497. The D’oh-cial Network

2311Original airdate: January 15, 2012

The premise:
In an attempt to gain some actual friends, Lisa creates an online social network called SpringFace, but as its popularity spreads and it ends up addicting the entire town, serious problems begin to arise.

The reaction: Wherein the writers really loved The Social Network and decided just to do that story. Mark Zuckerberg was on the show last season, so we once again have another Star Wars/Cosmic Wars scenario. But whatever, Facebook doesn’t exist, except for the times when it does. So we get a framing device of Lisa on trial for her actions causing devastation to the whole town, I guess mirroring the deposition in the actual film. Surely this will all make sense when we get to the end. Except, of course it doesn’t. It isn’t until the nine minute mark that the story actually kicks in. Lisa is on Springfield Elementary’s online chat room or something, and, not knowing what to say, types in innocuous phrases like “Do you like ice cream?” of which she immediately gets four responses. Desperate for friends, Lisa uses this social meeting site as inspiration to create… another social meeting site? After the act break, we see her and the other Super Friends in the computer lab creating the website. So… does she not consider them her friends? Or does she just want non-nerd friends? They could have even made a joke about that, if they had, you know, put some thought into it. So SpringFace launches and Lisa is stunned that even adults are using it. The episode then turns into a social commentary of everyone staring at their phones and not interacting with each other, which is a really softball satirical target, and even this the show manages to bungle. We barely see what people are so engrossed with on their phones, which could have created amusing juxtaposition to what they’re actually doing, or could be doing, in real life. It never extends farther than just seeing people staring at their smartphones, which ultimately leads to calamity of people texting while driving causing car wrecks, and in no time at all, the town is in ruins, somehow. It’s not clear why there’s this widespread of a disaster, and why Lisa shutting down SpringFace will fix anything. People still have smartphones they can use to text and use this Internet, what difference will this make? Trying to satirize a popular film and a social media obsessed culture, this show spectacularly fails at both.

Three items of note:
– This episode was extremely short, so not only do we get lots of padding within the actual show, but also at the start and end of it. First is the lengthy couch gag starring David Letterman. Remember the old couch gag where he just turns around in his chair and that was it? A short but sweet simple tribute. Here, I guess it’s an extended parody of the actual Late Show opening? I don’t even remember it, and it just drags on and on. Like I mentioned earlier, the SpringFace plot doesn’t start until nine minutes in, and that wraps up at eighteen minutes, so the actual plot of the episode is just nine minutes long. After some final joke title cards, we get a bizarre ending bit involving Patty and Selma competing against the Winklevoss twins (voiced by Armie Hammer, who played them in the film) in rowing at the Olympics. I guess this just figured, we want to take that part of the movie, and Patty and Selma are twins, so that will make it Simpson-y. Then before the very end, they stop rowing and start making out with each other, because the only thing funnier than two dudes kissing, is if they’re related. Incest is hilarious! But no, we’re still not done. We get a self-acknowledged “Show’s Too Short” story; Dan Castellaneta as Vincent Price narrates a prank from Bart that goes wrong, done in an gothic cross-hatching visual style. Despite the oddity of its existence in the first place, it’s easily the best thing in the entire episode. It’s just really surprising to me that considering how much needless padding that’s in nearly every episode at this point, they couldn’t squeeze in just a few minutes more.
– In recent years, the show has definitely slipped away from Springfield being America’s Crud Bucket to being suspicious similar to southern California. This episode’s opening set piece involves the Simpsons visiting the fancy new outdoor mall. The architecture and layout of some of the buildings, the trolly car, the expensive condos, the specific stores (American Girl), it’s literally the Grove in Los Angeles. Halfway through the set piece, Marge whips out a bunch of gift cards she has, even though these are supposed to be more high-end stores, so who knows how she got these. But nowadays, the family doesn’t seem to be struggling, they’re having a grand old time at the mall, ending in Homer buying the latest Apple laptop. They’re doing just fine financially. Except when an episode dictates they need to be poor, and then they’re poor. Flexible reality!
– The ending really, honestly, makes no damn sense. In the framing device, Lisa laments that SpringFace was being used in ways she hadn’t intended. First we see her spying on Bart, Milhouse and the bullies playing an ultra violent video game, having somehow used SpringFace to trade weapons from their accounts. What? How? Either this video game was made exclusively for SpringFace, like a Facebook game, or the company apparently struck a deal with CEO Lisa to share content through the social media site. Either way, violent video games wasn’t a problem Lisa created, and shutting the site down won’t solve it. And what’s the problem anyway? Rather than beating them senseless, the bullies are willfully playing this game with Bart and Milhouse and having a great time. That’s a positive from my perspective. Then we see Homer driving and texting, with Marge riding shotgun, also texting. Marge looks worried as she stares at her husband, but doesn’t say a word until he’s done saying his full joke line. There’s even a weird second pause after he stops talking before she says, “Watch the road!” They could have made it a point that the allure of smartphones is so strong that even the always responsible Marge has gotten completely addicted, but instead here, it makes no sense that it takes her forever to tell her husband to put down the goddamn phone. So it results in a giant car pile-up, and then we see the entire town is like one big car wreck up in flames. So, video games and texting are the demons SpringFace created, two things that can be done on smartphones without a social media app. But whatever, Lisa shuts down the site, and everyone throws away their devices. Why? Did they do nothing but SpringFace? Parts of this episode feel like they were written by old men who don’t understand this new technology, but the writing staff must all use smartphones and get why this makes no sense, right? Or maybe they just don’t care. That may be it.

