Category Archives: Season 21

450. Thursdays with Abie

tuesdayswithabieOriginal airdate: January 3, 2010

The premise: Seemingly innocent journalist Marshall Goldman takes an interest in Grampa’s rambling stories about his life, and it isn’t long before his tales become popular local literature. This leads to Homer getting jealous of this mysterious stranger, only to find his intentions may actually be of a sinister nature. Also there’s a B-plot about Bart and some frigging stuffed lamb.

The reaction: One of Grampa’s hallmarks were his long rambling nonsense stories, I’m kinda shocked it took until episode 450 for them to try to make a full episode of it. But where before we got wonderful ridiculous moments of Abe as a cabaret singer performing for Hitler or his recently immigrated family filling the head of the Statue of Liberty with garbage, the tales here are decidedly less interesting. This episode plays this once hysterical character quirk much more seriously, and none of what the characters say or do makes me feel like it deserves to be. This is another show where it feels like nothing is happening, because you never get a sense of who is enjoying reading Grampa’s stories or why, and how many people know about the publications? So when things completely switch gears when we see Goldman is planning to kill Abe to get a Pulitzer Prize, it’s so out of left field that even if it was trying it couldn’t make me care about the “dramatic” climax.

Three items of note:
– I couldn’t have less to say about the B-story. Krabappel gives out a stuffed lamb for kids to take care during the weekend? That seems too juvenile for fourth graders, yet they all go apeshit. Then by the end, we get more out-of-character Bart where he randomly becomes remorseful about losing the doll. That stupid lamb ain’t no Mr. Honey Bunny.
– I feel like this episode could have worked had they laid more emphasis on how Homer and the family took Grampa’s ramblings for granted. When you’re taking something that’s been used as a joke for decades, you have to do a bit more extra leg work to make it stick here when you’re playing it serious. They have, oh, two quick lines about it, before we move onto dynamite material like Homer screaming at himself in the mirror and breaking it, or that endless bit at the beginning of Marge looking through all her camera photos. Twenty seconds never felt so long.
– We don’t know a goddamn thing about Marshall Goldman, who I guess is a main character in this episode. The reveal of his plans is so bizarre since absolutely nothing felt like it was leading up to that. And even that could have been excusable if they had developed his “aww shucks” innocent persona and then contrasted it with a short monologue about him being a selfish greedy crazy person. Instead, they just flip the cartoonishly evil dial for the duration of the show. Also, Abe breaks a bottle on his head and he doesn’t even flinch. What is he, a fucking cyborg? But never mind, he get incapacitated by a bunch of hat boxes that fall on him. Okay.

One good line/moment: Had to dig deep for this one. Uncovering Goldman’s evil plot, Homer spots a mock up poster for the film version of Abe’s series of stories. Subbing for Grampa is a Jim Henson Creature Shop creation; the drawing of the stuffed Abe in a wheelchair with a wall-eyed expression made me smile.

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449. O Brother, Where Bart Thou?

obrotherwherebartthouOriginal airdate: December 13, 2009

The premise: Seeing how great a bond Lisa and Maggie have, Bart longs for that kind of connection with a brother of his own. Unable to trick his parents into conceiving one for him, Bart then opts to check out the orphanage, where he peaks the interest of impressionable young lad Charlie (voiced by Jordan Nagai, Russell from Up).

The reaction: Similar to “Pranks and Greens,” writing for Bart seems to be real difficult. I feel I could meet them halfway with Bart wanting a brother, but as this show is want to do nowadays, everything is painfully spelled out to us, most during a gigantic monologue exposition dump by Lisa about her irreplaceable sisterly bond with Maggie and how Bart will never have that. From there, we have a bunch of schemes he pulls to get his mother pregnant… which plays more unseemly than intended, at least to me. When Marge confronts him about it, Bart cranks it to “Bart the Mother” mode and tears start flowing. Who is this kid, and where’s Bart? A lot of these episodes feel so thin and unmemorable so far. At least the horrible Marge/Flanders thing from “Nada” will stick with me. These last few shows, what is there? The horrible South Park “parody”? Five seconds of the Plow King for nostalgia points? No dice.

