Category Archives: Season 24

523. Black Eyed, Please

Original airdate: March 10, 2013

The premise:
Ned finally reaches his breaking point with Homer’s boorish behavior and punches him in the face, leaving him wrought with guilt on how to make things right. Meanwhile, the new 2nd grade substitute Ms. Cantwell has an inexplicable hatred of Lisa, and Lisa is determined to find out why.

The reaction: Two more underwhelming stories to toss on the pile. What ultimately sends Ned off the deep end is Homer getting chummy (and getting high with) Ned’s parents. It seems like such a weird callback from fifteen years ago; with Ned’s deep seeded anger re-emerging, it felt like a spiritual sequel to “Hurricane Neddy,” an episode that I was conflicted on regarding Ned’s characterization. There was really not much of a build-up to Ned punching Homer, nor any real discussion about it being provoked from years of Homer’s abuse or anything. Instead, Homer lords it over Ned, claiming if he doesn’t fight back, he’s the better man. Then we get a scene where the town reacts to Ned as a monster and Homer a hero a la the third act of “Homer Loves Flanders,” except it isn’t earned at all. As for the B-plot, it’s just awful, probably the worst “story” we’ve seen in a long time. Lisa gets a new substitute, a woman who from the very start hates her. Just flat-out hates her. Vindictively. Yes, she does come off as a suck-up at the start, but by the second half of the show, she’s visibly traumatized by this woman. So for the entire episode, it’s a huge mystery: what is this broad’s deal? I knew the payoff would be stupid and disappointing, but I wasn’t expecting how half-hearted it would come off. But if I can give the episode credit, it actually wove the two stories together: Homer decides to call it square with Ned only if his new wife Edna can help Lisa get rid of Ms. Cantwell (bonus points for actually using Ned and Edna together as well). So Bart is transferred into her class, raises hell, and Ms. Cantwell takes off in her car. It takes Lisa clinging to her windshield to finally get a straight answer out of her: she hates Lisa because she’s pretty. That’s it. That’s the conclusion. There’s no build-up to this, nothing in her behavior that this clears up, nothing. I guess she’s just an emotionally disturbed woman who had a horrible childhood, and now decides to get her rocks off emotionally abusing an eight-year-old girl. I was expecting to be unsatisfied, but this was incredibly unsatisfying. And they got Tina Fey to voice her, what a gargantuan waste of a huge talent for such an awful character.

Three items of note:
– We get another couch gag from Bill Plympton, a black-and-white graphite piece of the Simpsons as film noir characters about to get into a skirmish. It’s kinda neat, but not as great as his last couch gag with Homer and the couch.
– Rather than explore the source of Ned’s rage more or talk about Homer and Ned’s long-standing relationship, we get a nightmare of Ned’s personal hell, full of guys in non-Jesus beards, spicy mustard, and a giant Richard Dawkins Satan. When Ned wakes up, he consults the Bible for advice, where we get Marvin Gaye playing as he scans through naughty passages talking about semen on the ground and whoremongers. Did a ten-year-old write this part of the script?
– Speaking of ten-year-old humor, here’s another fucking awful joke. Homer has reservations about punching Ned, but he is insistent (“Come on, Homer, I’m insisting on a fisting!”) The camera pans out to reveal Smithers beside them (“What’s this about a fisting?”) You see, because Smithes is a gay man, and that means he enjoys the sexual act of fisting with another man! That’s what gay guys do, right? It’s funny because HE’S GAY!!! I was wondering why exactly this scene was happening at the plant, we see Ned with a little visitor’s badge on, and my sad, sad guess is that they came up with that Smithers joke, and decided to make the scene take place at the plant. Siiiiiiiggh.

One good line/moment:
– The bullies are astonished to learn Lisa’s teacher is a bully, they didn’t consider that as a career option. Dolph is psyched (“Boo-yah! I’m gonna buy me a Hyndai Elantra!”) Only funny to me because I have that car. As well as a third of all the cars I see around Los Angeles.

522. Gorgeous Grampa

Original airdate: March 3, 2013

The premise:
The Simpsons learn more about Abe’s past, when he was the prim and proper wrestling villain known as Gorgeous Godfrey. As his biggest fan back in the day, Mr. Burns convinces him to make a comeback and fuel his hate fire, but Homer and Marge grow concerned when an impressionable Bart begins to imitate his grandfather’s awful behavior.

