574. Mathlete’s Feat

Original airdate: May 17, 2015

The premise:
Lisa convinces Principal Skinner to turn the school into an analog Waldorf school, where students receive a practical, hands-on education. This new direction puts Groundskeeper Willie in higher regard, who is made captain of the mathletes team.

The reaction: I’m not familiar with this philosophy of Waldorf education, so as such, the episode spends about a third of its running time having characters explain what it is and talk about it over and over. After Springfield fails miserably at a mathlete competition, the college nerds from “Homer Goes to College,” now rich app developers and feeling bad for their alumni, agree to pay for Springfield Elementary to go fully digital. Also some of them are dressed like steampunks for some reason, and in one scene, their clothes change between shots. Overuse of devices causes a power surge, leaving the school in even worse shape then normal, and Lisa is inspired by Groundskeeper Willie’s special gardening tool to push the school to embrace a new proactive style of teaching. It’s all very arbitrary, and as usual nowadays, we’re halfway through the show when this “plot” is kicking in. As I said, the show continues on as characters just reiterate the same thing over and over, that kids are learning by example instead of books. With the episode going nowhere fast, Lisa runs in to announce that Willie is now the coach of the math team. I’m not quite sure why she’s excited about all of this; Willie is none too bright, especially academically, surely Lisa wouldn’t be psyched about him in charge. Especially when he randomly makes Bart the team captain for throwing an egg at Chalmers’ car at a perfect angle? Or something? Cut to the rematch with Waverly Hills Elementary, where Bart is stunned that he actually has to do math. Then why make him the captain if you’re going to do nothing with that story point? But look at me talking like there’s actually a structure to this. We end with Willie in a Harry Potter wizard hat and staff for no reason whatsoever and Bart solves the final question because of course he does and they win. What an exciting finale, huh? Each season that goes by, I just can’t believe this show can sink any lower, but here we are. It’s almost fascinating to see. It’s also very aggravating. Why did I continue this blog again?

Three items of note:
– We get a quick ChamSkin Productions card at the end of Springfield Elementary’s video, a reference to the season 19 episode “Any Given Sundance.” I remember it also popping up in an episode a season or two ago. Is this fan service too? Does anyone have fond remembrances of the shitty sub-plot where Skinner and Chalmers tried to be indie movie phonies for no reason?
– The shows feel so fragmentedly written in little ways sometimes. We open with a marquee for the math tournament, with the joke “Good Seats Will Always Be Available.” Pretty alright joke. But as we see at the beginning and at the end, there’s a pretty decent sized crowd in attendance, enough to do another joke with a whole hoard of people holding up letter cards to spell long words. And the tournaments are treated with such severity and seriousness as well, and I don’t fully understand why.
– These stupid “fourth act” tags are so disposable and unnecessary. I guess it’s not necessarily the writers’ fault since it’s how FOX decided to restructure commercial breaks, but it’s so awkward. And because the show was still short, we get a thirty-second bit of the family playing in a jug band, complete with a title card reading “The Simpsons Post Show Jug Band Fills The Time.” The one time the classic era show ended up short, we got the wonderful time filler “Everybody Loves Ned Flanders,” a segment that was funny, actually parodied something, and had a catchy jingle to boot. This transparent, self-admittedly empty filler is just more proof of how little they seem to give a shit about making a good show.

One good line/moment: A new guest couch gag, wherein the Simpsons are horrifically killed by a renegade Rick and Morty. Rick sends his grandson to an alien photocopier to reproduce our favorite family while he fucks around the house in a drunken stupor. As much as it rings as yet another example of the show glomming onto what’s pop culturally relevant for attention, it’s still a fun segment. (“You know how many characters there are on The Simpsons, Morty? There’s like a billion characters! They did an episode where George Bush was their neighbor!”)

21 responses to “574. Mathlete’s Feat

  1. Aaron Grierson

    Let’s hope you can survive the next episode…that is if you decide to continue on to Season 27…

  2. It says a lot when the guest couch gag is funnier than the rest of the season put together.

    I said once before that there’s often a germ of a good idea buried in a lot of these recent episodes, but it’s smothered to death under the worst execution imaginable. Like, I’m sure you could get a great story out of Lisa being on the mathlete team, but why do they have to shoehorn Bart into it? To retread that tired plotline they’ve beaten to death of Bart butting in on something Lisa’s good at and Lisa getting ticked off? Do they think there’s only one kind of story they can do with certain combinations of characters? Or do they just keep falling back on that out of laziness?

    I’d love to be able to pick the writers’ brains and find out just what the hell they’re thinking when they make this stuff. I need to know if they just quit trying or if they’re actually this bad at their job. This show is such a jumbled pointless train wreck at this point, I literally can’t tell.

    • The question of the writers being lazy or incompetent has also been pressing on my mind for a long time. Considering the shear volume of concentrated shite they produce (we’ve had 15+ seasons of awfulness), I think the lack of quality stems for not caring about their craft. Terrible jokes, bad characterisation, crappy structure and pacing… yeah, there’s no way you can allow that many bad episodes to be produced without caring (I’m looking at you Al Jean). And if they do care, well… fuck me and god help them.

      • forbidden-donut

        There’s no incentive to change their writing process. Ratings haven’t gone down enough, they get paid the same, critics like av club and ign still give positive reviews, and they long stopped putting any stock in what fans say since the Poochie episode aired.