Three items of note:
– It’s always easiest to highlight the diametric opposite nature of the show in its prime and the show now when they retread on jokes they’ve done before. Bart waits with bated breath for the announcement that his school will have a snow day… but to no avail. Back in “Skinner’s Sense of Snow” in season 12, they did the same joke, except it felt snappier and was told quicker (“Springfield Elementary… My Dear Watson Detective School. And lastly, Springfield Elementary… is open. And it’s open season on savings at Springfield Menswear… which is closed. Here, they do three fake ones, whereas they did only one before, then we get see Chalmers and Skinner at the radio station, who are making these announcements for some reason, openly admit they were fucking with Bart. What? When you’re a kid, waiting by the radio to hear those sweet sweet words of freedom, it seems like it takes forever; it’s funny in the old version because of the announcer’s completely lack of understanding that his phrasing and pauses is bizarrely misleading. The joke isn’t that your superintendent is messing with you on purpose, seemingly having nothing better to do with his time.
– This episode is on guest star overload: for Bart’s dream inspiring him to want a brother, we get the three Manning brothers, and the Smothers Brothers, who do a little routine that eats up a good amount of screen time. I’ve seen bits they’ve done that are kinda funny, but here, they’re just… not. Their humor style doesn’t exactly fit the show. Kim Cattrall, not already having an abnormally huge part in a previous episode, returns to do one line as Bart’s hypothetical third sister in a dream. But the standout is Jordan Nagai as Charlie; he’s just a kid, but I thought he did a really good job. He certainly didn’t sound like Russell, it was a different character to me.
– The resolution to the story is kind of weird to me. Bart takes Charlie to a horror movie and freaks him the hell out, which for some reason makes him feel regret. I guess he’s going to learn a lesson about responsibility? Then Charlie seems to betray him to Chief Wiggum, but is turning a double play and they run off. After our obligatory dumb “dramatic” climax, we see Charlie’s ultimate fate is being adopted by a family with six daughters. Alright, whatever. We’ll never see him again anyway.

One good line/moment: For once, I actually have a couple bits to choose from. “Be cool, he’s an orphan! You know, just like Annie, except he’s a dude and he hates tomorrow.” “I hate it so much!” Nagai’s emphatic read on that made me laugh.

448. Rednecks and Broomsticks

rednecksandbroomsticksOriginal airdate: November 29, 2009

The premise: Lisa stumbles upon a trio of Wiccans, and becomes interested in their beliefs and practices, leading to her having to defend them when the town incurs their own modern day witch hunt. Meanwhile, Homer becomes chummy with Cletus once he discovers he and his fellow hillbillies’ penchant for underground beer brewing.

The reaction: What shocked me most in a lot of the season 20 episodes is how at times there would be no story. Things would be happening on screen, but there was no feel of progression, or meaning, or characters caring about what was happening. This is one of those shows. There’s this stuff about the Wiccans seemingly having powers and making the town go blind (again, expecting us to buy this crap, and wait for the SHOCKING reveal), but there seems to be absolutely zero care in establishing who these characters are, what they do, or what they believe, apart from one or two paltry lines about believing in nature or some bullshit. On that note, Lisa’s affiliation with them, and her departing line where she considers them friends, rings completely hollow since you barely see them in the episode. More time is spent with Homer and Cletus, which at the very least crosses into the main story, serving as our explanation for the mystery. Why are Lisa episodes so damn empty? She used to be such a rich, soulful character. Then again, so did everyone else…

Three items of note:
– On the long drive home, the kids drive Homer and Marge nuts playing a handheld game “Bonk It,” clearly a “parody” of Bop It. But that thing came out in the 90s, I remember seeing commercials for it when I was a kid. Was there a grand Bop It resurgence with a new generation of kids that I don’t know about? Whatever. All I know is they’re playing that thing for over a minute of screen time, which the show in its prime would have used to tell more than one joke.
– Lisa’s skepticism of the Wiccans’ power is absolved when she miraculously gets a substitute teacher on the day she had forgotten to do her art project. Why not? Never explained. Just a plot contrivance. The substitute just keeps screaming “Which craft?!” until it hammers the point home.
– Desperate, sad, pathetic Moe takes an even darker turn, in which he expresses disappointment that Cletus and his fellow hillbillies weren’t planning on gang raping him. I really wish I were making this up.

One good line/moment: A quick shot of Ned’s speed dials, where we see one for the “Nipple-Slip hotline.”

447. Pranks and Greens

pranksandgreensOriginal airdate: November 22, 2009

The premise: Bart is shocked to find he is not Springfield Elementary’s greatest prankster, an “honor” held by twenty-something manchild Andy Hamilton (voiced by Jonah Hill). Feeling bad for his poor lot in life, Bart attempts to help Andy get a job. Meanwhile, Marge comes under fire from her fellow Springfield mothers for serving their babies unhealthy snacks, so she resolves to go completely organic.

The reaction: This is another one of those shows that really illustrates how the writers don’t know how to write for Bart anymore. He feels jealous of this Andy character, then enamored by him, then for some reason is goaded by Lisa into thinking he’s a loser and wants to help straighten his life out. Remember the great cutaways to Bart’s mind showing him as a wandering drifter, betting all his money at a casino and losing, or becoming a literal monster from testing food additives? He’s ten years old, he thinks those are awesome depictions of adulthood. Why the fuck does Bart care about this guy’s life? By the second half, he’s like this stern parent figure to Andy, a role that just doesn’t make sense with Bart at all. And another tension-free ending that they try to play up for drama; you know as soon as you see that worm truck that it’s all part of Krusty’s act, but we’re stuck watching two minutes of them pretending it’s not. As for the B-story, it’s pretty much a collection of the most basic health food jokes (Buying organic is expensive! Carrying a reusable grocery bag is effeminate!)

