Category Archives: The Simpsons

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.

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664. Go Big or Go Homer

Original airdate: October 6, 2019

The premise: Stuck supervising the new crop of power plant interns, Homer is introduced to Mike, an excitable elder millennial who considers him his idol. He begs Homer to be his mentor, which Homer happily accepts, feeling unappreciated at home and by the town at large.

The reaction: Boy, the writers must have been laughing their tits off at this Mike guy, it feels like 70% of all the dialogue in this episode is just his motor mouth saying… jokes? I think? For an episode that focuses so heavily on this character, I am completely lost as to who he’s supposed to be and what I’m to get out of his “character progression,” or what that even was. Mike is a 35-year-old voiced by the 49-year-old Michael Rapaport, who I’m not at all familiar with, so any kind of inside joke paralleling or connecting Mike’s personality with his voice actor is completely lost on me. “Homer’s Phobia’s”s John was effectively a yellow John Waters, but his personality and identity was wholly realized within the episode on its own. Anyway, Mike is one of a dozen new interns at the power plant, who immediately sticks up for Homer when he gets stymied by the others asking him actual questions about the plant. Mike looks up to Homer thanks to countless news stories about SNPP’s numerous near-meltdowns over the years always featuring Homer at the epicenter of the crisis (despite Homer being a town pariah at this point, I guess none of these articles Mike presumably has obsessively read over and over again at this point implicate he was responsible for these disasters). The first half of the episode is just him going on and on about what an honor it is for him to worship at Homer’s feet and how fucking amazing he is. But why? Mike is not a scientist or an engineer (“Why not follow my hero into the world’s greatest calling: nuclear whatever!”) He never asks Homer any questions about his job or any specific interest in what he does. It’s not even broad like he admires Homer’s “courage” for taking charge and averting all those meltdowns, like it’s just a general heroism he looks up to him for. It’s just… nothing. Mike looks up to Homer because that’s what we wrote in the script. He wears a basketball jersey throughout and is obsessed with the sport, namedropping numerous players; why isn’t one of them his hero? That doesn’t come into play in the story, I guess it’s just another hilarious quirk from this great new character.

Homer meanwhile doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He’s thrilled someone is giving him the respect he thinks he deserves. But Mike also has an incredible anger issue. Multiple times in the episode, when someone nearby is insulting Homer, his face goes red and he goes off on an insult comic tirade against the ignorant clod who would dare insult his beloved mentor. One of his victims happens to be Bart, during a family dinner with Mike and his pregnant wife as invited guests. Despite witnessing Mike verbally abusing his son to his face to the point of tears firsthand, Homer doesn’t say a damn word when Marge throws him out of the house, and never apologizes to her or Bart about it (“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry?” “Once would be nice!”) The conversation immediately pivots off of Marge attesting this adult man that screamed at her young child is a dangerous lunatic, to Homer whining that she and the kids don’t respect him like Mike does. But yeah, Mike actually appears to be mentally unstable, and it was getting more and more overt I thought the episode would eventually have to deal with it. Instead, Homer decides to actually attempt to be a mentor, in his sole action of expressing interest in Mike’s dumb-ass idea: a business that sells pizza by the slice instead of entire pies. He gets a food truck thanks to a legitimate loan from the mob, leading to he and Homer to get chased to a junk yard by Fat Tony and company, who then lay down their arms because they like Mike’s dumb-ass idea and can also use it for money laundering oh who gives a flying shit. In the end, Mike’s business with Fat Tony is a big success, Fat Tony makes Homer tear up when he calls him a great mentor, and shots over the credits show Mike thriving with his work and family and living a wonderful life all thanks to Homer believing in him! Ohhhhhhh boy! He isn’t delusional or has serious anger issues to work on, he’s just a goofy character that we all love! Mike the adult intern! This one was a real head scratcher, again, I honestly have no idea what they were going for with the Mike character, and as the episode is solely centered around him, that’s a serious problem. His insane actions and serious character flaws clash dramatically with the clean, safe happy ending we’re given, and none of the random pieces thrown at us fit together whatsoever. A very dumb, strange, dumb, dumb, dumb episode.

