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America's Favorite Non-prehistoric Cartoon Family - The Simpsons Thread

Ludendorkk

(he/him)
Johnny Unusual said:
"On President's day weekend? Are you crazy?"

I THINK this is a joke that this isn't a big sales week and it would be a better one if I didn't see so many President's Day Weekend sales. Can someone clarify if I'm just assuming a utilitarian line is a joke or not?

The joke is the President's Day is absolutely nothing holiday that commercials portray as a exponentially bigger deal than it is (President's Day sales exist solely because February is a slow sales month).
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge

Flanderization is an expression born on the character of Flanders becoming broader as the show went on, but really that's an issue with a lot of the characters. Of course, continued broadness makes sense for a lot of the characters who functionally don't need to provide much in terms of character, like Otto. He had only one episode about himself in the GOLDEN AGE and while it wasn't bad by any means it proved that Otto doesn't really work as a lead like many other characters like the teachers or Mr. Burns. But it really does hurt when others become broad stereotypes. Obviously, this hurt Homer's likeablity a lot but Marge is a character with a huge well of humanity. Its weird that the show slowly put her in the place of "nagging housewife." I can see how it happened partially organically with Marge reacting rationally to Homer's increasingly horrible nonsense but in episodes like this she doesn't even get to be a dull voice of reason.

In this episode, Otto proposes to his girlfriend Becky. At the wedding, taking place at the Simpson house, Marge tries to give Becky some advice and ends up ruining the wedding. Becky, temporarily without a place to stay, stays with the Simpsons and Marge finds her popularity with the other Simpsons irking her. Eventually, thanks to Patty and Selma putting ideas in Marge's head, she becomes convinced Becky is looking to usurper her within the family. Things come to a head when Marge attacks Becky in an ice cream parlor after a misunderstanding. Marge escapes from a mental institution and tries to dig up dirt on Becky, only to come to the conclusion that she was in the wrong.

First, I'm going to say that this episode did make me laugh in several places. Like, a fair number of times... though it literally took the halfway point in the episode for it to happen. The cut breaks scene actually has quite a few subsequent jokes that hit. But as a whole, this is a pretty weak-ass episode. Marge barely resembles the character I've been following for years, instead feeling closer to a gossipy housewife that Helen Lovejoy usually is, excitedly looking forward to hearing some juicy problems from Becky and forcing her way into things. There could be an episode in here about the fact that bad advice can hurt people but unlike a lot of bad episodes with potential, you still have to dig kind of hard to see what someone might have been going for. Instead the episode is a parade of wacky misunderstandings, contrived even by wacky Simpsons standards.

Analyzing Marge's error is more interesting than what the show does with it. Marge forces a big dramatic ultimatum instead of letting the couple try to figure things out. But this isn't a clever or smart episode and its infuriating in that Marge is portrayed pretty badly. I also am not sure what the episode wants to say about the conclusions Marge jumps to and jealousy. If so, its pretty shallow and not helped by the way the episode plays out. Even as a parody of a certain subset of thrillers of the late 80s and early 90s, it isn't saying on that front. Its a kind of eye-rolling episode that feels like if it had a point, its far too muddled to make it.

As for the character of Becky, she's played by Parkey Posey who seems... maybe unaccostumed to animation. I'm not even saying she's acting badly but there's a weird detachment. But she also did really well the same year in an early episode of Futurama where she played a mermaid. So I'm not sure what's not clicking here except for, again, a really clunky script. The episode is by Steven Dean Moore who has done some fantastic episodes, including all time great Marge Be Not Proud, some so-so episodes with great moments (Sunday Cruddy Sunday is worth it for Vincent Price's Egg Magic), and quite a few that aged REALLY badly (several Apu episodes, Missionary: Impossible and Beyond Blunderdome). I won't go as far as to say this is his worst one because he is STILL writing and... Well, I say one from this season that was a friggin' mess. And this one did have some good jokes. But the bad stuff like characterization and internal logic seem to stick out way to much and that's a shame.

Jokes I missed before:



"Why do I always think of the perfect thing to say when it's too late. 'Shut up, Becky,' That would have been sweet,"



"I thought you said the law was powerless."
"Powerless to help you, not punish you."
Very true.



"I hear she mates with men, then eats them."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Behind the Laughter

I'm always fascinated with facts and trivia of the making of the things I like. I don't listen to DVD commentaries like I used to but I still am interested in what goes into the making of things. Oh, the technical stuff doesn't interest me but I am interested in when decisions are made to deviate from the plan or what inspires certain plot points, dialogue or acting choices. And in hearing about the background, you often end up hearing about backstage strife. For the most part, I tend to be less interested, as it can be a bummer, but considering some of the strife can be traced to certain people, it can help me not want to support them. But watching with the knowledge of what happened, whether it is merely fraught or if it is overtly problematic, its hard not to bring that into a viewing.

In this episode, we see the story of the Simpsons rise and fall via a Behind the Music-like show. Homer creates the show with his family, which ends up becoming a success. The Simpsons find fame and fortune but eventually find themselves being ruined by it, making terrible purchasing decisions and letting it effect their behaviour. Even worse, internal strife bubbles to the surface, eventually exploding during a live performance and forcing the family apart. The Simpsons pursue independent projects but the hard feelings remain. Eventually Willie Nelson is called in to help bring the family back together with a phoney awards show. The Simpsons reconcile and return to the show.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite episode of the season. I'm not actually familiar with Behind the Music outside of the parodies but its a show you don't really need to be familiar with to "get" this episode. You just need an understanding of Hollywood and the ridiculous nature of TV pop tragedy documentaries. But in addition, the episode does a lot that speaks specifically to me. I tend to like meta-stories but I LOVE ridiculous tortured metaphors, which this episode is full of. But this is very much an episode about how the source of the pop culture we love might be built on a foundation that... is kind of a bummer.

