644. Baby You Can’t Drive My Car

Original airdate: November 4, 2018

The premise:
Homer and Marge get hired at a new, trendy self-driving car company with a fun, laid-back work environment, but become conflicted when they find the company is stealing personal data from its drivers.

The reaction: Sometimes I do actually feel bad for this show, since it’s gotta be so hard to come up with new ideas that not only the series itself hasn’t done, but also social satire topics that haven’t been tackled sufficiently by other shows either. This isn’t to say different shows can’t deal with the same subject matter, but if you’re going to double dip, you’ve got to have something new to say, and pretty much every time this show goes to an already frequented well, it brings back swill. The fun business campus of CarGo (is that even a joke name?), corporate spying and taking advantage of consumer data, even the self-driving car itself, all topics covered by HBO’s Silicon Valley, in much greater detail, and much more cleverly and intelligently. As usual with this show, the targets here feel so much like a first draft: lavish office toys and doo-dads that never get used, nerds talking nerd talk, the elements that other shows like Silicon use as their base to build upon, this show is content with using them as is for their actual big jokes. This outing is also ostensibly a Homer-Marge episode; when Marge rouses the coders’ spirits with a hearty game of foosball, she’s hired as some kind of morale booster for the company, despite one of Marge’s core character traits that she’s a no-nonsense worrywart fuddy-duddy. When it’s revealed the self-driving cars listen in on your conversations and transport you directly to the company’s corporate sponsors, Homer flies off the handle while Marge is not too quick to abandon the company she loves for whatever reason. This seems like it should be reversed, but no real reasoning is given why either character reacts or feels the way they do about the situation. Mr. Burns meanwhile investigates CarGo after the plant goes understaffed to see the secret to their success, and despite being wowed by their business model of keeping workers at work for no substantial extra cost, he doesn’t decide to actually do anything about it. In the end, he, Homer, and eventually Marge shut down CarGo, and the episode just abruptly ends. Watered down satire seen much better in other shows, and a Homer-Marge story that tells us nothing new or interesting or funny about the two of them, but it killed another twenty minutes, so throw that episode up on the board!

Three items of note:
– We start with a prime example of the show’s bad habit of taking potentially amusing quick jokes and elongating them, thus ruining them. Homer goes through the Krusty Burger drive-thru, where he is presented with his nuggets. “Chicken nuggets?” Homer inquires. Cashier Shauna’s eyes darts. “Yess…” she responds noncommittally. That, alone, would be decent. But then we keep going. “Including things that ate or were eaten by a chicken!” Belabored line, and unnecessary, but not awful. But then, we get a thought bubble from Homer of what those animals or things might be, an elephant, a rat, a boot, basically just a repeat of the hot dog bit from “Lisa the Vegetarian.” Homer contently drives away, chicken nuggets on his dashboard, and he sings a song about them, a sort-of parody of a Jim Croce song that’s not really amusing at all. This nugget bit could have been more than sufficient if left alone after the first five seconds, but it just kept on going, eventually being part of the impetus for Homer losing his job, by choking on his nuggets, careening into a construction area at the plant and flying his car upside down through Burns’ office window. Later, during a montage with the self-driving car, we open with seeing a Krusty Burger box labeled “Chicken” Nuggets as Homer sings the Jim Croce song again, in case you weren’t already sick of those two jokes from before. Unbelievable. I assume the writers and staff just love to hear Dan Castellaneta sing, but did they really think they struck gold with the chicken nuggets bit?
– Homer is gobsmacked to discover the lush cafeteria at CarGo is free of charge to employees. As “Pure Imagination” plays, he’s overcome with emotion and goes on a binge. A lot of the posing and camera movements are pulled straight out of the classic “Land of Chocolate” sequence (I guess as a tribute?), but as usual with all references to the classic years, all it does it reinforce how empty and shallow the show is now. “Chocolate” featured Homer at his more feverishly and deliriously happy, in this fantasy world made entirely out of chocolate, skipping merrily down to Fudge Town and marveling at the “CHOCOLATE HALF PRICE” sign in the store. Here, Homer’s just excited he gets to eat a bunch of normal food. Do we need to devote an entire minute to this bit? Homer already said he loves working there, he doesn’t need to be sold anymore. It’s just unfunny nonsense that adds nothing.
– The coders at CarGo act very much like classic Revenge of the Nerds type nerds, making those crazy nerd noises (can’t think of how to best describe them) as Marge calls on them to power down and have some fun. Also part of the staff are the old college nerds, but with different sounding voices, because who gives a shit about looking that crap up to make sure the voices are correct, right? But it all feels so easy, and at this point, so detached from reality. Silicon Valley shows us a wide variety of different types of tech nerds, from the traditionally socially awkward, to the over compensating, to the overtly weird and creepy. This show has no interest in delving into anything of the sort; they’re just a bunch of fucking nerds.