Three items of note:
– Homer begins his talk to the new plant interns blending a bunch of millennial stereotypes together, but thanks to this show’s floating timeline, the 38-year-old Homer would now have been born in 1981, making him… a millennial! What a scary world we live in. When we get to the point the show is still airing and Homer is as old as I am, I think I’ll just instantly turn into a fossil.
– Mike blows up at Mr. Burns to stand up for Homer, and as thanks, he ends up getting shot in the face point blank with an old musket by Burns (filled with hundred-year-old pellets that merely embed themselves in his face). Certainly an unexpected ending to the scene, but one that is ultimately pointless, as there are no repercussions from this event, and Mike’s food truck is shown thriving in the power plant parking lot at the end, so everything’s all good!
– There really isn’t a whole lot of other specific stuff to comment on, since this episode is so absolutely heavily focused on this one-off character we will (God willing) never see again. I guess members of the staff just really love Michael Rapaport, or are like good friends with him. Doing some quick Internet research, it appears he’s a pretty big sports guy, so I guess that explains Mike’s sports obsession. He’s also responsible for this, which I guarantee is ten thousand times funnier than anything in this abysmal episode.

One good line/moment: Mike giving Bart a vicious verbal beat down leaves the Simpson dining room speechless, except for Lisa, who is adorably laughing her ass off at her brother being made the fool for once. Yeardley Smith’s performance is just lovely, and it got a big genuine smile out of me for once, as it effectively added a joke to the truly horrific and shocking moment, some expert comedic timing I haven’t seen from this show in years. Ignoring the fact that the show did absolutely fucking nothing to address or deal with Mike’s transgressions following this scene, it was an honestly great moment.

663. The Winter Of Our Monetized Content

Original airdate: September 29, 2019

The premise: When an outlandish fight between Homer and Bart goes viral online, a social marketing-savvy hipster seeks to make them into profitable Internet celebrities. Meanwhile, Lisa fights back against the school’s new privatized detention system.

The reaction: Aaaaaaaand we’re back, and boy, what a low impact dud of a premiere. Not having watched this show in four months, coming back to it, it’s really surprising how thin the storytelling is. So with our A-story, Warburton Parker (voiced by John Mulaney) appears to basically narrate most of the episode in talking about how he can monetize Homer and Bart’s father-son fights online, after their original live video was watched and laughed at by everybody in the whole damn world (example #659 of a Simpson becoming an instant success/worldwide phenomenon overnight). So Homer and Bart are totally onboard with doing these fights… but why? For money? Warburton gives them a $5000 check at one point, but we’re never told how much cash they’re getting and what they’re doing with it. For the fame? They pay it some lip service, and we see Homer and Bart are both recognized by their peers, but they don’t seem to regard that all that much either. But amidst their videotaped brawls, the two find that they enjoy each other’s company, which ultimately gets them in trouble when Comic Book Guy leaks a video of them hugging. But these two incredibly brief bonding scenes barely even feel like they’re related to the story. This is an episode where in my head I’m already coming up with three or four different angles this story could take to actually work as a story, but instead, this just feels like an incredibly thin outline that they created scenes around and shoved through production. And honestly, I’m not making like I’m a super smart writer or anything, it just seems like obvious stuff they might do. Like where was Marge during all this? She could have been involved, chastising Homer and Bart for promoting violence and sewing discord in the family. Or maybe Homer and Bart’s renewed relationship would make their fighting seem less “authentic,” and Parker could start making lies or something to make them get at each other’s throats even more. That would have made him more of, like, a character, instead of some rando who just walked into the Simpsons’ backyard and wedged himself into their lives for fifteen minutes. Instead, there’s just no emotional element at all, Homer and Bart just waft through the story until the very end, when they decide that it’s stupid and they don’t want to fight anymore, and that’s the end. Boy, I can’t wait for twenty-or-so more episodes of gold like this!!

