Category Archives: Season 30

655. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Original airdate: March 10, 2019

The premise:
After taking a tumble down the stairs, Homer and Marge are told to take it easy in their middle age. But while Marge takes up kitesurfing after getting better, Homer has taken to being as immobile as possible out of fear of getting injured again.

The reaction: The last two entries I talked about how much I wished the series would take a chance on devoting episodes to the secondary cast, and episodes like these are why. Another Homer-Marge tiff? Can’t get enough of ’em! I will say that the beginning I did kind of enjoy, where Homer and Marge sneak into a wedding expo wearing someone else’s name tags and have a great time. Later, Homer as “Dr. Heffernan” is whisked away to deliver a keynote, but rather than be an elongated scene of him making a fool of himself, we cut to see him and Marge bluffing their way through the presentation to the crowd’s enthusiasm. That was pretty adorable. Getting home, Homer almost carries Marge all the way up the stairs before he cracks his back, sending them both all the way down. Marge is left with a light ankle sprain, and Homer a herniated disc. The ensuing episode then turns into Marge, after healing quickly, taking up an extreme sport and being annoyed that Homer would rather sit around and do nothing while he heals. This is all the “fault” of Homer’s hallucinated personification of his hernia (voiced by Wallace Shawn), who urges him to listen to doctor’s urges to rest and why bother getting up if you’re just going to risk getting hurt again. This second element muddies the waters a bit of Homer’s motivations; beyond the fact I don’t know how long it takes for a hernia to heal, Homer is a lazy sloth, but also appears to be genuinely concerned about this happening to him again. Or is that just his internal excuse to continue being a lazy blob? I’m not fully sure. Initially Marge takes up kite surfing specifically without Homer (“I’m not letting Homer drag me down this time!”), and later gets angry and annoyed at him for not wanting to go to the beach (“If you don’t come after me, there’s a big problem!”) Because I’m not sure the extent of Homer’s actual pain, or how much time has gone by since the accident, Marge comes off kind of terribly here. Homer is borderline agoraphobic thanks to his hernia vision pumping his head full of the dangers of the outside world, but Marge seems to not really give a shit. Eventually, Homer gets to the beach and wins back his wife… blah blah blah. The story wraps up by eighteen minutes in, so these scripts must be getting shorter and shorter. Just thinking about this, I would love an episode featuring Marge as an unintentional antagonist, where she has to choose between something new and fun and Homer, Homer doesn’t want to feel like he’s weighing her down and refuses to let Marge give up, Marge realizing she was lashing out at Homer to harshly, and then all coming up with a happy compromise… I dunno, something like that. But recent years have seen far too many instances of Marge being unnecessarily cold to Homer (or worse, Lisa) for very thin reasons. Not a good look.

Three items of note:
– In the first act, the kids are left in the responsible care of… Shauna? Oh dear God… Jimbo promptly sneaks in and they make out a bunch. I guess to the writers that’s excellent social satire on teenagers and a great scene punctuation. When Homer and Marge get home, Homer shoos Shauna, Jimbo and the other bullies out of his living room, and then he and Marge proceed to go upstairs without checking to see if the kids are even in the house (they’re not).
– Marge wheels into the TV room on a little trolley to elevate her injured ankle, but it also has a little tray in the front full of snack foods. It seems like she’s delivering them to Homer to eat on the couch, but then she just leaves the scene. All that food has to be for Homer, right? Who else would it be for? Did the scene get cut? And also, it kind of undercuts Marge’s utter frustration at Homer’s obesity in the very next scene if she was going to be delivering salty snacks directly to her husband’s fat face.
– The show gets its mileage out of Marge’s New Zealand kite surfing coach and his thick accent, which leads to the extended final scene featuring him to be outed as a spy interested in shadowing Homer at the nuclear power plant (“The Crepes of Wrath,” anyone?) The ending also features Wiggum in a life-like Homer suit and an outro styled after the Mission: Impossible TV show for no reason. Again, the script was very short.

One good line/moment: Again, I did enjoy Homer and Marge both having a good time at the wedding expo play-acting as husband-and-wife wedding planners (“Buy our book if we have one!”) The backseat of their car being chock full of free swag when they get home was also a nice touch.

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654. 101 Mitigations

Original airdate: March 3, 2019

The premise:
Facing prison time after joyriding in Comic Book Guy’s beloved car, Homer’s last hope is to create a sentencing mitigation video to help sway the judge’s favor.

