Category Archives: The Simpsons

671. Todd, Todd, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Original airdate: December 1, 2019

The premise: Still riddled with grief over his mother’s death, Todd Flanders has a crisis of faith, resulting in an angry tirade at church where he publicly renounces his belief in God. Incensed, Ned forces Todd to stay with the Simpsons, hoping living in such a sinful hellhole will strike the fear of God back in his son.

The reaction: Reading the synopsis of this episode a few weeks ago most definitely got my attention, something I can’t remember ever happening before. Ned Flanders and his two boys have really gone through a lot; our floating timeline makes it unclear exact;y how much time has gone by, but over what must feel like a tragically too short period of time, Ned has loved and lost two wives, and Rod and Todd two mothers. It’s a topic that was really only explored in Maude’s death episode “Alone Again, Natura-Diddly,” and a little bit in the following season’s “I’m Goin’ to Praiseland,” but those two shows were much more concerned with goofy dumb antics and Homer acting like an asshole, and most importantly, forcing Ned to move on and start dating again, moving swiftly past Maude, given killing the character off was directly tied with her voice actress getting the boot by FOX anyway. Ned, Rod and Todd never felt like they had any time to grieve, and while Maude was really a relatively minor character we didn’t know all that much about, an episode dealing with the effects of her absence is absolutely brimming with potential, especially when viewed through the eyes of an innocent child coping with the loss of a parent. So I got excited. Despite absolutely knowing I should know better given the shitty shit shit quality of this show, I got a little bit hopeful. I mean, we’re now almost twenty years passed since Maude’s untimely death, but I guess better late than never to tell this kind of story. I was also curious if this episode would even acknowledge Edna Krabappel and her role in the Flanders’ lives as the new stepmom or anything, but as I figured, despite her making two brief cameo appearances towards the end, she’s never mentioned. She doesn’t even appear in any of the many photos on the Flanders walls. “Nedna” was completely pointless, and there was absolutely nothing to their relationship. But who cares? I’m willing to put all of that aside, pretend it never happened, and make like this show happened like a few seasons after Maude’s passing. I was willing to give this episode some rope to tell a meaningful story about these characters… and it then proceeded to hang itself with it while shitting all over my face.

I was immediately fooled by the episode’s opening. Ned wakes up teary eyed from a dream about Maude, alerting Todd, prompting him to ask his son if he ever dreams about his mother. Todd is hesitant; we see that he has dreamed of her, but with a blank face. He somberly recounts this to Ned, “Daddy, I can’t remember what Mommy looks like.” Heartbreaking stuff. I’ll be perfectly honest, as someone who has also lost their mother, the conceit of this episode has me in the bag already. I too struggle with these kinds of things with my mother. Her face and voice becoming less clear, memories of her getting hazier, all of this is very scary stuff, the idea of someone who meant so much to you becoming more and more of just a faint recollection. This is GOOD SHIT, incredibly emotional material you could definitely center a whole episode around. This show has dealt with the topic of death in very serious and honest ways, while simultaneously remaining incredibly funny and poignant (“Old Money,” “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,” “‘Round Springfield,”) so it’s incredibly disappointing that this episode starts to go off a cliff in the very next scene, signaled by two glaring things. Ned shows his boys an old home movie of Christmas morning to show them their dearly lost mother, a beautiful occasion quickly interrupted by a confused and irritated Abe Simpson busting through the door, and Homer abandoning him there for the day. Later, Todd watches more home videos of his mother and him, tape footage that is promptly interrupted by Homer in a bad wig playing air guitar, as we cut back to Todd holding back tears as Homer continues being an ass, having taped over Ned’s personal home video tapes for God knows why. I’ll get into this in a bit, but Todd very quickly gets steamrolled out of his own story, and his emotional pleas about his beloved mother are mostly ignored.

The second glaring thing is that Ned is firmly in ultra-religious caricature mode, a big part of his Flanderization over time was him becoming less and less like a normal human being and more an avatar for jokes about conservative Christian zealots. Fair enough, he’s been like this forever. But what I wasn’t expecting is that after Todd passionately renounces his faith, Ned is absolutely furious at him (“Son, let me put this gently… WE’RE ALL GOING TO HELL!!”) We proceed to get more doozy lines from him going forward (“You do not question God’s real estate holdings and tax-free status!” in response to Todd asking why God needs so many churches.) Here’s the thing: this episode could have featured an incredibly conflicted Ned. Concerned for his son’s soul, but still warm and understanding considering he’s still grieving. Hell, he himself is still grieving Maude too. Todd could get increasingly obstinate about his renouncement of God, which could over time lead Ned to the brink in frustration. Ned could even have a crisis of faith himself, which was used as a joke back in “Natura-Diddly.” But instead, the episode becomes about needing to get Todd believing in God again, almost entirely disconnected from him missing Maude. Ned is furious at Todd, with no further mention from him about his son deeply missing his mother (“There must be some way to scare religion back into my son!”) He sternly casts Todd out to live with the Simpsons, where we get scenes of Homer and Marge attempting to get intimate without Todd’s keen ears hearing, and Lisa doggedly attempting to convert Todd to Buddhism for some reason. No sympathetic ears are ever extended to this poor kid. Eventually we circle back around to hearing from Todd about how he misses his mom, which actually clicks with Homer, who has also lost his mother. But from there, he abandons the young child on a park bench, rushing to Moe’s to drink away the pain, meets Ned there, the two get drunk together, then get hit by a car and sent to Heaven. Where the fuck is this episode going?

