Category Archives: Season 30

662. Crystal Blue-Haired Persuasion

Original airdate: May 12, 2019

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.

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661. Woo-hoo Dunnit?

Original airdate: May 5, 2019

The premise: Someone has stolen Lisa’s stowed away college money, and on a very special Dateline: Springfield, the mystery becomes unraveled as to who committed the dirty deed.

The reaction: Format-bending episodes like these is a chance to delve into new, interesting territory you couldn’t get away with in the show proper. The last example of this, “22 For 30,” I recall being pretty decent, crafting a kiddie basketball scandal story that felt believable and was mostly engaging. Here… not so much. The big mystery here is that Lisa’s college fund, $650 stowed away in a cleanser can under the sink, has gone missing, and our Dateline narrator runs down the suspects and starts whittling them down to find who done it. It didn’t take me long to start getting tired. Honestly, who gives a shit about who stole the money? I mean, the episode is hyper-exaggerated on purpose, that this incredibly detail-oriented investigation is in the service of such a petty crime, but that kind of gag premise can only go on so long before it starts to wear thin. On top of all that, it becomes clear before halfway through the show that Marge is the one that stole the money. As the Dateline narrator starts to accuse each Simpson, we cut to Marge getting increasingly more and more indignant about them being scrutinized, until eventually she tosses the production crew out of the house. Yeah, no shit she’s the guilty party. In a very belabored scene, we discover she used the money to invest in a new product, little stick-on coasters that just attach to your cups (I think Karl Pilkington is entitled to some royalties for this idea…) She tearfully admits to Homer that she just wanted some excitement out of her life, and Homer, ready and raring to gloat to the kids that for once he didn’t fuck something up, feels bad and covers for her. They laid track for this reveal through the show in discussing Marge’s gambling past, and her adamant about the family using coasters on the nice table, but again, who really cares? Marge apparently bought a thousand of the little coasters, but that’s as much information as we’re given. Why did she buy so many? How did she try to sell them? Did she even try at all? Maybe she could have recouped her investment. But we never find out any of this. Marge wanting to get more out of life is a plot motivation the show’s been using since the beginning, none of this is anything noteworthy, apparently so given how throwaway this ending seems. Episodes like these seem particularly egregious in how absolutely disposable they are. This is a series with a rotating cast of at least sixty major secondary characters you can mine new stories out of, but instead, we get a show about who stole the money from the money jar? How unremarkable.

Three items of note:
– We discover Bart had stolen the money (then later returned it in full) to invest in his business of selling slime on the schoolyard. The bullies were in charge of production, and boy oh boy we get another loving Breaking Bad reference with the kids producing the slime in music video format just like the meth cooking sequences from the series. They don hazmat suits, the mixing/processing devices are similar, the slime initially is blue despite the final product being green (maybe they mixed the yellow in afterwards), we see the bullies taking a break to watch TV… am I supposed to be laughing yet? I’ve repeated this more times than I can count, but shit like this doesn’t count as a parody. There’s no subversion, no commentary, no purpose re-adaptation of the original source material. It’s just them doing their own version of a Breaking Bad cook scene, because they love the show. And at this point, the show’s been off the air for six years. How huge is their Breaking Bad boner after all this time?
– It took me a while to figure out why the table looks so strange in the above shot as we see it in a couple scenes. It looks extra short because we have rarely ever in thirty years seeing the Simpson kitchen seen the table without its blue tablecloth.   But also it looks like it’s placed right up against the counter instead of in the relative center of the kitchen. The framing just seems very weird… But why is the tablecloth inexplicably removed? Because they needed to have Marge get angry about rings on the table to set up the coaster reveal at the end. It couldn’t have been more obviously telegraphed from barely four minutes into the episode, hence my boredom waiting for the big reveal to finally rear its dreary head.
– Will Forte as King Toot makes a reappearance, scat singing a Dave Brubeck song for fifteen seconds. I love me some Will Forte, but man, what a waste of such a huge comedic talent. But what else is new…

One good line/moment: Ahhhhhhhh whatever.

660. D’oh Canada

Original airdate: April 28, 2019

The premise: After accidentally plunging down Niagara Falls, Lisa is granted sanction into Canada, and finds herself not wanting to leave such a seemingly perfect country.

