373. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore

(originally aired April 9, 2006)
With some of these episodes, I feel it’s enough of a review to just post the synopsis; the stupidity and silliness usually can speak for itself. There’s glimmers of interesting ideas in this show, but they’re completed buried under nonsensical plot turns, and nonsensical nonsense. We open with Burns announcing he’s outsourcing the plant to India, but he’ll need to hold on to one American employee. Who do you guess that will be? I feel like “Homer gets picked for something he’s grossly unqualified for” is almost like a running gag, that like many of the series’, has run out of gas and just descended into goofiness. “Homer the Smithers” in season 7 was poking fun at it, now ten years later, Burns tosses a bouquet into the crowd to see who gets the position. He’s an intelligent businessman, why wouldn’t he just pick the most senior man? Doesn’t matter though, since this is a strange new kind of Burns. Not cartoon supervillain, not frail old man, but unusually affable self-identified showman: making a big entrance in India, chumming it up with Homer, what happened to the joyless old miser? He’s long dead at this point.

So Homer is off to India, and despite knowing nothing about management or how to run a plant, ends up doing fine at his job. Some of the gags are efficient, like how the Indians seem to just be humoring Homer so they can get to work, or the many outsourced jobs Apu’s cousin have picked up, but the plot making no sense blares over any bright spots. Then we have our ending, where Homer believes he’s a god and the employees seemingly worship him. The entire third act is one great big “WHY.” Why does he think he’s a god? Because someone mentioned power corrupts and he says he’s a god. Why does he not think he’s a god anymore? Because he says so at the end. The end with the plant being “ruined” by the Indians finding out about American work benefits is kind of clever, but again, it makes no sense through the plot. How did they find out? They claim through a binding contract Homer gave out. How could he put together such a message? I feel the core idea of this show is pretty strong and could have worked, but it’s in completely incapable hands.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The pro-outsourcing video is pretty good, with the American workers whining that their jobs are too hard (“Hey, America! Why not let some of the other countries carry their share of the load!”)
– It’s small, but it bugs me when Lisa, or Bart, have knowledge or can identify things that no kid would be able to know about. How does Lisa know about Mac Tonight? Those commercials ran in the late 80s.
– The B-story involves Patty and Selma meeting the man of their dreams, Richard Dean Anderson, aka MacGyver. When he rebuffs their fandom, they resort to kidnapping. Anderson is able to escape a la his character, and finds it so thrilling that he has the sisters restrain him again and again, until even they get sick of him and come up with a plan to get rid of him. I like the idea of a revered celebrity getting on a fan’s nerves, like Stan Lee in “I Am Furious (Yellow),” and as a side story, I’m willing to forgive the silliness a bit more. There’s a fair amount of mention of his other show Stargate, almost to the point that it feels like promotion. Anderson is a good sport, and gives a pretty great performance. I certainly liked it more than the main story, but under it all, it almost feels too-little-too-late. When was the last time Patty and Selma even mentioned MacGyver? We barely see them anymore as it is.
– The best joke in the show is when Homer must find Apu’s cousin: medium height, dark complexion, brown eyes, black hair. Shouldn’t be too hard to spot out in the middle of India.
– Patty and Selma return to their apartment to find Anderson is gone. Selma panics, claiming she can’t face jail. Patty shrewdly responds, “I can.” Because she’s a lesbian and she would love women’s prison! So her being gay is now her default character trait, I guess.
– There’s more weird jokes in this show that we’ve seen in the past, of horrible things happening or being mentioned to Homer and him just shrugging them off or ignoring it. Bart calls his father in fear of a bully who breaks into the house, Marge mentions Chief Wiggum was mortally wounded, is any of this supposed to be funny?
– None of the ending makes any sense whatsoever. Why did they paint the tower like Homer’s face and dress like him? It’s just building to the big cop-out at the end, and then everything can go back to normal. And also the obligatory Bollywood ending, which doesn’t feel earned at all.

