545. The War of Art

Original airdate: March 23, 2014

The premise:
When the sailboat painting above the couch is destroyed, Marge buys a replacement piece at the Van Houten’s yard sale. When they discover the painting is actually worth a fortune, Homer and Marge debate whether they should inform the Van Houtens, or keep the information to themselves.

The reaction: We start off with a five minute section (no opening theme this time) of Lisa wanting, then getting her own guinea pig, which is ultimately pointless other than being the reason the sailboat painting gets damaged. There’s a lot of that stuff here; later, Homer and Marge try to buy Milhouse’s silence with cartloads of toys when he overhears their plan to sell the expensive painting they bought from the Van Houtens, but that one minute is immediately wasted when the angry parents show up at the door after Milhouse squealed. They don’t even give him a funny line on what happened (“I’m sorry, Mr. S! I cracked!”) And of course, the show is full of characters just recapping the story and their feelings over and over, especially Marge, who is the dissenting opinion of the whole painting fiasco, and never lets anyone forget it, again and again (“That painting has torn the town apart, destroyed Kirk and Luann’s marriage, and everyone’s very worried about Milhouse!” “That picture has brought out the worst in everyone!”) When the true ownership of the painting falls into question, Homer ventures to a tropical island off the coast of somewhere to find out the truth. Inevitably, he discovers that the piece is actually a fake, painted on the island by a local artist, voiced by Max von Sydow, famous for his incredibly accurate fakes. He debates Lisa on why what he does is okay (“Beauty is beauty. My forgeries give pleasure to people all over the world. The only real question to ask about art, whether it’s in the Louvre, or on a freshman’s wall at Cal State Fullerton, is did it move you?”) This, accompanied with a montage of various peoples enjoying art in different ways, is actually kind of stirring. His whole scene, though full of more expository dialogue, I actually really enjoyed. It’s just too bad that the episode was never really about any of the things that he’s talking about; if the groundwork had been laid to lead to this ultimate meaning, it would have been more effective. But seeing the very ending, with Homer coming back to Marge with a new sailboat painting done by the forger, I thought that was nice. With that and the final end tag sequence of Sydow talking about the horrible locally brewed Stuppo, it was probably the best three minutes I’ve seen from this show in a long, long time. Too bad everything before it was as ramshackle as always.

Three items of note:
– As I’ve mentioned before, this show has a habit of taking something that is or has the potential to be funny, and then driving that shit into the fucking ground. The worst example I’ve seen yet is Lisa’s trip to the guinea pig rescue; with so many fuzzy friends to choose from, she goes on overload, going up to each one with childlike glee. It’s a really adorable performance by Yeardley Smith, and the scene seemed to have a button with a Homer joke. But then it just keeps going… the same joke with Lisa going nonstop… still going as night falls, the family drives to the motel next door to stay the night for some reason, and then them returning in the morning, with Lisa never stopping for a second. It’s just… they killed it. I actually was enjoying myself for a few wonderful seconds, which then was ruined when they dragged me through the cactus field for another forty seconds of the same extended joke.
– There’s a plot element involving the town being divided about the painting issue once the Van Houtens pay Kent Brockman to do a hatchet piece on Homer and Marge. Outside the auction, half the town are pro-Simpson, and the other half pro-Van Houten. But in the end, nothing really comes out of this. And again, if this was somehow turned into some kind of debate or something derived from the painting itself and how people were affected by it, or relating to something about the supposed real artist, it would have better set up the ending with the forgery and the discussion of art’s true authenticity. Instead, like the guinea pig opening, it just feels like more stuff to fill time.
– The Van Houtens are split when an old fling Kirk had when they were separated reappears, claiming she actually owned the painting. Luann is upset with Kirk, as he claimed he was never with anyone when they were apart. Fair enough, I guess, but she’s incredibly pissed at him, repeatedly smacking him with the auction paddle. I’m sure Luann got plenty of action during their separation, what’s the big deal? Later, Kirk is planted on the Simpson couch because of course he is, and then a scene later, we get a joke with a despondent Milhouse involving him playing DDR without the TV on, which we see right after Bart explains the entire joke beforehand. Kirk was just in that room, is Milhouse visiting his dad or Bart? Or both? Despite Marge’s outrage, the show is barely concerned about the Van Houtens and their problems; splitting up and getting back together again is basically their thing now. They used to do it with Skinner and Krabappel, now it’s their turn. Kirk’s lying and Luann’s overcritical nature don’t really matter; in the end, a family portrait is enough to keep them together for one more week. Yaaaaaay.