The reaction: The Simpsons take on Canada (again), I guess. Moments after Lisa washes up on Canadian soil, she’s greeted by a modest mountie who says “eh” a lot, and is later given an IV drip of maple syrup. It’s like ticking the over-exhausted Canadian trope boxes. When Lisa goes on an angry diatribe over all the current US affairs that plague her eight-year-old mind, aforementioned mountie deems that since she feels unsafe in her own country, she’s now a Canadian refugee, and then “deports” her parents after protesting. It all feels very… dumb, but it doesn’t matter. Lisa of course is enthralled living in a nation that prioritizes education, the environment, and actually cares for its citizens (“I’ve never been happier!” she explains to the audience, helpfully). Eventually, Marge eventually sneaks her way across the border to get her daughter back. Of course, there’s no real emotional element to this at all. Lisa seems to not care at all about being away from the family, she adamantly demands to stay in Canada when Marge shows up. She lives with foster parents who I guess were assigned to her, but of course we don’t know anything else beyond that. Meanwhile, Marge is pissed when she comes to get Lisa (“Listen you little traitor, I’m your mother, and you live where I live! You’re coming home with me!”) Remember when Marge used to be nice to her children? Anyway, it turns out the two of them are stuck there since America is very anti-immigrant at the moment, but Lisa has a last minute change of heart about the good ol’ US of A because the episode is almost over. When she’s originally about to leave Canada, her new teacher helpfully walks by to let her know that there’s a lot of shitty parts about Canada too. It’s a fairly pedestrian theme the show could have utilized, how the grass always seems greener across the border or whatever, but of course the show doesn’t even bother. The show ends with the Simpsons running across a frozen river that’s cracking apart, but that doesn’t really matter as Homer’s able to cram in a joke about the Detroit Lions, and they get back into America and that’s it. Boy oh boy did I not miss this show.

Three items of note:
– On their trip up north, the Simpsons take a little trip through Upstate New York, where Homer sings a ballad to the wretched wasteland with revised lyrics to “New York, New York.” It’s basically a minute and a half long piece of filler in an episode that already felt super short (there’s an extended reused couch gag from years ago, and another thirty-second song later by Canadian Ralph). It’s full of references to Oriskany, Mohawk Valley Community College and the old Kodak factory… which I guess people from there will understand and think is funny? I don’t get it, are a bunch of writers from upstate New York and were just laughing their tits off writing this? It’s just more of acknowledging reference humor than actual jokes. It’s 90 seconds of just shitting on upstate New York. If the Simpsons drove through Central Jersey and sang a song about all the different landmarks and tropes of the area, I’d be perplexed more than anything,  even though I would get the references. And beyond that, of course, the song is completely meaningless. “Capital City” meant something. “New Orleans” from “Oh, Streetcar!” meant something. This song means nothing, except to get mentioned in a couple of local New York papers. Any press is good press, I guess.
– I’m pretty sure this is the first time in the show proper they’ve breached any sort of discussion about President Trump. In her rage against America, Lisa repeatedly tries to hurl obscenities about our very smart big boy President, only to be shushed by Marge. Later in her new classroom, she introduces herself thusly (“As an American, I’d like to apologize for something our President said about your wonderfully progressive Prime Minister.”) She is then ushered to another room where she’s able to Skype with Justin Trudeau (voiced by some guy), who proceeds to prove he’s not “weak” by lifting himself up on his desk and shimmying around. Jesus. It truly feels like a shitty SNL sketch where whoever playing Trudeau rips his shirt off and he’s ripped, and he’s like “Does THIS look weak to you, Mr. Trump?!” And the audience goes wild. Holy fuck, how embarrassing. The scene ends with Lisa alluding to the SNC-Lavalin scandal, causing Trudeau to get the fuck out. I guess this is their way of being impartial, but it felt like too little, too late after such a sorry display.
– Marge of course doesn’t give a flying fuck about her daughter’s unhappiness or disillusionment about America. When Lisa once again affirms she’s going to stay in Canada, Marge, with a big smirk on her face, tells her to look out across the lake at the United States and think of only the good. So Lisa does, and she imagines America’s all-stars: Abraham Lincoln flying on Dumbo (SWEET, SWEET DISNEY SYNERGY!!), Aretha Franklin, Judy Blume (voicing herself) and Louis Armstrong, who sways Lisa with just one line of dialogue (“Get your ass back over there!”) It’d be funny if it were intentionally awful, but I know it’s not. Speaking of Dumbo, I thought maybe I’d talk about the absolutely stupefying piece of synergy released a month ago during the promotion of Disney+, announcing the series would be available exclusively through the new streaming service. It’s just… I still don’t fully know how to express how I feel about it. It so desperately wants to seem like it’s biting the hand that feeds like they used to, referencing to Disney as their “new corporate overlords” (SEE! They referenced that line that’s a meme!!) and showing Rupert Murdoch’s portrait in a trash can (never mind the Murdochs are now majority shareholders in Disney), but it’s all so fucking phony. The Simpsons went from being counter-culture in the 90s, to just being culture in the 2000s, and now they’re just blank-faced corporate assets to be used however their new lords and masters at Disney will see fit. To paraphrase Troy McClure, who knows how much more soulless and creatively bereft The Simpsons will become between now and the time the show becomes unprofitable?

