632. Fears of a Clown

Original airdate: April 1, 2018

The premise:
When his stardom plummets due to a recent scare of creepy clown sightings, Krusty takes to serious stage acting, but must deal with his crippling insecurities. Meanwhile, Marge urges Bart to seek help for his rambunctious ways and repent for his pranks.

The reaction: The Krusty the Klown Show is one of those show hallmarks that became more and more anachronistic the longer this show has shambled on. Inspired by Rusty Nails, the Portland-local clown Matt Groening watched as a kid in the 1960s, Krusty as a character already felt like a throw-back since his inception in the 1990s. It was odd that all the kids in town loved watching the hackneyed, kiddie antics of this cheesy clown on TV, but we still went along with it because the writing was so strong and the characters so earnest. But nobody likes clowns. Nobody. They scare children, they scare some adults, and nobody thinks they’re funny. The conceit of this episode was inspired by the It remake, as well as those creepy clown sightings that were nationwide a few years back, with Krusty’s career being ruined thanks to public perception over clowns (more on why this happens in a bit). Removing his make-up and going by his real name, he bags a role in a local play, but he must deal with his inner demons of self-doubt, represented by his face in the mirror telling him how much of a fuck-up he is. This happens two or three times where he runs out of the room screaming, and it gets repetitive. Sideshow Mel is also in the play, Krusty’s worked with him for decades, you couldn’t have a scene where he confides in him or something? In the end, Krusty bashes himself in the head with a hammer on stage during an anxiety spiral, which the audience laughs at, and he does a little song and dance, then cut to after the show, he talks about how he’s famous again and everything’s alright. It’s one of this endings where it felt like they ran out of time and just condensed the climax because you know everything’s going to revert to the status quo anyway, so who cares if it’s believable or makes sense? Whatever.

There’s a lot more to unpack with the B-story; we open on Skinner supposedly retiring, we’re at his grand farewell ceremony, but it turns out it was all an elaborate ruse to prank Bart, dumping honey on him and covering him with seed. Cut to Bart sad in the bathtub as Marge is attempting to clean him up. Then later, the teachers and administrators carpool past Bart’s treehouse and the gym teacher chucks a dodgeball at his head. I get this is Bart getting his comeuppance, but it just feels weird to see the school staff going out of their way to bully and humiliate this young student. Bart gets his revenge by supergluing Krusty masks to everyone’s faces, but then that leads to people randomly in clown make-up in the woods scaring people? The transition from his to actual creepy clowns showing up to frighten people is really tenuous and I don’t quite understand it, so I won’t bother. Bart stands before a judge and is about to get a light “boys will by boys” sentence, but then Marge pipes up, wanting her son to actually suffer consequences for his actions. Fair enough, but why have this prank that broke the camel’s back be in retaliation to Skinner and the school staff pranking him first? Grown adults bullying a child, that Marge seemingly has no issue with? Bart sees a therapist, makes a run around town to apologize to all who he’s wronged, and throws a big apology party at the school, but he actually has a big tarp of water balloons at the ceiling ready to blow. But Marge telling him how proud she is for reforming himself causes him to rethink matters, but he’s too late to clear the room before the water balloons come crashing down. “Motherhood sucks!” a drenched Marge muses as she leaves the room. And that’s the end of the plot! Marge has always been the endlessly suffering heart of the show, this never-ending well of love and acceptance for her children, and her reaching the end of her rope is such an extreme emotion for her, it could be the basis of a whole emotional arc (“Marge Be Not Proud” springs to mind). Here, it’s just the ending. Boy, my son’s a fuck-up, I had such faith in him and he let me down. CUE CREDITS.