Ned and Homer are both in comas at the hospital, leading to the one and only nice moment of the episode, where Marge actually helps Todd cope with his conflicted feelings on whether or not he should pray for his father (“Prayer doesn’t have to be to God, it can also just be an honest conversation we have with ourselves. Just do what your heart tells you.”) Meanwhile, Ned and Homer are dicking around in Heaven, where the former hears Todd praying and returns to Earth. “Daddy, you came back! I believe again!” the boy cries. “Two lives saved by prayer!” Ned responds, as the family has a group hug. What am I to take from all this? I haven’t the foggiest. The episode ends with Maude’s ghost tenderly tucking in Rod and Todd, an absolutely hollow attempt at a sweet ending, so I really have no idea of the writers even acknowledge that the show wasn’t even about her death. It’s episodes like these that really convince me this show is truly unfixable, at least in how it’s been run for the last nearly twenty years. Last week’s “Thanksgiving of Horror” was admittedly fun, fleeting entertainment (an absolute rarity in over a decade of nearly uninterrupted junk), but the rot of this series runs too deep. Some shows will have glimmers of decent ideas, but through the writing and rewriting process, these concepts and themes end up completely buried in stupid nonsense. Every so often a stock character will breech ever so close to actually behaving like a human being, like Todd being sad he forgets his mother’s face, but that shit will be shot down real quick, in this case being an empty, status quo-confirming resolution that doesn’t even address why he was mourning in the first place. Over the course of its over thirty-year-long run, through all of the decaying characterization, the stupid jokes, the preposterous stories, the insulting shots at the fan base, the biggest casualty of the series is the death of its soul, of characters who behaved like real people, and the other characters, and the show itself, acknowledging and respecting that fact. Now, none of that matters, and it hasn’t for a long, long time.

Two items of note:
– Lisa repeatedly pestering Todd about converting to Buddhism reminded me of “She of Little Faith,” whose final act featured Marge attempting to discourage Lisa’s discovery of her new faith and bring her back into the fold of Christianity. I recall being annoyed by her insensitivity, but at least I can kind of understand her plight of wanting her daughter to share her faith and be with her in the afterlife. Here, Lisa knows Todd is upset and grieving his mother… but doesn’t give a shit about that, she’s out for souls to convert! For some reason? Outside of the complete insensitivity from who should be the most sympathetic Simpson, we’ve never seen Lisa militantly try to push for new converts before. And then it’s the stinger at the end of her being chewed out by Buddha by not nabbing an easy get like Todd Flanders. Scenes like those make it clear that the writers as a whole never really gave a shit about writing a serious story about Todd’s grief or Maude’s death at all.
– Glenn Close returns as Mona Simpson in her tenth guest appearance, with seven of her appearances being posthumous for the character. Here, we get more revisionist history painting Mona as unusually cold and distant, rebuffing her son’s earnest attempt at a hug in Heaven, and appearing in a flashback screaming at Abe as a young Homer cries himself to sleep (“I’d tell the kid I love him, but I’m as bad at goodbyes as I am at picking husbands!”) Why did they do this?  Outside of any continuity issues, why the fuck wouldn’t they make it that Homer bonds with Todd over their fond memories of their loving mothers? How the fuck do you not make that part of the episode? If Ned is too wrapped up in his unflinching religious bullshit to speak to his son after excommunicating him, maybe Todd’s first step back is to open up to a kindred spirit who knows how it feels to lose a mother? Instead, not only does this not happen, but they retroactively make Mona kind of an asshole? WHY.

One good line/moment: Todd’s somber retelling of his dream of his faceless mother, and Marge’s heart-to-heart with him at the end about prayer are two honestly great moments, acting as bookends to a truckload of fucking horseshit. But because of this, that the episode doesn’t even attempt to even fucking try within the body of the story, those two scenes are rendered completely inert. Fuckballs.

670. Thanksgiving of Horror

Original airdate: November 24, 2019

The premise: Three spine-tinging stories… wait, didn’t we do this already this year? “A-Gobble-ypto” retells the first Thanksgiving as a violent turkey massacre through the lens of an avian Simpson family. In “The Fourth Thursday After Tomorrow,” Homer buys an AI system imbued with Marge’s DNA to help with the holiday cooking, but Marge quickly finds herself jealous of her more efficient artificial counterpart. In “The Last Thanksgiving,” far from Earth on a space vessel, the kids of Springfield Elementary find themselves terrorized by a sentient blob of cranberry sauce.