Three items of note:
– I don’t really have much to say about the B-plot. Lindsey Naegle comes in to run detention, having the kids make children’s license plates. The idea of privatizing detention and hand-waving child labor is potentially interesting, but of course the show does basically nothing with the idea. The resolution makes absolutely no sense; when the kids strike, Chalmers has the brilliant idea to replace them with the teachers, a group who “will do anything for money as long as it doesn’t involve kids.” So we see the faculty happily making license plates, and that’s the end of the story line (Ned Flanders is not present in the group, as it still seems the writing staff keeps forgetting and re-remembering they made him the new fourth grade teacher). But surely the teachers aren’t working for free after school hours? Naegle stressed she wanted “free” labor. But if this is during school hours, who’s watching the kids? Fuck me, I guess, for wanting this story to make sense and have some kind of coherent conclusion, right?
– The animation during Homer and Bart’s first fight stood out to me. It’s definitely more fluid than the standard fare for this show, which we’ve seen a bit more of since the production switched from Film Roman to Rough Draft (Rough Draft has worked with the show from the beginning, so I don’t know if they took over production in full, or are working with another American studio. I can’t seem to find a conclusive answer.) Anyway, it’s a welcome change to get scenes that have a bit more life in them, but watching this scene, while containing more drawings to make the movement more fluid, it all felt kind of floaty, mainly because there were no sharp, distinct poses to really ground the action. The show in its hey-day was a champion at really, really funny and expressive poses, but in the more rigid structure the show is created in now, we really don’t get much of that at all anymore.
– When Parker tells Homer and Bart they’ve gone viral, they excitedly do the flossing dance, accompanied by a chyron reading “DON’T SUE US, BACKPACK KID.” I believe last season they had a bit of Bart flossing, but honestly, at this point, this joke feels very, very tired. I think I talked about before how in this instantaneous meme-ing age, trying to do topical pop culture references on a TV show schedule is a complete fool’s errand, since everyone instantly makes fun of things as they happen immediately on social media. Parker also makes a joke about Homer and Bart getting more views than the Murphy Brown reboot, which is one hell of an obscure reference. I understand that the joke is that it came and went and no one remembers it, but fuck, that reboot ran last season, the company I work at created promotion for it, and I didn’t even remember it.
Speaking of references, the B-plot kicks off when Lisa is sent to detention, kicking off with a “Making a Misbehaver” opening title sequence, which mimics the open to the Netflix show Making a Murderer. I have not seen it, so to me, this sequence means absolutely nothing to me. For the hundredth time, recreating something from pop culture exactly does not count as a joke. I remember It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia did an entire episode based off of Murderer, but it mocked the conventions of a documentary-style show and created a new narrative that fit and made sense within the world and its characters. Having never seen Murderer, the episode still worked for me because it fit into the show’s world and made jokes with and around the parody. Here, the “parody” means nothing to me, and to someone who has seen the show, I guess they just smile and nod because they get the reference?

One good line/moment: Nothing I can really recall. This one was a real snoozer. It’s gonna be a loooooong season.

662. Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion

Original airdate: May 12, 2019

The premise: Desperate to find the kids health coverage, Marge’s last resort is crystal healing from some weirdo new age store. When the crystals seemingly work wonders on Bart’s ADD, Marge takes a greater interest in the newly defunct business, opening her own new age healing store out of the garage.

