652. I’m Dancing As Fat As I Can

Original airdate: February 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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651. The Girl on the Bus

Original airdate: January 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

650. Mad About The Toy

Original airdate: January 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

649. ‘Tis the 30th Season

Original airdate: December 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

648. Daddicus Finch

Original airdate: December 2, 2018

The premise:
After making an impassioned speech in her honor, Lisa begins to idolize her father, comparing him to To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch. Bart becomes jealous of her sister and father’s new camaraderie, and starts to lash out more to get attention.

The reaction: Remember last week when I talked about season 30 not being so terrible? Well… This episode was written by Al Jean, and while the credited writer doesn’t seem to matter all that much given how much these scripts are communally rewritten over and over, it always surprises me particularly how shoddy the shows with his name on it are, given he’s also responsible for some of the greatest moments in the show’s early history. Our saga gets rolling when Homer and Lisa find themselves in a children’s clothing store selling whore-ish clothing items. Homer sets off on a rant about how inappropriate this all is; Lisa didn’t appear to be at all uncomfortable or offended by any of this, but this single moment is enough to have her idolize Homer for the rest of the episode. She’s recently obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, and sees Atticus Finch’s quiet resolve and sense of morality in her father. She also dresses in overalls like Finch’s son Jeremy, and speaks with a Southern accent. I guess it’s kind of cute seeing Lisa act so innocent and single-minded in seeing her dad with new, fresh eyes, but it clashes with the rest of the time when they write her as a adult, who you’d think would be logical enough to see that Homer hasn’t changed one bit. So Bart is annoyed by their new relationship, and at the fast-talking advice of the school therapist, decides to act out for attention. His big prank? Switching all the car keys at the valet at the local temple hosting Shauna Chalmers’s (ugh) bar mitzvah, which creates an angry mob for some reason. Bart races home as the townspeople are out for blood. As Homer play-acts as Atticus Finch to continue getting Lisa’s respect, sitting on the porch acting cool and collected, the angry mob arrives (now with many more people than before) and aim their weapons at him. What’s this about? It’d be one thing if Moe (the mob’s spokesman, apparently) had said like this is the last straw, Bart’s shenanigans have fucked us all over and now you’re gonna pay, but there’s none of that. It’s like the Springfieldians used this incident that many few people were involved in as an excuse to gather together and murder one or more Simpson family members. Then Lisa walks outside. To re-set the scene, a bunch of townspeople are outside, all angrily holding weapons at her father. Also, right when she walks out, Homer turns his head to look at her, and we see a bullet hole shoot straight into the house where his head just was. Her father was basically a second away from instant death. Her response? To continue talking in her Southern accent and completely diffuse the situation by talking nice to Moe and Wiggum (who literally says, “Let’s go, everyone, she’s diffused us!” apropos of nothing.) Is that a normal reaction for an eight-year-old? As I’ve said time and again, these characters barely resemble actual human beings anymore, and that completely robs any investment I have in what’s happening.

Case in point, the wrap-up, where Marge wants Lisa to stop looking up to Homer. Lisa gets in a fight with Bart defending her father’s honor, who appears on screen bloodied and with a black eye, then cowers behind his mother’s back. Rather than react in any big shock, worry about Bart’s injuries, actually be a parent and punish Lisa, try to dissolve their feud in any way… we cut to Marge going to see the school therapist, believing the problem lies in Lisa idolizing Homer. It’s unclear exactly why this is a problem; really, sitting down with the two kids and actually discussing the issue, making sure Bart knows he’s loved within the family and Lisa to realize she can’t lash out at others, that seems like a good play. But no, status quo being God and all, Marge has to tell her husband to tell their daughter not to look up to him or respect him anymore (“It’s sweet that Lisa idolizes you, but it’s gone too far. We’ve got to put this family back in place.”) ?!?!?!? In the end, Homer breaks up with Lisa, I guess, and Lisa has moved on to a new hero as a saddened Homer walks by her door. So I guess Marge imploded her husband and daughter’s new relationship because she didn’t want to parent? They wrap it up with a hollow, manufactured “sweet” ending with Homer thinking he’s got a shot with Maggie, but it’s really all for naught. These episodes where they attempt to have an emotional core to them always feel like they fall the flattest, but at this point, they can’t even bother writing logical conclusions to them anymore. Homer and Lisa’s sweet new connection barely made any sense at the start, and made absolutely no sense in its dissolve. In one ear, out the other, I guess…