One good line/moment: Like I said, I do really like elements of the ending, even if they’re surrounded by garbage juice. I also like Homer’s constant protection of the precious painting: he buckles it in with two seat belts, he chains it to a chair at the dining room table, then brings it to the auction wrapped in bubble wrap.

544. The Winter of His Content

Original airdate: March 16, 2014

The premise:
Marge lets Abe, Jasper and the Old Jewish Man stay with at the house after the retirement home gets shut down, but soon grows worried when Homer starts to adapt their elderly lifestyle. Meanwhile, Bart is inducted as an honorary bully and gets into hot water at a late night bully summit.

The reaction: Homer reaps the perks of being old… “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilions,” anyone? Marge brings the three old men home, and the writers cracked open their ancient tome of old people jokes and went to town. They take a whole bunch of pills! They eat bran and fart on the couch! They walk the mall for exercise! The humor is so friggin’ baseline. We see a montage of Homer continuously resuscitating the old geezers’ hearts, followed by Lisa admonishing him for complaining about it (“Dad, did it ever occur to you that we’re learning how to take care of you when you’re older by watching the way you treat Grampa?” Sweet, sweet exposition.) This leads Homer to hang out with the old men and slowly become like them, worrying Marge. Where is this going? No matter, because the B-story creeps in and engulfs the entire last third. The side story starts with a poor street urchin Nelson bit of him being embarrassed having to wear his mother’s second-hand pink underwear, and Bart standing up for him. For this, he lets Bart join the bully inner circle, and they go to a creepy bully summit after hours at Krustyland. They have beef with this other kid, he tries to frame Bart for attacking their leader with a slingshot, and then they have to get out of dodge before the other bully groups beat them up. I knew this was a “parody” from the get-go, but it took a while to realize they were doing a take-off of The Warriors. I have never seen the film, so I had no fucking clue what was going on. Of course in the olden days, the show would utilize character, entire scenes even, taken from classic movies and television, but they worked on their own within the show’s universe. You can watch “The Shinning” and enjoy and understand it completely without never seeing the source material, as I did when I was younger. But this is just insanity; this cabal of teenage bullies driving around in apocalypse tricked out buses and a radio station devoted to reporting on bully news… it’s just way too nonsensical and crazy. The rival bullies corner Bart and the others on the beach, and then finally, six minutes later, the A-story reappears with Homer and the old men walking and seeing the boys. Homer steps in, punches the main bully in the face, they all run off, Homer tells Bart, “Now let’s go home,” and then they do. And then that’s it. We get our now standard end tag of Homer and Marge making out, so I guess the Homer’s-getting-old problem just solved itself. But the three old men are still living there. What will happen with the Retirement Castle? Is Bart still a bully? I guess the writers have reached a point where they don’t even bother to reset. You know everything’s going to be back to normal by next episode, so why bother giving stories a resolution? Just have the two stories collide at the very end and call it a day. See you next week, you fucks!

Three items of note:
– There’s two weird orphaned references that felt a little weird. Homer waxes on about how Abe mistreats his own grandfather, to which Lisa incredulously asks, “Your grandpa’s alive?” Homer says yes. Then Lisa goes no further with this surprising revelation that she has a living great-grandfather she never knew about. I thought it was going to lead to something in the story, but of course it didn’t. Later on at the bully summit, Nelson is surprised to see his two former weaselly underlings from “Bart the General.” I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but I wasn’t surprised to hear them spout a lame joke and exist purely for fan service purposes.
– We get an Itchy & Scratchy episode, a “parody” of Downton Abbey. Didn’t the show already take their shot in the MacFarlane episode? This one in particular was especially gory, with the Itchys just brutalizing the Scratchys horribly and for no real reason. That could be the joke, but not when it’s just over and over and over again. In recent years when they can get away with more graphic violence, it seems they’ve been pushing the shock level up more and more with these, but that’s not really why I & S was funny. Plenty of the older cartoons had more elements to the humor, but nowadays, I guess we’re just meant to laugh at Scratchy’s bloody corpse as he’s mutilated, and that’s the only joke.
– Bart’s slingshot being a crucial part of the plot in the bully story got me to thinking about how antiquated it is. I’ve said before that as the show progressed through the decades, the characters never progressed with the times, leaving these old remnants of a 90s world in modern day, and they just don’t feel right. Entire characters start to feel bizarre and out-of-date, like Apu or Comic Book Guy. Give any fourth grader a slingshot nowadays, and most of them probably won’t know what the hell it is. But it’s one of his character hallmarks that you just can’t get rid of, even though it must feel completely alien to any kid watching now.

