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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XVIII

Ah, springtime. Is there any scarier season? Yes. Yes, there is.

In this episode, three more spooky (?) Simpsons tales. First, in a parody of ET, Bart meets an alien who claims to want to contact his home planet but in fact is plotting global domination. Bart inadvertently allows the aliens to invade but they are thwarted by the army. In the second tale, a parody of Mr. And Mrs. Smith (the Pitt/Jolie one, not the Hitchcock one), Homer and Marge learn they are each secret assassins and find themselves battling each other. However, they put their plans aside when they realize watching them kill other people is a turn on. And in the final tale, a parody of Christian haunted houses and morality plays, the Springfield kids cause serious trouble with pranks to the point where Flanders try to scare them straight with a pathetic church haunted house. When it fails, Flanders is endowed with demonic powers to truly scare the kids.

This year's episode is a Marc Wilmore script and I feel like several of his scripts, it's a mixed bag, and even the good and the bad are kind of not straying too far from OKish. I'll say that I feel like the stories are all well-paced, which I feel like is a problem with a lot of the later anthologies, which aren't always given the opportunity to do their things.

The first story is OK and there's some fun to be had in Kodos trying to pretend to be good (even if it is very cartoon comedy 101 to have a super clearly evil dude with no one noticing his evil) and the humans being as joyously murderous as the aliens. The second one is story-lite and is more focused on an extended fight that escalates and comedic back and forths between Homer and Marge. Many of the gags feel like pretty basic "husbands don't listen" kind of gags but there are a few funny lines. The last tale is probably the best, if just for feeling different and being grotesquely fun, as well as some pointed jokes about the Christian sense of scaring people straight.

This is another episode where they are clearly straying further afield of "Halloween" and "horror" theming. Considering that the other Halloween episodes tend to get grisly also makes it a bit weird. The most notable is the middle tale, which is an action movie parody and one that is largely comedic at that, so it feels like a weird choice. At least the ET one makes sense since Kang and Kodos are a staple of the Halloween episodes. The last one makes up for it by being the most Halloween and is definitely my favourite of the evening, as well as the nastiest in a way that works. Overall, it's not a bad episode but there's not too much beyond a few great jokes.

Other great jokes:

"Jim Halterman bobblehead doll. He's a local call dealer."
"Are all human necks this weak or just the one you call Jim Halterman."

"Well done, Columbo. That's right, we watch Columbo. We watch it during rainouts of gleep glop games."

"I guess you should judge a book by it's cover."
"Oh, yes, definitely, especially the inside flap. It usually gives you a good idea of what's inside."

"He found the gully where I dump electricity every year to jack up prices."
zWx1Oiw.png


"I feed your fish."
"You overfed them. You're the worst one of all."

"You're about to discover what a life of sin gets you."
"Cool, sin gets you something?"
"I was just in it for the sin."

"I thought I was killed by the magic spaghetti"

"Oh, how I envy the crotchless."

Other notes:
The opening gag is a pretty good reminder of what was big on Fox at the time. Remember Prison Break?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Little Orphan Millie

Sometimes I worry I can be possessive as a friend. I mean, despite pandemic problems, I generally see my bestie and his bestie (its up to him to decide if I'm talking about his SO or his cat) twice a week, and a lot of people our age don't often do that. But I don't have a lot of other people in my life so I value him greatly. Still, I also know that times might change where he doesn't want to see me as often, not out of boredom or dislike but merely that life and situations change and so do friendships and relationships. It's something I want to accept but I also fear growing apart because it's just hard to make friends, especially as a growed-up. Still, I hope this fear and insecurity doesn't cause me to do anything jerky. I think anyone is susceptible to bad choices out of hard to grapple with feelings.

In this episode, Kirk and Luann Van Houten get re-married and go on a second honeymoon while Milhouse stays with the Simpsons. While on a cruise, the Van Houtens fall overboard and are lost at sea. It isn't long before they are presumed dead and Milhouse is overcome with fear and grief. Milhouse realize he's been babied for a lot of his childhood and must become self-reliant. Unintentionally, this changes Milhouse's persona to a cool, melancholy loner who is the most popular kid in school. Soon Bart finds himself in a one-sided contest of popularity that Milhouse isn't trying to participate in. Bart decides if Milhouse is happy he won't be "cool" anymore and calls a distant relative to come give Milhouse love and help him shed his cool veneer. The plan backfires, though, and Bart finds himself having less time with Milhouse, who is spending more time with his cool uncle. Bart realizes he's not interested in "cool" and is more afraid of losing Milhouse. When Milhouse goes away to live with his Uncle. Bart decides to join him on the journey there.

Little Orphan Millie is an episode I have mixed feelings about. It's a fine episode but unlike a lot of my problems with fine episodes, the problem isn't being in the middle of the road. My problems are a lot of the gags don't work and I feel like it only has half of a proper ending. But otherwise, I actually think this is a great episode if this was purely from a character perspective and plotting, because in that regard, I think it's actually a very rich episode that treats perennial loser Milhouse and Bart with compassion. This isn't "Bart acts like a jerk and must undo some damage", it's Bart having one problem and coming to realize his problem isn't what he assumed.

For Bart, it seems like his problem is popularity but soon Bart realizes his fear isn't losing the love of a large group, it's about losing the love of one man. Bart loves Milhouse and the episode is Bart getting the chance to tell his friend that. It can be hard to say to someone for whom love is purely platonic and love is a big, vulnerable word. Bart doesn't want to make Milhouse feel bad and even comes up with solutions to make Milhouse unpopular that will also make him happy. His interference is questionable but he does want to do the right thing and contends with the weird realization that it's not cool to be upset at his friends happiness but he still feels it. I like that the episode is dealing with what seems simple but for Bart is actually more emotionally fraught than he expected.

I feel like in later years, Bart sometimes is too mean to Milhouse as the show becomes more exaggerated (and yet it never bothered me that he sold him out to the FBI that one time) but here the show keeps it lower key in a nice way. It is still a situation where Bart is the dominant of the duo before changing but the focus is only power dynamic on the surface and is really about a very common kid phobia of losing a friend. Seriously, in preschool, a lot of kids freak out if even for a second their friend wants to hang out without them. I wish the ending was better, I feel like it kind of ends. It's halfway there with Bart exposing his vulnerability to Milhouse but then it ends on saving the Van Houtens by accident when I feel the core of the episode should be Milhouse overtly accepting those feelings, even if he were to leave and the two coming to an understanding about their friendship, even if the consequences will come undone because, like, they wouldn't kill Kirk and Luann. I wish it were a funnier episode, too but it does have some laughs to go with it's heart.

Other great jokes:

"If you don't like Mrs. Simpson's cooking, you always have your mommy meals."
"I got 'em."
"Why does every kid who stays with us bring mommy meals? So I put pineapple in my potato salad. Live a little."

"That's not the Milhouse I know."
"Haw haw, you know Milhouse."

OK, this technically isn't a joke but it's pleasing to my eyes.
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FDa4hCE.png


"Shut up, I don't love Milhouse."
"The more you deny it, the more I know it's true."
"Oh yeah, well when you're mean, I'm a trampoline, so everything you said goes back and hits your ugly head."
"HAHA. God, that was lame. Where did you get that?
"FROM MILHOUSE! Oh, I love him so much!"


Other notes:

Like, there are some real eye-rolling gags that feel they weren't workshopped enough, particularly Homer accidentally "turning into" Marge, which is real cornball. Same with Homer naming water-based products.

I feel like Milhouse's uncle was meant for a guest star who wasn't able to make it.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Husbands and Knives

I remember when this episode came out. To me, the meat of it is the fact that three comic creators I was a big fan of made appearances. But interestingly, the main story is about a sense of body shame, which is something I understand. I'm proud that I managed to lose 60 pounds in about a year and a half but I also still feel some shame about my size and shape and basic look. Perhaps I should be proud of my looks but I have a hard time embracing it. I do look in the mirror some times and see the charm but beyond that, it can be difficult to think of myself sometimes and believe someone would want me.

In this episode, Marge, feeling conscious about her weight, decides to try a gym only to find it an alienating and humbling experience. Marge decides to open her own gym for the everywoman. The shop is a hit and Marge begins to expand her business, which is booming, and becomes a respected businesswoman. During a conference for business women, Homer learns most of the other women pushed aside their old husbands after finding success and Homer fears it might happen to him. Homer decides to try to stay handsome for Marge by getting his stomach stapled. It works but leaves him with excess skin and decides to get plastic surgery. After he is put out, Homer awakens to learn Marge has halted his surgery because she loves him the way he is.

Husbands and Knives is doing some interesting stuff but overall is a mildly entertaining episode at best. The first act has some good lines but I feel like even there it has some of the Mad Magazine nameplay (The Mulk? The Thung? Why though? It's funnier if you can just say the original characters.) and a lot of stuff that feels kind of cornball. This is an era where the worst decisions are the comedic and joke building ones, which is pretty damning for a comedy. Now, there are some actual legit good gags but I feel like too much of this is a blander once the fun but inconsequential first act is done. Probably my least favourite stuff is a dumb farce where Homer thinks Marge is discussing replacing Homer and the show doesn't trust us to get it and Homer actually has to explain the premise of the bad bit as its beginning.

It's a shame because I always appreciate it when a show is thematically focused as this one is. The a-plot is very much about self-confidence about the body where we see Marge doing something positive while Homer breaks under the pressure of self-scrutiny and makes a desperate move out of fear. I feel turning the last act into body horror is a good idea because to quote Guillermo del Toro "We are not at peace with our bodies" (he was talking about the films of David Cronenberg). But overall, even with my limited understanding of plastic surgery and stomach stapling, it seems incorrect in a way that does a disservice to its message. I'm not saying "cartoons have to be 100% realistic" but at the same time I feel like a certain level to true specificity would inject something a little more real beyond the feeling and might be more measured and thoughtful about or sense of self-beauty.

Of course, if I was a less responsible reviewer, I'd mostly talk about some amazing comic creators as guest stars. I'm always interested in seeing non-actor guest stars act awkward through line reads or it being obvious it isn't their calling, sometimes giving it charm when they nonetheless go all in. Of the three comic creators, Pulitzer Prize winner Art Speigelman is the one who feels least capable but also does a great job doing the best line. On the other hand, Alan Moore is doing a great job both mocking his famously curmudgeonly demeanor and disdain for the industry, as well as reading his last lines in a goofy superhero voice. Again, clearly not an actor but he's the one swinging hardest for the fences and despite Moore's "over this shit" deal, he cares the most. Dan Clowes, meanwhile, is somewhere in between, again, not a professional but doing really fun work with his pathetic portrayal as a wannabe Batman artist who is stuck doing artistically lauded and complex work. Jack Black is in here two but doesn't get a lot of actual laugh lines, (though he does get to sing Tom Jones in Korean). The comic store stuff feels like this is where the writers are having the most fun and does feel like it has the specificity I want from the a-plot.

Other great jokes:

"That was an imaginary story dreamt by Jimmy Olsen after he was kicked in the head by Supergirl's horse comet."
This is just pandering and I love it.

