The premise: Desperate to find the kids health coverage, Marge’s last resort is crystal healing from some weirdo new age store. When the crystals seemingly work wonders on Bart’s ADD, Marge takes a greater interest in the newly defunct business, opening her own new age healing store out of the garage.
The reaction: Marge starts a new business, taking on new age medicine, Bart feels bad for lying to his mother… all of this ground we’ve trodden over before, making for a real thud of a season finale. Our plot goes into motion with Mr. Burns eliminating children’s health plans from his employee benefits, and Marge needing to find an affordable alternative to Bart’s Focusyn ADD medication. I guess they worked out the kinks of that drug over twenty years time. I get that it’s implied that Bart is a rambunctious scamp that needs to be drugged to contain himself, but the fact that we never see such a thing makes any contrast the show seek to create not as effective. Out of options, Marge wanders into a new age healing store, where she’s informed of the magical power of crystals. Wearing one around his neck, Bart comes home with an A paper, winning Marge over on this kooky new treatment. Eventually, she comes upon the healing store’s inventory when the owner joins a cult (Marge seems relatively nonplussed by this), and eventually opens up her own shop to sell to her eager-to-buy friends. When she eventually expands her marketplace to the likes of fairy traps, moon potion and brain powder, it’s unclear exactly how much of this Marge believes to not be a big fake scam. She had a moment of internal conflict when she initially picks up the business, questioning how much these products actually do work, but after that, she’s just selling this shit happily with no real qualms about it. Meanwhile, Lisa discovers Bart’s been using the crystal to help him cheat on his tests by convoluted means, and eventually forces him to tell Marge the truth. At the exact same time, angry customers come at her wanting refunds, revealing the crap never worked after all (at this point, weeks must have gone by, what took them so long?), Marge closes up shop and that’s it. Last episode featured her wanting some excitement in her life starting a business, and I commented it would have been better if we actually saw some of that instead of her just telling us. I guess I got my wish. She was proud of what she accomplished, but rather than show any actual reflection about it, or any kind of satisfying wrap-up to whatever the hell we just watched, instead our final scene features Homer in a leotard working out to a women’s exercise tape. Sigh. This is the second episode written by new writer Megan Amram; after seeing “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” I wrote that I was interested in seeing what her next show would be. Well… there it was. Fuck me for trying to find a hope spot, I guess. Her first show felt like it had a little personal identity to it, but this one is just like all the rest, written and rewritten and rewritten in the writer’s room until it’s just like a bowl of flavorless mush.
Three items of note:
– Two thirds into the show, Marge is confronted by Piper (Jenny Slate, another great comedian wasted), owner and proprietor of a new age kiosk at the Shelbyville Mall, pissed that Marge’s store is cutting into her business. So are Shelbyvillians driving to the neighboring town to get their holistic bullcrap? The only clientele we’ve seen thus far are familiar faces (Cookie Kwan, Sarah Wiggum, Helen Lovejoy, etc), so whatever. Heated up by her newfound success in business, Marge decides to take Piper head on by opening her own kisok across from hers. In Shelbyville. Why didn’t they just make this at the Springfield Mall? And haven’t there been a handful of episodes from the past fifteen years re-framing Shelbyville as an affluent, high-class well-to-do city who mock their hick neighbors? Oh, who cares. Right as Marge is reigning supreme over Piper, Bart admits his lie, and then the likes of Luann and Nelson’s mom show up to complain that her shit don’t work (driving all the way to Shelbyville to complain, I guess. Did they carpool?) Blegh.
