Original airdate: September 26, 2016
The premise: Following a town wide catastrophe, Mr. Burns agrees to foot the bill to rebuild Springfield in exchange he put on a children’s variety show, hoping it will help him live down a traumatic event from his past.
The reaction: To me, the biggest character casualty outside of the Simpson family over the years has been Mr. Burns. Springfield’s very own heartless plutocrat was once treated as an actual threat; frail of body, but ruthless in spirit, he reveled in his superiority over all the slack-jawed troglodytes who live below him. The classic years made plenty of jokes de-fanging Burns, yes, but never at the expense of his formidable nature. But here we are now: the times where Burns is actually an antagonist, he’s easily foiled, sometimes even by himself (getting the plant shut down by incriminating himself, openly pointing out an unsigned form thwarting his fracking operation.) But even worse, he seems to have no real issue dealing with Homer, Lisa, or any of the other poor loathsome individuals he would never have wanted anything to do with over twenty years ago. The set-up here is that the entire town of Springfield is destroyed save Burns’ mansion, and the Simpsons plea for him to help fund the rebuild. Burns had previously used a trap door on them, but now is perfectly fine with continuing to speak with them. He agrees to help on the condition he hold a variety show at the Springfield Bowl (why he didn’t just fund this himself is not explained.) So we get Burns watching child acts and arranging this big production… it feels the farthest removed from this character we’ve seen yet. Lisa is suspicious, and eventually is shown the truth. As we see through various flashbacks, Burns performed at the Bowl as a child, which ended with his pants falling down to raucous laughter. Even though this was perfectly understandable from the first flashback we see, this point is reinforced again and again (“I think you’re trying to make up for what happened to you then by putting on a perfect bowl show now.”) In the end, Burns sets out to perform his same act from decades ago to redeem himself, his pants fall down again, to enormous derisive laughter. After that, he tells Lisa he’s over it. Makes perfect sense, right? He tells Lisa that he’s too old to hold a grudge. So not only does this feel completely alien to Burns’ fundamentally vindictive character, it goes against his characterization through this very episode. He harbored this painful memory for decades, let it fester and enrage him, and now all of a sudden, he’s fine? It’s also implied that that one event is why he’s been evil all these years? What a load of fucking shit. I just don’t get why they bother writing for Mr. Burns anymore, they’ve completely watered down or removed all of the great things about his character. When your show’s biggest villain happily interacts with your protagonists and is a big pushover, what’s the damn point?
Three items of note:
– The couch gag is a recreation of the Adventure Time opening title. As I say over and over and over, this is not a parody. When you recreate something shot for shot and change nothing but add your characters, that doesn’t count as a joke. You’re just making a reference. Also, the opening long shot traveling through the various different landscapes of Springfield is played almost at half speed compared to the Adventure titles; the theme music doesn’t kick in until 20 seconds in. And it’s not like it’s going slow to pause for jokes, it’s just moving really slow just… ’cause. To kill time, I guess? They also barely even changed the character designs, it’s just the Groening heads slapped onto weird noodle arm bodies. Adventure Time creator Pen Ward sings the new “Simpsons Time” theme song; having just read the Art of Adventure Time book and learning he was a huge Simpsons fan as a kid and it was a big influence, I’m sure this was a great honor for him. Stuff like this and the Rick & Morty couch gag are like a win-win for both parties: the creators of new and fresh TV are thrilled that a show they used to love is validating them, and The Simpsons gets to pretend they’re still relevant by crossing over with a popular contemporary show that is actually watchable.
– The beginning of the show doesn’t really matter, it’s just the stupid excuse to start the Burns story. Lard Lad gets a makeover thanks to their Japanese holding company, transforming the mascot into a gigantic steel post-postmodern monstrosity. The reflective ring of the donut ends up acting as a gigantic magnifying glass, and as the statue is on a turntable, it ends up lighting huge fires, which due to some “hilarious” chain reactions, result in the utter decimation of the whole town. You’d think the Lard Lad owners would fit the bill for this, or at least have some kind of joke of them leaving town, but they’re immediately forgotten. I’m just guessing that Burns Manor is only safe because of its high elevation, but again, that’s me adding in details the show just doesn’t bother with. Also, throughout the episode, we see the Simpson house, the power plant and the school, all of which seem perfectly fine. The Springfield Bowl is also fine as well. We’ve gotten to the point where the entire destruction of the town can be turned into an afterthought. It’s just a dumb cartoon, who cares?
– The Springfield Bowl is obviously modeled after the Hollywood Bowl; they had a Simpsons live show there two years before this aired, I’m going to guess that was a big inspiration for this show. Burns’ show opens with a pre-recorded skit of he and Smithers getting to the Bowl, just as the real-life Simpsons one did. Burns walks out and his opening joke is about how hard it is to park at the Hollywood… I mean, the Springfield Bowl. It’s just more making Springfield into Los Angeles Jr. Why the hell does this jerkwater burg have a performing arts bowl that size?
One good line/moment: I got nothing, this episode was just awful. There’s still plenty of awful stuff I didn’t get to, like the kids’ boring acts being played straight with no jokes at the end, or Amy Schumer as Burns’ mom licking his face over and over for no reason other than to be creepy as hell. Ugh, ugh, ugh.