One good line/moment: As usual, the only humor I think is still fairly solid nowadays at sign gags. We got Count Branula cereal, and a sign hanging over Abe’s new bed for Neptune Outboard Motors (Three Pulls and You’re Off!)

543. The Man Who Grew Too Much

Original airdate: March 9, 2014

The premise:
Lisa’s advocacy for genetically modified food gets her a visit to a local chemical engineering facility, and is shocked to find a supposedly reformed Sideshow Bob as their chief scientist.

The reaction: Guess there’s more drops of blood to squeeze from the Sideshow Bob stone. His last appearance was four seasons prior in that face swapping episode (referenced here in his first scene when his face falls off and Maggie attempts to eat it like a Fruit Roll-Up. Thanks for that!) But really, what’s the point anymore? It’s always the same, Bob appears to have turned over a new leaf, then he turns evil, each and every time, to increasingly stupid and crazy results, which is especially the case here. We start out with the show’s take on GMOs, which honestly, between the anti-GMO video and the visit to Monsarno, seemed to have a bit of potential. But then Bob appears, who for some reason is on work release as chief scientist. Why would this huge company hire a still-convicted felon who, as far as we know, has no STEM background whatsoever, to such a position? No matter. The emotional thread is that Bob appeals to Lisa’s intellectualism, pulling her into helping him with his research. The show had never explored pairing these two eggheads together, so I was actually curious to see where this was going to go. But when we get to the final third, my hopes started to fall real fast. When he effortlessly saves Lisa from a falling art installation, his scheme is revealed: he had been altering his DNA during his time at Monsarno, and seeks to raid the museum of samples of the strongest, most brilliant people throughout history to be a genetic superman. Uhhhhhh huuuh. He also has animal DNA in him too, with a grasshopper hop and an unhinged jaw, which he uses to attempt to bite off Kearney’s head with in the finale. So, what in the fuck is going on here? Bob’s last bunch of episodes have all centered on him trying to get revenge on the Simpsons, that’s his thing now. But here, his plan is just to be “the wisest and strongest maniac ever to bring the blessings of dictatorship to the world.” So now he’s literally a generic cartoon supervillain. I guess his character degradation is complete, we can check him off the list. And his whole kinship with Lisa was basically pointless too, all it did was hinder his plan in the end. For some reason, he seemed unusually pleading to the Simpsons to hang out with him, but it didn’t play into his scheme at all. I’m pretty sure this is the last Bob episode to date, and I sure hope it stays that way. Bob was once such a marvelous character; a snobby sociopath who committed heinous schemes he believed for the greater cultural good. Now, we end on him lying at the bottom of the ocean. With fucking gills. And he steps on a rake, because fan service. Aggravated shudder indeed.