The reaction: Just as last episode cracked open a door about one side character’s inner psyche only to have it promptly slammed shut, here we get a pinhole view into Comic Book Guy’s past and his inner self, but it’s completely ignored in favor of sole focus on Homer and other unrelated shenanigans. Given the wrong keys at the valet by accident, Homer takes the kids on a lengthy joyride in a vintage Cadillac. Upon returning, its owner turns out to be Comic Book Guy, who is livid at it being returned with a scratch and his rare Radioactive Man #1 comic in the backseat completely destroyed (what it was doing there is unexplained). He mentions the car was his father’s and has sentimental value because of it, but that’s about as far as the explanation goes. As much as the Simpsons plead with him to show mercy and drop his grand theft auto charge, CBG stands (er, sits) firm, claiming this is a matter of defending his dignity and not to be pushed around, as he feels undermined in life already as an overweight comic book geek who gets no respect from his customers (as we see with a preposterously cocky Milhouse who comes in to boss him around). So, yeah, CBG is a sad sack loser who I guess we’re supposed to feel bad for… maybe? But, he also has a wife who loves him, who appears silently in two scenes. Remember her? Just like Selma’s adopted daughter, she’s a character who basically amounts to set dressing. Marge doesn’t bother meeting with Kumiko to try to get her to talk reason to her husband, she appears to have no opinion about any of this. When we see CBG lamenting in his back office about the sad, sequestered life that he leads, where does his wife fit into all this? In the end, Homer is saved by his Welcome Back, Kotter keychain, which, after explaining it has sentimental value as his father gave it to him, it get promptly smashed to bits by CBG, a seemingly satisfactory eye-for-an-eye of destroyed cherished items. Again, this would have been the perfect moment for CBG to say something, anything about what value his father’s car holds for him. Maybe he and Homer both had terrible fathers, but these items represent their childhood memories of the good times they had with their dear old dads. But no, we quickly wrap things up as quickly and illogically as possible (“Are you saying I’m off the hook?” “Yes! In fact, you may be surprised, but you are now my best friend.” “So I’m not going to prison?” “No. You are going to Comic-Con with me!”) Then we see them at Comic-Con. Where’s Kumiko? She’s a manga artist, right? Wouldn’t she want to go to Comic-Con with her husband? Oh, never mind. Season 12’s “Worst Episode Ever” wasn’t a fantastic episode, but it at least tried to flesh out CBG a bit, and examine how his pettiness and seething sarcastic nature has alienated him from the world. Here, we have an episode seemingly about CBG, but barely even tries to look into anything new about him.

Three items of note:
– Lisa proposes the idea of making a sentencing mitigation video, showing off an example director Guillermo del Toro did to help Mr. Burns get off. The staff loves del Toro, who previously directed the opening to a Treehouse of Horror, who appears on screen in his famous House of Horrors, and his video is filled with references to his movies. But, as always, these are not jokes, they are references. I absolutely love del Toro, but there’s not even an attempt made to make any kind of joke about him or his work, it’s all just a fawning wank-job (Lisa coos, “Once again, Mr. del Toro stripped away the darkness and found beauty at its core!”) I guess Marge referring to The Shape of Water as the “fish-snuggling movie” counts as a joke? Not really though. And then of course we see a dream clip of Homer as the fish monster. I’m sure del Toro loved being on the show, and I’m happy for him, but he’s another in an endless conga line of completely wasted guest stars. Can you think of any celebrity guest from the classic years who was on the show just to be praised and lauded? They made American hero Buzz Aldrin say “Second comes right after first!” for God’s sake.
– Going to the various townspeople to film them about how wonderful Homer is reminds me of the long-running joke across many seasons how Homer is this widely hated pariah of the town (even all the way up to the 500th episode where they exiled the Simpsons because they hated them all so much). How did they think this project was going to go down? We see them talking to Moe, the closest friend Homer really has (next to Barney, I guess, or Lenny and Carl), Smithers, Skinner (?), and then we alway see Patty and Selma in the cut-up video. Patty and Selma. Even as wishful thinking as Marge is, she surely would know better than to ask her sisters to say nice things about Homer. It’s stuff like this that makes these shows unbelievable, when the characters do things that makes no sense for them to do.
– The final mitigation video features Homer being kind of a good dad, and manipulating Maggie into saying, “My daddy,” to curry favor with Judge Snyder. Except, we saw earlier when Homer tried to relate to him as a father, he was clearly very embittered by it (“I’m a judge, but I’m also a father… a father whose ex-wife only sees their kids at summers and Christmas. I don’t need you to rub it in!”) So why would the Simpsons think this video, which is even more cloying as a caring, loving family, would make Snyder feel any differently? Again, unbelievable.

One good line/moment: CBG wearing a Radioactive Man tie to court was a cute touch, and furthered his connection to himself and the destroyed comic. If his speech was actually emotionally revealing, and not just repeating the same surface level details we already knew, it would have actually meant something.

