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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XV

Whew, 15 seasons down, 18 to go. That's... dispiriting. OK, season 16. Let's do this!

In this episode, we have another series of Halloween tales. In a parody of The Dead Zone, Flanders gets in an accident and gains the ability to see the future... and sees himself murdering Homer. When he seemingly manages to avoid the fate, he realizes Homer is destined to destroy Springfield and ends up with no choice but to kill him to stop him... only to fail and have all of Springfield going to Heaven. In a parody of Sherlock Holmes, Lisa is a detective hunting down the Muttonchop Murderer, who is stabbing prostitutes to death in 19th Century London. In the end it turns out to be Inspector Wiggum, jealous of Lisa's popularity. Then in the final tale, a parody of Fantastic Voyage, Maggie is accidentally shrunk down and swallowed by Mr. Burns at a science exhibit. Prof. Frinks shrinks the Simpsons to rescue her, which they eventually do. However, Homer must stay behind to save Maggie and ends up growing inside Burns, turning them into a bizarre, two-headed monstrosity, which they learn to live with.

The first story, The Ned Zone, is the best of the three. Perhaps because it is slowly setting up it's premise it feels like it ends just as it gets going and feels a bit slight because of it but none-the-less the jokes mostly work and it has fun with it's premise. I feel like the Rosie O'Donnell slam is one of those "current pop culture" slams that don't work for me, mostly because it feels like it's a construct were you could sub in countless people and it would be the same joke and one that isn't particularly strong. Despite this, I feel like it does good with a recurring joke that pays off and has a bit of fun with it's premise, even with the limited time.

The second story, Four Beheadings and a Funeral, is a Sherlock Holmes parody and a general Victorian England goof. Even though I don't like it as much as the last one, if does feel like a segment where there's more circumstance and plot but perhaps that's why it's a little lacking. Also, some of the cast are doing accents and it seems like Yeardley and Julie are having fun with them. The accents are clearly meant to be goofy but even in that respect, Smith sounds a bit too odd at times. The look is also the best of the three segments, with a pretty well realized London, clearly a labour of love of the genre of Victorian thrillers.

The last story,. In the Belly of the Boss, is my least favourite of the three. I think there's only one joke I really like and even then it feels more like a "hey, here's a reference for you, comic dork" than a good one. My least favourite parts are the direct references to the original film, particularly putting Marge in a sexy costume and having her clothes sexily ripped off. Though not particularly funny, I do appreciate the decision to end it mirroring the two-headed Homer and Burns from the second Treehouse without being too on the nose about it.

Other great jokes:

I like Marge calling Kang and Kodos octopuses.

The frisbee runner really pays off in my opinion.

"Don't do it! Don't do it! You'll kill everyone!"
"*fzzt* do it! *fzzt* do it! *fzzt* kill everyone!"
"Man, it's taking me a long time to push this button."

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The sign is funny in context. Moe dressed like that? Nnnnnot so much.

"I'm not a murderer, I'm not. And I've never learned the touch of a woman. Or a proper-eating apple."

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That's some good pandering to me.

Other note:
I do like any excuse to hear the theme song to Perfect Strangers.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Don't do it! Don't do it! You'll kill everyone!"
"*fzzt* do it! *fzzt* do it! *fzzt* kill everyone!"
"Man, it's taking me a long time to push this button."
There’s usually at least one solid joke per episode outside of the Safety Zone; this is the one for this season
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
All's Fair in Oven War

I currently work at a preschool/afterschool program and one of the biggest issues I tend to deal with is hitting. Usually the problem is one of the kids bothers another by intent (usually taking a toy out of their hands) or accident, which leads to retaliation and teaching not to retaliate is one of the hardest parts. It's understandable, as who wouldn't want justice or to protect their own sense of territory. The older kids tend to know better mostly, but I did have to deal with a boy who's father was actually pro-retaliation. I overheard him saying "well, if someone's going to push him, a boy's got a right to push back" which is a toxic influence, especially when the kid treated accidental bumping into as intended attacks. Our instinct is to fight back when we are attacked but the hardest thing and sometimes the best is to strike back, because there is a difference between defending oneself and revenge.

In this episode, the Simpsons get a new kitchen which inspires Marge to up her cooking game. Marge becomes popular in her community with her new recipes and Marge's friends suggest she enter a cooking contest to become the newest mascot for the Auntie Ovenfresh cooking ingredients company. Marge enters "dessert dogs" as a recipe and is accepted into the bake-off. During the event, Marge finds herself bullied by the other participants and eventually her dessert is burnt. Marge tries to salvage it and manages to make it to the judging room at the last moment and finds herself alone with the other entries. Still fuming from her bullying, Marge decides to taint all the other participants' food with baby ear medicine. Lisa sees what her mom has done and is shocked. Only Marge and Brandine remain in the competition, due to her entry looking tainted already. Lisa confronts Marge before the finals and eventually Marge confesses in the middle of the competition and Brandine wins while Marge regains Lisa's respect.

Though the Halloween special started the season, I always consider the first non-spooky episode to tell me if things are starting off the right foot. And considering the first gag is pretty funny, that helped a lot. This episode made me laugh quite a few times and in this era that counts for a lot. The other thing is based on my preschool experiences as of recent, the episode and the ideas of fighting the urge to fight back. And it's easy to say that but the feeling of being hurt and bullied is very strong, making it understandable for seeing someone as sweet as Marge cheat and doing it joyously. The fact is, a story like this isn't about the people who Marge "hurts". They are all assholes and deserve what Marge does. The problem is it's about Marge saving her own soul and integrity, because it is my belief retaliation like this is merely hurting your own soul and ability to be kind.

Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a fairly superficial episode all things considered. The message might speak to me in this time in my life based on my experiences and do it well, but it's mostly a pretty rote sitcom plot. It's really mostly helped that there's a fair number of decent jokes in this one and also allow us to feel for Marge. It's just a competent episode with none of the rough edges or structural issues I feel would plague the show going forward. So it is a backhanded compliment but it's still fun to hang out with my favourite characters being silly in a story that works. The episode is written by Matt Selman, who's written both some quite decent (The Food Wife, The Day the Earth Stood Cool) and a few very weak ones (Girls Just Want to Have Sums, That '90s Show) and I will say in all the episodes I remember, he does seem to dedicate himself to workable, coherent plots.

As for the b-plot, Bart living like a 1960s bachelor is a bit corny and it feels like we've been in similar zones before. But I will say aspects of it remind me of being a kid and completely missing the raunchy undertones of the things I loved. It has it's moments but I think it considers Bart with a bubble pipe and smoking jacket much funnier than it is, especially since this was already done as a one-off joke when Bart has a crush on the older neighbor girl and Bart's "bachelor pad" feels like just another run at Bart's Casino. And I appreciate how that arc ends with Bart horrified at what sex actually is but it doesn't actually make me laugh.

Other great jokes:
A decent number this time.

First gag is a legit GOAT to me.

"A contractor? Those guys are the biggest crooks around. They charge for materials and labor. Pick one, jerks."

"When Virginia Woolf every woman needs a room of one's own, she must have been talking about the kitchen."
I feel like the writers want to sound more literati since Pynchon was coming back. Works for me. Speaking of.

"These wings are V-Licious. I'll put these in the Gravity's Rainbow cookbook, next to the Frying of Latke 49."

"Why thank you Billy."
"DON'T LOOK AT MY HUMAN EYES!"

"Hey Bart, me and Mrs. Krabappel are going to play backgammon if you know what I mean."
"I don't but I hope you win."
"Oh, he will."
"Some men like the challenge. Not me."

"Ribbons and trophies are no comfort on your death bed."

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This is a dumb joke but Lisa's last expression makes it for me. Reminds me of when she was told about the birdhouse shaped like a 50s diner.

Other notes:
Thomas Pynchon actually wrote his own jokes, which are mostly puns on his books. I love it.

I think this counts as a future episode, as it takes place "two years later" as a quick gag and it's not like the Simpsons lose their rad new kitchen by the end.

Ugh, I hate that they went with dumb Mad Magazine names for all the characters in the mascot party gag. I feel like there's no reason for it and it isn't funny.