Three items of note:
– There’s an inane subplot here too starring Marge; she arrives too late for first dibs at the church volunteer board and ends up getting stuck teaching abstinence to teenagers. The group are our usual suspects, the bullies, and everyone’s favorite character Shauna; forget why it makes no sense for them to be at the church in the first place, just go with it. Marge tries to appeal to them with finger puppets for some reason, and the plot kind of just ends when Marge gets an unintentional win because the teens are skived out by she and Homer showing light intimacy. Or something. I dunno, whatever.
– The show is pretty much heavily lampshading itself as they have to write their sixth or seventh scene of the Simpsons shockingly yelling “Sideshow Bob!” and Bob explaining how he got out. Bart says, annoyed, “This is getting boring. Either murder us or tell us how you got here!” Remember “Cape Feare” when Bob was a legitimate threat? But that’s an unfair comparison. At this point, nothing is treated seriously anymore, be it positively or negatively emotional. And the moments they do try to play something serious are laughably empty and trite. His character progression was slower than the rest of the cast’s given he only shows up every couple seasons, but this truly felt like Bob’s last stop to being a one-dimensional cartoon character.
– The ending is so fucking bad. So Bob just reveals his whole plan to Lisa and Bart just happens to appear at the museum, slingshot in ready to stop him. Then Bob chases them down the street, and uses his stupid grasshopper leaps to catch up to them. He leaps up, then cut to the next shot where he lands in front of them… and they’ve somehow been transported to the middle of the Springfield fucking dam. Oh, is that located directly next to the downtown area? Certainly doesn’t look like it from the wide shot. So he’s going to throw Bart and Lisa off the dam now. This whole thing came completely out of nowhere that I can’t even tell if they’re intentionally referencing “Brother From Another Series” or not. Then Homer and Marge pull up, because they somehow knew what was happening, with Marge commanding her obedient army of teens to beat up Bob, which they do. Then we get Bob sucking Kearney’s entire head, as mentioned above. Ugh. This leads to Bob labeling himself a genetic freak and going to commit suicide, which comes completely out of nowhere. What use did Bob think he would have for all this animal DNA? What was his plan to become dictator of… Springfield? America? The world? What is the pooooooiinnntt?
– Oh, we also get Marcia Wallace’s final appearance, in an end tag featuring Ned and Edna tangoing, then we see Ned sitting sadly with a black arm band on, next to a side table with framed pictures of Edna and Maude. It certainly was a nice send-off, which felt very weird coming directly at the end of such a batshit crazy show. I guess better this than that boring-as-sin last episode.

One good line/moment: I genuinely did enjoy some of the moments between Bob and Lisa, again, I really wish they had actually done something with that that made sense within the story. Before things go sour, they seem to be having a swell time at the museum, and we get a glimpse of Bob’s snobbery at Lisa’s tastes in art (“I like the Impressionists!” “The boy bands of the art world. But for you, Lisa, I shall face the Renoir with sangfroid.”)

542. Diggs

Original airdate: March 9, 2014

The premise:
A socially ostracized Bart befriends Digby, a transfer student with a love for falconry, but over time, Bart learns his new friend might not be quite right.

The reaction: Yawwwwwn… it’s been a while since we’ve had a boring one. All episodes now are tepid and unengaging to me at this point, but this one was a good ol’ fashioned snooze fest, which is saying something when the show culminates in a child being locked in a mental institution. So, Bart is swayed by the words of a guest minister from Indonesia to donate some money, for some reason. He borrows a twenty off Homer, who then hounds him incessantly to pay him back. Bart gets so frazzled to pay his debt that he takes to eating things for money on the playground, resulting in him swallowing a frog full of formaldehyde, putting him in the hospital. They show Homer’s comeuppance being he has to pay a four thousand dollar medical bill, but it really doesn’t excuse how fucked up the whole scenario was. But none of that opening matters; after that, Bart’s bullies are thwarted by a falcon, and his trainer Digby, or Diggs. The preceding seven minutes truly were meaningless. Bart takes an interest in falconry, and the two become friends. Alright, so what happens next? The two are up in a tree, and Diggs says, “You wanna see something cool?” He then proceeds to dive and fall straight to the ground. Later, Diggs tells Bart that he was trying to fly, and then later Bart finds out he’s being sent away to a mental hospital. What’s all this about? There was no real build-up to this, like of Diggs’ obsession with birds to the point he wanted to be one, so none of this resonates. Also, does this boy have parents? Bart’s at the hospital by himself when Dr. Hibbert comes in with the psychiatric specialist to speak with him alone. Later, Bart encounters Diggs, who conveniently has a one-day pass from the crazy house (???), and they go to the falconry contest that had never been mentioned prior, so they can open all the cages and let the birds be free. Okay. And then he leaves to go back to being institutionalized as melancholy music plays. And that’s it. What the fuck was that all about? Is this a happy ending? This seemingly parent-less, possibly schizophrenic kid rides off into the sunset back to being locked in a psychiatric ward against his will. What am I supposed to feel? This whole scenario is pretty fucked up, but even more so that the episode doesn’t seem to even acknowledge it. I don’t know what that hell this episode was supposed to be, but I’m pretty sure the writers didn’t know either.