372. Million Dollar Abie

(originally aired April 2, 2006)
Another episode with no idea what it’s doing or what it’s supposed to be about. Some of these shows I find difficult to surmise. Is it about Grampa getting a new lease on life and living it to the fullest? Well the second half is, but it barely even feels like it. It’s just a bunch of ideas thrown together into something that vaguely resembles a coherent story. It starts with Homer succeeding at getting a football franchise in Springfield, which I guess is something that not only are we supposed to just accept, but only serves as part of our first act. Grampa roughs up the NFL commissioner thinking he’s a burglar, costing the town the game, making him a town pariah. He then resolves there’s nothing left for him but to kill himself. So the show’s tackling euthanasia now; there’s nothing grossly offensive about it, except that it gives no real commentary on the serious issue, and feels completely inconsequential. The show’s like a pinball game, just batting around from one idea to the next.

Once Grampa keeps on living, the show shifts gears once more: something needs to be done about the football stadium the town built, and randomly it’s suggested that it become a bull fighting ring, with Grampa volunteering to be a matador. All of this totally makes sense. Everything is so slapdash, each act feels like a completely different episode. So now the conflict is between Grampa and Lisa, who is disappointed at her grandfather’s gross animal cruelty. Thankfully it feels more innocent than preachy, but the treacle is still pretty thick. Grampa says for the first time in his life people are cheering him, to which Lisa responds, “I was always cheering for you, Grampa. Until now.” Is that so? I wish the episode had led to this point even the slightest bit. In the end, Grampa frees the bulls, and they proceed to terrorize and gore the entire town. There’s a shit ton of filler here too: the Hollywood video, two music montages, the story is just so damn thin. But it doesn’t even have to be. Grampa having a near-death experience and wanting to live it up is a premise that’s rife with potential. Instead we get this, whatever it is.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The only specific thing I remember about this episode is that when it aired, they premiered the first teaser for The Simpsons Movie. It was pretty simple and dumb: panning across a giant ‘S’ so you thought it was for Superman Returns, but then pulling out to show Homer on the couch with a Superman shirt and undies on. Even back then I was kinda disappointed considering how much they were hyping it.
– The Los Angeles pitch video is a full two minutes of complete time killing. All you need is the board to express disgust over L.A.’s phoniness, which you could communicate with a flyer or a brief sidebar or something. The joke in the video is the agenda that L.A. is awesome and Springfield sucks, which grows tired instantly, and I’m just praying for it to end when we get to the “Springfield Blows” song. Everything just draaaaaaaaaggss.
– If anything, the town fucked themselves over by renaming all their street names, which is why the commissioner gets lost in the first place.
– I don’t know what to make of the euthanasia bit. I’ll say something like the diePod crosses over into “so-dumb-it’s-funny” for me, and I like the callback that the man the doctor had just killed was Wiggum’s brother-in-law, but all of it felt very uncomfortable, seeing one of our beloved characters about to die willfully. Then it’s swept under the rug rather quickly. Grampa inadvertently admits it to the family, who are shocked, then he assures them he’s fine, because he’s learned a lesson. Cut to him staring hopefully at the stars as saccharine music starts playing. It’s like someone spliced two different shows together, the tone shifts so quickly it’s like whiplash.
– Everyone is so completely on board with the bull fighting idea, they cheer immediately for it. Why are they so psyched? Why are they all so blood-thirsty in the third act?
– The tension builds as Grampa debates killing his first bull, then finally does, with no sound effect. Were they trying to be dramatic and artsy, or did they just puss out? Meanwhile later there’s sounds of clothing ripping and flesh piercing as Luigi is gored by a group of bulls.
– The show ends with Grampa and Lisa floating on lawn chairs with balloons. Why? I dunno. Then we see some bulls have tied balloons to themselves and floated up too. What the ever loving fuck is happening?

