657. Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy

Original airdate: March 24, 2019

The premise:
Itchy & Scratchy is getting an all-female reboot, causing Bart and the other boys to swear off watching the show. But when he gets exposed for actually enjoying the new series, Bart is ostracized, but then ends up joining a gang of sixth grade rebel girls.

The reaction: Well here’s a rarity: a topical episode that didn’t feel disingenuous, with good characterization and pretty good jokes… I’m pretty flippin’ surprised. From the moment Krusty announces the gender swapped reboot, we immediately get a shot at the showbiz community embracing diversity, just as long as it pays well (“See? Girls like my pandering! Remember this if there’s ever a gender war!”) Bart arranges the boys for to “hate-not-watch” the new series, while Lisa is excited for this new great step in women’s cartoon history. When she catches Bart actually laughing at the cartoon, she exposes his hypocrisy, making him a outcast. Milhouse of all people takes up the mantle of leader, which in terms of mirroring the impotent whining of misogynistic Internet dwellers, is pretty perfect: a socially awkward and meek boy with deep-seeded identity issues himself lashing out at those he believes are undermining him and his kind (“Girls get everything: bigger, softer baseballs, chick flicks, two piece bathing suits!”) He starts a new radical organization, the Boys Rights Association (“Right now, we’re just training BRAs, but soon, we’ll be the strongest, most supportive BRAs anyone has ever seen!”) Pretty clever, especially since it almost sounds like “bra,” like “surfer bra,” so it’s not awkward dialogue. Meanwhile, Bart’s only escape from ridicule is the girl’s bathroom, where he encounters three rebellious girls looking to tear down the patriarchy. But rather than being hollow feminist stereotypes written by fifty-year-old men, they’re actually more like prankster artists, vandalizing the Lard Lad statue with a dress (Lard Lady No-Nuts) and wrapping the boys’ urinals in saran wrap, all of whom ashamedly leave the bathroom with soiled pants (except for Milhouse, proudly stating, “This is why I sit!”)

When Lisa finally discovers Bart is part of the “Bossy Riot” gang, she is livid, angered that Bart is part of such a radical feminist movement knowing nothing about the cause (“Chicks get a raw deal! Little fuzzy on the deets, but take my word for it.”) Lisa, for once, is not really an eye-rolling rabble-rouser; she balks at Bart’s infamy, but then must nut up or shut up when he invites her along to their next big stunt. She’s apprehensive, but eventually decides to go, just in time to save a tied-up Bart at the school. Bossy Riot has gone too far, it seems; following news Krusty is caving to the BRA demands to cancel the Itchy & Scratchy reboot, they’re going to destroy the negatives to all the original episodes on live TV. I was worried the episode would do some both-sides bullshit in showing extreme feminism and equating it to MRA nonsense, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The girls’ actions are overboard, but also reactionary and nonviolent. In the end, Lisa thwarts the girls’ plans, but in the process, makes all the boys in the audience cry, impressing the Bossy Riot girls, who invite her to join the gang. In a sweet moment, after some thought, Lisa accepts, Bart gives her his colorful hooded mask, and she bikes off with the girls into the night. Of course we’ll never see the girls again, but letting this ending just play out with Lisa overcoming her fears and putting her beliefs into action was pretty satisfying, rather than having some contrived reason why she wouldn’t be allowed in just to preserve status quo, like the countless number of new, celebrity guest star-voiced friends Bart and Lisa have made who conveniently vanish by episode’s end. So… I… liked this? I genuinely like this episode, first since season 27’s “Friend With Benefit.” So what the hell happened? Well, this is the first episode credited to Megan Amram, who has written for the likes of Silicon Valley, Children’s Hospital and The Good Place. She’s also rather young compared to the other writers, a 31-year-old who grew up watching and revering this show in its heyday. This show has seen a lot of the same guys pumping out scripts for the last five years or so, with only brief flashes of new blood (Ryan Koh is the only newish name I remember, who is in his forties, and wrote the absolutely awful “Team Homer” “sequel” last season.) Is this the solution to the ever-important question of what the fuck could possibly fix this series? A newer, younger, hipper writing staff? Who the hell knows. But I’ll say this, I’m actually interested in seeing Amram’s next show, and that’s a hell of a statement.