Three items of note:
– We open with a school play directed by hotheaded director Llewellyn Sinclair. He just recently reappeared in an episode last season in an equally as superfluous appearance, I guess in the show trying to get brownie points by resurrecting characters from the classic era. There’s a weird moment in this scene. They perform the “Origin of Veal,” featuring Nelson walking on, dressed Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, and shoots a dummy calf with an air compressor (one, why would Nelson know this character; two, what a dated reference; three, the show already made Chigurh into a literal character in an episode from ten years ago). Lisa runs on stage, protesting this (“No, no, you promised you would cut this scene!”) Sinclair responds, “No, no, I cut your scene because you were being such a nudge!” Now, if actually spoken in response to Lisa, you’d think there would be an emphasis on “your.” As in, I cut your scene, in response to Lisa asking whether she cut this scene. But no, Jon Lovitz just reads it normally. I don’t know if it’s Lovitz’s fault, or the person directing him in the booth, but surely someone must have given a shit about the lines sounding correct, right? Also, speaking of re-using guest stars over and over, JK Simmons reappears as the school therapist (where’d Dr. Pryor go?), whose schtick is he only gives each kid 45 seconds and talks really, really fast. I guess they got tired of reusing the J. Jonah Jameson character, but still liked it when he talked real fast. The Spider-Man movies were over a decade ago, are the writers still that tickled about Simmons’ fast-talkin’ guy routine? No besmirch against him, but it just feels so dated.
– As Homer gives his speech at the Li’l Preteen Whore store or whatever, Lisa looks back and forth from her Mockingbird book, with a picture of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch on it, to her father, who each time she looks back at him, seems to physically resemble Peck/Finch more and more. When Homer finishes his yammering, Lisa says the following line: “Dad, I’m seeing you with new eyes! You’ve become the hero of my book!” There are times that a line or moment is so baffling to me, I have to pause the episode to reflect on what just happened. First of all, no human being talks like this. The writers can’t communicate character turns or plot points through normal means, so they literally need to have characters explicitly say what they’re feeling and what they want or are going to do (as the Robot Devil would say, “That makes me feel angry!”) But on top of that, the line is also completely redundant; in a fifteen-second scene (that felt twice as long), we literally just saw that from Lisa’s POV her view on her father morphing to that of Atticus Finch (with “new eyes” as her hero). The show continues to have dialogue like this (“Dad, you saved us all with your calmness and bravery!”) In the last post, I pondered if it were at all possible the show could climb out of the hole it flung itself into to possibly being okay again, but then I watch scenes like these, and I feel like a complete fool for thinking that.
– Through the episode, Homer and Lisa watch the black-and-white 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird film starring Gregory Peck. As in, the actual live-action film on the animated TV screen. The show has done this a few times in the last couple years or so where we actually see live-action footage (one episode opened with them watching Dr. Doolittle at school for some reason). It’s incredibly jarring, and I don’t know why they didn’t just animate it. Plus, as it’s a film over fifty years old, the pacing is incredibly slow; the episode just slows to a halt as they’re sitting and watching it. In one section, they try to draw a parallel between the two stories with Homer being inspired by Finch getting a kid out of trouble… or something. Also, I read Mockingbird when I was in school, and I’m having trouble remembering all the plot elements of it. They don’t even have Lisa do an exposition dump about it, or talk about how much she loves Atticus Finch. I’ve also never seen the movie, and surely a lot of people have, but I don’t recognize or understand what’s happening in these scenes we’re watching. It felt like the writers just love this old movie and wanted to use it verbatim in the episode. And it’s not like Doolittle which was already owned by Fox, the Mockingbird movie is a Universal picture, so they had to pay licensing fees to use it too! I really don’t get why…

One good line/moment: After offending him or something, Abe tells Bart to put up his dukes… then to help him put up his dukes… and then immediately socks his grandson in the face. Solid laugh from me, but that was basically the only one for the half-hour.