Three items of note:
– The couch gag features the family running into the Museum of Television, passing by displays honoring the longest running shows on TV and their episode count. They whizz past Gunsmoke at 635 episodes, and sit down on the couch next to it with their own series plaque of 636 episodes. Only Lisa does the math and says they’re four episodes early. Why didn’t they just make this for the 636th episode? I guess then we wouldn’t get this great miscounting joke and hear Homer say “D’oh.” So worth it. But yeah, we’re coming up on the big milestone: The Simpsons will soon be the longest-running primetime scripted television show ever in both years on the air and episode count. Congratulations, guys, you did it. I mean, a good two-thirds of the actual episodes are absolute fucking garbage, but you did it nonetheless!
– Seeing the promo image for this episode with Krusty out of make-up, it just makes it clearer how much he looks like Homer, even more so later during the play when he has his hair slicked back and he looks balder, the only distinguishing marks being the bags under his eyes. I remember way back when Matt Groening talking about the design choice, with Krusty being this TV icon that Bart worships, but he has no respect at all for his father, despite them looking almost identical. But I feel like this is the first time we’ve seen Krusty without all his makeup since “Krusty Gets Busted” (or as Rory B. Bellows in “Bart the Fink,”) so it’s something you have to address. So of course, they do it in the most ham-fisted way possible with Homer just lamp shading the fuck out of it (“He looks just like me! And Maggie looks just like Lisa! And Milhouse’s mother looks just like Milhouse’s father! Why is this universe so lazy?”) What a lazy stretch for a meta joke. We also already went through the Homer-Krusty similarity thing in “Homie the Clown” too, now that I think of it. Man, so many great old episodes.
– Llewelyn Sinclair makes his “triumphant” return, twenty-five years after “A Streetcar Named Marge.” I think he showed up one or two times in a cameo, but here he has an actual big role, serving as director for the Death of a Salesman knock-off Krusty’s in. Jon Lovitz certainly sounds twenty-five years older, his voice with less passion and energy despite mostly shouting all of his lines. Like all returning characters from the classic era, there’s nothing really funny or interesting going on. We learn so much about Sinclair in “Streetcar” with so little information, him proudly showing off his review of a grade-school play, berating but also bolstering his performers, a man who had so much passion for his cheap, nothing productions he was actively gunning for a fourth heart attack. What do we learn about him here? Nothing, really. He might be gay; he talks about maybe being “something more” with Krusty and kisses him on the lips before he goes on stage. Boy oh boy, gay people in the theater? What a trailblazing comedic trope!

One good line/moment: Nothing, really. I literally just watched it an hour ago and nothing is sticking out for me.

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631. 3 Scenes Plus A Tag From A Marriage

Original airdate: March 25, 2018

The premise:
Driving by their first apartment, Homer and Marge reminisce about their fun childless days, and how the birth of Bart shook up their carefree lifestyles.

The reaction: Wherein the show retreads ground already covered twenty-six years ago, and Simpson family history is reimagined once again! “I Married Marge” painted a wonderful picture of Homer and Marge’s post-high school days, whose immature young adult lovebird bliss is interrupted by an unexpected pregnancy, ultimately leading to Homer forcing himself to man up and push for a job he hates to support the woman he loves and his unborn child. It’s a picture perfect story that not only is absolutely hilarious and charming in and of itself, but speaks volumes on who Homer and Marge are as characters, displaying a pivotal point in their relationship. This episode takes place during the same time frame, changing a few variables, and, of course, adding absolutely nothing of value. Now Homer and Marge are plucky early twenties go-getters, with Marge writing for the local paper and Homer plugged into some successful teeth whitening business thanks to the boss who keeps him around because he inexplicably likes him (“It’s like I know you’re not listening to me, but I know I’m not mad at you!” his boss laughs). Among a crowd of entirely familiar faces (the likes of Sideshow Bob, Smithers, Dr. Nick and Lunchlady Doris are all seen at their house party. Wonder how they all met?), Homer and Marge stay out late, hit the roller rink, make out at midnight movies… but all that ends when we smash cut to a year later and Bart is born. Their professional lives fall apart , but thanks to a tape Reverend Lovejoy shows them about how only children are evil, Homer and Marge find the answer: one baby is hard, but two is better! There’s barely any plot to hang onto, so I really don’t know how we got here. Homer and Marge both lost their jobs, so they decide to have another baby? The ending shows how when Lisa was born, all their problems were apparently solved (“Bart became the calmest boy in the whole world!” Marge boasts as we see two-year-old Bart inexplicably stab his father with an IV). So… what am I supposed to make of this ending? The framing device features Homer and Marge telling this story to the current tenants of their old first apartment, a hipster couple on the fence about having kids. By the end of the story, the wife is already downstairs about to get on a bus out of town (“I never want to be stuck with people like you who stunt each other’s growth with their random dysfunction!”) The Simpson family puts on phony grins to con the wife into thinking everything’s okay, mollifying the wife. Homer and Marge wax nostalgic on their child-free days, and we end on them openly admitting they’re pretending to be happy in front of their children. As they drive home, Marge summarizes, “We may not be ethical, but we make a great team!” Does that sound like a Marge line to you? And this is following her being upset at Homer alluding to their marriage being awful (when the hipster couple reunites, Homer crows that they’ve saved two bad marriages). Not only is this show seemingly anti-having kids, but it paints being in a relationship as soul-crushing and miserable (“The only way humanity survives is if people perpetuate this lie!”) Old flashback shows showed our favorite family mistep and fail, but their love for each other was always their guiding compass to the right choices. Here, it’s just a bunch of random pointless shit that leaves you confused and with a bad taste in your mouth.