One good line/moment: I got nothin’ here. This was a pretty bad one.

659. I’m Just A Girl Who Can’t Say D’oh

Original airdate: April 7, 2019

The premise: When Llewellyn Sinclair is pushed out of directing the latest production at the Springfield Playhouse, Marge takes up the directors chair, putting on a Hamilton inspired musical about Jebediah Springfield, written by Lisa.

The reaction: Twenty-six years after “A Streetcar Named Marge,” one of the greatest episodes of the show, Jeff Martin (and his wife) have written this episode, not exactly a sequel, more like what would have happened if “Streetcar” were pitched and written today, made all the more depressing that it’s the exact same writer behind it. We start with the latest appearance of Llewellyn Sinclair, overbearingly directing his cast through their upcoming performance of Oklahoma! Eventually, the Springfield players get fed up and force him out, leaving Marge to fill the vacuum as director for some reason, leading her to direct a brand new musical written by her eight-year-old daughter, and later signs a contract with Krusty to air the musical live nationwide. So, yeah, “Streetcar” featured our favorite Springfield denizens as plucky small town folk thinking it’d be fun to act in a musical, willing to put up with an irrational, heated director to have a bit of excitement in their lives on the big stage. Marge herself was one such starry eyed optimist, thinking acting in the play would be an exciting escape from her mind-numbing home life. As usual, the situation itself was very normal and believable, surrounded by absurdist elements (the Streetcar play itself, which we’ll get to…) Marge’s journey in this episode is hard to pin down. She’s initially nervous about being a first-time director, which is mentioned again and again. This implies she’ll direct more, and that this is some kind of passion of her’s (???) As usual with Simpson-becomes-instant-success stories, we never see them doing any actual work. After her first day, Krusty finds Sideshow Mel rehearsing his lines, and decides to just buy Marge’s play outright, so we immediately cut to the negotiation, with Marge sitting with shades and a purple power suit smiling vacuously. The play itself is a Jebediah Springfield biopic musical in the style of Hamilton which is not only written by Lisa, but rewritten on the spot live when the venue floods. The songs suck and aren’t funny. We hear barely two songs from the musical, compared to snippets of five we get of “Streetcar,” but I don’t even feel I should bother cross-referencing these two because it’s not even fair. Making a musical out of A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the cleverest, more ingeniously executed ideas the show had ever done; the concept itself was a great joke, and the songs were all absolutely stellar, humorously written and performed. Speaking of, it was a joke in itself hearing the likes of Wiggum, Apu and Marge singing these songs, these goofy cartoon voices giving earnest performances. Here, the gag is that Professor Frink has Josh Groban’s singing voice, so it’s just a talented singer doing these songs perfectly… so boring. The episode ends with Krusty telling Marge the live show got huge ratings, and her winning an award. Who gives a shit? Really, what does it matter that the show was a hit? I don’t even know why Marge cared about to begin with. “Streetcar,” of course, was never really about the show, but Marge feeling unappreciated by her husband, and Homer realizing that in the end and expressing it to her. As ridiculous and insane as the show got in the classic years, it always came down to the believable emotions and internal struggles of our favorite family. In episodes like these, I don’t know what I’m supposed to relate to.