Three items of note:
– The very first female Itchy & Scratchy is a “parody” of Pitch Perfect, where Anna Kendrick’s character sing while making melodic noise with Solo cups, except here, FemItchy uses cat heads, of course. My wife loves those movies so I’m very familiar with them by proxy, but it took a moment to get what they were going for, even with Tress MacNeille warbling “When I’m Gone.” I mean, I guess that’s a franchise seemingly all women love, right? Though those movies are very popular, part of me feels like the reference is a tad obscure with no context… although the music video for “When I’m Gone” has over 450 million views, so I could just be talking out my ass. Plus those Pitch Perfect movies are just terrible comedies, which I can say because my wife doesn’t read this blog.
– The girl gang are all voiced by female comedians; I give props to Chelsea Peretti specifically for actually doing a voice, almost like a parody of a disaffected punk girl. Awkwafina and Nicole Byer pretty much use their speaking voices, but they were good in their roles too.
– Normally this section is reserved for me bitching about specific moments or scenes and how awful they were, but since I liked this episode… it’s a little more difficult here. The only crazy moment of ire I had was Lisa pronouncing “gif” with a j-sound, like Jif peanut butter. I hate this “debate.” It’s “gif” with a hard g-sound. It just is. I don’t care what anyone says. I think even the creator of the first gif or whatever said it’s “jif.” I don’t care. “Jif” is fucking stupid. It’s “gif.”

One good line/moment: Honestly, for once, the episode is kind of full of these, which if you’ve been paying attention, doesn’t happen a whole lot. My favorite two moments were probably the aforementioned urinal backfiring incident, and the exchange when Bossy Riot turns on Bart (“Don’t have a lady cow!” “All. Cows. Are. Ladies!”)

Suffice to say, I’m very much looking forward to the comments section here, which I’m sure will involve conversation of Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel and other extremely related topics.

13 responses to “657. Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy

  1. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way this episode was that it was yet another case of Bart getting the short end of the stick, immediately following an episode (the esports one) where that was especially egregious.

    Quoting the wiki here: “Outside the studios, the girls tell Bart he was never in the group and was in just for fingerprints and DNA.” Then Lisa just takes his place in the group despite disagreeing with their practices, and while Bart looks happy while spray-painting the wall at the end, it’s like, guess he was just used and abused by this group of random girls we’ll probably never see again. After being humiliated online by his sister, to boot (which felt a little mean for Lisa’s character, but whatever). Generally speaking, the current Simpsons writers seem to love dumping all over Bart lately, and it’s not fun to see.

    Also, this show is not exactly known for its wide array of developed female characters. It’s easy to say “the patriarchy is a weiner,” but it would be nice to see the show back that up with some actually counter-cultural programming again.

    All in all, I guess this could have been a lot worse. I miss Lisa being a character with her own interior life instead of someone who just responds to others (usually in order to correct or criticize them), but that’s nothing new.

    • With all that said, I agree that this is a better jerk-ish characterization of Milhouse than we’ve seen in the recent past, like that episode where Lisa starts falling for him after he decides to start acting like an asshole. That whole plot in itself felt more like an MRA wet dream than a plausible mode of behavior for a fourth-grader, whereas starting a “boys’ rights” group is definitely something I can see Milhouse doing. It’s because in this case, his jerkishness is a result of his (however foolishly) taking offense, and it’s normal for a child to lash out at the wrong target. Whereas in the earlier episode, he decided to start acting like a jerk because he was inspired by Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, which was as stupid and unrealistic as it sounds typing that out now.

  2. Your description of Milhous sounds a lot like Butters in the “Wieners Out!” episode of South Park a few years back. Still, it sounds like this episode actually didn’t suck. A rarity, as I think that can be said about less than a dozen episodes this century.

  3. I don’t believe it… I remember a lot of the comments from last week’s episode was of people dreading this episode, so I’m genuinely shocked that you ended up so favorably over this. Know what? Reading your review also makes me wanna see this!

    By the way, can you believe that it’s been 22 years since the last Itchy & Scratchy episode? Damn, not even Zombie Simpsons can make a bad I&S episode, even after the death of Alex Rocco.

    Holy shit, all I gotta say is, I was not expecting this to be the best episode of the season, especially after massive failures like “Girl Code”, “The Caper Chase”, and “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”.

  4. Color me surprised Mike. I actually thought it was pretty bad myself during my watchthrough with my buddies.

    It came off like every other attempt to try and be hip and topical (Pikamon Get, anyone?), but with more salt on the wound by aiming it at the SJW and anti-SJW crowds while alienating both of them at the same time. On top of that, the animation was extremely crappy in spots, like Nelson swinging Ralph around; Lisa lunging at Bart at the second act break; and the designs of the girl gang. Hearing Lisa say things like “Manspreading”, “Mansplaining” and “pwn’d” just gives me the heebie jeebies. And why does Lisa’s “Animated Women in media” poster include Mrs. Grundy?