Three items of note:
– I honestly don’t understand Homer being at the Flashmouth company. His boss seemingly didn’t seem to care that he doesn’t do shit, and tells him that Homer will get a piece of the company’s success just because. In the past, we’ve seen Homer living the dream working at the mini golf course and at Barney’s Bowl-O-Rama, menial nothing jobs that he excels at and takes pride in. Here, he’s just some lazy goofball who lucked into glomming onto an actual smart, ambitious person. Later, Homer walks into his office with Baby Bart, who’s shocked to see his beloved employee has a son (“A kid indicates you took time away from me to conceive. It’s like a virus that starts spreading, and suddenly everyone’s getting married when they should be working!”) Does he know about Marge? Moreover, are Homer and Marge even married in this flashback? I assumed so, but this line seems to imply he’d be just as cross knowing Homer is married as well as having a kid. What is going on? First he doesn’t seem to give two fucks that Homer does nothing, now he’s mad he’s not working? Maybe that his semblance of a family life will distract the people doing real work at the company getting it off the ground? There’s also a weird co-dependency vibe coming from him talking about taking time away from him personally. I really don’t fucking understand this character. In the present, the kids convince Homer to give his old buddy a call, who proceeds to hang up on him as he’s taking his elevator to the top floor of his building. Which extends all the way up into space. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
– Baby Bart fluctuates between being an infant sadist (puncturing Kirk’s hand with a toothpick and pouring salt into the wound) and being an unsupervised rambunctious kid (attempting to skateboard over sleeping kids at not-Gymboree while all the employees hang out in the back room). Marge’s journalist career ends thanks to Bart destroying an art piece, but as Homer and Marge have an argument about who’s watching the kid, Bart escapes his car seat, tampers with another art piece to create a slingshot, waddles over to the other side of the gallery to get a button to use as ammo, then shoots and pops the central inflatable art installation. Ultimately, Homer and Marge lose their jobs because of Bart, but really in this case, it’s completely their fault for not watching the kid. It’s not even worth comparing this portrayal to Baby Bart in “Lisa’s First Word,” a completely believable depiction of a noisy, intolerable toddler that’s driving Homer and Marge (mostly Homer) up the wall.
– Dr. Hibbert shows up at the very end dressed as Prince from Purple Rain, but it doesn’t make any sense given the show’s shifting timeline. At this point, Lisa would have been born in 2010. The joke with Hibbert is that he’s sporting a relevant black haircut at the time. Also he’s literally dressed like Prince, not a doctor. Is he cosplaying or something?

One good line/moment: There may have been one or two adequate lines, but I don’t remember them. This one was just a real cynical shit show.

630. Homer Is Where The Art Isn’t

(why does her boob look flattened in this shot?)
Original airdate:
March 18, 2018

The premise:
After a provocative work of art is stolen after being auctioned, ’70s P.I. pastiche Manacek is on the case, zeroing in on a number one suspect: newly won over art lover Homer Simpson.

