode where dogs randomly revolt against humans.

    Oh, this was also the last episode written by Ian Maxtone-Graham (The NYC vs. Homer Simpson).

  3. I guess the exposition thing is supposed to be the show’s signature style now. In the same way that ‘Family Guy’ is known for cutaways (love them or hate them), this show is going for explicitly on-the-nose meta-humor. That kind of self-awareness can be funny, but it wears thin when it’s your only source of humor, not to mention when you resort to using it to move your plot along.

    • You are giving too much credit if you think over exposition is their on-the-nose meta-humor. In fact, it is more like the writers are inept and they know it, so they acknowledge it now and then to sound smarter than they really are.

      But this is actually a problem in whole modern comedy, not only The Simpsons: writers of shows or movies seems to be terrified by the fact that audience could think they are not smart, so they constantly use this post-modern (pathetic) meta-humor.

      • I think the use of over-exposition is more likely due to two possible reasons: bad writing or the writers worried the audience wont know exactly what’s going on. Whatever the reason they need to cut that shit out.

      • Yeah, characters standing around explaining things isn’t unique to the Simpsons, although I get the impression that they definitely do it the most.

        I was watching the first TBS episode of American Dad recently (Blonde Ambition) and the damn thing ended with a good thirty second monologue by Hayley where she basically said everything that she was feeling, as if the audience was too fucking stupid to understand for themselves. And everything with American Dad these past three years has just been downhill from there.

        I really do think the Simpsons writers are no longer writing for the fans of the older episodes. They’re writing for the Family Guy demographic; people too stupid to understand good comedy. On top of that, the main characters have become caricatures of themselves because over 25 years of history dictates that they NEED to act and talk a certain way, because otherwise they won’t be the Simpsons. That’s why you get shit like, for example, Marge telling Homer she’s proud of him for every fucking thing he does, simply because that’s something she’s expected to do. And it’s okay for the characters to be hollow shells of themselves, because god forbid you scare away the brainless mainstream audience who thinks the show is as good as ever. Merchandise sales and longevity bragging rights are just that important.

  4. Kaiju no Kami

    Congratulations, you have now finished the two worst seasons of the franchise since S17. While 26-28 are still not great, they are no where near as bad as these past two seasons.

    • Having suffered through “Clown in the Dumps” and “Simpsorama” I beg to differ.

      • To be honest any episode in the HD era is bad. Even the ones that people claim are ‘good’ aren’t actually good, they’re just not as crappy as the rest. Hope that doesn’t put you off reviewing the next bunch of episodes Mike!

      • Kaiju no Kami

        Owl: I can’t agree there. Halloween of Horror is legitimately a good episode because the jokes are spot on and it is a fun episode overall. It is the best Halloween episode since Treehouse of Horror VIII and it’s not even a ToH episode. Just being in HD doesn’t make it instantly bad.

        Mike: I mean the seasons as a whole. Season 26 is still pretty bad, but at least it was an improvement over 24 and 25.

  5. In reply to Kaiju: Just to clarify I’ve not stating that the episodes being in HD automatically makes them bad, I just believe the episodes produced in the HD era of the show are all bad. I’m including Halloween in Horror in there too. Sure, it’s one of the better episodes in the era, but it’s still below mediocre.

    • Kaiju no Kami

      See, I can’t agree there. Halloween of Horror is just as good as Trilogy of Error, Behind the Laughter, and 24 Minutes.

  6. Hey, are you going to review The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover? It premiered at the start of what would be The Simpsons season 26. I know it’s much more of a Family Guy episode than a Simpsons one and I don’t know how you feel about FG, but I figured if you want completism it’s worth reviewing. Also I’d like to know your thoughts on it.

    • It’s a Family Guy episode, so I won’t be covering it. And I absolutely loathe FG, so you can imagine in your head what the review would be like if you want.

      • Mike Russo

        Personally, I’d still like to see it. The Simpsons voice cast DID participate in it. And even if your review is an angry rant-fest, it would still be fun to read.

  7. If the characters weren’t narrating everything that is going on, then the writers would have to come up with jokes or believable dialogue or genuine emotion. That’s asking waaaay too much.

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