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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Smart & Smarter

I've long felt a sense of jealousy of my sister's adult life. She has a pretty good life she worked very hard for. I don't think I would have enjoyed taking her career path that she's taken but she has a family and a very respectable career. I know I should be happy with what I have but it goes beyond what I have and more realizing what she was able to accomplish because of the way she applied herself. Now, I'm definitely proud of my work, particularly since my works means a lot of connecting and involvement with a person's development, which means a lot to me. But I can't help wonder if I was just bad at applying myself to do something amazing.

In this episode, The Simpsons decide to see about getting Maggie into a respected "pre-nursery school." Maggie fails the initial in interview due to her inability to talk but in the second, they try again and Maggie passes an intelligence test with flying colours. In fact, the school believes that Maggie has a higher IQ than Lisa, which makes Lisa question her sense of self. After a series of failed attempts recreating a new identity, she fails. When Marge catches Lisa attempting to teach Maggie wrong information, she feels a sense of shame and decides to run away. She begins living in a museum while her family desperately looks for her. They track her to the museum and end up getting trapped in one of the exhibits. Maggie has the ability to help with simple problem solving but cannot and Lisa saves the day. Soon after, the Simpsons learn Maggie passed the second test due Lisa subconsciously helping her sister.

Smart & Smarter is an OK episode but to me, I feel like my opinion of the episode is greatly hurt by a lot of time spent with Simon Cowell. I don't really have a strong opinion on American Idol and while I don't think I like Simon Cowell or his mean-spirited persona, I admit I cannot properly judge because I haven't seen the show. It's possible within the context of it, there's more too his "mean" persona. But here, Simon is clearly not a good actor and unlike some of the bad acting from guest stars, it's not charming because he isn't given fun dialogue to regurgitate. And hearing him talk over the credits is just insufferable.

But the show is also hurt by the fact that I don't think Lisa's journey is that compelling. It's funny, because I don't think it is phoning it in. I think the show wants us to feel concerned for Lisa, her integrity and her sense of self, which often make for good episodes. And there is definitely the seed of something in here that could be unique but I feel like we are stuck with an episode that feels like a pale shadow of better episodes. Lisa jealousy feels like "Lisa's Rival" and her sense of self have been better explored in "The Summer of 4 ft 6" and "Separate Vocations".

I guess I also don't buy the idea that Maggie isn't "gifted" at the episode's end when it is clear she is amazing at taking direction and figuring out what Lisa is communicating. SHE KNEW WHAT A CALIFORNIA CONDOR WAS BY SILHOUETTE! When the episode starts, it is about getting kids into nursery school and the pressure and frustration of trying to get your kid an education at a very early age, which is a much more interesting episode. I feel based on the beginning, a Marge episode wherein her fears are preyed upon feels like a much more emotionally interesting episode, especially since despite the fact they are often together, we don't have many Marge/Maggie episodes.

Other great jokes:

"So our kids keep getting smarter. If we have another one, it could build a time machine we could use to go back in time and not have any kids."

"Somewhat satisfied? Maybe I'll somewhat find your daughter."

"Some trees are big, some trees are small, but all trees have bark! Except for poplar, ash and maple."

"How did you get in her?"
"Your butler let us in."
"Play along, I'll explain later."

Other notes:
I like that Homer is successful at distracting Marge with dinner out.

No single joke related to it made me laugh but I love that Wiggum is SO into the museum."
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
This era of the show is after I tapped out but still a time when I'd catch the occasional episode and I really disliked this one. That is lands with an "OK" speaks to how dire the bad episodes must be.
but all trees have bark! Except for poplar, ash and maple.

What does this mean? Maple trees have bark don't they?



What reason would leafyplace.com have to lie about this???
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Device
(He/Him)
There’s plenty of other episodes that strongly imply that Maggie is the smartest, most capable member of the family. So this one kind of both confirms and unconfirms it.

Wiggums sheer incompetence is the saving grace of a lot of this eras episodes
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
What does this mean? Maple trees have bark don't they?



What reason would leafyplace.com have to lie about this???
It's possible I misheard but I also thought this was a weird line. I double checked in case I misheard but according to frinkiac I did not.

Are they types breeds of maple that don't, maybe?

This era of the show is after I tapped out but still a time when I'd catch the occasional episode and I really disliked this one. That is lands with an "OK" speaks to how dire the bad episodes must be.
I feel like Cowell and the second act really hurt the episode. But things can get really bad around this time. The fact that the characters aren't complete shitheads counts for a lot which, yeah, is pretty damning.
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator


After some frantic googling, as far as I can tell every tree has bark. Might was well say "but all humans have skin! Except for californians, brazilians, and the dutch." Unless I'm missing something fundamental its seems like the most reasonable explanation is whoever wrote this line doesn't know what bark is.

Or it's absurdism that doesn't land I guess. They can't all be cowboys digging holes.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Ziff Who Came to Dinner

Jon Lovitz has been with the Simpsons since early on. It shouldn't be a surprise that both he and Phil Hartman both began appearing in season 2, as those two loved each other like brothers. The second season evolved the show's voice and I feel like Hartman and Lovitz represent the kind of humour that would enter into the show. Lovitz has done lots of great voices but for some reason his character Artie Ziff is the one character who became his recurring. Considering his character is a "nice guy" who ends up trying to force himself on Marge, I don't think he's one we needed to see again, for some reason letting him be "rich troublemaker".