One good line/moment: The ending bit, the “Show’s Too Short” story. It’s nothing spectacular, but the different visual style and Castellaneta’s Vincent Price made it enjoyable, at least until the very ending where we see Skinner reading the story.

496. Politically Inept with Homer Simpson

2310Original airdate: January 8, 2012

The premise:
A viral video of Homer going nuts about mistreatment on an airplane gets him his own political talk show, where he blusters on about traditional values and small town American rights. His nonsensical, ill-informed rhetoric becomes so influential that he gets tapped to pick the Republican presidential nominee, famous rocker and insane person Ted Nugent.

The reaction: Boy, this is a real time capsule of an episode. Sort of. Some elements of it still feel depressingly relevant in our current dumpster fire of a political climate, but boy oh boy, Homer as Glenn Beck? Once again, despite Krusty’s cries two episodes ago about looking dated and hacky, the show doesn’t seem to care. And also once again, South Park beat them to the punch by two years. But let’s look into this a bit more. That episode featured Cartman becoming the new morning announcer at the school, and abusing his power by attacking the student body president because he doesn’t like her personally. He became a Glenn Beck expy, but all in a way that was in line with his character; Cartman loves attention and relishes being in a position of power, and he’s also a huge asshole. So what do we have from The Simpsons? Well, Homer goes nuts on an airplane, grabbing the intercom and spouting some nonsense about customer’s rights. He then goes on a cable news show and shouts that he speaks for the honest Joe American, which then leads to him getting his own show, where he becomes Glenn Beck Lite. Why is he doing this? He’s talking out his ass extolling good ol’ boy American values, but as Castellaneta marries his Homer voice with a Beck impression, I just don’t understand what Homer’s point is or his goal. Through the episode, he flip flops between his original impassioned airplane speech, then claiming he’s just playing a character, to an advocate for the little guy, to actually wanting to implement change, and the ending involves him not able to buy into his own bullshit anymore and giving up his fame. So much of this episode is nonsensical and unfunny, but the core of it absolutely does not work when I can’t figure out the main character’s motivation throughout the entire episode. They wanted to do a Glenn Beck parody, and they squeezed Homer into that box so they could do it. So topical. Except not.