The reaction: Marge starts a new business, taking on new age medicine, Bart feels bad for lying to his mother… all of this ground we’ve trodden over before, making for a real thud of a season finale. Our plot goes into motion with Mr. Burns eliminating children’s health plans from his employee benefits, and Marge needing to find an affordable alternative to Bart’s Focusyn ADD medication. I guess they worked out the kinks of that drug over twenty years time. I get that it’s implied that Bart is a rambunctious scamp that needs to be drugged to contain himself, but the fact that we never see such a thing makes any contrast the show seek to create not as effective. Out of options, Marge wanders into a new age healing store, where she’s informed of the magical power of crystals. Wearing one around his neck, Bart comes home with an A paper, winning Marge over on this kooky new treatment. Eventually, she comes upon the healing store’s inventory when the owner joins a cult (Marge seems relatively nonplussed by this), and eventually opens up her own shop to sell to her eager-to-buy friends. When she eventually expands her marketplace to the likes of fairy traps, moon potion and brain powder, it’s unclear exactly how much of this Marge believes to not be a big fake scam. She had a moment of internal conflict when she initially picks up the business, questioning how much these products actually do work, but after that, she’s just selling this shit happily with no real qualms about it. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers Bart’s been using the crystal to help him cheat on his tests by convoluted means, and eventually forces him to tell Marge the truth. At the exact same time, angry customers come at her wanting refunds, revealing the crap never worked after all (at this point, weeks must have gone by, what took them so long?), Marge closes up shop and that’s it. Last episode featured her wanting some excitement in her life starting a business, and I commented it would have been better if we actually saw some of that instead of her just telling us. I guess I got my wish. She was proud of what she accomplished, but rather than show any actual reflection about it, or any kind of satisfying wrap-up to whatever the hell we just watched, instead our final scene features Homer in a leotard working out to a women’s exercise tape. Sigh. This is the second episode written by new writer Megan Amram; after seeing “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” I wrote that I was interested in seeing what her next show would be. Well… there it was. Fuck me for trying to find a hope spot, I guess. Her first show felt like it had a little personal identity to it, but this one is just like all the rest, written and rewritten and rewritten in the writer’s room until it’s just like a bowl of flavorless mush.

