479. The Scorpion’s Tale

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Original airdate: March 6, 2011

The premise:
On a field trip, Lisa discovers a type of flower that renders dangerous scorpions completely docile. This discovery is caught wind of by a pharmaceutical company, who hopes to synthesize it as a drug to make crotchety old people more carefree. Unfortunately, the miracle drug comes with one unforeseen side effect: dislocated eyeballs.

The reaction: I honestly don’t really get what this episode was about, so I might as well go through it beat by beat. Grampa is kicked out of the retirement home for being too irritating, and proceeds to aggravate the rest of the Simpsons living with them. So Homer doses him with Lisa’s flower extract she discovered and it peps him right up. In an aggravatingly expository scene, Lisa confronts her father about it, and Grampa reveals he’s just fine with it, that he wants to live his later years feeling fun and fancy free. So, this is something Grampa is absolutely fine with, and earlier we’d seen Lisa and the rest of the Simpsons living on edge over Grampa’s crotchety mood, so where is the downside to this? Lisa was fine testing on the scorpions, so is this like an issue of messing with a human’s free will, even if the subject is complicit? Beats me. She flushes her sample vial down the toilet to dispose of it, which is an absolutely fantastic idea. This dangerous chemical that can alter behavior, let’s let it into the water supply! But despite dramatic music playing when it enters the ocean and fish come into contact with it, nothing comes of it. Instead, a pharmaceuticals guy just happens to be at Moe’s and convinces Homer and Grampa to mass produce the chemical as a drug. But ultimately it ends up being circulated by the elderly of Springfield, and it results in their eyeballs popping out. Yup. Not since Sideshow Bob’s entire face peeling off have I seen something this aggressively cartoonish from the series. The point of all this, I guess, is that the seniors view their dangling eye tendrils as an acceptable cost to their improved mood, but it’s just so goddamn silly. And then the very end of the show involves Grampa doing an about face that they’re all of the greatest generation and they NEED to be crotchety and focused to pick up the mess of their children. This all happens in the last minute or so of the show out of nowhere, and I don’t really know what to make of it. They even lampshade it with Lisa not exactly sure what the lesson is. Me too, kid. Me too.

Three items of note:
– The opening field trip is pretty annoying. First, it’s a mix of the second and fourth grade students basically just so we have Lisa and Ralph in there, chaperoned by Principal Skinner. And, of course, Chalmers is there too. I’m going to be shocked when we get to an episode where we see Skinner by himself. The rest are just a series of pointless scenes, including one where Nelson walks behind a cactus to seemingly jerk off to some ye olde nudie photos the boys find? Gross? The opening feels like something the show used to do in the past; establish a setting or an emotion or some kind of thing that will lead to the start of the plot with a bunch of one-off gags. The difference is they used to be able to burn four or five jokes in like a minute and a half. The field trip lasts three and a half minutes before we get to Lisa and the scorpions; everything before it just feels like killing time by any means necessary.
– So the pharma guy gives Grampa some prototype pills before they hit the market, warning to not let them fall in the wrong hands, lest they be sold off. Cut to Bart walking around with a little suit selling them to everyone in town. His motivation is not quite clear; Bart’s money hungry for no real reason. He’s a kid, what does he care about money unless he wants to buy something specific? Like that stupid dirt bike from a few shows ago? It all feels so unnecessary; I still feel like Lisa should have inadvertently been responsible for spiking the water supply of the town by flushing her sample down the toilet. I feel you could get more mileage from a premise like that.
– The ending truly baffles me. Homer encourages Pharma Guy to let the seniors have their drug, claiming their generation has got everything under control. He then claims he’s off to get drunk, gets in his car, and drives over the parking spikes. He proceeds to poorly jack his car, and then Lenny and Carl show up in frame for no reason to give him bad advice. This all felt like a bit that was going on way, way too long, but then by the end of it, we see Grampa looking on in disgust, which leads to his speech convincing everyone to get off the drug and stay malcontent. But then when the geezers start approaching the car, Homer smiles and nudges Carl before they proceed to fix the mess they had created. So was this his plan all along? Why would Homer care about wanting the seniors off the drug? We establish there’s no real problem, but we reset the status quo regardless. I’m still at a loss.

One good line/moment: The childproof door of the pharmaceutical building was pretty amusing, but it did run a little long with Homer’s continuous struggles to open it.

