Original airdate: March 4, 2012
The premise: Bart vents his frustration with his father through tagging a series of unflattering representations of him throughout the city. This creative spree comes to the attention of other street artists, who help arrange a solo show for Bart’s work.
The reaction: This episode almost feels like a checklist of a lot of the problems plaguing the show now. We start out with a couch gag themed after Game of Thrones, meaning they just re-did the Game of Thrones opening title sequence but with Springfield. That’s not a parody. It’s a re-creation. It’s an extended tribute to this show that the staff loves. Referencing something does not make it entertaining or funny. That’s some Friedberg/Seltzer shit. This leads right into our opening set piece, set at Springfield’s very own Trader Joe’s named… Swapper Jack’s. I guess we’re supposed to laugh because we recognize what it is? Again, it’s just a re-creation. Those poor background artists work so hard on these elaborate new settings, all for the purpose of nothing, aside from a few pithy comments that don’t even come close to actual satire. It also rings as more SoCal-izing of Springfield; I know Trader Joe’s has spread nationwide, but I had never heard of one before coming to LA. But as for the actual story, Homer gets mad at Bart and forces him to sleep in a rabbit’s cage (don’t really feel like going into that further), and in retaliation, he makes a bunch of stencils to enact his revenge, a parody of the Andre the Giant “OBEY” image, but with Homer’s face reading “DOPE.” Then, a montage, where we see the image is everywhere: coast guard flags, billboards, airplanes… two ten-year-olds manage to accomplish all this, somehow. Bart also apparently has some untapped art skills, as he also throws some Banksy-esque graffiti pieces into the mix. This calls the attention of some of the most famous street artists, who immediately offer to host a gallery show of his work. So, it’s another “Simpson is an instant success” story; once a normal rambunctious kid with an “El Barto” street tag, now Bart is an extremely skilled and talented artist. By the end of the show, Homer feels humiliated, and Bart makes it up to him by spray painting his car, exponentially increasing its value. So the conflict of the show was solved by Bart’s exorbitant wealth and success! This show feels more like wish fulfillment than satire.
Three items of note:
– As evidenced by the title, there is an Apu story in here, which is barely even a plot, as it lasts all of three scenes. The first as at the Swapper Jack’s when Apu is offended overhearing Homer saying he’s going to do all his shopping here from now on. But Springfield has a grocery store; the Kwik-E-Mart has usually been when the Simpsons need to pick up stuff quick. This ultimately leads to Homer and Apu having a little fight with toothpick swords. The “joke” is that it’s treated super seriously and goes through the motions of a typical movie sword fight. But, really, what’s going on in the minds of our characters? Why are they doing this? Once Apu gets Homer pinned, then what? He’s going to stab him multiple times with that little sword? Eight minutes later is our next scene, where a disheveled Apu attempts to rob the store, and new employee Snake talks him down. Clearly, this role-reversal is the only reason they did this. It might have been clever if it was set up at all. We don’t see the Kwik-E-Mart in financial crisis, or return to Swapper Jack’s at all since the opening, so it’s random and unexpected to just return there to continue this “plot.” Three minutes after that is our final scene: Apu is boarding up the Kwik-E-Mart when Manjula arrives to tell him Swapper Jack’s is going out of business for selling monkey meat. We don’t see that either. This “plot” is all just characters telling us things that happened. I’d say this story sounds way more interesting than the street art shit, but I’m sure if they devoted more screen time to it, I’d probably hate it just as much.
– So, we up our guest star count some more with the street artists: Kenny Scharf, Robbie Conal, Ron English, and, given the biggest role, Shepard Fairy. They show up, introduce themselves, talk about how cool street art is, and praise Bart for his work and offer him a show. Where’s the humor in all this? I loved Exit Through the Gift Shop, and honestly, if you’re a comedy writer and you can’t think of some solid jokes about the business and culture of street artists after watching that movie, you should probably be considering a new career. But as is the case with most guest stars now, their role is not to be mocked, or poke fun, or anything of any substance, just show up because we love you and the work you do, and say a few lines that sort of kind of mildly rib you a little but not really. I was stunned that they actually influenced the plot slightly in having Shepard be an undercover cop, but they over-explained the joke, and it was a joke they basically made in his first scene about him being hypocritical. Also infuriating is Bart not knowing who Shepard is, despite his “DOPE” piece being a riff off his “OBEY” piece, which he cites by name in his introduction.
– Through the whole show, Homer is painfully oblivious to the fact that it’s his face all over town. This is the sort of thing you’d play for laughs in one scene, let alone through the whole episode. They just keep stretching it out, to the point that Homer silences his own brain with beer to prevent him from hearing the truth. Then, with four or so minutes to go, Bart is awoke from a dream by his father strangling him, who has figured it out off-screen apparently. Then he’s just sad that Bart doesn’t respect him, and the two have a limp make-up at the end. It’s more of the show just going through the motions of these emotional beats just start and stop with no build up or motivation. Homer’s angry, and then he just switches to sad.
One good line/moment: The art show turned out to be a police sting. Lou appears as a centaur pointing a bow and arrow at Bart, which is weird. But then as the scene progresses, we see that Eddie was the horse end, and he detaches to handcuff Bart. The fact that it just happened unmentioned was a nice little background joke.