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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
MyPods and Boomsticks

As the Simpsons come closer to the present, it's weird to watch the show this way and seeing signifiers of the contemporary times. At the same time, there's also elements of things that as signifiers of a very specific era I was an adult in. Islamophobia is still very much a thing, sadly, but there was a very specific type Apple fandom, I guess, is something that's still a thing, but this episode is all about the iPod, which isn't really a thing anymore, outside of nostalgic uses and purchases. MyPods and Boomsticks is an episode birthed at a specific time but also feels like perhaps its an episode that should have appeared 3-4 seasons prior.

In this episode, Bart makes a new friend in Bashir, a Muslim boy who is new to Springfield. Homer is happy for Bart having a new friend until the patrons at Moe's convince Homer Bashir's family, being Muslim, must be up to something. Homer invites Bashir's family over only to needle them until they are insulted and leave. Marge scolds Homer and demands he go over to apologize but when Homer does he sees Bashir's father packing boxes of dynamite, making him think he IS a terrorist. In fact, Bashir's father works for a demolition company, a fact lost on Homer and he ends up in a mad dash to prevent him from destroying the new mall. Homer tries to save the day and instead blows up a bridge. Homer makes amends and apologizes.

Going into this one, I was look "hoo, boy". Well-intentioned Simpsons taking on xenophobia seems fraught in light of their "the Simpsons are going to ____" episodes which often rely on stereotypes. The thinking in those is generally "well, it's supposed to be silly and we know these takes are silly" but I think it's clearer now a lot of the "ironic" stereotyping gags of that era is ugly and there's often an aspect of dog whistling and allowing for "of course we don't believe this... or do we." As much as I love the Simpsons, it's clear there are things they don't do terribly well, even with good intentions. Apu is a richly drawn character but also a richly drawn character with a very broad accent and often the subject of cliched stereotypical humour.

But the end result? Ehhh.... It's a weak episode to be sure, a response to the Bush era that's coming as it comes to a thankful close. It's an episode with the desire to reject the Islamophobia of the 2000s that was prevalent in pop culture in the era (the show pointedly references 24, a show they lovingly parodied two seasons ago). Here, Bashir's family, the...uh... Bin Ladens, are good people and Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo provides a voice as Mina, Bashir's mother. Homer here is less "Fox News addict" as he has been in recent seasons and more easily-lead-by-the-nose dummy, which makes him at least somewhat more sympathetic than he could have been and it's slightly less ugly but the episode is basically broad farce and one that mostly isn't very funny. It's really a mix of "this could be worse" and "this could be better" in it's attempt to mock xenophobia and make the general statement that it is more destructive and hurtful than any religious group. Nice thought but it's wrapped in a corny as Hell sitcom.

The b-plot of the episode isn't much better. *Sigh* As I've complained about before, the Simpsons parodies are increasingly dull and this episode is the nadir with "Mapple" and "MyPods" and "Steve Mobbs". Maybe they think it's funny that it's that fucking dumb and I understand that instinct but when we have to sit in it for so long, it's exhausting. The idea of brand loyalty taking advantage of the loyal and the soul-crushingness of a company that pretends to be different and care being part of your identity is there and that's interesting but the jokes are, again, extremely cheesy. Lisa seems more naïve than usual as the episode and while I believe she would get into something like this before becoming properly disillusioned, she seems to be into it from the jump in a way that I just can't buy into. It's not just that she's excited early, it's that she practically swoons at the sight of it. Properly cynical message about brand identity in a poor package.

Other great jokes:
"Man, those are ugly kittens."

The more complicated Itchy and Scratchy cartoons become, the better, in my opinion.

"The doorbell will tell you when they are here,"."


Other notes:
The interesting thing is I feel like a lot of pop culture was also "but they were just a tool of evil white dudes" which... that's not really any better. This is still a very specific face on "terrorism" when homegrown terrorism is an even bigger problem in the US, both then and now.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Burns and the Bees

As a kid, I found bees to be the scariest thing. They are large and loud and I just freaked out when one would fly in my general vicinity. More recently, not only am I not scared of them, I think they are absolutely wonderful creatures and I pray that they can be saved. I think we need to do more to try to save the bees, like having neighborhood bee farms and tended to colonies. Bees are important to the world and it will be harder for all of us if they go away.

In this episode, Lisa learns that the bees of Springfield are dying and rushes to action. After getting Homer's help (motivating him with a fear of losing honey) Lisa meets with Frink and learns that locally they have a deadly form of measles, But Lisa finds an uninfected queen and after it stings her, she is forced to keep it on her face to keep it alive to form a colony. After days of having a beard of bees, Lisa finds a new home for them at the advice of Marge who directs her to an abandoned greenhouse. It goes well until it turns out Burns bought the land to make a new high tech sports arena. Lisa makes a plea to the town to save her bees but instead they side with Burns after he sweet talks the town. Lisa is bummed but Moe has a solution for Homer: have them reproduce with an aggressive breed of bees to help them survive. Homer and Moe go through with the plan and the bees attack Mr. Burns' sports stadium and make it their home.

The Burns and the Bees is an episode where we have a thing I like and a thing I don't. On the "don't" side, guest stars from the world of obscene wealth. We have current villain Jeff Bezos and not as hated by still shitty Mark Cuban. These are smaller roles and not nearly as bad as Elon Musk getting his own episode but did we really NEED these? Who gets excited about this? Readers of Forbes? Just have fake actors or something, the real thing isn't funnier when the cameo is by a piece of shit. On the plus side, I am pro-bees and the episode reminds us, we need bees.

Beyond that, there's not too much going on here. It's basically about humanity smashing down it's own future for excess but as a pointed statement about humanity... I kind of covered it in the one sentence. It really doesn't get all that much deeper in analysis than that and while there's a fun thrill in watching them take over. Beyond that, though, the episode is more good intentions than substance and it feels like the writer wanted to express those surface feelings than really digging into the anxiety of the fact that there are real perils in the world and no one cares, an idea more unnerving than ever.

Perhaps its also that we spend to much time with Burns. I get it, he's a very fun character but the whole "Billionaire Camp" runner doesn't land for me, even without the real world billionaire appearances. Instead, we have a subpar episode about something that is of genuine interest to me and that I'm happy they are trying to warn people about. I just wish there was more going on in it.

Other great jokes:
"Willie, I didn't know you were an apiarist."
"From context I can tell that means beekeeper."

"Smithers, we're leading two to nothing. Run out the clock, boys, run out the clock!"


"First, one announcement. I regret to inform you we are not offering free childcare tonight. I don't know who that was you left your kids with."

"If they was me they'd be done by now."


Other notes:
There are a few Mark Cuban reads were it was clear that there was a lot of editing from more material.
 

Ghost from Spelunker

BAG
(They/Him)
Re: Mypods and Broomsticks
I wonder how much of the slightly changed names was to keep a sue-happy company off their backs. I mean, they didn't change Bill Gates' name.

Also, when this aired I working in an office that was all Macs. I have stories about the people there. Those jokes were therapeutic.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Mapple is particularly baffling because the name isn’t a joke, it isn’t anything, and if it was *just* to get around copyright they could have called it Maple, which has the benefit of being an actual word and still being tree related. Still not a joke but it’s less of not a joke.

It’s sitting in the bleachers but at least it’s at the right ballpark to telling a joke
 

ArugulaZ

Fearful asymmetry
I mean, they could have called it App-Hell. At least that suggests an attempt at satire of the glutted Apple App store, albeit a clumsy one.
Back in the day, they'd put sleek home computers in cartoons and live-action shows, but replace the apple on the front with a pineapple or grapes or a banana or some other fruit.

I seem to remember Edward's computer being a "Tomato," but Cowboy Bebop came out during Apple's lowest point in popularity, and the system is too clunky to have been inspired by Apple specifically. The Tomato is kind of the anti-Apple in its design, looking like it was pieced together from random parts and thrown into a taped up cardboard case.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
The only thing I could think of, while reading this writeup, was the last episode of Dinosaurs. Similar premise, way more brutal execution.

I should rewatch Dinosaurs.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The only thing I could think of, while reading this writeup, was the last episode of Dinosaurs. Similar premise, way more brutal execution.
The difference is "The bees take over" is actually a happy ending. Yep, they are aggressive but the bees can thrive and Burns is humiliated.

The Mapple thing falls because I think when the Simpsons started doing "sounds like" names, it felt more tongue-in-cheek. Not super funny but there was a thought behind it. Then... they just started doing it. And this is where commitment to a bit leaves you asking "what even is the bit any more? That's it's a very sloppy parody name? That doesn't have the legs to extend that long."
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Both Simpsons and multiple Seth Macfarlane shows have had long lists of legally distinct names and it still manages to get a chuckle out of me every time.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Lisa the Drama Queen

I work with a lot of preschool and elementary school kids and there are a few who have a hard time dealing with a simple fact; sometimes your friends want to do something other than play with you. And there are kids who take it badly, pouting, proclaiming "we aren't friends anymore!" As mentioned, friends can be possessive because they mean so much to us. And I think there's a connection between those feelings and our love of culture, particularly pop culture. Stories and art can speak to us in a personal way and we've certainly seen no shortage of toxic fandom when it might challenge your view of it.