653. The Clown Stays in the Picture

Original airdate: February 17, 2019

The premise:
Krusty relays a story from his past in the 1980s, where he embarked to direct his own passion project of a seemingly unfilmable story, with the help of some beloved familiar faces on the crew.

The reaction: After our introduction to the story through Krusty appearing on Marc Maron’s podcast, we get a glimpse of Krusty’s old film career, where he hit it big off a successful high-concept comedy (“You mix two kooky words together in the title, put a rap song at the end that explains the plot, and bam! You’re on the cover of Premiere magazine!”) When the film execs come at him with a sequel, Krusty rebuffs, having fallen in love with a sci-fi book he randomly came across, wanting funding to star in this story that clearly has great meaning to him. The execs agree, but only with a shoestring budget, and a Mexico shoot with a non-experienced crew. And just about when I was starting to get interested, said crew was being shuttled in from Springfield, featuring two production assistants by the names of Homer and Marge. The story then becomes about Marge becoming Krusty’s AD, and Krusty wanting to push Homer out of the way so he can have Marge and her decision-making skills all to himself… so, another Homer-Marge show. Sigh. I’ve mentioned a couple times before about how I feel like there’s no reason a show with this large of a cast couldn’t stay fresh after thirty years as long as they experiment with the components they have. Why not have an entire episode devoted to a secondary character and their world? How does Chief Wiggum unwind after a long day’s work? What’s Professor Frink up to in his lab? But as always happens, a Simpsons always needs to be crammed into the story somehow. Yes, I understand this is The Simpsons, but really, did we need another fucking episode where Marge reassures that Homer is her soulmate for the ten thousandth time? I don’t get why we can’t have stories about secondary/tertiary characters featuring the Simpsons in minor or supporting roles (“A Fish Called Selma” being one of the only examples, and one of the best episodes of the show ever.) It would allow some new personalities to take center stage, new perspectives, new kinds of stories, but instead, we just go through the same familiar beats over and over again. The ending involves Homer inexplicably being kidnapped by some Mexican ruffians, and in lieu of their requested million dollar ransom, Krusty offers up the negative to his film instead. Does that sound like a fair trade to you? Who are these blackmailers? Why did they still continue their shoot-out with the film crew after realizing they were using space-age prop weapons? What a pointless anti-climax. At the beginning, I thought the show would culminate with Krusty becoming demoralized by the creative process, a de-evolution of him not caring about art and just wanting to be crass and commercial (and financially lucrative) for his whole career. Y’know, something illuminating about his character. Instead, it’s this nothing story that wraps up with Krusty doing a nicety for a woman who name he doesn’t remember, working a job that made zero impact on anybody.

Three items of note:
– Late into the last act, young Homer has a vision of a cactus Bart and Lisa, appearing to him as representations of his future with Marge and how he needed to win her back. It felt very unnecessary, considering I didn’t really care about him in the story and his viewpoint on this relationship “strife” was stupid and it just resolved itself in the end. It seems the scene was only there so to justify paying Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith their hundreds of thousands of dollars that episode for more than just three lines in the wrap-around segments.
– The tag features Krusty going down to Mexico with Marc Maron to finally see his masterwork, shocked to find that audiences are laughing at it (“It was supposed to show how we’re all connected!” “Look around, man. Maybe it did!”) This whole idea of this deeply personal creative endeavor Krusty went on that didn’t turn out how he wanted, actively avoided seeing it for over thirty years, and now mustering up the courage to go and seek it out is incredibly interesting, as is the conclusion of making peace with the fact that audiences are enjoying it, and that it shouldn’t matter if it’s not for the reasons he intended, but it’s relegated to a quick joke in the tag. Once again, I really, really wish the Homer-Marge shit was cut out of this.
– More timeline nonsense again… I really don’t pay much mind to this stuff anymore, but I can’t think of a third thing to talk about, so whatever. This show takes place in the “late 1980s” and features a young, childless Homer and Marge who are maybe 19 at their youngest. Which would put them in their mid fifties in the present timeline. I know the writers don’t care about this, but surely it must come up at some point during production.

One good line/moment: Aside for enjoying the potential of Krusty’s story at the beginning, I liked elements of Krusty being an indecisive wreck during the entire production. Again, if there had been more of a focus on that for the entire episode, this might have actually been something intriguing. Working in post, I certainly empathized with him scrolling back and forth between dailies, unsure of what nearly identical take to go with.

652. I’m Dancing As Fat As I Can

Original airdate: February 10, 2019

The premise:
When he’s put in the doghouse for binge watching a Netflix show without Marge, Homer tries to make amends by taking dance classes to impress her.