478. Angry Dad: The Movie

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Original airdate: February 20, 2011

The premise:
The current intellectual property holder of Bart’s old Internet cartoon Angry Dad approaches him about making it into a film, later turned into a short. As the film sweeps awards season, Bart becomes discouraged that his father is assuming all the credit for his work.

The reaction: Here’s a modern Simpsons trope that I’ve missed (sarcasm), wherein a Simpson becomes a gigantic and talented success apropos of nothing, in an episode entirely based upon Hollywood navel-gazing. “I Am Furious Yellow,” an episode from nine years prior, was a perfectly enjoyable episode featuring then contemporary riffing on Internet companies and web cartoons. This episode is less concerned with the actual cartoon of Angry Dad and more about fame and the awards circuit. From the moment they walk in the studio, Bart and Homer are regarded as legends of the industry. Why? Is Angry Dad like a cult classic? It’s the equivalent of animators today shitting themselves over meeting the Joe Cartoon guy. None of the history of why people care so much about Angry Dad or the production of the short itself is really dwelled on; we skip from the decision to make it a short rather than a film, act break, and then we find out it’s been nominated for a Golden Globe. We don’t even know what the fuck the film is, and if you haven’t seen or don’t remember “Yellow,” you should have no clue what’s going on. So the emotional thrust of the episode is Bart getting bummed out that Homer, as voice and inspiration of Angry Dad, is hogging all the credit for all the awards the short is getting. Boy, what a relatable conflict! But it’s not clear what exactly Bart’s role in this film is. Two-thirds of the way in, we find out he was the writer/director of the film. What? We never saw any of that. Bart is busy crowing about not getting the recognition he deserves, but meanwhile we never saw him really putting any work into the film at all. But none of that matters. I’ve referenced it many times in the past, but the entire episode reeks of that one classic line of Krusty’s trying to relate to the common man (“Like when your lazy butler washes your sock garters, and they’re still covered with schmutz?”) This is a show with a staff that’s won countless awards, and this episode is all about their world and their problems, far removed from the average American family the Simpsons are supposed to be. When Bart gets the call that Angry Dad is up for an Oscar, he goes into a little song (“I’m going to the Oscars! Not as a seat filler! I’ll get a gift basket! But I won’t declare it!”) So this normal ten-year-old boy knows about the concept of seat fillers, getting gift baskets at Hollywood events, and declaring them on taxes he doesn’t have to file because he’s fucking ten. Terrible, terrible episode.