In this episode, Lisa makes a new friend, Juliet, an artistically-minded girl with similar interests to Lisa. Together they begin working on their own story and imaginary land, Equalia, which consumes their lives. Soon it becomes clear that something in Juliet's family is making her use Equalia as an escape and Lisa gets caught up in it, too. Eventually, Marge gets concerned and asks Lisa to stop seeing Juliet. Juliet finds Lisa and the two run off together to an abandoned castle-shaped restaurant. However, it turns out that Dolph, Jimbo and Kearney have been using as a hangout spot and are none-to-pleased to see Lisa and Juliet. They trap the girls and when Dolph and Jimbo leave Kearney to guard them, Lisa and Juliet begin taking comfort in the last act of their story. At this point, Kearney is interested and the duo pull a Shahrazad and pull Kearney into their story. Kearney fights Jimbo and Dolph to protect Lisa and Juliet's book and the two escape. Lisa realizes she can't keep living in a pretend world and Juliet and Lisa go their separate ways.

I feel like more episodes at this point are based around non-mainstream (or at least, not actively in the public consciousness). In this case, it is Peter Jackson's critically acclaimed Heavenly Creatures. After years of directing over the top cheapo-violent comedies for the cult crowd, he made a critically acclaimed drama about two girls who get lost in an escapist world of their own making to self-destructive results. I think, I confess, I've never actually SEEN it but I've heard how good it is and probably should get around to it.

This is just an OK albeit somewhat ambitious character-centric episode It's written by Brian Kelley and even though it's not a laugh out loud episode, I do feel it is one that puts care into the characters and some of the story telling decisions. There are a few moments I like that feel like they are lifted from other sitcoms but not in a bad way; one that feels knowingly Seinfeld and a few competent ones that feel in the vein of the less eye-roll-y Family Guy ones. Though it kind of comes to a conclusion that Lisa can't just live in a fantasy but I think more than that, it's about the magical feeling of connecting with a person and a story. It is clearly trying to make us feel good for Lisa and it helps that Marge is her embarrassing but sweethearted cheerleader (Homer, meanwhile, seems more checked out than ever before, as if he lives in spite whatever is going on. It's not ugly like jerkass Homer but like Gene in Bob's Burgers, it can get a bit exhausting to have a character who just wants to make noise in a way that clashes with everyone else's investment in the story.

Juliet, played by Emily Blunt, is not as memorable as some of Lisa's other one-time friends (why doesn't Allison talk to Lisa anymore. She's clearly RIGHT THERE). They give her a homelife where it is silly but speaks to something missing, in this case her own father who seem mentally absent in a different way than Homer and one that ties into the theme. In this case, he's a snooty professor who has dedicated himself ENTIRELY to the works of airport novelist John Grisham. I think it plays well, overall. Like I said, I think this is just an OK episode comedically but it's also an episode that doesn't feel as slapped together as some of the weaker episodes the director Matthew Nastuk and writer Kelley really want to make a rich episode and even if it results in a 7/10, it's a 7/`0 that reaches for ALL the things I want episodes to reach for, regardless of quality.

Other great jokes:
"How about Charleston Chew?"
"What is this, Brooklyn in the 50s?"

Reimagining wipeout as "folkart" while Lisa and Juliet race around to see the most boring kind of art is the right kind of silly.

"If her dog bites you don't make a big deal of it--"
"Friendship is like marriage, the key is listening. And if her dog bites you, don't make a big deal of it."
"I just said that."
"OK Marge, if it's that important to you, you said it."

"Use as many big words as possible. I call computer. Bart, you can have doorbell."
Bart: *impressed noise*

"Ah, yes, the one on Lisa's Facebook page. I search all the kids Facebook pages for unflattering references to me."

I love specificity in labelling.
REeBKqI.png

Other notes:

Clearly Blunt and Yeardley just wanted to harmonize. They do a good job of it.

I love the one thing Homer ISN'T checked out on is he knows exactly what is going on in the model UN.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Take My Life, Please

10009.jpg


When the Simpsons first appeared in mostly complete form (give or take the then-most recent season and the Michael Jackson episode), people were upset that the series' classic episodes came out in a stretched out aspect ratio. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed after being yelled at by nerds and Disney fixed the error. I myself was looking forward to a rewatch which became this misguided thread of me just watching it all but I held off until they could fix it. The show itself went widescreen in the year 2009 and in HD with a somewhat more polished look to it. A lot of fans feel the new look lacks some of the simple charm of the previous. What does the first episode of this new era look like.

In this episode, the Simpsons attend the induction of Vance Conner, a local businessman Homer and Marge went to high school with, to the Springfield wall of fame. Homer is bitter because Vance beat him in the class presidential election. Homer is feeling blue, feeling if he won his life could have been better, and complains about it at Moe's Tavern. There Lenny and Carl confess to Homer that Dondelinger, the school principal, literally had the duo bury the results. Homer gets Lenny to find them and Lisa tabulates the results, learning Homer was the actual winner. Homer confronts Dondelinger, who reveals Homer was elected as a joke by other students looking to mock him and he did it to prevent Homer's public humiliation. Homer feels conflicted in light of this revelation and when the family is eating dinner at Luigi's, Luigi reveals that one of the chefs can see the future in a pot of sauce. He learns he actually would have been a great and popular class president, leading to a successful career. Homer becomes more depressed than ever but when the Simpsons give him his own plaque on the Springfield wall of fame, showing he is loved.

So what does this new era of the Simpsons seem like? Well... mostly like the previous. It feels like the animation had already changed a lot over time so this isn't actually that big a leap overall. The episode seems proud of it, with a much busier opening sequence than ever before. And it too lacks the beautiful simplicity of the original but I don't blame them for trying to up the gag count. The people who work on the show clearly see this as an opportunity and the first scene, which is mostly exposition and Homer verbal goofs, show it with background gags. But unlike the old "freeze frame fun", they are very conspicuous "loud" (metaphorically speaking) things happening in the background. This is all stuff they could have done before but it's clear they want to show that they can fill the extra space should they want to.

But as for the episode itself... mediocre. Watchable enough but a lot of the premises and gags feel like they've been minds before. Homer imagining if things could have been different? I feel like we've been there a few times (the best being as a tossed aside gag with Colonel Klink but I feel there has been at least one episode about this proper before). The message is kind of a last act shrug where it's a big gesture but not one that really speaks to the anxiety of what could have been and more "it's time for the show to be done." There are a few good gags and I do like that while Dondelinger doesn't like Homer, he doesn't dislike him enough to let him be humiliated (while I don't think the character gets a lot of big laughs this episode, I feel like he's still fun and hasn't gotten overused. He's like a less trotted out and lower key Superintendent Chalmers.

I think the episode's third act goes into the Simpsons having some weirder plot turns. Sauce that can see alternate timelines? OK. And, I do like "weird" but I feel like the show gets into weird turns that don't so much feel like something organic and more throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks (what an apropos metaphor) and choosing something they feel "could be worse". And sometimes, it's not like these very weird decisions are "awful" so much as they are "bemusing" or "baffling". If you wanted an entire episode about Moe's talking bar rag, you are going to get it and it WILL be voiced by Dead Ringers' Jeremy Irons. And to an extent, I get it. This deep in, you either let the show sink into sameness or experiment. Yet somehow, more often than not, it's kind of both.

Other great jokes:

"Are you kidding, we couldn't convince you Bruce Wayne is Batman."
"Oh, come on! That millionaire playboy? He's too busy socializing at cocktail parties and managing the affairs of the Wayne Foundation."
"Don't open this one again."
"What does he think Alfred's friends with Batman?"

Other notes:
I will say, one of the few memorable visuals to me in the new opening is one that you have to "freeze frame" to catch, Ralph playing in a "sandbox" that's Frank Grimes' grave. Though... who is just buried in sand or sand-like soil?

This has to be the last time Homer is represented as being a teen in the 70s, right?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
How the Test Was Won

As a teacher and especially a teacher of ESL, I've often had to teach to a test. While it's not like nothing is learned through this, the primary thing to learn is how to do that test. Now I wouldn't say I loved taking tests but if I'm doing pretty well, I'd definitely get a high from it. All the same, I find that conventional testing is not the best way to teach or gauge knowledge. It's understandable because it boils things down to simple numbers but that's also the problem. Even worse is something like "no child left behind", which was a terrible initiative that was looking to turn school into some sort of meritocracy rather than actually focusing on making schools better.