The rise and fall structure feels as old as Hollywood itself but at the same time it feels sadly timeless as a lot of the things we like might be a nightmare of sorts behind the scene. Ironically, the Simpsons' world, particularly in this season, feels like a sort of Hell, making the silly Hell of this episode a lot more palatable. Somehow the evil Homer of this episode who sneaks growth stunting hormones to his daughter's cereal or wants the kids not to know about child labour laws is somehow easier to watch than the one who is wearing on his family's sanity. And that's probably because he's supposed to be more of a monster than our "real" Homer, while episodes like Make Room for Lisa are supposed to forgive the abysmal behaviour of the previous 22 minutes.

I also think this is the show at a high point in being self-deprecating. Probably the best was the second Halloween episode, which was more succinct in the rise and fall of Simpsonsmania. But in this, I love the choice that any time they cut to the "show" it is invariably the cheesiest, stupidest fucking thing. Homer cartoonishly getting his nose pinched by a lobster, the demo-reel with Homer's boss coming to dinner, an episode called "Disorder in the Court". Its a recurring theme in the Simpsons meta-episodes but its always a choice I love that they are painting themselves as completely not worth the adulation. The Simpsons was such a formative show for me that it is painful to think that its self-parody is a little closer to accurate to an extent but I feel like, at the very least, the show itself was willing to present itself as something that receives so much respect might just be as flawed as all the other shows on TV.

Jokes I missed before:
Nelson Mandela's walk of fame star has a formula one racing car on it.

Other great jokes:





"They told us what to wear, how to dress, what clothes we should put on..."

"I had no business hosting the Oscars. After the show, Meryl Streep spit on my."





"But those roses contained ready-to-sting bees."




Trendy guest stars: Butch Patrick, Buzz Aldrin, Tom Kite...

"It was an evening none of them would ever forget. Or would they? No."

"Something that swings with the beat of New Orleans."
"No, something that rocks. That's the sound of today."
"Swings!"
"Rocks!"
"Swings!"
"Rocks!"
"Sadly this argument was not part of the show."

"And Homer finds a new passion."

"Dusting and polishing mixing boards."

"The show started out on a wing and a prayer. But now the wing was on fire and the prayer was answered... by Satan."

The little sounds Harry Shearer makes sell this.

I love that they incorporated this scene in an episode next season.

"I was so gay, but I couldn't tell anyone."
I really need to read that Mark Russel comic about Snagglepuss as Tennessee Williams.

Other notes:

Marge giving up with Maggie marking on Homer is very relatable. Parents got to know when to quit.

Rent II looks so much better than actual Rent. Seriously, whenever I read or hear about Rent, I really got to roll my eyes.

I like Marge that is harder edged in "real" life, swearing, doing blow, shooting sheriffs... a smile.

==
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
The true final episode and a fine one to go out on.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XI

Another year, another Halloween special. I'll break this one down segment by segment but I'm going to say... they are all competent. None of them go higher nor lower than that. Each one has a couple solid laughs and none of them are too cringey. This is something a lot of the Halloween episodes CAN be, as with the freedom to go a bit wild and be free from the few shackles of humanity the show has for a half hour, the temptation to be audacious comes up a lot. Sometimes its just some nasty gore, which actually doesn't bother me too much. The other half is the kind of humour that feels more like Family Guy, a veneer of irony trying to do "ew" and then winking at us and saying "its funny because you don't REALLY agree with this, I think maybe." Thankfully, while there are no breakthrough gags in this episode, its a perfectly pleasant way to spend a half-hour.

In this episode, three more Halloween stories. In the first tale, Homer dies and in order to get into heaven must do one good deed as a ghost. Then in the second, the Simpsons are fairy tale peasants and after the kids are abandoned in the woods, they must dodge various fairy tale dangers. In the final tale, Lisa frees a dolphin from a SeaWorld like park and it vows vengeance on humanity, along with all the other dolphins.

The thing about the Simpsons is that in its prime, the very wacky show knows how to balance the far-out and the mundane. In this segment, once things get overtly supernatural, it feels kind of dull. The strongest element is the first half before Homer is a ghost, yet Homer's everyday life is still ridiculous, with mundane life filled with the bizarre, like Homer being blasé about a rattlesnake bite or the reveal that broccoli is deadly. The bar for wildness is already high so once we get to the meat of it, there's nowhere to go. In retrospect, it seems like a shame that the episode wasn't simply about Homer being destined to die and being oblivious or unconcerned, mirroring the way he already lives his life on a knife's edge due to his own disinterest.

The second segment, by vets John Frink and Don Payne, is about the same level except while the previous one moves from good to a little weak, this one, like mixed bowls of hot and cold porridge, remains consistent. I don't think there's a lot of particularly intended commentary on the nature of fairy tales but the nature of both the tales and the Simpsons does work its way into the idea of a world that is cruel to the kids that the stories are aimed at, perhaps preparing them for the real suckiness of the world. But over all, it reads more closer to fairy tales with Simpsons non-sense. I also feel like it relies on a bit of wacky imagery that isn't as funny as it thinks it is (mainly, Homer's transformed form).