Three items of note:
– Instead of getting any actual plot or character motivation, we’re treated to extended clips of other cartoons, aping the likes of The Triplets of Belleville, Wallace & Gromit, Persepolis, and so on. But there’s not really any parody element to them; they’re just references, Simpson-ized versions of the actual articles that are effectively love letters. We love you, Mixar! I mean, Pixar! Ooooh, but we made a small dig at Cars! BURN! The easiest comparison one can make is to “The Front,” as both episodes involve an award show for animation. Remember the “How to Buy Action Figure Man” bit from that episode? It’s one of the most brilliant jokes the show has ever done, eviscerating the not-so-hidden agenda of 80s cartoons existing to sell toys in a mere four seconds. We see only a few seconds of each nominee, because that’s all the time they needed to tell their jokes and move on. Here, we get at least forty seconds each of four different nominees, where, as mentioned, there’s no real joke, it’s just a tribute to those actual films. There’s nothing scathing or subversive about it, but a lot can change in twenty years. The writing staff of season 4 wasn’t as highly gilded, still bitter off their Emmy loss to a claymation Easter special, so they took great pleasure taking fire at their medium and the hokey pomp and circumstance of award shows. Nowadays, it’s just a big non-offensive love fest. It’s like the ending of “Radioactive Man” played completely straight, with a kind, ever-forgiving Hollywood set to “Lean on Me.”
– Lisa tries to encourage Bart about making Angry Dad into a short, listing great directors who started out making shorts: Wes Anderson, Frank Tashlin, and Tim Burton. One of these things is not like the other, isn’t it? Anderson and Burton are contemporary filmmakers, so I’ll give it Lisa knows of them. But Frank Tashlin? Tashlin was one of the lesser known classic Warner Bros. cartoon directors, doing a lot of the old Porky Pig cartoons of the 1930s. I’m a huge cartoon nerd and I didn’t even know that after that, he went off to direct some successful films in the 50s, none of which are titles I recognize. The point is, there’s no fucking way Lisa knows who Frank Tashlin is. I try to not reiterate points that are constant problems in for this series, but Lisa’s compendium of world knowledge when the plot needs it was especially glaring here. That, and the joke isn’t over. Bart replies to the list of three with, “Name one more.” Lisa replies, “Taylor Hackford.” So the writers are aware of this trope, but they do it anyway. I looked up Hackford, he did some short films, but then later directed such films as An Officer and a Gentleman, The Devil’s Advocate, and Ray. Hackford and Tashlin are both names unknown to the public, but I’d hazard a guess more of the general public have greater familiarity with those movies than they do of Tashlin’s work. Did it all come down to that they couldn’t think of a third name to go along with Anderson and Burton? She could have just said fucking John Lasseter, which would then tie into their later Pixar dick sucking. Done.
– This episode has a parade of superfluous guest voices. First up is Ricky Gervais, who previously played not-himself in an episode he kinda sorta wrote the outline for, this time just plain playing himself. Now, remember when Gervais hosted the Golden Globes and made Hollywood feel uncomfortable with the jokes he told at their expense? Remember how big a “controversy” that was? That’s basically the underlying joke in his scene with a sign gag present throughout, and it’s a real eye roller. More inside baseball humor. Also, both of his scenes run far, far too long; as was the case in his last episode, his very rambling, long-winded style of comedy does not really fit well with this show. It would also help if his lines were actually funny. Russell Brand and Halle Berry appear to present awards, and pretend to make fun of themselves. The most curious appearance is Nick Park, Wallace & Gromit director, who admittedly is the best guest of the list (“I’m more clay than man now.”) But it’s just weird considering not many people must know who he is. I guess they figure the audience will figure it out; they don’t even say his full name, Lisa just says “Mr. Park.”

One good line/moment: This is pretty difficult, since this is definitely my most hated episode so far. I guess I’ll go with the aforementioned Nick Park line. I love Aardman anything.

477. The Blue and the Gray

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Original airdate: February 13, 2011

The premise:
When Marge discovers her hair stylist has been covering up her grayness for years, she decides to embrace her age and go full gray, much to Homer’s dismay. Meanwhile, Moe recruits Homer to be his wing man to help him get girls.

The reaction: The A-story was pretty empty, so let’s get that out of the way first. “Secrets of a Successful Marriage” already revealed that Marge dyes her hair, but I guess they added a line in her that the blue dye causes her to lose her memory? What? But basically, Marge goes gray, the other gossiping biddies give her shit for it, and she gets insecure. That’s just about it. We don’t even get to that plot until a third of the way in. We also have some time-killing scenes after that where the boys tease Bart about his mom and he ends up in therapy, but that doesn’t amount to anything. The rest of the episode is Moe getting help from a swindler pick-up artist and utilizing Homer as his wing man to pick up girls at clubs. Like, hot, trendy clubs with young looking girls, which I guess exist in a dumpy town like Springfield? And here’s the kicker: it works. We see a couple moves that Homer pulls, all of which are like bullshit gross pick-up artist 101 maneuvers: have the wing man go after the less attractive (fatter) friend, taking out rival competition by revealing something embarrassing. This all couldn’t be easier to make fun of. But they don’t. It’s played completely straight, and we see Moe scoring with girls. And Homer too. When Marge confronts Homer at the end, he has a throng of ten girls surrounding him, captivated by his every word. Why? Why? For God’s sakes, why. It’s completely nonsensical. I don’t even know how the two plots are even supposed to connect. We don’t even see Homer making excuses for why he’s been out so late to an inquisitive Marge. Marge finds out when two super skinny girls walk into a shop he’s in talking about what a great catch Homer is. It’s all very confusing.