Three items of note:
– The opening at the airport feels even more dated than the Glenn Beck plot line. Making fun of TSA regulations and security checks in 2012?
– The whole gravy boat thing I guess is referencing the Tea Party? Except the show doesn’t do anything with that. The show had some juicy material at their disposal lampooning that movement, or just the idea of a TV loudmouth holding that much influence and using it irresponsibly, but they reduce it to just one line that Lisa says to push the plot forward. The gravy movement thing is pretty much squandered, with screen time instead used for some elaborate fake dream to sway Homer back to reality. Bleh.
– I feel pretty stymied by this episode, it’s hard to come up with what to talk about. When we get to the point where Ted Nugent seems to be living at the Simpson house for some reason, I just don’t even know where to begin. Why is he here? What’s he promoting? He shoots an arrow into Flanders’ forehead, and then later shoots a bunch of kids into the air from his bow, and nobody bats an eye. I guess he’s just craaaaaayyy-zeeeeee so it’s fine? I dunno. This one was just really fucking confusing.

One good line/moment: Oh, I don’t know… Brockman’s headline for the gravy moment “Au Jus-tice For All!” was cute. …that’s all I got.

495. Holidays of Future Passed

2309Original airdate: December 11, 2011

The premise:
We get a glimpse into life during the holiday season thirty years into the future. A deadbeat Bart tries to reconnect to his kids while dealing with his wife remarrying, and Lisa struggles with how best to deal with her aloof, online addicted teenage daughter.

The reaction: This episode first hit my radar when I heard the high praise attached to it, much higher than anything I had heard from the show in a good long while. And while this is easily the best show of the season, I certainly wouldn’t call it good. I don’t even think it’s better than the future episode before this, “Future-Drama.” We focus on the parental troubles of a grown up Bart and Lisa returning home for the holidays. First up is Bart, who living in the dilapidated elementary school and trying to look like a fun dad to his two estranged sons. I don’t really care for this constant characterization of future Bart that he’s never matured beyond his ten-year-old mentality (and literally says as such at the emotional climax). “Lisa’s Wedding” showed the most believable Future Bart to me, working in demolitions and promoting local tough man contests on the side; he was always a street-smart kid, so I can easily accept this future vision. But every other future show has him as a pathetic mooch who has done absolutely nothing with his life, which makes it hard to feel any kind of sympathy for him. His plot line features the kids getting along better with Homer, who proves to be a fun grandpa, which is a pretty adorable idea I wish they’d spent more time on, and he ends up sparking the resolution with Bart and his kids, which feels pretty empty and cloying. Meanwhile, we see Lisa has ended up marrying Milhouse, another future concept I hate, but as we saw last season, the writers just can’t step away from shipping those two. Her conflict and make-up with Marge and her daughter is a little more satisfying, but nothing super notable. Surrounding these stories is an endless parade of future jokes, many of which feel like stuff picked up off the Futurama writer’s room floor. There are some amusing moments, but so much of it just seems too goddamn fantastical for just thirty years into the future. Remember how sensational but pragmatic “Lisa’s Wedding” appeared, with picture phones, VR headsets, and the Rolling Stones still on tour? Here we get sentient talking trees, shrink rays, hyper-evolved dogs and cats, and Flanders marrying Maude’s ghost. All and all, is this one of the best episodes the show has had in the last decade? Oh yeah. Is that saying much? Nope.