The reaction: Boy, we’re learning a lot about Abe’s past this season, aren’t we? So Abe was a pretty boy wrestler? Like him being a songwriter at a jazz club, it just doesn’t make sense to me given what we know about Abe. Would the straight-laced man who booed at Woodstock and chastised Joe Namath’s luscious locks have been wearing his own gorgeous wig and showboating in the ring? Anyway, Mr. Burns randomly shows up to invite the Simpsons to his mansion, where he has an entire gigantic room devoted to Gorgeous Godfrey merchandise and paraphernalia. This also feels off to me; Burns being a wrestling superfan, who is surprised to learn that it’s actually fake? The point, I guess, is that Burns connecting to Godfrey’s character, a pompous jackass who reveled in the crowd’s hatred of him. Abe initially left the scene when the scorn became too great for him, but is wooed back into it thanks to Burns and a terrible song (more on that later). Despite being out of the game for decades, Abe seems just as fit and capable as ever. He’s fighting fellow seniors, but he’s in the ring doing spins and jumping up to tackle guys; look at that screenshot, he’s got nary a wrinkle on him. You’d think that would be the easiest source of comedy for this episode, but it’s not even regarded. The conflict arises in Bart’s hero worship of his grandfather, as he adopts his showboating routine to his little league game, and gets in trouble for it. Why would he be doing this though? We’ve seen Bart imitate things from TV before, but to do cool stuff for the adoration and amazement of others, like “Bart the Daredevil.” He revels in the attention, and the positive response of his classmates, as any kid would want. But to take pleasure in being outwardly hated, what sense does that make? And surely Bart is smart enough to realize that wrestling is all for show, and that the context is completely different. But I guess if Mr. Burns was surprised to learn that fact, I guess Bart wouldn’t have known either. The ending is so cloying, with shots of Abe worriedly watching Bart behave badly, and then giving up his persona because of it (“My grandson’s soul is at stake!”) The Burns/Abe/Bart dynamic reminded me of “Flying Hellfish” toward the second half, but I didn’t want to compare the two because it would be incredibly unfair. One of the greatest episodes ever, versus whatever this mess is.

Three items of note:
– We get a Harlem Shake video as our couch gag, and in a rare feat, they actually aired this when the meme was actually still relevant. I’m sure people were real pissed about it like the Ke$ha opening before it, but my annoyance comes more from the show just not trying to make a joke or a subversion or anything. It’s just them doing the Harlem Shake; just play into what’s currently trending so we can get some press, please! We need press!
– We open with some Storage Wars bullshit, which feels born of one of the writers lying on the couch marathoning the show and not having any other ideas. All the characters put on shades before the bidding war, which I guess is a thing they do on the show. I guess? Again, parodies on the show used to work and make sense even if you haven’t seen the source material. The storage locker the Simpsons win contains old wigs and boas, and when they see it belongs to Abe, they jump to the conclusion that he’s actually been a closeted gay man this whole time. There’s a running “joke” involving Marge wanting to be extra tolerant for her own self-satisfaction of seeming progressive, which feels very strange given her normally open and loving character, and also because she already has experience with an openly gay family member with Patty. When Abe’s true identity is revealed, Marge cries to Homer, “I so wanted him to be gay!” So weird.
– Mr. Burns woos Abe back to the wrestling life the only way he knows how: through song, about how good it is to be bad. This is the first big song we’ve seen from the show in a while, and boy is it terrible. It didn’t help that I had just recently listened to “See My Vest,” and the two could not be more different. “Vest” is a song all about Burns’ enthusiastic mirth about skinning helpless animals for their coats, but that it’s a catchy, upbeat number (amongst other things) is what makes it funny. Burns has always teetered toward being a self-aware villain who revels in being evil, but there is usually always some sort of reasoning or context to his dastardly deeds. In this song, it’s just Burns singing about how much he loves being hated. It’s his Card-Carrying Villain song; there’s no other joke to it other than “I am bad guy.” Then when they quickly run out of ideas for lyrics, they just have Burns listing off pop culture villains like Megatron, Eric Cartman and Voldemort, despite his cultural knowledge normally not extending past the 1910s. Harry Shearer’s performance feels so half-hearted, and I really can’t blame him.