Three items of note:
– There’s a gag here that almost works regarding the Simpson children’s hairlines. Bart ponders exactly where his head stops and his hair begins. Alright, good joke. But then it just goes on and on with Lisa fretting and nearly having a nervous breakdown from it, and it just kills it. Per usual, there are a lot of needlessly elongated segments in this show: Homer opening the door to Moe’s again and again, the slooooow dripping of the blue dye as Marge makes her decision, Gil’s scene at the supermarket, Homer envisioning Bond villains for some reason, the very ending with the Maggie and Gerald cupids that kiss (which felt kind of gross to me); if you’ve got a gag that maybe kinda works, make sure you run it for at least twice its length.
– Dr. J. Loren Pryor from “Bart the Genius” makes a reappearance, sounding nothing like his original voice. He appeared in a few other shows, and I feel like I remember he also showed up randomly in a more recent episode as well. But, anyway, I don’t blame Shearer for not remembering, or caring, what Pryor sounded like. Would you?
– Speaking of elongated jokes, the ending is such a slog. We devote, no joke an entire minute to a sequence showing Marge’s transformation into a witch. She crashes her cars and frazzles her, tears her dress, her shoes curl up, she ends up with a broom, cats follow her, and just in case you didn’t get it, the Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch motif cues up as well. And Mr. Teeney appears as a flying monkey. Yeah, with wings. It’s just so, so laborious. Fifteen seconds in, I get the joke. I get it. She’s the visually unfavorable comparison to those hotter younger girls. But I guess they’re just so desperate to fill time that they can stretch stuff like this out as long as they need to.

One good line/moment: The sleazy pick-up artist’s seminar is held at the Springfield Airport Motor Lodge. In the establishing shot, a landing airline shoots by, knocking the sign over. It was quick and unexpected, and I was actually amused by it.

476. Homer the Father

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Original airdate: January 23, 2011

The premise:
Homer’s new obsession with old 80’s sitcoms leads to him emulating a TV dad parenting style. Frustrated that his father won’t get him a cool dirt bike, Bart ends up almost creating an international incident in his efforts to get one himself.

The reaction: I don’t think I’ve seen an episode yet with this dramatic of a gear shift. We go from absolutely nothing happening to disastrous foreign espionage within the course of a minute. The first half of the show is devoted to Homer’s binge watching of “Thicker Than Water,” an 80’s sitcom, of which we see multiple scenes of, at least a minute and a half of the total run time. Parodying these cheesy old sitcoms is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I wouldn’t say that they’re making fun of them as much as they are just recreating them. The theme song, the jokes, there’s no real edge to them. BoJack Horseman takes much better aim at garbage like this, and in a much shorter amount of time. Homer dons a not-Cosby sweater and tries to instill Bart with TV-fueled advice, and everything drags on so long with nothing happening, all the while making me wish I was watching “Saturdays of Thunder” instead. So with no recourse into getting his much desired dirt bike, Bart formulates a plan, where he writes letters to foreign nations saying he’ll give up his father’s knowledge of nuclear secrets to get what he wants. This… is kind of coo-coo bananas. They try to play the naivety card pretty hard with Bart not really acknowledging the gravity of his situation, but I refuse to believe Bart is that dumb; it casts him in a really negative light. Ultimately, the situation is rectified when Homer sacrifices himself to the Chinese, they take him to China, he supervises the build of a power plant there, it explodes, and then he comes back home. That all happens in less than a minute toward the end of the show. I’m not exactly sure what I was supposed to get out of this episode, it was just a flimsy father-son story that takes an insane right turn halfway through, with a crazy amount of padding, not only from all the sitcom snippets, but at the end, we not only get an Itchy & Scratchy, but a random tag ending of the cast of the 80s sitcom talking with James Lipton. Anything to make it to twenty minutes, I guess.

Three items of note:
– Bart gets his treasonous inspiration when Apu shows up at Homer’s door, returning his SNPP security card he left in his store. Apu then goes into a long monologue about how dangerous that access could be in the wrong hands, and goes into a list of countries. All non-Simpson characters seem to exist in this show for one of two reasons: either to spout the same kind of joke over and over again, or to show up as a walking plot device.
– Bart spends quality time with Homer in order to get close enough to him to get a USB stick of information from the plant, which I guess just automatically downloads all the pertinent info immediately when Bart plugs it in. After making the trade-off for the dirt bike, the next morning Bart is shocked to find that Homer had just gotten it for him, as thanks for spending so much time with him. This conceit feels straight out of a sitcom, which given the subject matter of the episode, could have been acknowledged or subverted in some way, but it isn’t. It’s just the plot, played straight.
– The Chinese informants seemed… I don’t know if I wanna say full on racist. But they seemed very stereotypical. This whole plot makes no sense at all. Bart sends letters out to ‘Chinese White House’ and ‘Iraq White House,’ and I guess they just get delivered, no problem. From this, all these different countries come after Bart. They didn’t think this was just a prank? And going back to Bart’s naivety, I feel like Bart is much more shrewd than that; classic Bart would have played hardball with these guys, not quiver and waver like “Ooohhhh, I don’t knoooowww…”