The reaction: Similar to “Halloween of Horror” from five or so years ago, we get another double dipping into the TOH format for one year, this time featuring macabre Thanksgiving-themed tales. It’s not shocking that this episode was much, much better than this year’s incredibly tepid Halloween offering. It is shocking that this was one of the most competently made episodes in a good, long while. I don’t know if I’d bring it to the level of “great,” but I was surprised throughout how all three stories went decently crafted and paced. The first features a bunch of our Springfield residents as turkeys, and others as Pilgrims seeking to make them their dinner. Things get graphic real quick when turkey Maude gets her head blown off, turning her into a bloody mess. This whole episode is pretty brutal; I really don’t know why the Halloween shows have been rendered bloodless, but here it’s fine. Is it because they’re just turkeys? Anyway, it’s a decent little story of the turkey Simpsons saving each other and reuniting, which was fine enough. Hearing the voice cast gobble as their characters was disarmingly adorable, I’m not gonna lie. Story #2 felt like a reworking on “House of Whacks,” the TOH with the smart house voiced by Pierce Brosnan, but here, it’s Marge that finds herself threatened by an AI of herself. In fact, I think “Whacks” kind of hurt this story a bit, in that maybe they felt they couldn’t have had the conclusion be that the AI Marge tries to murder OG Marge and take her place, because it would just like that story they did eighteen years ago (holy SHIT do I feel old). AI Marge’s great escape over the Internet was a good conclusion though. The last segment I think I enjoyed the most just because it was mostly dumb fun, a giant blob of cranberry sauce sucking out the bones of young children. Hilarious! It’s also an Alien parody of sorts, but unlike the last decade of so of Halloween segments, this story actually work unto itself because it’s using familiar pop culture trappings to tell a different kind of story (it also helps Alien is firmly in the cultural zeitgeist as a classic movie, unlike, say, Mr. & Mrs. Smith or Dead Calm). I guess because it involves aliens and outer space, but by the end, I was reminded of “The Man Who Came To Be Dinner,” the totally-not-canon-maybe Kang and Kodos episode, which surprised the fuck out of me by actually being the best episode in years. Is that was it takes for this show to start getting better, to do these crazy-go-nuts, off-the-way, not-strictly-canonical stories? I mean, after over thirty years on the air, why not? The only thing really holding this episode back is I didn’t get a whole lot of laughs out of it, which is a big mark against it, but it’s still easily the best of the season thus far, maybe the best in the last few years.

Three items of note:
– The special begins with Marge coming out from behind a curtain on stage to address the audience, a whopping twenty-nine years after she introduced the very first Treehouse of Horror in the same fashion. I know I’ve mentioned it several times before, but sometimes I get kinda sad hearing Julie Kavner’s poor strained voice. I assume she’s not in any sort of pain doing it, but the woman’s pushing 70, and it can’t be easy to maintain that gravely tone. It was especially worrisome in the second segment when the two Marges were talking back and forth with each other. I just felt like asking Kavner to stop and offering her a lozenge.
– It got to a point in the first segment where things almost seemed like they were getting too violent. We get multiple bloody turkey beheadings in a row, Willie gets his eyes impaled by corn cobs in a town wide panic, and Lou and Eddie get horrifically picked apart and killed by a murder of crows. I’m still curious about why this show is so graphic when most of the recent TOHs aren’t. In the last Halloween show we saw Burns and Smithers get their heads bitten off completely bloodless, and yet here, it’s like an orgy of violence by comparison.
– This is Russi Taylor’s final vocal performance on the show, and it sure is a doozy. Toward the end of the last segment, Martin traps Bart, Lisa and Milhouse in a locked room with the cranberry monster, having aligned with it (“I admire its purity! Its lack of messy humanity! This ‘creature,’ as you call it, is unencumbered by the petty morality of a dying species!”) He then strips, wishing to become one with the gelatin, killing himself in a magnificently gross fashion. Aping on horror/sci-fi movie tropes and staying true to character, Taylor’s final hour as Martin proved to be a moving and effective one. What better way to go out than Martin’s formless skin slapping pathetically against a metal door? Taylor was truly one of the greats in the world of voice acting, and she will truly be missed.

One good line/moment: Aside from Martin’s final moments, we get a really solid joke toward the very end when the ship crash lands on an alien world. Bart and Lisa rush to hug their parents who just woke up from their sleep pods. Santa’s Little Helper exits his own pod to join them. One final pod opens to reveal the skeleton of Snowball II and nobody reacts, and then the scene ends. Beautiful.

669. Livin’ La Pura Vida

Original airdate: November 17, 2019

The premise: Marge is thrilled to finally get invited to the Van Houten’s annual multi-family vacation to Costa Rica, hoping to have a perfect family vacation to flaunt via social media. Also tagging along is Patty and her new girlfriend, who surprisingly finds a kindred spirit in Homer. Meanwhile, Lisa frets about expensive this tropical vacation will be, and tries to uncover how the Van Houtens can afford it in the first place. Also, Chalmers and Shauna are there too and she gets engaged to Jimbo or whatever.