Three items of note:
– Two thirds into the show, Marge is confronted by Piper (Jenny Slate, another great comedian wasted), owner and proprietor of a new age kiosk at the Shelbyville Mall, pissed that Marge’s store is cutting into her business. So are Shelbyvillians driving to the neighboring town to get their holistic bullcrap? The only clientele we’ve seen thus far are familiar faces (Cookie Kwan, Sarah Wiggum, Helen Lovejoy, etc), so whatever. Heated up by her newfound success in business, Marge decides to take Piper head on by opening her own kisok across from hers. In Shelbyville. Why didn’t they just make this at the Springfield Mall? And haven’t there been a handful of episodes from the past fifteen years re-framing Shelbyville as an affluent, high-class well-to-do city who mock their hick neighbors? Oh, who cares. Right as Marge is reigning supreme over Piper, Bart admits his lie, and then the likes of Luann and Nelson’s mom show up to complain that her shit don’t work (driving all the way to Shelbyville to complain, I guess. Did they carpool?) Blegh.
– Ned walks next door with one of Bart’s A papers to compliment Marge on the success of her “pagan hogwash.” For a moment, I was wondering why the hell he would know about Bart’s grades, but then I remembered that one year ago, they officially made him the new fourth grade teacher. We even get a small scene with him later before Lisa exposes Bart’s cheating plan. Now, I’m a freak who still watches this garbage show and obsesses over details way too much, and I forgot that Ned was the new teacher. They haven’t mentioned or shown it once for this entire season. The school has always been primary set piece for this series, and a new teacher for Bart is a mighty big role, let alone it being a major secondary character we’ve known since the show’s beginning. This is a tremendous change in the dynamics of this show, and it hasn’t been explored at all. How does Ned differ from Mrs. Krabappel, his dead wife? How does he feel about filling her shoes? What is his dynamic with Bart, Nelson, or the other students? How does he get along with Skinner or Willie or Miss Hoover, his new co-workers? These are all very rich questions a writer would hypothetically be interested in exploring. But why the fuck bother? We’ll just keep writing the same shit, and only mention Ned as the teacher if we absolutely have to. What kind of mentality is that?
– Bart initially balks at Lisa demanding he tell Marge the truth. She rebuffs, “You don’t realize how bad this is, do you? You betrayed the one person who still believes in you.” Just when I thought they were going to actually have a nice Bart-Lisa moment where he reflects and processes what he’s done, we go into a silly, upbeat montage set to The Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama” featuring Homer tossing Bart into a lion’s den and Marge fending them off, and Marge helping Bart write his chalkboard punishment. Following that, Bart is aghast (“Oh my God! She’s shown me nothing but love! How do I make this guilt go away?”) Terrible. I think back to the great writing from shows like “Marge Be Not Proud” where Bart and Lisa talk about how Marge’s anger and disappointment is manifesting in a different way (“Her heart won’t just wipe clean like this bathroom countertop. It absorbs everything that touches it, like this bathroom rug.”) And then when Bart asks how he can fix it, Lisa shrugs. Because she’s an eight year old kid. What beautiful, realistic, and funny writing. It’s a true rarity when characters on this show actually talk or react in a fashion that feels like they’re believable people, rather than just joke-spewing automatons jittering about for twenty minutes until they run out of juice.
– So this show has already mined material out of new age hippy stores almost twenty years ago, with some of the only good material from “Make Room for Lisa” (“Namaste.” “And an ooga-booga to you too!”) But more of this show reminded me of one of South Park‘s best earlier episodes “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” where the gullible morons of South Park are tricked into buying the expensive wares of holistic medicine by “native” Americans in a shop run by Miss Information. A sick Kyle needs a kidney transplant, and this new age bullshit makes his parents feel like they’re actually doing something, but it’s really just making it worse. When Stan asserts that a doctor at the hospital told him that Kyle needs an operation or he’ll die, Miss Information retorts, “Well, of course the doctor told you that, because he wants to make money!” Then she turns to charge Kyle’s mother hundreds of dollars for some more crap. It’s a pretty great episode that actually has something to say about this topic, as well as telling a personal story with the main characters (the only person in town with Kyle’s blood type is Cartman, and he isn’t going to give up his kidney quietly). None of this, of course, is present in this whimper of an episode.

One good line/moment: There were a handful of smirk/light chuckle-worthy moments. I did enjoy that Marge’s makeshift store was called “MURMUR.”

And so ends the momentous 30th season. Thankfully it seems like season 28 is still the absolute low point of the series thus far, with the two seasons following it seeming like the attempted scraping and clawing out of the deep, dark hole they’ve been plummeting down since the year 2000. It’s hard to really rank these seasons how little I enjoy any of this shit anymore, but I given season 30 a bit more credit over season 29 for containing a couple of interesting ideas and concepts that unfortunately were completely squandered (“Krusty the Clown,” “The Clown Stays in the Picture”) and for “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” an episode that wasn’t perfect, but I could at least feel like there was a ghost of a new, authentic voice behind it. As this season wraps up, The Simpsons is now officially a Disney property. They’ll be exclusively streaming on Disney+, airing on Freeform, and our favorite family’s faces will likely be plastered all over many a Disney corporate event. The show is still signed on for two more seasons, and at this point, I really don’t see any end in sight at this point. What else will Disney attempt to squeeze from this withered husk of a series? How long can the show possibly go? Tune in this fall for the soul-shriveling continuation of Me Blog Write Good! As usual, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you guys enjoy reading this thing, and as long as this show refuses to die, then neither will this goddamn stupid blog. Bring it on, season 31.

661. Woo-hoo Dunnit?

Original airdate: May 5, 2019

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.

660. D’oh Canada

Original airdate: April 28, 2019

The premise: After accidentally plunging down Niagara Falls, Lisa is granted sanction into Canada, and finds herself not wanting to leave such a seemingly perfect country.

