The premise: After fifty years of searching, a British spy arrives in Springfield to unmask the Russian spy known as “The Grey Fox,” who he believes is Abe Simpson, enlisting Homer in planning his capture.
The reaction: There’s been a couple episodes this season where the lead character is a one-off guest star (Olivia Coleman in “The 7 Year Itch,” Ellie Kemper in “A Springfield Summer Christmas for Christmas,” Megan Mullally in “Uncut Femmes,”) and they’ve all come off very confusing and awkward. There’s varying levels of attempt to actually develop these new characters into someone you actually give a shit about following through a story, but this show can barely create engaging stories with its thirty-plus-year-old leads, let alone brand-new ones. Our focal point this time around is Terrence, an M15 agent who’s been hunting for a Russian spy for fifty years, finally arriving in Springfield to take down our very own Abe Simpson. First he must get Homer to help him, working to convince him his father is actually a spy, for reasons I’m not really sure why. How hard is it to apprehend a doddering old man like Abe? This is also one of those episodes where it’s treating its story a bit more seriously than most. Both acts end on dramatic moments with no jokes, there’s tense music as Homer considers whether his father is actually a spy, the two end up tied up in Terrence’s trunk and make tearful amends… but as usual, there’s literally nothing specific for me to latch onto to make me care. Terrence believes Abe, the Grey Fox, is getting nuclear secrets from Homer, but how? And to what end? He’s been doing this over fifty years and nothing of note has happened because of it? He implies that Abe’s influence is why Homer’s never been fired for his years of negligence, but how does that make sense? Also, Homer’s only worked at the plant for ten years, so what was Abe doing for the other forty? There’s no attempt to give us any information that might make us interested. Terrence gathers the barflies around to tell his life story, but then we just get a music montage of him talking. In the end, Terrence’s daughter reveals that his father is retired and is just deluded in his own senility, and Homer and Abe are saved before any tension can escalate or anything that might possibly be interesting happens. This one was a real snoozer; so many episodes feel like there was so little effort given in the writing, but this one seemed to completely fall asleep at the very premise. Abe is suspected of being a spy… that’s good enough, when’s lunch?
Three items of note:
– In the M15 flashback from fifty years ago, Terrence knows that the Grey Fox was part of the Flying Hellfish battalion and is in a small town with a nuclear plant. Wouldn’t there be some available recorded list of all the Hellfish soldiers? It’s not like it’s a secret. Springfield Cemetery has a Hellfish monument, that’s where they all were from. We also see from Terrence’s dossier that the Grey Fox is confirmed to be living in a town called Springfield. He doesn’t mention it aloud in the flashback, but it seems like this is the original report as the paper is all aged and ripped. So how many small towns with a nuclear plant are Springfields? How the hell did it take Terrence fifty goddamn years to find Abe?
– It’s really jarring anytime the show uses live action footage, which seems to happen at least once or twice a season now. In the Retirement Castle rec room, we see an old black-and-white live action movie playing on the big TV. I don’t know what it is, but I assume it’s some kind of old spy movie. Later, on the boardwalk, there’s a sign gag, “Joseph Cotten Candy,” featuring a real photo of old film star Joseph Cotten. I don’t know how many people actually know who Joseph Cotten is, but I’ll tell you what’s not going to help sell the joke: putting his actual fucking picture on screen. Was it worth it just to sell your awful pun? I guess he was in some old spy pictures? Both of these inclusions feel like another example of this show sometimes doing plot lines or extended references to source material that feels way too old for anyone in the audience to get. I really don’t know what the demographic breakdown of this show is anymore, but I would hazard a guess a lot more younger people watch it than senior citizens, who are the only people who could appreciate a Joseph Cotten reference, or a whole episode about the 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird film.
– Speaking of old references, Orson Welles (voiced by Maurice LaMarche, of course) makes an inexplicable cameo at the boardwalk getting on a Ferris wheel. I have no idea why he’s there, he just is, because why not. There was another recent episode within the last few years that featured Welles, and it feels weird that they’re still trotting this impression out. LaMarche’s Orson Welles is impeccable, without question, but both Pinky & the Brain and the infamous “green pea-ness” scene from The Critic are almost thirty years old. If you’re going to re-use the character so many times, you should have something new or interesting for him to do. The first time The Simpsons used LaMarche was in a Halloween episode fifteen years ago that recreated Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast, which was actually a pretty creative idea. Here, the joke is that Orson Welles was fat so they put a bowling ball on his Ferris wheel seat to balance the weight. Worth it!