One good line/moment: The Simpsons walk in on Abe carefully putting the finishing touches on his army tank in a bottle. Pretty clever for a quick joke.

521. Hardly Kirk-ing

Original airdate: February 17, 2013

The premise:
After some horseplay with Bart leaves Milhouse mostly bald, making him looking just like Kirk, the two boys reap the benefits of being able to do adult things for once.

The reaction: With an abridged opening title, this episode barely creaks in at eighteen minutes, and it really feels like a chore getting there. With such a simple story with no real driving forward momentum, it’s just like a bunch of isolated gags that don’t really feel like they’re going anywhere. The episode gets its mileage out of the worn concept of a kid trying to act like an adult, with a bald Milhouse and what appears to be a magical tie that, when pulled up against his throat tight enough, makes him sound exactly like his father. Then it just becomes a bunch of skits; they rent a truck, they buy the bullies booze and porno mags, they go to Moe’s, and they bully Homer on Skype, who for some reason goes along with whatever the normally passive pushover “Kirk” says. This then leads to the boys helping Lisa go to a trendy new jazz club with Milhouse as their surrogate adult. But even with an actual story twelve minutes in, it feels a little aimless. Bart and Milhouse get into a fight at the bus station, with the latter shedding his adult disguise, in a confrontation that goes nowhere. Then, to get more money, they attend a condo sales presentation, comedic ground that feels well trodden at this point (I felt South Park salted the Earth with their Aspen timeshare story in an episode over ten years before this). Also there, we get an incredibly uncomfortable sequence of the presentation woman getting hot and bothered by Milhouse, and going to hook up with him in the closet, while Bart and Lisa, his “kids,” are there too. But then Homer and Marge find the kids, Kirk and Milhouse have a moment, and then it just ends. It felt like the underwhelming ending of “Guardian,” where the writers just throw up their hands and abandon the episode. The show just keeps barreling on through the years, but episodes like this makes me wonder if the writers really care about what they’re doing.

Three items of note:
– The opening features Marge tearing her children away from watching educational videos, after finding out studies showing that they don’t actually work, and may actually harm your kids more than help. This over-belabored setup feels like one of the writers had just read that article and decided to put it in an episode. It’s just so drawn out (“Wait a minute, didn’t Bart and I both watch this thing when we were little? Well the obvious question is, why did I turn out so… academically superior, while Bart…”) We get it. We all get it. This later works its way into the main story as Bart, Lisa and Milhouse go after their cash settlement for damages from the company. There’s also a sort-of B-story featuring Homer using his newly honed activity book skills of finding out-of-place objects in the real world, which I’ll admit was pretty cute.
– I noticed it in “Guardian, and it happened again here, Luann Van Houten’s voice sounded slightly tinny, like it was recorded one room over or something. Did they have Maggie Roswell on a bad ISDN connection or something?
– Seriously, that ending with that horndog woman was really kind of disturbing. After a show full of Milhouse saying and doing naive childlike things in adult situations, this felt like the ultimate cliche capper to it: kids don’t know what innuendo is! Plus, they kind of already did this, in the episode way back where Bart and Milhouse find Homer’s old censored Playdudes. But it all felt gross. And there’s no reaction from the woman when it’s revealed she was just about to fuck a ten-year-old. It felt like a bad and lazy version of what we’d later see with Vincent Adultman in BoJack Horseman. That show openly acknowledges the absurdity of the character, but also swings around to treating him seriously, so you’re never quite sure if he’s actually three kids in a coat or not. It crafted some really smart and funny sequences from this set-up, material this episode doesn’t even come close to whatsoever.

One good line/moment: The Homer finding out-of-place stuff I mentioned earlier was kind of enjoyable. I also like the sign gag for the book store (The Land of Forevermore: Closing in Three Weeks).

520. Love is a Many Splintered Thing

Original airdate: February 10, 2013

The premise:
Mary Spuckler returns to Springfield, only to find that Bart couldn’t care less about spending any quality time with her. When she breaks up with him, Bart, along with his newly martially estranged father, must figure out how to win their women back.