The reaction: The Simpsons take on Canada (again), I guess. Moments after Lisa washes up on Canadian soil, she’s greeted by a modest mountie who says “eh” a lot, and is later given an IV drip of maple syrup. It’s like ticking the over-exhausted Canadian trope boxes. When Lisa goes on an angry diatribe over all the current US affairs that plague her eight-year-old mind, aforementioned mountie deems that since she feels unsafe in her own country, she’s now a Canadian refugee, and then “deports” her parents after protesting. It all feels very… dumb, but it doesn’t matter. Lisa of course is enthralled living in a nation that prioritizes education, the environment, and actually cares for its citizens (“I’ve never been happier!” she explains to the audience, helpfully). Eventually, Marge eventually sneaks her way across the border to get her daughter back. Of course, there’s no real emotional element to this at all. Lisa seems to not care at all about being away from the family, she adamantly demands to stay in Canada when Marge shows up. She lives with foster parents who I guess were assigned to her, but of course we don’t know anything else beyond that. Meanwhile, Marge is pissed when she comes to get Lisa (“Listen you little traitor, I’m your mother, and you live where I live! You’re coming home with me!”) Remember when Marge used to be nice to her children? Anyway, it turns out the two of them are stuck there since America is very anti-immigrant at the moment, but Lisa has a last minute change of heart about the good ol’ US of A because the episode is almost over. When she’s originally about to leave Canada, her new teacher helpfully walks by to let her know that there’s a lot of shitty parts about Canada too. It’s a fairly pedestrian theme the show could have utilized, how the grass always seems greener across the border or whatever, but of course the show doesn’t even bother. The show ends with the Simpsons running across a frozen river that’s cracking apart, but that doesn’t really matter as Homer’s able to cram in a joke about the Detroit Lions, and they get back into America and that’s it. Boy oh boy did I not miss this show.

Three items of note:
– On their trip up north, the Simpsons take a little trip through Upstate New York, where Homer sings a ballad to the wretched wasteland with revised lyrics to “New York, New York.” It’s basically a minute and a half long piece of filler in an episode that already felt super short (there’s an extended reused couch gag from years ago, and another thirty-second song later by Canadian Ralph). It’s full of references to Oriskany, Mohawk Valley Community College and the old Kodak factory… which I guess people from there will understand and think is funny? I don’t get it, are a bunch of writers from upstate New York and were just laughing their tits off writing this? It’s just more of acknowledging reference humor than actual jokes. It’s 90 seconds of just shitting on upstate New York. If the Simpsons drove through Central Jersey and sang a song about all the different landmarks and tropes of the area, I’d be perplexed more than anything,  even though I would get the references. And beyond that, of course, the song is completely meaningless. “Capital City” meant something. “New Orleans” from “Oh, Streetcar!” meant something. This song means nothing, except to get mentioned in a couple of local New York papers. Any press is good press, I guess.
– I’m pretty sure this is the first time in the show proper they’ve breached any sort of discussion about President Trump. In her rage against America, Lisa repeatedly tries to hurl obscenities about our very smart big boy President, only to be shushed by Marge. Later in her new classroom, she introduces herself thusly (“As an American, I’d like to apologize for something our President said about your wonderfully progressive Prime Minister.”) She is then ushered to another room where she’s able to Skype with Justin Trudeau (voiced by some guy), who proceeds to prove he’s not “weak” by lifting himself up on his desk and shimmying around. Jesus. It truly feels like a shitty SNL sketch where whoever playing Trudeau rips his shirt off and he’s ripped, and he’s like “Does THIS look weak to you, Mr. Trump?!” And the audience goes wild. Holy fuck, how embarrassing. The scene ends with Lisa alluding to the SNC-Lavalin scandal, causing Trudeau to get the fuck out. I guess this is their way of being impartial, but it felt like too little, too late after such a sorry display.
– Marge of course doesn’t give a flying fuck about her daughter’s unhappiness or disillusionment about America. When Lisa once again affirms she’s going to stay in Canada, Marge, with a big smirk on her face, tells her to look out across the lake at the United States and think of only the good. So Lisa does, and she imagines America’s all-stars: Abraham Lincoln flying on Dumbo (SWEET, SWEET DISNEY SYNERGY!!), Aretha Franklin, Judy Blume (voicing herself) and Louis Armstrong, who sways Lisa with just one line of dialogue (“Get your ass back over there!”) It’d be funny if it were intentionally awful, but I know it’s not. Speaking of Dumbo, I thought maybe I’d talk about the absolutely stupefying piece of synergy released a month ago during the promotion of Disney+, announcing the series would be available exclusively through the new streaming service. It’s just… I still don’t fully know how to express how I feel about it. It so desperately wants to seem like it’s biting the hand that feeds like they used to, referencing to Disney as their “new corporate overlords” (SEE! They referenced that line that’s a meme!!) and showing Rupert Murdoch’s portrait in a trash can (never mind the Murdochs are now majority shareholders in Disney), but it’s all so fucking phony. The Simpsons went from being counter-culture in the 90s, to just being culture in the 2000s, and now they’re just blank-faced corporate assets to be used however their new lords and masters at Disney will see fit. To paraphrase Troy McClure, who knows how much more soulless and creatively bereft The Simpsons will become between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?