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I don't think it's a particularly funny ending but what strikes me is that James Caan is fine after being riddled with bullets in a logic I can only call Jojo-esque (specifically Stardust Crusaders-esque).

If you don't want to bother watching, the final verdict is "yummy, but really the other things that aren't cookie dough don't add much."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Sleeping with the Enemy

As a childcare worker, I like to think I can do a lot for the kids but I can only do so much. I have a lot of kids to look after with their own needs. Some of them are having harder times than others. There's one who keeps hitting other kids and with neither pride nor defiance nor shame referred to himself as a "bad boy". His mother is confused and it seems like he doesn't have a hard home life but he has serious issues dealing with other kids they never had to deal with before preschool. Obviously there are things we can do but sometimes there's no simple solutions and it needs to be taken one day at a time.

In this episode, Bart gets 100% on a test and is gifted a party by his parents. However, the party is kind of a dud and Bart is disappointed in party organizer Marge. Meanwhile, Lisa begins developing a serious insecurity about her weight due to the bullying of Sherry and Terry. Both of the kids take it out on Marge and she begins to feel unappreciated. By chance, Marge meets Nelson in the park and sees someone who is in need of some affection and friendship. The two develop a bond and Marge begins making Nelson feel good about himself and giving him a sense of self-worth. However, after Nelson's mother perceives Nelson's newfound pride as a slight against her and after a confrontation with Marge abandons her son to become an actress. With no place to go, Nelson stays with the Simpsons, much to Bart's horror. Nelson helps Lisa get revenge on Sherry and Terry and Bart finds Nelson's estranged father, bringing the Muntzes together again.

I was surprised how much I like the episode and I already remembered it somewhat fondly. I have no doubt it helps that this was written by Golden Age writer Jon Vitti. He has made his share of duds but who hasn't. Conan O'Brien. That's who. But the number of episodes he's penned can be counted on a Simpson hand. And this is an exceptionally strong episode for this era, so much so I want to get the complaints out of the way so I can praise it, because I don't get to do it often anymore. The big one is simply that the resolution for the Muntzes getting back together doesn't feel like it satisfactorily completes the arc of either Nelson's problems or Marge's sense of being appreciated. The Streisand section is a lot of time for a little (though I appreciate the show going for it). And the show has the sadly permenant problem that some jokes feel a little bit on autopilot with good jokes we've seen before.

But there is so much that works. While it doesn't land in the end, it is an episode with heart and so does Nelson. He's still a bully and a jerk but he's also one who can love and be appreciative and has a level of care Bart sometimes forgets about. All these things can be true, as a lot of the kids I work with can be mean to each other but are great and sweet in other scenarios and one-on-one situations. I don't think there are bad kids but there are kids that learned to behave badly. Nelson and Marge's relationship is genuinely sweet and feels well-realized thanks to the writing, animation and acting. Poor Bart shouldn't be bullied but the episode makes us feel more for Nelson because he's protective of Marge. It also sees that Nelson is a kid who would likely to be better with proper guidance and care which can often be tricky even for well-intentioned parents to provide at times.

The episode is all about bullying, cruelty and how to deal and the b-plot ties in wonderfully, with Lisa developing body image issues. And she is able to intellectualize it and truly understand her problem perfectly yet cannot solve it simply through that. For it being very broad, it feels well-realized in taking into account just because we know we should be happy with ourselves the way we are and that our obsession might be unhealthy doesn't mean it's easily fixed. Even the episode's end has Lisa saying "No, this is still a problem, even if I'm making a little headway and it will likely be for a long time." I feel like the formula for this scene has been done before but I appreciate that unlike "Fear of Flying", the episode really acknowledges this is going to be a work in progress, even if we will never hear of it again. We can just imagine that Lisa is struggling with it bravely. Overall, Sleeping with the Enemy is exactly what I want in a Simpsons; good laughs, well-realized characters and exploring themes intelligently and with a strong satirical eye.

Other great jokes:

"Really? Frankfurter... is that anything?"
"*sigh* Yes, dear,"

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"Haw Haw! You're nocturnal."
"You don't have to impress me by making fun of others. I like you as you are."
"Haw haw. I'm letting down my guard. Haw haw."

"I'm sure it's just a phase, like how I used to stand on the overpass and drop computers on the freeway."
"Mm-hmm. That's how we got our K-Pro."

"She went to Hollywood to become an actress. But her range is limited!"

"Would you like a glass of milk?"
"*Cow* milk?!"

"Bart have you ever eaten a Tootsie Pop? It has a tough crunchy shell but if you lick it, there's a delicious sweetness inside... Be nice to Nelson and I'll give you a Tootsie Pop."

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Other notes:
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Homer is thicc today.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
She Used to Be My Girl

I could tell you that sometimes I feel inadequate compared to some of the people I love in life. I could talk about my ponderings of the decisions not made. But I feel like I've been there before. Just like this episode.

In this episode, Springfield is enveloped in a media circus covering Mayor Quimby's 27 paternity suits. This brings in Chloe Talbot, a globe-trotting national journalist returning to her hometown for the first time in years. The respected and accomplished Chloe used to work with Marge and Chloe joins Marge for dinner to catch up. Chloe's success makes Marge feel ashamed of her own lack of accomplishment while Lisa becomes enamored of her. Eventually, Marge and Chloe come to blows after Marge's pent up anger explodes when she is late bringing Lisa home from an outing. Marge refuses to let Lisa go to a women's conference and Lisa decides to sneak off with her. But Chloe is suddenly called on a story about a volcano and inadvertently brings a stowaway Lisa. Marge arrives to save Lisa and proves herself to her daughter.

She Used to Be My Girl isn't an awful episode but it's a pretty standard one. I know it is hard after 16 seasons not to repeat oneself a bit but I feel like this episode didn't really do much different from a lot of the other "road not taken" episodes. The key difference is I don't think any other episode is about the decision to leave town at a certain age but the problem is the episode talks about it quite a bit but never deals with it. A lot of people leave town because there is something they can't do in their own town. Chloe is successful but there's not a lot of depth to her and she spends most of her time being a condescending jerk to Marge. I don't think the aspects of the episode's premise I find interesting are the ones that the writers want to explore.

I also don't like that it just feels like a facile episode in general. I feel like the episode is supposed to be a Marge and Lisa episode but Lisa never really has to deal with the fact that she may have inadvertently making her mom feel insignificant. There's actually a much better episode in a few seasons that does tackle this a bit and even gets to end with some refreshing ambivalence. Here, Marge's insecurity is basically solved with some basic, boring heroism, much in the same way that Homer's grand gestures solve everything. I'm not saying a basic-ass heroism end can't work, particularly if it is a bit of a subversion (see "Marge Vs. the Monorail") but it definitely feels more like a writerly shortcut rather than the proper decision.

Kim Catrall is the voice of Chloe in the episode and I feel like while sounding basically like a Kim Catrall character, he knows the level she's working at and goes for it. Unfortunately, often the level is low, like when she does mock Chinese (or... possibly very bad and still offensive real Chinese). It is an episode with a few jokes that are pretty eyerolling in this regard, including "Shiner-B-Gone" that is Irish themed and a women's conference bit that's pretty hokey. And that's the episode all over. The episode was written by Tim Long and while not all of his episodes are good, I found most have had something interesting in them so it's a bit disappointing to see an episode with so little going on.

Other great jokes:

"Come on, baby, read my sash."
"You're the major?"
"THAT'S MAYOR, YOU FERTILE MORON!"

"This is Marge Simpson reporting from Lake Placid, where the Miracle on Ice... NEVER HAPPENED."
"NOOOOOO!!!!!"

Other notes:
It's weird that Spongebob has an iconic laugh and the show doesn't get anywhere near correct.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Fat Man and Little Boy

I work with kids and when it comes to the fifth graders, it is interesting to see how many of them feel grown up and how many don't. It really does seem like they mature at different levels, meaning sometimes there appears to be a pretty big disparity. And with kids in other grades, they often seem radically different, even as we encourage them to play together. Sometimes they in some ways are too mature for the activities but too immature to handle it well, meaning they don't always seem to quite fit in. Aging is a weird thing and I know there's been like 4 milestones were I was like "ugh, I'm old now" and yet feel like I never properly matured. Growing is a tough thing and it doesn't stop until you die.