– Ned walks next door with one of Bart’s A papers to compliment Marge on the success of her “pagan hogwash.” For a moment, I was wondering why the hell he would know about Bart’s grades, but then I remembered that one year ago, they officially made him the new fourth grade teacher. We even get a small scene with him later before Lisa exposes Bart’s cheating plan. Now, I’m a freak who still watches this garbage show and obsesses over details way too much, and I forgot that Ned was the new teacher. They haven’t mentioned or shown it once for this entire season. The school has always been primary set piece for this series, and a new teacher for Bart is a mighty big role, let alone it being a major secondary character we’ve known since the show’s beginning. This is a tremendous change in the dynamics of this show, and it hasn’t been explored at all. How does Ned differ from Mrs. Krabappel, his dead wife? How does he feel about filling her shoes? What is his dynamic with Bart, Nelson, or the other students? How does he get along with Skinner or Willie or Miss Hoover, his new co-workers? These are all very rich questions a writer would hypothetically be interested in exploring. But why the fuck bother? We’ll just keep writing the same shit, and only mention Ned as the teacher if we absolutely have to. What kind of mentality is that?
– Bart initially balks at Lisa demanding he tell Marge the truth. She rebuffs, “You don’t realize how bad this is, do you? You betrayed the one person who still believes in you.” Just when I thought they were going to actually have a nice Bart-Lisa moment where he reflects and processes what he’s done, we go into a silly, upbeat montage set to The Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama” featuring Homer tossing Bart into a lion’s den and Marge fending them off, and Marge helping Bart write his chalkboard punishment. Following that, Bart is aghast (“Oh my God! She’s shown me nothing but love! How do I make this guilt go away?”) Terrible. I think back to the great writing from shows like “Marge Be Not Proud” where Bart and Lisa talk about how Marge’s anger and disappointment is manifesting in a different way (“Her heart won’t just wipe clean like this bathroom countertop. It absorbs everything that touches it, like this bathroom rug.”) And then when Bart asks how he can fix it, Lisa shrugs. Because she’s an eight year old kid. What beautiful, realistic, and funny writing. It’s a true rarity when characters on this show actually talk or react in a fashion that feels like they’re believable people, rather than just joke-spewing automatons jittering about for twenty minutes until they run out of juice.
– So this show has already mined material out of new age hippy stores almost twenty years ago, with some of the only good material from “Make Room for Lisa” (“Namaste.” “And an ooga-booga to you too!”) But more of this show reminded me of one of South Park‘s best earlier episodes “Cherokee Hair Tampons,” where the gullible morons of South Park are tricked into buying the expensive wares of holistic medicine by “native” Americans in a shop run by Miss Information. A sick Kyle needs a kidney transplant, and this new age bullshit makes his parents feel like they’re actually doing something, but it’s really just making it worse. When Stan asserts that a doctor at the hospital told him that Kyle needs an operation or he’ll die, Miss Information retorts, “Well, of course the doctor told you that, because he wants to make money!” Then she turns to charge Kyle’s mother hundreds of dollars for some more crap. It’s a pretty great episode that actually has something to say about this topic, as well as telling a personal story with the main characters (the only person in town with Kyle’s blood type is Cartman, and he isn’t going to give up his kidney quietly). None of this, of course, is present in this whimper of an episode.
One good line/moment: There were a handful of smirk/light chuckle-worthy moments. I did enjoy that Marge’s makeshift store was called “MURMUR.”
And so ends the momentous 30th season. Thankfully it seems like season 28 is still the absolute low point of the series thus far, with the two seasons following it seeming like the attempted scraping and clawing out of the deep, dark hole they’ve been plummeting down since the year 2000. It’s hard to really rank these seasons how little I enjoy any of this shit anymore, but I given season 30 a bit more credit over season 29 for containing a couple of interesting ideas and concepts that unfortunately were completely squandered (“Krusty the Clown,” “The Clown Stays in the Picture”) and for “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy,” an episode that wasn’t perfect, but I could at least feel like there was a ghost of a new, authentic voice behind it. As this season wraps up, The Simpsons is now officially a Disney property. They’ll be exclusively streaming on Disney+, airing on Freeform, and our favorite family’s faces will likely be plastered all over many a Disney corporate event. The show is still signed on for two more seasons, and at this point, I really don’t see any end in sight at this point. What else will Disney attempt to squeeze from this withered husk of a series? How long can the show possibly go? Tune in this fall for the soul-shriveling continuation of Me Blog Write Good! As usual, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you guys enjoy reading this thing, and as long as this show refuses to die, then neither will this goddamn stupid blog. Bring it on, season 31.