580. Friend With Benefit

Original airdate: November 8, 2015

The premise:
Lisa befriends the daughter of a multi-billionaire, but when their relationship sours, Homer urges her to grin and bear it in exchange for them living the good life.

The reaction: For an episode that felt like elements cobbled together from better shows, I was pretty surprised at being somewhat positive about this one. Despite it seemingly being about Lisa and her new friend, the episode is really about Homer living in the lap of luxury and needing to make a sacrifice for the sake/defense of his children, as we’ve seen many times in the classic years, especially in flashback shows. Here, Lisa becomes friends with the new girl, and Homer befriends her dad, who turns out to be an eccentric billionaire who is so pumped up about life that he repeatedly smashes his head into walls. Eventually conflict arises between the two girls, but it’s laid in so slowly and awkwardly. Harper steals the spotlight from Lisa at a David Copperfield magic show, which rubs her the wrong way. Harper gets her a new bike to make up for it, and can’t understand why Lisa would prefer her crappy poor person bike, despite her explaining that Homer built it for her (a sweet detail). So she’s a spoiled rich girl, but the reveal of this is so muted because we barely see any of it. In classic tell, not show fashion, most of it is Lisa recounting how she felt belittled. Actually showing more of this would have made us feel bad for Lisa and sympathize with her, but instead, she almost comes off as rash when she blows up at Harper, who at worst seemed to just be getting a little snippy with her. When we get to the end and Homer has to stand up for Lisa in exchange for his lush rich lifestyle, it feels very arbitrary. He calls Harper snobby, but not only have we barely seen it, he’s seen none of it. It all feels like a very flimsy conclusion. But that’s my biggest complaint for the whole episode. I actually enjoyed most of the Homer stuff, his excitement about living it up and indulging in the finer things he could never afford… it almost struck me as a classic characterization. Despite its issues, I actually came off… liking this episode? It’s a very strange feeling for me. “Halloween of Horror” was stronger story wise, but this one had an alright plot and a lot of successful jokes throughout, like Marge using a tire jack to lower her hair to fit in her night cap, the anti-theft device on the bike which immediately summons Chief Wiggum (“This we show up for,”) and a bunch of good lines (“Welcome to Jambowski Island! Formerly, Haiti!”) This has got to be the best episode since… I don’t know, “Eternal Moonshine”?

Three items of note:
– In lieu of our usual opening sequence, we get a parody of the Disney animated short “Feast,” and for once I don’t put the word ‘parody’ in quotes, because it’s actually a parody. Like the dog in the short, Santa’s Little Helper gorges himself on all the delicious food his masters spoil him with, but that only leads him to become incredibly obese and drop dead. Rising through the clouds, he’s given the option to go to ‘Fit Dog Heaven,’ but instead chooses Doggie Hell because of the promise of free pizza. Writers, take note, this is a parody. You’ve taken the original source material and subverted it in a humorous fashion, instead of just trotting out references verbatim and expecting your viewers to applaud, as they’ve done so many, many, many times before.
– There’s an unrelated opening featuring Homer’s desperate longing for a chair that raises up that helps you stand, and him using crowdfunding to pay for it. We get Carl helpfully explaining what crowdfunding is, and as usual, this feels a couple years too late in terms of ripe satire, but I was actually pretty amused by a lot of it. Homer’s vague speech in his video about helping him “get on his feet,” all the donors being pissed off at the reveal, and his incredibly enthusiasm for a chair that embraced his laziness reminded me of the vibrating chair in “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?”, and for once, it’s actually a positive connection to a classic episode. Plus, it’s not even all that disconnected from the main story. Homer longing for an expensive creature comfort, gets depressed when it’s taken away, then his spirits rise again when he befriends a billionaire. It kind of works, narratively.
– During the not-One Direction concert (this show’s late to the party once again), ‘YVAN EHT NIOJ’ flashes on the screen. Then it says ‘JOIN THE NAVY,’ followed by ‘OOPS.’ First off, more empty fan service. They also referenced it in that submarine show a season or two back; you know you’re in dire straits when you’re trying to elicit a positive reaction by referencing season 12. But also, why would they spell out what the joke is? It’s without context, so the only reason it’s there is as a reference to people who know what that episode is. But if you didn’t, what would you make out of ‘JOIN THE NAVY’ randomly appearing at a boy band concert? Why would they do that?

One good line/moment: There were actually a lot of funny moments in this show, more than I’ve seen in a long time now. The best laugh came from Homer’s complete frustration/disbelief about Lisa’s break-up with Harper (“Lisa, sweetie, I just want to understand: You got in a fight with her because she tried to give you a new bike?!”) You can really hear his complete incensed befuddlement in the performance, but it also speaks to how stupid and underwritten the conflict was as well.

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14 responses to “580. Friend With Benefit

  1. I do remember liking this one too, though it didn’t stick with me. Homer’s relationship with the millionaire dad was probably the highlight of me along with the crowdfunding opening, though I agree that the conflict seemed very weak

  2. I also like this episode (Homer-Lisa combination always brings strong episodes), although I didn’t really expect such a positive reaction from you.