In this episode, The Simpsons discover Artie Ziff has been living in the attic in secret after he lost all his money. The Simpsons allow Ziff to stay for a while but it soon turns out Ziff didn't just lose money, he is wanted by the police for malfeasance. When the police finally find Ziff, he's just lost his remaining stock to Homer in a poker game... making Homer the majority shareholder and responsible for Ziff's crimes. Homer is sentenced to 10 years in jail, making Ziff unpopular with pretty much everyone... except Patty and Selma. After a romantic fling with Selma, Artie feels loved and starts to feel a sense of self-esteem and decide to turn himself in to ease his conscience, providing the government with damning evidence.

The Ziff Who Came to Dinner actually has a decent enough first act. I feel the Simpsons often does well when it remembers the Simpsons kids are kids and I definitely related to Bart and Lisa being freaked out by a horror movie. There's an episode in that, one that actually gets made about 10 seasons later in a pretty good Halloween episode, the only canonical one they've done. After that, sadly, the episode goes into it's Artie Ziff plot and I'm not really sure what this episode is supposed to be about or why I should be interested. It is much more about the character of Artie and while I understand in the broadest sense that this is about a selfish person learning to think of another, the arc never makes much sense.

Not that I really want an Artie episode but perhaps it could work. Ziff is shown to be cowardly and sniveling but I feel like there's no catharsis to his decision to do the right thing or even an ironic subverting of such tropes. He has sex which... just changes him. I'm not sure why. I said self-esteem in the synopsis but that's just a guess. Maybe it's that actually being loved means something to him, I guess? But it's terribly vague and the episode doesn't articulate by showing or telling why this happens in his mind. Jon is still giving an extremely game performance, trying to do what he can but the material, written by wife/husband team Deb Lacusta and Dan Castellaneta, isn't working.

I also think it fails to properly say anything really interesting about how people like Ziff who commit crimes just pass the buck onto other people. That's potentially interesting but I don't think it really digs into that idea in any meaningful way. It doesn't help that when the Simpsons of this era does want to tackle politics or corporate America, it often is a lot more heavy handed and obvious but even in some of the lesser ones, it feels clear what it wants to say. Unfortunately, instead of a good episode about the lack of self-awareness about the rich we have another guest in the Simpson house.

Other great jokes:

"Baby Buttoneyes, what are you doing possessed at this hour."

"The buttons look like they're sewn on but they're really held on with hot wax."

"Doesn't he ever read to you?"
"He did once but then he confused the book with reality. He's still looking for that chocolate factory. It consumes him."

"Coming up next, can yodeling cure cancer?
Of course not."

"Your company's crimes have left a scar on this great nation. And she was so beautiful. But what man would want her now?"
"Yeah, she was hot."

Maggie being need to be told Daddy is on fire works for me.

Other notes:
Huh, this episode actually remembers Krusty is a congressman.

There's a gag that I feel must be alluding to the announcement of the Simpsons Movie which would come out 4 years later.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Co-Dependents' Day

I never learned to enjoy the taste of alcohol. That's not to say I don't drink but it's very rare but whatever it is, it needs to be very sweet. Heck, if it's sugar with a little bit of alcohol, that's my optimal mode of consumption. But beyond the taste, I suspect I wouldn't enjoy the feeling of being drunk and certainly can imagine thinking it's worth a hangover. My parents, on the other hand, are huge fans of wine and drink a bit of wine most evenings. I don't see them drink to get drunk often but it has happened, with me having to drive them home. Sometimes it feels a bit awkward and weird to be the one person in a room who is sober but at least people tend to treat me as the wittiest guy in the room.

In this episode, the Simpsons take a trip to California and Homer and Marge go on a tour of a vineyard. The two get sloshed together and both find it making their time together more fun than ever. The couple drink wine together more often but Marge soon finds herself unable to keep the lifestyle up. Homer convinces her to go to one more drinking event where they get hammered once again but on the way home, Homer gets in an accident. Afraid of losing his license, Homer puts Marge in the driver's seat while she's sleeping, pinning the crime on her. Marge is full of shame and eventually goes to a rehab center while Homer is trying to cover himself. He goes to Marge and finally confesses to her, causing her to get drunk in a fit of rage. She realizes drinking isn't fun without Homer and Homer promises to drink a little less... maybe.

I kind of remember this one being better and I know what stuck out to me to make me think it. With Marge frowning at Homer's crazy schemes, it's rare in this era for Homer and Marge to kind of be on the same wavelength and having fun together. Yes, there are times we do see them getting along but I feel like it's somehow more striking here where they aren't just enjoying the same thing, they are enjoying each other as well. That part is fun to see because it is unusual but the two characters have real chemistry in this mode. It's easy to ask what the Hell these two are doing together so it is fun to give us an idea that the two love being around each other sometimes.

Unfortunately, I kind of get tired of the way Homer's alcoholism in this era. Obviously Homer's always going to be a drinker but the show makes the weird decision to make his drinking particularly bad. The episode has one great moment in the third act where Marge pleads with Homer to take one step so that the good times they share aren't just a "nauseous blur". But that moment is followed by Homer making a weak promise it doesn't sound like he might keep, making one of the few genuinely emotional sentences in the episode mean worse than nothing. I know they aren't going to radically change Homer and next week his vices will all be the same but there is in the sitcom game the illusion of change. We know Homer will drink again after "Duffless" but that episode is nonetheless sweet and heartwarming and Homer putting away a beer to go on a bike ride with his wife really means something in the moment, even if not the long term. And this episode can't commit to something like that.

The first act of the episode is a riff on the Phantom Menace hype and while it hits a lot of the same notes a lot of people did in mocking the film, there are a few good bits in it. I think it helps a lot that Simpsons writers are REALLY good in any era at choosing just the right legal/political/economic jargon and aspects to utilize for maximum comedic effect. That opening scrawl spoof works for me. The segment does remind me there are people who really strongly defend those movies and I politely cannot see those films as anything but complete messes, no matter what angle people come at it from. I remember it taking me a while to accept that the film was completely unenjoyable (I also was not a very discerning viewer, feeling I really couldn't tell a good movie from a bad until university). Weirdly, this act must be the most memorable part for a lot of viewers as the Disney Plus description focuses exclusively on this minor act where the targets are a little obvious,

Other great jokes:





"Son, if you don't dig more coal, they'll put you on the dynamite gang,"
"NO DAI-MITE!"