One good line/moment: To access the high security lock-up at the power plant, it requires an eye scan from Homer. Homer demonstrates there’s a work-around: he draws a circle with a dot in the center on a piece of paper, holds that up to the scan, and it works. I like meta jokes about the show’s art style.

475. Flaming Moe

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Original airdate: January 16, 2011

The premise:
Discouraged by Mr. Burns’ fervent lack of respect for him, Smithers seeks out a new life venture, which he finds when he teams up with Moe to create a more openly accepting gay bar. But conflict arises when Moe misdirects his clientele into thinking he’s gay himself. Meanwhile, Skinner falls in love with the new music teacher for some reason.

The reaction: One of the things that discouraged me the most as this show went on was the squandering of its insanely large cast. With such an immense parade of secondary and tertiary characters, the number of stories you could do in the town of Springfield seems almost endless to me, but for whatever reason, the show seemed dead set on always having a Simpson take center stage in some regard. Meanwhile, most of the supporting cast wasted away until they became one-dimensional shades of their former selves. An episode like this has some immediate promise; pairing up two side characters and seeing their personalities bounce off each other is certainly an intriguing idea. When Smithers first walks into Moe’s and the two have a conversation, my interest actually perked up a bit, maybe this could turn into something. But ultimately, it’s an episode that doesn’t really say anything or do anything all that interesting or new. The main thrust of the episode switches from Smithers to Moe fairly quickly; once their gentlemen’s bar opens, Moe pretends he’s gay to fit in, and Smithers becomes his nagging voice of reason, who only appears from that point on to pull him aside two or three times to confront him about it. It all felt like such a shallow conflict, and ultimately really meant nothing. There’s also this weird thing going on in the first half where they just won’t say the word “gay.” Concerning Smithers, the show at this point is still tiptoeing along the very edge of just flat out calling him gay; they finally “officially” outed him last season, I think, which felt like fifteen years too late. But Smithers and Marge both ask Moe, “Do these people think you’re really… one of ‘them’?” Like they’re another species or something. Then in the back half of the show, they champion Moe and urge him to run as the first openly gay councilman, and at that point, everyone just starts saying “gay.” It was quite strange. As far as episodes about homosexuality go, it’s nowhere near as offensive as something like “Three Gays of the Condo” was; the lazy, uncreative gay stereotyping of there (something like The League of Extra-Horny Gentlemen feels so much less progressive than The Anvil from fifteen years ago), but it’s all so banal here. It was more boring than anything else.

Three items of note:
– The B-story is so flimsy and disposable, there’s not much I can even say about it. Mr. Largo leaves the school with his new lover (though I’m sure he’ll be back in future shows; can’t afford to lose such an integral character) and is replaced by Jennifer, some stereotypical hippie dippy woman. Skinner has a crush on her, for no explainable reason. He enlists Bart to help him with his courtship; if Bart take Jennifer’s daughter out on a date (a girl we’d never heard of prior to this), Skinner could chaperone and get closer to her. What kind of plan is this, and why would he trust Bart to do this? But apparently, his asinine plan works; over the course of a fifteen second exchange chaperoning the date, Jennifer says she likes Skinner too. When Bart breaks her daughter’s heart, Jennifer announces she’s leaving the school, and begs Skinner to go with her, which he does. Then the episode ends with Skinner returning from some kind of radical rave after being dumped. This premise of a major secondary character running off with the supposed love of his life takes up making a third of the episode’s run time, everything about it feels meaningless and incoherently rushed. Also, Jennifer is voiced by Kristen Wiig, at that point a major player on SNL, and her daughter by Alyson Hannigan, star of How I Met You Mother; two pretty huge comedic actresses whose services were absolutely wasted in nothing roles like this, particularly Hannigan, who gets barely three lines.
– We’ve been spending a lot of time at the school this season, and every single time we’ve seen Superintendent Chalmers there. This is a situation that cropped up in the last five or six seasons or so; the writers I guess were so in love with Skinner-Chalmers interplay that they just had Chalmers at the school every day, all the time, even though he surely has other schools under his jurisdiction. He might as well be living in Skinner’s office at this point.
– Moe gestures to his wall of past failures to reinvent his bar: turning it into an English pub with Marge in “Mommie Beerest,” his post-modern take in “Homer the Moe,” and… Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag, in “Bart Sells His Soul.” It doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s always sad and uncomfortable when you see a sling of references to past episodes, and they throw a classic one in there. It just feels so alien being put in sequence with a bunch of other junk.