In this episode, Springfield Elementary is to take a special test to determine how the school is funded by the government and the students are given basically a test boot camp with every class focused on the test. On the day of the test, Bart is told that he is one of several students to get a perfect score and that the best students don't need to take the test and can attend a pizza party instead, too. Bart gets on the bus to the party only to realize all the other "top scorers" are the school's weakest students being hauled away to prevent their low scores from fouling up the school's standings. However, Seymour Skinner is also taken away to babysit without his knowledge. Skinner and the "losers" are taken to Capital City for the day and things get worse when bus is stripped by thieves during a rest stop. :Later, Ralph, one of the group, ends up in danger but Skinner manages to use physics to save him, impressing the other kids. Meanwhile at Springfield, Lisa is shocked that the test is incredibly obtuse and frustrating, causing Lisa doubt. But Skinner returns to take back his school and deciding that the test isn't a real method of teaching, he says the school won't participate.

How the Test Was Won was an episode I was going into hoping I was really going to like. I will definitely say I like things about it. If anything, there's potential in the a, b and c plots. The a-plot is described above, the b-plot is Lisa freaking out over the test and the c-plot is Homer trying to avoid injury while uninsured. Perhaps they all needed time to breathe. The a-plot, I feel needed more time to bake because the ingredients are there: Skinner having to throw in with these kids he derides, finding himself similarly disrespected by someone above him and finding teaching is about connection and application. And also, the repeated lesson in the series, don't make schools compete for funding. But the misadventures don't really build all that properly and to an extent, I don't think it challenges Skinner's complaint that the kids just aren't paying attention when he hasn't earned it. I feel the stuff I wanted out of it only happens at the end and I kind of want more of that and having them bond in the story.

Lisa's story has lots of great little moments but I don't think it's sudden ending by the a-plot is very satisfying to me. Still, I feel it works to an extent at presenting the anxiety and the test tearing down the usually confident-in-her-intelligence Lisa by being poorly written and needless complicated. Lisa is someone who likes to see a tangible number of success and I can relate and I like the idea of just being in that moment of the bad test. I think you really could have made an episode just in this hour, a sort of weird bottle episode where we are in Lisa's headspace in where she finds herself in a nightmare and finds the test mindrending. What's there is pretty good but as I said, I feel like while the resolution works for Skinner's character, I think it's just being saved by the bell for Lisa and I'd rather something... different I guess.

The c story is definitely the weakest and the others could have needed more time so this should have been excised by a silly Homer adventure where he tries to spend a few hours not getting hurt seems like it would be prime for the show to do some Mr. Bean/Harold Lloyd like shenanigans and just make a series of fun set pieces of Homer escaping danger, maybe playing with the formula and doing deconstructions of such scenes (one of my favourites of those is in an episode of Adventure Time, in which a Robe Goldberg device immediately falls apart before getting to do anything). Instead, it's the more forgettable part, except some animators got to draw Marge making out with Lindsay Nagel (this isn't the last time we get a weirdly placed lesbian make out scene in book club. What should I read into this?)

Other great jokes:

I will say I didn't need the show to just show us a bunch of Homer getting hurt scenes but it's a good finish to say "What a week."

"Today, I received an education on how kids really learn... by seeing their principal run around on a shipping container."

Other notes:

So one of the sight gags is... just that a teacher is trans? Really, there's a banner that says "Miss Caldecott is now Mr. Newbery." It's odd because this kind of thing, by the standards of this show's ill-considered jokes, isn't bad except I'm pretty sure we are supposed to see it as a joke because... trans is weird? Reminder, this shit came out only 13 years ago. I probably didn't blink at it because frankly, I probably didn't see anything wrong with that line of thinking which I definitely do now.

Also, we have Skinner getting scared because he's on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd and Cesar Chavez Way and... is this just Family Guy now?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
“All we have to do is make sure nobody gets hurt in our house before Friday”
”I don’t want anybody to ever get hurt in our house!”
”…let’s be realistic, Marge”

“If you don’t know the answer, pray to god for for one, and if you don’t get an answer, HE IS NO GOD OF YOURS!”

Was this the episode where the joke is that Lunch Lady Dora may have killed and, because I have thoughts on that one
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
No Loan Again, Naturally

I always try to check myself in family and friend relationships because it can be real easy to take someone you love for granted when they play a specific role in your life. For example. it didn't even dawn on me to help with the dishes when having dinner with my family since I came back, something I always do now. I try to be a good person but I will concede I can be completely thoughtless from time to time and I always feel bad about it... when someone points it out to me. I can be careless and while I try to be aware, sometimes in going with the flow, its easy for me to miss the obvious.

In this episode, the Simpsons learn that their annual Mardi Gras celebration has bankrupted them and put them in their worse financial situation ever. Just as the Simpsons' home is about to be auctioned off, Flanders buys their home and gives them a reasonable rental fee for their home so they can gradually buy it back. As the Simpsons celebrate Flanders' selflessness, they notice a small leak. As the landlord, Flanders starts working on the house but it is such a disaster that he finds himself run ragged trying to fix it. The Simpsons take advantage of poor Ned and when he needs time to himself, Homer decides to get revenge on Flanders with a media smear campaign. An insulted Flanders, threatens to evict them and eventually manages to, leaving the Simpsons out of the street. However, just as he's about to sell to far more amiable neighbours, Flanders can't bring himself to sell and gives the Simpsons another chance.

No Loan Again, Naturally is written by Jeff Westbrook and I feel like my take on him is that he has episodes with strong potential but often falls short in some capacity. On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister would be a much better episode if it doesn't make Lisa so cruel. Apocalypse Cow is one I feel like comes from a real place of concern over how we treat animals but is almost weirdly TOO sincere, rarely a complaint of mine, to a cheesy extent. He did do Kill Gil Volumes I & II which I think is actually pretty dang strong and I don't recall having a major complaint about.

This one is sort of in the middle of the road for me; it wants to create another character focused and emotional episode that brings the show down to Earth again. I mean, when's the last time we've really been concerned about the family's financial strife. Really it's a torch that would be passed onto Bob's Burgers and even that show drops it to an extent (though not with so much reckless spending from the leads). But it does, by the show's metric, feels a bit realer, certainly by comparison to the episode with magical spaghetti sauce or Marge getting a vision of the mama's boys of Machu Pichu. No big broad turns weird turns, but something where an act of generosity becomes an obligation and a burden that hurts friendships.

Unfortunately, while this is a solid premise for emotional stakes, for whatever reason, it never lands strongly. That doesn't mean it's bad, it's just that an episode where Marge breaks down emotionally twice doesn't really make a dent in my heart. The episode makes no overt missteps to pin why it lacks staying power but it also lacks whatever would actually make the Simpsons loosing their home a big gut punch. Obviously, we know they get home in the end but it's all about, as Stan Lee said, the illusion of change and this episode is working hard to sell the illusion in the acting and the palpapble sense of loss for the Simpsons but sadly, for me, it never lands the way it intends to. A very valiant attempt at something great that lands on fine.

Other great jokes:
"Now here's a free tip from me; learn to make soup with rocks and grass."
"And how will we cook this soup."
"Come on, Marge, you have the sun, you have hobo fires, I can't do all the work for you."

"Let's see what else is in the job jar."
"It's beautiful, no two are exactly alike. Though many are similar."

I like Flanders not being able to find a channel he likes with so many block but is finally satisfied when he lands on channel blocking instructions.

"Wee, I'm going to live like a human in my own house. Hey, what's the catch."
"I'm using you."
"For what?"
"My own devices."
"Alright then."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Gone Maggie Gone

Puzzles! Riddles! Brainteasers! I love these kinds of things. Except the ones that involve math. But I love games that challenge the brain and have fun doing it. Conversely, I always hated it when a brainteaser might assume one answer when another seems accept able. My sister once had a board game called Mindtrap where you are encouraged to solve logic puzzles and I always found that at least 25% of the puzzles had answers that didn't seem like they could be the only possible one. A reveal for a puzzle must seem like a magic trick; when you reveal the truth, it should seem like you COULD have solved it and leave you feeling impressed that you solved it or that it outsmarted you. Failure to do that is more frustrating than enjoyable.

In this episode, Marge unwisely looks directly at a solar eclipse and is blinded and told to avoid any undue stress. When the home is infested with rats, Homer buys some candy-coloured rat poison and then ends up in a car accident, finding he can only continue his journey on boat. However, he is with the dog and Maggie and if Homer leaves the dog alone with Maggie or Maggie along with the poison, there is trouble. Homer eventually finds a solution to cross but ends up accidentally leaving Maggie at a monetary, where she is taken in as an orphan. Lisa goes undercover to find Maggie and stumbles across a mystery involving "the gem of St. Teresa". Believing solving the mystery will get her closer to Maggie, she solves various puzzles with the help of Comic Book Guy and Principal Skinner. Lisa comes to believe she is the gem, only to learn it is Maggie, a spiritual "gem" that will usher in a new age of peace. However, Marge can't left her daughter go and takes her child back.