The reaction: Apparently this premise was based on real-life strife with Al Jean and his wife Stephanie Gillis, so I guess this episode is almost like their form of couples therapy. Before leaving to visit her ailing aunt, Marge instructs Homer to not binge watch the newest season of Netflix’s “Odder Things” (groan), but eventually he breaks down and gives into his temptations. Marge returns and is absolutely furious, being cold and abrasive toward Homer for the duration of the episode. I understand that this is pulled from real life (there are many shows that my wife and I must watch together), and I get it’s exaggerated, but the “conflict” just feels so meaningless. Am I supposed to care about stakes here? I mean, I haven’t for many, many years now, so I guess why bother worrying about them now? Homer finds out Marge also binges a lot of dance competition shows, so he decides to learn how to dance to win her back. He works a lot with a teacher, and then at the end of the show, he invites Marge out to a big party with all their friends, woos her with his dancing skills… and then that’s it. The episode’s over. It’s played 100% straight, with shots of the crowd cheering, Homer and Marge looking lovey-dovey at each other, and we fade to black on their embrace, right before the unrelated tag before the credits. What a knee slapper, huh? Am I supposed to be so touched by the sweet, loving relationship of these characters I love so much that I am just enthralled by this non-ironic ending? Given the low-impact impetus of their strife, and how little I give a shit, I can’t imagine how anyone could feel a thing by this conclusion. Except for Jean and Gillis, I guess. I hope they had a nice dance after he binged season 2 of The Crowd or whatever.

Three items of note:
– So Netflix gets name dropped constantly, and the CCO of Netflix appears as himself, but the show in question is still “Odder Stuff.” The D-grade MAD Magazine style name “parodies” we’ve been getting for the past fifteen-plus years. Why do they do this? Do they think that making the reference non-specific that’ll make it time-less, despite using Stranger Things music and iconography? They even mention the Guffer (Duffer) Brothers; with all of this shit we’ve seen over and over, am I supposed to laugh that they changed one letter of the real noun, or the fact that they looked up the entries of “Stranger” and “Things” in a thesaurus? Also, Stranger Things doesn’t really feel like a show that Marge would be into, I don’t feel. And even weirder to think, thanks to the show’s floating timeline, in the early 80s when Stranger Things is set, Homer and Marge would have been infants, so they’re not even like the adults now who get nostalgic over their 80s childhoods.
– Characters in this show using modern technology always feels off to me, and then even more jarring on top of it is when they act like new tech acts like old tech. Seeing the kids are watching “Odder Things,” Homer frantically changes the panel to Not-BoJack Horseman (“Too depressing,” he comments. Zing!) But you couldn’t just “change the channel” on the streaming service. Could they not have had like a quick menu pop up where he switches to a different show or something? This really feels like nitpicking, but it just makes jokes like these feel even lazier and less thought out. In a similar vein, Homer finishes off his illicit binge-watching, with the TV displaying a giant “END OF SEASON 2.” Marge returns home, and Homer frantically turns the TV off. Sensing the set is still warm, Marge turns the TV back on, and the end-of-season message is still there. The Netflix app would need to be restarted when you turn the TV on, unless it were like on a separate cable box he didn’t turns off or something. Again, nitpicking, but it seems so half-hazardly done. They could have had Marge excited to watch the new season, and Homer nervously spout out a spoiler and nervously have to cover himself up, and the secret being revealed… but that seems like it’d be a lot harder to write, so fuck it.
– Apparently they had a woman from So You Think You Can Dance as a choreographer on this episode, who I guess gave her expertise to all of the dance sequences. This feels like more evidence that I was supposed to be entertained and impressed by Homer and Marge’s big dance at the end. It wasn’t supposed to be funny, it was supposed to be important and heartwarming… Ugh. So glad there’s gonna be 2+ more seasons of this kind of stuff!

One good line/moment: The bit with Homer writing notes on cards to Marge after saying she doesn’t want to hear his voice was kind of cute (“Enough with the rebuses!”)

651. The Girl on the Bus

Original airdate: January 13, 2019

The premise:
Lisa befriends a girl and her intellectual, worldly experienced parents, and builds up lie after lie to hide her own disappointing family from them.