In this episode, Bart becomes upset when he feels his childhood slipping away and decides to express his feelings with some witty t-shirts. They become a hit at school and inspire Bart to go into business for himself. He's eventually discovered by Goose Gladwell, a novelty store magnate and soon Bart's t-shirt's are being mass produced. When Homer is fired for laziness, he realizes the income Bart brings in from his shirt means he doesn't need to work anymore. Homer loves his freedom at first but starts to feel a little emasculated by Bart's power and decides instead to focus his attention on Lisa. To help Lisa with a science project, Homer steals some plutonium, to which Lisa and Marge disapprove. Homer comes across Bart and learns Goose effectively shut him out of his own business and Bart decides to help Bart get his money back, proving himself a hero again.

Boy, this episode is a journey. Do I mean that in a good way or a bad way? That's tough. I think from a series of joke perspective, it's not doing too bad for itself. In terms of telling a story, it is wildly circuitous. I feel like that COULD work if the humour or story were sort of about it but instead it's actually taking a long way to tell a pretty simple tale; the idea that even when a child matures, they still are children, are vulnerable and need a parents help. I feel like there are other things to glean, like the idea that even if it is honest money, it might still matter to someone how they get their income or that learning not to be the breadwinner is OK if you can help your household but in this episode, that seems like some weird scraps. Instead, we take a BIG detour from the plot with Bart in the third act that ends up swerving back to Bart. It also involves Homer making a bomb.

So yeah, it's sort of a lot to unpack and there's not a lot for me to say, almost. Homer and Lisa actually has a moment of genuine charm but it feels like the show need to have Homer end up with a bomb and took a ridiculously long walk to get there. I feel like my big complaint of many really late stage Simpsons is it being a premise that becomes a series of scenes centered around the ideas rather than something fleshed out and cohesive. This technically has a coherent plot and holds together but what it forms is a weird, awkward narrative. I feel like it was jamming about three episode ideas together and ends up not getting to service any of them properly while bending over backwards to make it fit in the time alloted.

The first act is the strongest, because I actually feel that when you really discover your mortality as a youth, you may feel time slipping through your fingers even if you have 9/10s of your life left. That was my experience at least, as I developed a huge anxiety about my mortality that kept me awake thrashing some nights in impotent fear. So this goofy little story set up actually spoke to me. And despite the episode's weirdness, it has a lot of jokes I really did like and it isn't offensive in it's ideals which, well, this is the season where Patty comes out in an episode that says "but trans people are weird, right?" So you know, my favorite TV show not having grotesque takes really does help.

Other great jokes:

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"Watcha realizing, jerk?"

I wish I could find the Sgt. Activity scene because it is the highlight of the episode.

"You broke in!"

"Homer, use your inside voice."
"I DON'T HAVE AN INSIDE VOICE!"

"Would you like to meet someone special but are tired of the bar scene? No. I will never tire of the bar scene."

"Thanks to my team of Loopy Lawyers..."
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"The resulting blast will destroy the entire tri-city area, including that guy who sell those blu blocker sunglasses that people SOMETIMES WEAR!"

Other notes:

Yet even more lazy toy parody names trotted out as a gag.

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I didn't think this gag was great but it was an astute representation of t-shirts from the internet.
 
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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Midnight Rx

Finacially, I'm doing OK. I have a pretty big money cushion in an emergency. But I don't know what it will be like when I get older. I mean, I'm actually technically only 15 years away from a retirement age and I can't imagine having the funds to safely do that by a longshot. And I know that if I had a big medical crisis, I don't know what I would do. I am fortunate to live in Canada but even then, medical needs can be expensive. I know it is even worse in the US and it is in no small part in valuing capitalism over human lives. And for all the faults of late stage Simpsons, it usually kept its cynicism towards capitalism. Usually.

In this episode, The Power Plant drug plan is eliminated and many other businesses are following suit within Springfield. Even the Springfield Retirement Castle is losing it's drugs, which forces Grandpa into action. He suggests travelling into Canada with Homer to buy cheaper drugs and smuggle them across the border. It's a success and Springfield residents find themselves with the drugs they need. During a larger run with Flanders and Apu, Homer is caught and though they are freed, they find themselves banned from Canada. With drug needs rising, Homer and Grandpa decide to fly to Canada to get the drugs, and end up getting unexpected assistance from Mr. Burns, who needs drugs for a dying Smithers. They use a seaplane Burns designed decades prior and though it manages to make the trip most of both ways, it begins to fall apart during turbulence. Homer and Grandpa crash land in the town square and as they are being arrested, the entire town rushes to their defense and Chief Quimby gives in. Meanwhile Burns has a change of heart after Smithers' near death experience and promises to give medical coverage to all full-time employees.

I wouldn't say that Midnight Rx is an especially strong episode but I do feel like it does a lot right. I remember this episode as it came out being related to the conversation of the era but really it's one that never ended so it's unfortunately a particularly evergreen episode in a lot of ways. And like a lot of episodes dealing with a national crisis, I feel like it does a really good job of creating an atmosphere of appropriate anxiety, similar to the episode last season about patriotism and I always appreciate that. It both ups the stakes of the story itself and also makes things clear that the problem is widespread and affects us all. Burns finds that out when his #1 toady is near death's door. As outlandish as this episode and particularly this episode can be, it does feel like it can hit close to home for a lot of people.

As a whole, the episode is merely OK but I might estimate it a bit more due to extratextual elements. It's written by Marc Wilmore, who is the brother of The Nightly Show's host Larry Wilmore. In the 90s, Marc had a kidney transplant which resulted in him dealing with health issues for the rest of his life. Marc died this year from COVID 19 combined with the aforementioned issues. I have no doubt that as silly as this episode gets, it was also probably pretty personal to Marc and might be part of why the anxiety aspect IS so effective. It's definitely the best part of the episode and I think knowing what I know helps my appreciation a lot. It's interesting to see this in an age of extremely heightened anxiety that seems to be neverending, especially since the episode implies that while Homer helped a lot, his future is about to face another crisis.

It's also an episode that feels like it is squarely from the era it was released. I think the use of Canada reminds me of the constant "If _____ wins, I'm going to Canada" empty threats following many American election. And of course, there's an incredibly eye-rolling scene were Apu, by wacky accident, happens to look like a stereotypical Muslim caricature, ululating after drinking hot coffee. But that's very (and sadly) par for the course in this era in an episode that otherwise feels like it all still applies to the modern culture, sadly. I wish it were a little better but it was a mostly enjoyable watch and does a lot of things I appreciate, even if it is a heavy handed.

Other great jokes:

There are two "promotional/educational film" gags I like; a documentary about documentaries for air and space museums and this one...

"I flew it an altitude of six feet for a distance of four and a half feet. Then we discovered rain makes it catch on fire. Then the Fuhrer fired me."

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"Do you think Carol from payroll and Mike from shipping are going to hook up?"
"He's married."
"Turn around! Carol must be warned!"

"Because of the Xanax, I'm not overanxious about being a Simpson anymore. I am a little anxious about being on Xanax but the Zoloft covers that nicely."

Other notes:
I like how the news refers to Homer as "former astronaut".

Marc's last work was writing for F is for Family, a show I hear is OK but since it comes from the point of view of Bill Burr, whom I always like seeing in things but whose comedic voice does not speak to me.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Mommie Beerest

If there was a trope or formula on the Simpsons that just stopped making sense at any point, it was attempting to "threaten" the wedding of Homer and Marge. It's not just that no one buys it as a threat, because obviously the status quo is set but even within the episodes it becomes harder to really sell that this marriage would be threatened, no matter how toxic they decide to make it this episode. Instead, they simply end up straining plausibility that they would be married in the first place or that Marge hasn't left Homer and also makes the relationship look ugly. It can be hard to thread the needle of regular Homer doing a new bad thing and plain jerk-ass Homer, But with these kinds of episodes increasingly gimmicky, I always dread the show thinking it can keep me in suspense even for a moment.