371. Homer Simpson, This Is Your Wife

(originally aired March 26, 2006)
If there’s any series more in desperate need of some fresh creative blood, it’s this one. Writers come and go, but with Al Jean entering his twelfth year at the helm, the series seems to be in an endless stagnation. This couldn’t be more evident in this episode, “written” by Ricky Gervais. I use quotes because thanks to massive rewrites, the show to his name feels as innocuous and identity-less as any other episode. The only evidence of his involvement comes from the character he plays, which is more or less another version of his normal role, a dogged, flustered man who attempts to make humor, but fails to recognize his audience. His humor style of awkward pauses and long silences doesn’t exactly gel well with modern Simpsons’ joke-every-twenty-seconds mentality. This couldn’t be clearer in one scene where Gervais’ character Charles tells Marge a slightly offensive joke. In one of his shows, it would be told uninterrupted, and the comedy would come from the recipient’s offense and Gervais’ endless backpedaling to cover himself. Here, Charles is interrupted many times by Marge’s inane commentary (“That’s just the set-up!” “Well, you’ve set me up for laughs down the road!”) Any attempts at alternate types or rhythms of humor are trampled upon.

Another episode with basically no story: to get the money for a flat screen TV, the Simpsons go on a reality show where two families swap wives, in this case with a British couple with a frosty marriage. Homer is stuck with a cold English harpy, while Marge lives with Charles, who becomes instantly smitten with her kindness. There’s barely any reality TV commentary here (wasn’t “Helter Shelter” enough?), so most of the show is just seeing the families new lives. English wife Verity makes the Simpsons write reports and do chores, which is boring, and Charles attempts to woo Marge, having seemingly fallen in love with her based upon… she’s nice? That and Marge is apparently a total dummy (“I wrote this song for a woman: you.” “What an odd thing for a man who’s not interested in me to do!”) She’s always been naive to certain things, but I think she’d be able to pick up on this guy’s intentions. There’s a handful of other things to whine about, but largely this show is shockingly empty. I’d love to see whatever Gervais’ first draft was, and see just how much they tore it down to size to fit in with the rest of the slop this season.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Lenny holds a party at his apartment. The guest list? Skinner, Krabappel, Sideshow Mel, Ned Flanders, Dr. Nick, the Van Houtens, the Hibberts, Professor Frink… basically all of your Springfield regulars. How do they all know Lenny? It’s more of that “everybody-knows-everybody” thing of later seasons that I hate so much.
– Why the fuck would Lenny allow Homer to live for days on his couch? I get maybe he doesn’t want to be mean, but I can’t imagine this would go on more than a day before he would kick him the fuck out.
– In an irrelevant, out-of-nowhere joke, Homer completes collecting fifty years of The Family Circus, then throws the scrapbook in the fireplace. I’m quite confused, but mostly at the fact that he’s gluing a comic into the book, then we see in the next shot that it’s taped in. Is anyone watching this shit?
– Gervais has already tackled exploitative reality shows on the Extras finale, which was a bit bloated at ninty minutes, but is still well done, and has an alternatively scathing and heartbreaking finale. It won’t be quite as powerful if you don’t know the context, but here it is. He’s hit or miss at times, but Gervais is a very strong writer, but in this episode, none of it is allowed to come through.
– Not big on Homer and Bart openly mooning the camera crew and this family they’ve just met, but it’s partially saved by this exchange (“Ugh! We better pixellate those.” “There aren’t enough pixels in the world!”) The cameraman’s panicked read on that is great. But in the spirit of ruining good jokes, they add on one too many (“Yeah, just cover it with Ryan Seacrest’s head.”) Oh snap!
– The only clever moment in the show is Homer’s summation of Charlie: “You take forever to say nothing.” It’s a great read of how one might see his kind of rambling humor.
– This show is just filled with awful, awful Marge lines. Again, it appears that no one knows how to write her as a normal human being anymore (“I don’t choose the committee as such, but I choose where they meet. This year, I’m thinking of Conference Room C.” “Oooh! That leaves A and B available for overflow!”)
– My only other laugh came from the quick bit of Itchy & Scratchy. They’re in old English garb, Scratchy is thrown into a guillotine… then Itchy shoots away at him with a Tommy gun.
– I’m sure Gervais’ song went untouched, but I’ve never been a fan of any of the comic songs he’s done. Save of course when he’s serenading Elmo. The sequence goes on foreeeeeeever, and it couldn’t be less funny. And then they extend it over the credits!
– On top of it all, the show gets a Homer-Marge slant at the end. Marge says she misses Homer, and Charlie randomly says he does too, despite the fact that they met once. Marge explains why she loves him: “He’s loved me ever since the first moment he saw me, and he’s never stopped, and whatever it takes to make me happy, he’ll do it, even if it kills him.” Cut to when she returns home to find Homer with slices of pizza strapped to his bare legs. In the best moment of the show, she comes in with such joy, then sees the state her husband is in, and completely deflates (“…put your pants back on.”) It’s so unbelievably sad; her delusions of her husband are completely swept away as she instantly realizes she’s once again stuck to this sloven ape-like man who whines about having to spend time with their children. The end of the episode features Homer finally having got his stupid TV and singing about it, while Marge is clasping her pillow on her head trying to get some sleep. In the past you’d understand why these two are together. But now, I just don’t get it. I feel so bad for Marge in some of these shows.
– And on top of that we have our great finale: Varity has hooked up with Patty, joined by their mutual hatred of Homer! And Patty’s in a plaid shirt and jeans, dressed like a man! Because she’s a lesbian!