    While the ending is your biggest complaint, it’s the highlight for me. Such an emotional climax…

    There were lots of funny jokes and lines, but my favorite is Marge’s “Now? I Just Got Up” at the ending.

  3. Worst title ever. What’s the pun? They just took away the plurals, even though the term would mean the same thing in both instances either way. What the fuck?

    • I found an episode title even worse than that. Later on in Season 27, we have an episode called “Paths of Glory”, a pun on – Paths of Glory. Not a single letter was changed.

      • Actually, it was meant to be called ‘Paths of Glory but the press releases published it wrong; short for Sociopaths of Glory. Still, why they just didn’t give it that cooler title is beyond me. I guess boredom is Zombie Simpsons’ thing! Wouldnt want people interested in an episode.

  4. @Ryan: The pun is referring to the one-sided benefits i guess, also friends with benefits usually doesn´t mean rich friends.

  5. I didn’t expect Mike to like it so much; I think compared to “Halloween of Horror” this had funnier and more believable characterizations, but overall is way weaker, I didn’t find any heart in it. In post-Classic era Homer-Lisa episodes are the easiest story to write, to make sense and give some easy emotion. They are always the same, standard stuff, and this is no exception; at least “Halloween” was a little bit interesting and well directed, this one just a standard most basic Homer-Lisa episode with a stupid ending.

    • Nothing against you, but I honestly feel like your issue is that you keep comparing it to classic era episodes. I learned back in Season 26 to just not even bother comparing them otherwise you are going to give yourself a headache. Just accept the episodes for what they are today and be done with it. THey are still superior to the other shows on TV like Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, or even live action ones like Big Bang Theory, Zandar, and whatever other shows are on Sunday nights on Fox after Simpsons.

      • I really don’t understand this mindset. We’re in an amazing age of television that’s so rich and diverse, and there are so many great comedies among them. To say that the shambling wreckage that is modern Simpsons, with all of its objectively flawed attempts at comedy and storytelling, is better than all of them… that’s pretty incredible to me.

      • I’ve nothing against you too, no problem, sometimes I don’t agree with Mike too, but I always think he’s a great blog writer, and I have the sense a very good writer overall. And you seem a very good easygoing person, but what you are saying here is frightening: you’re basically telling me to lower my bar and accept a crap show only because its “still superior to the other shows”?. I’m sorry this is absurd. If I think tv has no good shows, I don’t watch it, I put my DVDs and watch some great shows.

        I actually think nowadays tv is at its best in terms of overall offer; maybe comedy shows are still cheap for my tastes(especially compared to other great modern series), but technically speaking, all those shows are way better than ZSimpsons, which is arguably the worst show ever done. I mean, 80% of its episodes makes absolutely no sense, not only in the plot, but even the single scenes, the characters, the dialogue, the tone; everything. It is actually stunning, I think not even among 8yo you could find children who write this bad; and I’m not joking. We all watch some ZSimpsons only because it has “Simpsons” in its name.

      • Kaiju no Kami

        Actually Mike, I was referring specifically to Di Ed’s post, not yours. The difference between say Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers is that I have 29 years invested in The Simpsons. I have maybe 2 hours invested in Bob and that’s only because it comes on before The Simpsons.

        I’m not a fan of these modern day comedies that rely on sex jokes to sell. Like that stupid Not-Conan the Barbarian show that has somehow not been canceled yet. How is that even funny? The main kid is trying to act like Michael Cera, which is disgusting since Cera is not even qualified to be an actor, let alone a comedian. Of course, there are a ton of issues with that show.

        However, I guess I’m only comparing Simpsons to what else I see on Sunday nights outside of BBT (although, I’m pretty sure I have seen it on Sundays). You’re right, there are other amazing shows out there as Key and Peele was phenomenal.

      • I get your point about being invested. I was the exact same way when I was watching the show first-run through season 20. I felt even though the quality was dipping, I couldn’t just not watch the Simpsons. It seemed like an impossibility to me, but eventually, apathy finally set in and I disengaged. But if you still find some level of enjoyment out of this show, then good on you. But to me… well, I think my opinions on it are pretty clear at this point. 🙂
        And yes, there are a lot of bad comedies that over-rely on crude humor. But there’s a lot of great stuff too. In terms of other FOX shows, I’d highly recommend The Last Man on Earth, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Mick.

  6. Not a fan of Last Man or Brooklyn. I found Last Man to be boring and I do not care for Andy Samberg, so the humor is lost on me. Never bothered with The Mick because Fox likes to cancel the series that I do watch on their network, so I stopped trying.

    Plus, they put an entire episode up as an ad infront of one of my Godzilla reviews on my Youtube channel, so that annoyed me as it cost me a lot of ad revenue. Who the hell would sit there and watch a 23 minute long advertisement for a 16 minute review? Oh, and if you aren’t sure what you mean, the amount of ad revenue you get paid on depends if someone watches the whole ad, skips the ad, blocks the ad, clicks on the ad’s link, etc. Either way, I make 45% of whatever Youtube makes on that ad.

    Oh, and then there is the whole thing that Fox always cancels any of their shows I really enjoy that isn’t The Simpsons.

  7. Ugh, I wish I could edit my posts. lol

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