Original airdate: October 9, 2016
The premise: In the midst of a heated Springfield-Boston football rivalry, Bart’s Beantown allegiance infuriates Homer, prompting him to plan a family vacation to Boston to convince his son the town sucks.
The reaction: Vacation episodes normally have some kind of larger character story going on alongside the sights and sounds of the Simpsons in new surroundings. As time went on and the family jumped from continent to continent, the stories became looser and looser as the aim became to just make a bunch of jokes/references to other states/countries. This episode feels like the ultimate example, a Bostonian love letter that I hope the people of that good city enjoyed, because I barely understood any of it. I’ve never been to Boston, and there are just so many one-off characters and locations and lines of dialogue that I really don’t know what to make of, because I can’t tell if they’re Boston references, or just the usual breed of inane nonsense this show normally trots out. When Boston beats Springfield in football, Homer is shocked to find Bart wearing a Boston hat. Unable to sway his allegiance, Homer arranges a trip to fuel his hate fire. This show feels so inside baseball, like I said, there’s a lot of this I can’t tell if they’re supposed to be jokes or not, and that’s not really a good sign. They sure got their mileage of funny accents though; seems like everyone they meet has the strongest Boston accent and they’re taking full advantage of it with the dialogue (“pahk my cah in the yahd” type stuff.) So Homer hates Boston just like New York City, except with a flimsier rationale, but all it takes is him to play candlepin bowling and he’s completely won over. Lisa is won over by their arts scene, Marge by their local healthcare, Bart is a fan from moment one… Boston is so great, they decide to move there! Between the loving recreation of all the landmarks and the Simpsons talking about how great everything is, this feels more like something Boston can use for their tourism campaign than actual satire. Bart quickly learns Boston is not the criminal slum he hoped it would be from his favorite movie The Departed (???), so he wants out. He incites Homer’s rage at a parade, goading him to putting on a Boston hat, but he snaps instead. But why is Homer so mad? His hatred of NYC was irrational, but it was also very consistent, hilariously so up until the end. If his emotions can turn on a dime after learning candlepin bowling lets you bowl thrice instead of twice, then who cares? As I say again and again, we’re at the point where characters can just change emotions at the drop of a hat, so the show has completely lost its ability to have any sort of tension or emotional investment. When Homer struggles to put the hat on, and when Boston-loving Lisa growls at Bart for putting him up to it, why am I supposed to care? What’s at stake? Why is this happening? Who cares?
Three items of note:
– Even though I couldn’t pick out a lot of the references, I could still recognize that they weren’t really jokes. Bart shows Lisa a clip of a crime movie set in Boston, where three guys prepare for their heist, but not before they all take a swig of their Fribble shakes. Fribbles are a staple of Friendly’s, a diner/ice cream shop chain based in the Northeast, and having grown up in New Jersey, I recognized that. But that’s just it. The “joke” is literally, here a thing you know. So much of this episode felt like let’s just cram in as many identifiable Boston/Northeastern things as possible. It’s pushed to the limit at the end where we get a bunch of shots of a crowd at a parade as we see a bunch of pop culture figures hailing from Boston. Conan O’Brien, the cast of Cheers, Steven Tyler, Michael Dukakis (who I only recognize because he’s wearing a tank costume), Mark Wahlberg and Ted the teddy bear… there’s also someone who’s a ghost? There’s at least twenty others I can’t recognize, is this supposed to be like freeze frame fun? Count the references! We couldn’t think of any jokes, but we could look up “celebrities from Boston” on Google!
– Speaking of references, Homer’s love of Boston is cemented with him taking a roll at every bowling alley in town, in a montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me.” You know, the song used at the beginning of The Big Lebowski, also playing as people bowled? Again, I ask, what am I supposed to laugh at here? That they’re using the same song in the same context? Comic genius!
– Bart’s love of Boston stems from his want to be a “Southie,” whatever that is, and wanting to join the Irish mob. He tries to get in detention at his new school to find a gang to run with and pull off jobs… it all felt very strange. And it’s not like they’re playing off his naivete with anything, or making any kind of point, other than Boston in this reality is sanitized and cultured. Seeing Bart be so eager to get into a life of crime felt kind of uncomfortable for me. We’ve seen dream bubbles of him being a drifter or breaking the law, but to dwell on it this much to make this ten-year-old’s main motivation to join a gang… something about that feels unseemly.
One good line/moment: There were a couple sections of this episode that sported some more fluid animation than we’ve seen in a long time, most of which being Homer getting angry at Bart, and later at the end as he twists with rage and tears the hat in two. I would say I liked it, but it was almost jarring seeing this greater animation after years of bland nothingness, and only for certain scenes. Plus the acting was all flimsily motivated, but that’s the script’s fault, not the animators.