370. Bart Has Two Mommies

(originally aired March 19, 2006)
Man alive… not only is this episode boring, confusing and dumb, but it’s got a message. This show has integrated morals and characters learning lessons before, I guess, but here it’s so obvious and ham-fisted, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. There’s very little story here, so it’ll be quick to burn through. Marge starts to babysit Rod and Todd Flanders, and is surprised to find they’re even more milquetoast and namby-pamby than their father. She tries to open their eyes to more “daring” things like using a see-saw and playing Clue, which worries a paranoid Flanders. Now, Ned has always been somewhat cautionary, but never to this extent: he forces his kids to crawl up the stairs after he finds Todd had cut himself, and his idea of a fun activity is staring at bread. There’s a slightly saddening explanation that Ned has become especially protective because since Maude passed away, the kids are all he has, but the seriousness of that is just buried under a barrage of stupid jokes that are ridiculous. Vilifying Uno and bubble wrapping trees? Come on.

A B-story gives us our episode name, which is definitely one of the more bizarre titles of the whole series, and I don’t entirely understand why they chose it. Is it like a gay thing, like he has lesbian parents? Anyway, Bart is kidnapped by a mother ape at the zoo, who is yearning for her actual son, who turns out to be Mr. Teeny. Both stories come to a head when the monkey takes Bart to the top of the newly constructed church steeple, and someone needs to swap him with Teeny. Having climbed a rock wall earlier at a kid fun zone, Rod opts to go, and now Ned must learn to encourage his son and tell him to believe in himself. Excuse me while I go vomit all over myself. It even has a pathetic music cue to go with it as Ned brings himself to let his son go. It feels so goddamn forced, and when the episode ends with Rod ignorantly screaming that he’s gay, the tonal shift couldn’t be more stark. This show used to reign supreme in terms of expertly balancing emotional moments with snark, but nowadays, they’re woefully lost on that point. In the end, this episode’s as disposable as they come.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The church fair at the beginning is a mixed bag. I like Lenny and Carl’s bluntness (“Ah, it’s all a big scam.” “This booth?” “No, religion in general,”) but the hell mirror is just dumb. Lovejoy’s fundraiser to build a bigger steeple to one-up the neighboring Unitarian church works, but then they ruin it by having to explain it further as Lovejoy mutters that it compensates for his “sense of smallness.” The duck race is boring, and just another excuse to put Homer through as much laugh-less pain as possible.
– I like Bart and Lisa’s reckless indoor jousting, if only that it shows Lisa being a fun-loving kid again, for once.
– Rod and Todd being so safe and lame feels weird to me, it’s just played up to as ridiculous a level as Ned’s paranoia is. We don’t know the kids as well as him so I can’t exactly pinpoint why it seems so wrong, but it just feels too exaggerated.
– I don’t exactly know how Homer covered for Bart’s absence for so long, save for the endless scene where he goes on a sarcastic tirade. “Help me, Lisa! I have serious mental problems!” No shit. Also, wouldn’t the ape have to sleep at one point and then Bart could make his escape? Or better yet, just tranquilize it and it’s a done deal. The plot could be over within a few minutes. Also Homer has a peach full of antifreeze, which he holds onto instead of rolling into her cage, and sure enough she would probably eat it. Instead he eats the poisoned fruit, and later accidentally inhales his own tranquilizer dart. Homer in pain = funny!!
– Lovejoy tries to comfort Marge by showing her the plaque they’ve made for the new steeple “just in case”: Bart Simpson Memorial Steeple. What a horrible thing for him to do, and how the fuck did he have time to print a plaque based on something that had just happened?
– During Teeny and his mother’s reunion, for some reason we get a quick flashback to Homer cuddling his rubber duck. What’s that about? Whatever. This is one of the most boring shows ever. Right next to that astronomy episode.