In this episode, Moe's bar fails to pass the health inspection and is closed down, so Homer mortgages his house so Moe can re-open. Marge is aghast and decides to make sure Moe doesn't blow the money by convincing him to turn it into an English pub. The pub plan is a success and Marge ends up spending most of her time nurturing the new business. Homer takes note that Marge and Moe have been getting closer and fears they are having some kind of emotional affair. Things come to ahead when Moe and Marge head to a conference in Aruba and Homer makes a mad dash to win her back while Moe attempts to woo her. Marge says she'll never leave and they enjoy a vacation in Aruba together.

This is the second episode to use the term jerk-ass Homer, the first being a signage joke in the Joy of Sect but I feel like this episode may well be taking to heart internet commentary that Homer has become so outsized and meanspirited that he's kind of awful. Within the episode, Homer refers to himself as such to play dumb and it feels like a very mild self-parody but it doesn't feel like it connects to the underlying problem. In this episode, Homer is only at half-jerk-ass but it's still notable that the episode, while not awful, is an entirely forgettable episode that seems rife with the sort of problems that bug me about this era.

The problems are numerous and repetitive. Homer is a jerk-ass but he only does one really bad thing that is kind of glossed over to get the story going and by Homer metrics, isn't that bad. The rest are more low key things like offhandedly mentioning how he hates Marge's mother. The show also tries to keep us in suspense about who Marge will choose to the point of having Marge think about it (at least, this is the way it is presented in editing, we don't actually get insights into her thoughts at that moment). We also are getting the beginnings of new problems, namely the use of CG. This isn't the first time and it gets used repeatedly, mostly in Halloween episodes but the terrible parody of Pixar feels much more like a regular type Dreamworks movie and is probably the weakest gag in a weak episode (and includes yet another the transphobic one). And yet again, we end with another stupid grand gesture.

And the Simpsons are WAY too forgiving of Moe's creepiness and to a certain extent so is the show. I'm all for having some sympathy for Moe despite his many failings but considering the way he nakedly attempts to woo Marge, both of them should certainly cut ties. Episodes ABOUT Moe can be tough to crack because you want him sleazy but not unlikable. Here, they are trying to make him likable and so lonely that his judgment is clouded. We've seen Moe sweet and I'd be down for yet another episode that show's he is capable of being a romantic with problems but here, it tries to get our sympathy while also having him be conniving and a creep and the episode just doesn't crack it just right. In the end, Mommie Beerest is a bore and I don't even know if it has a single joke worth noting. This isn't a new low or even anywhere near the worst episode. It's just so completely skippable that it goes in one ear and out the other.

Other notes:

I do like the concept that Moe's stayed open so long because he's friends with a crooked health inspector.
 

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
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We also are getting the beginnings of new problems, namely the use of CG. This isn't the first time and it gets used repeatedly, mostly in Halloween episodes but the terrible parody of Pixar feels much more like a regular type Dreamworks movie and is probably the weakest gag in a weak episode

This has to be one of the most cringiest jokes the show ever did, so completely off the mark and unfunny. Anyway:

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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
It's weird that's the one they submitted when within that year's time there have been legit good episodes. This one is SO also-ran, even if you are really into Moe.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass

I could never get into sports. I love sports movies and sports anime and manga but without a conventional narrative, I'm just not interested. And I understand objectively that this is kind of incorrect, as there is the narrative of these players lives and the team's story but for whatever reason it never appealed to me. Perhaps there's too much history, much in the same way that superhero comics may be intimidating due to their long history and sometimes impenetrable backstory. It also doesn't help that often we learn how crappy some of them are but that's not much different than most other fields of entertainment, I suppose. There's so much about sports culture I don't know and feels alien to me, so often stories about the nature of it never hit particularly close to home.

In this episode, Homer ends up a viral sensation for a ridiculous dance. He ends up attracting the attention of a football star who wants ideas for end zone dances. Homer's dances are considered tasteless but nonetheless attract attention and Homer soon ends up teaching famous sports stars how to be as obnoxious as he. Meanwhile, Flanders makes a film about Cain and Abel and attracts the attention of Burns, who wants to profit off of it and the ire of Marge, as she finds Flanders' take on the bible disgusting. When Flanders makes an expensive and bloody epic, Marge objects and ends up inspiring Burns to get cold feet about it's release. Later, Homer is given the chance to organize the Super Bowl half-time show and soon realizes he has NO idea what to do. He stumbles across Flanders feeling bad that people won't hear his message, the two decide to clean up and decide to make a half-time show retelling the story of Noah's Ark. Flanders and Homer's show is poorly received due to it being too decent.

This is a pretty bad episode. It's not an episode that hurts to watch but there was only one joke I enjoyed (though not actually laughed at), the messaging and plotting is a mess and it feels like nothing more than an excuse for guest stars. This almost certainly was made to tie into the actual Super Bowl but the Simpsons have done that much better several times before. No Vincent Price egg magic here. As is common for episodes like these, the guest stars range from regular awkward to sort of delightfully awkward, with Michelle Kwan and Labronn James being the only one I feel like could have done well with better material.

I actually think there's an interesting message and idea the episode tries to explore but in all honesty, it's a fucking mess. It's not even the worst take so much as confusing messaging. It's an episode about what audiences are willing to accept and what they aren't and is supposed to be a damning condemnation of our bloodlust and love of trash. We have Flanders and Homer getting by on selling to people's basest instincts and when they finally team up they are booed when they try to create something meaningful. As a pitch line, that sounds like an interesting idea. But the episode has many problems accomplishing this effectively. One, a problem I feel creates more problems, is the show seems to prioritize big moments over a narrative that flows naturally, to the point that it feels like they are trying to shove things into place, resulting in stories were the movement never feels like a fun ride so much as stumbling from scene to scene until you are numb.

But maybe if they figured out their own takes on the episode, I wouldn't have minded so much (and also, you know, if it was funny). Flanders' journey seems like it should be to realize people are enjoying his films for the wrong reasons and/or that his interpretation of the bible grabs audience attention but doesn't impart the wisdom of the tales that mean so much to him. But he doesn't seem to learn much of anything. What's more, when he does have something to say where he's booed for being "decent", it's the story of Noah, but it's presented in a way that also doesn't give us wisdom, only that god killed people and spared one man. The show does not seem to realize the problem with this, just another weird-headed take, one they've had before, that people freak out about religion in secular society. Frankly, I have never seen that as true, certainly not compared to the reactionary opposite of something failing to be of Christianity. I feel like the episode wants in part to be about Flanders genuine love of his faith and how it can be sold except it also really isn't. And frankly, the failure for an episode to understand and/or articulate it's own lesson is a problem we will see more than once.

Other great jokes:

Not great but I do like people in the costumes of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts awkwardly rubbing butts together to Let's Get Physical.

HkcJdg5oj39I5tgb2Rac0qoNrU8=.gif
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
The Pac-Man wedding was the only part of this one I enjoyed.

Also making an episode designed to cash in on the popularity of Passion of the Christ a few years later felt… off
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Pranksta Rap

Though I grew up during the rise of rap in the mainstream, I didn't really get into it until much later. It's an absolutely wonderful genre but during it's rise I feel like we've had to deal with some very embarrassing attempts to utilize it. I mean, we had Rodney Dangerfield and Joe Pesci doing what can only loosely be referred to as rap. It's interesting what ages badly and one thing seems to be misguided attempts to grapple with a cultural movement as it is happening and completely missing the mark to the point where you ask "what exactly is this trying to comment on"?

In this episode, Bart attends a hip hop concert against his parents' wishes and when he is about to get caught decides to fake a kidnapping as a dodge. However, this case is the one where Wiggum decides to put his nose to the grindstone and do some real detective work. He follows the clues to Kirk Van Houten's house, where Bart was hiding out and Kirk is blamed. Bart is too scared of getting in trouble to clear things up and by the time he wants to no one wants to hear it. Solving the crime resulted in a promotion for Wiggum, Kirk being popular with a subset of women who love criminals and even Homer is cashing in on Bart's story. Bart is relieved that he can keep lying, avoid trouble and make everyone happy. But Lisa discovers the truth and becomes determined to uncover it. The clues lead to rap star Alcatraaaz, as Bart managed to get onstage and he has video evidence. When they all meet up, they face a dilemma that the lie makes people happy and seems to hurt no one but it is still a lie. The conspiracy seems to continue, much to Lisa's chagrin.