The reaction: As that longer-than-normal plot summary will tell you, this episode tries to juggle like three and a half stories with a bunch of different characters, when really it would have been better suited to focus on just one, with maybe like a light B-plot. We start with Marge losing her shit about finally being asked by Luann to go with them on their big annual Costa Rica trip (why she was never asked before, given Bart and Milhouse have been friends for many years, is unclear). She’s desperate for some excitement in her life (didn’t we go through this last week?), specifically wanting a picture perfect moment to post about Instaface, or whatever the Instagram knock-off app is called. Making her paranoid about manufacturing the perfect, calculated moment to show off online rather than actually enjoying the experience in the present is an interesting idea, and one that feels in-character for Marge, but the emotions and the story beats are given little room to breathe and develop because we have to cut back and forth to these other different stories and other characters. Also potentially intriguing is Patty’s new relationship with Evelyn, a Southern woman who quickly becomes Homer’s drinking buddy, leaving Patty shocked that she shacked up with a Homer of her own. Patty discovering she’s dating her worst fear, again, seems like it’d make for an interesting story, but we never see her and Evelyn have one conversation with each other, so we really don’t know anything about them, or why we should really care. There’s also this “mystery” as to how the Van Houtens can afford such a lavish vacation, and there’s a “shocking” reveal at the end that really doesn’t matter. Most confusingly of all is Superintendent Chalmers and his daughter Shauna, who throughout the episode, have short little scenes where Chalmers tries to connect to the aloof teenager who is glued to her phone, video-calling her boyfriend Jimbo. The two act breaks feature her aghast that Jimbo is cheating on him, then later him proposing to her, and we end on her dismissively saying they broke it off. Meanwhile, Chalmers is desperately trying to connect to his kid, and the tiny bit of it we see kind of feels like it could be going somewhere (“I’m doing my best, you understand? As a single father, it’s not always so easy to balance guidance with respect…”) But I dunno, I guess the joke is that he perpetually gets nowhere with Shauna who just blows him off because she’s on her phone, because she’s an awful character who has never been funny. But this relationship could have developed into something if it weren’t treated as a joke. Same with Patty and her girlfriend, the Van Houtens, Milhouse acting as toady to Dr. Hibbert’s teenage son rather than Bart, these story threads, given the right amount of care, could have developed into something new and interesting. Instead, they were all crammed into one script, and none of them had a chance to get off the ground. Nothing in this show was especially terrible, but it had a whole cargo full of missed potential.

Three items of note:
– There’s a brief running gag of Homer imagining Evelyn’s southern-isms in thought bubbles visually, but none of them are really jokes (“hotter than a two dollar pistol,” “Does a mama possum skip church on Sunday?”) It reminded me of asinine thought bubble gags of Homer imagining “pistol whipping” as eating Cool Whip with a handgun, or mishearing “financial planner” as “financial panther.” Those were dumb as hell, but at least I understood them as jokes. These function as Evelyn endearing herself to Homer, I guess, but it doesn’t feel like they work they way they should.
– The big reveal at the end is that the Costa Rican estate was actually inherited by Kirk and Luann, so every year, they’ve been charging the families they bring with them to pay for their vacation. We see and hear about a lot about a lot of outside activities, lavish dinners and other such expensive they all participate in, so I guess the only thing is that the Van Houtens are trumping up their “bill” to the other families for lodging to cover their own expenses. But I don’t get why no one knows how much this trip costs until the very end. I guess the idea is to distract you from the cost by thinking about how irreplaceable the experience is, which Marge communicates to Homer in bed to convince him to go, but I feel like it would have made more sense if Kirk or Luann pushed this line to further trick their friends into going.
– Kirk gets a lot of screen time here, where he’s kind of just like a huge douche, acting like a cool Costa Rican native, hoarding workout powder in his room he never actually uses, and discovered to have some very interesting bedtime reading material (“Protecting the White Male: America’s Most Endangered Species”). I remember “There Will Be Buds” tried to spearhead this new characterization of Kirk, where he was a meek, sadsack loser, but also a bit of a dick, asking Homer a bunch of weird sexual questions and trying to bro down with him or some shit. I don’t know, I want to give credit for them trying to flesh out a tertiary character like Kirk, but like so much of this episode, it feels very underdeveloped. It just makes me wonder why Luann is still with this weirdo. But then again, we find out that scamming the families out of money was her idea, so I guess the both of them are awful people.

One good line/moment: Over the last decade or so, there have been numerous explicit references that are very specific to the Los Angeles area that have always felt very annoying, considering this show is supposed to take place in bumfuck nowhere Springfield, USA. Even though I live in LA, just because I recognize this allusion to a local famous deli or talk about how the traffic sucks or some shit, it doesn’t mean I automatically laugh at it. But in this episode, they got me. They fucking got me. Homer rightfully wonders how in the fuck Kirk is able to pay for this trip every year, explaining, “His job is moving the Topless Maids van so they don’t get parking tickets!” The pink Topless Maids van is kind of infamous to the area; my wife and I would always see it past the Warner Bros. lot on Barham, to the point that we would be shocked if it wasn’t there on a certain day. We’ve seen it around other places, and just recently I see it all the time right by the McDonald’s in North Hollywood, almost like it followed me on my new commute. So this very specific reference got a surprise laugh out of me, only because it’s tied to an inside joke between my wife and I.

668. Marge the Lumberjill

Original airdate: November 10, 2019

The premise: Once again feeling the sting of her boring life, Marge falls into the world of competitive timber sports. She turns out to be a natural and is loving her new self, but Homer worries that her new trainer might be more interested in her than she thinks.