369. The Seemingly Never-Ending Story

(originally aired March 12, 2006)
A story within a story within a story… I bet the writers thought they were real clever when they came up with this conceit. Not a bad idea, if only the stories themselves were interesting or funny at all, which unfortunately they are not. The Simpsons get trapped in an uncharted cavern, and while the others search for a way out, Lisa keeps a stuck Homer company and tells him a story of when she was trapped with Mr. Burns after being terrorized by a vicious ram. Burns then tells a tale of his losing his fortune and having to work at Moe’s. This leads to another story of Moe’s past love affair with Mrs. Krabappel, and how he came upon a sack of priceless gold. All of this comes to a head when the gold is revealed to be hidden in the caverns, and all the parties involved show up to claim it as theirs. I feel I should give the writers a little credit for setting up all the stories and having them come together; the characters mostly work in their roles and the motivations are fine. I guess.

Each story has so much weird stuff going on, and altogether, that really hurts the show. Lisa gets into Burns’ mansion, then she and Burns manage to continuously outrun this swift enraged animal, in a sequence that just goes on and on. The youthful Lisa, maybe, but old decrepit Burns? He and the Rich Texan’s scavenger hunt is just bizarre to me, and it feels weird and random that he’d end up at Moe’s. The Moe story was a bit better, but not by much. I believe Krabappel being with Moe about as much as I bought her being with Comic Book Guy, even less so actually, since she’s fresh off the bus you’d think she’d have higher standards than the modern day despondent Krabappel does. We also get an unnecessary and dumb introduction to Snake, filled with stupid hackneyed dialogue (“I’ve been robbed! I’ll take my revenge on society, by which I mean convenience stores!”) Everyone has a showdown for the gold, Marge tosses it off a cliff and everyone is grateful for it for some reason. Whatever. Given the potential of such an interesting story format, I think the episode just comes up short.

Tidbits and Quotes
– This episode won the Emmy for that year, which is fine, I guess, mostly because nothing can infuriate me more than the fact that “Three Gays of the Condo” won one too. Its only real competition was South Park‘s “Trapped in the Closet,” which I guess they nominated because of its controversy, though I feel there were better episodes they could have submitted, like “Cartoon Wars” or “Manbearpig.”
– We’re at the point I can predict jokes now. When Bart goes nuts playing with the water bottle, I knew it would end with Marge saying, “He’s gonna sleep well tonight!” Mostly because they’ve done this joke before.
– Burns inputs his place of birth in a gate code: Pangaea. It’s funny because he’s old!
– Not a fan of the “Dream on, bitch!” Burns line.
– How exactly did Moe manage a relationship with Krabappel so long without her finding out about the tavern? It’s called Moe’s, for Pete’s sake.
– The bit with Bart and Krabappel in the classroom is very odd to me. At first it struck me as echoing “Bart Gets An F,” but at this point in the series it feels so alien for Bart to appear actually giving a shit about his education. Then later they pull the rug out where Bart reveals he was just distracting Krabappel while Nelson stole shit. So I guess those two are randomly in cahoots. It just seemed strange, and making that connection just makes me remember how “F” is a thousand times more enjoyable in every respect than anything I’ve seen in many a season.
– Burns risking his life to save Lisa? Fuck that. Just a few episodes ago he took money from a children’s hospital to increase his own lifespan by mere minutes.
– The only joke I laughed at was Moe stepping out from the shadows with a bat, only to be surprised that Burns and the Rich Texan have guns, so he sheepishly steps back and pretends he has one too. Nice performance by Azaria.