    I did appreciate they didn’t do much to I&S besides flip the genders, but even that comes off as lazy when you really look at it.

    Honestly, would I say it’s the worst episode in Zombie Simpsons’ library? Probably not, considering episodes like Lisa Goes Gaga, Boys of Bummer, At Long Last Leave and The Girl Code all exist. But it’s certainly up there in my books

  5. This definitely seems to be a polarizing episode. I have to admit I’m on the side that didn’t like it.

    For one thing Bart’s actions just felt bizarre at the end – Bossy Riot treated him like a slave, tied him up (which I guess is technically non-violent…) and continuously insulted him. He ends the episode as worshipful as ever while stepping aside to give Lisa a spot even though she’d also been pretty horrible to him throughout.

    That’s another thing that bugs me. Yes Bart’s feminism was shallow and uneducated but for a character who began the episode with a ‘girls ruin everything’ attitude it felt pretty good growth for him to be in such awe and admiration of Bossy Riot. He really looked up those girls. Lisa’s calling him a mercenary just felt really off base.

  6. The Anonymous Nobody

    I’m not too surprised you liked this episode, Mike, but I felt like it had a lot more potential than it used. I feel like a story involving Bart realizing that a female Itchy & Scratchy is no different from the original is one that’s not only dealing with a contemporary issue, but helps his character evolve. They try addressing this at the end, but I’m left not understanding exactly what the point was. Bossy Riot does come off as an extremist group, and it doesn’t make sense as to why Lisa would join them, especially since they bound and gagged her brother, used him for their own personal needs, and tried to destroy the legacy of the original show. It comes off like Bart is the only person who learns anything in this episode, when everybody could have.

    I also want to talk more like Lisa because there’s a scene in this episode that represents how bad her characterization was. She walks into the school, sees that Bart is bound and gagged, and her first reaction is to state that she has two comebacks prepared in response to an earlier conversation they had? That’s normally the kind of thing that you would destroy the show for, Mike. I’m left not understanding what Lisa wants in this episode. She films Bart’s reaction to the female I&S without his knowledge, then hates the idea of him being in Bossy Riot despite it seeming like he’s actually learning something, then gets called out on being all talk and has a pathetic reaction to it. Sure, she stops Bossy Riot from doing what they’re doing, but after all that, she joins them. Why would she want anything to do with them? It’s definitely not a terrible episode, but it could have been a lot better if they thought more about some of the plot points here.

    Also, it’s seriously been 22 years since the last Itchy & Scratchy episode?

  7. This is just so people don’t say you’re sexist, isn’t it? No seriously, there’s a lot you’d suddenly tear the ep apart for. Like how last week Lisa supposedly ruins everything which, while she should have been apologetic for it, was an accident. Here she uploads a video of him without consent for the purpose of getting him cyberbullied (and physically bullied) and takes a disgusting amount of glee in it. When Bart was probably afaid of, y’know, angering people that could beat him up and maybe should have at least tried talking first. And didn’t even think to check if he actually had a change of heart before ranting at him later? Nope. He was naive, didn’t totally understand everything but he was still willing to help and seemed eager to learn.

    And yeah, Bart ends up being used and abused by her and the other girls (who lack distinct personalities or even names… great characters?) and the “heroes” are hateful, violent users who revel in the pain and suffering of others.

    By comparison, Milhouse and the BRAs? Outside of turning on Bart and then forgetting about him there’s nothing *actually* villainous that they do. Even getting the reboot cancelled wasn’t a big deal, it’s obvious both from previous and earlier in this one that girls were already watching Itchy and Scratchy. If anything it was just forcing them out of the something they loved pointlessly (would it be *wrong* if women got mad if MLP:FiM or the original PPG had a reboot with an all-male version of the cast when men were already watching and enjoying? No. No it wouldn’t be. Not even getting into the way stuff like ghostbusters took a hostile approach in making all the male characters wrong, stupid and/or evil before any backlash. Is it wrong for a muslim to hate Holy Terror?) That and it was via regular protest instead of vandalism, destruction of property or arguably terrorism for spite’s sake. And that’s not even getting into how Milhouse clearly just wanted friends who looked up to him for once in his miserable life.

