The premise: Marge enforces harsher restrictions on screen time for the family, but when she’s outed as being the most addicted of all, the Simpsons decide to go to rehab to get their habit under control.
The reaction: [yawns] Full disclosure, I was quite tired when I watched this, but this still felt like one of the dullest episodes I’ve seen in a while. A modern family trying to curb their screen time feels like a premise that a lot of family sitcoms must have tackled before, so I guess it’s this show’s turn to give its enlightening social commentary on how addicted we are to our phones and shit. Of course everyone’s lives are more fulfilling without phones: Bart discovers how much he enjoyed playing with real toys, Lisa falls in love with the library’s old card catalog, and Homer get invested in doing the daily jumble. Riveting content. But the struggle is too great for Marge, and the family ends up going to “Messages,” an extremely elaborate and expensive rehab center. I was all set to complain about how the hell they could afford to stay at such a place, but the head doctor explains their services are all paid for, thanks to tech billionaires feeling guilty for the negative ramifications of their products. Therapy introduces possibly intriguing ideas, like Bart replacing wielding weaponry in a video game with using guns in real life at a shooting range, but nothing really interesting comes out of it. The “twist” reveals that the rehab staff are assuming all of their patients’ online identities in order to spam them with ads and scams. Then the Simpsons escape, the head doctor is arrested, and the episode is over. The impetus of the episode featured Marge being excited she taught infant sign language to Maggie, yet none of the family gave a shit, as pictured above. Does that premise get wrapped up in the end? Nah. Honestly, I don’t have much else to say on this one. A show like South Park has done much better episodes regarding phone addiction and screen time, an entry like this feels like it barely has anything to add that hasn’t been in an editorial cartoon by a 55-year-old artist complaining about those damned young whippersnappers on their phones.
Three items of note:
– Guest star round-up: Dr. Drew Pinsky appears at rehab, which I guess makes sense… until he turns into a Hulk because he’s mad at a phone game. He literally hulks out, and I really don’t understand why. Is this a reference to something? Former show writer/current podcaster (?) Dana Gould voices himself as a calming resource for rehab patients. And the head doctor is voiced by acclaimed documentarian Werner Herzog. A recent film of his actually was centered around humanity’s current obsession with technology (Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World), presumably that’s why he was cast in this role. It goes without saying that I am sure that film is more insightful about its subject matter than this.
– There’s a scene where Marge and Maggie visit Patty and Selma, but Marge is so off-put by her sisters’ constant texting that she leaves early. Maggie, meanwhile, is so overcome by all the cigarette smoke that she passes out. Marge sits blank-faced as Selma says her joke line, “She always sleeps so good when she’s here!” Outside the bizarre fact that Marge seems to not give a shit her 1-year-old just went unconscious due to smoke inhalation, they don’t even try to make any sort of comment about smoking being an addiction too? Why would you include Patty and Selma in an episode about addiction and not even breech that subject?
– Whenever the show makes jokes about video games, it feels like their only joke is that they’re cartoonishly violent. In this show, we get two: we see Bart watching a streamer go through all the different ways he can kill other players, then later Bart regales his rehab group with how he danced upon the digital grave of his opponents. It just feels very played out and limited, like there’s other things they can parody about modern video games.
One good line/moment: Probably nothing.
Bonus review: In case you didn’t know, playing in front of the new Disney-Pixar film Onward is a brand new Simpsons theatrical short starring Maggie, “Playdate with Destiny.” The short opens with the Mickey Mouse ears silhouette revealed to be Homer holding up two donuts above his head, followed by a card reading “DISNEY WELCOMES THE SIMPSONS.” It was maybe the most uncomfortable I’ve felt in a movie theater since I saw Bruno with my parents. Anyway, the short itself is pretty simple: Maggie meets a cute little baby at the park and falls in love, and then it’s just six minutes of the same joke where it’s like she’s going through the ups and downs of a relationship, but she’s a baby. Using baby powder to freshen up, getting milk drunk in despair after not seeing her date, that sort of stuff. It’s cute, I guess, but pretty unremarkable on the whole. I wasn’t crazy about “The Longest Daycare,” but it’s much more clever and interesting than this saccharine affair. I would have to assume this short was in development before the Disney-Fox deal was in full swing, so I suppose I can’t blame Disney for this. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to The Simpsons being a Disney property now. Seeing billboards of Bart spraypainting on a Disney+ advertisement would always force me to double take. But anyway, yeah, the short is pretty dull. But good news, Onward actually exceeded my expectations. It follows the Pixar formula, in some cases a little too much, but the core emotional story is solid, the performances are great, there’s a lot of fun moments and small details, and it’s got the biggest Pixar cry moment since Coco. So big recommend from me. And don’t worry about showing up late, if you miss the Simpsons short, you’re not missing much.