Three items of note:
– Also coming home for Christmas is Maggie, who is now an international singing sensation. She also doesn’t speak in the episode, because of course she doesn’t. It was a joke played to perfection in “Lisa’s Wedding,” we hear from Homer that she’s a chatterbox, and Dr. Hibbert that she sings like an angel, but she is always interrupted before she gets to speak. Here, she gets a lot more screen time than in “Wedding,” and the contrived explanation of her staying mute is that she’s pregnant, and future women need to stay quiet for the health of their baby. What? So she ends up at the airport, and then later in Kearney’s cab when she goes into labor, and then checks into the hospital, all without saying a word? Isn’t she like a hardcore rock star? And we don’t get a peep out of her? When she walks in at the very end with her new baby, she still says nothing. It felt like the writers trying to continue the joke from “Wedding” without realizing the new context for Maggie not speaking makes absolutely no sense.
– We get to see a lot of Springfield residents and what they’re up to in the future, some of which feel kind of crow barred in. In “Wedding,” they felt a little more natural and relevant to the story, or surprising, like seeing Quimby driving a cab working for Otto. Cabdriver Kearney isn’t as interesting. Neither is an entire clone army of Ralph killing themselves, nor is Lenny and Carl switching brains, continuing the endless confusion about what the fuck their relationship is. The Bart and Lisa stories might have been more successful if they were a bit more developed, so devoting so much time to these character sidebars felt like a squandered opportunity.
– Lisa virtually enters the Internet to find her daughter, which arguably is one of the slightly more plausible future things we see here, but it’s incredibly reminiscent of the Internet we saw in Futurama. There’s also a throwaway gag about Martin Prince now being Marcia Princess, which feels very odd. There was a similar “joke” in the past Martin episode of his fantasy of being a buff basketball player with male and female groupies, and him taking a good long look at the former. Are we supposed to laugh at the idea of Martin being gay or transgender? You could make jokes about these subjects, but if the joke is just “he’s gay!” or “he’s now a she!” it just seems kind of shallow and gross.

One good line/moment: The scene of Bart and Lisa drinking up in their treehouse I thought was incredibly effective. The two felt very natural and believable as they bitched about their problems and reassured each other. It’s easily the most effectively human scene this show has done in years. Not even the talking tree bullshit that ends the scene could ruin it.

494. The Ten-Per-Cent Solution

2308Original airdate: December 4, 2011

The premise:
Krusty gets fired from his own show, and ends up reconnecting with his old agent and ex Joan Rivers. I’m sure the character had a name, but I forget. Joan helps Krusty find new life on pay cable, but soon proves to be an incredibly overbearing producer of his show.

The reaction: How many comebacks can Krusty possibly have? This is, what, his sixth? I guess going back to this story well is as good an excuse as any to trot out jokes about whatever the current trends in TV are. Or, rather, multi-year-old trends, and by “jokes,” I mean “love letters.” We open with the Simpson family going to visit the television museum, which I guess Springfield has, where they meet Annie Dubinsky (I just looked up the name), a talent agent who literally walks out of the shadows to introduce herself. Meanwhile, Krusty has just gotten fired and the Simpsons find him wallowing in shame bemoaning his fall from grace… while sitting in a ball pit at Krusty Burger, a restaurant named after him. On the street corner with a “Will Drop Pants for Food” sign, this ain’t. The family introduces him to Annie, who immediately is hostile to Krusty, and decides to regale the story of their past relationship to those strangers she’s known for less than 24 hours. Their backstory really doesn’t matter, and the two mend fences and get back together, and despite Annie working in a rundown office and proudly claiming most of her famous clients are dead, she works her magic and ultimately gets Krusty a show on HBOwtime (such creative naming). With four minutes left to go, a conflict is manufactured with Annie being a humongous pain-in-the-ass producer, the network heads confronting Krusty about it, then she gets fired, and then the two are rehired for a Real Sex type show, because old people sex is hilarious. What? She’s crazy, then she’s not, she’s fired, and then she’s not. What a resolution.