One good line/moment: I got nothin’ here. This was a pretty bad one.

659. I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh

Original airdate: April 7, 2019

The premise: When Llewellyn Sinclair is pushed out of directing the latest production at the Springfield Playhouse, Marge takes up the directors chair, putting on a Hamilton inspired musical about Jebediah Springfield, written by Lisa.

The reaction: Twenty-six years after “A Streetcar Named Marge,” one of the greatest episodes of the show, Jeff Martin (and his wife) have written this episode, not exactly a sequel, more like what would have happened if “Streetcar” were pitched and written today, made all the more depressing that it’s the exact same writer behind it. We start with the latest appearance of Llewellyn Sinclair, overbearingly directing his cast through their upcoming performance of Oklahoma! Eventually, the Springfield players get fed up and force him out, leaving Marge to fill the vacuum as director for some reason, leading her to direct a brand new musical written by her eight-year-old daughter, and later signs a contract with Krusty to air the musical live nationwide. So, yeah, “Streetcar” featured our favorite Springfield denizens as plucky small town folk thinking it’d be fun to act in a musical, willing to put up with an irrational, heated director to have a bit of excitement in their lives on the big stage. Marge herself was one such starry eyed optimist, thinking acting in the play would be an exciting escape from her mind-numbing home life. As usual, the situation itself was very normal and believable, surrounded by absurdist elements (the Streetcar play itself, which we’ll get to…) Marge’s journey in this episode is hard to pin down. She’s initially nervous about being a first-time director, which is mentioned again and again. This implies she’ll direct more, and that this is some kind of passion of her’s (???) As usual with Simpson-becomes-instant-success stories, we never see them doing any actual work. After her first day, Krusty finds Sideshow Mel rehearsing his lines, and decides to just buy Marge’s play outright, so we immediately cut to the negotiation, with Marge sitting with shades and a purple power suit smiling vacuously. The play itself is a Jebediah Springfield biopic musical in the style of Hamilton which is not only written by Lisa, but rewritten on the spot live when the venue floods. The songs suck and aren’t funny. We hear barely two songs from the musical, compared to snippets of five we get of “Streetcar,” but I don’t even feel I should bother cross-referencing these two because it’s not even fair. Making a musical out of A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the cleverest, more ingeniously executed ideas the show had ever done; the concept itself was a great joke, and the songs were all absolutely stellar, humorously written and performed. Speaking of, it was a joke in itself hearing the likes of Wiggum, Apu and Marge singing these songs, these goofy cartoon voices giving earnest performances. Here, the gag is that Professor Frink has Josh Groban’s singing voice, so it’s just a talented singer doing these songs perfectly… so boring. The episode ends with Krusty telling Marge the live show got huge ratings, and her winning an award. Who gives a shit? Really, what does it matter that the show was a hit? I don’t even know why Marge cared about to begin with. “Streetcar,” of course, was never really about the show, but Marge feeling unappreciated by her husband, and Homer realizing that in the end and expressing it to her. As ridiculous and insane as the show got in the classic years, it always came down to the believable emotions and internal struggles of our favorite family. In episodes like these, I don’t know what I’m supposed to relate to.

