677. Screenless

Original airdate: March 8, 2020

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.

19 responses to “677. Screenless

  1. When I was seventeen, I had my very first screen…

    Damn, doesn’t work. Oh well. At least apparently Onward is really good. I was worried it was going to be a cliche tsunami when I saw trailers but looks like Pixar’s slam dunked again. I’m no movie theater guy but maybe I should go see it.

    As for the Longest Daycare sequel, one: A love interest for Maggie? Really? and two: We will be seeing this infant-love-interest again in an upcoming episode in April. Just warnin’ ya.

  2. Has Ling been completely written out of the show as I seriously can’t believe that P&S would smoke over and over inside with her around?

    • That’s Zombie Simpsons for you, they’ll make a ‘major’ change and then completely ignore it for future episodes. Status quo is key for ZS at this point.

      According to the SImpsons Wiki, Ling’s last appearance was in Season 27’s Puffless (where Patty gives up smoking) and then only in an effectively background role at Jacqueline’s birthday party. She was mentioned in Season 28’s Fatzcarraldo, and then dead air for the following (near) three seasons.

      I don’t think we’ve had any major changes since Edna died, and that only happened because Marcia Wallace passed away.

    • Ling? Who the hell is Ling? I don’t ever remember there being a Simpsons character called Ling; Selma doesn’t have any kids! What could you possibly be talking about?

  3. The Anonymous Nobody

    Mike, just to get your two cents, what were your thoughts on Toy Story 4? Seems like critics loved it, but fans were stuck in the middle about it.

    • I was mixed on it. There were parts of it I enjoyed, like the interplay between Woody and Forky, and those ventriloquist dummies were wonderfully creepy, but I could never get past seeing it as just an unnecessary epilogue to Toy Story 3. I want to rewatch it to get a better sense of my thoughts, but I remember being mildly underwhelmed by it on the whole.

      • The Anonymous Nobody

        Yeah, that’s understandable. I didn’t need another Toy Story movie because I felt like the third one wrapped things up perfectly, and this one addressed things that made the tone a little uncomfortable at times. But overall, I thought it was a really good movie. Visually, it was fantastic along with the voice acting. I laughed more than a couple times, and the ending got me a little emotional. So while I thought they didn’t need to add new pages to the book, I’m not upset that they did.

  4. “[T]here’s other things they can parody about modern video games.”
    Here’s the thing: that would require the writers to actually know about gaming rather than just the extremely broad pictures they paint on the subject. It seems like any time video games are referenced on this series now it’s either generic FPS’s or mobile stuff. We’re well past Dash Dingo at this point.

    • Big John's Breakfast Log

      Problem with insular old fogeys being told to write about them electronic computing games is they only know one of two things; they be violent or they be expensive. And with Zombie Simpsons no longer concerned about financial insecurity being a plot motivation (you could literally just write “a wad of cash mysteriously is thrown at Homer to progress to the next scene” in a modern day script) and money is instead being used as plot progression, all they have is “them video games are SO graphic in their violence!” In theory, you could write Bart as a typical Call of Duty, GTA or Fortnite player (I know Call of Duty is no longer in vogue, but really, bad parenting is bad parenting) who discovers profanity and starts being an asshole what with his tryhard slurs, which I know is inappropriate, but given how they lean towards “Bart is such a wannabe douche” for the character, it’s better than “I teabag the n00b”. Wow, you actually did that joke over a decade ago when Homer and Marge rented a cheap apartment just so the kids could go to a school where their periodic tables weren’t from Oscar Meyer. Not to mention Zombie Simpsons is Family Guy on decaf.

      Modern gaming is full of content you can make fun of, like live streams filled with awkward breaks where a guy has to go pee and yet thousands of people are sitting around waiting excitedly while said guy went to the bathroom, or watching said person eat. And instead of doing lazy things like “Call of Duty clones”, how about independent developers taking each other’s ideas and spinning them just slightly and acting like it’s new and people going bananas, all the while mid-tier game companies are trying to make licensed games of TV shows and get the same reaction Neil Armstrong got at the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con. However, that requires effort, and what with the majority of the staff pushing beyond 50 and Super Mario Bros. being as advanced as they will go, it’s better to go back to that dusty well than look for a new spot.

  5. That Dr Drew hulk joke WAS really fucking weird lol I too am hoping that someone in the comments can potentially shed some more light on that?

  6. If Disney Plus doesn’t have 4:3 for the Simpsons by April I’m buying seasons 1-8 on ebay.

  7. Changed my mind, just bought em on Ebay!

  8. This episode is the epitome of what is wrong with “The Simpsons” these days.

  9. As much as I see Pixar movies as Curious George-level stuff(except for ToyStory and half Wall-E), “Playdate with Destiny” was so pathetic that having it showed before “Onward” made the Pixar movie look like The Godfather 1&2 together. I should re-watch it without the Simpsons short to have a realistic opinion.
    In any case, The Simpsons as property of Disney is really uncomfortable. But I was more disgusted when they bought The Muppets, I dunno why; maybe because The Simpsons they bought now is just Zombie shit.

  10. The one thing I don’t get about the rehab center is the whole contract business Herzog brings up after being exposed as a spam artist. It was not mentioned before that point, is as such, never established how long the family (or anyone else, for that matter) was supposed to stay for, or if it was a “for life” deal going on. It’s the perfect example of “explain, but don’t explain” policy the show seems content on doing these days.

  11. Remember that old man yells at cloud headline gag from whenever that was? This show has basically become the living embodiment of that now. But then so is most of the rest of the long past prime time dreck still hobbling along on cable television these days.

  12. Well, at least this episode made more sense than the one about Frink being able to magically conjure up being a millionaire. The probelm was, 8 minutes of this episode was spent reusing the same long and drawn out joke over. How many times did we need to see Marge ask Maggie if she wanted more or enough and then feed her a cheese puff?

    I don’t think this episode got a single chuckle out of me as I spent the entire time waiting for something to happen. Also, why the hell did the entire family have to go to rehab when it was Marge who was suffering the most? Was that supposed to be the joke? Because if it was, it was devoid of any humor.

    This was one of those episodes where it started and it ended and I was bored out of my mind.

    As for the Maggie short with Onward, I have to disagree. I thought it was brilliant. It told a funny story without a single word of dialog. It was well animated and adorable. Easily the best thing the show has done in a decade. In fact, even though I enjoyed Onward, it was better than that.

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