Three items of note:
– The episode opens with three Itchy & Scratchys, all “parodies” of Oscar contender movies from 2010. We get a laborious, self-aware line from Krusty about how the jokes were topical when written, but taking a year to actually produce and animate makes them look “dated and hacky.” Part of me has always felt that the writers of this show must be aware of some of the biggest problems plaguing the show, and this seems to be a clear example that yes, they do realize that this stuff is dated and hacky, their words, and that they don’t seem to care. Or, by commenting on it, it excuses it. Also odd is that the network heads push Krusty out of his show for making too many old references in his routine that kids don’t understand. Oh, so unlike children who are keen on Itchy & Scratchy cartoons based on kiddie fare like Black Swan and The King’s Speech?
– I feel like the genesis of this episode came from the writing staff going to see the Pee-Wee Herman revival show, and thinking they could do a similar thing with Krusty. It was a live show that ran in New York and Los Angeles around this time, and a televised version aired on HBO earlier that year, but it’s something that I’m sure was not on a lot of viewers’ radars. Despite that, they build it into the plot of this show with Krusty’s retro reboot show, with full grown men openly cheering for nostalgia, which is a really juicy topic to milk for comedy, but the show barely does anything with it. It feels more like they just put it into the show because they loved it, which would continue through the third act when Krusty makes his cable deal. We get glory shots of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, the John Adams miniseries and The Ricky Gervais Show (in this case, literally just a clip from the actual animated show). There’s no joke to this, it’s just like, hey, these are some great shows on HBO! We love you guys!
– This is an episode that really doesn’t involve the Simpsons, which we haven’t really seen in a while, so it was weird seeing them constantly crow barred in. As mentioned earlier, Annie just rattles off her personal life story, and sexual past, to these complete strangers, then later I guess they get comped tickets to all of Krusty’s shows. Bart and Lisa are with Krusty during the set-up of his new show, for some reason. But the most telling line of all for me is after Annie pours her heart out about how Krusty broke her heart, Marge pipes in, “Would you ever consider taking Krusty back as a client?” Why does she care? She has no connection to Krusty. Why in the fuck would Marge care about Krusty getting work again, especially after hearing that story? There is no reason, other than we need to push the story along, someone needed to say that line, so they gave it to Marge.

One good line/moment: Krusty recalls in the past getting laughs out of kids by hitting them, at least until the 70’s (“Some jerk tracked down the kids and made a documentary. It’s called Circus of Shame, or something…”) Castellaneta’s read of that last part was pretty great, very subdued and introspective. Or something. He and his wife wrote this one, by the way, coming after such hits as the Christmas show with Katy Perry, and the Cheech & Chong show. Such a pedigree.

493. The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants

2307Original airdate: November 27, 2011

The premise:
After impressing him at a party, Mr. Burns promotes Homer to be the power plant’s “accounts man,” but as he gets more accustomed and overworked in his swank new job title, his family life begins to suffer for it.

The reaction: We love foodies. We love the Ocean’s movies. Now, we love Mad Men. I think? I saw maybe half of the first season, but John Slattery plays what I assume is basically a facsimile of his Mad Men character who is mentoring Homer in his new job of doing nothing but wearing fancy suits and drinking. But before all that, we have an unrelated opening where Krusty throws a party at the Simpson home for his brand of vodka for no real reason. Then, Mr. Burns shows up of his own volition, by himself, and tries to make awkward small talk with guests. Then he does karaoke with Homer and is having a great time. As previously mentioned in “Replaceable You,” very anti-Burns behavior. From seeing Homer making clever small talk with a group of guests, Burns makes him the company accounts man, a job that is never quite explained, which itself is made a joke of. But as the episode goes on, we see that the job is both incredibly easy and uncomplicated, and also is stressing Homer out and overworking him. Maybe we could see the transition that’s not just a meaningless montage for once? But whatever. The ending is pretty stunning. It involves Homer promising to take the family river rafting, and also promising to take Burns and some other investors river rafting as well! So, he’s got to be in two places at once without the other party knowing! Have you ever heard of such a crazy scenario ripe for comic hijinks?! That the show is exhuming such a hacky, played-out sitcom staple like this is bad enough, but the execution is even lamer. The two rafts are running downstream at the same speed and positioning, with a little land divider between them with shrubbery to obscure the view. So Homer jumps ship to go back and forth between the two rafts and neither party seems that suspicious about it. Then it ends with him deciding which raft to save before it goes over a waterfall, because I guess Burns and the four able-bodied adults can’t paddle themselves to safety. And then later Homer falls down the waterfall in a hilarious ending and he’s just fine. The episode ends with Marge expressing gratitude that Homer’s not an ad man anymore, which ultimately means nothing because I still have no idea what that means. What a shit show.

