Original airdate: January 4, 2015
The premise: The Simpsons are tricked into boarding a UFO to Rigel 7, Kang and Kodos’ home planet, where they are kept in a zoo and must escape before they are devoured by Rigelian royalty.
The reaction: In the last decade and a half, this show has drifted further and further from any semblance of realism, so a concept this alien (laugh track) honestly doesn’t phase me that much. I remember seeing some adamant contention online about this episode when it aired (and a “D” rank from AV Club, and they treat this show with the kiddiest kid gloves over there), and I kinda don’t get why. What sanctity is this show be protecting at this point? All my goodwill is drained at this point; if anything, I’d respect the show more for doing more crazy shit like this. Shockingly enough, I found this to be the most bearable show in a good while, in that it felt like I was watching a subpar Futurama episode. Also, why the hell does this feel more science-fiction-y than the goddamn crossover? Anyway, we start with the family taking a trip to Dizneeland, a set piece that I actually kind of enjoyed; I’m a big theme park nerd, and a lot of the jokes were pretty well done. Through a ridiculous contrivance, the Simpsons are catapulted into outer space via a space craft disguised as a ride building (whatever) and end up in the clutches of Kang and Kodos. From that point, as mentioned, it becomes B or C-grade Futurama: the space gags, all of the stuff involving Rigel 7 and the other aliens; I’m surprised they didn’t have J. Stewart Burns or another Futurama alum write this one. Actually, Al Jean, writer of last week’s train wreck, shares the writing credit with David Mirkin, which I guess makes sense given the show started getting crazier (in a good way) on his watch during seasons 5 and 6. The actual plot I’m slightly fuzzy on: the family is kept at a zoo (which we had seen a year prior in Futurama‘s “Fry and Leela’s Big Fling”), and explained to that the Rigelians are a learned species, and that “at the end of a life well lived, there is one final ritual: we must eat one of you.” Who is he talking about? They must eat an alien creature before they die? Is this just for royalty, or for everyone? I wasn’t really clear as to what this section was all about. I guess it doesn’t matter, but even in a batshit crazy show as this, some logic and meaningful plot progression would be helpful. A lot of this material is more bizarre than funny, but in this specific scenario, I can accept it because the entire episode is set up to be out-of-this-world, literally. I’m certainly in no rush to watch this one again, but I can honestly say it was the funniest episode I’ve seen in maybe over a decade. Yeah, I’m as surprised as I assume you are.
Three items of note:
– This episode was directed by series forefather and animation extraordinaire David Silverman, his first in eight years. He had done a couple Treehouse of Horrors before then, and I was a little disappointed that there weren’t a lot of visually dynamic scenes or bits of neat character animation as he’s known for. The only thing that stood out was at the very, very beginning with Homer driving and getting more and more irate at Bart and Lisa’s constant “Are we there yet?”s. The timing felt a little snappier than normal, and I felt we’d be seeing more nice moments like this going forward, but nothing else really jumps out at me thinking back.
– When the family first go into space, we get an extended sequence featuring Homer eating chips in zero gravity, in an incredibly extended tribute to “Deep Space Homer.” Again, I don’t really understand the purpose of this kind of fan service. Are we supposed to jump up and applaud that they’re doing this gag again? And outside of just copying something that’s already been done, they alter it to make it worse; the humor of the pure serene, and quiet, joy of Homer indulging in salty snack food is replaced with him squabbling with Bart as he eats some of the chips. Bah.
– We even got a neat couch gag that wasn’t done by a guest animator for once, with a bunch of classic art parodies on a gallery wall, and the Simpsons observing them on a gallery bench. Then, almost to bookend, over the credits, we have a tribute to Star Trek with stills of the characters re-enacting classic scenes. Even though it’s the exact same thing Futurama did over the credits of their own Star Trek episode fifteen years earlier, it was still neat, and helped by Alf Clausen’s amazing Trek-inspired orchestration.
– Tress MacNeille voices the alien leader of the rebellion, which is another of her voices that sounds like we’ve heard it a thousand times, but later, I actually very much enjoyed her as the Rigelian Queen, where she got some good laughs (“This ass is most disagreeable,” “I have seen many glories and have only one regret: that my breasts aren’t bigger.” “I don’t see any breasts.” “…and those will be the last words I ever hear.”)
One good line/moment: Wow! For once, I actually have a bunch of stuff to choose from! There’s a bunch of gags that work on Rigel 7, but I’m a sucker for anything ripping on Disney Parks, and most of the first act jokes were pretty successful. Making fun of Tomorrowland’s outdated view of the future, Hall of Diznee C.E.O.’s (No Shareholder Questions), and the politically correct Pirates of the Caribbean, which given recent news, feels more timely than ever (“They revamped this ride because of massive complaints from two people.”)