"What's that? A sound of ignition?"

"Do you know anyone who works at Batman? Because I really wanna draw Batman. I'm awesome at utility belts. This is where the Batman keeps his money, in case he has to take the bus."

BcSBp1f.png

"Which of the babies is your favourite?"

"Maus is in the House!"
Every time I think of the specifics of that heartbreaking and sometimes harrowing comic, the complete disrespect Speigelman is able to show to his deeply confessional comic is fucking hilarious. Though I shouldn't be surprised since he started as one of the "underground" comix writers who began as that era was ending.

"Ooo, L.A.!"
Marge being impressed by words always amuses me.

Other notes:

Like, it really is weird to do the Thung/Mulk thing because, well, they did a whole Tintin bit and specifically put arcade machines with Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution on them. Even in that conversation Jack Black references Galactus.

The Opal thing isn't as bad but it doesn't sit right with me. I don't mind having an Oprah analog but having a specific reference to her personal life... it's not like it bothers me but it doesn't work for me. And "everyone gets a cuckoo clock" is another joke that's just a little too silly as a reference and a replacement for cars.

I love everything about Strawberry.
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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Funeral for a Fiend

Man, remember when Tivo arrived? That was a game changer. I remember specifically buying Tivo for my folks for Christmas because I knew they would love it, particularly my Dad, who isn't a TV guy but IS a tech guy. Interestingly, with my Dad's limited mobility, he's more a TV guy than ever, especially when stuck inside in the day of COVID and staying up quite late. But they both soon saw how cool the device was, allowing them to skip the ads. Of course, cable soon provided their own DVRs and they became unnecessary. But I'll say while Tivo is a little archaic and probably had issues I'm unaware of but I remember it being a lot more slickly designed in the UI than the more conventional ones (at least in Canada). I also suspect the FF stop button is shitty on purpose on DVRs, just so we are forced to watch SOME commercials.

In this episode, the Simpsons go to a restaurant only to find it is yet another trap by Sideshow Bob. Thanks to Lisa's quick wit and Bob's poor judgement, Bob is defeated again and goes to court. However, using his charm, Bob is able to turn everyone against Bart, claiming it was his fault he was driven to crime. During the trial, Bob's parents arrive and Bob's father testifies and casually mentions Bob has a heart condition. When Bart confronts Bob on his manipulation, Bob suddenly pulls out a vial of nitroglycerine and Bart, assuming Bob is going to use it as a weapon steals it and throws it away. However, it turns out this was medicine and Bob collapses and is declared dead. Bart is now persona non grata while the town attends the funeral. After a heart to heart with Bob's brother Cecil, Bart is convinced to at least get some closure by seeing Bob one last time. However, it turns out the entire trial and even the first failed attempt at murder where a build up to a greater plan to kill Bart, fake his own death and escape with his extended family. Lisa unravels the plot before it's too late and the Simpsons and the police thwart Bob's entire family.

Funeral for a Fiend is a fun episode and a decent enough one, even though I can see a ton of faults and wasted potential. Mostly it's kind of about something, the idea that even if your enemy dies and it's not your fault, you can feel bad. But I feel like it's kind of going in several narrative directions at once and doesn't have enough time to be fulfilling in that respect. Bob's plan also has a lot of holes and I know that a comedy (or heck, even a mystery to some extent) doesn't need to have air tight plotting but I feel like even within the show's internal logic, its too many moving parts and not in a self-conscious parodic way. But this isn't the be all and end all, it just feels like it could have done more. I would like to see an episode really dealing with the idea that you can grieve for someone you hate. Or maybe about the nature of PR manipulation. Or maybe the idea that Springfield sees Bart as much of a villain as Bob. But these fun and interesting ideas don't play out too much.

But what we are left with is still good. It's a fun, zippy episode with a surprising number of lines that work for me and some odd little imagery I like (the weird blank stare of "Dr. Chef"). Kelsey is always good in the role and it's nice to have David Hyde Pierce back. John Mahoney's role isn't big but getting him to play Bob's dad after years of playing Fraiser's dad is perfect. I am a little disappointed they didn't cast Jane Leeves or Teri Gilpin as Bob's mom (yeah, it makes it stop being a one-to-one match but I would have loved to continue with as many Fraiser cast members as possible). Still, as always, Tress MacNeille is doing good work. This isn't the Simpsons at it's A-Game but there are a lot of funny jokes and considering many of these reviews have, like, maybe three quotes, this one is a much richer tapestry to draw from. I'll also say that the episode certainly has meta elements but unlike a lot of episodes recently, there isn't as much of a deep slather of irony with characters intentionally act out of character or pointedly tongue-in-cheek corny. It's funny sometimes but I feel like in being overused it puts some strain on the characters.

Like the last episode, we have a first act completely divorced from the main story that's all about something the writer feels like joke about. The first act is all having fun with Tivo, which was a pretty new deal. It's weird how inconsistent the episode is with what they are willing to actually name check, as it could have easily been Teevu or some crap. So That would have bugged me but it just being Tivo makes it seem like Tivo gave them actual money when it could have been a completely made up similar product. There's a decent enough chance this is product placement for the hot new thing, though in that respect, it's not as eye-rolling going through cool stuff and mostly focuses on the one great thing; no more commercials.. It's definitely about unpacking the changing TV landscape where Tivo created a sea change that would extend into streaming but specifically naming it does age the episode a bit (though just being about this cool new thing that is now in everyone's how kind of does the same, I suppose).

Other great jokes:
"I guess I can keep on watching DVDs by watching family vans around. BIG BIRD IN CHINA?! Won't Grover get lonely?! No, wait, he's hanging out with Derek Jeter."

"Will Itchy win again or will something else happen?"

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Why does this motherfucker's weird stare tickle me just right?

"My cousin Maureen saw you flying in business class."
"I WAS UPGRADED AGAINST MY WILL!"

"I'd like to know if Wes Doobner is aware what you're doing in HIS restaurant."
"I'M WES DOOBNER."
"Mr. Doobner, I have a complaint. I work hard and when I go out with my family, I expect a certain level of basic--"
Dan's read on this has a perfect cadence.

"You never asked what we've been up to. I went to the strawberry patch and I picked the MOST strawberries."
Yeardley also does this read well.

"Just call me Slideshow Bob."
"Nobody do it."

I also love Bob not being happy with in naming his first directed feature.

"To what degree was this dementia blown?"
"Full!"

I like the clown car gag of them doing the gag... then looking forlorn.

"That summer when he wanted to tour the castles of Italy, I wanted to tour the Castles of France. So we went to Spain, a compromise that satisfied no one."

I like Milhouse clarifying "Bart *Simpson*?" when Marge asks about Bart. It's a dumb little moment I like.

I like Homer just going "uh huh" to Lisa's exposition, then revealing he's been circling the block for 10 minutes.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
The more it keeps happening, the more uncomfortable I am with this one town being out for Bart's blood all the time. I know this is a cartoon but that can't be good for the mental health of a(n eternally) 10-year-old boy.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The more it keeps happening, the more uncomfortable I am with this one town being out for Bart's blood all the time. I know this is a cartoon but that can't be good for the mental health of a(n eternally) 10-year-old boy.
The Boys of Bummer is explicitly about that and about how much the town sucks and how they can be awesome if they work towards a non-shitty goal.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind

I'm always afraid of what I am capable of. I work with kids and while I certainly don't plan to hurt anyone, I often have that fear of what if one day my judgment is lacking and I do something or say something I can't take back. What if I just stopped listen to the part of the brain with empathy and just did something I couldn't forgive myself for. Its definitely a thought I've had more than once and it sometimes gives me the shivers to know I am in a place to do something bad. I even have dreams where I do something truly wrong and wake up feeling the shame of mere imagination.

In this episode, Homer wakes up after what he assumes is a normal night of drinking and comes home to find the house empty except for Santa's Little Helper, who is threatening Homer. Confused, Homer arrives at Moe's Tavern for some answers and learns he had Moe give him a drink that erases the previous day's memories. Homer sees Wiggum and a truncated memory of Wiggum enquiry of Wiggum questioning Homer about Marge's black eye. Homer is horrified that he may have hurt Marge and follows the clues to try to sort things out but the fuzzy memories paint a damning picture. Homer asks for Grandpa's advice for memory loss and he directs him to Prof. Frink who has a machine to allow him to explore his memories. Homer travels through his own mind with the help of an imaginary Bart and Lisa. The memories get even worse, making it seem like Homer hit Marge after finding her with Duffman. Homer is in despair and tries to commit suicide but during his plummet, he remembers what actually happened; he found Marge organizing a surprise party with Duffman and after Homer tries to open a "Duff champagne" bottle, Marge is hit in the eye with the cork. Homer ends up landing on a boat where the surprise party is being held and Homer learns he erased his memory to erase the surprise party.

Eternal Moonshine is not the strongest episode but it does have stuff going for it. It's directed by Chuck Sheetz, and he and the animation team definitely are trying to do some interesting and somewhat ambitious things, particularly in Homer's mind palace. It's an interestingly structured episode and while the title correctly implies a parody of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it's more using that as a loose jumping off point to have Homer do some self-exploration. And while it puts itself on potentially thin ice with the sensitive subject matter of domestic abuse, I do like the idea of really having Homer question what he's capable of and the possibility of going beyond what is acceptable for himself and the audience, even by Homer's standards.

I do wish more energy was invested in that and maybe gave it a bit more emotional weight rather than being a style exercise. Still, its an episode that does have some striking visuals and interesting ideas. It could easily have been a Futurama episode or a Halloween tale but I feel like despite the sci-fi element, I feel like it's a heightened version of who memory is often expressed even in non-speculative fiction where there's a focus on style. The picture a day Homer is mostly a parody of a popular youtube video using what sounds like the Philip Glass score from the Truman Show but it all the same it is kind of an engaging moment in the show and Homer shattering a memory as a gag somehow hits me not as comedy but as interesting sci-fi idea (and also an excuse to erase that one weird first kiss retcon).

My other major complaint reminds me of Neil Gaiman talking about his issue with a formula employed by many children's books. It goes something like this; someone thinks his birthday is forgotten, it turns out it isn't, happily ever after. Homer goes on an emotional journey but in the physical plain, he doesn't have to do anything to fix anything. Granted, it's OK for something purely to be a problem of the mind and morals but "it was all a wacky misunderstanding' is such a hokey sitcom plot, I'd rather it be clever instead of trying to be clever about obfuscating what is obviously going to turn out to be "there was no real problem". Obviously, I don't want it to go as far as Homer did do something he'll never forgive himself for but I'm more interested in seeing him wrestle with that (and maybe come up with a better idea than suicide... which kind of DOES solve is problem, weirdly) than unravelling a misunderstanding. Or if he is going to unravel a misunderstanding, make it feel a little more intense before sending us to the safety net, so we come away with some insight into Homer and he to himself.

Other great jokes:

"Hey boy, do you know where the family is? Show me on MapQuest."