The reaction: I’ve been a bit surprised how quite a few episodes this season tread upon some original ground that somehow, over thirty years on the air, hasn’t been already thoroughly covered. How they actually executed those ideas is an entirely different story, but I certainly appreciated the effort. This episode, however, is absolutely nothing we haven’t seen before, and done so much worse. At first I thought this was a “Lisa gets a new friend” show, with Lisa wandering into the house of this girl she saw out the bus window, and immediately bonding over ecological concerns and Stan Getz music… man, Lisa is fucking boring. I’m sorry, but of the core family, her characterization slippage has hurt most of all. She was always wise beyond her years, but through it all, her childlike sweetness always kept her grounded and believable. But after years of the writers using her as a vessel for easy jokes on liberals and self-absorbed artsy types, writing her more as a 30-year-old grad student than an 8-year-old, any attempts to recapture that childlike innocence ring completely hollow. Her reactions to this new family and their mindful living and high-minded interests have her come off as smug and self-satisfied than any kind of wide-eyed awe. Anyway, the core of the episode is about Lisa sneaking out to the Monroes each nothing and lying about her family, feeling ashamed that they’re a bunch of lowlife slobs, which recalls both “Lisa’s Substitute” and “Lisa’s Wedding,” which is some pretty tough company to be sitting between.

Lisa is caught sneaking out by Marge, who is immediately hostile towards her daughter, sneeringly guilt-tripping, “I’m just someone who devotes every day to making your life a little better!” We earlier saw her yelling at her daughter during their nightly ritual of watching trash TV whilst eating frozen microwave dinners (“Why do we have to eat dinner together every night?” “Because it’s good for the damn family!!”) I understand this set-up is to sharply contrast with the Monroes, and when the show highlights the shittiness of the Simpson family, it’s always an issue how to portray the sweet, always sympathetic Marge in a bad light, but I’d much rather see her exhausted and ineffectively scolding Homer and Bart or something than just screaming at Lisa. There have been far too many episodes featuring Marge being cold and cruel to her daughter, and vice versa, for my tastes. But her attitude immediately flips when the Monroes are invited over, and Marge bends over backwards to make sure they all make a good impression. She specifically gives Homer a cue card with only four things to say and to never deviate, and at the night of the dinner, everything seems to be going swimmingly until Mr. Monroe probes him on his thoughts further (“I want to know what’s in your head!”) Dramatic music plays as the rest of the family looks petrified and time stands still as this reckless, mindless dullard ponders what to finally say. He eventually croaks out, “Uhh, you like beer?” Mr. Monroe emphatically says yes. I guess the joke was supposed to be all this suspenseful build-up for nothing, but it didn’t really feel like it. I’d rather things spiraled out of control as Homer put more and more of his foot in his mouth, exposing the family for who they really are; instead, Lisa just by her own sense of guilt comes clean and admits she lied and this was all a ruse. It all just feels so utterly empty. “Substitute” and “Wedding” deeply examined what Lisa craved in her life and what she valued, and how that completely clashed with the rest of her family (mostly Homer), and in the end saw how much they all truly mean to her, and how she’ll love them no matter what. We get none of that here. Instead, any kind of emotional resolution is bulldozed in favor of an out-of-left-field ending where Bart turns his bedroom into a nightclub. I thought my brain might have stroked out and I forgot something that happened earlier in the show, but no, he just invites everyone to his tricked out room, everyone hugs and that’s the ending. What a load of trash. Before when the show used to cover old topics, they felt like hollow mimicries, but now, they seemingly get too distracted by random nonsense they can’t even make a simple photocopy.