The reaction: Who is the target audience of this show? I honestly don’t know what the numbers are at this point, but lately, whenever the show does an extended parody or obscure reference of something decades old, it feels so bizarre to me. This is taken to the hilt in this episode, a full blown parody of ’70s detective shows, with Bill Hader playing the smooth talking, womanizing, quick-comeback-having private dick Manacek. Now, I’m pushing thirty, and I have no familiarity with this source material outside of parodies like this, so I guess this episode is really shooting for the over fifty crowd or film buffs knowledgeable about whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Doing some research, this character is apparently a direct lift from the 1972 show Banacek, which I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it’s another shitty “parody” where they just change one letter of the actual name and call it a day. I understand Manacek as a character, but his schtick grows old real fast. The entire episode is framed as a mystery, with a cold open at the auction where we see Homer being dragged off by guards as he’s wailing over his beloved painting. Then we get a fake opening for Manacek as he talks with the auctioneer, then with the beautiful billionaire mogul who won the auction. I guess they expect the audience to be curious about what’s going on and where this is all going, but I was just left baffled. None of what happens is particularly interesting, and certainly isn’t funny. The meat of the story is finding out Homer’s backstory: chaperoning a field trip, Homer finds himself enraptured by a painting, Joan Miro’s surrealist painting The Poetess. That’s about it. Lisa helps him understand how abstract art can be representative of whatever the viewer wants, but ultimately, Homer just loves the painting just ’cause. There’s no deeper meaning to it, and the fact that there isn’t meaning and his love for the piece is inexplicable also isn’t the point. Appearing guilty, Homer goes on the run, but Manacek easily tracks him down and determines he’s not a viable suspect because he’s too stupid. Really diffuses the tension, doesn’t it? Ultimately, Lisa is revealed to be the true culprit, swapping the real painting for the one on her tote bag, finally pleased to have something to bond with her father with. So why not buy an art print? Why does it have to be the original? Whatever. I guess I appreciate them attempting to do something different, but this episode was so fucking boring. A bunch of new uninteresting characters having their own little story as the Simpsons just sort of stand around and watch it unfold. Riveting.

Three items of note:
– You can just tell the writers love this episode, and the source material they’re lampooning, but honestly, I just don’t get it. Maybe this is funny to people who really love those old shows. There’s a few bits here I don’t really get (in the opening, it takes him forever to walk into a building or drive up a driveway as his theme song plays. Is that a joke?) But his jokes basically boil down to having a witty rebuttal to things people say to him, and him trying to pick up Marge. That’s it. And Bill Hader does an alright job voicing him, but I wasn’t blown away by his performance or anything. I thought he was better as that Russian guy a bunch of seasons back.
– Discovering the art museum is set to close, Homer joins a group of protesters outside the building to attempt to save it. Mayor Quimby shows up to try and placate them, pointing out museum attendance was close to zero. So… who are all these people? When Quimby informs them they’re going to sell the artwork at auction, protester Sideshow Mel seems content with that explanation, swaying the mob to their next “cause.” Are they trying to make them like protesters for the sake of protesting? I really don’t understand. But Springfieldians gathering in mass to save an art museum just did not compute to me. Same with the billionaire lady’s gorgeous mansion, why is she in Springfield?
– By the end, Manacek has gathered everyone together, and I’m just waiting for this shit to be over already. “After careful consideration of facts and evidence observed only by me…” He then weaves a complicated and ridiculous farce of how the billionaire lady stole her own painting with twin guards, then that was all for naught because Burns created a duplicate neighboring auction house to steal the painting for himself. Now, is this absurd, impossible explanation the kind of thing those old 70s shows were famous for? Or are we supposed to laugh at how silly all of this is? Preposterous, convoluted explanations to mysteries that the hero detective solved purely by magic? What is this, Sherlock? [laugh track]

One good line/moment: Manacek cold cocking billionaire lady in the face after she pulls a gun on her was sudden and unexpected it got a surprise laugh out of me. Then he does the exact same thing to Burns a minute later, and the moment became not so special.

629. Frink Gets Testy

Original airdate: January 14, 2018

The premise:
A town wide exam to determine each Springfielders’ intelligence ranks Bart dead last, but when an incensed Marge to confront test creator Professor Frink, it’s revealed that Homer is in fact the stupidest man in town (WHAT A SHOCK).