"If only these walls could talk... then people would pay to see may amazing talking walls and I could pay to--"

"Someone like Bart, only smart... LISA!"

Other notes:

Between Tivo and an extended Scrat joke (remember Scrat? From Ice Age?), it feels like Simpsons is getting into some more invasive product placement.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
E. Pluribus Wiggum

It was a cliche that people want a "political outsider to shake things up" and after the 2016 election, it was a shock to actually see one. Of course, it was a case where the "outsider" was someone dedicated to cementing and exacerbating the worst systematic problems and generally make the world a worse place. There are people who within politics who do want to fight against this and while many aren't without flaws or have made mistakes, a lot of the best find themselves opposed by notable members of their own party who hold onto some pretty ill-advised traditions that don't help anyone. We need someone willing to understand politics but also willing to go against the grain for real moral reasons but it's hard to push them forward when there are forces, usually capitalist, dedicated to stopping a real candidate from happening.

In this episode, Springfield's fast food district is destroyed in an accident, the town is quick to want to rebuild. To do that, they need a bond issue and end up moving up the electoral timeline, meaning Springfield is the first to vote in the presidential primaries. At first, Springfield loves the attention but soon become tired of pandering politicians and predatory journalists. As an act of defiance, Homer encourages everyone he can to vote for the most ridiculous possible choice; Ralph Wiggum. Lisa is horrified to see Ralph being taken seriously as a candidate and saddened to see Ralph overwhelmed with attention he clearly doesn't understand. Ralph is courted by both the Democrats and Republicans and Lisa tries to protect Ralph... only to find Ralph wants to try to use his situation to institute change. Surprisingly, Lisa sees Ralph as someone who could be good for the nation with a pure heart. Soon, the Democrats and Republicans create a joint party that Ralph is leading.

Oof. This... is an often funny episode with a last act with a message that seems extremely ill-conceived in retrospect. After four years of a childish leader with no understanding of how governance works with the promise from the stupid that he's somehow be incorruptible and not caught up in the usual nonsense. I think I know what the episode wanted to say; after seeing all sorts of weird candidates getting seriously considered, what if one of those weirdos was pure of heart and could unyielding. I feel it's a story we've seen before in comedy where a complete fool with a heart of gold has something that does inspire goodness in others. But I feel like even in 2008, it wasn't a great message to have someone with little understanding of power in a position of power. Lisa seeing the good in Ralph's nonsense speech reads incredibly hollow and false and dumb after 20 minutes of some fairly run-of-the-mill political commentary.

It's clear they wanted to have an episode to come out in time for the start of the political season, the forever election that never seems to end. And it is very much of it's era politically, even if some of the broader comments (Republicans evil, Democrats seem determined to lose), hasn't changed much. But overall, it feels like it is echoing the mindset of the era, a frustration with 8 years of the Bush administration's wars and the fact that the election cycles seem never ending (I mean, that's still a problem). It's really about echoing the weariness of ever-present campaigning and the inanity of the media. It should be no surprise that Jon Stewart has a guest spot since that's what the Daily Show in that era was entirely about, not just shitty politics but the media's terrible takes and the ridiculousness of the performative media-savvy side to it all.

Some of the jokes work, some don't and most of the former is less about trenchant political commentary and more silliness. Frankly, for commentary, the best is more Homer is America where he thoughtlessly burns down the fast food district after glutting himself on everything in site while Hungry Like the World plays. Not subtle by any means but it is the most memorable moment to be sure. It's usually better when it is about being silly, such as Marge being WAY too worried over a car dealership having "too much inventory". When it tries to be comment, it's a little less interesting since it doesn't seem like it is saying anything particularly profound about our wacky political world.

Other great jokes:

The entire opening bit is really solid with Homer making his "hostage" dance like a happy prospector.

"Empty apartment, here I come!"
I hear ya, Carl.

"Dispose of properl-- oh, this book is too hard."

"What, I'm not allowed to get one right?"

"Hey, Krusty, I haven't seen you since you bailed on that benefit."
"Yeah, well, I really didn't believe in the cause."
"Well, Krusty's Kids really missed you,"

"I'm going to try to remember you the way you used to be."
"But I've always been terrible."

"Haw haw, your medium is dying."
"Nelson!"
"But it is."
"There's being right and there's being nice."

Other notes:
I mean, no one comments on the couch gags anymore but I did find the medieval tapestry one pretty good.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
That '90s Show

Oh, the sliding timeline, friend to comic books and cartoon shows alike. In the DC Universe, they often solve this by rebooting the ENTIRE UNIVERSE while in the Marvel Universe, that only happens once or twice and instead gives some wild cosmic explanations where it happens but characters cannot conceive the eras. But for a non-speculative fiction-based show like the Simpsons that is a comedy, you need to treat it all like a joke. After all, the show's continuity is already flexible, firm enough to have some touchstones and soft enough that you can have fun with it and let things go for a gag. Sometimes it takes the risk of making an entire episode about retcons that make little logical sense in a larger picture. In all honesty, there shouldn't be a problem considering how non-serialized it is but it gets less interesting when the episodes do and you wonder why they bothered.

In this episode, Homer and Marge share a piece of their history when Marge briefly went to college. To support Marge, Homer gets a job and puts his musical dreams on the backburner. At college, Marge meets a history profession and finds his eye-opening ideas attractive and is soon attracted to him as well. Prof. August is attracted to her and begins manipulating Marge into resenting Homer. Homer realizes Marge's attraction to August and his negative feelings turn his band into a new genre; grunge. Homer and Marge break up and Homer finds big success as an alt rocker. Marge eventually realizes she doesn't like the way August talks down to her and leaves him. Meanwhile, Homer finds his success unfulfilling and breaks up the band hold up in his new house. Marge and Homer reunite and get back together again.

I remember @Tegan warning me about this episode and I agree I think it's corny and not very good but I will say there are actually things that could work on a character level. For one, the idea of paying for someone else's education presents an interesting emotional dilemma if someone sacrifices a lot of blood, sweat and tears only to find that someone else's personal growth might be creating a rift. It would be easy to make Homer a bitter jerk about it and bitter he is but it never gets too ugly about it, thankfully. I think a certain level of resentment would be understandable in Homer's situation and finding an outlet in music is one of the less dickish ways Homer has dealt with this kind of stuff. The resolution is pretty simple; Marge quits university because a professor was shitty. Wait, doesn't Homer have money left from rock to put Marge through at least another term? Whatever, no one brings it up and they never actually have to deal with the harder solution of how to deal with those weird conflicting feelings.

The main antagonist is Professor Stefon August, a character who has aged both very well and very bad to me. He is there is make fun of people who may try to take advantage of a mentor role to manipulate young women. He's a "nice guy" who wants to be progressive but uses it as a method to turn heads. But my problem is it conflates this real kind of creep with a larger archetype of "liberal intellectual who is constantly deconstructing everything because everything means something bad to them". Ironically, it also feels like a very '90s complaint about political correctness where people are throwing up their hands saying "can you believe these people who want to change language and get upset about stuff?" The character when he's a condescending ass but when he's also a sensitive feeb with dumb ideas. I feel like when the show is clearly mocking him for suggesting "bushmen maybe came up with penicillin", it feels similar to some shitty anti-indigenous diatribe I've heard on why white people coming to North America was good for them actually. He's a guy who needs whale song to comfort him after breaking down watching a football game. The two commentaries clash in a way that hurts it and just doesn't work.

As you might imagine, this is also an episode with a LOT of jokes about the '90s. Maybe it's because I lived through it or because it is just not that great an episode but I don't care for a lot of it. I mean, it's also worse when it is doing some obvious dumb jokes like the Back to the Future reference, and a character saying "this thing that will happen will NEVER happen DRAMATIC IRONY". There are more specific reference that I won't say make me laugh but work a little better. After all, specificity is the soul of narrative. And I've seen worse "THIS IS THE ERA WE ARE IN NOW" jokes from this show but it's understandable why this one can make eyes roll. As for me, I had no particularly strong feelings about it despite my complaints and mostly rolled my eyes at "look at this liberal prof actually working so hard to ASK FOR CONSENT" shit the episode expects me to roll my eyes at for the opposite reason.

Other great jokes:

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"He who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life."
I love how Al guests and they clearly made it the most unfocused parody song.

"You're about to get your PhD; pound head down!"
I love Professor Moose.

The joke about Marge getting rid of Homer's "narcotics" is because it waits through a quick emotional montage before the reveal.

Other notes:

The show does take into account that Marge and Homer not being around 28-31 makes no sense.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Love, Springfeldian Style

I've never been lucky enough to find love that wasn't platonic. I have no shortage or love and affection, especially in my work where kids are pretty quick to share hugs (and demands to play), but my life is one without romance. I think its something I want but I've never had strong urges to actively seek it out and anytime I thought I might see someone I'm interested in, they are already with someone (and even then, those feelings were only inklings I hadn't had the opportunity to nurture or even understand). I know love knows no age but sometimes I feel like it might be too late for me. But I love tales of romance and people finding each other or evolving their love.

In this episode, Homer and Marge get stuck in the Tunnel of Love at the carnival and to pass the time Homer, Marge and Bart share three tales of romance. First Homer tells the tale of Bonnie and Clyde (a parody of the famous film as well as historical events), where Clyde (Homer) realizes Bonnie (Marge) is turned on by mayhem and violence and fuel their romance with crime before getting killed by the police. Then Marge retells Disney's Lady and the Tramp with Marge and Homer as the title characters. Homer and Marge fall in love but then Homer splits when Marge gets pregnant. After the children are born, they look for their father only to get caught by the dog catcher. Homer saves the kids and reunites with Marge. In the last tale, Bart tells the loose version of the tale of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, based on Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy, with Nelson and Lisa in the title roles. Nancy is a straight-laced girl drawn in by the uncompromised punk music of Sid Vicious, the bassist for the iconic punk band the Sex Pistols. Nancy thinks she can get in with Sid by using an illegal product musicians like... chocolate. Soon the two become addicts and their toxic relationship and habits disrupt the band. They try leaving the band and end up being ejected from the punk scene for their less-than-punk sound.

This episode isn't bad, which I'm grateful for since it is written by Don Payne, who I found to be one of the show's lesser writers, despite being somewhat prolific on the show. Like, not even the worst, just averaging around a 6 out of 10 in quality. The first tale is pretty fun if a bit standard, with a few good Homer lines and having fun with the idea these clearly terrible people are folk heroes. The last image is kind of weird with Homer and Marge having a conversation while being riddled with bullets while being drawn in a stylistic style to emphasize the dynamism that I think is cool.

The second is my least favourite. I just don't care for the jokes which relies a lot on "they're dogs, get it?" There is a musical number that while I appreciate that I don't think it's actually specifically based on any of the Lady and the Tramp songs, is pretty good as a spiritual parody of the tunes of the Disney films at the time. But again, they are jokes that don't really work for me.

The last one is definitely my favourite, easily the strongest. I'll admit, I'm not a punk expert but I find the era and music interesting, a sort of musical rejection of the mainstream that would eventually get partially subsumed by it. Of course, even mainstream success can't completely derail the punk spirit. Yes, we have Johnny Rotten selling butter.