The reaction: Ah, corporate synergy. Thanks to New Girl, Zooey Deschanel’s Mary is back for the second time this season. Everybody’s favorite character, right? Right? This episode serves as almost a mirror image of “Moonshine River;” instead of Bart pining away at his lost love and traveling across the country to get her back, here we see Bart actively ignore and disregard Mary, driving her away. It’s really pretty bizarre, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, since there’s still been no indication of who Mary is and why this relationship matters. Like I mentioned before, Mary’s introductory episode “Apocalypse Cow” was not romantic; she and Bart were friends that ended up being roped into a hillbilly marriage by her father. In these two episodes, their relationship is being treated almost like this long-standing important thing that doesn’t exist. Lisa pulls Bart aside, chastising him, “You will not do better than Mary Spuckler!” Does Lisa know something we don’t? The entire first half of the episode features Bart failing to pass incredibly low bars in relationships such as giving a shit about the other person and basic human empathy. Again, the opposite of “Moonshine,” Bart acts like a normal, attention-deficient kid, not really knowing or caring how a relationship works. He seems to not give any less of a shit, but when Mary leaves him, he’s depressed and wants her back. Why? Why? Whhhyyyyy? The back half of the show involves Homer being thrown out of the house after an argument with Marge, and he and Bart staying at a motel with other troubled husbands. How will they solve their collective predicaments? Homer has a solution: get inspired from movies! They watch a Love, Actually “parody” involving the mending of a relationship via a grand romantic gesture, and then that’s what they do. The wives are invited to the motel to a grand symphony orchestra playing at the men stand there in tuxedos with sad puppy dog eyes, and the women fall for it, hook, line and sinker. The show used to actively subvert typical sitcom and film tropes, exposing them for the hollow, unrealistic depictions of reality they were. This show openly uses said tropes, but tries to get a pass by acknowledging the trope itself. It’s the same as when they try to excuse bad jokes or bad writing by making a joke that it’s bad. But that doesn’t make it good. It just reinforces to the audience that it sucks.

Three items of note:
– This episode features two instances of characters blatantly appearing in a scene to tell their joke and leave. They’re practically like drive-by appearances as they walk through the scene, spouting their joke as they go. First with Skinner joking that a caterpillar would actually give their Sloppy Joes some actual meat, and then later with Homer and Abe walking through a scene, saying they represent Bart’s best possible future. It’s so damn lazy. Why bother animating a walk, why not just have a character appear in a bubble on the screen to say their joke quickly and move on?
– There’s a wraparound device of Bart dressed as Woody Allen semi-narrating the entire story, moaning on and on about how he just doesn’t understand women and he’s out of his depth, and how he screwed up, blah blah blah. A caricatured Allen shows up at certain points through the episode as well to give him pointers. This all feels very strange and uncomfortable given Allen’s romantic history in real life… ’nuff said. It gets odder at the end where we see Woody-Bart checking adult Mary’s Facebook and seeing it’s been changed to single (after her husband just died, no less). But, it still looks and sounds like kid Bart. What is this? Is this entire thing a reference to a specific Allen film?
– The show makes a joke about how Homer is basically a regular at the local motel and that Marge throws him out of the house on a regular basis. The undercurrent of this bit is incredibly sad. The only two instances of this happening in the classic years that I can recall is “Homer’s Night Out” and “Secrets to a Successful Marriage,” and in both instances, it’s treated fairly seriously, with both parties being devastated by their alienation, and actively working toward mending fences. Here, it’s just a big goof. Oh, that crazy wacky Homer and his nagging bitch wife! With a marriage as thin as tissue paper!

One good line/moment: Mary’s Bossa nova-esque break-up song to Bart is actually pretty darn catchy. And partially cathartic considering Bart’s constant negligence.

519. The Changing of the Guardian

Original airdate: January 27, 2013

The premise:
After surviving a tornado, Homer and Marge seek out legal guardians for the kids in the event of a catastrophe. Their search ends when they find a seemingly ideal couple, a surfer and an environmental lawyer, but they’re soon shocked to find they actually want to steal the kids away from them.