I can't decide if the last segment is my least favourite or my most favourite (of the episode). It's the story that has the closest thing to a point of view, starting out with a commentary on SeaWorld that turned out to hold up unsettlingly well. There are lots of dumb little jokes throughout that I love (Moe has two great weird little jokes I like). The weak point to me is probably the dolphins themselves. I feel like its another thing where the writer, Carolyn Omine, seems to think the premise of wacky dolphins alone is funny but they don't really work for me. But a lot of the stuff around them works pretty well. This Halloween might not be particularly strong, but it has enough solid little jokes to make it worth it.

Jokes I missed before:

Homer saying "Mmm... sugar walls." is more risqué than I realized.


Other great jokes:

"And you'll get a compliment from an attractive co-worker. Lenny?"
"Today you're husband will die!"


"Homer if I may compliment you..."
"Yes, go on."
"That is one handsome rattlesnake ya got biting your arm there."
"Yeah, its quite fetching but aren't you worried about the deadliness?"
"Nah, he'll get tired of biting in an hour or so. Snake, natures quitters."

"It tries to warn you itself with its terrible taste."



"Quiet! You'll wake up John Wayne."
"I'm already up."

"Aw, jeez, I came on too strong again. I'm so desperately lonely."
This is a catchphrase I can relate to.

"Too hot. Too cold. Well, this doesn't take a genius."

This is the correct answer.

"Boy, dumping your kids off in the woods sure gets your hands dusty."

"Hello, I'm George Cauldron, is Suzanne ready yet?"
"Almost, just give her another 20 minutes."
"But the concert's at 8."

"It's getting away. Kill it."

"Alcohol and night swimming. It's a winning combination."

Blowhole burns.

"We're all frightened and horny. But we can't let some killer dolphins from living and scoring."

"What did he say?"
"He said dolphins used to live on the land"
"WHAAA?!?"
This is such an odd little bit of nothing I really like for some reason.

Carl trying to clap for a speech that damns humanity.

"I tuned out, where are we goin'?"

Other notes:

Homer is a Taurus. So is Barney. So am I. Something to think about. (BTW, me and Barney have the same birthday)

Homer's commentary on Miss Buxley made me find this.


Mort Walker could only draw her as either a smoking sex bomb or a dull non-entity and there was nothing in between.

The Birds parody section is not bad but I much prefer the version from A Streetcar Named Marge.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A Tale of Two Springfields

I feel like I've lived a pretty privileged life. I've lived it firmly in middle-middle class but to my knowledge our family has never had true want. So I guess I'm pretty ignorant of the class divide in my town. I'm a little more aware of it now but even then I must admit ignorance in where it lies and how I know is effected or how far away I am removed from it. And I could live it... I have some money saved for my retirement but I'm given to understand I should have more saved by now. What's more, I might be in need of a job soon but at least I have the luxury of a money cushion until I can get it. Some people aren't so lucky.

In this episode, Homer gets upset when Springfield gets a second area code. Homer is so upset by the mild inconvenience that he encourages Homer to divide the town in two along lines of the number... which is also along the lines of class. The town does split and Olde Springfield and New Springfield (with Homer as mayor) begin a bitter rivalry, stoked by Homer's furor and pranks. Eventually, Homer builds a wall dividing the town which immediately ruins the town, causing everyone to leave... except the Simpsons. With Homer the mayor of a ghost town, he continues his war by convincing the Who to change concert venues from Olde Springfield to New Springfield. When the town confronts Homer, the Who suggests some simple solutions and tears down the wall, reuniting the town once more.

A Tale of Two Springfields is a tough one to unpack... but a pretty easy one to watch, thankfully. It has some of the better post-season ten instinct. Yes, there are some. Sure, it lacks for stuff that I really care about such as a trace of poignancy and character deep dives. Its rare that these later seasons have anything but shallow representations of its cast. But in being broader, it can still tell tales about the nature of society, like Trash of the Titans. That means it can be a little more cynical but at the very least it means it has a point of view and something to say and is willing to be pointed. Of course, wielded poorly, the messages that I don't agree with can look extra ugly. This episode is one where I feel the writer, John Swartzwelder, keeps things broad enough that even the stuff that is questionable in nature feels like, while there, you can let it just pass through you.

So what is the episode trying to say? The thing is, I think it has a point of view about the stupidity of tribalism isolationism. Homer's anger-mongering over what is largely a non issue and Homer ignores most of the factors that he should be concerned with in favor of petty pranks. Homer's stupid and self-destructive tactics are, more than ever (though let's face it, always were) comparable to the tactics of the right, down to a big separating wall with the intent of making life better but objectively makes life worse in every conceivable way. The only difference is the New Springfieldians know when to cut their losses. I also think unlike later episodes, the episode doesn't seem to have specific political analogs (the Berlin Wall comparisons is completely superficial), which works to its advantage the way invasion of the body snatchers might.

It also means that it might be open to interpretations by the viewers. Yes, its clearly anti-tribalism but what it says about the class divide in Springfield is... pretty vague and almost nothing. No one questions the systematic issue of it and the Olde Springfieldians are largely pretty good. Even their revenge prank is pretty gentle (stealing a shipment of beer) compared to Homer cutting power. This isn't even like Parasite, where the rich are so far removed from the issue that they are ignorant to what they might be related to. It seems really weird to bring up the class issue so much and say so little with it. I'm just assuming it was just about "snobs vs. slobs" rather than actual class commentary. And knowing Swartzwelder, he's more interested in wacky slobs than actually saying something about snobs. Its interesting to think about but it doesn't hurt a solid episode. It isn't a classic but its completely watchable and little cringe, like the previous episode. Even some really solid bits, thanks to Swartzwelder. I'd love if season 12 continued this streak. It would make it stronger than the previous. Unfortunately, its only 3 episodes until Homer is assaulted by a panda.