And I'm not going to even throw shade on him on it (selling out, as a complaint, doesn't really hold too much water for me) but it does dilute that spirit. But then we have Chumbawumba, a punk band that produced an overplayed radio hit and used it to tell people to shoplift their album from Wal-Mart and saying "Nothing can change the fact that we like it when cops get killed." and not backing down. That's fucking punk. I know enough to know how ridiculously loose this retelling is (and downplaying that their fucked up relationship had domestic abuse in it) but compartmentalizing how it treats a real event, it's a fun love letter by someone who either loves or at least is very fascinated by punk and the Sex Pistols, a band that were far more of a mood and an idea than a talent. I feel like this is the one that consistently has the best jokes and while the middle segment tries to be well directed, this is the one I appreciate more. I also think it's interesting that I think Nancy Cartwright doing a British accent as Nelson works better than her doing one as Bart, at least in this segment. She kills it in this outing.

Other great jokes:

"It'll be just like the time we lost them at the mall. That was the best Christmas ever."

"Why are you shooting at us? We cooperated fully!"
"It's a sex thing!"
"Say no more."

"A nation crippled by unemployment and bored by Seabiscuit..."

"Cool, now we're shooting the birds that are pecking at the bodies."

"When I hired a guy named Sid Vicious, I thought it would be a thirty year business relationship."
"I told you to hire Tom Responsible."

"Dangit, I wanted to hear what else was bollocks."

Potion of Emotion is one of those songs where a writer is having a ball writing an intentionally shitty song.

"This song doesn't make me feel angry at all."
"If anything it makes my anger ebb."
*mohawk droops to the sound of a slide whistle*

"You're music violates everything punk stands for, which is nothing."

Other notes:

This is the second time Luigi is used in the same role in parodying that one scene from Lady and the Tramp. It was done better there.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Debarted

I remember watching the Departed a year or so after it came out and enjoying it. Some audiences seem to find it a little overblown but Martin Scorsese does sometimes like to go broad and I rarely mind, even if the last shot of the film is pretty easy to mock. But I've also seen Infernal Affairs, which is a much leaner film from my recollection and in all honesty, I like the ending better. Infernal Affairs is the Hong Kong film the Departed was based on and actually has two sequels. The common theme between them is the blurred moral line between the law and the mob and how there turns out to no honor between thieves nor cops.

In this episode, Bart finds himself being outshined by a new student named Donnie, a tough kid who is witty and willing to make trouble. Bart decides to assert his dominance in the school by pranking Skinner and when Skinner tries to find out who pranked him, Donnie willingly takes the punishment for Bart. Bart and Donnie become fast friends but what Bart doesn't know is Bart is a spy on behalf of Skinner so he can get the better of Bart. Groundskeeper Willie reveals Bart has a spy in his camp and eventually Bart figures out it's Donnie. Donnie reveals he was an orphan and he only joined forces with Skinner to have somewhere to go. But when Bart attempts to punish Donnie by putting him at the epicenter of his prank on Skinner, Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers catch him, revealing their plan involved Willie putting doubts in Bart's mind to maneuver him into getting caught. However, Donnie can't bring himself to betray Bart and saves him from Skinner's wrath.

This era of the show feels like it is much more invested in doing parodies of recent things. This, of course, threatens it's timelessness but I guess when you KNOW you are out of the Golden Age, you can feel free to do whatever you feel tickles your fancy. Still, I do remember that in a season or two from now we have an episode where a joke is Itchy and Scratchy is wall to wall movie parodies from the previous year and Krusty pointedly notes that animation takes a long time and it's dumb of them to do the hottest thing as a focal point of parody before yet another one pops up. But as an episode following this path, the Debarted isn't particularly egregious.

The problem I have when a lot of the times the show does it, often in Halloween specials, is sometimes it's more interested in hitting recognizable plot points than being in anyway cohesive. Some of the worst examples are the most recent, including the Stranger Things and Russian Doll parodies. The Russian Doll one even comes with a conclusion that makes zero sense in any respect. This one feels like it isn't trying to copy it and only has a few specific touchstones to the titular movie in ways that aren't painful to watch. And Topher Grace is in it, doing good work.

It's not bad but it is a bit hollow and there are easy holes to poke into it, if that's you're thing. Like... where is Donnie staying? I feel like that's interesting if he's sleeping at Skinner's house and could have been a reveal. And... where does he go now? Is he just getting sent back to the orphanage? And why can't Skinner and Chalmers get Bart in trouble anymore? Seems like they caught him red handed. There's a lot that doesn't really hold together here. Also, Homer's b-plot with the loner car is pretty forgettable. But there are a few good jokes and the episode does have at least a cursory interesting in adding a bit of suspense, though the show is capable of doing better. So not particularly strong, but enjoyable enough.

Other great jokes:

"Great, I fouled out. Now can I go?"
"Nope. I grant you five more fouls!"

"The rat represents obviousness."

Other notes:
So... was Marge involved in a hit and run? Also, I guess Cletus just relieved himself on Milhouse.

How did Bart afford so much Diet Coke and Mentos. HE'S 10!
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Dial 'N' for Nerder

There are some pop culture touchstones I know I should be more into. I know I would love them if I took the time but ironically, sometimes goodness makes me hesitate. "Am I in the right mood to fully appreciate this? Do I want to watch it with friends? Should I be saving it for a better time?" It's weird how sometimes the promise quality makes me hesitate. I think it's because I have a policy of "save the best for last". It's good for a meal or if I'm watching a bunch of stuff but it also means putting so much good stuff on the backburner so I have a bank of good stuff means I'm denying myself good stuff in favour of mediocrity. What I'm saying is I need to make time for watching all of Columbo some time. I've only seen an episode or two but it's a delight.

In this episode, Bart pranks Martin but it goes awry and Martin seemingly falls off a cliff in the Springfield National Park. Bart freaks out and runs home and at first Lisa wants to go to an adult but when the news confirms Martin's death, Lisa becomes afraid her future will be ruined. The two decide to keep mum but the guilt slowly drives Bart crazy. Meanwhile, Nelson becomes suspicious of the nature of Martin's death and decides to investigate, Nelson gets closer to the truth, causing Bart and Lisa to freak out more. When Bart learns of an unfinished project by Martin, he decides to complete it but a poorly worded letter leads Lisa to believe he is committing suicide. Together, the two talk as mysterious music from an unknown source push them to the brink and Lisa confesses. This is caught on tape by Nelson, who was playing the music, but all three as surprised to discover that Martin is alive, only now having gotten home from his near death in the woods and forgiving of his friends who now contend with some truths about himself.

While certainly not top tier, Dial 'N' for Nerder was one of the most fun episodes in quite a while. There is a message and a theme, that Lisa faces the fact that fear can push her to some abhorrent behaviour, and I wouldn't have minded a little more examination but this is a pulpy episode so I really don't mind them just funnin' around. If anything, my one complaint is not ENOUGH Nelson as Columbo. Now, there are reasons to think differently since I'm pretty sure in Columbo we are almost exclusively following the villain and Columbo keeps popping in but here Nelson only pops in twice and one is at the end. I wish they did it in three and ratcheted up the mock tension a bit for the characters.

All the same, it is a really fun episode with some decent laughs. And again, I like the idea that even a moral character like Lisa can be twisted by fear. Trust me, I'm a guy with fear of conflict. Anytime anyone above my station addresses me directly I have an involuntary internal cringe. Often, the show just has Lisa be the voice of reason or, sometimes even worse, wants to take her down a peg for being socially conscious, so I always appreciate it when it reminds us Lisa is just a kid AND that she can be vulnerable to error and bad decisions as anyone else. Bart's side is a little less interesting, more playing the squirrelly guy who can't keep it together. But man, I would love if they just did more Nelson as Columbo episodes.

The b-plot is pretty standard on the surface but I feel like is going hard for it, including a grotesque scene in which Homer is making out with a souvlaki rotator full of meat. Homer cheating on his diet is eye rollingly basic but the fact that I eat bell peppers like him does speak to me. The parody of Cheaters clearly comes from a place of disgust and I do like the reminder that these people are gross vampires making entertainment out of misery. So I like elements of it to be sure but mostly it's just, at best, serviceable filler. But it also robbed us of more Detective Nelson. Which is sad.

Other great jokes:

"I've tried everything except talking to him. Help me, TV show!"

"Chief, aren't we supposed to be notifying the family first?"
"What do you think I'm doing right now."

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"Martin was a shy awkward child who will never live up to his promise to become a weird, unloved adult."

I love the visual of Nelson deep in thought as other bullies wail on him.

"That's enough burnin' ants. Time to investigate."

"Congratulations on purchasing the Sanyo DL30, the finest non-reversing tape-player--"
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Smoke on the Daughter

I grew up with the smell of cigarette smoke. My dad was a smoker. He never smoked indoors to my memory and mostly was careful about where he smoked but I remember him going outside to smoke and I low key enjoying the smell. Despite this, I was never interested in smoking. Say what you will about the heavy handed anti-smoking media, it left an impression on me. Eventually, dad quit smoking after he had to go to the hospital for over a month where he got to quit smoking and kept it up for his health. Due to his MS, he did begin drinking in the evening a bit more to help cope with his pain, though marijuana has also helped with that. But it was weird to see that my father had finally given up his habit, something he enjoyed on summer nights in the backyard. I'm happy for him and his strength but I still have a tinge of nostalgia for it.

In this episode, Marge joins a ballet school and finds herself unable to keep up with it. However, the teacher sees Lisa has naturally perfect posture and invites Lisa to join the school. Marge clearly wants Lisa to join, so she does but finds it difficult to keep up. She asks how the other dancers do it and they reveal they all smoke. Lisa refuses to smoke but manages to get relief from the second hand smoke from the other girls. When Homer discovers the truth he is angry... but can't bring himself to make Lisa quit seeing how much it means to Marge. He gives Lisa one more chance and when she smokes again, he and Bart remove all the dancers cigarettes during a recital of Sleeping Beauty. All the dancers go mad during the play from a hunger for smoke and Lisa stands up to denounce the practice of... ballet, which drove the girls to smoke to begin with.

Smoke on the Daughter is the only episode written singularly by Billy Kimball, usually a Ian Maxtone-Graham collaborator. It's a pretty straightforward story with a standard sitcom plot. A parent learning NOT to live a childhood dream through their child is as old as time and the Simpsons have mocked this even more than they've done it, as they might anti-smoking episodes. I should say this doesn't make for a bad episode, simply an episode of acceptable quality, with a couple decent gags and with very little to cause overt eye-rolling, even when participating in an old sitcomy plot.

One thing I did like was the last minute turn to make it an anti-ballet episode. I do kind of wish they got to focus on the problems of ballet, an art that is truly beautiful but at a great cost to the health and well-being of the performers, certainly more than other forms of dancing. At the same time, I also appreciate that the problems ARE largely there, such as an abusive teacher, overwhelming pressure and even a little bit on the pain of it while not hinting too strongly at the end gag. The smoking really is a symptom of a bigger problem. It's a shame that clever idea's build up is merely "eh, OK."