"The decision is final. Tabled, this motion is. Or is it?"


"I can't believe 'the Gathering Shadow' was senate redistricting."

"Mmm, it goes great with the Jolly Rancher I'm sucking on."

"Moe's? That's your fun place. Like me and the lamp store."


I know it's kind of dumb but it does hit my "I get these references" buttons.

"Have you ever walked on stilts? It's not that great."
...
"Why do people worry about stuff? It's all going to work out."
Drunk Marge is more fun than drunk Homer. There, I've said it.



Other notes:

Otto gets a lot of play in this one.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Wandering Juvie

I wouldn't say I was a "good" boy, in that I did act without thinking but in general I tried to act well. I was always afraid of getting in trouble and still don't do that well with confrontation. Right now, I work in childcare where I got to be the one who has to dispense authority. Our program doesn't do "punishment" but we do have to wield authority or threaten to tell their parents, which is usually effective. I always want to be as fair as possible but sometimes time doesn't allow me to listen or it is clear a lot of the kids ask for explanations not because it will satisfy them but because it buys them time. But all the same, I try to make sure to give a sense that they are listened to and respected before I need to drop the authority bomb.

In this episode, Bart's latest prank becomes the last straw and Bart is forced into a six month stint in juvenile prison. Bart is miserable, constantly bullied by inmates and the warden, and even Homer becoming a guard helps much. With two weeks away from his sentence being up, Bart is forced into an escape by one of the female prisoners, Gina. The two argue and end up having feelings for each other and come to understand each other a bit better. Bart realizes that Gina has no family and when the two are caught, Gina sees Bart misses his family and reveals Bart escaped under duress. The Simpsons show their care by giving her a family dinner she never had.

The Wandering Juvie, as a whole, isn't bad but it isn't particularly strong. I feel there are a lot of strong individual elements and moments but as a whole, it's merely serviceable. Now I don't think even the bad episodes skimp on effort but I do feel like for this one I feel like there is a little more effort, one with some visual flair.

'
I wouldn't call these the most original of visuals but they are eye catching and I do appreciate it. Though I feel the show goes further in this direction at the expense of real jokes later, a sign of things to come. I don't blame the decisions to try to be good looking, as it keeps elements of a long running show watchable but it's not a great trade off for great jokes and storytelling.

As for this story, I don't think it's a mess on a surface level but I do feel its another episode that isn't properly focused. I feel like it is an episode about the idea that family is far better for development than some prison authority but it doesn't really explore it in anything other than vague gestures towards it and it really doesn't come into play until the end. I feel like there are more specific directions that could have been taken, like perhaps that for all Bart's mischief but the values his family gave him help define him beyond "misbehaviour" or the idea that defining a misbehaving kid as bad and/or putting them in a prison setting is harmful. Instead, it's a bit of a hodgepodge of prison story homages and character moments that would be better if the themes were better massaged into the episode.

On the plus side, we got some good guest stars. Sarah Michelle Gellar is good as Gina and though she isn't given the best lines, she is given some nice acting to do, both mock-crying and "real" crying which she sells. It's a damned shame that Joss Whedon's toxicity makes me never want to watch Buffy again, because it was one of my all-time favourite series and I think Gellar, while never lasting long as a movie star, seems to be doing well as a voice actress, recently doing well in the lead role on the surprisingly good Kevin Smith-penned Masters of the Universe cartoon. And hey, Charles Napier appearing yet again as the warden. I swear, he might not have much in the way of vocal range but he is perfect in embodying elements of the show's more cynical voice in the way that Phil Hartman was. So as a whole, not a lot to write home about (are you still writing home? They MISS you) but it definitely has individual elements I liked and was watchable.

Other great jokes:

"Try this rejuvenating lotion. It contains over 60 ingredients."
Good joke but while is Lindsay Nagel now working behind a counter?


Concurring with @Octopus Prime Wiggum still works at this stage of the show because the show remembers the cops suck.

"Your eyes need diapers."
"Your eyes nee-- that's good Ralphie."
It occurs to me that Ralph is actually funnier when someone responds to his non-sequiturs. And I like that Clancy is now appreciating his son's nonsense.


Yeah, it's an obvious "Homer is dumb" joke but this one works for me.

"I believe the children are the future... unless we stop them now."

"This ends for beatin' and this ends for holdin'."
"When does training start?"
"It just ended."

"Secure the perimeter."
Cue old man with a pole. I like this kind of bit.

"No son of mine will be marched down the aisle at the barrel of a ray gun!"

My favourite joke in this era is a grunt of mild interest in response to be bigger bit, such as Wiggum being kind of interested in a whittled piece of wood foretelling a horrific bear attack.

"Bart, I can't believe you don't know this but there's no such thing as cooties, cootie shots, cootie force fields, or cootie insurance."
"But State Farm took my money."
Nancy Cartwright really sells Bart's sense of betrayal.


Another point in the episode's favour; not commenting on this.

"Well, my shift's over. I guess it's back to my bachelor apartment, make myself a tuna sandwich, watch Will and Grace and cry myself to sleep."
"Would you like to join us?"
"Didn't you hear me? I've got an evening planned."
Other notes:

So the title is a reference to the Wandering Jew, a bible figure who, if I remember correctly, is cursed with immortality for taunting or hitting Jesus. So that's like an anti-Semitic figure, right? Do we want allusions to that character?