Gone Maggie Gone isn't specifically about anything; it's a game. It's a series of puzzles and is having fun with the kind of puzzles and mystery books that the writers likely grew up with. It starts with the promise of being a "Davinci Code Spoof" but thankfully, that's all surface. Yes, there are elements such as a catholic conspiracy but really, that feels like it was more an element in the episode pitch and a promise that the episode could be marketed to cash in on a popular franchise. The main thing is to come up with some silly puzzles, have the characters react to them in character and with some silliness and come up with a satisfying solution. So does this work?

Well, let's start with the humour. It's serviceable and to a certain extent, it does intersect with the puzzles. One of them is an anagram designed with two solutions; one for getting wrong and the correct one that Lisa points out only makes sense on the feet of the first one. Unfortunately it's a gag they use twice and while both are cute, I don't feel like it builds up so much as gives us some redundancy. All the same, there are some decent enough gags in the episode and it makes it enjoyable enough.

But what of the puzzles? Eh. The first one is the the grain, the goose and the fox puzzle and I appreciate that while it is well worn, it is very possible that someone isn't familiar and gets a commercial break to figure it out should they want. Overall, I didn't care for a lot of them and the "biggest ring": is cute but it is a little unfair that the solution is barely visible in the second before the commercial break. I also wish the fake out answer was visible, too, for that matter. Again, I like the fact that there are fake out answers that seem clever but there are better ones but the hand is played too often (well, twice) on the written word related ones. They aren't bad but I wish some of them made either me or the show feel a little more clever.

Other great jokes:

"You guys have treated me like a princess. Every day's been like the first 10 minutes of Mother's day"

"WHY DID I BRING THE BABY AND THE DOG TO THE POISON STOR--"

Marge enjoying "lisa's" "jazz" is pretty good.

"Superman, I've believed in your for years. If you can hear me, please, help me dig this giant grave."

Other notes:

I was positive the decrepit nun's multi-snuffer was come into play, but nope.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
In the Name of the Grandfather

I went to Ireland once when I was quite young and in all honesty, I barely remember it. I remember to scared to kiss the Blarney Stone (it hangs over a gap) and some green hills but beyond that, I have no idea what 6 year old me was doing there. My mother, however, is much more in touch with her Irish heritage. Interestingly, my sister's partner's mother recently started a family tree to trace mom's family line can came up with a lot of interesting data going very far back. But personally, while I'd love to go back, I have no emotional connection to Ireland.

In this episode, the Simpsons miss Family/Senior day at the Retirement Castle and Grandpa is upset, knowing he is nearing the end of his life. They decide on taking Grandpa to Ireland to visit a pub he used to visit when he was stationed there during World War II. However. Grandpa is distraught to realize that the town he lived in long ago was no longer the humble village but is now modern and well-to-do. The quaint pub Grandpa visited is now struggling but Grandpa, Homer and the owner Tom O'Flannigan has a night of drinking and revelry. However, when Homer and Abe wake up, they realize Tom hoodwinked them into buying his failing business. Homer and Abe decide to get help from Moe, due to his experience running a terrible bar that somehow still does business. Moe tells the father and son duo to allow them to do something no other bar would and settle on letting the customers smoke. They do great business at first but are arrested and deported with a small fine.

In the Name of the Grandfather is yet another "The Simpsons are going to ______" episode and it really does feel like it's one of the series more generic. Most of the jokes are pretty weak and involve leprechauns and finding the use of "Mc" in a last name very funny. Like, it happens a lot, such as "McEllis Island" and "Mick-rosoft", It's all pretty bad and the entire episode oscillates between eyeball rolling and simply inert. not painfully bad but leaving no impression whatsoever. I don't know if this is the least memorable "The Simpsons are going to ______" but it's the one that shows that without a clear point of view, there's not much beyond toothless cultural gags.

I guess if the episode is about anything, it's about coming to a place once visited and dealing with the idea that places change. It's a potentially interesting idea and it seems the kind of folly Homer and Abe would involve themselves with desperately trying to cling to a past you only had a passing connection to. There is the culture shock of the actual place not reflection expectations but It's pretty shallow and it doesn't actually seem to have much to say beyond that. It's far more interested in silly Irish jokes than actually doing anything with Grandpa's existential crisis at the beginning of the episode, which it turns out to be more of a device than something that informs character.

The episode has some guest appearances from Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová the wonderful Irish musical romance film Once but really, the MVP is Star Trek's Colm Meaney as Tom O'Flanagan. Frankly, some of the Irish stuff from that is only slightly more cartoonish than the Simpsons and he plays things at the appropriate levels of silliness for the episode and gives some great line reads. There's not too much to his character but he is given some silly business which is better than a lot of guest stars get and it does allow him to really act, at least.

Other great jokes:

"It's been years since I've sold so much as a pint."
"Don't you mean pint?"
"It's been so long I've forgotten how to say it. It's a joke to even call this place a pube."

"So, it's a smoke easy you're runnin', then?"
"So, it's escapin' you're thinkin' of ,then?
"I can't tell if those are questions or statements."
"So it's our syntax that you're coitizin'. then?"
Other notes:

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Jasper's son looks like someone drew Hank Scorpio wrong.

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Meanwhile, Hans Moleman's dad looks like an evolved Pokemon version of the man himself.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Wedding For Disaster

Do... do people do second weddings? I feel like we only see them on TV. In fact, the first time the Simpsons had a second wedding, Homer references those bad second weddings you see on TV. I have never known of anyone who has had a second wedding. Of course, I know people who haven't done a lot of things but it really does feel like feel like its more a plot device to have a big TV wedding or have the drama and joy of a wedding in a way that isn't really earned. Does anyone have any insight into this or a rebuke to my assumptions? I'm genuinely curious.

In this episode, Reverend Lovejoy revealed he wasn't certified for Homer and Marge's second marriage and with Homer having gotten a divorce to give it weight, they need to remarry for legal purposes. It's a minor bureaucratic correction but Homer and Marge decide to make it more romantic with a big wedding. Marge begins planning the wedding but soon becomes increasingly controlling, causing Homer distress. When the wedding finally happens, Homer is a no-show, making Marge believe he's run off. In fact, Homer was kidnapped by a mysterious party. Bart and Lisa figure this out and after finding an "SB" key chain at the scene, they assume it was Sideshow Bob. But after confronting Bob, it is revealed he had an airtight alibi and suggests the possibility it's another notable SB in he Simpsons' lives; Selma Bouvier. In fact, it was Selma and Patty, hoping to break up Homer and Marge for good but ended up releasing him after being moved to tears after hearing his vows. Bart and Lisa confront the siblings about their crime and blackmail them into coughing up enough dough for a perfect wedding for Homer and Marge.

Wedding for Disaster is a weird episode because it is... quite dumb and only sporadically funny but, it's watchable in it's way. I don't recommend the episode but there's a zippiness and some ridiculous circumstance that make this subpar episode go down pretty easily. But I realized why this episode feels so weird is kind of damning... it feels less like a Simpsons episode and more like a Simpsons Comic issue. For those who didn't actually read a Simpsons comic, they usually tended to be a little weaker and a LOT broader, with wackier and far more out-there plots with growth rays and bizarre happenstance. They might regurgitate older plot ideas but in bigger, goofier ways. This makes sense because the comics tended to skew to a younger audience (namely early teens). I will also say occasionally they got some good creators beyond the usual stable of creatives. They even got Gail Simone to write a few issues!

But Wedding for Disaster doesn't feel like a Gail Simone strip. It's just not that funny. Instead, it's wild and dumb. There's actually an idea at the core that is interesting; wanting a major life event to somehow be perfect and having trouble dealing with the idea that imperfection is just part of life. Of course, I feel like accepting the imperfections of such things are already addressed multiple times and looking at the wedding of Marge and Homer is often the focus of this. So, again, despite a wild third act turn, this is just a retread of themes and ideas and provides little knew to offer beyond crazy events and a weak mystery.

Patty and Selma's reluctant desire to release Homer is also pretty standard. I love Homer showing the depths of love for Marge to Patty and Selma but this is again another retread, despite the Saw-inspired retread. There's little insight into it's characters or themes and again, this would be extremely forgivable if the show was funnier but there are few laugh-out-loud lines. Sideshow Bob's cameo is fun enough, at least. The show also seems to really like it's Bing Crosby-inspired Parson and think his rambling songs are funny. Me, not so much. Watching it wasn't torture, but it's a pretty forgettable affair.


Other notes:
Yet another "joke" where the reveal is a character is actually trans. *sigh*

There's a couch gag where the Simpsons are a multicourse meal and... why would you ever make Homer the salad?

I like that even in 2009, the DMV has a "pipes" screensaver.

