Original airdate: January 25, 2015
The premise: Elon Musk arrives in Springfield, and bizarrely inspired by Homer’s asinine non-sequiturs, works towards making the town a more efficient place to live.
The reaction: It’s not a good sign when an episode starts giving you strong “Lisa Goes Gaga” vibes. The conceits of the two shows are pretty similar: a mega guest star appears in Springfield out of nowhere, acts like a slightly exaggerated version of themselves, and effortlessly makes the town a better place. Just as we saw with Gaga’s inflated persona, the “joke” is that Musk is a quiet genius, and he doesn’t emote, and just espouses his ideas and world views with no joke to them. They have a running gag that they do four times where they push in on his face as dramatic music plays as he’s thinking of an idea, even that reminded me of the weird moments in “Gaga” of her getting psychic visions of people being unhappy. The plot here is that Musk finds himself attracted to Homer’s nonsense non-sequiturs, being able to turn them into ideas for inventions. That leads him to wanting to make the nuclear plant more efficient, but ends up putting it in the deep red under Burns’ nose, creating massive lay-offs. We had seen Springfield turn into an advanced utopia of sorts, but now it’s in disarray, and people hate Musk’s guts. But whenever we see Musk, he doesn’t seem affected at all, he’s just enthusiastically prattling off idea after idea to a bored Homer. When you put your guest star and focal point on a pedestal, making them infallible and ever-awesome, what kind of story can you get out of it? We saw it with Gaga never having any sort of moment of clarity about her incessant pushing and forcing an eight-year-old to bottle up her feelings or that she peddles meaningless platitudes about self-esteem and affirmation, Lisa just forgave her for no reason and Gaga went out with a bang. Here, Musk similarly goes through no arc. Homer doesn’t want to be his friend anymore because none of his ideas work, I guess? And then Musk seems kind of sad when he leaves in his little rocket ship, missing his one true friend. There was a moment half-way into the show where Homer gives Musk a big hug, and he seems very uncertain about it, and after a few seconds, warms up to it and hugs him back. In a show that actually cared about good writing, I thought it might be a character turn where Musk, once monotone and emotionless, learns how to emote, but he goes too far, and starts being incredibly clingy and annoying, and that’s what drives Homer away. But of course not. This show was once famous for presenting celebrities in subversive, interesting, and even sometimes, downright mean lights. Gone are the days of holding Tom Jones at gunpoint, blowing up Spinal Tap’s bus, or getting Buzz Aldrin to say “Second comes right after first!” and holding for an awkward pause. Now celebrities arrive to save the day, to be fawned after, and to do absolutely no wrong. I still think the Gaga episode is worse because of the complete and absolute bungling of Lisa’s story, but this one isn’t far behind.
Three items of note:
– When he lands in the Simpson back yard, Lisa is immediately at the ready to explain exactly who Elon Musk is, and there’s a runner throughout of her always trying to suck up to him (“Maybe we’re the same, two lost ships in the intellectual sea, each of whom could inspire the other!”) Remember when Lisa was eight? There’s a scene with her and Musk in the back of the car, where Musk is writing down his dialogue on a notepad for some reason, and he rips each new page out over and over and over as Lisa talks over it with commentary. It’s so, so, so bad. At the end of that scene, we get the first instance of Musk being inspired by Homer’s gibberish, which is pretty self-explanatory, but of course, we need Lisa to explain what’s happening (“He’s taking your Homer-isms and turning them into his own great ideas! This is the most inspirational moment in my life!”) Please, shut up-ah your mouth, Lisa.
– We also get some limp Burns this episode, who lets Elon Musk do whatever he pleases with plant operations until it’s too late. Smithers, for whatever reason, doesn’t trust him, and we see him fretting about it and confront Burns, and later the two make up, but really, it’s just empty time filler. And Burns releases the hounds indoors for whatever reason. He also attempts to use a trap door. I feel like those are the only few elements left of vindictive Burns. Before, they were hilarious exaggerated touches to his villainous, but grounded character. But now, with how neutered the character feels in most appearances, the jokes feel awkward and out of place.
– Speaking of which, Burns plans to have Elon Musk killed in the third act, which also feels incredibly odd. Surely there are plenty of other options he could have come up with to dispose of Musk besides murder. And then when he arranges snipers to take him out, they’re all old, enfeebled, and promptly die upon taking their first shot (“Recoil was pretty bad.”) Burns is old and out-of-touch, but he’s pretty smart, there’s no reason he’d rely on these geezers to take care of business for him. Remember the hit man from “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish”? I sure do, and I really wish I was watching that right now.
One good line/moment: Nuthin’. Elon Musk was boring as fuck. Despite it being kind of a clusterfuck story-wise, I enjoyed his appearance in season 20’s South Park a whole lot more. Even his acting was miles better.