    And no that’s not a defense of MRAs, they do some real fucked up shit right down to celebrating the likes of Elliot Rogers. But somehow the episode is so terribly written that they honestly look like the better side by far. You couldn’t have had a scene with them attacking girls who had nu I&S stuff? Or establish the merch they were burning was stolen from the girls? Or crossing over to white supremacy and kicking Lewis out of the group? If anything it seems like an accidental sporking of feminism when they come off as the far better side (when they *shouldn’t* be) and you’re supposed to hate and think they’re bad because the episode says so (and also because they’re boys) Designated heroes/villains at its finest. Hell, a two second file photo of the boys strong-arming the merch they were burning off the girls instead of apparently buying it would’ve done, boom, they’re the bad guys, the fuck was so hard about that?

    It’s not just a badly written episode, but a badly written episode that had a *ton* of different, entirely pro feminism (instead of accidentally antifeminist) ways it could go. Like if Bart was allowed to deliver the only clever bit at the end and it completely took the wind out of BRA’s sails. Or have the girls’ line at the end be along the lines of “yeah you’re out, shame too, we were kinda starting to like you” or something that would have given them *one* redeeming quality as characters. Or not had Lisa skip straight to being a terrible person (like if she had tried to talk to him first, got rebuked, THEN uploaded the video) or had Lisa side with Bart when the latter stuck up for liking it (hey hypocrisy gone, that’s what you wanted instead of making Bart’s life worse yet again, right?)

    Or like, do something actually feminist and make a big push for the girl characters, many of whom are satellites for either their husbands or to Marge/Lisa and get ignored? Only Lisa, Marge and Luann (entirely in relation to her husband btw) had *any* lines and only the first is significant. Have the girl’s group be Janey, Sherri, Terri and maybe Allison (either Pamela Haden who voiced her before, or see if her original VA isn’t too busy since stranger things meant she’s relevant again, if you *really* need a guest star) and be the group focused on support and all that instead of the violent and destructive BRA and only really start getting extreme with Bart’s influence. Or have it be about Bart and Lisa bonding over the reboot while contending with Bart’s former friends. Or have the supposed villains be villainous outside of “boys with an opinion” like MRAs are (again, Elliot Rogers and Neo-Nazis, there’s plenty there to pick from) In the end any feminism is as blatantly hollow as Krusty’s and if anything, I’m surprised more people aren’t tearing it for that even if they do ingore the shitty writing it has in spades. But I suppose it’s designed to make people scream “sexist!” at anyone who doesn’t like it even if it’s for doing a piss-poor job of feminism.

    Also, can they *please* stop casting Martin as a stock sexist he makes Lisa look like duke nukem in terms of girliness. And this is, what, episode #4 this season where Bart gets dumped on constantly, Lisa is an asshole, she gets everything she wants and he’s left in the dust? I miss when season themes were just overusing the crazy cat lady… the boy needs a hug, badly… or an actual victory for once.

    Sorry it’s a long comment but… why *weren’t* these points you were already making? Even some people I’ve talked to that *do* like it didn’t enjoy how hostile and unlikable the “heroes” were.

    • Even though I liked this one more than not, like all modern Simpsons episodes, I have to struggle to remember exactly what I watched 24 hours ago…

      – People are real pissed at Lisa for posting that video, but I don’t really get the problem. They firmly establish Bart’s hypocrisy when he’s showboating to the boys, another scene where he rebukes Lisa wouldn’t have done anything different. And when they walk to school and Lisa’s gleefully taunting him, Bart didn’t really seem to care, it’s not like he had been cyberbullied all week. I thought that all worked fine in terms of moving the story along.

      – Bart basically was just a mercenary for these girls and wasn’t really learning anything, I was fine with that. The scene of Lisa complaining to him reminded me of when she was pissed that Bart was a super successful jazz drummer when he couldn’t even pronounce the word “jazz,” except instead of magically being a professional musician, Bart’s just pranking like he always is. That being said, it would have been nice if he did have a moment of clarity at the end he could demonstrate to Lisa and they have a heart-to-heart, that would have been nice. Him spraying PATRIARCHY IS A WIENER makes it seem like he learned something, but he probably didn’t, “patriarchy” was a word he just learned. It’s almost like an ignorant feminist episode. But I feel like if they really tried to give Bart some feminist talking points to read out, it would have felt even more awkward, and there would have been even more Internet furor about it. I don’t see this as a Bart abuse episode at all, especially coming directly after last episode which literally ends with his friends attacking him for something that wasn’t his fault, while Homer is sitting pretty, not giving a fuck.

      – The scene where Lisa walks in on a tied up Bart and starts into her smug retort, I think what they were trying to go for in that scene was that she had been trying to think of a comeback the whole way there, and finally unloaded it upon opening the door without realizing what’s going on. Even though she’s looking directly at Bart and shining a flashlight on him. I got what they were going for… but it didn’t work.