The first act of Pranksta Rap is as pretty much as bad as you might expect from an episode of the Simpsons about rap. It relies on a lot of hoary stereotypes and worst of all two bad wraps; one very cringey and the other kinda cringey. The former with Homer and Marge is supposed to be but I feel like it's also supposed to be funny which it isn't. It's just hard to listen to. The second smacks of effort to be sure. It's clear that the writer (I'm assuming episode writer Matt Selman) and performer (Nancy Cartwright) aren't phoning it in. Despite this, it does feel like some people not in touch with the medium trying their best and while it is a valiant effort, boy do I not want to listen to it ever again.

After that, the episode is heavily flawed but it actually kind of interesting. I appreciate that the episode doesn't feel the need to answer the central question of "if the lie makes people happier and hurts no one, could we accept it?" At least, that's the question that is seems to think it is posing and says as much. More interesting to me is the idea that perhaps people are happier living with lies if it makes their lives easier and if exposing it makes it messier rather than helpful. That's more what the episode feels like to me and it's not without merit to explore, especially since the perhaps to abrupt ending basically just says people are happy to live with lies if they don't have to deal with the consequences, emotional or otherwise.

Overall, it's a very skippable episode, despite an attempt to be something a little more, I think. I like when the show can explore and idea and not feel the need to answer it definitively. But frankly, the exploration isn't entirely satisfactory for me. I think where the episode is the strongest is Chief Wiggum getting to be a hero and then the single heartbreaking moment when Bart reveals the moment he's been so proud of has been a lie. It's a split second moment of low key devastating, where a usually incompetant character got to actually make all the right moves and save the day, only to find the truth has turned it all into shit. And the fact that the episode says maybe if no one acknowledges it, we can all just pretend it's the case. Maybe if there are no consequences, we can make ourselves forget. I mean, I might be that weak. I don't know. So there are actually interesting ideas. It just happens to come out in a pretty unimpressive and somewhat embarrassing package.

Other great jokes:

The Barney Fife thing didn't work for me until the very end, where he is confused about what his own deal is.

"Lou, you're promoted to Chief of Police."
"Sweet."
"And Eddie, you're promoted to Lou."
"Nice. So who's the new Eddie?"
"We don't need an Eddie."

OK, there's no defense. It's a stupid joke and a predictable one. But there's something about the image that puts a smile on my face (and the fact that it's considered evidence)
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Other notes:

So the next one I'm doing is the one where Patty gets gay marriage and it has a transphobic climax and that's a Christmas gift for no one.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
There's Something About Marrying

A part of growing older is accepting the stuff in our past is not as cool as we thought. Even without the whole Jeffrey Tambor thing, I don't know if I can ever return to Arrested Development, a show equal parts brilliant and extremely ill-considered. It's OK have enjoyed something and then realize as you grow older that the message is hurtful because change is great. But it does mean leaving that same feeling that you had before for such thing or perhaps accepting those feelings might not reflect the values outside the show. I love the Simpsons but even in the golden years of the show, there are things that now look ugly and ill-considered.

In this episode, Bart pranks an out-of-towner who turns out to be a TV personality who is so upset he publicly denounces the town. Tourism is hurt so in search of a new cash influx, they decide to legalize gay marriage. Unfortunately, Rev. Lovejoy won't marry anyone and Homer decides to fill that void to make some money. It goes well for Homer, so much that he struggles to find new business and starts marrying other "unconventional" marriages. When Patty arrives, she reveals she is planning to marry a woman, leaving Marge in shock. Patty is incensed at Marge clearly being upset about it and Marge feels Patty didn't give her time to accept it. When Marge learns Patty's fiancée is a man, she decides to stay silent but feels compelled to revealed the truth at the day of the wedding. Her bride to be asks to go forward with the marriage anyway but Patty isn't declines, proud to be gay.

Hoooooooo boy. This one.... this one. And here's the thing, this isn't the worst episode or one without interesting ideas but the climax is entirely hinged upon a transphobic reveal. Patty's fiancée, Veronica, isn't intended to be "trans" but is a "man in disguise". But it is all the same VERY transphobic because it feels like a complete pile of hurtful trans stereotypes; judgment on their body, the fact that their identity is a "lie" and is a "trap". It's an episode that is intended to be a proud coming out moment for Patty and ironically goes down as one of the show's worst LBGTQ moments. And let that sink in, because the show is historically not great about this, even when trying to be (or present itself as) an ally.

And the fact is, I have to accept I, like a lot of other viewers, didn't blink an eyelash at this. This kind of hurtful shit was pretty common in the era and I didn't understand gender and how to be properly sensitive to it. I'm sure I was more like "well, to each their own" than really sitting down and being critical about my own understanding and the media I watch. And I hope that in 10-20 years I can do the same for stuff I love and watch now, because as much as I enjoy these things, I want to be able to continue to grow.

There's other very interesting things to explore within this episode and I find it comes together in a bizarre ouroboros of being ill-considered and commenting on ill-consideration. So beyond the awful third act reveal, the episode also has some eye-rolling gay jokes (though there is one I actually kind of find funny in terms of landing it), which is interesting because the John Waters episode a decade prior somehow aged better. But that's par for the course; my bigger concern is that this episode, which intends to be pro-gay marriage, also ends up entertaining the "slippery slope" theory when Homer starts marrying people to their own family and inanimate object. It's very bizarre to take the tact of people's stupid arguments and NOT subverting it when you are on the other side.

But in terms of what is interesting, it is in there and actually feeds INTO this very same problem with bizarre perfection as it is also about how Marge presents as an ally until her worldview is mildly threatened and when it isn't just a sweet, "alien" thing far removed from her personal life and understanding of "normal". That's actually an intriguing idea that a person who wants to make a positive difference can still have hurtful takes within that difference. And beyond that, the fact that the blow for civil rights Springfield makes is entirely mercenary in reasoning, as is Homer's decisions. This reminds me of big business twitter slapping rainbows on shit in the hopes that people love their company rather than an actual genuine love and concern for the issue (or if it is in there, it is still being used to promote a capitalist mega-corporation that de-humanizes workers anyway). But considering how the show treats gay marriage within it's pro-gay marriage episode, I can't help that think that this is both an attempt to try to make a comedy that forwards something and yet merely has performative motive for sweeps, maybe.

I could spend forever unpacking it but I also feel there are people who could probably unpack it better than I, as well I consider myself an ally, I'll also admit that I probably have far more blindspots, limitations and failings than I realize and there are people who could probably explore this bizarre, hurtful episode better. Plus, I feel like at a certain point, I'd just be going in circles. Whew, well, time to move on. Next time I can do a Bart/Lisa wacky episode and then... ugh, Patty and Selma go to China. This is going to be bad, isn't it?

Other great jokes:

"So, Kitchen Wizard, I hear you have a book coming out."
"Yes, it's about Winston Churchill's life between the wars."

The first gag on Marge's montage of realizing Patty is gay is hokey but I like the end where there's no subtext and Patty's just making out with someone.

Other notes:
"I'm nothing yet" is a joke I feel like I've gone back and forth on. I feel like it was likely intended as "you can't have an understanding of whether or not you are gay at that age" which I don't think it true. But I think it accidentally works as "I *personally* still have more understanding of myself to do". I'm down with deciding it's that.

Oof, the tourist ad has too many hokey jokes, particularly like "oh, a gay man getting married is totally wearing a dress. Ha, they got mustaches."

I wish they would stop making Homer homophobic for quick jokes.

"Where's Lenny and Carl."
"Don't you push them. They got to work that out for themselves."
This now reads less of a joke and more as thoughtful advice.

There's a bit I didn't get early on that's a parody of Huell Howser, a folksy TV personality who I've ONLY known through the impressions of James Adomian (who in 2016 was doing a pretty good Bernie Sanders' impression). The joke James often did was the host of California Gold did not and could not understand there were places other than California and only referred to other cities/countries/planets/universes as "other Californias"
 

Purple

(She/Her)
Patty's fiancée, Veronica, isn't intended to be "trans" but is a "man in disguise".