The reaction: Let’s tick the ol’ overused story trope boxes: Marge wants some excitement in her life, a Simpson takes up a new hobby/talent and is immediately a success, Homer is worried Marge might leave him… we’ve seen it all before, and done much better, of course, but at least nothing here is stupid or out of left field. Noticing Marge is pretty skillful at chopping wood, Patty introduces her to Paula, who takes Marge under her wing to be a competitive tree cutter-downer, or whatever you call it. Marge channels her pent-up frustration of being an overworked, under appreciated housewife for over thirty years out on the logs, which feels true to her character. She also is really hung up on not being called boring, as it overtly stated several times (“What could possibly be her motivation?” “I’m… not… boring!!”) This comes as a result of a school play Lisa wrote about the family, portraying Marge as incredibly lame and domesticated. Unfortunately, the Marge-Lisa connection dies soon after that; there’s been a couple shows over the last twenty years about Lisa’s perception of her mother as just a boring housewife, and Marge attempting to make her daughter proud of her, and they’ve all been terrible, but it’s definitely a rich vein the show could mine that was touched on a couple times in the classic era, but could definitely be worth revisiting. Instead, we get Homer panicked that Marge is going to get turned gay and leave him. Oh boy. Paula is presented several times as being a bit too forward to Marge (repeatedly scooching closer to her sitting on a bench, effectively living like a married couple in Portland), but of course in the end it’s just a big misdirect, as she reveals to Homer she has a wife and child. Something Marge didn’t think was relevant to bring up when Homer talked to her about his suspicions about Paula earlier, I suppose. The Homer-Marge stuff actually isn’t that bad, but still feels a bit underwhelming in the end, and again, a dynamic we’ve seen done much better before. Outside of a few unique flourishes, the episode was mostly just pretty boring, which easily makes it the best of the season thus far.

Three items of note:
– Martin, Sherri and Terri make appearances early in the first act, now being voiced by Grey Griffin, an incredibly talented voice actress who has appeared in tons and tons of stuff (probably #2 only to Tara Strong for biggest VO actress on television), most notably being Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Fairly OddParents and as Scooby-Doo‘s Daphne Blake for the last two decades. So, yeah, we recast Russi Taylor’s and Doris Grau’s characters, but Phil Hartman and Marcia Wallace’s get put in permanent retirement. I honestly don’t know what the right answer is when it comes to dealing with characters when their performers leave us. There really isn’t one. Do you write them out? Have them fade into the background in a new silent role? Or just recast?  In her very brief first outing, Griffin does a fairly solid job mimicking Taylor’s characters, so that’s good, I guess (oddly, her Martin sounds kind of like Charlene Yi to me). I just feel more than anything members of the cast dropping off our mortal coil speaks more to the needless longevity of this series than anything else.
– This episode’s handling of its LGBT material is pretty good, I suppose, given its not-so-stellar history during the 2000s (friggin’ “Three Gays of the Condo”…) Paula does come off a little bit predatory, which of course is done out of service for the misdirect, but it feels less “gay person seeking to convert a straight” and more akin to Lurleen or Mindy coming onto Homer. Except those characters and their unfolding relationship with Homer were more involved and were much better written. When Homer arrives in Portland to find his wife effectively domestically married to Paula, he’s shocked to see all of the gay in their house. A Janelle Monae poster! DVDs of Orange is the New BlackThe L Word and Tig Notaro’s stand-up special! A pennant from Bryn Mawr, an all girl’s college outside of Philadelphia! Look at all our gay references! Gay people love these gay things! Not quite offensive, only in that it’s lazy writing.
– The show can cross Portland off its big travelogue list, as we get a few bits of Homer and the kids checking out the city as they go to visit Marge. We get an extended scene of them driving past streets with the same names as beloved Springfield regulars (Quimby, Kearney, Dolph, Van Houten, Flanders), as hardcore Simpsons fans will know were Matt Groening’s hometown inspirations to name those characters. But what’s the point of this scene? Knowing this information, I get the reference immediately, and then it just keeps going. There’s no real joke at the end of it (“Stupid Flanders street” barely counts as one). And if you don’t know that piece of trivia, I guess the scene would confuse you enough to go check it out online? And then once you read about it, you’ll just be laughing your ass off, I guess. I dunno.

One good line/moment: A few good moments throughout (Lisa wearing a replica of her own hair during her play was a great touch), but I thought Homer feebly trying to communicate how much Marge means to him throughout the back half of the episode actually worked pretty well, and was genuinely sweet, which is a rarity for these Homer-Marge marital strife shows (“I miss you when we’re separated in a revolving door! I miss you when I’m putting a sweater on over my head! I miss you when I close my eyes during a sneeze! I miss you when the clock springs ahead an hour! We’ll never get the time back!”)

667. Gorillas on the Mast

Original airdate: November 3, 2019

The premise: Homer is conned into buying a boat, and tries to sucker others into buying shares in it to offset his debt. Meanwhile, Lisa convinces Bart to help her free an orca whale from a water park, which inspires Bart to perform his own selfless act in freeing a gorilla from a zoo, with much more disastrous results.

