Original airdate: April 30, 2017
The premise: Bart whores himself out to the elderly women of Springfield in need of a grandson to spoil. Meanwhile, the rest of the town is addicted to the phone game… *sigh*… Peekimon Get.
The reaction: Bart easily seems to be the hardest Simpson to write for over the last fifteen years, which I’ve talked about many times over. When they’re not throwing him in situations better suited for a teenage boy or older, they turn him into a sniveling wuss who seems to care less about causing mischief and acting like a normal rambunctious ten-year-old. This episode kind of covers both, at least when we get to the second half where the “real” “story” seems to actually start. Bart is tasked with walking Agnes to the bus stop, and for some reason, she poses as her grandson to show up Martin’s grandmother. They don’t even try to make it like he’s trying to play mind games with Skinner, or that Agnes has some sob story that he feels bad about, he just attaches to her. After the fact, she mentions that she can get him some free candy if he helps her again, and then after that, the story kind of begins, where Bart fulfills the emotional needs of all the neglected old biddies in town. The trade-off is that he’s spoiled rotten and gets lots of gifts, but we don’t really see much of any of that. He’s got a pocketful of candy, we see him watching Itchy & Scratchy at an old woman’s house (he can’t do that at home?); a lot of the first half’s screen time is devoted to the B-plot (which we’ll get to later). So a lot of the “humor” comes from Bart acting like a gigolo to these women; I feel like the concept could have actually been amusing, but underdeveloped as it is, it just feels weird and strange. Without really seeing Bart swimming in his selfish rewards, it just feels like he genuinely wants to hang out with these old ladies. So that brings us to Phoebe, an older woman who’s immediately wise to Bart’s charade, but pays him anyway to accompany her in her nature photography. After bequeathing him with his camera after a few days, and a not-so-cryptic monologue she gives about a dying deer, Bart comes to the conclusion that she might be planning on killing herself. This is a character who we’ve seen for under two minutes of screen time, and had no real connection or kindred relation with Bart, but despite that, I guess we’re supposed to feel bad? Or worried? It feels completely disingenuous, and that’s not even considering the multitude of tasteless suicide gags with Moe they’ve done for shock value over the years. But in the end, Phoebe is alive, and thankfully, she exposits aloud why, in one of the worst pieces of dialogues in the entire series (“I admit, I had some dark thoughts, and I used you to escape from the home. But once I got out here by myself, completely free, I realized there’s so much to live for, and I want my camera back.”) This show has hinged on quickie plot resolutions with characters explicitly stating aloud what’s happening and what they’re feeling for years now, but to do so with a supposedly suicidal woman talking about her change of heart feels like a whole other level of not giving a flying fuck.
Three items of note:
– The episode opens sans opening title, but with a snippet from the original Tracey Ullman short “Good Night,” in honor of the show’s 30th anniversary. How nice. Then we get a recreation of the Big Bang Theory opening to commemorate 600+ episodes and how fucking long this shit has been on the air. Not nice. I really wish I didn’t recognize the reference; I’ve been fortunate enough to only see a very limited amount of that horrid show, and I wish to keep it that way. Anyway, more of the show trying to glom on to another show’s success. What season is Big Bang on? Season 10? Timely as ever.
– Bart’s transgression to get him in trouble to start is to sing “joke” lyrics during a grandparent’s day serenade (“Grandma, grandpa, you’re the best,” “Now you can be laid to rest!”) Even Skinner is aware of the laziness (“Simpson, those lyrics are unapproved and not that funny!”) During the song, Chalmers texts “SKINNNER!” because after over twenty years, the writers literally can’t think of any other joke for these two other than have him scream his name. This scene also illuminates how they seemingly don’t want to give Bart a new teacher, nor do they seem to care to. I thought Mrs. Krabappel’s absence would create a decent sized hole in the cast they would need to fill, but I guess they just as easily wallpapered over it. A classroom without a teacher and “SKINNNER!” are symptoms of the same problem: this is a show that has been slavishly attached to the world created in the classic years, and just will not budge even one inch. Why create new characters, new running gags, new shades of old characters, when you can just regurgitate the same old schtick over and over and over again and get paid either way? So really, there’s no need to make a new fourth grade teacher when they can get away with scenarios like this. It’s clearer a non-issue for the writers.
– Let’s get into that B-story. Pokemon Go released in July 2016 and was a red hot pop culture obsession for about a month or two. The popularity died down pretty quickly going into the fall, and by the time this episode aired, the game was pretty much irrelevant. In just about nine months, this is literally as fast as this show can go given its production schedule to capitalize on a current trend, and this is the biggest example of why they should never try to do it. Not only are they incredibly late to the party, but every single joke here had already been made a million times online when the game was fresh and relevant. People wandering around stores and graveyards not paying attention to where they’re going, thinking a real animal on the phone is a Pokemon, as usual, the writers operate on an obvious, base level of satire and don’t bother to reach any higher. The two plots tie together when Bart gets all the Peekimon players to help him look for Susan, and then we get a montage set inside the game with a parody of the Pokemon theme! We’re hip and with it, right, kids? It just felt incredibly embarrassing. The sequence is like a pastiche of Japanese and anime references; Pokemon’s been around for twenty years now, surely there’s a couple people on staff who are somewhat familiar with it, rather than what feels like a bunch of old writers who have no idea what they’re writing a parody of other than articles they read about the game.
One good line/moment: BLANK.