Three items of note:
– There’s a subplot (I use the term charitably) where Homer stumbles upon an incredibly popular Daddy-And-Me class, filled with horny fathers who only go to ogle the hot, young instructor. Homer initially is naive about what’s going on, but quickly he becomes just as openly pervy as everyone else, spending the rest of the show fantasizing about the instructor, one of which is interrupted by Marge in bed, who thinks he’s such a great father for going to those classes. In the end, the classes are cancelled when the instructor makes her choice of which father she wants to fuck, and then that’s it. Do I even need to further discuss how fucked this all is? Remember when I tried to defend “Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy” for being somewhat progressive in its gender politics? Never mind, I guess. Instead of making Homer completely oblivious to obvious outside temptation, like “Colonel Homer,” or making the instructor not a total dumb dumb bimbo, the show just plays it out like Homer’s Kevin James from King of Queens or something. The icing on the shit sundae is they have a “sweet” cap on the story where Homer realizes Maggie liked hanging out with him for all the classes. How nice. And Homer’s favorite part was undressing the twenty-something piece of ass with his eyes and dreaming about her when in bed with his wife. C o o l.
– After he’s outsed, Llwellyn Sinclair appears a few times throughout, first begging Marge to let him back into her production, and then later to poach her star player Sideshow Mel for his own new show. But it really doesn’t mean anything, since all we saw of Mel was one scene where we learn he’s the lead, and then one quick bit of him rehearsing in his dressing room at Krustylu Studios. Llwellyn comes to gloat at the Simpson house where Marge is getting ready for what I assumed was one of their earlier production meetings, but then she admits the show is in three days and they have no understudy. In this episode about the production of a musical, we barely fucking see any of the production at all, unlike “Streetcar,” of course, where it was the primary focus, amongst other things, because the show could effectively multitask back then. Here, it’s a miracle when the show manages to have one complete plot with a beginning, middle and end that make sense.
– I knew it was only a matter of time, but it finally happened: we get a scene where Bart does the flossing dance. I feel like that gif is going to get isolated and rile some people up online… that is if anyone actually gives enough of a shit to actually watch this trash and actually make it. It may pop up somewhere… but honestly, who cares. It only stood out more to be because I just saw Shazam! which has Zachary Levi flossing and that was actually charming in context. Ehhh, fuck this show, go see Shazam!, it’s not spectacular, but it’s a fun, sweet movie that bucks a lot of superhero movie conventions, although it’s not without its tired, overdone tropey elements, the villain in particular.

One good line/moment: Over the end credits, we get a snippet of a music video by Okilly Dokillys, a real-life no-foolin’ metal band who all dress up like Ned Flanders and perform songs that mostly comprise of Simpsons quotes. It’s one of those things that it’s so absolutely absurd on every level that it’s amazing already, but their music is actually really well done, even if metalcore music isn’t really my cup of tea. Similar to using that 16-bit fan made couch gag a couple years ago, this felt like the show “officially” ordaining a fan work, but actually in showing such a fan work that really felt fresh, original and creative, just kind of stands in contrast with the tired, hollowed out husk of the show itself. At least this time they put it at the end instead of the beginning. Here’s the music video if you haven’t seen it.

658. Girl’s In The Band

Original airdate: March 31, 2019

The premise: Lisa is recruited into a youth philharmonic in Capital City, forcing Marge having to commute with the other kids back and forth each day and Homer to work the night shift at the plant to pay for the course. While Lisa excels, she becomes worried her success is coming at the cost of the rest of her family’s well being.

