Original airdate: May 15, 2016
The premise: Homer combats his fear of public speaking by turning to imrov comedy. Plus, in the show’s final few minutes, Homer appears LIVE to take a few audience questions.
The reaction: Depicting stand-up comedy on your comedy television program is a pretty big challenge, since it kind has to be funny on multiple levels. “The Last Temptation of Krust” had the fresh new wave of comics do their set, but the humor came more from audience reaction and their being contrasted by Krusty’s old hacky material. Now, over fifteen years later, we have an episode about improv, where we’re forced to watch the troupe performers, and later Homer and company, go through these stupid, unfunny skits. To enormous applause and laughter, I might add. So Homer gets enamored by improv and joins a class, and whaddya know, he’s an instant hit! He immediately “nails” the comic scenarios thrown at him, including the “one we could never crack,” so I guess this counts as a “Simpson-is-instantly-an-expert-at-something” episode. But here’s the big issue: Homer’s bits aren’t really that funny. Like, the entire show isn’t funny, but trying to be as objective as possible, his material is mildly clever at best, but the audience is just going apeshit over it. Soon, we see he’s formed a troupe with Lenny, Carl and Skinner, and they’re an instant success. After that, Lisa informs them they’ve been invited to perform on the main stage at the Springfield Fringe festival which I guess they have. Remember, all we’ve seen of Homer’s “talent” are three quick bits he did with the improv people, then him on stage doing a Paul Prudhomme “I guah-ron-tee it!” to monstrous cheering. But in the story, he’s an accomplished and respected improv performer. Still nervous, Moe proposes he feed him scenarios from the audience, but Lisa interferes, wanting to protect the sanctity of… improv comedy (“You can’t let your troupe down! They need your space work, your strong choices and scene-building skills!”) We saw Homer’s “troupe” in one scene, never saw them perform, and we’ve barely seen anything of what Homer can do. I’d say this feels flimsier that normal because they had to devote four minutes at the end for the live segment, but this episode also had a B-story with Marge fixing Bart’s treehouse, that is so thin and superfluous I have nothing to say about it. The episode has no ending either, Homer just performs, camera pull out, gotta rush to get to the live section. I’m going to assume they came up with the live gimmick first and then figured out a story to make it tangentially related. Maybe they shouldn’t have even bothered.
Three items of note:
– The impetus of this story is that Homer has to give a speech for a seminar at the plant, and apparently he gives one every year. What’s that about? He’s the safety inspector for one part of the plant, and a terrible one at that. They don’t even bother to make it into some kind of joke, or even have Burns or anyone mention what the speech is about, it’s just “Homer has to make a speech.” Again, it’s just having the bare bones of a story in place so things sort of kind of make sense played in sequence. No need to develop anything, details are too much work and don’t matter.
– I guess since she’s been so underutilized this season, they crowbar Lisa into the story halfway, acting as “CREW” for the troupe’s show at Moe’s. At that point, I guess she’s their manager or main stagehand or something since she’s the one that gets informed that they’re gonna perform at Fringe (“This is going in my log! Yaaaayyy!”) At the festival, she’s in some kind of hipster get-up with a hat, vest and tie, and gushing about all there is to see and do… even when she’s not being bitter or smug, she really is just an insufferable character. And they try to cram in an emotional conflict with her in the little time they have left, I guess to try to give the episode some weight (“I need an occupation!” “A father I can look up to!”) It’s cheap, but no cheaper than the out-of-left-field, wholly manufactured emotional endings we’ve seen before. They’ve pulled the Lisa card to generate false sympathy many, many times before; the fact that they think they can cram the same hollow nonsense in with so little time is just telling that they either think it’s a quick and easy solution, or they don’t care, or both.
– So, the live segment. Viewers were prompted to call in, and at the end of the episode, we cut to Homer seated behind a desk ready to answer some questions. This was done twice the night it aired, once for the east coast feed, once for the west coast. There’s a great article talking about how it was done, but explained simply, Dan Castellaneta performed live, and based on the audio coming in, Adobe Character Animate would register his words into the proper phonemes linked to the proper mouth shapes to make Homer look like he’s actually talking. The result is kind of neat, but it’s more of a proof of concept than a polished piece. It feels too static; aside from a slight head tilt and a raised arm or two, Homer doesn’t move all that much. Perhaps a few different poses they could have switched between would have been neat. I guess the solution to this was to have characters randomly pop onto the screen to distract you, some with sign gags who just walk in and then leave after a few seconds, like Lisa (“We Parked in Bill O’Reilly’s Space”) and Kang with some more fan service (“Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos.”) I can at least give them credit for trying something new; for all the awful gimmicks we’ve seen from this show, this one at least feels like it came out of an earnest interest.
One good line/moment: Homer nervously walks to the stage for his speech, the entire room dead except for the sound of his footsteps. Not being quite awkward enough, Burns turns a dial on a speaker reading “Footstep Amplifier” to make it even louder.