Three items of note:
– Homer texts Lisa asking where his phone is, to which she replies that he’s currently texting her on his phone, to which he replies back with the “Homer-sinks-backwards-into-the-bushes” gif. How deliciously meta. This show has never shied away from breaking the fourth wall, but it was always best when they were making some joke about television itself or the medium of animation. Here, using the popular gif is just the show telling its audience they know this meme exists, and that’s about it. Just like when they reference or namedrop popular movies and TV shows, it’s just them trying to get brownie points to skate by with minimal effort. And I barely care about this sort of thing anymore thirty years in, but stuff like this breaks the show’s already flimsy reality, that the writers care more about making a real-world reference than making their own fictional world believable. I’m actually kind of shocked they haven’t made a “steamed hams” reference yet; I feel like by the end of the year, we may get one. The couch gag is of a similar crowd-pleasing vein, featuring Thanos using Maggie’s pacifier as one of the Infinity Stones and dusting four-fifths of the family in the Great Snappening. Everyone and their mother has already made their Infinity War jokes online, but here comes this shambling dinosaur way past this cultural moment’s relevancy to get some brownie points. And for both of these examples, it works! Several sites and blogs, including TIME (!!!), talked about the Homer-in-the-bushes gif, and the original creator of Thanos posted how enthralled he was to see his character used on The Simpsons.
– The Monroes offer to drive Lisa home, who is petrified that her lies about her family will be exposed. She impromptu leaps out of the car and hugs Ned, whispering to him to play along, which he winks back and proceeds to help her out (“God bless you, and as I like to say, a hearty ‘Woo-hoo’!”) It’s the only cute moment in the whole show, and silly me, I thought it was going to actually build to something that Lisa would conspire with Ned to keep this ruse up, who would act as her moral compass to eventually want to come clean with the truth. Would they need to come up with a lie about Lisa’s “mother” and “sister”? A new wife to pose with Ned? Rod and/or Todd dressing in drag? But woah woah woah, that situation sounds like it would require way too much writing. Let’s just completely drop it. When she catches Lisa, Marge mentions that a guilt-ridden Marge told her about her whole charade, and we get a cutaway gag wherein Ned is dressed like Homer at the power plant, unable to stop his impression. Am I supposed to laugh at Ned saying Homer’s catchphrases? Instead I’m worried he has a brain hemorrhage or something. He also apparently told Marge what Lisa said about each one of the family members, a conversation she only had with the Monroes, so I guess they actually did have a conversation off screen that would have been interesting to see. But, again, way too much thinking would have been required for that.
– There’s a small moment that bugged me way too much, the act break when Marge emerges from the shadows to catch Lisa about to sneak out. Lisa screams (“Aaaaah!! Sideshow Mom!”) So… thinking about it more, Marge does say, “Hello, Lisa,” sort of like how Bob sinisterly says, “Hello, Bart,” but it’s not easily identifiable through Kavner’s reading. And the show has made a joke or two out of Bart and Lisa yelling “Sideshow Bob!” again and again before, I believe. But this little moment speaks to what I’ve decried over and over about this show, the complete lack of believably in these characters and them acting like real fucking people. As crazy and exaggerated as situations would get in the show’s first ten years, all the characters still talked and behaved in line with their personalities, and reacted how real people would react. Here, Lisa’s giddy about sneaking out and being deceptive to her family, but part of her must be pretty freaked out about getting caught. So she’s about to bike away from the backyard, when she hears her mother behind her. She’s caught, she’s done for. The ruse is over. So what does her brain tell her mouth to say? “Aaaah! Sideshow Mom!” Like, maybe if after she said it, she sheepishly was like, “Oh, sorry, just a reflex,” but even then in this non-Sideshow Bob episode it’s completely incongruous. Bob’s not exactly a main character; any casual fan watching this episode would be like, “What’d she say? Sideshow Mom? Is that like her nickname? What the fuck?” In the writer’s room, someone thought that ‘Bob’ and ‘Mom’ sort of sounded similar (they really don’t), and that it would be funny for Lisa to say this. Within the story and the emotions wherein, it’s completely ridiculous that Lisa would just blurt out this joke line when this very serious thing has happened, but, as always, none of that matters. These characters are hollow joke machines vaguely resembling actual people going through a story with the illusion of emotional stakes. And as I have said countless times, if the writers don’t care enough to treat a story seriously, why the fuck should I?

One good line/moment: I got absolutely nothing for this one. This feels like the worst episode of the season so far, it would feel right at home in season 28.

650. Mad About The Toy

Original airdate: January 6, 2019

The premise:
Bart’s toy army men trigger a traumatic memory of Abe’s; originally thought to be PTSD from his war days, it’s revealed that he was actually the photo model for the toys, and his trauma is from his deep regret of getting the cameraman fired after rebuffing his romantic advances. Abe must now track the man down to make his amends.

The reaction: This is one of those episodes that’s laid out like a mystery, except I don’t particularly care what the final reveal is. The source of Abe’s trauma is milked through the entire middle section of the show: first you think the army men caused him to have a horrible wartime flashback, but then it’s revealed that that was actually just the photo shoot for the toy soldier models. This itself feels like the punchline to one of Abe’s rambling nonsense stories, but I guess nowadays it’s as good a premise as any for an actual, serious plot line. Now thinking Abe is traumatized in never having gotten royalties for his likeness being sold for decades (that would cause him to scream bloody murder and lose his mind?), the Simpsons take an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City on the toy company’s dime, only to be told they don’t owe Abe jack since he never actually signed a contract. So did they pay for all their extravagant expenses just to mess with them? Also, their office building looks kind of old and run down, why would they blow all that money for no reason like that? Finally we get our big reveal: Abe developed a friendship with the photographer, who mistook his platonic affection for romantic and kissed him, causing Abe to run out in shock and get the poor guy fired. So now, the Simpsons are going to Texas where Phillip the photographer lives so Abe can finally apologize. But I’m not completely sure of the source of Abe’s trauma. At first I thought it was getting the guy fired, but he ran out of the photo session and never knew about anything that happened after that, it seemed. So I guess maybe it was buried down feelings about the kiss, a healthy dollop of gay panic, and questioning his sexuality (“I’ve started to think that a man can love different things and still be a man.”) This idea of a senior veteran reconsidering his definition of manhood is actually kind of compelling and would have made for a great story… if that quote hadn’t been said at almost seventeen minutes in. Abe finds that Phillip has made quite the living for himself creating pop art of soldier Abe, and only got the courage to live as his true self after he got fired. This section of these two old men talking, Phillip assuring Abe it’s never too late to make a change, is interesting, but again, there’s absolutely no room for it to breathe at the end of the episode. So we rush to Abe kissing Phillip before he leaves and confirming that he is indeed 100% straight, but hey, if you gays like it, that’s cool, man. We saw at the opening that Abe threw away his wedding portrait with Mona, which wasn’t really connected to anything else… I dunno, why not make Abe gay? It certainly would be something different. Isn’t thirty years of the status quo enough? Would any fan care if they made character changes like this? It certainly would make the show more interesting.