What kills me is the bigot who wrote this epsiode probably had this exact sentence in mind as an excuse to anyone who objected, when this is literally the founding principle of all transphobia. Imagining a world where trans people don't actually exist, but where Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Buffalo Bill are all prowling around everywhere up to no good, and need to be stopped through aggressive legislation and violence.

What makes this episode even worse is how many reviewers, even GLAAD, were praising it. What a mess.

... OK I know what GLAAD is but for a fraction of a second my brain filled in one of those weird hate groups that try to make their names look like that.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
Back when the episode originally aired, I didn't think much of the big twist. It was just a thing I'd seen countless times before, across all kinds of media.

But as the years went by, and as more and more of my friends and acquaintances now identify as transgender, and I learned about just how hurtful the tired old "dude dressed like a lady" trope has been...Well, needless to say I've done a lot of growing over the years.

It's so sad that The Simpsons' one big episode about gay marriage is so extremely transphobic.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I learned about just how hurtful the tired old "dude dressed like a lady" trope has been...
This song reference is literally used.

It's so sad that The Simpsons' one big episode about gay marriage is so extremely transphobic.
And that the moment where Patty says no to marrying Veronica is supposed to read as a rejection of heteronormative fix and instead is a rejection of "men disguised as women". It's so deeply wrong-headed that it is easily the most fascinating of the problematic episodes the way it is structured and I feel isn't just ugly but also accidentally commenting on itself in moments. The episode is about a person with good intentions ends up finding themselves with prejudices they aren't aware of and then explores that with their own horrific prejudice.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Now for something less problematic (a respite, since the next episode will be problematic again)

On a Clear Day, I Can't See My Sister

I work with kids in preschool and afterschool programs and man, do siblings activate each other. It does seem interesting that the kids with the biggest behavioral problems are there with their brother or sister, whether they are working in tandem to make trouble or making trouble FOR each other. In many cases, we often try to separate them to keep some sense of order but often we don't have a choice and need to try to find strategies to avoid them from picking on each other.

In this episode, Bart humiliates Lisa on a field trip and Lisa decides to get a restraining order against Bart. The order is put into action and it soon begins interfering with Bart's life. Marge is worried for Bart and tries to appeal to the judge, only for Lisa's Bart-free space being expanded to 200 feet. Marge tries to appeal to Lisa and Lisa says she wants to forgive him but can't forget the cruelty he inflicted on her. Lisa decides to forgive Bart he does one more nice thing for her. When Lisa sees a large straw Lisa in the backyard, Lisa sees it as a sign of forgiveness. When she learns it is an effigy, she decides to forgive anyway, as she was "a bit of a pill" and burns it for her brother.

We certainly get a lot of jerk-ass Homer but this one is one of the rare examples of jerk-ass Lisa. Well, just jerk Lisa. There are interesting themes to explore in this one but this episode does a very poor job of doing it. Part of my problem is that Bart's actions in the beginning are not near the usual level of "bad Bart" or reminding us of such, making Lisa's decision not very good. Bart cruelty is much more effective in "the Summer of 4ft.2" in making us side with Lisa. Here, once Bart is put 20 feet away, we almost instantly side with Bart as Lisa begins a clearly intentional reign of cruelty that pretty much everyone else just accepts.

Basically, it's mostly an episode of us watching Bart suffering and it's not all that fun or clever. Beyond that, it doesn't really say anything insightful about retaliation or bullying, which feels like what the episode should be about. Lisa cops to being "kind of a pill" but it never explores the fact that for this episode, she was far worse off than Bart, or that being cruel to him gained her nothing accept his suffering or that it basically makes her a toxic element. There's so much to explore with the premise that the show seems uninterested in and doesn't seem that interested in taking Lisa to task. Lisa says she "doesn't mean to be mean" and I think the writer might believe that but it is hard to accept that premise. It would be one thing if it let her live her life and breathe easy and she finds herself waffling between her own sense of relief and her brothers well being but she's just walking around poking him away.

I feel there are episodes that balanced this much better, that could sell us on Lisa's initial decision, then could realign our sympathies to Bart while still understanding Lisa. Instead, I feel like this might have been an episode where for the sake of joke writing, this was sort of altered in the writer's room. Or perhaps the writer simply didn't care enough where are sympathies lay. And that's a shame, because as someone who watches kids, I see a lot of them retaliating because they want to defend themselves against any slights, perceived or actual, and it takes a lot to learn that it can simply make things worse a lot of the time. Its one thing to see someone getting what they deserve but once you step over that line, you are the villain. But the episode doesn't really care to show us any complexity in her actions nor any sense that she's has turned into the episode's villain when she chose cruelty. If she wanted Bart to empathize with her, it's a shitty way to do it. That's an interesting episode idea that the show doesn't care to bother with.

Other great jokes:
"They're helpless without a greeting. Look at 'em"
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"And Snake, do you see what happens when you kidnap the president?"
"*sigh* Yes, Chief Wiggum."

I love that the restraining order video tape that promises to answer "all your questions" has a video tape that promises to answer all your questions.

Other notes:

There's also a Walmart subplot that tries to explore their shitty business practices but comedically, like much in the episode, doesn't land for me.

It's weird to see Busey basically making fun of his own mental illness. But... Busey is doing a good job in a problematic bit. For what little that's worth.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Goo Goo Gai Pan

I love working with kids and would like to have some of my own some day. But I do have doubts if that will ever happen. Obviously, people older than me have kids and do fine but it's also that I'm just awful at meeting people and have never even been in a relationship. I fear growing old alone, too, as I only have a few real friends I meet often and I don't know what will happen if I lose them. I can't imagine adopting by myself, not because I wouldn't ever but without a significant other, I can't imagine doing it myself, as I can barely take care of myself. But I do hope one day I find someone who would love to have a child with me, whether biologically or through adoption.

In this episode, Selma goes through menopause and realizes she can't have kids. After seeing her sister in depressed, Patty suggests adoption and Selma decides to go for it. Unable to adopt in town, Selma decides to adopt from China and finds that she is expected to have a husband. Backed into a corner, Selma writes down Homer's name as the father and Marge convinces Homer to go along with the con. In Beijing, bureaucrat Madam Wu us keeping an eye on the "couple" for the next few days while they wait for their child. After a couple of hiccups, Selma gets her new daughter Ling. But when Wu uncovers the deception, she takes the child away. The Simpsons and Selma team up to steal back the child but as they are about to escape with the child, Wu finds them. Selma tries talking to Wu to convince her that Ling would be fine with a single mother and Wu, who was raised by a single mother, relents, allowing Selma to return home with her child.

I was dreading this episode going in. The show tends to be troubled in its presentation of non-primarily Caucasian countries and to be honest, this episode is no different. There are lots of white voice actors doing broad accents to (forgive the pun) accentuate the punch lines. It's more or less what you would expect and it isn't great but it's not as bad as the show has been in the past and doesn't rankle me quite as much, ironically, as some of the shorter bits. Interestingly, while I didn't find it as offensive, I also didn't get the feeling the writers were as interested in China as they were, say, Japan, but at the same time, there's less "it's funny because the culture is weird" stuff so... maybe for the best.

One character who ISN'T voiced by a Caucasian actor is Lucy Liu and remembering that she was in Ally McBeal, a show that aged with almost unbelievable poorness, I can't help imagine all of the racist gags she was probably expected to be a part of when she did comedy. And that's a shame because I get the impression she is a pretty cool person. At any rate, she is also bringing it on this show, making Madam Wu work as best she can as a character. I won't say there's nothing on the page but she is largely functional, which is common for the kind of comedy the show tends to be, and plays both smug menace and her sadness well enough.

In all honesty, I didn't much care for the episode. While obviously the racism rankled me, I have seen the show do far worse (with Asians in particular) and I appreciated that the episode is going for emotional beats among it's silliness and makes the characters sympathetic, which is often a failing (see last episode). But frankly... it just isn't very funny. The "video tape that will answer your questions" is good (it's a shame Phil Hartman can't do these any more but they still tend to be the most consistently strong recurring gags) but frankly a lot of it is the Simpsons repeating itself (I think this is actually the second episode Burns talks about a "bumbled bee") or potentially better gags ruined by "funny accents". I definitely think there's a world where Death of a Salesman as a Chinese opera can work, especially since that's a play critical of the American Dream, but this is definitely "China opera has a weird loud sound, right?" Still, I'm glad Selma can have her child, at least, who continues to be in the show.