Jokes I missed before:

Homer calling Olde Springfield "Sun City"

"That fat, dumb and bald guy sure plays some real hardball."

Phoney McRingRing is the mascot AND PRESIDENT of the area code company (and also there's an "area code company")

Other great jokes:

Bart slowly doing a triple take. Though it feels more like a Fry moment.

"I'm not sure which one's better. The six is closer to the three so you have convenience there but the nine has less to do with Satan which is a plus in this religious world of ours."

"Don't forget those two weeks at area code camp."

"First, let me reassure you you're fears are groundless and you're complaints moronic."

"And I don't mind paying the extra hidden fee."

"Are you stupider than a monkey?"
"How big of a monkey?"

"I accuse the phone company of making that film ON PURPOSE!"


"We have a better town bird."
"Oh yeah? And what is it?"
"The Bluebird!"
"...Damn."
Really solid line reads on the last two bits.

"Nothing like revenge for gettin' back at people."
"I dunno, vengeance is pretty good."



"I opened for the Who at Woodstock. I came out in a Beatle wig with a ukulele. Hendrix said he almost plotzed. His exact words."

"That's the sticky wicket? Well, I'll be chuggered. Why not buy phones with auto ringer, or as you yanks call it, 'speed dial'. Radio Shack has some great ones."
"Says you."

"Magic Bus!"
"Alright, we'll play Magic Bus if you tear down this wall."
"..........PINBALL WIZARD!"

Other notes:

Sadly whatbadgerseat.com now only takes you to fox.com. But it used to be a show site.

Homer's ripped up chest feels like one of the weird gore jokes that feels more applicable to Futurama or a Halloween ep.

I like how Homer literally shoes away the first act plot once it no longer serves a purpose.

What the fuck are the teachers doing on the rich part of town? Skinner, maybe, depending on Agnes' financial status but Krabappel?
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
Homer's ripped up chest feels like one of the weird gore jokes that feels more applicable to Futurama or a Halloween ep.
I said as much when you were talking about Saddlesore Galactica, but a lot of stuff definitely feels like it would've been a better fit for Futurama's far more cartoonish and flexible reality (also Treehouse of Horror). Bender dealing with subterranean fae jockeys is pretty normal in a world filled with aliens, mutants, and foul-mouthed robots; Fry gets horribly maimed on a fairly regular basis so a cartoonish disembowelment being played as a one-off like a no continuity grossout show also wouldn't feel out of place in his reality.

I was already feeling like something was amiss when Kirk got his arm chopped off as a gag back in Season 9 and now we are getting more and more into Homer and other characters (but especially Homer) having gruesome and horrible stuff happen to them for funsies. Homer's fall down Springfield Gorge way back in Season 2 was amazing 'cuz it was equal parts hilarious and horrifying as well as something completely unexpected from cartoons at the time; cartoons had falls but not the bloody bone-breaking consequences. Now The Simpsons is more like a gorier and more foul-mouthed 90s kids' cartoon.*

It's weird to go from poisonous blowfish and heart attacks being real threats to Homer's continued existence to treating having his guts exposed like it's barely an inconvenience.

* Honestly though this can be said of a lot of animated shows aimed at adults.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
And I feel part of the problem isn't just "the Simpsons are leaning on gross stuff like the other shows". Its also that as a joke meant to provoke laughter via a horrific surprise... these things land kind of flat. Maybe its because the show already spent these nickels at Halloween or its playing catch up with South Park and Family Guy, to whom audaciousness was their whole brand. Simpsons was a shock when it first aired but that was never the reason it had staying power, because behind the gentle cusses and casual blasphemy was a real philosophy. Seeing it walking through the door those other shows opened without much thought is kind of sad. (And the nature of those other two shows are two huge other conversations I don't want to get into at the moment.)
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Insane Clown Poppy

Yeah, I got nothin' for this one. Consider yourself spared.

In this episode, Krusty is approached by a kid who turns out to be his illegitimate daughter. Krusty reluctantly decides to spend a bit of time with her and ends up developing a bond. However, during a poker game, he ends up betting and losing her violin on a hand he believed was a sure thing. Wanting to get back into his daughter's good graces, he and Homer break into the home of the violin's current owner... Fat Tony. It turns out this happened during a mob summit and after a dangerous escape, Krusty returns the violin and all is well.

After two episodes where I am perfectly happy with its very low level successes, we now get into a low level failure. I've certainly seen worse from the last season but this one feels just painfully lazy. The crisis for the character and the resolution feels very pedestrian, like it could have been written for a number of characters. This could have been a Moe episode, in theory, with very little changes. It doesn't feel as ramshackle as episodes we will see down the line but its thoroughly unambitious in structure.

And it is a shame because there's a lot of actual interesting character work to do with the bare bones of it. Krusty is an interesting character in that he's a children's entertainer who doesn't really care about his audience beyond any positive reaction he can get from them. There's a lot of ways to approach this that make for a good episode but I feel the biggest tool is the sadness of Krusty. It helped a lot in the episode about Krusty's estranged dad. Krusty is a guy with a lot of loneliness but he also isn't interested in sharing his life, so examining what it means to share is inherently interesting. But this episode takes the path of least resistance and forgets to make Krusty's daughter interesting or anything other than a motivating factor for Krusty (an issue with a lot of one-off characters voiced by guest stars at this point). It's an episode that only has comedy and no tangible pathos (despite a well-compositioned shot of a Krusty realizing he fucked up).