The reaction: Boy, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an episode where so little happens. Homer is swindled by a smooth talking salesman on a dock into buying a boat, which takes incredibly little effort, and not in a purposefully funny way. They try to anchor (ha ha) his impulsive purchase on his memories as a kid asking Abe if they can get a boat, and he later shows off his fancy new purchase to his dad, but that doesn’t really amount to anything. Nor does his apprehension of telling Marge about his extravagant new purchase, when he finally does fess up, she’s fine with it, so that leads to no plot progression either. Finally, something happens: the boat’s motor starts to give out, and Homer is shocked to hear the repair costs, now feeling he has to share the boat with friends and have them make payments to pay it off. We never actually hear any of these amounts, what Homer paid for the boat or the cost of repairs. If the salesman had tricked Homer into paying an extremely paltry fee for the boat itself, knowing that it was a shit boat that would quickly break down and carry a hefty fee to get it back to working order, that would make sense as a story. And I think that’s what they were trying to go for, except they didn’t actually write it that way. Homer buys a boat for X price, and now is saddled with a bill for Y price, and now there’s concern for some reason. He starts off sharing the boat with Lenny and Carl, which is fine, and then he ends up giving a share to all the usual Springfield suspects: Comic Book Guy, Sideshow Mel, Bumblebee Man, the Lovejoys, the Hibberts, Crazy Cat Lady, and so forth, who all get on the boat at once and sink it. Why were they all together at once? Shouldn’t they have divvied up shifts for when they can use the boat? I have no idea. In the final scene at Moe’s, everyone is at the bar super pissed at Homer, but he placates them by saying how great it was they owned a boat for five minutes, and that turns the crowd around and they cheer for him. It really makes absolutely no sense. I feel like my synopsis here is making the story sound more logical and coherent than it is. As it plays out in real-time, and divided between a B-plot, it really felt like nothing was happening. There was virtually no forward momentum, no stakes, no emotional investment, just… nothing.

The B-plot (or maybe the A-plot, this one seems like it has more screen time) starts with Lisa planning to free a captive whale after being aghast by their awful treatment and living conditions during a visit to a local water park. It’s all incredibly on the nose (the opening shot has the family entering ALCATRAZ WATER PARK “Subject of 5 Award-Winning Documentaries.” All of this is mostly in reference to the 2013 documentary Blackfish, and the ensuing efforts to address concerns of animal mistreatment at places like SeaWorld and to free the orca whales in captivity. It’s an issue that’s still ongoing, but it once again feels like the show missing the boat of a cultural moment by many years. SeaWorld still does have a handful of orca whales, but only because they claim they wouldn’t survive out in the wild. If the episode was actually about that, with the whale having no idea what to do once its cage was opened, or getting killed or seriously hurt immediately after being freed, that might have been interesting. But whatever. Bart is roped into helping out, and feels the strange, foreign twinge of satisfaction of a job well done, dubbed by Lisa as “altruism.” He follows up chasing after their feeling by freeing a gorilla from the zoo, who immediately goes on a rampage through town that we don’t see, and then Lisa calms him down somehow and that plot is over. Bart getting invested in a cause because it involves illegality like breaking and entering would have been an interesting enough plot for a whole episode; in fact, that element of it sounds like “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” which did a mostly adequate job in selling that premise. Here, the idea has so little room to actually grow into anything, so it’s all pretty meaningless. Much like the entire episode itself.

Three items of note:
– Bart and Lisa also enlist Willie to sneak into the water park, as he mentions that he works there during the summer. It feels pretty random, and they don’t give him anything really to do other than make some kilt jokes and at the act break, he plays “air bagpipes,” which is just Dan Castellaneta making ear-grating noises for ten seconds. Ugh.
– Homer hounds Lenny and Carl to try to get them on board (ha ha) his boat scheme. Cutting back and forth to them, we see them asleep in bunk beds with a portrait of Bert and Ernie on the wall. Later, we see them cruising on the boat with their girlfriends, both of whom look like the other in dresses. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this several times, but this joke of Lenny and Carl being inseparable/gay for each other has been pushed to its limits at this point. Who were once just two working schmoes who acted as a sounding board for Homer to bounce ideas off of have now become this weird codependent couple who are obsessed with one another. You can evolve characters’ roles and personalities as the years go on, hell, I encourage it, but these two have been stuck in this role for decades now and it’s not getting any funnier. Because it wasn’t funny in the first place.
– The gorilla is finally set free at Dr. Jane Goodall’s Pennsylvania reserve, where Lisa lays the praise on thick to Goodall, who is voicing herself. The character model is the exact same one used for Dr. Joan Bushwell from “Simpson Safari,” as her character was effectively just a rip-off of Goodall herself. I really don’t care about, mostly because that episode was a piece of shit, but probably much more entertaining than this. Goodall isn’t a very good actor, but it’s not like I expected much from her, and I don’t think there were any jokes in her scene (stringing an eager Lisa along for a maybe sort of chance for a scholarship? I guess that’s a joke? Oh, who cares.)

One good line/moment: Ehhh, whatever. This season really blows so far.

666. Treehouse of Horror XXX

Original airdate: October 20, 2019

The premise: “Danger Things” is a Stranger Things “parody.” In “Heaven Swipes Right,” Homer dies unexpectedly, and is given the ability to swap into different bodies, trying to find the perfect one for his family. “When Hairy Met Slimy” is a Shape of Water “parody.”