    • There is one possible factor of later seasons versus the golden years: time. Specifically, it sounds like the writers, directors, producers, etc. work a normal 40-hour workweek now. If you listen to the DVD commentaries of the classic years, especially the Jean/Reiss and Mirkin years, they talk about working horrendous hours resulting in 60-80 hour work weeks. There’s also an extra rewrite step that existed in the classic years that’s no longer there (perhaps to conform to a standard work week).

      None of this could be a factor at all and it could just be the writers willing to do a bare minimum at let the show run on its past reputation, but I thought I’d throw out what I remember hearing.

  3. Please don’t give up on the blog when you watch the next episode.

    Season 27 gets better from ‘Cue Detective.

    • Aaron Grierson

      Cue Detective starts with Dr. Dolittle playing. Not a parody, but the actual 1967 film, showing the lack of ideas up the writers’ sleeves.
      But every Season 27 episode is better than Every Man’s Dream, which was a view-hogger

      • Live-action scenes are really Family Guy-ish, and it’s actually a bad start, but the episode itself is pretty good and a cool Bart and Lisa’s adventure (until the incredibly cliché ending).

        “Every Man’s Dream” is my least favorite episode of the series… What piece of garbage!

  4. Now Season Finales are just ordinary episodes.

  5. Maybe I’m crazy but I remember ‘Cue Detective’ not being an utter abomination like most eps. And ‘Halloween of Horror’ though lightyears away from classic Simpsons it is highly watchable TV.

  6. The Anonymous Nobody

    Are you a Rick and Morty fan, Mike? Seems like it would be your kind of show since it’s Futurama on steroids.

    • Yeah, I think it’s fantastic. Though part of me feels it’s a little bit overrated; its attempts to venture into more serious territory last season felt a little hit or miss, especially compared to something like BoJack Horseman. But season 3 so far has been spectacular, I have really high hopes for it.

      • Oh, I agree there. I really don’t care that much for the more “serious” plotlines myself. Thankfully, they are pretty rare, and it’s definitely more like an R-rated Futurama, a show that handled serious material better but also enjoyed a dark silly humor of its own

  7. I guess I am the only person who doesn’t like Rick and Morty or BoJack. I don’t think they are remotely funny and I hate the animation styles, especially on Rick and Morty. Rick and Morthy looks llike the same lazy animation that has been plaguing animation lately with the new Ben 10, Adventure Time, Regular Show, Steven Universe, and then the new Duck Tales and Spider-Man toons.

    • I understand that. I was initially turned off from shows like Bob’s Burgers and BoJack because of their ugly styles, but the writing really grew on me. Sometimes modern cartoons can feel too clean and sterile, but to me, software like ToonBoom is just like any other tool, and I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff done with it, like Wander Over Yonder, which had some of the best posing animation I’ve seen in a long time.

    • Same here, I don’t like R&M, and I deeply hate all those cheap animation styles. Just like what happened with the first Toy Story and CGI animation, it happened with South Park and cheap tv animation: the difference is that Toy Story and South Park had a reason to be animated that particular way.

      And I disagree with Mike, for once; I would accept a show with good writing, but it’s been years I haven’t find one. All the shows are the same, prepackaged annoyingly predictable characters, interactions and comedy. If you look back at old tv, there were worse tv shows, but not even the worst one, not even the most cliched stupid one happened to be such a claustrophobic copybook exercise in hiding lack of writing talent.
      I’m sorry, but I don’t accept to lower the bar (South Park cit.).

      PS: I have nothing against finding a show enjoyable despite its faults(I watch much worse shows than Bob Burgers); I’m against forgetting that a bad show is always bad, and is not great only because they are getting us used to worse stuff.

  8. Don’t really agree since many more modern cartoons now have great animation. R&M has excellent animation for a TV show and the animation is one of the main reasons season 3 took so long to come out, that an the animation is catering to the show’s more ad-libbed style. Steven Universe has great animation as well. Many fluid subtle motions in that show.

    Art styles are another story, but I’ve gotten used to evolving styles and most have a charm of their own. The “Fleischer Look” is still very popular today among cartoons, that and trying to meld it with cuter anime styles and expressions gets the sort of look that is more popular in recent years

    • You call R&M excellent animation only because now the standard level of animation(art in general) sunk down, and you are not used to good one anymore. Steven Universe has actually a good animation, but the real strength of the show is the choice of the colors: despite not being hand colored(like the real animation) they are wonderful, in this modern times they are a pleasure to the eyes.

    • Eh. The only cartoon I can say I liked the animation to in recent years as been Samurai Jack’s final season. I’m not even a fan of the CG used in Star Wars Rebels. That show is excellent, but I would rather have it be drawn by hand than CGI. In fact, I miss hand drawn animation. People actually put their blood, sweat, tears, and soul in it. Nowadays, everything is on autopilot because you can easily just have the computer fix a coloring error, a line error, etc. Hell, even a caveman could do it these days.

  9. The idea of the power surge I don’t get in any aspect.
    – First off, if the surge was that powerful enough to destroy all the new tech, then wouldn’t it destroy the school’s lighting fixtures or any other electrical object there or in the general radius? Because the animation made the surge look much more powerful than it actually was.
    – To follow on that, why did it affect the Power Plant? Outside of it being a pointless gag, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for the plant to be affected for any period of time.

    It just feels like a contrived way to get to the Waldorf portion of the plot when they easilly could have had, say, these new things repossessed from them for whatever other contrived reason the writers would have in their head. Would have at least fit in with Springfield Elementary’s consistently poor status.

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