It also doesn't have anything insightful to say about fatherhood. This is another episode where everything is solved with a grand gesture. I feel like by this time, the show is getting lazy with these. They used to be better. Homer willing to do Bart's stunt in his place in the classic scene in Bart the Daredevil and the realization Homer would put himself in traction for his kids used to have meaning but with Homer smashing his body into putty each week makes self-endangerment feel less meaningful. And I think there are lots of directions the episode could have gone in to explore the idea of someone who doesn't consider themselves parent material having to become one for someone they love. Too bad this is an episode that doesn't seem to have any real point of view to share on the subject.

Other great jokes:
Despite my complaints, there are some solid bits.



"No! That's not what I meant at all. You couldn't have gotten it more wrong."
"But--"
"Please, just sit down. I'm embarrassed for both of us.

The show's writers are actually pretty good at giving Krusty next level awful stand up material.
"I'ya'tol'ya's on second..."

"Well, it won't bring much cash, but its sentimental value is through the roof."

"Hey, let's go jump on Fat Tony's bed."



Other notes:
Somehow, the very first few scenes didn't have many laughs but I appreciated some solid Bart and Homer having fun together with mischief. It works for me as a bit of texture in a way the rest of the episode doesn't,

I love Stephen King and his not so great acting. He's fucking charming and despite his limitations, he is still swinging for the fences. A wonderful flawed ham.

Also, between this and Marge loving the Abominable Dr. Phibes, I kind of like the idea that sweet Marge is actually a fan of horror. With things getting so broad, I like the idea of giving some unexpected tastes to our characters. I mean, beyond being a joke.

As weak as the episode is, its worth it for Johnny Tightlips.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Meanwhile; in the Future

Season 21 is still the show well past it’s expiry date (but close enough to the end that I’m excited at being able to loop back around to season 1). And there’s still usually at least a solid joke in each episode.

Most noteworthy, however, is that in this season they decided to make it so that Lisa’s defining characteristic is that she is completely over it. Just completely tired of everyone else and has a hard “screw all y’all” attitude.”

Which is a hard pivot for her, but has also managed to get some genuine chuckles out of me.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Which is a hard pivot for her
To an extent. Over it Lisa has been popping up a lot in bits and bobs. Lisa resignedly getting the steering wheel when Homer hugs Bart while driving and most recently for me Lisa had a dead eyed stare when Homer says "Look honey, daddy's a rock star."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Lisa the Tree Hugger

The Simpsons is a show that has always been a little weird about its politics. The creator of the show is left leaning, having grown up around a hippie campus his father worked on that informed his world view. And this definitely comes through in the show on a macro-level. The villains tend to be business people, politicians and people in authority. But I feel like there are also some points of view very much informed by the time. "Look at people looking to get offended by and overly serious about everything." "Look at these wacky hippies with their unrealistic goals and demands from society." They even had an episode that was essentially about America's gun obsession where they tried to split the difference in their political views. The thing is, I actually feel that this is very much what the mainstream left is at the time and to an extent, still is. But it is always weird to see an episode that both have environmental sympathies but also says "look at these dumb, young weirdos."

In this episode, the Simpsons go to Krusty Burger only to encounter an environmental protest. Lisa falls head over heels for the leader of the protest group, Dirt First, and tries to get close to him for both moral and crush reasons. Lisa joins Dirt First and volunteers for a mission to stay in Springfield's largest tree to protect it from loggers. Lisa is steadfast but one evening gets lonely and sneaks away to visit her family. Accidentally, falling asleep, Lisa awakes to discover the tree has been taken down... by lightning. Lisa becomes memorialized after the town thinks she is dead and Lisa decides to continue the misconception as it benefits the cause. But when it turns out her "death" is co-opted by big business, Lisa reveals herself to protest.

Lisa the Tree Hugger isn't a bad episode but it also isn't particularly strong. There's a lot of very 90s and early 2000s "look at these friggin' granola nerds" and making the character Jessie Grass largely insufferable. In particular, he is when Lisa visits him in prison and she's saying things she is proud of and he's turning up his nose and passive aggressively asking why she isn't doing more. She's fucking eight, dude. She's eight. Be nice. I do think there is something to be said for the nature of gatekeeperism for a cause but the read to me here is less that and more like someone wanting to bash those insufferable types. Its far from problematic and frankly there could insufferables in any organization for a cause but this feels like it is towing the line for a common archetype rather than saying anything particularly insightful.

Much more interesting are the themes of the latter half, even if they aren't too strong in the humor department. There are two things going on I like. One is the idea of trying to fight for a cause but having to lie to do so. I don't think this is particularly well explored but I think it does lead into something that works a little bit better; the idea of co-opting a symbol or tragedy for one's own purpose. When Lisa fakes her death, Homer and Bart find the advantages almost instantly. Bart learns the tragedy will gain him straight As for the year and Homer gets a pie from Flanders and some fun at Moe's expense. Homer's behaviour is jerky but it also acts as a lead in for more substantial villainy when the Rich Texan (later known as... Rich Texan) promises to use Lisa's image to support a nature preserve only to plan to turn it into a crass amusement park. This plot point is more prescient than ever, especially last month, when it seemed everyone was putting a pride rainbow on their twitter account, even if their company or organization was doing things specifically that hurt the LGTBQ community.