The reaction: There was a running theme in the flashback shows in the classic era of Homer sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of his family, and this feels like a belabored rehash of that same idea; you can track where the episode is going halfway through and you’re just waiting patiently for it to finally end. Following an extended intro featuring the life and times of Mr. Largo, Lisa is specially picked out by Victor, a fast-talking, no-nonsense musical instructor played by J.K. Simmons. The character is semi-based on the actor’s character in Whiplash, but with the mile-a-minute, jokey speech patterns as J. Jonah Jameson, as we’ve seen this show do with Simmons in his numerous previous guest appearances. It’s just funny that they chose to rip off another Simmons character, but can’t resist him doing his Spider-Man schtick. Simmons is fine in the role, but it’s shit we’ve seen him do so many times over, so who cares? Anyway, the characters are set in place in this plot within the halfway mark: Lisa is thrilled at being challenged musically for once, Marge, Bart and Maggie are bored and going stir-crazy by the long drives, and Homer is getting more and more sleep deprived by working nearly 24 hours a day (“Lisa’s Pony,” this ain’t, sadly.) Lisa witnesses Marge sobbing as Homer leaves for his next shift, “There’s nothing worse than being a parent of a kid with promise!” Lisa realizes how selfish she’s been, apparently… except we’re only thirteen minutes in, so we just kind of keep gliding on these same emotions until the episode’s over, where she blows her audition to the next level philharmonic for her family’s sake. I originally thought of Homer in the flashback shows having a similar moral dilemma, but this actually is very reminiscent of “Lisa’s Pony.” But rather than great moments like 8-year-old Lisa not realizing the adult realities of having her childhood dream be a reality, and Marge openly telling her she won’t make her get rid of the pony, that she needs to make that decision, we get… none of that. During her final audition, we just have an internal monologue from Lisa describing what she’s feeling, and then everything is okay. If they had bothered exploring Lisa’s lingering moral concerns, or had her interacting with the rest of the family and witnessing their harangued states at all, this might have been a decent story. Instead, it just felt very bland and paint-by-numbers.

Three items of note:
– This episode was penned by Nancy Cartwright, making her the third main cast member to take a stab at writing. The chalkboard gag reads, “I AM NOT A GRANDMOTHER,” referring to Cartwright recently becoming one. The concert hall Lisa practices in in Capital City is Daws Butler Hall, referencing the famous Hanna Barbera voice actor, who was also Cartwright’s mentor. I remember reading her autobiography as a kid; the only things I remember are her describing driving onto the lot and being told Phil Hartman died, and an entire chapter devoted her to drooling over when Mel Gibson came to record. Whoo boy. Cartwright is also a devoted Scientologist, who recorded a now-infamous robo-call as Bart to shill for a Scientologist event, and has given millions upon millions to the dangerous, brain-washing cult. Ay caramba.
– The first five minutes of the show are devoted to Mr. Largo, giving us a more in depth look at his life than we’ve ever seen. Starting on a nightmare of his graduating with honors from the Springfield Academy of Music and going nowhere with it, we see his spirits lifted once he’s informed that Victor will be attending the latest school recital. He goes into double-time to make his student orchestra the best it’s ever been, but his dreams are shot to pieces when Victor tells him he’s only interested in Lisa. When Lisa excitedly tells him the good news, Largo musters a smile for the young girl (“I’m really glad you get to represent us. It’s like a little piece of me has taken a baby practice step.”) It’s a genuinely sweet moment. I knew the episode was going to pivot to a Simpson eventually, but I really wished we could just continue watching Mr. Largo. His home life, the dynamic between him and his boyfriend, all much, much more interesting than the show that followed.
– Boy, do I love cultural references! This show does parody so well nowadays! In figuring out how to pay for Lisa’s class, Homer alludes to being like Walt in Breaking Bad, but then it turns out he meant they would sell their beloved boxed DVD set. But then Homer just says a bunch of quotes from the show, takes a Heisenberg hat and goatee out of the nightstand as the theme plays, and we get a commercial break card themed off the show’s opening title. As I’ve mentioned over and over and over again, these are references. All a segment like this tells me is how much the writers love Breaking Bad, which at this point feels even stranger than their previous shout-outs given the series concluded six years ago now. What, are they gunning for Vince Gilligan to write an episode or something? Later, we get a sleep deprived hallucination from Homer at the plant where he eventually finds himself at a fancy bar with the attending bartender trying to get him to kill his family. Not only is this, of course, material the show utilized much better twenty-five years ago, the referencing continues once Homer’s back to reality where we literally see Jack Nicholson with an axe heading toward the reactor core (Burns chortles, “There goes our head of human resources now!”) This transparent reference-based comedy is already lazy enough, but to do this when “The Shinning” exists felt even more foolish.

