The premise: Someone has stolen Lisa’s stowed away college money, and on a very special Dateline: Springfield, the mystery becomes unraveled as to who committed the dirty deed.
The reaction: Format-bending episodes like these is a chance to delve into new, interesting territory you couldn’t get away with in the show proper. The last example of this, “22 For 30,” I recall being pretty decent, crafting a kiddie basketball scandal story that felt believable and was mostly engaging. Here… not so much. The big mystery here is that Lisa’s college fund, $650 stowed away in a cleanser can under the sink, has gone missing, and our Dateline narrator runs down the suspects and starts whittling them down to find who done it. It didn’t take me long to start getting tired. Honestly, who gives a shit about who stole the money? I mean, the episode is hyper-exaggerated on purpose, that this incredibly detail-oriented investigation is in the service of such a petty crime, but that kind of gag premise can only go on so long before it starts to wear thin. On top of all that, it becomes clear before halfway through the show that Marge is the one that stole the money. As the Dateline narrator starts to accuse each Simpson, we cut to Marge getting increasingly more and more indignant about them being scrutinized, until eventually she tosses the production crew out of the house. Yeah, no shit she’s the guilty party. In a very belabored scene, we discover she used the money to invest in a new product, little stick-on coasters that just attach to your cups (I think Karl Pilkington is entitled to some royalties for this idea…) She tearfully admits to Homer that she just wanted some excitement out of her life, and Homer, ready and raring to gloat to the kids that for once he didn’t fuck something up, feels bad and covers for her. They laid track for this reveal through the show in discussing Marge’s gambling past, and her adamant about the family using coasters on the nice table, but again, who really cares? Marge apparently bought a thousand of the little coasters, but that’s as much information as we’re given. Why did she buy so many? How did she try to sell them? Did she even try at all? Maybe she could have recouped her investment. But we never find out any of this. Marge wanting to get more out of life is a plot motivation the show’s been using since the beginning, none of this is anything noteworthy, apparently so given how throwaway this ending seems. Episodes like these seem particularly egregious in how absolutely disposable they are. This is a series with a rotating cast of at least sixty major secondary characters you can mine new stories out of, but instead, we get a show about who stole the money from the money jar? How unremarkable.
Three items of note:
– We discover Bart had stolen the money (then later returned it in full) to invest in his business of selling slime on the schoolyard. The bullies were in charge of production, and boy oh boy we get another loving Breaking Bad reference with the kids producing the slime in music video format just like the meth cooking sequences from the series. They don hazmat suits, the mixing/processing devices are similar, the slime initially is blue despite the final product being green (maybe they mixed the yellow in afterwards), we see the bullies taking a break to watch TV… am I supposed to be laughing yet? I’ve repeated this more times than I can count, but shit like this doesn’t count as a parody. There’s no subversion, no commentary, no purpose re-adaptation of the original source material. It’s just them doing their own version of a Breaking Bad cook scene, because they love the show. And at this point, the show’s been off the air for six years. How huge is their Breaking Bad boner after all this time?
– It took me a while to figure out why the table looks so strange in the above shot as we see it in a couple scenes. It looks extra short because we have rarely ever in thirty years seeing the Simpson kitchen seen the table without its blue tablecloth. But also it looks like it’s placed right up against the counter instead of in the relative center of the kitchen. The framing just seems very weird… But why is the tablecloth inexplicably removed? Because they needed to have Marge get angry about rings on the table to set up the coaster reveal at the end. It couldn’t have been more obviously telegraphed from barely four minutes into the episode, hence my boredom waiting for the big reveal to finally rear its dreary head.
– Will Forte as King Toot makes a reappearance, scat singing a Dave Brubeck song for fifteen seconds. I love me some Will Forte, but man, what a waste of such a huge comedic talent. But what else is new…
One good line/moment: Ahhhhhhhh whatever.