There's some good commentary about how prisoners are treated, even if most of said prisoners are cartoonish bullies. The bit with the "future job opportunities" is not laugh out loud but it is on point.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
My Big Fat Geek Wedding

As I get older, I come to appreciate stories where love stories don't have happy endings, because in many ways that can be happier in the long term. You can have two likeable characters and recognize they might, for many reasons, might be bad for each other. The Simpsons has sold their core relationship in both ways, though the latter seasons sure are selling the idea that maybe these characters shouldn't be together. And that's kind of a failing because it rarely seems prepared to properly refute that idea or make it compelling. On the other hand, the show tends to be a bit better in handling the long term romantic woes of it's side characters. I'm curious if on rewatch the show can sell Kirk and Luann getting back together but I'm guessing no since I remember that as a b-plot in a Milhouse episode. But Edna Krabappel might have one of the series most interesting romantic life, even if she finds it rough.

In this episode, Skinner and Krabappel are finally about to get married but at the bachelor party, Skinner confides in Homer that he's getting cold feet. The Simpsons do what they can to keep him at the altar but when Skinner vocalizes his hesitation, Edna realizes she doesn't want to be with someone who doesn't to be with her and leaves him. Skinner is devastated while Edna feels a bit of freedom. The Simpsons try to help them get together but Marge merely becomes more convinced of the problems in her own marriage. Edna starts to date Comic Book Guy and at a local science fiction convention, he proposes to her and wants a surprise marriage. Skinner arrives to try to win her back but Edna comes to the conclusion that she doesn't want to get back with Skinner and that while her dalliance with Comic Book Guy was fun, they are too different to sustain their relationship. Homer wins back Marge with some grand gesture again.

There's a lot to complain about with this episode. There's a handful of transphobic/gender jokes. The nerd/convention jokes are all a little generic. Probably the weakest element is the Homer/Marge angle. Everything about it has been done before and this episode is the most generic and thoughtless example of "Homer and Marge's marriage is in trouble". Seriously, this is just dumber version of "A Milhouse Divided" in every way, EVEN ENDING WITH A THIRD WEDDING TO MARGE. "A Milhouse Divided" is a much better episode and while I think there are problems to point out in that episode in terms of how their issues are resolved, Homer spends pretty much the whole of this episode as an unsympathetic oaf.

But thankfully it's just a b-plot here, albeit a bad one with yet another "grand gesture". The meat here, while not perfect, is pretty good. And a lot of that has to do with how well Edna is written in this episode. I feel like VERY early Edna, when she was given a life outside of school, seemed to think it was funny that "Bart's teacher is horny" but the writers really made her a woman who loves sex and romance and isn't going to be tied down to someone like Skinner who doesn't love her. She has a lot of insecurity and fear of being alone, which she voices often, and sometimes it leads her to some bad decisions but she's also assertive and makes her wants clearly known. And I think writer Kevin Curran does right by her in her journey, after years of a sometimes passionate/sometimes tepid relationship with Skinner.

It's a shame the episode as a whole isn't stronger because the Edna element is so good to me. I think she show cares about both her AND Skinner but recognizes Edna doesn't need him and doesn't need marriage and is better off without. Marcia Wallace has so much charm as Edna that she also sells that she IS interested in Comic Book Guy, a character who is mostly a punchline about fat nerds, and that there is a connection for all his flaws. I feel that for all of the Simpsons cases of characters getting done dirty, she is the character who manages to stay gold. Yes, she's cynical and is sometimes a little checked out at work but she has passion, personality and is surprisingly committed to her calling (as contradictory as it sounds to a previous statement) and this is an episode that does enough well for a character I love that I like it more than I dislike it.

Other great jokes:

"There's something I wanted to say to you for a long time... Am I a good principal?"
"You're the best we could get with the funds at our disposal."
That feels like one of the best compliment Skinner could ever get from Chalmers.

"Seymour, my larval sac fell in the toilet. Go fish it out."
"Quick Edna, I'll use your purse as a scoop."

"They're going into multi-purpose room b!"
"They have a dry erase board in there. They could be doing anything."

"Prepare the feast of goldfish crackers."

"We're two different people."
"I don't understand."
"It's like I'm DC and you're Marvel."
"I understand completely."
This lady knows how to teach.

Other notes:
So Comic Book Guy slept with Skinner's mother and his ex-fiancée.

I'm not a big Trek nerd but the fact the actors didn't bother to use real Klingon bugs me. I don't know Klingon so I could probably buy some of it if I wasn't paying attention but at one point someone is clearly just making weird mouth noises.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Catch 'Em If You Can

As someone who professionally looks after kids, I'm in a pretty good position. At the end of the day, I can go home and have some privacy, which I LOVE. I often lament not having an SO but man, does it feel good to just go home and be by myself to chill. I would like kids someday but as I understand it, those first years are really tough. There's very little time to yourself and there's the anxiety of the times were things are just a little too quiet. That's not to say it isn't good but it is sacrificing certain simple pleasures that frankly I would have a hard time putting up with.

In this episode, The Simpsons Family plan on heading to Dayton, Ohio to go to a distant relative's birthday in Dayton, Ohio but when the kids don't want to go, Homer and Marge decide to leave the kids with grandpa. After a family evening that turns into a fiasco, Homer and Marge lament that they have few opportunities to be intimate. At the airport, Homer and Marge decide to blow off the trip to Dayton and have a second honeymoon in Miami. When the hotel they were supposed to stay at is destroyed, the kids realize their parents went off to have fun without them. The kids convince Grandpa to take them to Miami and Homer and Marge decide to keep running and trying to have a romantic vacation across America. Eventually, the kids track them to Niagara Falls and the parents admit defeat. Bart and Lisa realize they've been unfair to their parents and decide to leave them alone, only to run into them again by accident. Homer and Marge hide out in a bouncy castle, only to find themselves plunged over the falls. They survive and make love in a floating bounce castle.