Other great jokes:

"Private dryness"

Other notes:

The episode ends with a "how to draw Bart" and 1) I'm surprised they didn't do these more and 2) I bet the Simpsons have been ending episodes like this because if they don't, the credits are shunted off to the corner by Fox to make room for more ads. Remember when that was a thing. Do they still do that?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Mobile Homer

I've never been particularly good with money. Financially, I'm doing fine for now but I do worry about my financial future and ability to support myself when I get older. But also, just thinking about it seriously gives me anxiety. I'm also someone who doesn't have to answer to anyone in my personal life so I never really have to worry about working with a loved one on making major financial decisions. I personally suspect if I did, I would probably acquiesce to my partner unless I felt they were more reckless than I in terms of spending. And even then, I have a hard time imagining putting my foot down as that kind of confrontation is something that is difficult for me.

In this episode, Homer has an accident that makes Marge worried about the family's financial future. Homer tries to get life insurance only to discover that due to Homer's medical history he is completely uninsurable. With no financial security, Marge desperately begins scrimping and saving but finds resistance from Homer and his wildly wasteful spending. Soon, Homer begins chaffing at Marge's penny pinching and feels that as the breadwinner, he should get more of a say. As an act of rebellion, Homer decides to buy an RV with the family saving so he can have a space of his own. Soon, Marge and Homer are having a tiff and Homer lives in the motorhome. After Homer angers Marge by inviting an entire RV convoy to spend the night, the two are more at odds than ever. Bart and Lisa try to fix the problem by returning the RV to the dealership by themselves and end up in trouble. Homer and Marge save them from being shipped to Turkey (yeah, that drive took a turn) and the two bury the hatchet.

At this point, there are three kinds of bad Simpsons; hot mess structure Simpson, deeply offensive to my sensibilities Simpsons (this can range from unfortunate race/gender shit to the Simpsons being assholes) and just not very good. This episode is the third; it doesn't offend me and I think there's an interesting foundation but it just doesn't make me laugh very much. Of course, part of it is also it loses the thread of it's interesting idea, which is also a consistent problem that I find similar to my first classification but it does keep with it for a good while to let me know it is interested to an extent, and that does help a bit.

The thing I feel is at the core of the episode gets away from the show for a big set piece ending but I feel that the choice of subject is one I feel comes from a very real place. Money management is a hard thing in a family and while Marge is certainly more in the right, Homer's own frustration are certainly understandable. But the show never really comes to a real conclusion, which is what I feel is a recurring problem with episodes with a strong starting point. Marge's anxiety is completely reasonable but Homer wanting to enjoy their time is relatable (and also the starting point of Marge's problem). It's a shame writer Tim Long can barely come up with a conclusion that contends with these differing viewpoints and desires and instead sidesteps the stuff I personally find the most interesting.

There are even a few more good jokes than episodes I reviewed better, I think,, but as a whole the inability to consistently get them out coupled with a generic conclusion madcap conclusion result in a forgettable affair. Seriously, until I watched the episode, I was drawing a complete blank on this one. And that's really what it feels like, a blank. It's a shame because I do feel like there is a new take on Simpson money woes here that is centered on characters. I just wish it could close the deal on the promise it has.

Other great jokes:

161954.jpg
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The "From Homemaker to Homeless" is also a pretty strong bit.
"You should have thought of that before you married a dead man."

"From what I hear, you waltz in there at 10:30, take a nap on the toilet, then google yourself until lunch."
"Who told you that?"
"YOU SHOUTED IT WHILE WE WERE MAKING LOVE!"

"Dino; short for dinosaur? Remember to Ask Jeeves."

Other notes:

Shame the episode didn't use it's appearance by Cowboy Bob as an excuse to bring back Albert Brooks. Just have him ad lib all his stuff and you got gold, my friend.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Out of everything the HD era did for and to the show, I think the single weirdest change is the decision to make sure that every wall has at least one damp spot on it.

Springfield has a *real* bad mold problem
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Seven-Beer Snitch

Growing up, I was very much scared of authority. But rather than harboring a healthy mistrust, my desire was to please it, assuming that it new what's best for me. I guess that's what happens growing up as a white kid in the 80s and 90s. Now as an adult, I see that just going along with the laws and trusting it is for the best allow the cruel and corrupt to thrive. It isn't a case of a few bad apples, there are deep systematic problems that not only allow the wicked to get away with stuff but encourage those involved to become corrupt.

In this episode, the Simpsons see a play mocking Springfield, resulting in Springfield commissioning a Frank Gehry-designed concert hall to show they aren't hicks. Unfortunately, the concert hall ends up going unused and with an expensive piece of real estate rotting in town, they sell it to Mr. Burns. Burns turns it into a prison and to make sure the prison does good business, they start arresting citizens on trumped up charges. Homer is one of the arrests and after accidentally ratting on a fellow prisoner, Homer is made the prison snitch. He's told it's the only way he'll survive but when he gets rewarded, he soon enjoys the perks. When the fellow prisoners learn he's the snitch, the prisoners tell Homer about a jailbreak when in fact they are planning a riot to kill Homer. Homer ends up running for his life but is eventually saved. With the governor present for the situation, Homer blows the whistle on the prison and Homer and the prisoners are released.

I feel like the show is in a mode right now where it is making a lot of right storytelling decisions but the lackluster jokes and low level of emotional engagement undermine an intellectually competent story. In this case, the episodes themes are largely pretty strong and well presented. The prison system is driven by capitalism and dehumanizes the people within it, allowing for needless cruelty. Homer goes along with a corrupt system because he feels he must, then out of convenience. Homer's arc goes from ratting out some harmless problems and making people's lives worse and doing very little good until he gets to whistle blow and protect them.

Where the episode fails, aside from only having a few strong jokes, is that we don't actually get enough time to have the prisoners be human. I feel like in a lot of the prison movies it gets to parody, we actually get to know the prisoners but very few of them get to be sympathetic. I don't think we need for Snake or Fat Tony to be "good guys" in the story but I think we need to be sold on the idea that no matter who a person is and what their crime is, they still deserve a certain level of human decency. And the only serious snitching we see is on Drederick Tatum. It's good to sell the fact that the act ends in needless cruelty and the rule broken is minor and harmless (his gang tattoo was when he was part of a kid's club of mystery solvers).

It's a shame, because I think the set up heavy first act and a half don't allow us the humanizing of the criminals necessary to really demonstrate how awful the prison system is. Instead, the criminals are some stock players and an army of killers after Homer. I think the episode really does have opinions and uses a lot of it's time to address them but in removing the human factor that isn't Homer from the equation fails to make the whole thing land. One the plus side, Charles Napier once again gets a juicy role as a cruel authority figure (and a different warden than the one he played before). I really do think he deserves more credit for his work in this era, as his presence is always a strong point, even in weaker episodes.

Other great jokes:

"There must be something else. Think Marge, think. Culture. Vulture. Birds of prey. Pray in a church. The father, son and Holy Ghost. Ghosts are scary. Scary rhymes is Gary. THAT'S IT, ARCHITECT FRANK GEHRY!"

"You said I was the 'bestest architect in the world'?"
"Well, aren't you?"

"I'm tired of you positing on alternate realities."

"We've all heard of a laugh riot... But a prison riot?!"

"This red glow is heat from a pack of inmates who are desperately looking for prison snitch Homer Simpson, this red blob, who is trying to hide in the kitchen area. Good luck, blobby!"
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Future-Drama

I can't speak for everyone else but growing up watching movies about high schoolers, it always seemed like dating, parties and getting to be cool. But while characters might struggle with studying and homework, a lot of the movies I grew up with didn't focus on the anxiety about the future. As someone who doesn't like thinking about the future, I remember the uncertainty. I was certain I was going to be a writer (how'd THAT work out for you, ME?!) but I was never a great planner. I am happy with how my life went but I probably could have planned better. It's not the end of the world by any means but planning ahead means more doors are open.