Three items of note:
– I’m pretty stunned that they didn’t even bother to come up with a terrible punny title. Did they just forget? I guess someone just wrote ‘Diggs’ as a placeholder and no one went back to change it.
– There’s a montage of Bart and Diggs with the falcon, and for some reason, all the shots aren’t stabilized, they’re wobbling like someone’s filming with a camera, and the color is washed out a little bit too. Maybe it’s a parody of something that uses the same music? I could look it up to see, but I don’t care to.
– At the dinner table, Bart mentions he has a printout of the hospital they sent Diggs to and shows his parents. They try to play him as hopelessly naive, but surely Bart can figure out what “Twisted Meadows Psychiatric Hospital” means. For some reason, Marge gets incredibly uncomfortable when Bart asks if he can visit his incarcerated friend (“If this is what I think it is, it’s not a place we should ever ever take a little boy.”) In addition to her apparently being a-OK about a kid being permanently sent to the nut house, it’s incredibly odd of Marge to not be reassuring to Bart, telling him that his friend is getting the help he needs, and he can go visit him. Instead, she’s so ridiculously callous about this house of horrors too horrible to even speak of, making Bart feel even worse about the whole situation.

One good line/moment:
– The couch gag was directed by Sylvain Chomet, the French animator behind The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist. It’s very beautiful and weird; I’d rather watch a whole episode animated like that.

541. Specs and the City

Original airdate: January 26, 2014

The premise:
Everyone at the plant is giving augmented reality glasses as gifts, as a secret means for Burns to spy on his employees. Marge gets fed up with Homer using them all the time and takes them for herself, but this leads to Homer discovering through Burns’ camera feeds that Marge is secretly going to therapy every week.

The reaction: Boy, this characters-explain-everything-that’s-happening problem is just getting more and more aggressive, it’s just all over this one. Burns spends $26 million buying his employees Oogle Goggles (this show certainly feels like a time capsule now) to spy on them… but isn’t that already what he does anyway? He has a wall full of screens showing the goggle feeds directly behind his normal wall of surveillance monitors. How is this any different? Nearly the first half of the show is devoted to Homer wearing the goggles everywhere giggling about how cool they are. It’s like the iPad episode; it all feels like the writers anxiously crossing their fingers that a box of free stuff will show up at their bungalow. Marge confiscates the goggles for herself, and ends up wearing them everywhere like her husband did for some reason. Meanwhile, Homer wanders into Burns’ empty office and discovers the secret monitors. “Burns gave us those glasses so he could spy on us!” he exposits. We then get close-ups on all of the monitors, and Homer says aloud what’s on the screen. Y’know, in case we were watching with our eyes closed. Then comes the drama: seeing through Marge’s eyes, Homer sees that she goes to therapy once a week, and has to decide what he should do about it. What we see of the session is pretty serious and joke-free, with Marge tiredly musing about her husband’s violent temper and rampant drinking problem. At this point, this episode starts to feel like a season 14-18 marital troubles show, where Homer’s flaws are shown as actually serious, and negatively affecting his wife, but nothing is ever done about it. The ending involves Homer showing up at the therapy waiting room to confront Marge as she leaves, but thinks better of it when she tells the receptionist how good she feels after each session. We then get two extended montages of how Marge is a cake-making sex machine every Wednesday, but by the following Tuesday she’s run down and miserable. Then, in case you still aren’t following along, Homer explains it out loud for the viewers (“Oh my God, Marge needs this! It lights her way through the dark path of marriage to me.”) First off, it’s just great that Homer thinks of his wife’s happiness through the lens of what he gets out of it (cake, sex). Second, this is seriously our ending? This is a whole new breed of Homer-Marge episode; it’s almost like after so many shows of them arguing about Homer’s problems that he’ll never address, we now have an episode that brings them up, but they’re just constants. Not once does Homer think he should change his ways, this is just who he is. We know he’s not going to change, so why bother addressing it at all? The “happy” ending is that Marge gets a tune-up once a week navigating through the hellscape that is being married to a drunken angry brute. Hooray?