Catch 'Em If You Can isn't a perfect episode but even in it's weaknesses, I feel like it is leaning in the direction of episode that speaks to me, even not as a parent. It feels like it is about a real thing parents can relate to. Oh, the episode's idea of parent's wanting privacy have been ignored before, particularly as a comedic b-plot in "Kamp Krusty", but it does want to explore those feelings a bit more and the idea that parents should be able to have some time to themselves and the idea that kids, with no sense of malice, feel entitled to their parents' attention at all times. I feel like a lot of the episodes this season are rehashing older themes with less originality or simply seem birthed from an idea for a guest spot. So finding an angle that feels a little specific and human in ways the show often fails to be.

And it isn't a bad episode. But it does seem to fall into some old traps. The middle part is an example of the Simpson latching onto something popular the time of the writing of the show, in this case a loving tribute to the iconic opening credits to Catch Me If You Can. It didn't make me laugh, but it did make me want to watch the movie again. Man, Spielberg can make 'em good, right? It also ends with a big set piece that feels like it is there to resolve things without it being something organic to the characters. Oh, Lisa and Bart feeling bad when the thrill of the chase works but it feels like they should have gone with something smaller rather that big wacky hi-jinx.

One weird element in the episode isn't what is there, it's what's missing. Maggie appears in exactly one scene early on where Bart and Lisa fighting results in Maggie falls into a litter box and she doesn't appear again. No one acknowledges her. Did... did everyone just leave Maggie in the house on your own? It's weird, especially about an episode about finding private time when that stupid baby needs the MOST attention. It feels like an intentional oversight the writer didn't want to deal with and also a missed opportunity. It's one thing when the pets existence are ignored but there's a full missing baby here. Nonetheless, the episode does work in establishing stuff, such as Homer and Marge trying to get lost in a movie their kids just don't care about, which feels real as well as analogous to their sex life as a whole. It's an episode that has it's moments.

Other great jokes:



"She's wooden and unpleasant and no matter what he does, he's still Ryan O'Neill."

"Would you be sad if I died?"
"Eh, I wouldn't be happy."

I love how people are really jazzed about skipping Uncle Tyrone's birthday.

"I guess you could call him 'the little tortoise that couldn't'. See our website for the recipe."

"Let me finish my sentence."
"NEVER!"

"Why don't we just go home, wait till the kids fall asleep and have sex in the car?"
"Because I was saving that for my birthday."
 

ArugulaZ

Fearful asymmetry
"I must go. My corporation needs me."
(gets jumpily pulled off-frame)
NOTE: Elon Musk flew to Thailand, where he was publicly accused of sexual deviancy by Elon Musk
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Simple Simpson

As a kid, I was scared of comics at first. It makes sense because I was young in an era of the rise of grimdark storytelling thanks to the popularity of Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. Funnily, what scared me, I believe, was either Groo the Wanderer or a violent Mad Magazine parody of Hagar the Horrible. Whatever it was, it was bloodier than it's cartoony looks implied. But when a friend brought home a copy of X-Men #1 (well, many copies due to the variant covers), I was instantly enamored with the cool, colourful characters. I'm not a particularly big Jim Lee fan but most of his costume designs for the X-Men were pretty solid. Anyway, I still love the superhero fiction, which is an absolutely ridiculous genre about our desires to see the world be made better with our bare hands.

In this episode, Homer is angered by Lisa being humiliated during a contest and decides to avenger her honour. However, fearing he might be arrested due to his repeated attacks and creates a superhero disguise for himself and throws a pie in his daughter's tormentor's face. Everyone is impressed and Homer decides to regularly fight for justice as the Pie Man. The Pie Man becomes beloved by the people of Springfield, though is also an enemy of the law. When the Pie Man decides to take on Mister Burns, Burns finds out his secret identity and threatens him with exposure if he doesn't throw a pie at Burns' enemies. When Pie Man is ordered to assault the Dali Lama, Homer relents and reveals his identity to the world. However, the world refuses to accept Homer is their hero and everyone goes home satisfied.

Ugh. This one. Look, there are far worse episodes out there with far more to object to but even at the time I remember finding this episode to be cringe-inducingly weak. Oh, I have no problem with the Simpsons doing a superhero episode in continuity. I mean, at this point more ridiculous things have happened. The problem is one the show would face going forward; parodies of flavours of the month. The episode features quite a few references to the then-recent Spider-Man movie by Sam Riami and I feel like it's all the ones everyone else has already heavily mined, like the upside-down kiss and the costume brainstorming montage.

If anything, the problem is that this corny episode has little to say on our beloved characters, the superhero genre or society at large. There's some vague gesturing towards Homer creating an ideal beyond himself but only because Lisa just straight out says it at the episode ends. I'm really not sure what the episode was supposed to accomplish. Even if it was "we finally get to do a superhero episode" on behalf of the show's nerdy writers, it was done SO much better in the "Desperately Xeeking Xena" segment of one of the Halloween specials. Instead, the parody seems specific to Spider-Man and in other ways too general to have an impact.