Final nerdy nitpick: Hey, look, a mistake! During Shauna’s reading of the Torah, everyone is patiently waiting for her to be done already. Her father bemoans that the buffet spread is getting cold at this point. Notice Willie is sitting behind them to the far right. We also see him in two or three other background shots.
We then immediately cut to the buffet, where we find…

Whoops. I hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

All kidding aside, I understand mistakes happen. Thousands of eyes can look over a project and still stuff like this gets through, I get it. It’s just so weird that it stuck out to me immediately in just one viewing. And it’s not like animation mistakes in the old days when everything was done on cels. They could have easily replaced Willie in those few shots with a different character; he’s in the background, so he’s not animated. But hey, I guess shit happens.

647. Krusty the Clown

Original airdate: November 25, 2018

The premise:
On the run from the law, Krusty lies low in disguise as the circus, only to come to love being an authentic circus performer. Meanwhile, Homer takes on a new job as a TV recapper, only to discover a conspiracy involving our current “peak TV” climate.

The reaction: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but this episode re-reminded me just how incongruous the Krusty the Klown Show is in the year 2018. Lisa tasks Homer with doing recaps of the show, which is what exactly? We see Krusty, Mel and Mr. Teeny doing a hula dance against a fake set, then we see an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. At the end of the show, apparently Chris Pine did a guest appearance, and from the photo in a newspaper it seems he and Krusty did a Star Trek sketch. So is it like Saturday Night Live for kids? Krusty’s show has always been a catch-all for a bunch of different TV parodies, but as time goes on, his status as a renowned entertainer makes less and less sense. But anyway, Krusty literally tries to kill Homer in a rage while driving, getting them both in an accident. Bart somehow rushes to the scene and gets Krusty out of there before police can press charges. They do a “hilarious” bait-and-switch where you think Bart’s actually concerned for Homer’s well being but he runs to Krusty, but… his beloved TV hero just tried to strangle his father to death. Bart tags along with Krusty for the rest of the show, and he makes no mention of this incident going forward. Krusty hides out at a local circus under the alias “Soggy,” only to find his new fellow performers are true professionals who hate sell-out TV clowns. So Krusty needs to step his game up and rekindle his love of performing to go toe-to-toe with these guys… or he can get drunk and perform a crazy stunt by accident and that makes everything okay. But just as Krusty starts to truly embrace his new life, the circus has to close its doors (“A terrible video got out.” “Which one?” “The video we sell here at the circus.”) Don’t see how that makes sense, given how filled the seats have been and how excited the crowds seem at their performances. Do people even go to the circus anymore? Surely they must, but I imagine the industry can’t be doing too hot. Maybe they could have been a struggling performance troupe which causes Krusty’s long-dormant inner enthusiastic performer to come out and act as mentor to these amateur clowns. Considering the B-plot involves an over-abundance of streaming television people are watching (or not watching), I think the decrepit circus concept would have played better.

Said B-plot features Homer getting into the world of TV recapping, summarizing one’s thoughts and opinions about a variety of different shows after they air. Man, what kind of pathetic loser would do that? He’s of course great at it, and renowned the Internet over for his work, as all Simpsons are immediately the best at everything they try ever. He even incorporates it into his foreplay, which I thought was actually kind of cute, but then Marge gets irrationally pissed off at him, so I guess it was supposed to a sign that he was getting too invested in his work. The climax involves Homer facing down the head of Google-Disney (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), who goes on a big monologue about how “peak TV” is all a scam: there’s hundreds of shows out there, but most of them aren’t even produced; they know no one has time to watch that many shows, all they want is people’s subscriber fees. I actually kind of like this reveal (paired with Serafinowicz’s great performance), but I feel like there could have been more to it. The incredibly populated TV landscape and the psychology of what you’re gonna watch, one’s ever growing backlog of media to consume, and using streaming services in general, that’s more than enough material for an entire episode, not playing second fiddle to Krusty fucking around at a circus. Though I did appreciate them tying the two plots together at the end, with Krusty getting declared not guilty by a jury deeming his attacks justified due to Homer’s scathing B- review. These last couple episodes have actually had some decent stuff in them, but there’s still that ever present stagnation the show’s been lounging in for the last fifteen-plus years that’s hard to shake.