One good line/moment: Again, the five minute Mr. Largo opening. As I’ve said many times before, I would love to see more devotion to the other Springfield denizens, but I’m sure we never will. I don’t remember if we saw Largo’s boyfriend before, but I thought their interplay was fun (“Oh darling, you’re cursed with the memory of an elephant, and the wrinkles to match!” “Can’t you just wake me with a slice of melon and a drop of affection?!”)

657. Bart vs. Itchy & Scratchy

Original airdate: March 24, 2019

The premise:
Itchy & Scratchy is getting an all-female reboot, causing Bart and the other boys to swear off watching the show. But when he gets exposed for actually enjoying the new series, Bart is ostracized, but then ends up joining a gang of sixth grade rebel girls.

The reaction: Well here’s a rarity: a topical episode that didn’t feel disingenuous, with good characterization and pretty good jokes… I’m pretty flippin’ surprised. From the moment Krusty announces the gender swapped reboot, we immediately get a shot at the showbiz community embracing diversity, just as long as it pays well (“See? Girls like my pandering! Remember this if there’s ever a gender war!”) Bart arranges the boys for to “hate-not-watch” the new series, while Lisa is excited for this new great step in women’s cartoon history. When she catches Bart actually laughing at the cartoon, she exposes his hypocrisy, making him a outcast. Milhouse of all people takes up the mantle of leader, which in terms of mirroring the impotent whining of misogynistic Internet dwellers, is pretty perfect: a socially awkward and meek boy with deep-seeded identity issues himself lashing out at those he believes are undermining him and his kind (“Girls get everything: bigger, softer baseballs, chick flicks, two piece bathing suits!”) He starts a new radical organization, the Boys Rights Association (“Right now, we’re just training BRAs, but soon, we’ll be the strongest, most supportive BRAs anyone has ever seen!”) Pretty clever, especially since it almost sounds like “bra,” like “surfer bra,” so it’s not awkward dialogue. Meanwhile, Bart’s only escape from ridicule is the girl’s bathroom, where he encounters three rebellious girls looking to tear down the patriarchy. But rather than being hollow feminist stereotypes written by fifty-year-old men, they’re actually more like prankster artists, vandalizing the Lard Lad statue with a dress (Lard Lady No-Nuts) and wrapping the boys’ urinals in saran wrap, all of whom ashamedly leave the bathroom with soiled pants (except for Milhouse, proudly stating, “This is why I sit!”)

When Lisa finally discovers Bart is part of the “Bossy Riot” gang, she is livid, angered that Bart is part of such a radical feminist movement knowing nothing about the cause (“Chicks get a raw deal! Little fuzzy on the deets, but take my word for it.”) Lisa, for once, is not really an eye-rolling rabble-rouser; she balks at Bart’s infamy, but then must nut up or shut up when he invites her along to their next big stunt. She’s apprehensive, but eventually decides to go, just in time to save a tied-up Bart at the school. Bossy Riot has gone too far, it seems; following news Krusty is caving to the BRA demands to cancel the Itchy & Scratchy reboot, they’re going to destroy the negatives to all the original episodes on live TV. I was worried the episode would do some both-sides bullshit in showing extreme feminism and equating it to MRA nonsense, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The girls’ actions are overboard, but also reactionary and nonviolent. In the end, Lisa thwarts the girls’ plans, but in the process, makes all the boys in the audience cry, impressing the Bossy Riot girls, who invite her to join the gang. In a sweet moment, after some thought, Lisa accepts, Bart gives her his colorful hooded mask, and she bikes off with the girls into the night. Of course we’ll never see the girls again, but letting this ending just play out with Lisa overcoming her fears and putting her beliefs into action was pretty satisfying, rather than having some contrived reason why she wouldn’t be allowed in just to preserve status quo, like the countless number of new, celebrity guest star-voiced friends Bart and Lisa have made who conveniently vanish by episode’s end. So… I… liked this? I genuinely like this episode, first since season 27’s “Friend With Benefit.” So what the hell happened? Well, this is the first episode credited to Megan Amram, who has written for the likes of Silicon Valley, Children’s Hospital and The Good Place. She’s also rather young compared to the other writers, a 31-year-old who grew up watching and revering this show in its heyday. This show has seen a lot of the same guys pumping out scripts for the last five years or so, with only brief flashes of new blood (Ryan Koh is the only newish name I remember, who is in his forties, and wrote the absolutely awful “Team Homer” “sequel” last season.) Is this the solution to the ever-important question of what the fuck could possibly fix this series? A newer, younger, hipper writing staff? Who the hell knows. But I’ll say this, I’m actually interested in seeing Amram’s next show, and that’s a hell of a statement.