In this episode, Bart and Lisa stumble across Prof. Frink, who's invented a machine to see the future. Bart and Lisa see themselves before graduation where Bart is dating a cool girl named Jenda and Lisa is going to Yale on a scholarship. After the prom, Bart proposes to Jenda but she turns him down when she sees he has no future. Bart ends up taking a job at the Kwik-e-Mart where he ends up making a delivery to Mr. Burns. While at the mansion, Bart foils a robbery and Burns is grateful enough to give Bart a Yale scholarship... Lisa's Yale scholarship. Bart accepts and Lisa is upset. Bart tries to help Lisa by fixing her up with Milhouse. Bart and Jenda get back together and while out, Bart stumbles on Frink's house. He checks the future machine and sees a sad future for Lisa. Bart gives Lisa the scholarship to help her future.

Once again, we have another future episode and another case of diminishing returns. It is another episode that does a decent job about being about something; the anxiety of the future, particularly of romance. It's kind about learning to not settle and even not choosing romance if it means a better future for oneself and you can do OK for yourself. Bart realizes he can't end up with Jenda if it means hurting someone else and we see Lisa is better off alone than with Milhouse (but is that a lesson ANYONE needed?). I like the idea of seeing that while love can be beautiful, there are alternatives that can be for your well-being and there are always other possibilities when things don't go your way.

Of course, it's a message undercut a little perhaps by Lisa needing to go to Yale for a happy ending but I think it's better to focus on getting away from Milhouse, who has clearly been toxic to himself. Still, I get it, as it can be a tricky balancing act in showing there are different paths. And also, it might just speak to me that I like the idea of Lisa's future in a non-conventional path, because she's so awesome, maybe she doesn't need to be a college elite to make the world a better place. It's also an episode that seems to cement that Bart doesn't have much of a future. The episode is about that fear but I feel like we don't get a sense that Bart has a future without stealing it and by the end there's not much of an alternative for him. The character of Bart I envision definitely has a future and like Lisa, I see him as someone finding a path that is an alternative to a "normal" easy path. So maybe some of my issues with the episode is more about me projecting than anything.

Still, I do feel like it is an episode that could be stronger. I don't even think the Homer and Marge split up adds much besides consistent theming. Still, there are things I like. There's some decent jokes and Amy Poehler as Jenda is a good addition. Poehler knows how to play the character and while the character is designed to be "cool" (albeit in a silly way), the show manages to sell the character. In particular, the direction of her looking at Bart as he paints a grim future puts me squarely on her side for splitting up with Bart (making me not like the part where she begins to look like a fair weather GF). Jenda actually returns in Holidays of Future Passed, an episode that's surprisingly good for a future episode and a 2014 episode! So... I guess Bart didn't learn his future lesson?

Other great jokes:

"We can do anything now that scientists invented magic."

"You're brother is so hot."
"Stop telling me that."

I love Jenda having to command the sink.

"Oh yeah, that's the thing he had to do for stealing Christmas."
"Yeah. I miss Christmas."
"I don't."

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'

"And my brain is put in a..."
"Pauper's grave."

Other notes:

Krabappel telling Bart they can both do better is a line that sticks with me in assessing fictional romances. I feel it's the same for Lisa/Milhouse. Yeah, Lisa's great but she somehow brings out the worst Milhouse.
 

Büge

Arm Candy
(she/her)
Today I learned that actor Frank Sivero, who played Carbone in Goodfellas, sued Fox some years ago over likeness rights for the character of Louie (the curly-haired guy who works for Fat Tony). I'm not sure he had any legal standing, since Jonathan Banks is right there.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Don't Fear the Roofer

We are living in a time where it can be more intimidating to meet new people than ever. In a pandemic world where we are trying to keep each other safe, it can be hard to get out there. But even then, as an adult, it always seem trickier to find someone on your wavelength. It's why I value my friendship with JBear so much. I've certainly met people before but it always seems like there's something stopping me. My co-workers are nice but things tend to be more work than friendship focused. When I was teaching in Japan, the other teachers were mostly nice but I never entirely felt like any of us clicked. Probably my best time for making friends was in Korea, where I made some great ones. I was extremely lucky there. But now meeting anyone is intimidating so finding a special someone, be they platonic or romantic, are more valuable than diamond.

In this episode, The Simpsons are having roof troubles that Homer seems unable to solve. Homer becomes a bit unpopular at home for his failure and his attempt to get a sympathetic ear at Moe's goes bad when he accidentally wrecks Lenny's surprise birthday party. Drowning his sorrows in a sports bar, Homer meet Ray Magini, a roofer with whom he gains an instant rapport with. Homer hires Ray but Ray proves unreliable, disappearing at a moment's notice and not showing up. Despite that, Homer gets along very well with Ray, though Marge is increasingly upset at Homer's insistence on waiting for his unreliable friend. One evening, Marge approaches Homer with a terrible realization; Ray isn't real. No one else has seen Ray and evidence points to him not existing. Homer goes through electroconvulsive therapy to cure his sanity but after months of pain, the Simpsons learn that Ray IS real and his apparently non-existence is related to improbable series of events. With everything cleared up, Ray and Homer start hanging out again.

Don't Fear the Roofer is yet another episode about making friends as an adult, which is a topic that speaks to me. I often complain that the series recycles it's ideas without saying anything new but I feel this conceit often gets on my good side. And in the end, I wouldn't call it a GREAT episode, but it is a very "cute" one. I know that's kind of patronizing but I do like it well enough and as someone who likes psychological thrillers, I like that angle, mocking the classic "HE WAS NEVER REAL" twist that so many movies have done. However, by the episode's end, I found it a fun little ride but question what it is saying beyond "new adult friendships are great". The psychological thriller angle certainly adds flavour and fun but very little actual depth.

The thriller angle also leads to the third act which has some good jokes but unfortunately does stigmatize electroconvulsive (formerly known as "electro shock" which sounds both more alarmist AND cooler) therapy. Homer is comically shocked like the cartoon man he is and while I will be quick to admit I don't know a lot about said therapy, it doesn't work like negative reinforcement. As I understand it, it is a lot more complex than "zap out the bad", so if you are sensitive to bad and outdated portrayals of mental health treatment, boy is this not a great episode for you. Also, the show already has a doctor for Calmwood Mental Hospital, so why use Dr. Hibbert? It's a particularly bad look for Homer watching him toil away in the hot sun as one of the show's few black characters. I think I would rather have seen Dr. Foster (of "May God have mercy on us all" fame) in that position rather than using Hibbert in a pan-health capacity to such a degree.

Ray Romano is the guest in the episode and he does a good job. There's not a lot of nuance to him but that's understandable, particularly since his very existence is called into question and he may represent Homer's ideal friend rather than a real person so as to make it plausible he's not real. It does mean we have no reason to want to see this character again but as Romano is doing decent work here, I think he would have fit in with the cast if they wanted to re-use the actor, if purely from a "same vibe" approach. What really impresses me is a small return from Stephen Hawking. His first appearance is pretty funny but some of the jokes felt a little questionable, even it was done in the spirit of "we are all just having fun with Stephen, whom we love." This time I think he's utilized better and there are a couple good jokes from him. But overall, I feel like Ray the character represents the goodness and weakness of the episode; a little bit hollow, but enjoyable enough.

Other great jokes:


"You're looking at the new owner of the Little Caesar's down the street. Pizza pizza. Pizza pizza. Pizza pizza. Pizza pizza. Sorry, the button was stuck."

"6 years planning down the drain!"

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Me if I ever get a soda maker.

"You know, son, my dad used to take me to Johnson's hardware. Old Man Johnson knew everything about fixin' stuff. And when they built this place, he hung himself."

"You kids can relax, your father is fine now."
"Fine and dandy?"
"Well, his dandiness will return in time."

"Hey, no one calls me a monster and questions my existence!"

Other notes:

Wow, if Jay Mohr is buying Krusty jokes, that's a big slam on Jay.

Why... is Marge getting Bart circumcised?
 
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