Three items of note:
– So yeah, Krusty as a modern day performer doesn’t really make sense anymore. From way back in 1990, Krusty and his show was an homage to the low-budget but charming children’s television programs, with Portland, Oregan’s favorite clown son Rusty Nails being the direct inspiration for the character. Krusty being a hometown performer who amused children with his cheesy buffoonery worked back then, and any joke about him being a higher level celebrity or getting knighted was funny because it was so absurd that a low-level children’s performer was considered at all notable outside the jerkwater burg he had fame in. But by the mid-to-late-90s, TV clowns went extinct, and by the time everyone got satellite TV and smartphones, locally produced television shows kind of disappeared as well. In an age of YouTube and streaming, what kid would waste their time and watch a rinky-dink, no-effort show like Krusty’s nowadays? It’s another instance of the ever-frozen cast of characters being more and more antiquated as culture marches forward.
– At the circus, we’re introduced to “hippo juice,” a strange purple concoction that circus folk drink, and eventually Krusty develops a taste for as well. It’s used as a joke multiple times in the episode, the performers drinking it is used as an act break joke… We see people drinking it so much, I was expecting there to be some kind of twist of what the drink actually was, or some kind of capper joke to it all. But no, nothing. I guess we’re just supposed to think the name “hippo juice” is funny enough to sustain multiple bits.
– In the end, Krusty saves the circus by letting them turn him into the police for the reward money. But when he’s let off and goes back to the circus to plea for his job back, they still rebuff him. Honestly, why not have him go with them? I know status quo is God, but I think when you’ve run almost 650 episodes, you need to start trying new things. They’re done a few shows where they shake the format up or try different stories, but the characters have remained stagnant since their creation. Why the fuck not have Krusty leave Springfield, at least for a little while? The Simpsons could go see him on the road, Sideshow Mel could take over the Klown show… I’d love to see new things happen to shake up the series’ foundations just a little bit, but it’s like Springfield is forever stuck in formaldehyde.

One good line/moment: Like last episode, actually a couple decent moments. The final scene of Homer’s story was probably the best isolated scene this show has done in years, even if the whole twist could have been handled a little better. But man, that Serafinowicz has got one dynamite voice (“There is no USA Network! There hasn’t been for twenty years! It’s just bus ads!!”)

If I may wax positive very briefly, this season has been noticeably less terrible so far. By no means is this show anywhere close to good, but episodes at least have had a handful of jokes in them. I used to think as the seasons went on, this show was in a never-ending free fall to a creative nadir that they’d never reach. But, at least for now, it looks like season 28 was the actual bottom, which had some of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Season 29 wasn’t nearly as bad, and now season 30 has noticeably increased in quality slightly. It’s like these two years has been the show attempting to claw and scrape out of the bottom of a pit. Will they manage to resurface and regain some sense of greatness? I’m gonna take a safe bet and say ‘no,’ but I’m at least a little glad to see a little bit of effort in these episodes again.

646. Werking Mom

Original airdate: November 18, 2018

The premise:
An extreme makeover by Julio gets Marge mistaken for a drag queen, and while she initially is horrified, she ends up embracing the drag scene, seeing it as a confidence booster. Meanwhile, Lisa is inspired by French cinema to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.

The reaction: Right off the bat, I gotta be honest, the conceit of husky-voiced Marge being mistaken for a drag queen is one of the most humorous ideas this show’s had in a good long while. A story about Marge finding acceptance in drag culture while having to hide who she is could have been interesting, but that damn pesky poor writing just can’t support it. With Lisa’s B-plot eating up time, we only get one quick scene of Marge getting introduced to a bunch of drag queens, then a musical number, and that’s basically it in terms of developing her relationship with these people and subculture. As usual, any further scenes would require them having to make Shantae (voiced by RuPaul) or the others actual characters who can hold a conversation, and that’s just too hard, man. Remember how well developed John from “Homer’s Phobia” was? Even as a caricatured gay man (and John Waters surrogate), he still felt like a real person who was actually emotionally affected by Homer’s ignorant homophobia. Here, none of these drag queens feel like they’ve gone through a story, they’re just there to say their joke lines and react to things on cue. The climax involves Homer’s discovery of Marge’s new identity, ruining her good time with a terrible self-aware line (“You didn’t tell me you were tricking all these people into thinking you’re a drag queen when you’re really a regular housewife in need of empowerment… and now that I say it out loud, it doesn’t seem so bad.”) I feel like they should have stuck with either extreme: have Homer wildly ignorant and belligerent and not understand why Marge is doing this, or have him be totally supportive and make the story about Marge worrying her friends will find out she’s really a woman. Instead, Homer’s emotional outburst was an impromptu mistake, one he’s genuinely sorry for and immediately tries to make up for. But this is apparently the last straw for Marge, who by the ending seems one sentence shy of wanting a divorce (“What hurts the most is I can’t imagine there’s anything he could say or do to make me come back.”) There was a long period of seasons, 13-20 or so, which featured Homer being such a flaming, selfish asshole that it teetered on Stockholm syndrome as to why Marge would allow this awful, awful man back into her life. But in the last few years, Homer hasn’t been so bad, but we’ve seen a lot of shows where Marge seems very quick to up and almost end the marriage. In addition, Marge claims Homer’s “selfishness” stands in direct contrast to the love and support the drag queens have given her, so this moment would have actually held some emotional weight if, again, we knew anything about these people or why we should care. When Marge tells them that she’s not a man, they all admit that they already knew, and that’s all. No one’s upset that a straight woman tried to co-opt their culture? Or, conversely, no heartfelt line about them being fine with helping a poor soul in need increase her self-worth? Again, if these were actual characters, we could have moments like those. After Marge says the above line, Homer appears on stage in drag himself, and that’s enough to win Marge back because we have less than one minute of show left before the worthless tag. Despite the potential of the story line, and for actually having some genuinely humorous moments throughout, the show is still missing that emotional core that keeps me at arm’s length from actually giving a shit about what’s happening.