One good line/moment: Like I said, I actually enjoyed Moe and Smithers’ first scene together. It was fun at first seeing two characters who I don’t believe ever had an interaction before have a conversation (“Can I have a scotch and water?” “My scotch is a scotch and water.”)

474. Moms I’d Like To Forget

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Original airdate: January 9, 2011

The premise:
The discovery of Bart’s childhood scar reminds Marge of the three women she befriended at a Mommy and Me class, and it leads to a successful reunion. But while Marge enjoys actually having friends again, Bart doesn’t feel as strong a kinship with the mothers’ sons, who are much more extreme and reckless than he, and seeks to tear down the new relationship for his own sake.

The reaction: For an episode revealing information about the past, the story certainly doesn’t feel it. Marge was apparently very good friends with these three women, but we don’t exactly know why. We also are not given any of these women’s names or know anything about them. They, nor their husbands or kids, are characterized in the slightest, and additionally, Marge doesn’t seem to express any specific interest in any of them either. A comparison to “Scenes of the Class Struggle in Springfield” would be way too unfair, but even going back to something like “Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” you at least had the leader of that group have a name and some kind of personality, and you saw Marge express great interest in the group and belonging and her feeling good about having friends. In this episode, we don’t really get any of that. The time instead is devoted to solving the mystery of how Bart and the other three boys got their weird scars. It’s built up through the whole show, and when we finally see what happened, it ultimately means nothing. The boys were a bunch of rapscallions that wandered off and got themselves hurt. We don’t see the mother group breaking up, or why they would do that because of what happened. There’s a scene where Bart and Marge have a back-and-forth where Bart wants to break up the group, but Marge is resistant (“I love you kids with all my heart, but dammit, I need something for myself!”) The problem is feebly established that the other three boys are too hardcore for Bart and he feels somewhat abused, but Marge doesn’t see any of this going on. Also, why would he have to hang out with them at all? In the end, Marge leaves the group anyway, in a super, super quick scene where one of the other moms claims Bart is the troublemaker of the bunch, and she storms out immediately (“I remember why I left this group seven years ago, and it’s why I’m leaving now!”) Huh? So, maybe the moms blamed Bart for their sons’ injuries and Marge was pissed about that? But why do I have to connect the dots for the most important part of the story, when they spend so much time on the scar mystery? Such a messy, nonsensical outing.

Three items of note:
– Not only do we have three new nameless women we know nothing about, we have three new nameless men too! Over and over, we see that whenever the four moms are hanging out and having fun, the dads are in the other room, awkwardly silent and not knowing what to do with themselves. It’s the same joke over and over. They can’t even get any comic material from Homer in this easy of a set-up? It all just feels so tired and lazy; so many of these episodes feel just like filling up space so they can barely reach the run time.
– Bart and Lisa go to confront Comic Book Guy about what happened in Bart’s past to get the scar, when Lisa chimes in, “Can we hurry this up, I feel really uncomfortable being a girl in this store.” We see her glancing at what looks like Barbarella in her tattered, revealing rags outfit chained to a boulder. It just felt like a really bizarre, awkward throwaway joke. It feels like subject matter that the show could have built an entire episode around if they cared enough to do it. Alienation of girls in nerd culture, female roles in comics, all this stuff, but the most contemporary the writers can go is a movie from the 60s, apparently.
– When Marge leaves the group for good, the three women are relieved that she’s gone, so they can proceed to make out with each other. So, they’re a swinging threesome, then? Did they want Marge to join them? Why would they want Marge to hang out with them if it was going to interrupt their sexy times? These girls-only outings are seemingly their cover to get away from their husbands, so why muck up their sexcapades by dragging along Marge if they didn’t also want to fuck her too? But why think too hard into it, it’s just a dumb joke. Like earlier this season with the LOGO and Bravo guys making out, or in the movie with the two male cops sucking face, I guess the takeaway is that gay people are weird and hilarious!