There's also a b-plot involving jerky that, again, I kind of wish that the writers took the time to focus more on the a-plot. I understand a b-plot is great to change the tempo of an episode but you can use that to focus on Marge's faults or really dig into what dancing entails, focusing on Lisa's joy at her success where she and the audience can continue to miss the kind of body horror that is ballet. Instead, someone just thought it would be funny to draw the Simpsons as raccoons. The only part I really like is Homer and Bart trying to give a terrible power point.

Other great jokes:

I like Bart spoiling which celebrity is speaking out against teen literacy.

"And the first lady agreed to sit on the egg, until it hatches."
That's some good non-sequitur.

"There were so many thing I wanted to do in life that I never had a chance to do:
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"Martha Graham danced well into her 70s."
"You mean she danced well into her 70s or she danced well into her 70s."
"Well, she danced into her 70s."

"Someday I'll be watching my little Marge dancing at Lincoln Center."
"My name's Lisa."
"That's right, Lisa the dancing Marge girl."

Homer shooting that cigarette feels like a heavy handed joke I should not care about but something about it works for me.

Other notes:

I feel like the writers were happy with Chazz Bubsy but while I think the shtick is cute-ish where he constantly references his own shows, it doesn't work for me.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Papa Don't Leech

It's always a gamble to bring back the one off guest stars in this show, particularly from the Golden Age. Bringing back Herb Powell works great and it's a shame for whatever reason Danny DeVito seemed not to enjoy doing it because his character is great. Alternatively, as much as I love Albert Brooks, I actually appreciate his characters never returning, because while having more Hank Scorpio sounds great, I can't imagine topping or even equaling his first appearance. Laureen was a great character, too, one of the women who were really into Homer and the show managed to sell her infatuation due to Homer being kind and selfless to her and generally showing his best and genuinely sweetest qualities. Does bringing back such a charming character work for a second time.

In this episode, Springfield is in dire financial straights, forcing them to hunt down uncollected tax within the city, including that of fallen country star Lurleen Lumpkin, whom Homer once represented as a manager at risk to his own marriage. Lurleen asks Homer for sanctuary, which Marge reluctantly agrees to when she realizes she's homeless. After being arrested and being forced to pay $100 a week, she finds she can only find the most dire of jobs. As the Simpsons wonder why things are so rough for Lurleen, they learn she has lost her money her questionable ex-husbands and her romantic decisions might stem from her deadbeat dad. Marge decides to try to heal Lurleen by hunting down her dad in the hopes they can reconcile. Her plan seemingly works and the two get together, inspiring Lurleen to play music again. However, one night her father disappears and the Simpsons learn Lurleen's crackerjack new heartfelt song was stolen by her dad and sold to the Dixie Chicks with new lyrics. Lurleen falls into a depression but Homer and Marge inspire her to get confidence from within and confront her father in front of the Chicks. Lurleen's dad is ousted and Lurleen joins them on tour.

Papa Don't Leech is an episode with some good stuff in it but by the final accounting, I feel like the minuses outweigh the plusses. On the negative, I feel like it's weird to make the proclamation that Lurleen hates men because she turns down two guys. It's a stupid narrative showcase to show Lurleen's perception of men has been warped by being abandoned as a kid. In the abstract, this idea works within the framework of her previous episode. Not that we needed an origin for it but Lurleen was clearly a person lacking in self-esteem which is clearly a big reason she clung so close to Homer. And I like that if this character is going to has an evolution, that while Homer helped her, she has the power within her to forge her own destiny.

As for Lurleen's pappy, Royce, there's not too much going on there but that's fine. The point is it hurts to be betrayed by someone who is supposed to love you and there are people who, as much as you want them to turn it around, won't. Maybe even if they desire too, they may not have the will or inner strength to do the right thing and Lurleen needs to be able to overcome the hurt and just give them the boot. I think there are a lot of not bad ideas for the character and while I maintain this is an episode that didn't need to happen, it is at least more humane to her than the various minor gags where her life is ruined by fame. It's not a strong episode but it's one that I think makes some decisions I appreciate, which considering where the show will go, I'm thankful for.

I will say, Beverly D'Angelo continues to kill it in the role of Lurleen, a character who remains charming throughout the episode. She's also a great singer, making me wish the songs in the episode were better. The big song is just a dumb rhyming game that feels like they were doing some b-grade improv in the writer's room and her other smaller song also lacks the charm of the original Lurleen episode, always the risk in a sequel episode. The Dixie Chicks (for wise reasons, now simply The Chicks) are playing with the public image following criticizing then President Bush in a prolonged gag that feels "remember when that happened" (though for them, it was probably incredibly defining considering it altered their career). Like a lot of musicians on the show, they aren't natural actresses, but there is a charm and a gameness that also seems to come with many musical guests.

Other great jokes:

"She has been missing for several years after her career went into a downward spiral."
"I told her not to get into one of those."

"Chief are you OK?"
"Ugh, yeah, yeah."
"Why'd you jump off the roof."
"I JUST WANTED TO BE EXTRAORDINARY."
Despite representing everything wrong with the police, sometimes I relate to Wiggum.

"She turned down Lenny AND Carl?!"

"She must be 12, 13 by now?"
"She's 34, and she's having a rough time."
"Oh, man, I better whisky up these Corn Flakes."
"She needs to see you right away."
"Oh, man, I better heroin up this orange juice."

Other notes:
Man, even for a dream sequence that opening gag where Homer kills grandpa is mean-spirited. The show claimed to have stepped away from jerk-ass Homer at this point but Jesus Christ.

Quimby "threatening" to allow the girl scouts gay scoutleaders and Lisa being like "yeah, cool" feels a lot like online conservative scare hypotheticals that keep ending with "don't threaten me with a good time."

"You think a house of crazy people would be fun. It's actually really depressing."
I don't find it funny but this line does stick with me for some reason. Reminder that if the wacky shit that happened on TV happened to us, it would suck way more than fictional characters let on."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Apocalypse Cow

While I certainly have no intention to stop eating meat, I can't deny that how we get it is horrifyingly cruel. It's more than just how the animals die, it's how they are forced to live, being horrendously shaped to fit our hunger and trapped in crowded pens. There's no question that people combat it and that's great but as long as humans are... human, any shortcut that can hurt animals can be used if it makes it easy to make money. Yes, fingers should be wagged at the rich jerks but the fact is in capitalism and in human nature in general, anything that can be exploited will be until it is finished.

In this episode, Bart joins the 4-H Club due to his want of driving a tractor. His big project is to raise a calf into a big strong cow and after getting the runt of the litter, Bart builds it up with love. However, when his cow, Lou, wins a contest, he realizes that his cow is scheduled to be slaughtered for meat. Bart can't stand it and enlists Lisa to free his cow and the two decide to hide it with Mary, a young girl who works on the farm. Mary, who is Cletus' daughter, wants to help but Bart offering the cow is an offer of marriage to the hill-folk, Bart decides to go along with it until the Simpsons can get Lou somewhere safe. Eventually, Apu helps get the cow sent to India when Homer takes Lou's place to not arouse suspicion. Homer almost dies to the slaughterhouse's automated system but manages to escape and vows never to eat... one kind of meat again.

Apocalypse Cow is a pretty damned middling episode and I feel like the ending moment which is bizarrely saccharine and cutesy really brings home that this is definitely an off Simpsons. Probably the weakest run of it is the Spuckler family stuff, which continues a very old fashioned "look at these yokels" thing that doesn't work well for me at all. It also feels like an unnecessary detour from the more interesting main theme of the story, the absolute horror of were our meat comes from.

I don't like the episode but I don't fault it's intent and even the idea of how it is presenting them. The first act feels a little more like a Disney or Pixar movie, a lot of visual language in the montage and jokes that aren't laugh out loud hilarious but are kind of warm and show the growth between Bart and his cow, drawn for maximum "d'awwwwww"ness. And in respect to that kind of construction, director Nancy Kruse is doing real decent work here. I wish it continued to the "laughterhouse" sequence, which isn't bad per se, but actually could have standed to go longer and afforded to be a little more upsetting to really drive it's point home.

Because I do think while this is a weak episode, it's one with a point of view. Heavy handed maybe, but not nearly as eye-rolling to me as "this is what's going on in the news now, a year ago." And it's a timeless one so even though it's not exactly a subtle message, I don't think there's anything in the messaging I object to or even this is doing it a disservice. The problem really is it's shackled to a bunch of weak jokes and an unmemorable plot and that's a shame because I feel like the writer wanted to point out the horror of human cruelty to animals and how we are capable of that to creatures we can so easily bond with. Lots of passion, weak episode. It's a shame.

Other great jokes:

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Other notes:

So Zooey Deschanel was the guest star in this. So there's that. So did OK, I guess.
 

yama

the room is full of ghosts
All the best gags involving Cletus subvert the slack-jawed yokel stereotype. His ornate signature and his kids in the pretzel wagon having 1980s yuppie names.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Any Given Sundance

I didn't have the best taste in film when I was younger. Obviously, I change my tastes at any age and that doesn't make old me's opinions "wrong" so much as different and evolved but I would happily sit down in a theatre and watch Roland Emmerich's Godzilla (though even then I saw the last act as a shitty Jurassic Park rip-off with not enough giant monster wrecking shit). But in University, I took film classes and got to expose myself to the kinds of films I didn't see before and improved my ability to analyze movies. My tastes still run meat and potatoes and middle brow and I have no shame in that, but I also make sure to challenge myself and watch art films and not only did I like them, it also gives me deeper appreciation for the more mainstream movies. I don't think I'd appreciate a lot of my favourite shows or movies in the same way without challenging myself.

In this episode, Lisa completes a project for film class and discovers herself to have an affinity. She talks with Skinner who inspires her to make a feature length movie and gives her some resources. As Lisa makes her film, Superintendent Chalmers sees it as an opportunity for the school and the school throws her full support behind her. Lisa completes her film and gets into Sundance, where her documentary about her family will be shown. Lisa's film premieres to praise from the audience but the Simpsons feel betrayed by their portrayal in the film. Lisa is racked with guilt but meets Jim Jarmusch who takes her to see another film... one by Nelson Muntz. The documentary reveals his own harsh life and Lisa realizes her life is relatively nice. But Jarmusch reveals the other takeaway is Lisa's film will actually be overshadowed by Nelson's success and the fickleness of the Sundance audience and their hype. The Simpsons, ironically finding themselves missing their brief infamy, forgive Lisa.

I remembered this episode as having some funny jokes and I'm pleased to say the whole of the episode is quite good. I'm not surprised that in checking the writer this is a Daniel Chun episode because I find his episodes are ones that really want to focus on the emotional and developmental dynamics of the family rather than simply "Homer blew up the school again" or something. In this case, it's about Lisa developing her artistic gift, specifically that to work within the beauty of truth, ends up hurting someone. I think the push and pull is an interesting idea; the idea of wanting to be true to yourself but also the risk of hurting others with your artistic vision. I don't think anyone is "wrong" in the episode and I think Lisa should be able to express her complicated feelings about her family but her family is also justified in feeling betrayed since she, wittingly or unwittingly, hasn't been transparent with her family of what the film will look like. That's the kind of thing Chun works well with.