The reaction: Springfield gets their IQ (or rather, Frink’s incredibly alternative PVQ) tested as a result of Mr. Burns believing the apocalypse is coming from an old Orson Welles introduction to a movie, and he plans to build a doomsday ark and only wants the best and brightest to travel with him. Got it? Remember the Burns who, upon impending nuclear meltdown, wouldn’t let Smithers use the sole two-seated escape pod (“I like to put my feet up.”) I don’t know how much Burns would really care about saving humanity, but if he were to extend some empathy for his fellow man in a time of impending crisis… it sure isn’t what’s being done here. This is gullible Burns, followed by mindlessly happy Burns, wantonly smiling as Frink interrupts his meeting with MENSA for a literal song and dance to introduce his super accurate PVQ intelligence assessment system. Anyway, the PVQ results are announced on the local news, with everyone’s name and score scrolling at lightning speed. Marge is easily able to pause and find each family member one after another, which I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not. Disheartened to find Bart literally scored a 1, Marge confronts Frink about it, who then discovers that due to his sloppy handwriting, Homer is the true ultimate dummy. Act three features Homer being depressed and humiliated about being Springfield’s biggest idiot… this is news? Are we seriously over six hundred episodes in and we’re doing this episode? Springfield is full of absolute morons, some of which are his closest friends, why would he feel ostracized? In the end, Marge reassures Homer and urges him to take steps to improve himself, starting with his penmanship, which I just now realize is referring to the reason his test was misidentified in the first place. I dunno if it’s just me or the show, but sometimes it’s hard to connect the dots like that because these episodes seem to not care less about the stories they’re telling. And it’s certainly even harder to care when your episode is about Homer feeling sad about being dumb.

Three items of note:
– Lisa is smugly satisfied with her high PVQ score, but is shocked to find Ralph scored a point higher than her. Because she’s a crazy person, she takes to following Ralph around and observing him to see his brilliance. This culminates in a hilarious finale of the two ending up high up on a construction site on a steel girder. Man, I hate Zombie Ralph so much, he’s just a brain dead non-sequitur prop. Lisa ultimately confronts Frink about her score, who proceeds to raise her number just for the hell of it. Why did she go through all this nonsense to begin with? Oh, who gives a fuck.
– Looking through his file cabinet to recheck Bart’s score, Professor Frink thumbs past a few other files, one of which is labeled, “Smithers, Waylon, Soon To Be Wanda.” Sigh. In the past, we’ve seen a good handful of “jokes” such as this, where the only thing you’re supposed to laugh at is “they’re changing their gender! Isn’t that crazy?!” Future Lisa finding Martin is now Marcia Prince, the gym teacher Mrs. Pommelhorst leaving to become Mr. Pommelhorst, and so forth. We also have had at least two jokes featuring Smithers taking estrogen pills, despite him expressing no interest whatsoever into becoming a woman. It’s just so baffling that here we are in the year 2018, and for whatever reason the staff still thinks it’s a-OK making gags equating homosexuality to being transgender. They’re not the same thing. At all. I just don’t understand what they’re thinking. If anything. Also, beyond all of that, why the hell would Frink have written that on the label in the first place?
– The episode ends with Homer working diligently on his cursive, and leaving Marge a bunch of sweet poems leading up to the bedroom, with him passed out on the bed amidst a slew of pages with his reading glasses still on. Marge is understandably touched. I feel like that might have been kind of sweet if there had been more of a build-up and meaning behind all this. These characters are such shallow husks of their former selves, worn down by years and years of piss poor characterization and storytelling, that it’s like a shock to the system to me whenever there’s a moment that actually feels emotionally resonant.

One good line/moment: Maurice LaMarche as Orson Welles is always a delight. He has a considerable amount of screen time with a good two minutes of the opening, then appearing again in Burns’ dreams. Clearly the staff loves Maurice doing Orson, and who can blame them? But, I dunno… Orson Welles in 2018? Really? And it’s not like they’re doing anything with him that hasn’t been done many times over on this and other shows. The pinnacle still remains the “green pea-ness” bit from The Critic and that shall never be topped (“Oh, what luck, there’s a French fry stuck in my beard!”) Hell, a decade ago, they had young Orson Welles appear in a Treehouse of Horror segment doing his famous War of the Worlds radio play and the gullible suckers of Springfield believing it. That felt like a unique usage for the character. Here, it’s just like, yeah, it’s nice and all, but why is it here?

628. Haw-Haw Land

Original airdate: January 7, 2018

The premise:
Lisa falls for gifted pianist Brendan (voiced by Ed Sheeran), leading ex-boyfriend Nelson to compete with him musically. Meanwhile, Bart is interested in chemistry for some reason.