One good line/moment: The fourth graders challenge the fifth graders to a fight after school, “rain or shine.” Cut to them all standing outside in the pouring rain wearing ponchos, agreeing to reconvene during “shine” period. Then cut to them on a sunny day administering sunblock. Pretty amusing quick sequence.

473. Donnie Fatso

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Original airdate: December 12, 2010

The premise: 
Homer is sent to prison for attempting to wriggle out of a series of innocuous offenses, and the only way to reduce his sentence is to become an FBI informant and infiltrate Fat Tony’s latest operation. Things get complicated when Homer and Tony form a tight bond, leaving Homer conflicted over where his allegiances lie.

The reaction: Sometimes it’s tricky writing up those quick plot summaries. Like, those are the story and emotional beats that the story was seemingly trying to reach for, but they’re never actually successful. The core of the story is that once Homer becomes a rat, he forms a kinship with Fat Tony, thus feels bad about betraying him. Except we don’t really delve into why Homer is so taken with the mob boss. Tony is swayed pretty quickly for plot convenience (“You have earned my complete, unquestioning trust!”), but why does Homer care about him so much? Because Tony threw him a party? He feels like he belongs in a group? Maybe we could have seen Tony had a lot to lose if he was taken down. We see him visit his wife’s grave, maybe reintroduce his son Michael and make Homer conflicted in robbing a boy of his father. Except we start out with Fat Tony and his crew already in jail and they easily break out, so with the revolving door judicial system in Springfield, I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much. But two-thirds in, Fat Tony dies, an incredibly unceremonious exit for such a big character, but a pretty ballsy move for the show. But, of course, that immediately is undone by the ending; Tony’s cousin Fit Tony steps in as boss, and then he eats a lot, and then he’s Fat Tony again. So this is like “I, D’oh-bot” with Snowball V being Snowball II, a B-plot that was so dumb and insulting that I’m such a majority of the fans hated, but here, it’s with an actual real human character that we care about. I dunno, do the writers just think that it’s so stupid, it’s funny? I don’t get why they think this plot twist ending could possibly work. Killing Fat Tony for good would actually be kind of interesting; maybe create a new character to be the boss, or you could get to know Legs or Louie better, but the show is so terrified of changing anything about the status quo, so we’re left with Fit-Fat Tony. Bleehhhhh.

Three items of note:
– There’s a pretty terrible bit at the beginning where for no reason, Homer and Moe stumble onto the stage of Wicked. Like, as a four second joke of them going from room to room for privacy, it might have worked. But instead, it just drags on and on and on for forty seconds, with Moe doing a little pantomime with a flying monkey, a joke you could have told in much, much less time. Then, ultimately, Moe tells Homer the information he wanted to tell in private, right at the bar anyway. With the other barflies gone, granted, but still, that whole detour was ultimately made pointless.
– Joe Mantegna seems to be getting up in years, because the Fat Tony voice was way, waaaay off here. It’ll be interesting to see from this point which voices the actors seem to lose grasp on as time moves forward. It’s not their fault, but given they kill Tony in this one, maybe this is all the more reason to keep him dead.
– Toward the end of the show, Fit Tony “tortures” Homer by forcing him to use the elliptical in his gym, which is completely empty. We do a time fade, it’s a tight shot of the two of them, and previously we’d seen one empty machine to Homer’ left. So, Homer says, “I worked for Fat Tony, and he was the best boss I ever had!” As soon as the word ‘boss’ was uttered, I already knew Burns was gonna be on that other machine. And sure enough, there he was, offended by Homer’s comment. Forget how he got there, why he was there in the first place, how he got on the elliptical directly next to Homer without him realizing, but why would Burns give two fucks if one of his employees didn’t think he was the greatest boss? Maybe he still desperately wants to be loved like a few episodes ago. So, so dumb.

One good line/moment: In a rare instance of utilizing class show elements in an actually effective way, Fat Tony orders Homer to burn down Moe’s after being insulted on the phone while trying to reach his Russian business contact Yuri Nater. Although the wrong number conceit is semi-reminiscent of “Homer the Smithers,” I thought it was a creative use of the prank call gag.