The reaction:
– I don’t have much to comment on Lisa’s story. I think it’s supposed to be a parody of Amelie, but I’ve never seen it. Complete with a French narrator, she performs small kindnesses for the likes of Jasper, the Van Houtens, and Principal Skinner, but becomes discouraged when the happiness she’s bestowed on Skinner and his mother doesn’t last. The ending features all the people she’s helped showing up on the school roof to have lunch with her, so she’s finally have someone to eat lunch with. This feels like a conclusion the show in its prime would have viciously made fun of. The entire B-story is so lame and ham fisted, and time I wish was spent better developing the Marge plot. Also the green tint over all the scenes in the story made everything look ugly and washed out.
– Among the group of drag queens is “the mysterious Waylon,” pictured on the far left. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised they threw Smithers in there. Sure, I suppose someone formal and straight-laced like him could be into drag, an extravagant outlet for his repressed every day life, but he’s just part of the set dressing here. Instead, it feels a lot like what the show has done in the past with him, where he acts as catch-alls for all non-straight jokes. Past bits involved him taking estrogen, or hinting that he wants a sex change operations (just last season we saw a “joke” about Smithers planning on becoming a woman. Do the writers know that being gay and being transgender are two different things?) Smithers being into drag isn’t necessarily offensive, but given their history of just ascribing him all these different contradictory identities because he’s the gay of the series, it just felt incredibly eye-rolling to me. Hell, I’d watch a whole episode about Smithers getting into drag, why not? It’d be more daring than this crap.
– The tag features disheveled drag Homer at Moe’s fielding questions from Moe (“So, you’re a drag queen now?” “I dunno. I guess these days it’s okay for everyone to be everything.”) I guess you could read this as a tired, forty-year-old man trying to make sense out of a new social culture he doesn’t understand, but it reads more like the fifty-plus writing staff grappling with all this gender expression/identity nonsense the youths are up to. For an episode trying so hard to be open and accepting (as seen with Homer’s almost immediate acceptance of Marge’s drag life), this felt like a weird, snidey note to end on. There are ways to make jokes and construct humorous scenarios out of topics like this that don’t come off as mean or back-handed (i.e.: the ridiculous comedy of errors involving the asexual Todd meeting his girlfriend’s hyper-sexualized family from the recent season of BoJack Horseman)

One good line/moment: Like last week, surprisingly a handful of smirk-worthy moments: Old Jewish Man’s banter, Marge imagining the Tupperware speaking (“Did you just high-five that bowl?”), Dewey Largo and his boyfriend (“I’m not leaving until I find my butter tub!” “Look in the mirror,”) but the best moment was a rarity for the show nowadays: a successful set-up and pay-off. Earlier, Homer is befuddled at the idea of using Tupperware to store leftover lasagna (“Whoever heard of leftover lasagna?!”) Later, Marge is raking in so much money doing drag she takes Homer out to a lavish meal at Luigi’s, leaving him so stuffed that he actually gets to take lasagna home with him! Then later that night when he takes it out of the fridge to eat, all he finds in the box is a note telling himself he already ate it at the restaurant. Hey, some writing with some thought behind it!