The reaction: La La Land feels like a thing of the past at this point (being a frivolously enjoyable, but ultimately meaningless ode to Hollywood circle jerk probably doesn’t help things), but thanks to the show’s long production schedule, we get yet another movie “parody” a year after its cultural relevance. Of course the show doesn’t get much farther than glorified references, with the new boyfriend slightly resembling Ryan Gosling, and the opening recreating the film’s highway musical number, but nothing in the vein of actually critiquing or making any actual commentary on the source material. It’s a love letter to another love letter. The episode itself is another Lisa-gets-a-boyfriend episode, who is slowly closing in on her brother for greatest number of disposable, personality-less love interests voiced by celebrities who are playing children but still sound like adults. Brendan the child savant musician wins Lisa over immediately thanks to an inner monologue explaining it, per usual (“In a lesser musician, that boy’s attitude would be needy masquerading as arrogance. I’m leaving if he can’t sing.” Then he sings. “Oh God. He’s one small step away from destroying all my logic and reason.” Then his pupils turn into music notes and she swoons. I guess the final step was hallucination?) I’ve said it time and time again, this show is crippled by its reliance on tell, not show. Because this show can’t write believable characters doing things to affect the story or other people, we need to have the characters openly explain what’s happening and what they’re feeling to make our plot progress. Midway through, I don’t know why Lisa likes Brendan other than she told us, and that he’s a musician, I guess. They play together, but we don’t get any sense of them enjoying it or why they like each other. But who cares. Midway through, we see Nelson targeting this kid because he’s jealous and ends up singing his heart out to win over Lisa. Even he can’t explain why he’s doing this, being motivated solely because “Lisa’s Date with Density” exists and it’s a reference to a classic episode we can make. But I know why. They wanted to do a La La Land show, they had to come up with a riff on the title, and someone pitched “Haw-Haw Land,” ergo, Nelson had to be involved in the plot. I guarantee that’s exactly what happened.

Three items of note:
– The B-plot is one of those premises where I feel like I’m zoning out while watching because I honestly didn’t understand what was happening. While being dragged to a STEM conference, Bart is courted by some smart science guy, who shows him that chemistry can lead to explosions and creating multi-colored goo. Or something. Bart then gets an interest in conducting experiments in his treehouse, which later leads to Homer and Marge growing concerned about what the hell this newfound interest is really about. The finale of the episode is at the talent show, where many suspect Bart is going to perform some kind of dangerous prank, but he actually creates some kind of cool light show? And then he causes pink goo to flood the school. Not a lot of screen time is devoted to this, and it’s a B-plot that felt the opposite of tell, not show, where we’re given so little information that I really wasn’t sure what the point of it was. It certainly wasn’t funny, I can tell you that.
– Lisa is torn between Nelson and Brendan, but after a dream sequence of Lisa marrying Nelson at a strip club and her bringing their baby to visit him in prison, she easily picks Brendan. But Brendan’s performance at the talent show is interrupted when Chalmers and Skinner narrate that he actually isn’t in the school district and must go to another school. And so, Brendan gives Lisa a pat on the shoulder and disappears behind the curtain. I know this show is completely hollow and bereft of any kind of emotional resonance, but is this really the best they could do? I mean, I know it isn’t, but this feels like an especially cheap and shoddy resolution, even by their standards.
– The episode ends with another ancient-feeling reference where Marge addresses the audience that the episode was actually meant to be a Moonlight parody, alluding to the Academy Awards snafu last year where Faye Dunaway announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. Does the general audience really remember or care about that? And who’s laughing at this joke? Marge informs Homer they can watch the movie at home, but he wants to watch X-Men Apocalypse instead. Sigh. This bit will hold up well in five years. I feel like in the classic years, even when they directly referenced films that have fallen into obscurity, they were still contextualized enough that the bits were funny beyond your knowledge of the source material. Like in “Selma’s Choice,” Marge waxing nostalgic of the carefree days her and her sisters spent swimming at the lake by her aunt Gladys, then recalling that was actually from Prince of Tides. I don’t know a thing about that movie, but the joke still works because it’s about how the emotional resonance of mass media can affect our memories and cause fiction and reality to blur. It’s still an effective joke twenty-five years later, whereas in this case, they just needed Homer to say a recent brainless action movie, so they picked X-Men.

One good line/moment: Nothing this week. This one was a real fuckin’ bore.

627. Gone Boy

Original airdate: December 10, 2017

The premise:
Bart gets trapped in a Cold War-era bunker in the woods, and is declared dead after a brief search. Despite knowing the truth, Milhouse uses this to his advantage to get close to Lisa, and meanwhile, Sideshow Bob seeks to find the boy to kill him himself.