Three items of note:
– The opening bit with Krusty is really dumb, but what’s most annoying is the pathetic set-up/pay-off they do. Krusty has some clown tricks spring-loaded in his trousers. The vodka reps come to talk with him, and Krusty warns him about the spring at the beginning, and then toward the middle. So, yeah, they’re telegraphing that it’s gonna go off at the end of the scene. When it finally does, his dickey flies up at his face, and the seltzer propels him backwards into a brick wall. A wall that’s maybe two feet behind him. Like, it’s literally just out of frame. The visuals and the timing of this joke are so poor and limp, made even worse that they were building this up through the course of an entire scene.
– I guess they couldn’t pad out this story for another two minutes, so we get a thin sliver of a story of Lisa teaching Bart how to read Little Women. He’s caught reading on the playground by the bullies, who then become enraptured by the book. It’s… nothing. It’s completely pointless and not funny, especially compared to similar bits in the past, like from “Homer Loves Flanders” (Moe tearfully reading the same novel) or”Homer vs. Patty & Selma” (the bullies being emotionally touched by Bart’s ballet). Also, remember a few episodes ago when these kids were walking lock step behind Bart in their Teddy Roosevelt crusade? The writers sure don’t.
– There’s a quick bit which has Maggie getting milk drunk, driving and crashing a toy car, then placing the doll passenger in the driver’s seat before leaving. So taking after her daddy, then? Remember when Homer framed his wife for drunk driving and drove her into a fit of anxiety in the exact same fashion? What a wonderful episode.

One good line/moment: I’m struggling a bit writing this 24 hours after I watched this, I forget a lot of it. John Slatterly was like a flat line for me. The DVD title “Drunk Girls Who Signed Waivers” is kinda chuckle-worthy. Sure, let’s go with that.

492. The Book Job

2306Original airdate: November 20, 2011

The premise:
Lisa is shocked to find her favorite YA book series was actually a collaborative writing effort to rake in as much money from kids as possible through calculated market research. While she is determined to write a novel all on her own, Homer and Bart decide to form their own team to get in on this seemingly easy money scheme.

The reaction: This was a very strange one. Similar to last episode, the show tries to be topical way too late in tackling the YA fantasy novel trend. We had a Twilight “parody” in the last Halloween episode, and that was too late too (South Park once again beats this show to the punch, with their vampire episode airing a month after the first Twilight hit theaters). But the show isn’t really about skewering tropes of this type of fiction. Sure, it seems to be about that, with the whole conceit of the show being that these books are carefully crafted and manufactured to hit as many buttons with young readers as possible, but the story doesn’t really go much further than just say what the tropes are and leave it at that. When the group gets together to brainstorm their story, the sequence is just like someone reading TV Tropes, but not actually doing any commentary on it. Speaking of the group, Homer and Bart band together a team to write their book in the show’s tribute to the Ocean’s movies, the third of which released in theaters four years prior to this episode. I guess they thought it was really funny when Dan Castellaneta and Nancy Cartwright did their cool back-and-forth repartee like from the movies, but in the world of the show, it’s just confusing. Oh boy, they keep referring to a botched job in Kansas City! That’s a reference I understand! They do it like three times, but in-universe, what the fuck does that even mean? The two of them talk about the specifics of the “job” as if they’re seasoned professionals. Are they play-acting? Whatever. The ending involves them breaking into the publisher’s office to save their book; when we get to a montage of them all effortless sneaking in, thwarting guards and such, and they use that Ocean’s music for the tenth time, I just shook my head. I feel like an asshole complaining about the same stuff over and over again, but this shit isn’t The Simpsons. The absurd but relatable experiences of a normal American family have been replaced with ridiculous and nonsensical farces like this. What’s the point of this episode? What are we supposed to gain, other than the writers like those Ocean’s movies? I haven’t a clue.