      – I’m not gonna hold this episode up as a brilliant feminist work or anything. I don’t know if you can even do that with a show that has maybe five “major” secondary female characters in its cast of hundreds. But in terms of handling this delicate topic, I think they executed it in a way that didn’t come off too pandering and utilized the characters decently. The Bart-Lisa conflict-resolution could have been handled better, but what was there I thought worked fine; I like they played it both ways in showing Lisa’s frustration at Bart co-opting this cause she holds dear, but then being caught off guard when Bart invites her out and exposing her as an armchair activist. Maybe if they developed her interest in that more, or that she was lonely and wanted friends… I dunno. I mean, yeah, the episode could have been a lot better written, and thinking about it more now means I’m gonna punch more holes in it, but watching it the first time, I guess I was willing to forgive things more that the episode had a decent amount of good jokes and that the story was consistent throughout.

      • I dunno. Lisa punching Bart while they discuss cartoon violence in “The Day The Violence Died” worked for me, because it emphasized that Lisa loves Itchy and Scratchy’s violence and gore as much as Bart does (even if that might seem less obvious). But here it just felt too vindictive and mean. Like why wouldn’t Lisa just show Milhouse and the other boys the video? That would’ve still humiliated Bart for his hypocrisy, and it wouldn’t have been needlessly escalating the situation.

        Also, it just immediately showed up on (ugh) Josh.0, so I guess it’s another example of a Simpson having quick and massive success at something.

  8. Marco Calamandrea

    I hated this episode more or like any other episode that even tried to address modern day topics. Here some quick reasons:

    -First and foremost I still hate when they make bart and lisa protagonists of such stories. They are fucking children, 10 and 8 years old. I hate when they give them fake-teenage-drama love story and I hate when they write them like edgy teenagers. It just feels wrong and out of character. I have two young cousins, 9 male 8 female, and every time I see a bart/lisa story I can’t think of a single aspect that remind me of real children. I guess a lot of people eventually got around this and now embrace it, but I don’t. It’s fucking horrible. But no, the simpsons now work like this: every story centered around a person from age 3 to 18 we give it to bart and lisa. Every story centered around a person from age 18 to 60, we give it to homer and marge.

    -I feel like this whole episode was kinda of data-produced… Like some 60 yrs old went to reddit, searched the most popular/hot topic, searched the most upvoted comments… and then wrote a script about that. When the old show touched upon hot topics, I always felt that the staff knew about that and had a strong opinion on it. Censorship, alchoolism, poverty you name it. Now every time, I feel like a bunch of geezers who know nothing about the world go online and glue together what they think is the most popular opinion about something.

    -I didn’t like the gang, it felt flat as any new character the show created in the last 15 yrs.

    -As a european, 90% of this sjw/anti sjw shit is incomprehensible and uninteresting to watch. It feels so out of my world that I can’t relate in any meaningful way.

  9. -As my old comments show I expected this to be atrocious. Well, it was not atrocious, but surely was bad. Bad characterization (Milhouse, and Bart and Lisa, not only they never acted or talked like a 8 and 10 yo kid, but even as characters: WTF are the motivations?), useless new characters (personalities? none, as always), and obviously the topic, which make the episode seems like it is meaningful or something, while in reality it is the typical Simpsons dullness.
    I’m with Marco’s comment here. As a European myself too I just don’t get the USA hooligan factionalism, especially about these kind of social issues, SJW, antiSJW, and crap like that. How could Lisa say that having a I&S female reboot is “a great step in women’s cartoon history” is beyond me. Really, taking a successful show and making it identical, but with female characters is a great step? Isn’t it just a sort of super-lazy plagiarism? If anything it is quite derogatory for women, especially in 2019 when there are thousands of original cartoons and animated movies (and shows and live movies) with female heroines. Plus, I don’t get the use of the word “misogynist” which is basically everywhere now; I’d like to know where the word “sexist” has gone these days. Too soft for today’s advertising slogan? Again, I don’t get it.

    -Liking an episode is about taste, and Mike liked it. Okay I can accept it. I mean, I could have accepted it if.. No bad points for this turd? No flaws? Searching for the name of the writer? what?!.. Looking forward to her new episodes? Give me a break. Considering what I’ve seen written in this blog about all the other episodes, this is absolutely laughable.
    I bet Mike for some reason is quite biased towards this topic, so .. well, it’s his blog after all. I bet if he watches it again, after the feelings of the first vision, he’ll see another ZS episode on the pile.

  10. Yes, definitely a good episode. Much better than usual! I don’t understand some commenters’ animosity

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