The reaction: “Twelfth time’s the charm!” Bob declares when he confronts his adolescent nemesis. As mentioned on many an occasion, all Bob episodes past “Brother From Another Series” feel so superfluous and meaningless. As much as I love “Cape Feare,” it ended up becoming a template for future Bob shows, where rather than have some kind of grand scheme or master plan tied to his pompous, upper class cultural fancies, he’s just an insane murderer who’s out for the blood of a ten-year-old. There’s no creativity, no intent to explore any other facets of Bob’s character; they even gave him a wife and child and they’ve been absent for the last couple installments. It’s just the same song and dance over and over, and honestly, do even diehard fans even give a fuck anymore? Bob is part of a prison gang doing community service when they are all forced to participate in the manhunt to find Bart. Meanwhile, his therapist is trying to get Bob to get past his revenge fantasies and take back control of his life. This maybe would hold more weight if it was better written, and if Bob hadn’t already reformed at least two times already. And pretended to reform more times than that. With the forced assistance of Milhouse, Bob tracks Bart down, tying both boys to an old ICBM (“I Commit Bart’s Murder!” “That’s your justification for killing two kids?”) This gives Bob pause. It’s almost like the episode is commenting how stupid this all is, and ultimately a call with his therapist gets Bob to release them and give up his murderous ways. At least until next time. The tag features an older Bob living in isolation in a lighthouse, writing “DIE BART DIE” in the sand almost like a calming mantra. Or something. If they wanted to write a “final” Bob show that got super meta about how deranged and unstable Bob is for wanting to pick a ten-year-old’s bones clean, I’m all for that, but this watered down fuzzy version of it is just a waste of time. They’ll bring him back. He always comes back, and even less effective each and every time. Sprinkling in fan service like the rake and him singing Gilbert & Sullivan doesn’t help comparisons much.

Three items of note:
– There’s another Wilhelm scream when a bunch of characters trip over a wire grid. Like just a guy falling down prompted a Wilhelm scream, that’s the third one this season. Is this some kind of inside joke between the post department or something?
– In yet another instance of characters reacting less like human beings and more like joke machines, returning from the woods to the rest of the family without Bart, Homer has an internal monologue (because of course he does) on how best to explain that their son is missing (“Okay, this is the hardest news in the world for a mother to hear. Just ease her into it.”) So he says, “You know that sewing room you wanted, but we could never figure out where?” Brilliant. It’s also a repeat of a joke from “Barting Over,” I believe (boy, I wish I didn’t know that completely useless knowledge.) The family receives a subpoena that Bart wants to become emancipated, and what’s Marge’s first reaction? “I always wanted a sewing room, but not like this!” This show was so brilliant because characters would always react honestly. They’d say funny lines, sure, but they made sense in the emotional context of the scene. In these two scenes, Bart is either threatening to leave the house, or missing/possibly dead, and his parents’ first responses involve a sewing room.
– Milhouse gets a scumbaggy moment when he arrives at the Simpson house to tell them where Bart is. Meanwhile, Kent Brockman just announced on TV that they’re giving up the search for no real reason, presuming Bart to be dead. I guess the family just believes it to be true immediately, as Lisa opens the door in tears, embracing Milhouse. He hesitates to tell her the news, and in case we couldn’t figure it out, we have his inner monologue explain (“I came to tell her he’s alive, but this feels almost as good as hugging Harry Horse!”) (I also don’t know if I get the joke. Is Harry Horse just a stuffed animal? I guess that’s it) So Milhouse exploits Bart’s “death” for some sympathy hugs from his sister. Maybe if they had Bart act like a dick to him like he always does, this would have been more acceptable, but he wasn’t. It felt particularly slimy for Milhouse.

One good line/moment: Out in the woods, Homer gives Santa’s Little Helper an item of Bart’s clothing to sniff, hoping he’ll pick up the scent. The dog does alright, sprinting off and leading them to… Bart’s dresser drawer.

626. Mr. Lisa’s Opus

Original airdate: December 3, 2017

The premise:
As an eighteen-year-old Lisa writes her college essay to Harvard, we flash back to moments in her past, where she was at times unacknowledged by her family, and later saved her parents’ marriage.