The reaction: Another year, another Halloween special, where I struggle to articulate the same damn criticisms without seeming like I’m exactly repeating myself. Two segments here “spoof” contemporary media, the first one being especially confusing in that it references elements from all three seasons of the Netflix series, cramming so much into a mere six minutes that even as someone who’s watched the whole series, I couldn’t even tell what was happening. Treehouse of Horrors have been parodying horror fiction since the beginning, but a big reason it worked back then is that even within the framework of a reference to another work, they were still interested in telling their own stories. “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” casts Willie as Freddy Krueger, but retold his death and origin story in a very Simpsons way. “The Shinning” recreates a lot of memorable moments from the movie, but also features new elements like Burns and Smithers kicking the whole plot into motion. I guarantee if they did a Shining segment now, it would feature Bart riding through the halls on a Big Wheel finding Sherri and Terri at the end of a hallway, because the name of the game now isn’t story, it’s references. The Christmas lights to communicate from the beyond, the water tank, the Upside Down itself, they’re all there, but ultimately meaningless with no story to hang onto, and what must be absolutely baffling to anyone who hasn’t seen the show. Segment two was just kind of boring, and had no creepy elements to it whatsoever. Neither did segment three, which I guess they only did because del Toro is such a big Simpsons fan. That’s the single biggest causality of these specials: they’re not scary anymore. Not that they were genuinely terrifying, but it was really impressive how this silly cartoon show managed to get pretty unsettling. Marge and the kids getting lobotomized as the Re-Ned-ucation Center. Martin letting out a horrifying death screech and collapsing in the middle of class. The family screaming in agony having their skin turned inside out. The gremlin holding up Ned Flanders’ severed head as he taunts Bart. In the last segment here, Kang bites off Smithers’ head, spits it at Burns to knock him out (complete with a coconut BONK sound effect) and they run away. It’s not so much scary as it is they had no idea how to end the scene and just bailed. Treehouse of Horror segments of old were kind of tense, they had a distinct atmosphere to them. But now, they’re just as meandering and pointless as any other episode.

Three items of note:
– We get a fairly long intro with an Omen parody of Maggie being a demon spawn. We open with Marge giving birth to a baby boy, but Homer doesn’t want another boy, so Hibbert just offers her demon Maggie instead? But regardless, the show already did an Exorcist spoof with Maggie two years ago, didn’t they? This is just the same thing over again. I guess it’s only here as the opening to tie into this being the 666th episode, but if that’s all it is, they could’ve made this a neat one minute long rather than three.
– In the Upside Down (or whatever hilarious name they decided to call it, I forget), we see a dead Uter prominently lying outside the town square wearing red glasses, clearly a stand-in for poor Barb from season 1 of Stranger Things. Odd choice, but there’s no Nancy analogue in the story, nor are they a whole lot of female characters from this show to choose from. Considering Russi Taylor just died, I was surprised they didn’t alter this at all, maybe just do a retake to remove just the Uter layer of the scene or something. I certainly wouldn’t cry insensitive, but it felt a little weird.
– Segment two ends with Homer finally landing on the perfect body to use: Moe. Marge seems perfectly fine with spending the rest of her days making love to the body of a creepy pervert who was unhealthily obsessed with her. Then Maggie shows up and Moe for some reason is now in her body, who tells Marge that he’s very thirsty. What better way to end your spooky Halloween special with your viewer imagining Moe in a child’s body sucking on Marge’s tits? It might be the most sickening thing ever done on the show. Like…  Jesus.

One good line/moment: I think there was one scene I mildly chuckled at, but  I don’t even remember what it was, so I don’t think it really counts if that’s the case.

665. The Fat Blue Line

Original airdate: October 13, 2019

The premise: Fat Tony is arrested following a mass pick pocketing incident, a bust performed by an actually competent investigator from the attorney general’s office. Chief Wiggum is initially discouraged after having his case taken from him, but discovers through his own investigation that Fat Tony is actually innocent.

