Original airdate: April 2, 2017
The premise: Discouraged by the softness of his alma mater Yale, Mr. Burns opens up his own for-profit college and employing the plant staff as teachers. Before long, Homer, the most popular teacher, is poached by another university head for a top secret assignment.
The reaction: Boy, what a train wreck this was. I remember hearing about this Trump University episode (and how it was a miserable failure), but it really barely feels focused on that. First off, when Burns returns to Yale looking to fund a nuclear engineer program for his own benefit, he’s horrified to find a faculty and student body obsessed with diversity quotas, safe spaces and language policing. A lot of time is spent on this segment mocking this progressive PC rhetoric, and it also serves as the basis of the final conflict resolution. I understand that Burns would be completely turned off by all of this, but the jokes played out here were to such a degree that it felt less like an informed parody and more like I was reading an Internet comments section of imbeciles screaming about how SJWs are ruining everything (if you are one of these people, please stop reading this blog.) “That word is cis-gender normative, okay? You’re worse than Hitler!” one student balks. That’s literally a quote I would expect to find in an MS Paint comic showing how “insane” people are for wanting to use proper pronouns. Asking politely to use a certain identifier when addressing them is conflated into an angry demand in some people’s minds, a heinous act of censorship for sad men to whine and cry about online. But let’s steer away from this controversial cesspool and get back to the episode. Burns starts his own college to make money off of, then hires workers from the plant to be teachers because he seems to have immediately lost interest in his idea (“Just pull them off one by one until the power stops working, we’ll be fine.”) Seven minutes in and now we shift focus to Homer the teacher, with him feeling out of his element and the family encouraging him. Lisa’s solution is to have him watching movies the likes of Dead Poets Society and Stand and Deliver, and when he starts emulating those teachers and randomly quoting them in class, he becomes super popular and well-liked. He gets the class to chant the different chair settings as he demonstrates for some reason, and that catches the attention of this other rich guy we saw earlier, a Yale alum who has his own line of colleges and wants to hire Homer. Homer is dropped off at a mysterious secluded house with the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ken Jennings and Robert McKee; Rich Guy has gathered the world’s greatest teachers (including Homer, I guess) for a special assignment: to see if they can teach his army of robots! At this point, what story am I watching anymore? We’ve flipped through three so far with no resolutions or any sort of sense of progression whatsoever. Burns opened the college, and then that was it. Homer’s a teacher, then he inexplicably becomes a good teacher. Now he’s going to stand around while other smart people teach a classroom of robots… and that’s not even the dumb ending yet! You can read about that doozy below. The show’s been in bad shape for so long now, but if the writers can’t even make mincemeat out of a topic like Trump University, they really should be pretty embarrassed. That’s like being handed a punchline on a plate.
Three items of note:
– Homer’s nuclear technician class is of course filled with regular faces: Comic Book Guy, Otto, Gil, Cookie Kwan… what are these people doing here? “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” featured Homer teaching a bunch of town regulars, but being lovelorn losers hoping to hear some helpful romance tips, it made sense for them to be there, and we even heard some of them explain why they were. Here, none of that matters at all. They’re there because we wanted Otto to say a joke, and there he is. And then at the end, they all love him so much they spell “GOODBYE MR. S” in human letters as Homer flies off in Rich Guy’s helicopter. But why? He launched himself out the window from his chair and rambled on about how the Hulk got his powers. Teacher of the yeeeaaaar…
– Many times this show has come close to actually telling a competent joke, but then completely stomp out those chances by overexplaining it or having it run too long, or both. Two particularly egregious incidents here. Smithers snickers at Burns University’s slogan (“You’ll get the full monty!”) Burns is puzzled (“What are you laughing at? Does ‘the full monty’ have some sort of naughty double meaning?”) Honestly, the joke would have worked just fine without that second sentence, a quick throwaway gag. But this show is no longer about blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jokes, it’s drawing things out as long as possible to get this shit to run time. So, we get Smithers envisioning Burns dancing naked with a hat over his dick to “You Sexy Thing,” which I’m guessing was a song used in The Full Monty. Hilarious. That Smithers sure is gay. Another scene is just ten seconds long, where Homer is sad at Moe’s, and we get this exchange between Carl and Moe (“Homer’s just not cut out to be a pedagogue.” “That’s easy, you just gotta register, stay away from playgrounds… oh, you said pedagogue.”) Again, without that last bit, the joke would have been okay, but we gotta spell everything out for the audience. Overexplain everything! Jokes are always funnier when you explain why they’re funny in the joke! Comedy 101!
– Our big dumb ending starts when it’s revealed that Rich Guy is training his robots to attend the colleges he owns, funneling him with billions in taxpayer money. I… don’t quite see how this would make sense, but I may not be thinking about it hard enough. It also feels like they breezed right by a goldmine of material with mocking how brutal student loans are, but I guess making fun of kids for being “too sensitive” was the better way to go. Homer becomes the hero when he infiltrates the gang of robots at Yale, then dons a cardboard box head and acts like a robot (beep boop bop). The Robo-Student cry foul (“Micro-aggression!” “Cultural appropriation!” “Offensive!”) and they all short circuit and explode. Again, I don’t really get why they’re so hung up about making fun of college kids this way. I’ve read countless stories about frat and sorority parties with white kids wearing blackface, dressed up in grossly stereotypical ethnic costumes, and that’s not even touching on actual physical and verbal harassment. But, from the lens of this joke, stuff like this are these students’ downfall, a silly obsession that proves to be their undoing. It rings as a bunch of out-of-touch older writers who think their kids need to lighten up and not be so sensitive. That’s not to say that you can’t have fun with this topic, but as I mentioned before, this material really feels like it came right out of a 4chan thread. The character of PC Principal on South Park I thought was an astounding way to approach this topic, taking the term ‘PC Police’ literally, with a white male character constantly policing other people’s language and acting socially righteous just to get girls and “crush puss.” He also stands in a meta sense as standing in opposition of the show itself, and how South Park can best survive in a more socially conscious society. None of that kind of thinking was implemented here. But I don’t think much of any kind of thinking is used when writing scripts anymore.
One good line/moment: In the secret Skull & Bones underground lair or whatever, there’s a bunch of presidential portraits hanging on the wall in the background, including that looks like Obama, but he appears white (or yellow, as it were.) Again, I don’t know if this were intentional, or just a mistake, but it’s an amusing sight gag for its context.