One good line/moment: Homer’s “Holy crap!” taking the self-driving car to the church with its drive-thru confessional (Lovejoy immediately closes the window upon seeing Homer). Marge surmises the company must be up to some monkey business, then cut to the two of them returning to work flanked by monkeys, with Homer wearing a “Marcel’s Monkey Rentals” shirt. Contrast with the fucking endless nugget bits, these jokes are quick, aren’t overstated, do their job and get out.

Just as a heads up, next week’s review is definitely gonna be late. Getting married tends to make one a little tardy, or so I’ve heard…

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10 responses to “644. Baby You Can’t Drive My Car

  1. Congratulations on your upcoming major event.
    As for this episode, it’s basically another one for the pile of 300+ mediocre Jean-era episodes. It’s astounding how limp-wristed the show has become even since the beginning of the Jean era: seasons 13-15 were bad, yes, but they at least told stories (even if they did so poorly) and contained a few decent character moments/jokes. I feel as if the current writing team for the show is trapped in this weird bubble where they basically believe that ‘because it’s the Simpsons’, their poorly constructed first drafts/scripts are therefore great, and because the show is so low on any fresh ideas, a ton of these ultra-ramshackle episodes end up being approved and the show gets away with it because it’s basically immortal at this point, which only validates the writers’ egos more and causes their output to degrade even further into incoherent nonsense. I wonder if the show’s immortal status being shattered is the only major move that can at least minorly fix this issue; after all, why bother investing any effort into one good season if the show is going on forever and they can get away with coasting? But of course, it’s not a likely prospect, and even the replacement of the writing team would only be a temporary fix (as they would simply fall into the same rut after a season or so).

  2. Congrats on the nuptials! But what’s this business about a delay? I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard that a great way to spend your honeymoon is to watch terrible cartoons and then immediately blog about how terrible it was. The ladies totally go for that. 😛

  3. Man alive, does this episode sound like an advertisement to working at the car industry. If this were a classic episode, I bet the CarGo company would be a rundown shithole full of grouches who lost their ambitions. Anyway, congrats on the marriage, you deserve a brief vacation.

  4. “Later, during a montage with the self-driving car…”

    How much of the running time did the writers try to kill with that one?

  5. No sweat. It’s your wedding night. You should be trying to sleep.

  6. Okay, this is one of those rare times that I have to completely disagree with you Mike. I feel like you weren’t even trying to like this episode. Now I’m not saying it was great, as the episode was kind of dumb, but there were A LOT of jokes I ended up laughing my ass off at, especially when the robot car took Krusty to a pop machine and he screams, “THIS WASN’T WHAT I MEANT WHEN I SAID I WANTED COKE!” I also liked when Homer said “Holy crap!” and it took them to the church. Lisa and Bart’s debate that ended with Marge congratulating Lisa for letting Bart win. Mr Burns being upset that Homer called him short and not caring about the rest. Oh, and of course Lisa firing him at her Lemonade Stand.

    Not to mention we have a competent Homer who is legitimately freaking out because he can’t get a job to support his family, stating that he has indeed applied everywhere and they turned him down. Marge is not nagging, but rather trying to help him out. It was like they let someone from the original team write parts of this episode.

    On the other hand, did we really need the three nerds from Homer’s college episode to be part of the company? Although, their robotic song made me think of Portal.

    Overall, sure, it may not have been a great episode, but like I said, I laughed a lot, probably the most I have laughed at the show in three years, so that makes it a great episode in my book.

  7. “Homer is gobsmacked to discover the lush cafeteria at CarGo is free of charge to employees. As “Pure Imagination” plays, he’s overcome with emotion and goes on a binge.”

    Wow, really? That’s just sad. Both Family Guy and Futurama parodied Willy Wonka (literally!) decades before this.

  8. Congratulations.
    Having gone halfway across the world to get married in 16, I definitely understand the hiatus and wish you and Mrs. Mike all the best in your new lives together.

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