Three items to note:
– We see before Andy’s master prank, Skinner was actually a laid back, cool dude? That just doesn’t compute with me. Also, how could he have NOT seen the entire fucking pool is filled with worms as soon as he walked outside?
– Andy waxes on about how in his day, they couldn’t film their pranks for YouTube. It feels like such an odd line, considering Bart has been ten since 1987. Seeing the Simpsons utilizing new technology has always felt weird to me; it took a while to get used to them just using a computer.
– At Marge’s Mommy meets, we see baby Gerald and his equally unibrowed mother; he’s Maggie’s infant archnemesis, but I guess you gotta work with the characters you got. Though there’s one token random mother and child thrown in there to fill out the group. Also ridiculous is you have Selma and Ling, who just wordlessly go along with the crowd in shaming and deserting Marge.

One good line/moment: Looking at old newspaper records on a monitor, Bart commands, “Zoom in and enhance!” Lisa shrugs, and simply pushes Bart’s head closer to the screen.

446. The Devil Wears Nada

ImageOriginal airdate: November 15, 2009

The premise: Mr. Burns instates Carl as new supervisor of sector 7G, which randomly turns him into a workaholic, which in turn leads to Homer running himself ragged as his assistant. Meanwhile, Marge finds herself feeling extry randy following a sexy photo shoot she did for a charity calendar, but is disappointed to find her husband too exhausted to ravage her. When Homer and Carl leave for a conference in France, Marge finds herself in a tempting situation with the most unlikeliest of men: Ned Flanders.

The reaction: A very perplexing episode. What was with hardass boss Carl? He and Lenny were never really super developed characters, but seeing him switch to overdrive like this was just weird to see. And apparently as a supervisor of one section of the plant, he’s sent overseas to manage major business deals with multiple other countries. And he leaves Homer in charge of his entire life? Rather than his natural ineptitude being used as comedy, Homer instead is only shown as exhausted for having to work so hard. Huh? Meanwhile Marge’s embarrassment over the calendar switches over into general horniness in one scene, and the other women in her club, and a brief runner over the school faculty torturing Bart over the pin-ups, are completely forgotten about for some reason. But most insulting of all is our ending, where we all have to humor the writers and pretend that the scenes with Marge and Flanders have some kind of dramatic tension. Are they going to have sex? Are they? No, of course fucking not. I can’t possibly think of a way that that could have worked.

Three items of note:
– The airdate of this show suspiciously correlates with Marge’s appearance in Playboy; the subject matter, even the chalkboard gag (“I do not have the hots for my mom”) seem to support some kind of tie-in. The whole Playboy thing just felt very wrong to me… beyond the content, it just felt like more of the show trying to grasp at any kind of media attention to still appear relevant, and what better way to do so in this all digital age than appearing in a print magazine? Why bother downloading a thousand vaginas instantly on your smart phone when you can walk down to a newsstand and ogle at drawings of a partially clad jaundiced woman?
– Nelson and Milhouse ogling Marge’s calendar to taunt Bart in class, while Mrs. Krabappel apparently sits and does nothing, was disturbing enough, but things get ramped up even more as Skinner and Chalmers do the same thing right in front of him. Super, super gross.
– Turns out Carl was flirting, and possibly slept with, the wife of the French President, and Homer wiggles out from under his grasp by calling his bluff about phoning the President and exposing the truth. So, Homer’s just got Nicholas Sarkozy on speed dial? Sure, why not? Apparently clips of the scenes featuring the first family of France went a bit viral overseas, but a spokesman for the Elysee Palace claimed they had no comment regarding the episode. Smart move.

One good line/moment: Two decent sign gags, Shot in the Face Photo Studio, and the giant billboard outside the window at the hotel Homer and Marge go to (Enjoy the Ocean View, Right Behind This Sign.)

445. Treehouse of Horror XX

ImageOriginal airdate: October 18, 2009

The premise: This year’s Halloween anthology. “Dial ‘M’ for Murder, or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu” is a black-and-white Hitchcock-esque tale where Lisa unintentionally makes a deal with Bart to kill their respective teachers. “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind” features a “28 Days Later” zombie infestation following the release of mad cow burgers at Krusty Burgers. “There’s No Business Like Moe Business” is a “Sweeney Todd” riff wherein Moe attempts to woo Marge with his new and improved ale, sweetened with the blood of a dying Homer, presented as them all being actors performing the musical on stage.