Three items of note:
– Lisa’s role in this story is very frustrating. The plot kicks off when she discovers the author of the Harry Po… Angelica Button books is a fake, they just used her likeness and made up a story for a fake author to help sell the book. I guess I’m really not sure what this whole conspiracy operation is supposed to be a commentary on. Like, J.K. Rowling was living in poverty and submitted her books to publishers hundreds of times before it got accepted, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the book’s success. I just don’t get why Lisa is so upset about how supposedly this ruins the integrity of “real” authors. And then she just decides to write her own story, for no real reason. Then it becomes what feels like an inside joke from the writers on how Lisa continuously procrastinates and thinks highly of herself for being a writer, despite doing nothing. She ultimately comes across as annoying. By the end when she double-crosses the team, and then double-double-crosses them, I really didn’t care either way.
– Neil Gaiman guest stars in a pretty prominent role, working as the team’s errand boy, for some reason. Something I always love when they give a role to a celebrity who’s not super well-known to the public, a character will just list their credits. Here, it’s done twice: Moe rattles off three of his biggest books, and then we see a standee of him in the book store with nine or so of his books on the rack. As bizarre and dumb as his role was, he was really the one good part of this; some of his lines were kind of amusing, and you could tell he was pretty tickled to be doing this.
– The team succeeds in their heist and they get a million dollars. A million dollars. But in the end, they’re devastated that the publisher rewrote their book to be more commercial. We get a long minute of them expressing their disappointment, and then, in case it wasn’t clear enough, Neil Gaiman spells everything out in case you didn’t get it. This show is just endless tell, not show. It’s like the Robot Devil quote (“You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”) And in the end, they never stick it to the publisher. The real book gets released and is a big hit, so the publisher rakes in the dough either way. So what was the point?

One good line/moment: Definitely Neil Gaiman trying to do an American accent (“Cheeseburgers! French fries! I’m all over that, pal!”)

491. The Food Wife

2305Original airdate: November 13, 2011

The premise:
In her attempt to be a fun mom, Marge, Bart and Lisa stumble upon an Ethiopian restaurant and really enjoy the food there. They start a food blog which becomes an enormous hit, while Homer becomes increasingly alienated from his new foodie family.

The reaction: Here’s the rule of thumb with these Simpson-becomes-instantly-successful episodes. You don’t need to see a character actually working on their craft or what they have to do to actually get famous. Why bother? That would waste too much time. And who needs explanations for why things are happening anyway? Just skip all that shit. In this episode, we have Marge, Bart and Lisa decide they want to start a food blog, and then we get a montage of them eating a whole bunch of food, being on the cover of magazines, their blog being well revered, etc. And after that, they’re established and well-respected foodies. It’s just that easy. Bart can win multiple awards for an animated short he apparently directed, Homer can sub in for Tommy Chong and be universally embraced, and Lisa can perform magic tricks from a decades-old veteran with the greatest of ease. It’s not worth complaining anymore at this point that the Simpsons were once treated as a normal upper-lower-middle class family, but this insta-fame shit just isn’t entertaining. If any character can effortlessly do anything, then what’s the point? But the main thrust of the story is Marge finally feeling like the fun parent, and her hoping to keep it that way by keeping Homer out of the loop. Her jealousy and motivation is repeated at least four times through the whole show, in case you forgot. This leads to an exciting finale where Marge gives Homer the wrong address to a new restaurant, and he winds out in a shootout at a meth den. Ultimately I didn’t feel that much sympathy for Marge considering how stupid her situation was. Homer felt bad that he was being left out of the family, Marge brings her into the fold, and then proceeds to have paranoid anxieties and nightmares about her husband co-opting this new passion and hogging the spotlight. Then she basically unintentionally gets him almost killed by lying to him. It just felt extremely immature and senseless of her, but all is forgiven at the end, as always. This is definitely one of the worst ones yet; when you have not one, but two subject matters just begging to be goofed on, and you instead turn it into a giant commercial for them, then what business do you have being a supposed comedy show?