But I think while the episode has lots of little interesting ideas, they don't cohere into anything strong. And I like a lot of these chunks, some of which hold up well in terms of harsh truth, like cops cavalierly wielding "non-lethal" weapons in order to stop the harmless Dirt First protest. In the same scene Krusty tries to put on a good, civil public face while telling the cops to "take out the lead cow". For its cheesy representation of the protester, the show is still pretty spot on with the people being protested. Sure, they are cartoonish monsters, but it turns out so are our real life villains. Once again, we have another episode that doesn't rise above or below watchable. So at least there's that. Which is why I'm dreading the next episode I'll be watching. Next is "Homer Vs. Dignity", and episode I suspect I like more than I might remember but it definitely marred by one ill-considered section...

Other great jokes:

"FIVE... FOUR... THREE... TWO... ONE! Well, that's all the time we have!"


"You're paying me in hair? Are you insane?"


"Take that, Lisa's beliefs!"



"Its day four for Springfield's l'illest tree hugger. Sorry, that's littlest tree hugger."

"Oh, now they're making popcorn. And hanging Christmas stockings. And colouring Easter eggs."

"Springfield's oldest resident has died. No, it wasn't Mr. Burns."
Him laughing through the report is a good touch.

I liked Homer loosing the thread of his farce by speaking in falsetto.

Mayor Quimby wishing Milhouse good luck in cloning Lisa really levelled up a subpar joke.

Other notes:

Bart's Playstation analog... has an 80s style "joystick".

Oof... the Thai restaurant guy. Even the accent is "I dunno, Asian I guess."

I don't think a big log crashing into logging trucks is something the hippies would cheer. Like... there were people driving those trucks. And the wood was already cut down.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
If I found a quarter in a pie it'd be the high point of my life.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Absolutely. Optimally, I'll be dressed in full pirate regalia.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer Vs. Dignity

WARNING FOR THIS ONE: DISCUSSION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT

I remember as a kid, on the bus ride home I was sort of "friends" with some older kids. Basically, and I don't know how we got to this point, I was a very big fan of Gremlins 2 (the New Batch, to be specific) and the lady gremlin in the movie. I always did have a weird soft spot for romantically aggressive characters which now is pretty obviously problematic. Anyway, the kids wanted to see me act like said gremlin, pawing them and threatening to kiss them. I think I kind of eventually realized I was being the butt of the joke rather than being funny. I don't even feel negatively towards those kids because it feels very much like a thing they likely look back on with embarrassment I would hope. There are definitely shitty things I've said and done I would prefer to stay buried in the deepest recesses of my brain, never to be remembered. But I think that stuck with me that there are limits of things to do for a laugh. Which is something this episode wants to teach and yet should also learn.

In this episode, the Simpsons are in their worst financial straights ever due to poor financial management. Homer tries to appeal to Mr. Burns for a raise, who himself is a little bored with Smithers on personal leave. Burns decides to borrow Homer to become his "prank monkey", causing trouble for huge amounts of money. It starts off badly, hurting and upsetting people, but gets even worse when Homer's pranks involve him debasing himself. After Lisa finds out, Homer is encouraged to give up the work and the money. Homer finds himself flush with excess cash and he and Lisa decide he can use it to help people, giving children in need some toys for Christmas. Homer's choice moves the owner of the department store he purchased from that he is encouraged to play the role of Santa in the Thanksgiving parade. Mr. Burns approaches Homer for one final disgusting prank worth $1,000,000 but Homer declines... leaving Burns to carry out his prank alone.

This is the one with the infamous "Homer is raped by a panda" scene. And it is very unfortunate. Its even worse than I remember, topped off with an even more unpleasant line from Moe. And it is a shame that its really uglied up an episode that's actually one of the more interesting episodes of the last few seasons. I'm not even going to say good. But I'm also not going to say bad. Its... a weird one. Obviously, one major problem is a lot of time dedicated to the Panda section and the fallout. But in the last act, the jokes are weaker and the whole thing feels very rushed. But the first act and a half are actually quite strong in terms of some great jokes. What's more the first act, half of the second and half of the third are really good at examining its themes. The fall-out of the panda scene actually yields good drama between Homer and Lisa before the episode rushes a little too quickly into its finale.

Its really nice to see Lisa NOT checked out, emotionally. This isn't just Lisa being morally opposed, there's real emotional hurt in seeing what her father did to himself for money. This is a Lisa who actually does believe in her dad and the goodness within him, unlike the one who is like "I guess he doesn't mean it, so I'll take his abuse" of Make Room For Lisa. I wish the show would return to this Lisa more often, one who can believe in her dad because while he is an oaf, she can see the good in him. Homer is often a dumb jerk but this episode reminds us that there is always lower to sink. Everyone has some degree of dignity and selling it is tragic. And it is somewhat hard to blame Homer at first. The episode begins to really make it a point that the problem isn't "the Simpsons are poor this week" but "Homer can't provide enough and this is a problem in need of a dramatic solution."