I think it's also an episode where it feels as though it's a superhero version of stuff that's all been done before. There's been several "Homer becomes a Samaritan" episodes and I feel like a lot of them came closer to commenting on the character of Homer while here there is no interest. Heck, there's even a "island is actually a peninsula joke". That said, I'm not going to lie, that got one of the episode's few genuine laughs from me. They try to give Marge a "romantic triangle" angle, a classic in superhero fiction, and it's probably the hokiest element of the episode, one they feel they have to lampshade at the end but it doesn't take away that Marge and Lisa kind of come across looking pretty dumb, even when they both get to say "Of course I figured it out." Frankly, the entire episode feels like the show had to fill a quota and it was this or do a clips show. Maybe they should have gone with that.

Other great jokes:

To me, the peninsula joke, despite being recycled, still kind of works due to how betrayed the characters feel.
"I just want to take the next boat home."
"But you don't have to. You can WALK!"

"I'VE RUN OUT OF PIE-RELATED PUNS!"

Other notes:

I feel like there's more jokes leaking in to really drive the point home that this is the post-9/11 Simpsons. Fewer bad takes than you might remember so far, but maybe it's too soon for them to be anything but super on-the-nose. In fact, after yet another flashback episode, we are getting two episodes that feel specifically inspired by the era.

I feel like even in wacky Simpsons logic, a pie in the face is pretty weak-tea "humiliation".

Smithers is in full gleeful-henchman mode here and I do kind of like it.

Seems like the obvious gag is Burns struggling to figure out who Homer is AFTER pulling off his mask.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Way We Weren't

For a long running animated shows, you often need to accept a level of flexibility in continuity. I mean, how many times can the Simpsons kids celebrate Christmas or get to the last day of school at ages 8 and 10. And obviously, the show across three decades needs to re-evaluate what decade Homer and Marge grew up in. If anything, being intractable about it looks bizarre. And it can be part of the fun. Marvel Comics created some in universe explanations for it's sliding timelines, implying some weird cosmic method/madness (also they recently changed all origins related to Vietnam to the fictional nation of Siancong). So a little retconning, in theory, doesn't do any harm. If it's pretty bad, there's no reason not to Armin Tamzarian it from your brain.

In this episode, Homer reveals his first kiss was when he was a 10 year old at camp. There he was working in the kitchen for the girl's camp where he met someone he hasn't seen and held a conversation with her, deciding to meet her that evening. Homer comes up with a fake name, Elvis, to avoid embarrassment with his own and before evening, Homer hurts his eye and starts wearing an eyepatch. He meets the girl that night where they kiss but at the story's end Marge reveals she was the girl in the story. Marge explains after she set up a date, she tried a new hairstyle to take away her iconic look. Marge talks about how romantic it was and how Homer gave her a rock shaped like a heart but that the next day "Elvis" stood her up. Homer explains this was due to being accidentally trapped in Fat Camp and missing her by the time he escaped. Marge left camp, breaking the rock. Marge accepts it but also can't let go of the hurt she kept for so long. Homer shows Marge that he kept one half of the heart rock and Marge kept the other and they reconcile.

The Way We Weren't isn't an awful episode but I'm not sure what the point of it was. It doesn't give us any real insight into the Homer/Marge dynamic and even on it's own merits just isn't that interesting of a story. Of course, there are thousands of holes to poke in it but the show has only kept close to continuity as it needed to at any given moment but that's not the issue. The problem is we are reminded of the much better Homer meets Marge episode and this lacks the charm. It isn't all folly as I feel like there is actually one moment of genuine pathos where Patty kisses Homer to prove a kiss can just be an action with no feeling. It's not even a great moment but it actually seems to be trying for a moment that isn't just silliness.

I think my other problem with the episode is it feels like it, to a certain extent, treats the Homer and Marge relationship like destiny. I feel like that's a lazy view of romance and I think the opposite is more romantic, that people aren't magically drawn together but we manage to find each other and take what control life gives us in the situation. The idea is actually explored in a fun Bob's Burgers' anthology episode where the kids tell alternate reality tales of the Bob/Linda relationship and Tina comes to the conclusion that the romance is that they aren't destined to be. And I think the romance of the Homer and Marge relationship, when it happens, is that they are very different but still care about each other and sometimes have a surprising shorthand and understanding, something I wish they would lean into more rather than just treating them as two people who have to share a life together.

I think the episode does want to think about the nature of hurt in the final act, where Marge understands no one is actually wrong but the pain doesn't actually fade with the truth. I kind of wish THAT was the episode, stopping with the flashback angle in the last act. The heart isn't a rational thing and the idea that Homer hurt Marge in a much more innocent way than usual but leaves a biggest scar. Instead, the writers wanted to do more with L'il Lenny, Carl and Moe, which sounds fun but in practice results in only a handful of chuckles. And I think that's another problem with latter episodes; dropping interesting stuff in favour of serving a plot rather than dovetailing it together like the show at it's best.

Other great jokes:

"It looks like a heart!"
"Yeah, you're right. GIVE IT BACK!"

"Well no one ever escapes fat camp, because the only way out is up a gentle slope."

"And that's the origin of that."

"Are you leaving camp because of that boy? Because that's what I've been telling everybody. Also you're pregnant."

"We need ten CCs stat. And by CCs, I mean cupcakes."
"I know what you mean, Bill. I've worked longer than you."
I like the show's trope of someone telling a joke about a shorthand and the other person having no patience for a shorthand being explained.

Other notes:

There's a cartoon mousehole in the living room and it's so old -fashioned a choice it's weirding me out.

This era continues to not know how to do jokes about Carl being black.

The show is REALLY into Katherine Hepburn this season.

The writers are so proud of Elvis Jagger Abdul-Jabbar as a name, they have the kids laugh at it.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Bart-Mangled Banner

A few years ago, I visited the US with @JBear to visit @Dracula in a small vacation town in Maine. It was beautiful and the people were friendly but I was put at ease simply due to the amount of flags everywhere. On power lines, on every mailbox, just everywhere. I love my own country and I can understand someone loving the US (despite their efforts), but the performative and ubiquitous patriotism struck me as being very weird. It felt watching TV and watching an ad for the TV show you are watching. It seemed like a deeply pointless and like it was trying to hard to prove a point. Frankly, it feels like an act of fear of being scene as less patriotic, as if this is necessary to keep up a veneer or risk being considered against the country.