Three items of note:
– The very first female Itchy & Scratchy is a “parody” of Pitch Perfect, where Anna Kendrick’s character sing while making melodic noise with Solo cups, except here, FemItchy uses cat heads, of course. My wife loves those movies so I’m very familiar with them by proxy, but it took a moment to get what they were going for, even with Tress MacNeille warbling “When I’m Gone.” I mean, I guess that’s a franchise seemingly all women love, right? Though those movies are very popular, part of me feels like the reference is a tad obscure with no context… although the music video for “When I’m Gone” has over 450 million views, so I could just be talking out my ass. Plus those Pitch Perfect movies are just terrible comedies, which I can say because my wife doesn’t read this blog.
– The girl gang are all voiced by female comedians; I give props to Chelsea Peretti specifically for actually doing a voice, almost like a parody of a disaffected punk girl. Awkwafina and Nicole Byer pretty much use their speaking voices, but they were good in their roles too.
– Normally this section is reserved for me bitching about specific moments or scenes and how awful they were, but since I liked this episode… it’s a little more difficult here. The only crazy moment of ire I had was Lisa pronouncing “gif” with a j-sound, like Jif peanut butter. I hate this “debate.” It’s “gif” with a hard g-sound. It just is. I don’t care what anyone says. I think even the creator of the first gif or whatever said it’s “jif.” I don’t care. “Jif” is fucking stupid. It’s “gif.”

One good line/moment: Honestly, for once, the episode is kind of full of these, which if you’ve been paying attention, doesn’t happen a whole lot. My favorite two moments were probably the aforementioned urinal backfiring incident, and the exchange when Bossy Riot turns on Bart (“Don’t have a lady cow!” “All. Cows. Are. Ladies!”)

Suffice to say, I’m very much looking forward to the comments section here, which I’m sure will involve conversation of Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Captain Marvel and other extremely related topics.

656. E My Sports

Original airdate: March 17, 2019

The premise:
Bart’s gamer team is on the road to the grand championship, and Homer joins in to be their coach, hoping to eventually rest comfortably on the laurels of his son’s successful e-sports career.

The reaction: I was dreading this one a little bit, an episode about e-sports written about a nearly sixty year old man, but this show really isn’t interesting in lampooning this contemporary subject, and the jokes that are here are pretty surface-level, or just old gamer humor (dancing over corpses replacing teabagging. I’m pretty sure we saw similar jokes in the thirteen-year-old “Marge Gamer” episode). The show itself is seemingly a Bart-Homer story, except there’s not really much focus on their relationship, and I don’t fully know what the intent was. Homer is initially befuddled that Bart can actually get money for playing video games, and upon learning of the $500,000 grand prize tournament, he doubles down in his support of Bart’s new interests, making himself the teach coach. After a brief detour featuring a hoodie-wearing, 19-year-old gaming guru (incredibly dry, with very few jokes), we get a montage of Homer supervising the kids on their computers. He’s not necessarily drilling them, he’s just kind of testing them with distractions and refilling them with coffee. After that we get a dream sequence of Homer rubbing elbows with other parents of famous successful athletes, at which point the plot now changes into Homer wanting to achieve glory vicariously through his son. Couldn’t that have been set up earlier? Why bother? Making the finals, the Simpsons jet off to Seoul, South Korea, with Lisa tagging along to take Homer and Marge to a Buddhist temple, where she teaches her parents about achieving inner peace and entering a zen state. This is all introduced within the final five minutes of the episode. Now Homer is super zen, wanders his way to the tournament where Bart’s team is about to win, and just shuts down the power via a convenient master power switch on the roof that he’s able to access somehow. Now… a few things. Through the episode, Homer never seemed too angry or obsessed or overwhelmed by his role as Bart’s coach. The living-through-Bart thing was randomly introduced later, but never seemed to be negative or overbearing, as perhaps it should have been. He just seemed cool and chill about doing this thing with Bart, so the turn of him learning to chill out and rebuff competition really makes no sense. Meanwhile, his out-of-left-field attitude change comes completely at the cost of Bart, who not only lost the $500,000 grand prize, but in the final scene of the show, we see that his teammates are super pissed at him and hitting him with stuff on the flight home. Not quite sure why they’re blaming him. Do they know Homer causes the power outage? Does Bart know this? What’s the resolution to this Bart-Homer bonding story? The answer is there isn’t one. And when we pan by Homer on the plane, he looks pissed about there being no in-flight entertainment, so his whole zen revelation was completely wasted, I guess. At least until he gets upgraded to first class because he’s too fat (“Thank the Buddha I win again!”) Too bad all it cost your son was a huge cash prize and his friendships. I can’t even get mad at this ending because I have no clue how the fuck we got here. What a mess of an episode.