Three items of note:
– Seeing flashbacks with Abe as time marches forward feels more and more questionable. I know I’ve talked about this floating timeline stuff before, but even if Abe was drafted in WWII when he was 18, that would put him well into his 90s in present day. Did he have Homer when he was 50? I just feel like there comes a point where you have to move on and change things up, but that seems like the number one thing this show absolutely does not want to do.
– This story of Abe’s gay panic that he blocked out of his brain for years really could have been interesting if they actually took it a bit more seriously. Recalling this event caused him to scream bloody murder, so it must have really affected him mentally. Remember when Homer couldn’t stop screaming after recalling he found Smithers’ father’s corpse when he was a kid? They played that straight. Here, after the fateful kiss, we follow it up with some very natural sounding jokes (“This is the forties! Guys like you don’t exist!”) Then Abe reasserts his manliness by running into a Rock Hudson movie, because of irony. It all felt just way too on the nose; having Abe just run out in panic would have made the plot hold a lot more weight than trying to cram jokes out of every orifice of this show. I feel like there was more breathing room allowed in the classic years to really let emotional moments sink in. I remember a fantastic moment from “Lisa the Iconoclast,” after Homer loses his town crier position but still wants to show Lisa his support for her cause, there’s a quiet moment where we see him muster up a smile for her, but then he quickly goes back to looking sullen, his attempted mask for his daughter’s sake crumbling. That’s a wonderful moment, and if they had treated the gay kiss scene with that kind of weight, it would have been a lot more successful, and made me care about Abe more.
– As Abe walks down the streets of Marfa, Texas, preparing himself for meeting the man whose life he unintentionally ruined and the source of his confused sexuality, which had been treated with seriousness up to this point, he starts singing a song to himself recapping the story set to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”(There’s a handsome man in Texas that I’m going back to see/He was supposed to take my picture, but he got sweet on me/I buried it for decades, deep inside my brain/But then I played with army men and it came up again) Then he does a little jig and dances to his song. Firstly, ‘brain’ and ‘again’ don’t rhyme, even those Castellaneta attempted to pronounce ‘again’ like it did. Second, this is something the show is wont to do often, take a potentially emotional moment that might hold some actual weight, and completely undercut it with something stupid like this. They’re not even joke lyrics, he’s literally just repeating information we already know. There are plenty of ways we could have been Abe nervously enter the town, maybe stop in some shops or talk people to death as means of prolonging the inevitable, that could have been amusing, but still made sense within the story. But whatever.

One good line/moment: As usual this season, despite the actual story being crap, there were a handful of actually funny bits. Homer and Marge speeding through their date (taking a speedboat through the Tunnel of Love, Homer taking the reigns of their horse and buggy after the horse ran away), the toy company shredding raccoons into two sorting bins: coonskin caps and Play-Dough, the photo of Phillip taking a picture of a bathing beauty on Normandy Beach during the war… these are small moments that actually do work, but it’s just too bad that the same thought couldn’t be put into these stories. All the gags in the world can’t save an episode where I don’t give a shit about the characters and what they’re going through.

649. ‘Tis the 30th Season

Original airdate: December 9, 2018

The premise:
When Marge fails to get the kids a new smart TV on Black Friday, the rest of the family plan an impromptu trip to Florida to make her feel better, a trip that turns out to be pretty damn miserable (as any visit to Florida is wont to be).