The episode also explores, to an extent, the thin line between art and entertainment based on the Sundance reactions and how the Simpsons are treated like villain celebrities and Nelson, who made a soulful confession of sadness, immediately preens to the crowd cheering him on. Clearly Chun and the crew of the episode have a passion for film and it translates to a lot of the episode. Yes, there's a reference to the 400 Blows but even within that moment, the show gets to have a real moment of artistic emotion where Nelson tells the audience he visits the ocean where his film feels small. It can be tricky to make art-within-art, as I can think of lots of films and shows where the art-within-art's weakness actually hurts the final product by having characters act out of proportion to what we have seen. And to me, I actually think this is the strength and weakness of the episode; Lisa's film feels like a somewhat tepid series of skits. Nelson's film is soulful, in the same way Barney Gumble's was in the Critic crossover episode. Ironically, Lisa's little snippets of observations in the episode's first scene is stronger in this department.

Do I have problems with this episode? Other than the one stated, not many. That said, there's a bunch of stuff I would love for them to dig into that I wish they did more. I could use more time with Lisa dealing with the fact that her film is honest and that her feelings toward her family are complicated. I won't say it hand waves this away in an unsatisfying way to the extent I've whined about before, it's simply brief about it, like when Jim Jarmusch compares his films to hers with his comment implying that he sees Lisa's portrayal not as monsters but as troubled outsiders. I wish they got into it because I like the idea that the subtly of intent can be lost or even if it is scene, it can still unintentionally be an insult or condescending to the people she loves. Art based on truth can be a tricky thing because the truth is so ethereal and not easily put into a concrete form like a film. I also feel like the episode *kind of* suggests Lisa should appreciate what she has and Jarmusch never dismisses it for another lesson but never disagrees with her. But I feel like tacitly implying Lisa might be right that "well, some people have it worse" might unintentional imply weakness in Lisa's artistic successes in terms of competition. But there's only so much time in the episode and either explaining it might be needlessly long and deftly handling the ideas in a few sentences is always going to be fraught with the possibility of omission. My complaints I feel are valid but small to the successes or the episode, which I appreciate.

Also, it's often funny. That might be important, too.

"I'm making a documentary about a very special family."
"Smithers and Burns?"
"No, us."
"Can I be Smithers?"

"I love documentaries, especially the one that came with our lawnmower. Though it was suspiciously pro-lawnmower..."

"I hear you've been encouraging a student's creativity."
"Please, sir, I can explain."
"I'm thrilled, or would have been if not for your knee-jerk assumption I'm angry at you, which I am now."

"Maybe I can finally meet Jim Jarmusch and ask him who he is. THERE HE IS!"

"I can eat a raw onion without crying."
"Prove it.... Hey, you're crying."
"Yeah, but I'm crying about something else."
"What?"
"This is the last time we will ever meet."

"Oh, I get it, every title means the opposite of what it means. So I bet I'll love Chernobyl Graveyard.....
...
I didn't."

"Seymour Skinner never puts all his eggs in one basket. That's why they call me Two Baskets Skinner... What, they do."

"No, no, no, don't go in there. Oh, no, he did. Oh, man, that is messed up. Whoa, what the Hell is that?"
"It's just a cat."
"Oh, oh, yeah."

Other notes:
It's weird that Lisa's film title is "Capturing the Simpsons" since I'm pretty sure THAT film is about the documentarian unwittingly uncovering a pedophile within the family or something equally rough.

Jim Jarmusch is another one of those non-actors who has a weird non-actory sound but is definitely going for it and is given a lot of fun, silly stuff to do.

I would watching Jim Jarmusch's Cheaper by the Dozen 3.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Mona Leaves-a

Recently, I noticed that some time ago, a friend of mine updated his rarely updated podcast where he discusses whatever he is considering. In an episode from a year back, he discussed the death of his father, whom he never disliked but never felt particularly close to. While he never had any big cathartic moment with him, he did spend a lot more time with him in the hospital than he expected and found he was connecting with him better as an acquaintance than he did as a son. There was no big Hollywood moment but there was a certain level of closure, even if it didn't end with a big goodbye. Closure is something few of us get and it's a shame life can't conclude so powerfully as it does in fiction.

In this episode, Homer returns home to find that his mother Mona has returned, no longer pursued by the law. But Homer, having been abandoned too many times, finds himself having a hard time accepting reconciliation. When Homer decides it is time to forgive her, he finds her dead in the living room of natural causes. Homer is despondent not only for losing his mother but for her dying before they could make up. His family and friends comfort him and Homer ends up getting a mission from Mona in her will; release her ashes on the top of a tall spire on Springfield Monument Park and release her ashes. Homer does and finds it was actually part of a plan to sabotage a rocket Mr. Burns was planning to use to dispose of his nuclear waste in the Amazon rainforest. Despite feeling somewhat used, Homer completes his mother's last wishes and stops the rocket.

As stated before, guest stars always risk diminishing returns and it's a bigger risk when it is a big impact, such as bringing back Homer's mother from the all time great episode Mother Simpson. But I will say, Mona Leaves-a, where the character dies, is actually not a bad episode at all. It's not nearly as impactful but it does explore an aspect of their relationship. As just as Mona's crusade is, she also did leave her son and no matter how good those reasons are, it's understandable that Homer would feel a certain level of pain and even resentment regarding his mother. All three acts work on a certain emotional level, even if the climax is the weakest and more comedy forward.

I think there are things to pick apart. I think using Mona as an explanation of Homer's food hunger is interesting but I don't know if I care for it. That said, I'm OK with the show sometimes simply having explanations for things that only span the episode their in. The other is Mona's plan in the last act doesn't seem to make a lot of sense since... are they doing these launches every day? I feel like a minor bit of clean up could have solved these little issues and I do feel they are going for some "all of these previously established things are coming together", which I appreciate but a lot of it feels a bit more like a lower tier graphic adventure game than a clever narrative.

Mona Leaves-a overall is a decent enough episode, more than I expected and a lot of it comes from a real place of the pain not only of loss but specifically loss before you are ready to deal with it and things unsaid. The episode gets to let the people of Springfield try to console and advice Homer, albeit in a comedic way and Glenn Close gets to do her thing again, which she does very well. It's also an episode that definitely feels a little more writerly and while I don't think it is all top tier, I appreciate that after seeing so many episodes that feel just a little too sloppy and disjointed, particularly down the line of this series. It wants us to care and while I don't think it would bring anyone to tears, I think it succeeds at least in the emotional investment of Homer's pain and catharsis.

Other great jokes:
"I'm not leaving."
"So what are you doing."
"I like creating disappointment. You know that moment when people's hope dies? I feed on that."

"Mom, you tricked us."
"We thought this would be a fun trip to the mall."
"We listen to music radio in the car..."

Carl talking to Lenny's mom is good stuff.

"That's the thing about your religion, it's a bummer."
"Even the sing-alongs?"
"No, the sing-alongs are OK."
I don't know if it counts as a joke, but I do like this exchange.

"I will avenge you."
"You're not really avenging her, it's just a fulfillment of her last wish."
"I'm REALLY glad you corrected me, Lisa.. People are always REALLY glad when they're corrected."

"Now I'll just add water to these ashes and bring my mother back to life."
Other notes:

Its clear the writers are having a hard time filling time because they keep using the long "evolution opening."
 

ArugulaZ

Fearful asymmetry
I poked around on Disney Plus earlier today, and I noticed a lot of Simpsons shorts listed that made me low-key barfy. Clearly the show isn't what it once was in the 1990s, but it feels like it's reached a new level of shlocky inoffensiveness and corporate synergy under Disney's wing. Lisa Simpson meets pop star Billie Eilish! Maggie Simpson is in Star Wars, because we own that! Lisa Simpson again, fighting with the Marvel Super Heroes! Okay, okay, we get it, Disney. You want to get the maximum mileage out of your acquisition, but this is the kind of nonsense The Simpsons would have mocked other shows for thirty years ago.

Even promotional artwork for the series seems to have been sanitized. You used to see stuff like The Simpsons falling off the cliff, with Homer clutching the edge and the rest of the family clinging for dear life to his leg, or a family picture with Lisa mugging for the camera and Homer strangling Bart, but the latest images are all so saccharin and heartwarming. Where's that slightly dysfunctional edge that made us appreciate these boneheads as less than perfect, like our own families? It reminds me of the Itchy and Scratchy episode where the mouse nudges the cat slightly, he says "Ow," they both giggle, and then they turn to the camera and say, "Kids, say no to drugs!"

I guess what I'm saying is that The Simpsons is never going to be as good as it was, but it doesn't need to be worse than it already is!
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
All About Lisa

And so season 19, the first season after the big movie, comes to an end. Yes, we are away from the Golden Age but I feel like this era has been doing more right than wrong. Stuff hasn't aged *as* poorly and even most of the lesser episodes feel like they have a few things going for them, be it being genuinely funny or having a clear point of view, something I feel the show gets further away from as the stories become more disjointed. So it is a shame to see that the parody of one of the great films... well, it isn't even "awful", just a complete snooze.

In this episode, Bart tries out for the Krusty the Klown Show as a Krustateer. only to lose the job. Lisa points out Krusty could make Bart an intern but instead makes Lisa the intern. While Bart takes his mind off of his pain by coin collecting with Homer, Lisa suffers as Krusty's gofer and eventually needs to fill in on the show when Mr. Teeny is unavailable. Lisa finds she has an instant hunger for adulation and quickly gets Krusty out of the way to steal a potential job. Soon, Lisa has taken over the Krusty show and gets an entertainer of the year award. But Mel warns her that her hunger for the audience's approval will likely put her in an uncaring industry and Lisa decides to get out, but not before helping Krusty get his own show back.

All About Lisa is a weak episode, but it didn't need to be. On paper, everything should work OK but there are too many narrative short cuts and very little point of view. The episode is a parody of All About Eve, a great movie about an ambitious woman trying to use an aging star as a stepping stone, even if it means sabotaging her career and though Eve "wins", the aging star finds a real emotional connection and some contentment with where she's at while Eve soon finds herself cornered and will likely spend her career looking over her shoulder for people like her (Eve's own last moment in the film feels very Twilight Zone).

Transposing the plot loosely actually can work. The more obvious element is Krusty, a barely talented clown who gets by on showbiz savvy who could easily be dethroned (and has from time to time) but someone who threatens his big fish in a small pond status. Conversely, Lisa is a moral person but she also is someone who already hungers for approval from school in clear grade form and has had issues with keeping to her values in the face of temptation from time to time. It would make sense for her, who is often an outsider, to begin to crave the spotlight. But there's not really an emotional connection. We don't care if Krusty loses his work because this has happened before and he spends the episode as an unsympathetic jerk. We don't have to like him but it isn't driven home that he truly loves his work or (and this isn't the same), he's afraid of losing it until it happens. There's no time for it to sink in. There is one sublter moment I like when it becomes clear even though he choose Nelson because he slept with his mom, he DIDN'T choose Bart because he got big laughs, disdain clearly on his face at Bart's success. I feel like that's the story, one about a man whose paranoia about getting outshone taints him. Instead, he spends the rest of the episode shocked and confused.