Three items of note:
– There’s a ridiculous B-story here too. Apparently Nelson forces all the kids in school to give him Valentines, but Bart puts his foot down about it, which Nelson rebuffs, forcing him to write a heartfelt card or else. Like, I don’t even know what to say about this one. Why would Nelson give a shit? And why would Bart put up with it? This feels so weird and out-of-character for all involved, I can’t even comment why it makes no sense. And on top of all of that, it was baffling that the two plots were so disconnected, that there was a Homer-Marge A-story, and the fact that it was Valentine’s Day never played into it at all.
– Homer wears his goggles all day and all night, even while pleasing his wife in bed. Marge gets mad and tells him to take them off, but why didn’t she see the brightly glowing goggles in the first place? They could have written so many joke reasons on why Marge didn’t notice, how he slipped them on, or was using it during their foreplay but Marge got too weird about it… anything. Instead, it just looks like minimal thought was put in, per usual. Then the show ends with the two of them fooling around, now with Marge wearing the goggles. Full circle!
– Lately, the show has been doing little end tags, like the story ostensibly ends, we fade to black, and then we go to one last little scene before the credits. Writing twenty-minute stories is hard, I guess. Here, we get a scene between Lisa and Ralph for Valentine’s, which I’m assuming is meant to be fan service. But season 4 Ralph was not a brain damaged non sequitur machine, so the writers have to make due with what they have, with Lisa asking why her Valentine from Ralph contained a tooth (“Plant it, and you’ll grow a new Ralph!” “I don’t need a new Ralph. I like the old one. Happy Valentine’s Day.”) Then we end on Ralph drawing on his face with marker. Brilliant!

One good line/moment: Moe gives Homer the advice to not tell Marge he knows about her therapy. Later in the kitchen, he appear in a thought bubble to reinforce this advice, but when Homer leaves, he’s left all alone, so he floats over to the dog to give him advice instead. It was kinda funny. Reminded me of a similar bit from The Critic where Jay appears in a bubble to give his son advice, though not as funny.

540. Married to the Blob

Original airdate: January 12, 2014

The premise: 
Comic Book Guy meets the girl of his dreams, Japanese manga artist Kumiko, but their relationship comes under fire when her father arrives to take her back home.

The reaction: I guess it’s time for Comic Book Guy to get the Moe treatment of making an angry, miserable character look sad and pathetic, and for the writers to throw him a bone. CBG feels like a legacy character whose satirical role is pretty nebulous in modern times. This cynical, sarcastic basement-dwelling nerd character was novel in 1990, but at this point, “nerds” in society have branched off into so many different tropes that CBG just feels like a catch-all for everything. He’s a movie critic, a hacker, a gamer, a social outcast, an otaku… and now a husband, apparently. This show has thrown love interests to a variety of our cast of characters over the course of two decades, some very memorable, but a lot disposable, but the lady in question here, Kumiko, is the absolute worst of them all. Not only does she have absolutely no personality, and no motivation to find CBG likable, let alone attractive, but she just says everything she’s thinking and feeling aloud to push the story forward. As usual with this fucking show, it’s tell not show, and this episode feels like the greatest offender I can think of in recent memory. Kumiko walks in CBG’s shop, and immediately introduces who she is and what she’s doing, pulling out a copy of her autobiographical manga that she says she’s working on, but apparently is already finished. Why is she visiting America’s saddest cities? Later on their first date, CBG tries to stifle his critical nature, but Kumiko defuses the tension immediately (“Oh, I don’t mind. If you think it’s stupid, say it’s stupid.” “America nerd snark is the finest in the world!”) Cut to montage, then cut to her moving in with CBG. This goes beyond male fantasy or wish fulfillment, Kumiko is effectively a Relationship Sue. She just really really likes CBG. Why? Because she says she does. That’s it. The real “conflict” arises when her father arrives at the Android’s Dungeon and takes her away when she finds out she’s living with a gross nerd. So, besides the surface level overbearing Asian father stereotype, what’s this about? What is Kumiko’s relationship with her dad? She gave him the comic book store address but apparently never told him about CBG? Did she lie about who he was? Why? Again, none of that is explained. Homer gets him drunk and he has an epiphany or something, and then the show ends with him in a robot suit for no explainable reason for his daughter’s wedding. Did they cut a scene explained why exactly he’s in a goddamn motherfucking robot suit? Is it to show acceptance of CBG’s lifestyle? And I guess his daughter’s too? She’s a manga artist, but she and CBG never even talk about comics at all. Or any nerd stuff. Who is she? This show has numbed me a lot at this point, but this episode really does feel like one of the worst I’ve ever seen. A needless relationship that I can’t even call underdeveloped, because that would imply there was any development at all. It’s a show full of characters talking about things, rather than actually showing them. CBG says Kumiko is moving in, but we don’t see their cohabitation. Instead we cut to Marge telling Homer to deliver a housewarming gift, where he can have a conversation with Kumiko’s father outside to review the story we saw in a montage, and for him to spout out his expository dialogue. None of the characters’ motivations or emotions are necessary to connect with or to understand apparently, as long as you just have them say them out loud, that’s good enough.