Three items of note:
– There’s a subplot (I use the term charitably) where Homer stumbles upon an incredibly popular Daddy-And-Me class, filled with horny fathers who only go to ogle the hot, young instructor. Homer initially is naive about what’s going on, but quickly he becomes just as openly pervy as everyone else, spending the rest of the show fantasizing about the instructor, one of which is interrupted by Marge in bed, who thinks he’s such a great father for going to those classes. In the end, the classes are cancelled when the instructor makes her choice of which father she wants to fuck, and then that’s it. Do I even need to further discuss how fucked this all is? Remember when I tried to defend “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” for being somewhat progressive in its gender politics? Never mind, I guess. Instead of making Homer completely oblivious to obvious outside temptation, like “Colonel Homer,” or making the instructor not a total dumb dumb bimbo, the show just plays it out like Homer’s Kevin James from King of Queens or something. The icing on the shit sundae is they have a “sweet” cap on the story where Homer realizes Maggie liked hanging out with him for all the classes. How nice. And Homer’s favorite part was undressing the twenty-something piece of ass with his eyes and dreaming about her when in bed with his wife. C o o l.
– After he’s outsed, Llwellyn Sinclair appears a few times throughout, first begging Marge to let him back into her production, and then later to poach her star player Sideshow Mel for his own new show. But it really doesn’t mean anything, since all we saw of Mel was one scene where we learn he’s the lead, and then one quick bit of him rehearsing in his dressing room at Krustylu Studios. Llwellyn comes to gloat at the Simpson house where Marge is getting ready for what I assumed was one of their earlier production meetings, but then she admits the show is in three days and they have no understudy. In this episode about the production of a musical, we barely fucking see any of the production at all, unlike “Streetcar,” of course, where it was the primary focus, amongst other things, because the show could effectively multitask back then. Here, it’s a miracle when the show manages to have one complete plot with a beginning, middle and end that make sense.
– I knew it was only a matter of time, but it finally happened: we get a scene where Bart does the flossing dance. I feel like that gif is going to get isolated and rile some people up online… that is if anyone actually gives enough of a shit to actually watch this trash and actually make it. It may pop up somewhere… but honestly, who cares. It only stood out more to be because I just saw Shazam! which has Zachary Levi flossing and that was actually charming in context. Ehhh, fuck this show, go see Shazam!, it’s not spectacular, but it’s a fun, sweet movie that bucks a lot of superhero movie conventions, although it’s not without its tired, overdone tropey elements, the villain in particular.

One good line/moment: Over the end credits, we get a snippet of a music video by Okilly Dokillys, a real-life no-foolin’ metal band who all dress up like Ned Flanders and perform songs that mostly comprise of Simpsons quotes. It’s one of those things that it’s so absolutely absurd on every level that it’s amazing already, but their music is actually really well done, even if metalcore music isn’t really my cup of tea. Similar to using that 16-bit fan made couch gag a couple years ago, this felt like the show “officially” ordaining a fan work, but actually in showing such a fan work that really felt fresh, original and creative, just kind of stands in contrast with the tired, hollowed out husk of the show itself. At least this time they put it at the end instead of the beginning. Here’s the music video if you haven’t seen it.