Lisa, on the other hand, also doesn't get an emotional in from us. She's doing what the script says she does now but while we are shown when Lisa's fame lust happens, we neither have a build up to something in her life that makes her clearly susceptible nor the impact of her doing un-Lisa like things due to her newfound gloryhounding. I don't think this episode is as bad as later when it becomes clear it really wants to hit plot points while letting the connective tissue of the narrative be non-existent, but it really has very little "there" there in regards to letting us "feel" what it wants to say, meaning when it just says it. my reaction is "Oh? Okay." Heck, Lisa becoming Krusty's assistant makes no sense. Like, she brings it up and just accepts? It's an easy fix, too, just say it'll look good for Lisa on a college application. If anything, I relate more to a fluffy b-plot about coin collecting and the joy of a project with the moment of completion means the end of interesting and Bart's complete coin collection will now collect dust because the game is over, like a puzzle you've already finished. Maybe they should have just done a coin collecting episode in full.

Other great jokes:

"Yeah, well my mom says you're a selfish lover."
"I know what I want and I get it."

"$501!"
"$10,000,000"
"Objection your honour."
"I'm not a judge but... overruled."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes

Now we enter season 20. Yep, the show's been on for 20 years at this point and despite complaints about it's declining quality, even here it's clear there's no end in sight. It's nice to know that even with a LOT of the show to get through, I am well past the halfway point in my viewing because while I am still finding value in this era, there's still some weaknesses. It also feels like more overt reactions to current events that make it feel less timeless in the way that many of the other episodes are. For example, even this one has more stylistic inspiration from films like the French Connection, it makes no bones about that it's a Dog the Bounty Hunter inspired episode.

In this episode, a riot at a St. Patrick's Day parade gets Homer in the trouble with the law again and he visits a bail bondsman to deal with Homer arriving in court. Upon meeting the bounty hunter, Homer decides to make money in the profession and ends up realizing Flanders ability to de-escalate situations could be helpful. The two bond in their new job but Flanders gets fed up with Homer's increasingly needlessly violent ways. The two split the partnership but as Flanders is planning to quit bounty hunting all together, he learns Homer has a bounty on him for skipping his court date. Flanders chases Homer and nearly gets killed but Homer attempts to save him. The two survive a near fatal accident and Homer spends a little time in jail.

Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes is an episode that is very much inspired by the success of Dog the Bounty Hunter and to an extent uses it as a jumping off point to have a Homer/Flanders bonding episode. I don't inherently see a problem with it save that the bonding is mostly kind of generic (though I do like the two of them bonding over an AC/DC Christian cover band). I don't feel like explores who these people are from an interesting angle... exactly. I mean, a lot of what I want is there on the page, to be sure, but what I am most interested in isn't what the show concludes with.

See, even though the popularity of Dog is the inspiration, it is also clearly super critical of the concept of a citizen becoming a bounty hunter and talking the law into it's own hands. A lot of what Homer says early on it pointed criticism (not that Homer realizes that), of what Dog is trying to glorify, the idea of a some nebulous dispenser of justice who is attacking people and scooping them up to jail with not much in the way of professional training or empathy. Having Flanders on the team is good to contrast, since Homer already is an over the top character and show the difference between someone who wants to de-escalate and someone who wants to brute force his way to victory. But by the end, I don't feel like it is doing that and the arcs of the characters reaches a less interesting end point for me. I appreciate the episode is specifically trying to make Homer's mission stupid, violent and ugly but what the episode is "about" primarily is something a little more generic for sitcoms.

The b-plot is pretty forgettable, Marge becoming an erotic baker. I feel very convinced that the baker Marge works for was intended to be a guest star and whoever they had in mind backed out, though Hank Azaria is clearly having fun but is also giving it a slightly lower key that guest stars often have. The actual big guest star is actually kind of missable, Robert Forster as a bail bondsman. The character is supposed to be inspired by his character from Jackie Brown. I'm a big Forster fan, he was one of those great low key character actors who would strangely appear in things like D-Wars from time to time where... it seemed weird. But here he's given few jokes and I feel like it's a waste of great casting.

Other great jokes:

My favourite recycled gag on the show is a fantasy that doesn't seem to match the level of enthusiasm the fantasizer has in it. In this one, Marge wonders what her life would be like as a baker, and it comes down to her kids being slightly curious and then disinterested and Marge is stoked!

It's another old gag structure but I like Homer accidentally talking Snake into shooting him.

Ok, show. I'll laugh at a bear with nunchucks made out of raccoons. I'm not made of stone.

"What have you done to my family."
"I felt a good time to pick you up was when they were at Lisa's recital."
"And how did you know I wouldn't be there."
"Lucky guess."

The parkour thing mostly didn't work for me but Homer awkwardly bouncing in the elevator elicited a laugh. Good work.

Other notes:
Ugh, the show is still trying to make the Incredible Mulk work.

Clearly, the animators and editors worked on the French Connection and parkour scenes with a lot of love.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Lost Verizon

I often have to be a childcare professional but the balance of "intervene" and "let them do their own thing" is often a tricky one. It doesn't help that in many cases, each co-worker has a bit of a different take makes it tricky but outside of the big stuff, it's clear people have different ideas on how to balance independence and necessary intervention. Sometimes you let them get very messy, sometimes you keep them far away from he mud. Sometimes you swoop in on a confrontation, sometimes you see if they can settle it themselves. Each situation seems difference but I want to be able to stand back a lot and have them figure it out, even as they constantly come to me to settle minor slights. But sometimes, kids just want some help.

In this episode, Bart ends up with Dennis Leary's cellphone, despite Marge's insistence he's not ready for one. Bart uses the phone to pranks Dennis and when Marge finds and takes Bart's phone, she talks to Dennis who recommends giving the phone back to Bart with the GPS chip to help curb Bart's misbehaviour by tracking him. Bart finds it impossible to do mischief without Marge up in his business. Lisa discovers this fact and disapproves, telling Bart he's being tracked. Bart removes the tracking chip and puts it on a small bird, leading the family on a wild goose chase that ends them up in Machu Pichu. Bart is left alone for weeks, where he enjoys the day but fears the night. Meanwhile, Marge has a vision that teaches her to be able to let Bart grow on his own. Marge returns and finds Bart playing cool but then expresses how much he loves his mom.

Lost Verizon is only an OKish episode but there's a lot in here I like. The finished product might merely be serviceable but I do like the message and I think it has an interesting structure. Structure wise, I appreciate that it doesn't feel like it's entirely formulaic nor is it simply a series of plot points. It lives in its ideas for a bit and though much of it isn't particularly emotionally engaged as I often want from this show, it is there. Again, I feel that we probably could have done with a truncated first act and let acts two and three cover most of the episode.

Still, I like it's an episode about the push and pull of parenting and being a child, both wanting to let independence happen but also wanting for protection. The most memorable part for me is "night is scary", "day is awesome", which I feel captured a lot of my own feelings as a very scared, sensitive child. In the 80s, I was often allowed to roam around my really out of the way suburban neighborhood and explore the forests and stuff at an age most kids today wouldn't. This isn't a complaint about how people do things today but my point is I was mostly fearless in the light of day but needed all the creature comforts at night and often tried to sleep in my parents room with them. So this stuck with me.

Again, even though it's not a particularly strong episode, I do think writer John Frink put care into structure (even though Lisa's seeded desire to go to Machu Pichu feels a little clunky). John Frink is a competent gag man but whose scripts I often am not a huge fan of, particularly when he's with Don Payne. But I feel he is someone who wants to do some unique things and even though some of said things tie more into being outlandish or having more jerkass Homer moments, I appreciate the trying of it. And I feel like this is the kind of story I like to see him trying with because while the climax is a vision by a South American god to teach Marge about mothering, there is something real in here that the show often forgets.

Other great jokes:
"Look at Bart go. He must be running away."
"Not on the crappy breakfast I made for him."

"Oh my God, you taught me a valuable lesson."
"I didn't mean to, I'm just chatty. I sold my business a couple years ago and I miss talking to people."

Other notes:
My god, the next episode is the Prince and the Pauper episode. Unironically.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Double, Double, Boy in Trouble

It's not like the Simpsons popularized irony in comedy but I feel like there's a certain kind of irony the show paved the way for. The earliest episode I think of in this regard is Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington, where it ends in an ironic happy ending where laughably, government swiftly swoops in to save Lisa's faith in democracy and we have an extended segment where shit gets done. I feel like the Simpsons was a show very aware of it's audience's media savviness (which was very much a trend of 80s and 90s comedy, where the writers and audience grew up in front of the TV) and could afford to have a certain kind of irony where it doesn't put it's thumb on the scale and lets context and our own understanding of tropes letting us tell the tale. But as much as the Simpsons might mock hack cliché writing, it's not immune to it.

In this episode, Bart causes trouble at Lenny's special party to celebrate a sudden windfall and ends up frustrated that no one gets him. In the bathroom, Bart meets Simon Woosterfield, his exact double who also happens to be ridiculously wealthy. The two decide to switch places; Simon has trouble adjusting to the uncouth Simpsons while Bart enjoys the good life. Over time, Simon learns to appreciate the Simpsons while Bart realizes Simon's older brother and sister are planning to kill him to get his inheritance. Lisa uncovers Simon and learns Bart is in trouble Homer manages to save Bart.

Double, Double, Boy in Trouble, despite my set up, isn't godawful. But it isn't good. What it is, primarily, is surreal. It's very, very bizarre to see the show take one of the most tired and hoary sitcom premise and... do very little with it. It's not subverting, deconstructing or even cheekily toying with it, it's just straight up doing it. It's the very thing the show makes fun of. It's, like, this close to "did someone say 'long lost triplets'?" from The 138th Episode Spectacular. It's the tongue-not-in-cheek version of the Simpsons Family Smile Time Variety Hour. There are very small nods to "this old saw" but other than that, nothing.

Even more notably, the episode is just completely hollow. Like, even a sincere retelling can have something going on under the surface. I could even appreciate the bravery of going down the most ridiculously cliched path if the episode had something to say. Sure, there's "appreciate what you have" and "everyone has their troubles" and "hey, being rich comes with problems" but it's basically all the shit that was in the original story with little re-tooling and only the most cursory questioning of the messages of the original story. There's little character insight and Simon and his siblings are among the most forgettable Simpsons one-off characters.