But that's also a problem with the last act. I feel like Homer's arc is that at some point he gained enough money that he's no longer in trouble to the point where he kept going to increase his comfort. But I feel like it doesn't handle this well. I feel like Homer giving up his job humiliating himself should come at a cost. A financial one. It doesn't feel like as big a sacrifice if Homer can afford to turn dirty money into a huge charity event when the family is barely scraping by. There are other ways to do it, too, like Homer money-addicted enough that he's become inured and Lisa needs to see his self-worth but we never get there. Its a shame because its an episode that starts off with a very strong foot. Interesting themes rooted in character, some good construction and at the center two characters who care about each other. As it is, the episode is a heavily flawed outing. But one not easily dismissed.

Other great jokes:

Most of these are in the first half.

"Let's do it on Martin's desk."
"It is usually the cleanest."

Skinner, while making love
"Come on, Edna, don't be tardy."

"Have you set aside anything for the future?"
"Oh, you know how it is with the cops. I'll get shot three days before retirement. In the business, we call it retirony."
"What if you don't get shot."
"What a terrible thing to say. Now, look, you've made my wife cry."



"Mr. Simpson, your intelligence profile indicates you are too 'stupid' to stick to a financial plan."
"Yes, go on."

"Whoa, whoa, slow down there maestro. There's a NEW Mexico."
Weirdly, they did this joke with Homer before 7 season before. The difference is one is based on a character's stupidity and another is based on him being out of touch.

"Ah, a candy shop. Yes, I'll take two pounds of Bristol's toffee and don't wrap it too tightly, I'm hungry now!... You've made a powerful enemy today."


"Well, now's your chance. Mr. Burns has just 'entered' the room."

"That's the sneeze guard. You have to lean under it to get salad or to sneeze on stuff."

"OW, MY EYE! I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO GET PUDDING IN IT!"

"What are you doing, man? That's Carl!"

"There, that's six years worth of inoculations!"

"And while you're at it, throw in one of those polio shots."
"Yes, sir."
"Wait... anti-polio."

"Hey, Leeza, do you like gingerbread?"
"Not really."
"Then you're sure to like this next float. It's an all gingerbread desk set!"

Other notes:

I feel like if I was the writer, I would have given Bart an A in Math, having him recite the multiplication tables to drown out Skinner/Krabappel sexy-times. I feel like its hard to get an A in the fourth grade just by knowing 9 planet names and the correct order.

Tress MacNeille and Dan Castellaneta do a lot of stuff I like as Nagle and Homer in this one. "Ssssseveral times." Homer's ADRed and brief "sorry". They are both killing it.

I love Marge being really into Funky Winkerbean and the Noid. I still don't even know what Winkerbean is. It never appeared in my local paper. To me, it's just an insane title for a comic.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Funky Winkerbean has had one of the most inexplicable trajectories on the comic book page; starting off (decades ago) as a high-school hijinks comedy strip, but with the gimmick that the characters did age in real time; so the title characters are now retirees, several have died of various maladies and the main character has shifted a bunch of times. And the comic has also gotten steadily bleaker as a result. There were two spinoffs, Crankshaft (set ten years before the main strip, which is somewhat more lighthearted and is about a crotchety old schoolbus driver and his family) and the long concluded John Darling, about a talk-show host set in the same town (that comic concluded with the title characters murder on air, a plot point which was resolved later in Funky Winkerbean itself).
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Homer's ADRed and brief "sorry".

Agreed. High point of the episode, although "ho ho ho merry fishmas" has taken up permanent residence in this dumb brain of mine.

I still don't even know what Winkerbean is

It's the most boomerest thing that ever boomed


This is the strangest joke. I always thought it was just a lame gag that the gang would be shocked at Carl using a common word like "concur", but I just realized that it's that plus the second punchline that Carl read the word wrong and somehow picked up the correct pronunciation and use of the mistaken word. But to make this second, even more bizarre, punchline work Carl has to have the calendar on-hand, which really pushes the whole thing into uncanny territory.
 

jpfriction

A most radical pontiff
Wow I didn’t know Funky Winkerbean had such a storied history, I’ve only seen it as a not terribly funny strip about old people.

Crankshaft was one of my favorites as a kid but it is dire these days. Just half-hearted attempts at puns.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Computer Wore Menace Shoes

I remember the earliest days of the Internet for me. It was visiting my dad at his University office on Saturday mornings, going to sites to read if other people were talking about the cartoons I like. And it turns out, yes, the Internet DID enjoy the Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain and Freakazoid! The early-to-mid-nineties was an era when not everyone needed the Internet. Now the internet is a necessity in modern life but in the day it was a novelty and a luxury. Eventually, I went from couch potato to... computato? Is that a thing. I spend much more time with my computers than my TV, which takes much more attention. The Simpsons was an era that grew up with that change but was a little slow to adjust. There were some jokes about Homer being out of date but it became increasingly strange to see the family with rabbit ears on the TV and no computer. The Computer Wore Menace Shoes is an episode that feels like the impetus was addressing that but became so much more.

In this episode, Homer finally hits the Internet Age to get e-mails from work and soon goes all in on the Internet. He even makes his own site, but one so derivative it gets no attention. Homer eventually posts some rumors as facts and helps expose corruption in city hall. Homer then becomes a citizen journalist and ends up exposing some corruption around the city, culminating with exposing Mr. Burns selling uranium to terrorists. Homer wins the Pulitzer but soon people become guarded around Homer and he finds it impossible to get a new story. So soon he starts making up outlandish claims for attention, which he gets. However, he finds himself kidnapped by a mysterious group and sent to a strange island. It turns out one of his outlandish claims is true and people want him out of the way. Homer manages to escape and defeat an imposter in his home, but soon all the Simpsons are sent to a strange island, which they learn to live with.