Three items of note:
– To make CBG feel like a loser, they bring back Milo, the owner of the cool comic book shop from “Husbands and Knives,” an episode from over five seasons before, then voiced by Jack Black, now voiced by Maurice LaMarche. But don’t worry, on-screen text pops up to remind you who this guy is, in case you forgot. I remember being annoyed in that episode featured a first act of their rivalry resulting in CBG closing the Android’s Dungeon, but that plot being completely abandoned in favor of another stupid Homer-Marge bullshit story. This is their attempt to modernize their nerd stereotype, but with him talking about his “comic-tolerating” girlfriend, and that Comic-Con nets an 8% female audience, it still feels stuck in the past. CBG is left to stew in his own sadness… sigh… in song
(“The only thing that could make this moment more cliched is if I started to sing about my feelings… and here I go.”) So, again, they know it’s terrible, but they do it again. They have to know how bad this shit is. And the song is just awful, par for the course with the recent examples we’ve seen. Milo gets in a verse as well, so I’m assuming they definitely wanted to get Jack Black back for this, but I guess he was busy. Or he read the script and threw up in disgust. They should’ve gotten Jess Harnell in to do his Jack Black impression, like for the last episode of The Powerpuff Girls.
– CBG and Kumiko have their first date at Chuck Dukewagon’s All-American Chow Lounge, a set piece that feels like a pale imitation of “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo”‘s AmericaTown. Also, seeing Pimply Faced Teen dressed as Guy Fieri fills me with many rage-filled emotions.
– Homer and Kumiko’s father get drunk of rice wine, which leads to a two minute joint hallucination where their surroundings transform into a Studio Ghibli tribute, featuring recreations of iconic characters and moments from their movies. It’s another self-indulgent set piece of them just imitating a popular thing or someone else’s style, in the hopes that they can get some positive Internet buzz and a bunch of articles of “The Simpsons Pays Tribute to Hayao Miyazmi and It’s Amazing!” But, as always, there are no jokes. It just comes off as nonsensical and pandering. Why “parody” something if you have absolutely no take on it, other than we love this thing and we want to animate a sequence like this thing that we love. Who gives a flying fuck?

One good line/moment: The Radioactive Man sequence at the beginning was mildly entertaining. Even if it also was full of characters just spouting exposition, it felt a little less hackneyed in that context. It features some above-average animation for this show, and certainly was much more enjoyable than that reboot nonsense we saw in the last episode.

539. Steal This Episode

Original airdate: January 5, 2014

The premise:
Irritated with the noisy theater experience, Homer takes to pirating movies and screening them in his backyard, but Marge’s guilty conscious ends up getting him in hot water with the FBI.