I will say some nice things. The episode is written by Bill Odenkirk, who was definitely more suited to Futurama than the Simpsons as a writer (compare episodes for Simpsons v. episodes of Futurama). This episode actually feels it could work better as a Futurama script than a Simpsons one, particularly in terms of the big outsizes stuff and a few fun visuals. There are also some legit funny gags in this one that the writers hung on this weak script. Note, I don't think any of the extended sequences or set pieces work, though I kind of like Lenny's cheesy intro to his friendship party. Of course, there's some real eye-rollers, two, one of the dumbest being the "McMansion" gag and its very dated reference to Grey's Anatomy, a show that... is still on? That can't be right. It's an episode that's weird because there are lines I legit laughed at but other times I was almost embarrassed for the show, making for an odd viewing experience.

Other great jokes:
No, really.

UJfSAZs.png

Yes, this joke is "someone set this doll to evil" again, but I still enjoyed it.

"I told you, I only weigh as much as my clothes and keys."

"So I looked down the barrel of my Winchester rifle, I pulled the trigger and I shot that buffalo."
"You shot a buffalo?"
"You were listening? Now I need to come up with an ending to this nonsense."

"It was the war to end all wars. But Pepsi would not give up. They continued to challenge Coke."

Other notes:
It's clear the couch gag is supposed to end with the family getting crushed by the couch... so why did they cut it? Time? It would have been a literal second.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XIX

It's another Halloween special.

In this episode, three more out-there spooky-time tales. First, in a parody of Transformers, Lisa's new Christmas gift turns out to be an alien robot, capable of creating more robots out of household items. Two factions battle for supremacy but Marge makes them realize they don't know the cause of their conflict and decide to team up... to enslave the Earth. In the next tale, Homer accidentally kills Krusty and some ad men reveal that there are no rules about using the likenesses of the dead to sell products. They hire Homer to kill more celebrities until the dead celebrities in heaven get fed up and arrive on Earth to kill Homer. And in the last tale, a parody of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Milhouse waits in a pumpkin patch for the "Grand Pumpkin", a fictive holiday character. Milhouse's fantasy comes true due to his childhood belief but the Pumpkin, seeing how pumpkins are treated, begins attacking humans. Milhouse is able to defeat it by imagining Tom Turkey, another imagined holiday character, until he learns what happens to Turkeys in the holiday.

This one is a pretty tepid outing overall. The first tale does have some fun visuals and I appreciate that, as that's probably the most sensible thing to do with a Transformers parody. But equally, it has some pretty scraping the bottom of the barrel gags, like Homer sticking out of the robots butthole.

The second is the most interesting, as it is not a parody but merely mocking some morbid marketing strategies. It's interesting, because I feel like they are referencing something that might have been more common a decade prior.. .and I only say that because a decade prior was when Krusty was complaining about it in an episode a decade prior where Krusty becomes a stand up. I don't even know if I've seen the commercials they are referencing. It's not that I don't believe advertisers would do this, I just don't remember it happening like it was a touchstone to base a cartoon around. But I feel like around this time or perhaps not long after was when "holograms" started being a thing and that is another sort of morbid way to make money off of the famous dead. It's got a couple of moments but I'm more into it for the interesting ideas than the actual jokes.

It's a small thing, but the last one does a small thing I hate in some of these Simpsons Halloween stories; copies elements without rhyme or reason. Here, there's a recreation of Sally's "You owe me restitutions" from the Charlie Brown Halloween special but here it makes little sense, since it is clear Lisa doesn't stay because the Grand Pumpkin might come, she's just there to make Milhouse feel better. It's just a quick moment but these sort of things bug me and it is noticeably worse in the Russian Doll segment they'll do in season 30 or so. It doesn't have to be "100% realistic" but internal consistency is important, unless that itself is some sort of gag. But over all, it's just another forgettable sketch in a forgettable Halloween special.

Other great jokes:

"Mya, you ripped me off, see."
"No, I didn't, see."
"You're going to pay for what you done, see."
"I always thought I'd die of hepatitis... C."

Other notes:

John Wayne calls Prince "Goofy Grape" and I decided to learn what that is a reference to and boy, did the 80s have some racist ass drinks...

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Dangerous Curves

I've never been in a romantic relationship and I have weird feelings about if I were ever to get in one. I'm a person who is afraid of conflict and I know that it is a necessary part of a relationship, because sometimes you do need to, in a healthy way, try to hash out a situation. But my worry is that I don't have the experience and despite my age the proper maturity to navigate a relationship and am afraid of my own late blooming. I try to handle things with maturity but I also know myself and that I can get pretty passive aggressive when I feel like I'm not being understood instead of coming out and saying anything because I feel like someone will point out how wrong or stupid I am. I hope I can enter into a healthy relationship some day and I can handle it well.

In this episode, Homer and Marge head towards a motel with the kids and reminisce about their youth. Ten years prior, Homer and Marge ended up in the same motel with Ned and Maude Flanders, who are on their honeymoon and are trying to prevent Homer and Marge from making out. Five years prior, Homer and Marge accidentally end up in a party while on a road trip and after some simmering tension, the two end up being seduced by other people. The two almost catch each other and while hiding attempted indiscretions, Homer and Marge end up trapping their would-be lovers with each other. In the present, the lovers appear at the motel, having been happily coupled for some time and while thanking Homer and Marge for introducing them. Homer and Marge react badly to the truth but Homer finds an old carving he made to represent their love and tries to collect it, accidentally almost dying. Marge convinced Homer a symbol doesn't mean as much as the actual messy but loving marriage and the two reconcile.

When I first saw the episode, while I didn't love it but I did appreciate that it had an interesting structure two it, telling a story across three eras. I'm a little less impressed now that I realize that this is actually using the structure of the film Two for the Road, an Albert Finney/Audrey Hepburn movie from the late 60s. I admit I hadn't heard of it until today, but it sounds like a genuinely interesting film from the director Stanley Donen of Singin' in the Rain and Charade fame. Despite that, I do feel like the writers, Billy Mitchell and Ian Maxtone-Grahm, are aiming a little higher in this one beyond a mere parody.

However, I also think the episode isn't great. I feel like perhaps due to the nature of the original film, the episode is mostly a series of "bitter couple" tropes that doesn't work for me. I'm not sure if the film is subtler in the nature of what I assume is the central couple's discontent, mostly this is some standard "husbands and wives snipe at each other." And beyond the crisis manufactured for the episode, there's a lot of past stuff for the two to draw on that could have made it richer and even a little rawer if the episode was more ambitious. I'm sure the writers had their handful with the structure itself but I feel like while the performers, directors and crew are all in on this one, a lot of the take on the Homer/Marge marriage is more like the Lockhorns than something a little more satisfying.

Of course, I think the other problem is well has run dry on creating credible threats to Homer and Marge's marriage. Hell, if The Cartridge Family didn't destroy it, I don't know what will at this point. The farce doesn't work for me and Homer and Marge already had more interesting potential lovers beyond "yes and" woman and "foreign guy". We know the marriage is built to last but even in those marriages, there can be sore spots and feelings of resentment and I think we can explore those ideas again from fresh angles. I might even think "Homer and Marge marriage is threatened" if more time between those kinds of episodes happened. This one is by no means the worst of them, but it also doesn't fix the inherent problem in them.

Other great jokes:
"Let me take you for a ride...
...or should I say GLIDE."
"I'm just happy you're talking again. You didn't say a word for 45 minutes."

Other notes:
I do like the joke that when Homer first meets Flanders, he LOVES the way he talks.

Yeardley Smith voiced another character. So that's like, what, five now?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words

I can't remember the last time I did a crossword but I find them a lot of fun. A family tradition when we still got physical newpapers was to solve a huge double page (not counting the clues) crossword from the Globe and Mail. The whole family would be together at our cottage and we would spend the week picking away at it. It made for a very good time and I feel a little bad they don't do those any more. Seriously, if anyone knows where to get a big crossword puzzle, let me know.

In this episode, Homer makes money breaking up couples while Lisa picks up an obsession with crossword puzzles. After Homer ends his business with a pretty good payout, he takes Lisa to a citywide crossword competition and Homer learns some people are betting on the outcome. Homer continually bets on Lisa and wins even bigger until Lisa confides in Homer she fears she will unconsciously self-sabotage in the final round. Homer bets against her and Lisa loses to Gil, who hustles her, allowing Homer to win big. When Lisa finds out, she's angry and decides to take Marge's maiden name. Homer wins her back by hiding a message for Lisa in a New York Times crossword.

This episode is a very generic episode of the show across the board. Homer gets into a new business. Lisa gets a new interest or obsession, Homer lets someone down and comes up with a big gesture to win them back. There's little going on in this one to really differentiate it from a lot of episodes, unless you are REALLY into crosswords. I'm not even saying this makes it bad, as I wasn't squirming through it or anything and there are even a few laugh lines (thanks Grandpa's nonsense) but very little happens of note. I will say in it's mild defense, there are a few moments and decisions I appreciate. I like the time lapse of Homer thinking "what would happen if someone was around to break us up if every time I have doubts." Lisa envisioning crosswords everywhere is fine and it reminds me of when I was obsessed with games and seeing them everywhere.

It's another case where I think there's potential in the story but it doesn't quite pan out in a way I find interesting. Homer's betting is just regular selfish and since we've seen THIS kind of selfishness, I wish they spiced it up with more of a dilemma. Homer betting against someone he loves for money is dull but what if they stakes were higher. If Homer was in deep debt or perhaps was trying to acquire Lisa's college fund, it would be more interesting, because it would still be a shitty thing of not having faith in a loved one but with a more sympathetic reasoning for a bad decision. Similarly, the first act plot of Homer helping people break up posits a dilemma but it doesn't really play out. I like the idea that maybe some of these couples could have talked things out but there's so little weight to it that I'm like "sure, OK, break up." If anything, since Homer's plan is to make all parties happy, the dilemma of "what could have been" is rather abstract and in a way the show really isn't dealing with beyond a goofy dream sequences with ghosts of babies and furniture.

And look, again, I know that it's not entirely fair to criticize something for what it doesn't choose to do, but my recurring problem with the show is I lean to this because it tends to lean towards interesting possibilities, then swerving away so that there is little of interest to grab onto. To this point, the last act decision of Lisa changing her last name. Interestingly, Homer is hurt by this but never chooses to make Lisa change her mind on the subject, rather instead on winning her love back. I kind of like that but Lisa's name change doesn't feel like it informs anything before or after and is basically a prod for Homer to realize Lisa is REALLY mad and he needs to do something. And really, the show, to my memory, doesn't even bother to keep it up as it does with her Buddhism or vegetarianism. I understand, because it seems like a lot to bother remembering for very little weight on the writer's part. So really, why bother.

Other great jokes:

"Homer. it's your old roommate Grady."
"The gay guy?"
"That's not all I am. Well, it's a lot of who I am."

"Back then, we call them alphabet hotels because each letter got it's own little room."

"Get him, chairs and babies!"

Other notes:
Frankly, I don't even think Gil needed to hustle. He's clearly exceedingly good.

Lisa condescending to grandpa's choice of crossword source is a bad look. Let the old man enjoy the Springfield Shopper crossword. He's, like, 80. He doesn't need to "git gud".
 
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