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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Eeny Teeny Maya, Moe

The Simpsons is a show that presents itself as quite liberal but it is also a show that seems to have a hard time changing with the times. One of the big problems that becomes apparent as the show goes on is trying to do episodes all about people who are of a minority. It's still a show that both wants to use the archetypes of stereotypes and yet have more educated or nuanced presentations. The most obvious example is Apu, a character whom the writers worked very hard to have a rich background and inner life but also, even beyond his accent, often is presented in ways that is pretty poor representation. And I think the Simpsons wants to be able to sympathize with people who are different and still joke about them. It's understandable but it's also what leads to attempts to have "ironic" use of stereotypes that are still kind of ugly.

In this episode, Moe reveals to Homer that he's met someone online who likes him for him, Maya, and they are finally going to meet. Moe meets Maya and is surprised that she's a little person. Moe is startled but is nonetheless in love with her and she him. Moe is excited to be in a happy, healthy relationship but decides not to introduce her to his regular customers, fearing they might not handle her differences well. When Maya questions Moe why they never meet his friends, Moe decides on Homer and Marge and during a successful double date, Moe realizes how much he loves Maya. He decides to propose and she's exstatic at first but when Moe takes one of her bon mots about her size and takes it too far, Maya asks Moe to leave. Moe decides a grand gesture is necessary, and decides to get surgery to make himself surgery. Maya confronts him before the surgery and tells him he's far too focused on her size. They break up and Homer tells Moe that it hurts now but knowing that Maya truly loved her means he can find love again.

Eeny Teeny Maya, Moe is an episode I was dreading revisiting, knowing it is a well-intentioned episode a little too hung up on short jokes even when trying to be on Maya's side. But the episode, while having some wrong-headed approaches, also gets a lot right. It's about two people who love each other earnestly but by the end, Moe realizes that he's far too hung up on differences for the health of the relationship, in a way that makes Maya uncomfortable and feel like she isn't being seen beyond who she is in terms of size. Moe is constantly paranoid about saying the wrong thing or that his friends will do something embarrassing and while it is nice he's trying to realign some thinking for her, with him being focused on only one aspect of her, he hurts his relationship and is constantly in a guarded state. And even when he's not after Maya makes a joke about being short, he decides to just keep it going and not realizing he's just being hurtful.

I actually think it's an episode that is focused in this regard and writer John Frink, who can write some of the less-focused wacky-forward scripts, is actually writing an episode really about this relationship and I think it is clear he really wants to explore the love of these two different people and where Moe's inability to treat Maya like a person beyond her status of a little person hurts a beautiful love. Frink works to make us feel happy for Moe, make Maya a decent character and and even an ending that's kind of sweet. When Maya is hurt or upset, cartoon veteran Tress MacNeille plays it with earnest emotion and the show works to give her some genuine dignity.

What hurts the episode, though, are the same bad habits that really haven't proven to be the truism the show thinks that, hey, we are all just laughing. The show specifically has a scene where Moe takes a gag too far but the episode is also loaded with little pointed misdirects that are really micro-aggressions; Moe thinks Maya might live in a tree like an elf, Homer seems to be asking about the mechanics of Moe and Maya's love-making but it's really a question about nuclear power, Moe mentions he's going to put in a "car seat" for Maya, but he means a literal full-sized one. It's really eye-rolling stuff that's not much different than Moe making jokes about drinking from an acorn and dancing on the head of a pin that offends Maya. The show wants to say "we are all having fun here" but it seems to miss it's own point, sadly, marring the potential of an episode that is more thoughtful than it's contemporaries.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Good, The Sad and the Drugly

It's easy to despair about the future. There is good news out there, a lot of it, but there's also a ridiculous amount of bad news. Environmental crises, political strife, shootings and killings, a war. It can be very hard to keep positive in the face of such horror and it can seem hopeless. It's even worse for people who already have serious issues like mental illness. It's important to not ignore it, to an extent, but at the same time self-care is extremely important and it's important to give yourself some mental breathing room if you can afford it.

In this episode, Milhouse takes the full brunt of trouble for one of Bart's pranks but refuses to rat Bart out and gets a week's suspension. Bart is grateful to Milhouse and promises to see her everyday. When Bart meets a girl named Jenny, he is instantly smitten but learns she is a do-gooder who is not interested in a troublemaker like Bart. Bart plays the role of do-gooder and the two begin being sweet on each other. It goes great until Milhouse re-appears and feeling resentful Bart's ignored him for a new girl, threatens to expose Bart's bad boy past. Eventually Bart can't take it and comes clean himself and Jenny dumps him and Bart decides to patch things up with Milhouse. Meanwhile, Lisa does research on the future and comes to the conclusion that the world is doomed due to environmental disaster and falls into a deep depression. Lisa is given drugs to ignore it which puts her into a haze and eventually Marge makes her stop taking them when she becomes worried Lisa is too detached for her own safety.

OK, so I don't have much to say about the a-plot. Though there's an element similar to some old thrillers where someone is threatening to reveal Bart's "dark" "past" but I feel like this is one of the more forgettable "Bart gets a girlfriend" stories in the series and that's saying something. Anne Hathaway is in it and while she's a good actress, there is so little here, she comes back a year later as a new character and I didn't even notice. I do appreciate the animators really sell that Bart does feel really bad for Milhouse in the first act and that they really care for each other which helps the episode a bit but there's little going on here.

There's a lot more going on in the b-plot but most of it is unfortunate. I'll start with the good; Lisa suffering from existential dread over the future of the environment is actually a decent idea for a story. Yes, it seems like it should have happened by now but seriously, it's like we are NEVER out of worse news so it makes sense Lisa could find a real tipping point for her mental well-being. An episode with Lisa having to find a way to deal with it in the face of endless horrors is interesting, as long as it's more than "Lisa does a good environment" because while that would be great we; 1) have been there before and 2) as great as Lisa is, it really is far too big for one person to deal with, even one as smart as Lisa.

The problem is, the story's focus is "Lisa takes happy pills", which is a deeply misguided take. It presents anti-depression drugs as something that turns Lisa into a happy-zombie out of touch with reality and is an escape from facing the real problem. And I'll concede my understanding of mental health medication is limited and probably incorrect on a lot of levels, I'm positive it doesn't blank out the mind. The episode about Bart taking a Ritalin-like drug was questionable enough but implying people with mental health issues need to stop taking them to face reality feels... fucking awful. Maybe writer Marc Wilmore meant it as a metaphor but that's not better at all. It seems to me, an escape for Lisa would be a freemium video game or some form of escapism, not a necessary drug for well being. If it came from an approach that in general people's mental health might start to get better if we made the world better, that's fine but implying prescription anti-depression drugs are an escape is not just a bad take but a dangerous one.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Bafflingly, a season 33 episode brought back Maya, had her and Moe pick their relationship back up, and ended with them getting married.

A twist ending I did not see coming.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Father Knows Worst

Having taken care of children, one of the tricky things is knowing when to back off and when to get involved. It would be easy to help manage every little thing but sometimes kids need space to feel their feelings, learn to settle disputes for themselves and deal with their own crises. But at the same time, even when it isn't a serious problem, you want a kid to realize you have their back or sometimes make sure that they know that they can do better in their behaviour. It's not always easy to find the middle ground and each child might need something different.

In this episode, Homer goes to the kids school where he meets a mother who describes herself as a helicopter parent who hovers over her child to make sure her son gets good grades. Homer notices Bart needs help in behaving like a good student and Lisa is unpopular. With Marge distracted by a newfound sauna in the home, Homer decides to step up be a helicopter parent to help his kids. Homer decides to get Bart to build a model for a school competition where the prize is $1000 towards his college education while he finds a book for Lisa that teaches her how to be popular through psychological manipulation. Lisa becomes popular and though Homer takes over for Bart's model and makes a mess, Bart wins when Superintendent Chalmers is certain Bart is the only one who didn't get parental help. But Bart quickly comes clean to denounce helicopter parenting and allowing the kids to make mistakes. Similarly Lisa decides she doesn't want her knew friends if she can't be herself.

The last episode had one very questionable b-plot and a boring a-plot. This episode isn't an outstanding episode but I do wish this was the baseline quality of series this season. It's not even an amazing episode, it's just a good one with a point of view, a few clever turns, not overly reliant on wacky high-concepts and is built into character. I feel like helicopter parenting is something I actually only observe in fiction but while it risks it seeming like "old writer doesn't like new trend" but the fact is even if the complaint is based on some sort of non-issue "trend", the core of it is real, which is that push and pull between how to help your kids. Homer as an obnoxious and controlling helicopter parent works and the message of having the courage to let kids make mistakes, while not deeply insightful, still holds up at least.

I think it also helps that the script doesn't feel as sloppy or disjointed as it sometimes is. Nothing is rushed OR padded out and there's no b-plot to get in the way. The closest thing is Marge finding the sauna but that's really more of a narrative device allowing Homer to be the one to worry about the kids. And I also buy Homer wanting to be a helicopter parent because it is tied into what we know about him as a character; he's a dumb goof but he can feels self conscious so when he sees Bart being a goober in front of an arrogant mom and seeing Lisa suffer, it gets to him. After so many episodes where Homer is running on some sort of idiot auto-pilot who seems almost existing beside the series of to the side making wacky, one that lets him be a character again is nice. After all, Homer is dumb as fuck but even like that, I think he's supposed to be, in his way, someone we can relate to.