The reaction: Yet another Treehouse of Horror that’s doesn’t even attempt to be the least bit scary, from the cold open featuring the classic movie monsters getting drunk and hitting on women at a party, to the final segment with the incessant fourth wall leaning. The first story has some atmosphere and good direction, but eventually resorts to just throwing as many Hitchcock references at the screen as possible in the final chase scene. The second story has no time for jokes with so much story and explaining needed to be done in seven minutes, which basically is just a straight retelling of 28 Days Later (if not obvious enough, it opens with the chyron “28 Days Later…”) The third story is just befuddling, this gruesome story told in such a light-hearted, meta way, ended up just leaving me cold. The last Halloween show I truly enjoyed was Treehouse of Horror X, which we’re a good decade past here, and it couldn’t show more.

Three items of note:
– Criss cross! Criss cross! Criss cross! Criss cross! Shut up.
To further push Marge from fond memories of her departed husband, Moe concocts a fake note from Homer, who claims he’s gone gay. This leads to a big musical number from Homer, over how many different men all around the world he wants to fuck! (“I want to French kiss a Frenchman, and spoon an English duke, ’cause frankly, dear, to not be queer, just makes me want to puke!”) You could excuse the awfulness of the song, opening with Homer reminiscing “turning gay the other day” by the fact that Moe wrote it, but it’s still pretty atrocious to watch. Also, what the fuck is this doing in the Halloween show?!
– The scariest thing in the whole show? The executive producer credits. Al “20 More Years” Jean. [shudders]

One good line/moment: “Ding-dong-ditch means you kill her, then you throw that ding-dong into a ditch! Jeez, pick up a book!” – Bart

444. The Great Wife Hope

The Great Wife Hope(originally aired October 11, 2009)
It’s finally here, the last episode. As I mentioned at the very beginning, my departure of the series came not with a bang, but a whimper. The show just didn’t interest me anymore, and it’s episodes like these, and the many seasons prior, that explain why. The template for this one seems to be lifted from “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge;” Marge is outraged by a media outlet affecting her children and protests against it. Except that episode actually had points to make about glorified TV violence, censorship, stifling creativity… this one is really about nothing. The subject of Marge’s scorn is basically MMA fighting, via the cleverly titled Ultimate Punch Kick and Choke Championship. She raises a stink about it, but in such on-the-nose dialogue that makes her out to look like an idiot (“Call me a killjoy, but I think that because this is not to my taste, no one else should be able to enjoy it.”) When she calls out the creator of the sport, he agrees he’ll shut down his company, if she can best him in a fight in the ring.

So, that’s the episode: Marge has to train for the fight, the fight happens, Marge wins. That’s all that happens. These plots are so goddamn thin; we used to get shows so, so, so much meatier than this watered-down imitation gruel. The ending is so predictable too, where Marge’s motherly instincts kick in when Bart jumps in to fight the guy, and she kicks his ass. Yawn. There’s really not much left with this one to mention, it barely even registers. And that’s exactly what happened when I watched it. I was busy so I had it playing in the background while I was doing some work. Then later in the day, I had forgotten what had happened in the episode. Sundays at 8pm used to be an event, now they were like this time-tested obligation that I was shackled to. All the excuses evaporated away by the simple fact that I just wasn’t entertained anymore. So that was it, I just thought, “Y’know, I think I’m done here.” And that was it. And now, this is it: the last Simpsons I ever watched first run.

Tidbits and Quotes
– The jokes come slow and obvious: Homer relishing at one of the fighter’s self-inflicted pain, then he pokes his eye with a straw! Lenny and Carl comment about how homoerotic the sport is! Marge is thankful Homer isn’t there to see Bart’s fight, and we pan over to see him chanting with the other kids! Then there’s the whole runner with Nelson’s dream of being an event planner… whatever the fuck that was about.
– Marge and the other women with the protest signs really echoes “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” but again, without any of the meaning or satire. Moe’s “Bring Back Wagon Train” sign is truly missed.
– Marge’s training is just one boring set piece after another. We get a return from Akira, who we haven’t seen in a while, and she bouts with Burns for no reason, just another outlet for the pathetic old man to become even more sad and nonthreatening.
– Really unpleasant joke where Krusty cavalierly admits he’s been seeing Sideshow Mel’s wife for eleven years and wants to dump her. It feels so hateful and disturbing…
– Marge is about to enter the ring and possibly get the shit beaten out of her, but brainiac Lisa astutely recognizes a word of encouragement from Bart is actually a haiku. Sure, why not?
– Homer waves the American and Canadian flags for some reason when Marge gets her groove back… whatever. Thank God I’m done with this garbage… almost.

Bonus episodes coming soon, then a wrap-up.