Original airdate: March 12, 2017
The premise: In a mock sports documentary, we see Bart’s meteoric rise as star of the school basketball team, but troubles arise when he butts heads with new coach Homer, and he strikes a deal with Fat Tony to get back at him.
The reaction: Well color me shocked, this show was actually okay. The biggest thing going for it was its format; being framed as a documentary meant it didn’t need to take itself too seriously and it could be more focus more on its gags than its story. A plot like Fat Tony cleaning up with bets made on grade school sports feels like something I’d be annoyed with in a regular show, but in this framework that’s already a big joke, it’s fine by me. Also, with a narrator explaining what’s going on every step of the ways, that means the characters don’t have to exposit and re-explain everything every thirty seconds, they could actually deliver, y’know, dialogue. The plot is simple enough, to start: Bart joins the basketball team, quickly becoming the star player, and he lets fame go to his head. Homer becomes the new coach and the two get cross with each other thanks to Bart’s ego. It felt like a weaker version of the Homer-Lisa conflict from “Marge Gamer,” but I still bought it. After that, Fat Tony cuts a deal with Bart that he near-wins each game so he can rake in a lot of bets by ruining the spread… it’s called point shaving or something… I’m not a sports guy, nor have I ever seen 30 For 30, so I don’t really have any concept of what this is about. But later, Bart finds that Tony is making a lot more off his back betting against him, he requests him to throw a game for some reason, and Bart defies him by winning. I’m not quite clear if this story makes sense or not, but it’s not like it matters much. In the latter half, unfortunately, the expository dialogue returns (“Dad, this is supposed to be about us getting together.”) Not to say the Homer-Bart stuff was expertly done, but what was there was serviceable enough. I don’t know if you can tell, but it’s kind of difficult writing about this one. The format gives it a different feel that’s hard to surmise, and also it’s not a typical huge dumpster fire for me to rant and rave over. I could mostly follow the story, characters were bearable, and there were a handful of jokes I actually thought worked. This is like this season’s “Friend With Benefit,” I can’t say I like it, but I certainly don’t viciously hate it like its brethren.
Three items of note:
– We start with another guest couch gag from Bill Plympton. What is this, his fifth one? They’re getting less and less unique, going from that one where Homer fucks the couch and gets it pregnant, to now where a squiggle version family sits on the couch, and we pan up to a chain of each family member drawing each other. We also hear each Simpson humming to themselves as we pan by, which kind of steps on the nice score that’s playing. That’s something I’ve noticed, for some reason, they’ve been cramming couch gags full of unnecessary ADR of characters just umming and aahhing for no reason. The segment ends with Homer bloodily stabbing himself in the eye with his pencil, because 85% of couch gags now have to involve Homer getting injured or killed. These guest segments used to be the only creative bright spot in this entire series, I hope this isn’t a sign that they’re gonna ruin these too.
– The show opens with what I assume is a recreation masked as a parody of the 30 For 30 opening, which features a flurry of videos from past sports episodes playing in the background. Seeing the likes of “Homer at the Bat,” “Lisa on Ice”… even the clip of the footballer’s leg flying off from “Faith Off,” as dumb as that was, that at least had some genuine shock value to it. After all this, I bet if I go back and watch season 11 or 12, it would be like reaching an oasis after being stranded in a desert.
– The ending reveals the narrator as being Nelson’s dad, which was sort of set up earlier in the episode. Nelson and his mom show up in the recording booth for a tearful reunion, where Dad bestows upon his son the best gift of all: sleeves for his ripped vest (“You look just like a parole officer!”) It was actually surprisingly sweet, which is a term I don’t think I’ve used on this show for years. But status quo is God, so they of course end with mentioning how Dad left again. I guess the writers love those sad Nelson jokes. I’d much rather see the return of Mr. Muntz we saw in “Bart Star.” I’d also much rather see this series cancelled.
One good line/moment: There are some pretty solid gags peppered throughout, some of which probably wouldn’t translate writing them out and describing them as they’re made funny because of how they’re edited, quickly cut and so forth. The one bit that actually made me audibly laugh was a funny drawing of Homer nervously watching the game, sweating profusely with a towel shoved in his mouth. This by itself is amusing, but the joke is added onto with two quick talking heads by Marge and Homer (“I don’t know how, but Homer gained twelve pounds chewing towels.” “I put jelly on ’em.”)