I often complain about missed opportunities and I think there was room for having more of the episode through Bart and Lisa's eyes but for me, this isn't "they should have done this" and more "this could have been cool, too", which is to say, I don't feel like the episode is missing anything. This isn't a standout episode but it is an episode that simply is doing a good job and considering how unhappy I was with so many of these recent episodes, it's nice to have something with at least a little more flavour than "I didn't mind sitting down to watch this." This episode is written by Rob LaZebnik, who also wrote Homer Vs. Dignity, the episode where Homer is raped by a panda. Yeah. But It's easy to forget that Homer Vs. Dignity is a very good script completely marred by that second act closer. I'll be interested to see if Rob, like Daniel Chun, is a writer that represents what I like the show being in this era instead of the questionable or hacky takes that I've seen more recently. I have heard that his recent "Smithers comes out to Burns" episode is actually not bad.

Other great jokes:

"Now Homer, how would you like me to remove it, yanky or peely."
*holds up two finger*
"Got it."
"Hibbert yanks it*
"OW! I held up two for peely."
"Oh, I thought that was a 'y' for yanky. I'll make a note in your chart that you aren't always clear."

"Man, who comes up with this stuff."
"Old comedy writers who have to work in our kitchen."
"Our one rule is that Charles ALWAYS had to be in charge."
I like this joke but I also wholly admit it's stupid. The old comedy writer is just... wearing a Charles in Charge shirt to work so we get the joke like it's a goddamned political cartoon. But it also feels like it's putting itself on blast for its shitty "wacky name" jokes.

Homer drinking mayonnaise like how Popeye eats spinach works for me because of how completely disgusting the animation looks when it pours into his mouth.

"Do you want me to watch and learn."
"No, that kind of creeps me out."

"Must finish Poet's Corner or Bart with work for Noah with his hot mom."

"Welcome to Springfield's Next Top Model... contest."
"Kenny, he said you're show."
"Oh, I watched it once."
There's something real about a mom trying to get a kid excited about the cheesy reference someone makes on a thing they like and the kid NOT being into it.

"Yeah, it's clear to me now the best thing I can do as a parent is simply check out."
"No, there's a middle ground."
"Lisa, a light's either on or off."
"Not if you use a dimmer switch,"
"That's what the dimmer switch companies want you to think."

Other notes:

I love Homer being completely disgusted with Noah, despite him doing nothing but being overwhelmed by his mom.

I also like Noah's design because I feel like too many kids in this era has "guest star" eyes (as in not bug-eyed) and he has weird hair and while not jank, he feels like a classic Simpsons character design.

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How is Homer recognizing all these poet ghosts.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-(Annoyed Grunt)

Its understandable to be concerned over your child's education and not everyone has the opportunity to make a choice about where their child goes. I know my sister, who can speak French, wanted my niece to have the opportunity to learn in French and be raised bilingual but it wasn't easy. She already has issues with speech and that alone nearly cost her the chance to go to a French immersion school. But thankfully her daycare worker was able to help her out by pointing out that her issue isn't she can't speak French but speaking in general is difficult. There are rules, though, that are designed to make sure native French speakers are the ones attending and often they don't take into account situations like that.

In this episode, Marge learns how bad Springfield Elementary and comes up with a plan to get the kids a better education. To get the kids into the best school in town, Waverly Hills, Homer starts renting an apartment in the worst part of the richest neighborhood so they have an address there. But when Homer and Marge learn that someone will be checking on him, Homer needs to stay in the new address so the kids can go to their school. Meanwhile, at the new school Lisa realizes she isn't the smartest kid and is also still unpopular. Bart concocts a lie to help with Lisa's popularity, claiming she knows the singer Alaska Nebraska. However, when the kids demand Lisa get backstage passes, Lisa is forced to confess the truth and is even more unpopular. So they all go back to Springfield Elementary.

This is a pretty forgettable one and it is another with yet another hacky sitcom premise; Lisa tells a lie to make herself popular about a celebrity. I wish this wasn't the a-plot because it's a show that is spurred on by the idea that there's a problem with the public education system and the Simpsons need to resort to drastic measures. It's a much more interesting angle in the episode and it basically drops to the wayside for Lisa's nonsense and a "Homer living a bachelor life" bit. It's basically what I think of when I think of this era; a show that once mocked hacky premises just doing them with weirdly no irony.

Now, it's not like the show was always immune to such things. One of the early episodes, and a good one, is Homer and Flanders making a bet that will end them in dresses and Bart and Todd choosing to tie rather than perpetuate a rivalry. That's classic sitcom stuff and for the most part it doesn't overtly subvert it. But that episode is still a cleverly told story with good laughs and character but here it's yet another "Lisa makes a bid to be popular." Frankly, I think it's a formula that doesn't make much sense for Lisa and also its constantly the same lesson of "I want people to like me for me rather than what I pretend to be."

There's not much more for me to say except it's got two solid guest stars doing some heavy lifting. First is Maurice LaMarche doing an Anton-Chigurh-like character. He's doing fine but in a season or two, there's an episode where Krusty is mocking Itchy and Scratchy for trying to mock a current trend but the length it takes animation guarantees it will be behind the times. Which is a pointed comment from the show on itself. And bits like this. What works a lot better is Elliot Page in a small role as "Alaska Nebraska". It's a brief scene but the character, despite being another parody of a thing that was popular then makes an impact. Alaska is talented but cynical and doesn't have time for Lisa's dumb game. Frankly, if they had this character re-occur as an anti-Krusty, someone Lisa is apathetic toward but keeps popping up simply because they're popular within Lisa's demographic, that could have been fun.


Other great jokes:
"I know you've been dealing drugs at the high school but I'll look the other way if you come to Ralphie's party."
"I'm not going to pin no tail on no donkey."
"Look, just come to the party. It's gonna be fun. Batman's gonna be there."
"B-b-b-b-b-b-batman!?"
"I ain't messin' with no caped crusader!"

Other notes:

Apparently this episode has a clip used in Waiting for Superman and from the sounds of it, the film about charter schools has some views that don't sit with well for me in regards to how it treats struggling public schools.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Four Great Women and a Manicure

What makes for a strong female character? I'm reminded of James Cameron complaining that Wonder Woman wasn't a great heroine because she was glamourous or some shit, unlike his Terminator or Aliens leads. And Ripley and Sarah Conner ARE great characters but it's a shame (though not surprising) to see such a myopic take on female protagonists in action stories. And frankly, I feel like Cameron is also probably someone who is so self-obsessed, he's convinced his way is the right way. But there are many great ways to do great female characters, be they hero, villain or something more complex.

In this episode, while getting a mani-pedi, Lisa and Marge tell stories of great women both from history and fiction. First Marge tells the tale of Queen Elizabeth as she fights off the Spanish while struggling with romantic feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same. Then Lisa tells the tale of Snow White with her as the lead, save that no man comes to solve her problems. Then Marge imagines herself as... herself, trying to get Homer the lead in MacBeth. But to do it, she convinces Homer to kill the competition. Finally, Marge tells the Fountainhead with Maggie as Maggie Roarke as she battles mediocrity with her creativity.

Well, I'm glad the episode about women had a female writer but I wish the script was better. It's another case of wasted potential. Perhaps the problem is that they decided to do four stories and the first two don't have much time to do much but I feel like if the show wanted to tell us about great women, the first one is particularly weak. Elizabeth doesn't actually do much and it's a wacky Homer accident that saves the day. There's little time for the episode to properly get to it's point that Elizabeth her country before herself, it feels more like a bunch of random snippets from Elizabeth movies and such. The Snow White one also feels like it should be a subversion as Lisa tells a story where the lead often isn't shown with much agency but it really doesn't start doing that until the last joke. And it's a cute joke but it feels like it's a point of view that should have bleed through the thing.

The third story is the most interesting, a meta-retelling of MacBeth as Marge pulls Homer's strings to get him to be the best actor he can be. There are some good visuals, particularly Dr. Hibbert by chuckling himself to death. Its doing something different, which I appreciate, even if, again, for a show about women, there's not much to Marge or her motivation in this one. And I think that's my issue with all of these. that there's not a lot of actual commentary about women in this anthology all about women. There's little subversion, analysis, or insight into the characters or critiquing the nature of the stories we tell about women.

Then we get to the last story. Look, I don't know that much about Ayn Rand save for cultural osmosis but I am given to understand that it comes from a worldview of there are creators and parasites who look to bring low those of superior skill. It's a very shitty worldview which you can still see in pop culture today (I like the films of Brad Bird but they do pop up there a lot). So this one is a bit odd. It comes out and says the work of Ayn Rand is for conservative losers but it treats the themes with little mockery save that it's treated as somewhat ridiculous that this one guy is all in the tank for being mediocre. And also it has Jodie Foster as Maggie and... why here? Is she a big Rand fan or something? I'd believe it but this tale which seems lovingly directed and edited feels like whoever wrote it probably enjoyed that book that most now dismiss as having a warped worldview. And one that shouldn't through stones considering how mediocre the episode is.