The reaction: Homer and Marge are driven into a panic over who will take care of the kids if they die, a pretty big decision (as openly expressed by both Marge and Lisa in the episode), that is handled with a weird levity, like the two trying to scope out a couple to swing with. They start with family members: Grampa is out, we get four seconds of Danny DeVito on the phone as Herb Powell (why bother?), and Patty & Selma are written off pretty quickly for some reason because they’ve turned Ling into an overworked overachieving toddler (she’s no longer an infant now, apparently she ages at the speed of the octuplets). They then visit the likes of Cletus, and Julio and the guy who tried to kiss Homer, which I know are supposed to be gags, but honestly, it throws the severity of the situation out the window when it looks like they’re just trying to get a ‘yes’ out of anyone in town, regardless if they’re responsible enough to raise children. Which leads to them trawling the affluent beach side of Springfield that I guess exists, scoping out rich childless couples. Who better to trust with your children’s lives than strangers? Upon meeting super couple Mav and Portia, after dinner that night, Marge proposes the idea of them becoming the kids’ guardians. I understand the point is that they’re rushing into it because they’re concerned, but it just feels super weird. I feel like Marge would want to do a thorough background check on these people, dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ before she gave them legal right to her precious babies. Instead, one day is enough, I guess. Mav and Portia ask if they can watch the kids for the weekend, and then all of a sudden we cut to a few weeks later after Homer and Marge have enjoyed some extended couples time together. The two are then shocked to find a portrait of Mav, Portia and the kids in a shop window, believing they want to take custody now. So, what’s going on here? Have they really not seen the kids in weeks? Or talked to them on the phone? The final confrontation of the two couples is probably the most limp-wristed climax I’ve seen from this show. Mav and Portia claim they fell in love with the kids, and it seemed like Homer and Marge couldn’t be bothered taking care of them. Which, from what we’ve seen, seems to be true; Homer and Marge had no problem letting strangers watch their kids for weeks on end with seemingly no communication between them. Mav and Portia also claim to have gone to “little league games and recitals” as well; where the fuck were Homer and Marge for those? Then, Bart and Lisa walk in and say they don’t want them as their new parents. Were they privy to any of this conversation? Or wondering where Homer and Marge were? What is happening? Then Mav and Portia just give up and walk out of their own house. The scene ends with Homer triumphantly shouting “We won!” Then giving a half-hearted “Woo-hoo.” That seems incredibly indicative of the writers’ true emotions. A barely thought out ending to a jumbled mess of an episode.

Three items of note:
– The first act involving the tornado is pretty terrible. Kicked off in perhaps the worst instance of characters just randomly showing up places, Lenny and Carl knock on the Simpson basement window to check in. Like, what the fuck are they doing there? Apparently they’re amateur storm chasers, so Homer and Marge go with them to try to find Santa’s Little Helper. And it makes total sense of Marge to leave her kids alone during a natural disaster, to go with them “to make sure no one does anything stupid.” Solid plan, Marge. Homer and Marge’s lives are endangered when an entire bank falls onto them, leaving them trapped between the revolving doors. The tension seems to be that they may never get out, not that an entire fucking building fell onto them and they could have been straight up crushed. But a glass cutter arrives later on and everything seems to be fine. But not after Wiggum takes a shot directly at Homer and Marge’s faces, only to find it to be bulletproof glass. How hilarious would that have been if they were actually shot in the face?
– This episode has two interminably elongated “gags.” First, some asinine discussion about what women find desirable between Homer, Lenny and Carl ends with the three holding one note for as long as they can to see who is most deserving of Marge. Or something like that. Twenty seconds feels like twenty hours. Second is where Homer and Marge find out everyone in town is avoiding them because they’ve heard they’re on the lookout for guardians. Crowds in the town square disperse around them as they walk back and forth, around and around in circles. We get three beats of them running into people and them running and hiding, that should be enough to get the joke. But then they drag it on for thirty more seconds.
– There’s a joke midway through the episode that feels really sad to me. The whole family are driving to search for new guardians, and Homer explains to the kids what their plan is for the first time. As he’s speaking, he hits a walrus in the middle of the road, the car flies through the air, hits a hand glider, then hits the road and keeps going. No one acknowledges it, no one cares, it’s like it never happened. Homer could have literally gotten everyone in the car killed with his recklessness, while having a conversation about taking precautions in case he and Marge die. And the fact that no one says a word about it means this is just a normal thing that happens that we shouldn’t even question, and that’s a little sad to me. But then again, I’m not the least bit surprised either.

