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.