The reaction: Seems a decent amount of people actually kind of liked “Barthood,” so just as they churned out another crap future show after “Holidays of Future Passed,” now we get a spiritual sequel, only this time focusing on Lisa. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know how much the writers really care about audience feedback at this point. If I could give “Barthood” a little credit, at least I understood the point of it, whereas this second outing feels even more aimless. We jump about in time as Lisa is writing her essay, first back to her seventh birthday, being devastated that no one remembered, then flashing forward to fourteen when she intervenes in her parents’ crumbling relationship. We get a really uncomfortable sequence of Homer angrily leaving the table to go to Moe’s and Marge crying alone in the kitchen, which even after all these years is still hurtful to see, but there’s no real regard to do anything with this dramatic beat or treat it super seriously. Lisa deduces her father needs to make a permanent change, proposing he give up drinking. AA buddy Ned Flanders talks him through the twelve-step program, and then he’s cured! It was as easy as that, huh? There’s no sort of epilogue showing how he kept his promise, no Marge calling bullshit on something she’s surely heard a hundred times before, a huge life decision done just like that. But this is Lisa’s story, and ultimately, what have we learned? The first part goes over how she was unacknowledged for her seventh birthday, so each year after the family overcompensates. How about a future where the family does this all year round, afraid of making Lisa upset again, so teen Lisa gets frequently annoyed at her clingy parents doting over her? Something new, something we haven’t seen before? No? Unlike “Barthood,” which felt like it was at least trying a little bit, this feels like a half-assed future episode, complete with our obligatory future gags, which once again feel like rejected scraps from Futurama and are completely ridiculous (in just six years into the future, King Toot’s has a time machine and Moe has robotic spider legs). Al Jean penned this one, having frequently citing Lisa as his favorite character, but it’s pretty clear after over fifteen years of stagnant storytelling, he’s got no life left in him to communicate anything new.

Three items of note:
– The writers try to shoot for nostalgia points with the random reappearance of Leon Kompowski (still voiced by Kipp Lennon) as he and Bart add new lyrics to their song for Lisa’s fourteenth birthday. Never mind that in our current floating time line, Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly Lisa’s entire life, but that doesn’t really matter. The question I ask again and again about moments like this, who are they appealing to? What longtime fan is going to lose their shit at the out-of-nowhere cameo appearance by a character from over twenty seasons ago? And they don’t even do anything new with him, the song sounds exactly the same. Speaking of, the tag features a new version of “Those Were the Days,” a song the show parodied twenty years ago in “Lisa’s Sax,” which itself was parodying “All in the Family” twenty years before it. Ugh. But now Homer and Marge are waxing nostalgic about their youth growing up in… the 90s (“And we have real heroes then/Jar Jar Binks and Qui-Gon Jinn/Mister, we could use a man like Richard Simmons again!”) I guess this is for all those “That ’90s Show” enthusiasts out there. Ever get the feeling that sometimes the writers really hate the hardcore fans?
– A Harvard security guard yells at Homer to move his car with a “hilarious” Boston accent, which Homer can’t interpret so he has him slowly repeat himself. Didn’t this show blow through all of its Boston jokes already after that show last season? I guess not.
– The show ends with Lisa feeling discouraged by her overachieving college roommate. She’s lifted up with some encouraging words for Bart, and then ends up cheering up her other roommate, who she walks in the room on crying. These were honestly two pretty effective scenes, actually kind of genuinely sweet. For as dull and meaningless as the rest of the show was, I got a glimpse of an ending that felt like it should have been tagged onto another show. But for the entire scene of Lisa and Other Girl, I was just waiting for the punchline that she was going to be a lesbian. I knew they were going to do it, and at the very, very end, just when I thought we were in the clear, they just couldn’t help themselves. Lisa’s inner monologue cries, “I have a friend!” Then Other Girl holds her hand and winks at her (“Ohhh… maybe more than a friend!”) Cue laugh track. It just feels so incredibly lazy. A sexuality bait-and-switch can work as a punchline, just look at the reveal at the end of ParaNorman. But that joke worked because there were multiple reasons why it was funny, none of which explicitly having to do with the fact the guy was gay. Here, the entire gag is “she’s a lesbian!” And yeah, how great of them to callback the quick gag in “Future Passed” where we see Lisa in succeeding Christmases from college bring home a guy, a girl, then two girls. At least that was framed as an “experimenting in college” quick joke, not a capper at the end of the emotional climax where the sexuality is the punchline.

One good line/moment: Lisa gets her Harvard acceptance from a drone waving the college flag. Upon acceptance, the other reject college drones above go into a laser fight to the death.