Three items of note:
– This episode is a prime example of the writers losing touch with the show’s world. Remember when we saw Homer open hundreds of Krusty Bars to get tickets to the candy expo? Well now, not only does Springfield host its own E3, but Homer just happens to have VIP tickets without any explanation. Once they arrive, we get a twenty second panning shot of a whole bunch of sign gags they wrote (all subpar MAD Magazine-level name changes like Y-Box, Electronic Crafts, and of course, the new game system, the Funtendo Zii Zu), and on top of that, they have Bart read a bunch of funny acronyms. Forget that Lisa and Homer don’t really have much interest in games, this all feels born of the writers having attended E3 (as VIP guests, surely) and paying homage to the event, which ends up being a glorified advertisement rather than any kind of parody. The same goes for the whole rest of the episode; this isn’t so much of a send-up of foodie culture as it is a warm embrace of it. Instead of any kind of snarky commentary, it’s just scene after scene of Marge and the kids gushing about all this wonderful food (also, why the fuck is Bart into all of this? He and Lisa basically just become interchangeable line dispensers in the latter part of the episode). And of course we get a bunch of celebrity chefs to add to our guest star list, and they can do their obligatory “let’s-lightly-rib-ourselves” lines. South Park did an episode about this subject matter a year prior to this and it’s lightyears ahead of this softball affair.
– When the car starts to smoke, Marge pulls off the highway into Little Ethiopia. She is terror-stricken, locking the doors and trying to reassure her kids. But the area doesn’t look run down or especially dark and creepy. It’s just like a little berg with a bunch of foreign signage. That’s the act break, and when we return, we see the city block that previously appeared abandoned now has a whole bunch of normal looking people enjoying the night life. It struck me as very odd, I don’t know. I get they’re trying to make Marge into someone who never steps out of her comfort zone, but she ended up coming off as just mildly racist. Maybe it’s just me. Also strange that Springfield has a Little Ethiopia district. I mean, we have seen Two Guys From Kabul. But as we see through the course of the show, this isn’t Springfield anymore, since there are an endless amount of upscale and trendy restaurants covered by the food blog. Remember when Springfield was just a shitty little town? Yeah, me too.
– This is not a new point, but the resolution of this episode really bugged the fuck out of me. Marge incapacitates the meth kingpin by chucking a ball of deconstructed apple pie down his throat (mighty fine aim she’s got there). That leads to him flashing back to when he was a kid and the taste of his mother’s homemade apple pie. It’s a shot-for-shot recreation of the pivotal moment of Ratatouille (directed by show veteran Brad Bird) when humorless critic Anton Ego is won over by the eponymous dish. But, as I have said repeatedly in the past, this is not a parody. This is a reference. You’re just recreated a thing from a movie exactly, with no twist or added commentary or anything. I guess the joke is that it’s a guy who cooks meth who’s having this memory? It’s just lazy, lazy writing, something that Family Guy is most famous for (and most reviled by me), and it happens all the time on this show now. Just terrible.

One good line/moment: The guest voices were all superfluous, showing up in Marge’s ultimately unnecessary dream (did we need to be informed once more that she’s jealous of Homer?), but the ending of it was kind of amusingly unexpected, with Gordon Ramsey taking control and taking her dream away from her. Or maybe I was just thinking of Cartman impersonating Ramsey in that aforementioned South Park episode.