There's a lot to unpack in this one, I'll say this... I was caught off guard how much I liked this episode. The answer is A LOT. It is easily John Swartzwelder's script in a long time, both in laughs and in examining a lot of ideas without it feeling like a mess. The episode goes full super-wacky in the last act but its never at the expense of its themes and to an extent amplifies them. I was worried going into this one two. I remembered it was an episode about Homer making up insane claims on the internet and one of them being true. Even worse, the true claim involves inoculations. Boy is this an era where "vaccines are a conspiracy, actually", even as a joke, feels not so good. In fact, the episode is somehow dated in what the Internet "looks like" but is prescient about what the Internet is and how it affected journalism both for good and ill.

I was going in expecting a bit of "old man yells at cloud" for the Internet ruining journalism but that's not at all what happens. It is actually a journey through the good, bad and grey of citizen journalism. First, Homer is just another derivative web presence with nothing to offer. Then he's working off rumors, both for justice and attention. Muddied means and muddied intentions that comes to a good end. Then Homer actually does GOOD journalism. He manages to have his ear to the ground and catch some actual stories with serious effects. But when Homer has nothing substantive to offer left, he just starts making shit up, which is the dark and awful side of citizen journalism. People start getting ridiculous fake stories from a once reliable source and are ready to accept it. Its kind of a perfect little trip through what "news" looks like today, albeit on a much more singular scale, rather than a cacophony of internet voices that seems more interested in de-stablizing than actual truth in journalism.

This brings us to the last act, a loving and pitch perfect parody of one of my favourite television series The Prisoner.


Ostensibly, the Prisoner was a "spy" show but really was more of a surrealist examination of individualism vs. conformity. I love the show but feel while its anti-authoritarian paranoia is perfect for left-leaning writers that its focus on individualism and freedom is appealing to conservatives and libertarians like Swartzwelder. Hell, the only episode the Prisoner tries to solve things with team work is shown to be ineffective due to the Village's mastery of making everyone too paranoid to trust each other, meaning the main character can only rely on himself for the rest of the series (though he certainly avenges and helps fellow prisoners from time to time). I get why viewers might find the final act too outlandish to work in a show that was once grounded, keeping its weirdness to individual jokes rather than intruding on the main plot. But I actually feel it works. I still think that the fact that the true conspiracy involves needles is questionable (even pre-covid) but even within that is a reveal that it is stupid and complicated and dumb and exists to specifically benefit not shady government types but capitalists. I think the use of a Prisoner parody with the Simpsons feels like a good combination of philosophies and ending on the Simpsons just getting used to it makes cynical sense, just as society sometimes tacitly accepts other evils or constraints. Heck, in the US, a lot of politicians seem dead set on trying to get people to accept gun violence as a normal cost of freedom rather than a societal epidemic that needs to be snuffed out.

I was prepared for The Computer Wore Menace Shoes to be one I would sort of like but find shambolic, clunky and maybe low key problematic. Instead I found an episode I think generally works. Frankly, after being surprised that Homer Vs. Dignity, while heavily flawed, has some good stuff, season 12 feels like the show is finding some footing in its low-emotion, high-high concept age. Lets keep this streak of watchable to "pretty good" quality going, show.

Other great jokes:
There are a lot here.

Me buying anything where I need help.

"Computer: KILL FLANDERS!"
"Did I hear my name? My ears are burning."
"Good start, finish the job."







"I assure you the police do not take prisoners out of their cells and race them....

anymore."

"Miss Springfield isn't as beautiful as she seems. Rumour has it she uses appearance altering cosmetics."




"But I do feel bad about the starving children."
"They're with God now."
"That's good. Oh..."

"Well, Helen, as it says in the Bible... I'll tell you later."

"So, who brought us here."
"I don't know."
"Did you bring us here?"
"No."
This is a great layered bit for those who saw the show.

I love Marge missing the unfortunate name of the police's corpse sniffing dog.

Despite finding the scene weird in terms of vaccination (it both feels like it is mocking the ridiculousness of anti-vax sentiment but there are so many people who are parody immune) but it is still a great scene.

"Aren't there any evil movies on, maybe something with an evil island?"


"If I know me, he won't like being kicked in the crotch!"

Other notes:

Its interesting that Homer doing good journalism happens at the same time. I feel like the writer is trying to present Homer as doing good work irresponsibly but as far as I can tell, he is mostly doing good journalism when he overhears stuff from a firsthand source. Anyone with a better understanding of ethics and journalism have a counterpoint? I'm genuinely interested if I have the correct read here.

I like that Carl calls an e-mail a quiet phone call but that's just a text.

Patrick McGoohan is doing great parodying his classic character.

Thinking about the Prisoner, they need to make a new one with a black lgbtq woman as the lead. I feel like if they did one with a white guy again I'd be like "OOOH, I think I get where your politics are..."

 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I've never seen the prisoner and nothing in this episode works for me
 

yama

the room is full of ghosts
I do like this exchange:

Number Two: Why did you think a big balloon would stop people?
Scientist: Shut up! That's why!
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I'll take your word for it that this is a spot-on parody of The Prisoner, but it's weird to see negative continuity endings like the old cartoons The Simpsons made fun of keep happening in non-Halloween Simpsons episodes.
 
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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I mean, that's as old as the Homer friends with Flanders ending with a night at a haunted house. Plus, hey, maybe they were brainwashed and sent home. I mean, status quo in the Simpsons isn't the same as a happy ending anyway...
 
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