599. The Town

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.

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13 responses to “599. The Town

  1. Just like with you, a lot of the jokes went over my head since I know absolutely nothing about Boston. I grew up in Buffalo NY before I moved out to Denver CO, so yeah. Again, like you, I also got the Friendly’s joke.

    This whole episode feels like it was just ripping off the town they moved to in “You Only Move Twice.” As for Bart’s The Departed bit, I don’t get why they had to redo this thing over when they already did a perfectly excellent parody of The Debarted back in Season 19. What need was there to revisit that movie?

    Anyway, Season 28 doesn’t make me mad because I kind of just watched the episodes each week and then forgot about it. Hell, there was a moment back in April where I went onto On Demand and started up an episode I thought I missed only to be like five minutes into it, “Oh wait, I did watch this one.” lol

  2. I initially praised this episode as the best one in years (not that that’s saying much), but on a repeat watch I saw I was just blown away by the fantastic bits of animation. Still, those animated bits shows that at least someone on the staff still cares enough to show effort.

    I don’t think Homer’s motivation is as flimsy as Mike does. If you’ve ever known die-hard sports fans (especially football, it seems), you probably know someone who would try to go to these lengths to try to sway a child away from supporting a rival team.

  3. The animation is the only thing that Season 28 has improved compared to 25-27.

  4. Maybe they lured David Silverman to the drawing table with a $100 bill on a string and had him storyboard the couple of interestingly animated sequences

  5. Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey

    I’m more upset about that such a “meh” episode beat out Bojack Horseman for an Emmy nomination this year. “Fish out of Water” told a compelling 30 minute story with almost no dialogue and creative underwater visuals. It’s a crime really.

    • Probably because even teh worst Simpsons episode is funnier than the best Bojack episode. I don’t get the appear of Bojack.

      • BoJack is actually my favorite animated show at the moment. It’s pretty unremarkable at the start as it sets up the world and all the characters, but from the second half of season 1 on, it’s just outstanding. If you haven’t, watch episodes 7 and 8, they’re the one-two punch that really sold me on the show.

      • Actually Zombie Simpsons it is so unbelievably bad that cannot be compared to anything, let alone Bojack. Sure, Bojack is not that great, (it actually thinks (and give the impression) to be smarter than it really is), but it is better than your average show of these times, and we probably be thankful of that(?).
        Zombie Simpsons (let’s say Season 13-forever) is the worst show to ever be created. Simple as that.

  6. I flipped through this episode, lured by the idea of improved animation, but what really caught my attention was that Springfield was playing a non-parody “parody” of the New England Patriots, complete with blatant references to Belichick, Brady and Gronk, meaning that Springfield now has an NFL-level team. It feels like there should have been some underlying meta-storyline over the seasons about Springfield continuing to get bigger and more popular, to give an in-Universe reason for how it went from small town American to Los Angeles-lite. There was some highlight animation, though. I especially liked little touches like Bart’s movements as the buildings sprung up in his dream.

    • “Bonderchuck” coaching the “Boston Americans”! How do these dicks live with themselves!?

      • I’m not sure if this is intentional but Boston Americans was the original name of the Boston Red Sox.

      • The working title of the episode was “Patriot Games,” so I guess they originally planned to use the actual Patriots, but had to make the switch at the end for whatever reason.

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