Other great jokes:

The gag with the golden Willie-shaped coffin worked for me.

"You're in marketing, why did you even bring an axe?"
"If you were in marketing, you'd know."

"Why do they write a new review of this play every day?"

Other notes:
Apparently this is the first and only episode to be Bart-free, save for the intro.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Coming to Homerica

Season 20 comes to a close. Whew, watching 20 years of the Simpsons is exhausting. But for the errors of this era, it is still not without value. There are some very bad episodes and its inching closer to being a weekly narrative car wreck but for the most part, Homer is less of a shit and it is also inching away from SOME of it's questionable choices. But still not enough. Apu's one appearance in this episode is particularly cringe-worthy and there's a quick bad jokes about "trans fats" involving the h-s word (well-compound word). I wouldn't readily recommend watching this era without cherry picking but while it is easy to say "Simpsons suck now", there still is some life left here.

In this episode, Krusty Burger's new barley burger is a disaster after it turns out the barley acquired from the neighboring town of Ogdenville was tainted, the bad PR bankrupts the town. Afterwards there is a huge influx of Ogdenvillians looking for works. At first, Springfield is jazzed to have the new neighbors, who are friendly and helpful to everyone. However, with the influx comes some cultural changes and a fear of a challenge to their way of life results in rampant xenophobia spurred on by Homer. The town decides to try to prevent Ogdenvillian immigrants from coming into town with little success, even with a Homer-lead vigilante force. Out of ideas they decide to build a wall and realize they need help from the Ogdenvillians. They help but soon the project brings everyone closer together and soon the Ogdenvillians are invited back in.

OK, there's... a lot going on with this one, both the positive and the negative. I feel like even breaking it into "good stuff" and "bad stuff" is not so easy because the problems are intertwined with the good stuff. Obviously, this is an immigration episode, complete with a border wall. At the risk of sounding forgetful, I forgot how long talks of the "wall" have been. This definitely feels like it was written in the Bush era, though obviously the xenophobia fueling the episode never ended and even got worse thanks to the media and social media during the Obama years. It's in no way subtle about it's talking points and clearly wants to be a silly message episode that is also hopeful about our ability to come together.

OK, so I feel that the episode in dealing with xenophobia tries to have a few strategies to make the xenophobia seem less overtly ugly. We already had Homer direct his fear toward Muslims this season but this episode goes for a different strategy; the Norwegian-descended Ogdenvillians are culturally different but are also incredibly white across the board. I think the idea is to play up the ridiculousness of the hate but also make it a little softer but when you read between the lines of the metaphor, it feels much like a well-intended take on the issue but perhaps one with a sense that the immigrants they stand for, who would generally be non-white (and clearly this is largely meant to represent Mexican immigrants), are servile and friendly and there's not a lot too them beyond that. They aren't full characters, they are just a bunch of anonymous yet competent goofs. They are a good "other" but there isn't more to them than "other", even when we learn "we aren't so different after all". So there's kind of an unintended ugliness and sense of condescension that I'm giving the side eye when you read into the metaphor.

The last act is at it's least subtle and it's already plenty unsubtle. I appreciate that it wants to be an episode that ends like a sweet-hearted fairy tale where hate melts away in the face of community and it makes sense a shared project, ironically one gears toward hate, brings people closer together. I also appreciate that it is clear that the only "real" problem that the Ogdenvillians bring is stress on the health system which is implied to be brought on by the dangerous work and unsafe working conditions that the Springfieldians present. Again, there are some interesting ideas but I feel in trying to create a metaphor, it kind of muddies its own waters in trying to make it less ugly. The Simpsons has a history of having a hard time dealing with race (there are some great writers of colour who have worked on it but it is pretty white overall) but I feel like while I think the episode's message is in a broad sense a good one, metaphors can be tricky in discussing such thinks. I don't dislike the episode and there's stuff I like but I feel like, well, metaphors can be tricky and the fact that the reality of what they want to teach proved so deeply horrifying seven-eight years later.

Other great jokes:

"Hey, I ain't got no problem with them, they pay in cash, they keep in clean and their mythology is rich and enchanting."
"Yeah, the red-headed one said today was when Woden gave the herring it's greatest gift of all; it's fishy taste."

It's maybe a bit too goofy but I like an immigrant crawling between Wiggum's legs, which he is slow to realize and barely moves to catch him.

Other notes:

This might be the first episode that forced me to do a wikipedia edit as they credit the episode to Matt Selman but this is the sole episode written by Brendan Hay, who is the show runner on the new Gremlins cartoon apparently people wanted.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer the Whopper

Making a movie sounds like it is very hard. Any collaborative process is but film and TV has SO many people involved, so many voices that finding the right mix is essential. And understandably, as easy and understandable it is to vilify film executives, their job is business and keeping things safe. Sometimes it can work, I've definitely heard creatives admitting a safer route did result in something better but it can also mean a personal vision can be filed down to the nub and that it can make such a mess of a vision that it doesn't represent anything that can connect with anyone. Can considering the old maxim "write what you know" and that a bad creative experience can be eye opening, it's no wonder there are stories about the personal nightmare that is Hollywood.

In this episode, Bart and Milhouse learn Comic Book Guy has been writing a superhero comic in secret; Everyman, the superhero with amazing powers but the body and life of the average joe. They encourage him to self-publish and it becomes a hit and gains Hollywood attention. Comic Book Guy agrees on the condition that he choose the star and for his average plump body he chooses Homer. While Comic Book Guy is dazzled by the Hollywood lifestyle, Homer is given a personal trainer who makes him thinner and muscular. At first, the filming is growing great but when Homer's trainer leaves for a new gig Homer relapses into binge eating and even with editing, which not only fails to hide the weight gain but makes the film look even more ridiculous. The film is a bomb and Comic Book Guy is encouraged to lie to his fans about its quality but in the end cannot and proudly lambasts the film online.

It's not hard to see that this film is a reaction to Seth Rogen working on The Green Hornet. What shocked me in doing my research is that film was still over a year from release when this episode aired. But it was probably close to being in the can... it was intended to be released that summer and got pushed back the January, the most DAMNING month to release a major motion picture. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote this episode after getting some Matt Groening kudos for Superbad and they were invited to write a Simpsons script. It seems they were writing this as they were also making The Green Hornet and this episode is sort of a loose documentation of the nightmare of making a movie where Sony didn't seem to care about what was actually going on with the movie.

In all honesty, more than the gimmick episodes and the anthologies and the big guest stars, the guest written episodes are among the most interesting in this era. Ricky Gervais might be revealing himself to be even more unpleasant than we thought (hey Netflix, I dunno, maybe transphobes DON'T need some sort of platform), but the episode he wrote and starred in was one of the more interesting of the season and this episode is a strong start to season 21. Homer the Whopper has some standard Hollywood jokes about excess (the film apparently had an inflated budget, certainly compared to the smaller films Rogen made previous to this) and the cluelessness of execs but I feel this one is a personal piece for Seth, particularly in Homer being a dumpy guy having to shape up for Hollywood's impossible beauty standards and then feeling adrift when he's on his own to keep it up. I myself lost a lot of weight, which I'm proud of, but I've kind of plateaued in the COVID era (I actually lost a lot the Summer of 2020 but since then I gained a bit back and haven't been able to shake it), It's something I can relate to, even if the specific are very much a Hollywood thing.

Homer the Whopper is an episode that is silliness over emotion, even if it does come from a real place for Rogen but even though I don't like or am interested in all the films he's made, Rogen is a good comedy writer, not just for jokes but creating a whole story and episode and feel and knowing where to put the empathy. Even if it's not the episodes priority, making Comic Book Guy and Homer likable for the episode (even though CMB, rightly, gets sidelined for most of it) works. Jerks can be funny but I feel like the Simpsons writers don't always balance the jerkiness and relatability of those characters. Frankly, they've given CMB too many episodes about him and tried to make him too relatable, which doesn't work as well in an age of increasing visibility of toxic fandom that he often represents. Homer gets to be an oaf here but he does care about what's happening and does feel body shame now that he knows what it is like to have a good body. Frankly, when I was largely, I felt that too but I almost feel more sensitive to it since I can look in the mirror and identify myself as "low key handsome" (at least, I am and considering my self esteem, I REALLY appreciate it) and sometimes after I've eaten a bit much, I look at myself and despite no real difference can only see that in the mirror, so I do get it. There are only two more guest written episodes I am aware of; an imperfect Judd Apatow episode that is not without certain charms but I don't highly recommend and Pete Holmes, weirdly but appropriately, doing a two parter about Reverend Lovejoy (Pete Holmes started on the Christan comedy circuit). I kind of wish they would have allowed more but as we move into the future, I guess I wonder how many new comedians are influenced by the Simpsons and how many are simply influenced by things that were influenced by the show.