In this episode, Bart is temporarily deafened and accidentally moons the flag, which results in the Simpsons becoming pariahs in a post-9/11 fearscape. The Simpsons try to clear things up on a conservative talk show and Marge ends up exploding at the host and accidentally implies the entire town of Springfield is unpatriotic. Springfield renames itself as Libertyville and slathers Americana across the entire town. Lisa gets fed up and gives a speech in the church that results in them getting arrested and sent to a "re-education center" with other dissenters. The Simpsons eventually escape during the prison talent shows and chance upon a French freighter ship who take them in. The Simpsons enjoy their days in France but miss home and decide to return to America as immigrants.

The Bart-Mangled Banner is an episode I've been curious to revisit but not necessarily excited to. I find that when later Simpsons decide to tackle a political topic, it tends to feel a little too specific, self-satisfied and on-the-nose with it's satire. And sure enough, this episode is very specific to the era, commenting on the post-9/11 fear-mongering and using "patriotism" to push forward hideous agendas and opression. And I need to say, in this regard, the episode actually does much better than I thought. It's definitely not a top tier episode but there are a number of good jokes but beyond that I feel like the chosen tone is actually just right for what the episode is about; Kafka-esque. It's certainly not a counter-intuitive choice but in an era of real fear and repression, it makes the most sense.

The tone is very similar to the latter half of Miracle on Evergreen Terrace with the Simpsons being outcasts but here they do no wrong except an overblown outrage. It's an extremely dark and cynical episode about the direction of the world and sadly while it is an episode that feels closely tied to its era, it's sense of anxiety is still completely relatable in this era. I have no doubt that anti-vaxxers would think they relate to the political prisoners in the episode, because if anything, pieces of shits need to make themselves victims. But the fact is, it's clear the people of Springfield are hurting themselves in their rush to conform to a repressive cause, too afraid for empathy or self-reflection. In the end, the Simpsons literally become foreigners in their own country, which is an interesting choice but I can't quite parse if taking the metaphor to it's complete end.

I remember when the episode came out that it was weird seeing an episode commenting on events as they happen, which was more of the area of South Park, a show that, boy, I'm not interested in returning to. The other big show that did that was the Daily Show, a series I absolutely loved and got me interested in politics but I also suspect would feel a little too self-satisfied in it's commentary. I also loved The Colbert Report, a show I definitely remembering having the sharpest satirical teeth. I think it's a show that could only be in the era that it was in but I also feel that a lot of it probably holds up extremely well, certainly more than Colbert's current show. I still let it run in the background but often I feel it's political commentary a little more facile and lacking in real sharp wit and specificity to become something to appeal more to middle-aged folks. The Simpsons' commentary at best often feel akin to this but I will say, in this episode, I do feel like it makes a lot proper decisions. Are the Simpsons more symbols than characters? Sure. Is it heavy-handed? Sure. But a lot of it works, which is more than I expected.

Other great jokes:

"How dare you. That's the flag my grandpappy rebelled against."
It's depressing how well this aged.

"Weren't we afraid of him a few days ago?"
"We're complex!"

"Nyello? Appear on your TV show? Tell our side of the story? See you there? Goodbye? Dial-tone?"



Other notes:
"Look what happened to Hitler, North Carolina. If they hadn't changed their name to Charlotte, they'd be sunk."
Ooooooooo. Fuuuuuuuuck, this joke is even more... yeah.


Some animator clearly loved doing this.
 

Dracula

Plastic Vampire
(He/His)
It's funny how growing up in this country paints your perspective on the prevalence of flags. Even before 9/11 it was normal in all the places I lived to have flags of every size hanging out - on houses, in bank parking lots and, especially, monumentally, over car dealerships. (There's a spot on the highway west of my town where you can see three tremendous flags flapping over the horizon which if laid on the ground would probably equal the size of a football field, and I believe they are all waving over car dealerships.) This all seemed normal to me until I met people from other countries who commented on it.

It's probably reflective of the people I choose to have in my life, and the places I've chosen to live, but I've never felt a great pressure to display a flag. No one has ever asked me why I don't have one. The only time I remember any sort of societal pressure regarding the flag was when I was a kid in cub scouts and they taught us all the proper ways of folding one and not folding one.

I'm sure this is different if you live in one of those cliquey suburban subdivisions where nobody has anything better to do than judge other people's lawns. I have specifically avoided living in these places for a wide variety of reasons.

But yeah, Americans love their flags. It's a thing.

I do also remember a Japanese friend of mine expressing similar confusion, and mentioning to me about how display of a Japanese flag in Japan is indicative of a love of imperialism (and possibly even Nazis, according to him).

I wonder if there are other countries who treat their flags like we do.
 

gogglebob

The Goggles Do Nothing
(he/him)
My wife immigrated here from Poland something like fifteen years ago. She has gotten used to "national pride". Her sister, who stuck around Poland, visited for a few weeks a couple years back. I am moderately certain we spent one entire day at the beach explaining to her why a stranger (or two!) wearing an American flag bikini was somehow patriotic, not a complete loon, and, yes, it is okay to practically glue the American flag to your naked ass, apparently.

Never really considered it strange before that...
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I didn't think about it when I was younger, but as I grew older (and especially as things like post-9/11 stuff and the Orange Demon's presidency happened) I began to feel that this obsession with the American flag has a lot in common with how Christianity* is treated in the USA. In some ways people are trying to compensate for something in their own miserable lives when they're super patriotic/religious...but they're also things people use to stroke their egos and at worst are used to justify hate crimes.