The reaction: Internet piracy wasn’t exactly a new, hot button issue when this show aired. Hell, South Park did their Napster episode over a decade before this, and their take felt more biting and was funnier than this. But most importantly, it had a point of view, whereas this episode dances around the issue and ultimately crumples, culminating in a parade of celebrity guest voices taking good-humored jabs at each other and their industry. Homer is sick and tired of people using their bright tablets and being loud at the movies (all while being incredibly loud himself), and starts a movie screening club in his backyard. I thought the point was to avoid noisy people? If the show had developed this argument, or any salient rationale to defend Homer for what he’s doing, there might have been a point to all this. The middle part of the show is a countdown to Marge admitting that she unintentionally ratted on Homer, and I guess we’re supposed to feel bad about it. But why? Even if there were emotional weight to this, it still would stand in stark contrast to all the other nonsense of the wild, incompetent FBI agents and the family hiding out at the Swedish consulate. The trial features Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan to deliver some Hollywood insider jokes, right before we get to our big dumb conclusion. Homer pleas his case by talking about being an underdog, working against all odds to fight the man, a hackneyed plot conceit that the Hollywood bigshots immediately lap up and throw themselves on Homer for the movie rights. First, if they framed this better, and by better, I mean at all, this might have worked. But I was never clear on Homer’s motivations and why he cared so much about this, that his speech is just hollow. Plus, the show does what it always does now, like we saw with Lovejoy’s speech last episode, we have to keep cutting away to people saying their reactions in between Homer talking. Writing dialogue that is convincing and makes sense is too difficult. Let’s half-ass it, and then we’ll have other characters react to blatantly fill in the blanks for the audience. It’s just that easy!

Three items of note:
– The opening features Homer desperately trying to avoid spoilers for the new Radioactive Man reboot. Making fun of comic book movie plot twists is fair game and all, but it was just scene after scene of the same joke. It also felt weird that we got barely one line out of Bart for this whole opening, considering he’s the one that reads the comic books. They could have used him to comment on bringing “nerd” culture mainstream, with him being an old guard fan and Homer being the ignorant mass media consumer who looks down on him or something. Or something. Later, Homer gets set off into his movie theater tirade after reacting angrily at a scene in the movie ending up becoming a giant advertisement. Is this supposed to be a take on all the product placement from Man of Steel specifically? Surely there were dozens of jokes they could have made about the look, structure and plots of the Marvel movies, it felt weird that they went with that one.
– The scene on the prison bus of all the other prisoners reacting gravely seriously toward Homer for his movie piracy crimes felt the most analogous of South Park‘s piracy episode. The police chief takes the boys to celebrity homes a la A Christmas Carol telling them their tales of woe, of Lars Ulrich having to wait a few months to afford a gold plated shark tank, and Master P being unable to buy his son his own Polynesian island (“I see an island without an owner,” a brilliant driving home of the Carol connection). In this episode, it’s pretty much what you’d expect, except nowhere near as funny or clever as the show South Park did over a decade prior.
– Judd Apatow takes his lumps, kind of, as Homer introduces “Life is Funny,” clearly taking on Funny People (“It’s based on his life, starring his family and ad-libbed by his friends. So for the next three-and-a-half hours, enjoy.”) I honestly feels like a line an actor would read off of cue cards at the Oscars. Bringing in Apatow, as well as Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) to voice a “joke” scene from the movie, is basically the show making sure there’s no hard feelings, we didn’t mean it, look, you’re in on the joke! Funny People was an overindulgent, bloated piece of garbage, so seeing this kiddy glove take on it was particularly annoying to me.

One good line/moment: As Bart is about to give his father the step-by-step to downloading movies online, we cut to the FOX logo, with an announcer saying they have to censor this part of the show to prevent people from learning how to pirate, and instead show some NASCAR footage. It was a little overexplained, but a cute idea. It reminded me of hearing about how super paranoid FOX was about the medical marijuana show, and that they were forbidden from showing Homer actually placing the joint to his lips; it could be an inch away, but it couldn’t make contact, otherwise, kids would know how to smoke pot! As with all actually humorous things this show manages, they bring it back a second time, at the ending to cut off Lisa when she tries to weigh both sides of the argument and make some sense of what the fuck the episode was even about. That reminded me of the stupid surfing ending of “The Great Money Caper,” not the best show to bring up memories of.