Three items of note:
– Bart’s teammates are the usual suspects of Milhouse, Martin and Nelson (I’m past the point of complaining why these four tolerate each other in social settings), as well as Krusty’s daughter, Sophie. Not quite sure why she’s there. I  thought maybe they’d want to do some material about women in the professional gaming space (what fun material for a comedy show! What could be toxic about that subject?), but all we got was one gamer girl joke at the very end (“If I win, I’ll be the most famous girl gamer of all time! Also, if I lose!”) I’m sure there are a couple prolific female gamers in e-sports, right? Whatever. It’s still weird that it’s Sophie. Why not Sherri or Terri? Or Janey? Those characters still exist, right?
– At the beginning of the episode, Lisa balks about Homer rewarding Bart for bad behavior by buying him a game station set-up. Fourteen minutes later, she shows back up again, sitting in her room in the dark, lamenting about not being paid attention to. Marge walks in and offers to spend the day with Lisa, but Lisa, now with an eye twitch, shuts that shit down flat (“Mom, I try to spare you because I don’t want you feeling thoroughly appropriate guilt for what this family does to me.”) She then explains that the Jogyesa Monastery is in South Korea, and she’s desperate to go (“I’m holding onto a thin rope here, because if Bart and Dad go to Seoul and I miss out, I’ll lose my grip!”) She then proceeds to freak the fuck out, and Marge gets her to shut up by saying they’ll go to South Korea too. Man, Lisa needs to calm her tits. Seriously, what is her damage? This behavior is appropriate in a lot of other episodes where Bart falls into great success, fame or luck by pure accident, being given access to things Lisa would kill for that he responds with apathy or stupidity. In this case, Bart and Homer have actually worked very hard to reach the finals, and their efforts are paying off. If the show featured Lisa turning her nose up at pro gaming throughout, this scene would kind of make sense, but instead, she just reappears to whine and complain and damn near have a seizure until her mother gives her what she wants. When Marge tries to placate her and spend some time with her daughter, Lisa responds basically with emotional blackmail at the cost of an expensive plane ticket halfway around the world. Why are there so many instances in these past couple years of the show actively trying to make me hate Lisa?
– There’s some pretty lazy sight gags throughout the show that stuck out to me. When the pro gamer Homer hires decides to give up his career, Homer and the kids oversee him in the backyard burn his hoodie on the grill, as well as his notebook conveniently labeled “10,000 Video Game Hacks Only I Know.” At the end of the episode, we see little thought bubbles of Bart and the others as they get close to winning. Three of them dream of the first place trophy, Martin dreams of Nelson with a NEW FRIEND sash, and Nelson dreams of a wooden door labeled BEDROOM WITH DOOR. Both of these feel like incredibly lazy jokes. They both feel like they were pitched in the writer’s room as concepts, they tried to figure out how they could organically and logically work them into the script visually, and this is what they eventually gave up on and just left in the script anyway.

One good line/moment: Eh, I got nothing for this one. A lot of the episodes recently have been kind of innocuous and boring in their badness, but this one felt particularly aimless, and then just pulled it out with that nonsensical ending.