And our capitalist society is more than ready to cash in on that. Not just by putting flags on clothes and stuff but also by advertising that something was "Made in the USA" like that automatically makes a product better or something.

There's something seriously fucked up with patriotism when someone can get banned from playing football just for taking a knee during the national anthem and it's treated like a crime worse than beating your wife.

* Speaking of, there's that whole Pledge of Allegiance thing in schools which looks more and more fucked up to me by the year.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
* Speaking of, there's that whole Pledge of Allegiance thing in schools which looks more and more fucked up to me by the year.
It always was.

Bellamy, a former Baptist preacher, had irritated his Boston Brahmin flock with his socialist ideas. But as a writer and publicist at the Companion, he let ’em rip. In a series of speeches and editorials that were equal parts marketing, political theory and racism, he argued that Gilded Age capitalism, along with “every alien immigrant of inferior race,” eroded traditional values, and that pledging allegiance would ensure “that the distinctive principles of true Americanism will not perish as long as free, public education endures.”
And "under God" was added basically to stick it to the commies.
 

JBear

Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
(He/Him)
Adding to the chorus, but yes, the prevalence of American flags is easily the biggest culture shock involved in going south of the border, IMO. The only things that even come close are the prevalence of fractions and the money (gross/ugly/indistinguishable bills, still use pennies, still have $1 bills, etc).
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
And now back to the episodes that don't inspire discussion...

Fraudcast News

When you are a kid growing up, you just sort of assume that the people talking on TV know what they are talking about. I'm sure that more kids are media savvy than I was but all the same, when, say, the cartoon all-stars come together to warn us of the DANGERS OF POT, I'm willing to listen, even though I feel like the Muppet Babies may not be experts. You get older and learn to realize that a lot of people given a voice on television are not only wrong but doing active harm. Targeted misinformation and media monopolies have been a problem for so very long but I think we live in an era with a multi-pronged attack through the Internet that may have forever warped the nature of the spread of information. As sad as that makes me, I do believe that while this is doing definite damage, we can start learning from it and find new ways to combat the lies.

In this episode, Springfield celebrates local landmark Geezer Rock where Lisa is to read a poem. Homer accidentally destroys local landmark Geezer Rock, which creates an avalanche Mr. Burns is caught in. Burns survives but is upset when he learns Geezer Rock was more mourned than he and that the town is celebrating his death. Burns decides to buy all the media in town in order to prevent criticism. Meanwhile, Lisa decides to publish the poem she wasn't able to read at the ceremony in a small paper. It turns out to be popular and Lisa decides to make it a regular publication. When she realizes what Burns is up to, she begins publishing criticism on Burns, making her Burns' remaining enemy. Lisa refuses to be bought out or intimidated and manages to keep publishing despite numerous set backs. But when Burns resorts to personal attacks based on the words of a drugged up Homer, Lisa is demoralized and ends her paper's run. Homer decides to write his own paper celebrating his daughter... and inspiring many others to self-publish.

Fraudcast News is a bit simplistic in this muddy era of the media perhaps but it's kind of a nice little story of the little person facing off against a media monopoly. It has a fair number of good laughs and while it isn't the best character piece, I think it does OK. Oh, there are things that could be better; I feel like Lisa's last straw doesn't feel strong enough for me. Sure, Lisa would be upset about making out with moon Milhouse but I feel like it doesn't feel like something to properly demoralize the character to stop her crusade. I feel like there are ways to intellectualize why it does make sense, in that it shows her loved ones can be gotten to or that she's not ready to have her own life scrutinized for her quest, but it never really explores these ideas; I kind of had to extrapolate them myself.

All the same, it does make a fun little fairy tale of a story of someone willing to speak truth in the face of horrible odds. It is something I feel would look different if made today; I have no doubt Burns would be painting himself as the victim, trying to work through "grassroots" campaigns, yet also unbeatable and that Lisa's paper is an attack on Burns' own evil "values". This looks a little more naïve in mocking the taint birthed by Fox News and mutated into OAN. But that's OK, because while we live in an era of "self-publishing" amateurs sharing stupid conspiracies, the idea of anyone having a voice and being able to exercise it independent of big media is something I do believe we should tell people they can do.

And I think if I'm able to stop thinking about the perspective of simply "how are we to combat pervasive and widespread misinformation" and more "you have a voice and there is likely an audience", the episode and its message work. Lisa faces constant opposition but the people she inspires isn't limited to the end. Bart sticks around because he's given a place to exercise his own childish voice, helping Lisa's cause as political cartoonist. Skinner is inspired by Lisa to give her a resource because he likes what she has to say (and is oblivious of the mocking of him). And even at the beginning Homer is helping just because he likes to. From the beginning, as much as it is Lisa's paper and she is a singular force against Burns, she is surrounded by supportive people who help her out. And the victory isn't Lisa's intractability, it merely buys her time to inspire people to create a non-centralized threat against Burns. I'm not going to rave about this one being a favourite, even within this often dire season, but it's a decent episode that made me laugh more than once.

Other great jokes:

"Thank you Blood and Tears. Sorry to hear about Sweat."

"Thank you Geezer Rock for doing what we failed to do; smoosh Mr. Burns."

"What kind of journalism skills do you have?"
"I dunno. Making nerds cry?"
"Perfect, you're our TV critic."

"Now let's see how I'm faring on the jumping box."
"You mean the television?"
"Television, jumping box, picto-cube."






"Lisa, you made me realize the importance of free and independent media, though it's mostly culled from wire services."

 
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