The reaction: As the episode’s title refers to, thirty years is a long-ass time. And this has gotta be, what, the fifteenth Christmas show, at least? I say over and over that I’d love to see this show try something radically new, but as usually happens, this show is perfectly fine just cycling through traditional sitcom plots sprinkled with attempted jokes and calling it a day. This Xmas special opens with Bart and Lisa asking for a smart TV, and Marge waiting on line all night on Black Friday to acquire one. Her efforts are thwarted when she takes pity on a pathetic, trampled Gil and helps him get his own present to his granddaughter while the last smart TV is being taken. I forget if this show has tackled Black Friday before, but it’s definitely featured great scenes of mobs in stores (“Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy,” “Grift of the Magi”), as have other shows taken the chaotic realities of this “holiday” to their extreme (South Park‘s Black Friday trilogy). Not to say this show can’t do any Black Friday jokes, but as usual, none of them feel particularly fresh or original. So Marge is crestfallen that she let her kids down, Homer catches wind of it, and consults the kids about taking their mother on a vacation for Christmas to raise her spirits. So, they drug Marge’s tea with Sudafed to get her to pass out as they pack the car and all start driving to their vacation destination (not even gonna touch the iffyness of that subject…) Arriving in sunny Florida, they find that it’s not so sunny at all, their hotel is an absolute dump, and the attractions are less than desirable. At this point, it’s just a series of travel vignettes running at a quarter speed at best, of the family going to crappy amusement parks and finding more things to hate about their terrible hotel. I kept wondering what the point of all this was; Homer and the kids try to put on brave faces for Marge, but in the end, she admits she’s not having any fun. Like, of course she isn’t, this is the worst place ever. I lived in Florida for five years, making fun of that state is like shooting fish in a barrel, and this show can’t even execute that properly anymore. In the end, the family returns to Springfield, and Marge’s faith in the holidays is restored by Moe’s yearly act of charity, and they all sit down for dinner. Bart says grace, recapping the episode and espousing the hollow message (“Dear Lord, we didn’t get the gift we wanted, the place we went was a dump, but isn’t Christmas about being with your family and your bartender?”) I guess the big joke is supposed to be that they’re celebrating at Moe’s, but at this point, he’s a close family friend, not just some skeevy guy, and they seem to have a nice holiday feast. Why is this funny? I’m sure it’s daunting coming up with new ideas for Christmas episodes, but if this is the best you can think of, maybe just sit the holiday out if you’ve got nothing to work with.

Three items of note:
– The last smart TV is taken by Cletus and Brandine. As they’re hillbillies who live in abject squalor, I wondered if they even had electricity in their home. Sure enough, they sing a carol about it as they leave the store, almost as an insult to injury for Marge. But why would they spend $500 on something they can’t use? And do they even have $500 to spend? I mean, making fun of poor American schmoes who just compulsively buy on Black Friday even if they don’t have the money to spend, or don’t even want the products, people who just buy literally because they’re “getting a good deal,” that’s a great comedic vein to tap into. Instead, it just ignores all that and leaves you with more questions than answers. Am I thinking too much into this? I mean, at least include a throwaway line about Cletus getting a windfall check for doing a slip-and-fall at Krusty Burger or something.
– The show takes their shot at Family Guy in a cutaway showing Disney hard at work at a new “Family Guy World” theme park (the second Disney-FOX merger reference thus far). As the Family Guy theme plays, we see costumed characters of the Griffins, with Stewie boasting, “I was the It Boy of 2006!” Firstly, is this a burn? Honestly, if your joke is commenting that a show has lived on way past its luster, and you’re doing that joke on The Simpsons, and you’re doing it in a episode whose titled literally comments that you are in your thirtieth season, you should not do that joke. I keep forgetting that Family Guy is almost at twenty seasons at this point. Is it similar to this show when it came back, that it just became a sliding scale of quality into a bottomless pit? Is there an alternate universe where I run a blog where I watch every Family Guy episode ever and snarkily comment on them?
– The final joke in this episode is especially indicative of how fall this show has fallen. Homer sets up the new smart TV over the mantle, putting on the yule log, as the family sits down to watch in awe… despite the actual fireplace burning just below the TV. Look, that’s a fair enough joke. But wait, what if people don’t get it? LISA, PLEASE EXPLAIN THE JOKE TO US. (“You know there’s a real log burning below it, right?”) Bart replies, “Yeah, but is it HD?” I guess that joke was worth insulting the audience’s intelligence. Like, I really don’t get it, you could have just ended the show, why explain the fucking joke back to us? Also, as I’m writing this, I remember that the show already did this joke! Remember “Miracle at Evergreen Terrace”?

My complaint isn’t that they did the same joke again. You’re bound to repeat yourself after thirty years, and honestly, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. But look at this. This pan occurs after we change scenes to the Simpson house. They thought of the yule log joke, but kept it as an unspoken little gag your brain might not even put together as we set the scene before Marge walks in with Christmas cookies. Twenty-old years later, someone thought of the same joke, but was afraid the audience wouldn’t pick up on it, so they needed to overtly highlight it just in case. Is there any other explanation why? This show used to reward you for paying attention. Now, it desperately wants to make sure you understand every joke they lob at you.

One good line/moment: I think I remember a line I chuckled at when I watched it last night. But now it’s the morning and I forget it. C’est la vie.