One good line/moment: I got nothing this time. Anytime I have to scan back through the episode trying to see if I forgot anything I liked is normally a sign that there wasn’t anything worth noting.

518. A Test Before Trying

Original airdate: January 13, 2013

The premise:
District budget cuts call for the closure of the school with the lowest standardized test scores, and the fate of Springfield Elementary is the only student who skipped out on taking the test: Bart Simpson.

The reaction: Have you ever felt like watching a retread of “Bart Gets An F,” but worse? Well, I’ve got just the episode for you. Despite their differing set-ups, the meat of the back half of each of these shows are the same: everything rides on Bart getting a good grade on a big test, and for once, he actually cares about doing well. The motivation for “F,” obviously, is Bart not wanting to be held back a grade. We see him as a kid who earnestly tries to study, but is easily distracted and waylaid by other matters at home. He’s a sharp boy, but not really suited academically, and it’s a deep-seeded source of embarrassment to him, as we see in his outburst at the meeting with Dr. Pryor. I could go on and on about how brilliant “F” is, but the point is that we see exactly why Bart cares so much about passing that last test, we can get behind him and root for him for the rest of the show. In this episode, Bart getting a good grade will save the school from being shut down. So, why exactly would Bart care about this? We’ve seen on multiple occasions his daydreaming of the school’s utter destruction, much to his pleasure. There’s even one in this very episode, featuring Skinner’s hung body from the flagpole, which Bart chortles to himself at. So why should he care? Lisa effectively browbeats him into it multiple times throughout the show, resulting in Bart being scared straight by a weird nightmare of Springfield being the world’s dumbest city, or something. So we finally get to test time. How does Bart do? In “F,” in one of the earliest examples of sitcom convention subversion, he flunks it, but by demonstrating applied knowledge of a historical battle in a tearful outburst, Krabappel boosts him to a passing grade. By the skin of his teeth, Bart earned his happy ending. In “Trying,” Bart also barely passes, but as a result of a bug flying onto his scantron sheet over an oval. The proctor grades it by just looking at it, and I guess her eyesight is real bad because she can’t tell a penciled-in oval from a bug, so she gives it to him. So, the episode is Bart takes a test, he passes by a fluke, and the school is saved. How exciting. They should just remake all the old episodes as hollow, sorry versions of their past selves.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot also feels like a bit of a retread. Homer finds a parking meter at the dump and concocts a scam to bilk drivers out of a few quarters by placing it on curbs across town. Homer being so giddy over a plan that yields him very little money reminded me of the auto-dialer from “Lisa’s Date with Density.” That B-story at the time felt like an ominous precursor to years and years of wacky Homer-gets-a-job schemes and hi-jinks, but it was a cute little story for what it was. This time, it just feels pretty dumb. It seems like so much effort for so little reward, but it seems that overtime he’s amassed a humongous sack of quarters. He’s caught by Chief Wiggum, Homer bails and crashes his car trying to escape, busting the parking meter in the process. But then nothing happens with that. The ending involves Marge catching Homer with the money, him not really confessing to where he got it all, and then him ending up throwing all the coins down a wishing well. So, is this a happy ending or a sad ending? It’s an ending, that’s enough.
– Bart’s nightmare about a moronic Springfield is really weird, but what disturbs him the most is what has become of Springfield Elementary. It’s now a spinach farm, with fields of crops being tended to by an army of Popeyes. Bart laments, “What have I done?!” I don’t understand this. Is this like a dream non sequitur thing? I’m quite confused.
– Before the test, Marge runs into the female proctor at the Kwik-E-Mart and tries to appeal to her humanity. At the end as she’s leaving, Marge runs into her again, wondering if she gave Bart any extra help to get by. I guess this is meant to imply that she actually saw the last answer just had a bug on it but she let it slide anyway? It’s never made clear. It’s not like the proctor had any kind of character that she would need an arc to go through. The two of them barely had a conversation at all about it earlier. Marge then demurely asks if she’d like to go out for coffee or dinner, which is odd. It’s like she’s feebly trying to make a new friend (or asking her out?), except it wasn’t really set up earlier or anything. It just struck me as weird and out of place.