The reaction: I’ve previously talked about how one of this show’s most crippling handicaps is its dogged resistance toward any kind of evolution of its characters. In a fictional landscape of so many different personalities, locales and commonplace scenarios, it feels like they’ve all played out in relatively the same way for decades, and for a show that’s now in its thirty-first season, that’s a major problem. Take this episode featuring Fat Tony and the Springfield mafia. Born as loving tributes to classic mob films like The Godfather, and the at the time recent cinematic success Goodfellas, they quickly became beloved characters, with a small handful of notable appearances in the classic years. Each appearance seemed to bring something new: “Homie the Clown” showed their appreciation for Krusty’s buffoonery, spearheaded by self-professed Italian stereotype Don Vittorio. “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson” ended with them facing down the Yakuza. Even appearances as late as seasons 12 introduced memorable new members like Johnny Tightlips and Frankie the Squealer. But sadly, like the rest of the cast, Fat Tony would just become a one-dimensional shadow of who he once was. He gets framed for stealing a bunch of wallets and is put in prison, and it turns out Johnny Tightlips was responsible, who places himself as the new mafia head. Does any of this matter? Do we get a better idea of Tightlips as a character, or any of the other mafia members? What do Legs and Louie think of this betrayal? None of this is explored. Instead we get a healthy helping of tired mafia/Italian jokes: Tony says goodbye to his wife and mistress before being incarcerated, makes toilet spaghetti in prison, and says a bunch of funny Italian words and expressions. One scene just ends with Tony and Louie just muttering nonsense to each other for like ten seconds. Running alongside this is Chief Wiggum feeling sad he’s been replaced on the force, and eventually helping crack the case to save the day, a premise we’ve seen play out a whole lot better in “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment.” Wiggum fell apart back then because being a cop was all he knew how to do, and without that, he’s completely listless. But here, he’s discouraged that people don’t respect him? Didn’t we just get this with Homer last week, to absolutely terrible results? But don’t worry, just like she does every now and again with Moe and others, Marge is there to believe in him, just because. The ending features her randomly appearing before Wiggum walking down a crosswalk with Maggie to deliver a drive-by “I believe in you, Chief!” It’s almost as if years of meaningless, unprompted encouragement from Marge that’s rung completely hollow has led to this moment. Remember the sweet moment in “Twisted World” where Fat Tony is first confronting Marge, but needs her help to actually turn her car off? Moments like those go a long way in humanizing these silly cartoons, and they stick out in my memory. But shit like this? I’ve nearly forgotten it all already.

Three items of note:
– Time for a quick guest star line-up. The show opens with the Simpsons going to the local Italian street fair, the San Castellaneta Festival. I guess we’re supposed to laugh at that name. On stage, Mayor Quimby introduces Aquaman himself Jason Mamoa to kick off the festivities. Quimby mispronouncing his name and calling him “Superfish” felt reminiscent of his none-too-flattering interaction with Leonard Nimoy in “Marge vs. the Monorail.” I honestly don’t mean to do direct comparisons to classic episodes like this, but sometimes they help illustrate points. A celebrity like Leonard Nimoy appearing at an event at a podunk nothing town in the 90s? Sounds plausible. But a big modern celebrity like Mamoa? Nah, dawg. Later, Bob Odenkirk shows up as Fat Tony’s lawyer, and I’ll be honest, I absolutely can’t believe the restraint on their part to not make him just a yellow Saul Goodman. Perhaps that’s thanks to his brother Bill Odenkirk writing the episode, but I was pleased that, as minimal a role as he had, Bob got to play a different kind of character. On the subject, El Camino, the Breaking Bad movie, just came out and it’s absolutely wonderful, if you haven’t watched it yet, why are you still reading this? And if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad, then go watch that first. Also, Better Call Saul, which I think is better than Breaking Bad. FIGHT ME.
– Wiggum’s big break in the case is uncovering a video online, “Tony D’Amico Age 23 Rare Interview,” a casual interview at a pool hall where Fat Tony flat out says the one crime he would never, ever commit is pick-pocketing. Who was filming this and why? Beats me. But watching the scene again reminds me, Fat Tony’s dead, remember? His role was assumed by his cousin Fit Tony, who was a fitness trainer prior to filling his dead cousin’s shoes. So this video shouldn’t matter at all, it’s the wrong Tony. But really, who gives a flying shit who it is, but then that’s the point, isn’t it? Crafting a story about the death of Fat Tony ultimately means nothing if you’re just going to replace him and pretend like none of it ever happened. In the same vein as Principal Skinner and Snowball II before him, it’s not cute or subversive when they do this, it’s just bad, cowardly writing.
– Towards the end when Fat Tony and Johnny Tightlips enter a stand-off, we get a reference of the infamous final scene in the series finale of The Sopranos, as the “tension” escalates as “Don’t Stop Believin'” plays. The Sopranos is one of the biggest shows of the last twenty years, and the ending was so culturally notable at the time that even myself, a person who never watched the series, recognized the reference immediately. But, as always, what is being added to this pop culture allusion? What is the joke here? We see Maggie parking her Fisher Price car (forget why she’s not with the rest of the family), but that’s basically it. I remember way back in season 13’s “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge,” they recreated the Sopranos opening with Fat Tony, at a time when the series was still going strong in its third season. If I recall, it’s a “parody” in the modern sense for this show in that it just shot-for-shot recreated something and considered that a good enough spoof. But here, we’re twelve years removed from the final episode of The Sopranos, and a parody like this feels so out of left field. Then again, I could equally complain about the couch gag, which is a recreation of a scene from last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which also feels like such an ancient reference now. I’ve talked before about how the advent of memes and the Internet have kind of ruined pop culture referencing for any show with an extended production, as they’ll always be late to the party after ten million people have done their own takes. And yes, that’s discouraging, but ultimately, it really shouldn’t matter how much time’s gone by, a pop culture reference can still be funny as long as there’s some kind of unique satirical take on the source material, and as usual with this show, there’s absolutely none to be found. The only “joke” is that the controversial cut to black that ending the legendary series is displayed here as Wiggum opening his mouth to camera about to suck a bullet out of Homer’s ass cheek. Well done, guys.

One good line/moment: Eh, I got nothing for this one.