One good line/moment: The bug flying onto Bart’s test at the end was a callback to earlier in the episode, where we see Bart skipped out on the test the first time for more stimulating pursuits: lying around a field playing with said bug until nightfall. It was pretty damn adorable watching him play with that bug. Like last episode with him and Lisa at the fun zone, it’s pretty great seeing them actually behave like kids for once.

517. Homer Goes to Prep School

Original airdate: January 6, 2013

The premise:
Homer finds his way into an end-of-the-world survivalist group, and after inadvertently causing a town-wide power outage, carts his family off to prepare for the impending apocalypse.

The reaction: Tom Waits voices… that guy on the left. He’s never actually given a name, because I guess that would mean he would need a character as well. That happens a lot lately, like the cool hipster family they didn’t bother to give a last name to. He spews a bunch of apocalypse talk to Homer at Moe’s, and he ends up joining his prep squad or whatever. Said squad consists of Herman (makes sense), Chalmers (given recent, slightly annoying new characterization, I buy it), Lindsey Naegle (odd, but alright, whatever), and… Lt. Smash? The boy band Svengali/Navy recruiter? Did they really run out of characters? But it doesn’t really matter, none of them exhibit any real personality, they’re just there to exposit lines about stocking supplies and what to do if there’s an EMP or all this other stuff the writers read about doomsday preppers. Homer starts researching end-of-the-world strategies and hoarding food and hides it from his family, I guess to not worry or scare them? Even though the group says they’re all welcome to use their bunker outside of town. But that really doesn’t make any sense. All of the members are loner weirdos, so they happily invite Homer and his five dependents (Abe comes strapped to the car roof) to take up space and use up their supplies? The end “conflict” involves Homer being scolded by Marge about not caring about the lives of everyone else in town, as the preppers seemingly have no empathy toward their fellow man… except when it came to bringing in the Simpsons with open arms, apparently. This could have been an excellent point of contention, seeing the preppers’ animosity toward having to deal with outsiders and kids and Homer needing to defend them or something. Instead, it’s just more stuff happening for no real explained reason.

Three items of note:
– The “set-up” for Homer having paranoia about mass anarchy is from trauma he experienced when he was locked in a play place cafeteria with a bunch of dads going berserk and pummeling each other (it won’t make much more sense with more context, trust me). He envisions them all as crazed, out-of-control apes, and eight months later, he still is haunted by these memories. This feels even more like they should have constructed the episode with the preppers fueling Homer’s worries more, getting him to completely distrust and alienate himself from humanity and look out for only himself, but the episode isn’t really about that. Instead we have Homer eating a five pound bag of grain and having a magic, Looney Tunes-style fake wall in the basement. Much better material.
– So on Homer’s watch (or lack thereof), a massive generator malfunctions at the plant, causing a town-wide blackout. This is the impetus for the preppers to proclaim it’s the end of the world and skip town, in an awkward sequence where Quimby is addressing a crowd outside of town hall, and Unnamed McGee pulls Homer out of the front of the crowd about two feet to have an isolated conversation about skipping town. But really, this is it? Homer suffers no repercussions at work for this, we never see Mr. Burns, no one else at the plant can figure out what happened, etc. And then when they all return back to Springfield, everything is normal. Because of course it is. Frink explains that the power went out in Springfield, and then a few days later, it came back on. Wow. There was never any doubt the outage was only localized to Springfield… because we SEE that it was. Maybe if they had waited to reveal what happened until the end of the episode, or if they had a line talking about trying to contact neighboring towns and being unable to, it might have made more sense. Instead it’s just dumb. Real dumb.
– We’ve seen some weird end tag jokes from this show before, but this might be the most random. Lisa wraps things up talking about how civilization can endure catastrophe and that we’re gonna be around for a while, then we pan to outer space, where we see a flaming meteor on course for Earth. Said meteor is also covered in human zombies. Zombie meteor. That’s the gag we’re going out on.

One good line/moment: I genuinely enjoyed the bit with Homer climbing up the play place tower to reach Bart and Lisa, crawling and duck walking until he reached the top, only to be pummeled with balls from his two laughing kids. It was a pretty adorable moment where the kids were really acting like real kids, and Homer was a great dad for once for indulging them.