Other great jokes:
Narratively, I feel like the "dumb executives brainstorm" is old hat but the reveal that the people we are seeing don't matter is actually pretty funny.

"Wherever there's a crime to be solved, I'll be there to solve...

it.
And there's more but my fax machine ran out of ink so I can't read it. Do you know where I can get ink for an Amiga brand fax machine?"

"You want to see it any other way like sad or Brooklyn or Richard Nixon voice?"
"No thank you."
"BUT I ALREADY BOUGHT A BOAT WITH THE MONEY YOU WERE GOING TO PAY ME!"

"You are acceptable!"
"Great, do you want to see me naked?"
"Oh, there's no nudity in this movie."
"What movie?"

"Guess who was elected garden club vice president?"
"You, awesome, next."
"Actually, I lost."
"Well, they can go to Hell."
I like Homer being supportive even as he is bulldozing everyone to tell them his news.

Tress MacNeille's "No" when she doesn't want that Golden Globe back is very good.

"Homer, my brother and I showed this picture of you to a cross section of typical movie goers."
"Not one thought you looked like a superhero."
"Several people stared at the sun in order to blind themselves."
"STARED AT THE SUN. Against every animal instinct they had."

"Me using funny modes of transportation like a hot air balloon and a camel and finally I'm in a pick up truck full of chickens and I go to thank the driver but the driver's a chicken?"

"Thank Captain America for giving me the patriotism to WANT to save the president's life and thanks to Wonder Woman for giving me the boobs to distract the guard."

I love Marge being frightened of her own hand when she hugs thinner Homer for the first time.

"Don't look at me! Don't look at me! YOU! YOU WATCH!"

"Ooo. I think we have a clunker here. And I should know, I produced Bad Summer Movie, the parody of bad Summer movies that was itself a bad Summer movie."

On paper this is the same gag as "and with good cause" but both work on their own merits.

Other notes:

I don't know what joke got bleeped out but I'm pretty sure the word is "masturbate"

I appreciate for a brief joke both the script and Tress MacNeille make the continuity lady seem genuinely nice making Lenny, Carl and Moe trash talking her continuity seem even rougher.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Bart Gets a 'Z'

Though there's definitely an educational component to my work, I'm not really a "teacher" per se at this point. I was when I taught ESL in other countries and that was work I love. Now I hang around with largely very young children and try to impart wisdom to the kids when I can. How much goes in is hard to say, as often when the kids are listening to me, their just chewing on their anger of whatever conflict I'm trying to resolve. Sometimes I fear that while the kids generally like me, am I providing much they can take with them? After all, I definitely know that I will be forgotten. I'm not a teacher and I've forgotten many of the teachers I cared so much for. and that's OK but I hope I can pass something to them they can take with them while I'm retired or, failing my search for the fountain of youth, dead.

In this episode, Mrs. Krabappel, tired of the kids playing on their phones in class, takes them away. The kids decide if they want her to be more "fun", maybe she should get drunk and they spike her coffee with a powerful cocktail of alcohol. Krabappel makes an ass of herself and ends up fired. Bart feels guilty but he and the other kids don't want to confess since they love her replacement, the tech-savvy Zack. Bart wants to find a way to make Krabappel, who has hit hard times, happy again. Using a dubious self-help book, Bart gets Krabappel to open a muffin store and feeling things worked out for the best decides to confess. Krabappel is appalled and devastated and calls Bart, whom she's been grateful to at this point, "bad". Bart is hurt and decides to make it right by getting Zack drunk and fired. However, Bart decides two wrongs don't make a right and decides to confess. As Skinner explains the confession won't create an opening in the school but Zack appears drunk in the hall, not by a prank but due to him being disillusioned with the work. Krabappel gets her job back and is thankful, if a little bit vengeful.

The Simpsons have had problems making some of their characters good on a consistent basis. Homer is one of the all time great cartoon characters but the series doesn't always find the proper balance between jerk Homer and likable Homer. He needs to be a bit of both in the proper proportions and an off-balance makes for a less fun version of the character. Sometimes a Flanders happens and they sort of become salvagable in theory but consistently worse than they used to be. But some characters managed to be solid throughout even if the show has hiccups. One of them is Mrs. Krabappel, Bart's aging, amorous, lonely teacher. Like J Jonah Jameson, she can be both a sort of flexible integrity that somehow feels consistent despite how far it can go in either direction. And this is a pretty good episode that excels with that character.

This one, she's a good teacher and person but the episode from the get has her being a bit pathetic but trying hard in a way I certainly relate to as an aging man who is also alone, not good at meeting people and can get frustrated with his work despite liking it. It's a really good first scene that puts us completely in Krabappel's court, making her loss of work more devastating. What's more, Marcia Wallace kills it throughout comedically but also real when she's drunk. She is telling Milhouse he is going to have a "hard life" and a lot of time the show does that with mockery but this unfortunate assessment is one she delivers with weight even through a haze of a alcoholic cocktail. Krabappel remains one of the show's strongest character's even in the rougher eras.

The episode falter's at Edna's replacement Zack. He's a condescending teacher, someone passionate, thoughtful about kids like Bart and then someone who Burns out quick. None of these things necessarily contradict the other at all and can combine to make a rich character... but it's a lot for one episode and I feel with so little focus on him, it never settles properly. I feel like while Edna earns her "flexible characterization", Zack never has the chance to let these elements coagulate into someone whole and I'm not sure what writer Matt Selman wants us to think of him; is he a good dude who cracks under the pressure of his work or is he an ass who is all flash and no substance? Even the drunken breakdown scene he's just chanting "I hate kids" but then his other comments are less conventionally "just a jerk" and he clearly is disillusioned by the entire educational system. Within the same scene, it feels like his drive is different and I know he's only supposed to last the episode but I feel like a stronger character might have added more shades of complexity to Bart's dilemma (which comes to a weirdly easy fix I don't care for narratively). It's a mostly very good episode but I wish this element was better. It's not awful or anything, it just could be better.

Other great jokes:

"This book uses the ancient power of wanting."

The flame vision joke feels kind of like a golden age joke in terms of structure. In terms of success? It's fairly solid.

"Dad, am I bad on the inside?"
"No, but the layers of bad go almost all the way to the center?"
"But there's a kernel of good inside me right?"
"I dunno, kernels are pretty big."



Other notes:
Wait, is Krabappel not giving those phones back at the end of class? What the fuck?

I'm positive Zack was supposed to be a guest star and I'm not sure who. Jason Sudeikis? This feels like they wanted Sudeikis.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Great Wife Hope

I never really got into sports but the one exception is a year or two when I studied hap ki do. I did do some sparring but it was mostly flips, drills and a bit of practicing on each other. Our sensei basically said it was to practice skill, not for use outside. In fact, his actual words are "if you really want to defend yourself, get a gun" which... not into that. But other than that, the message that this was about skill, self-improvement and discipline rather than something to use in the outside world is one I agree with, especially since I'm constantly trying to teach kids not to retaliate.

In this episode, Marge learns that the men in town are into mixed martial arts and she disapproves of the violence. Feeling her protest isn't working, she barges into the ring and announces her desire to close down the local league. The founder Chett Engelbrecht, agrees he will... IF she can defeat him in a match. Marge agrees and the rest of the family, fearing for her safety, get her trainers from all over Springfield. Eventually Marge fights, only to have a difficult time against a seasoned pro. When Bart comes to her defense. Chett threatens him and Marge humiliates and defeats him. When Marge gives an impassioned speech about the pros and cons of her experiences, it turns out everyone has left to watch a couple of drunks fight outside.

I don't dislike this episode but I don't think this one is strong and feels emblematic of the problem I had with the show when I left it in 2016 or so. I feel a lot of these episodes have lots of promising elements but I get the impression the writing room's main purpose is to make it move with comedy. This means episodes tend to feel disjointed, missing some connective tissue and ultimately messy in theme and messaging. And sadly, they tend not quite to be funny enough to make me not care. The "connective tissue", the elements that take the plot from moment to moment with a logical flow, aren't missing too much this episode but my big problem is it has a lot of ideas about something it can say about violence and neither settles on anything nor explores the question is doesn't quite have the answer to. You really don't need to have a definitive answer or statement in a story. Sometimes we don't know and that's OK and we can work through that in fiction (one great episode is Blood Feud, where it explores ideas of gratefulness and gift giving but it's ambiguous ending works in its favor). but this episode barely glances at it's ideas, moving on to the next gag.

And I really do think it pokes at some ideas but seems to have little to actually say on mixed martial arts and violent sports. It would seem to be an episode about Marge making the error of being tricked into fighting against a bully at his own game or Marge struggling with the hypocrisy of partaking in violence to stop violence but I really don't think it tracks. The final speech relates some stuff like Marge finding an inner dark side but... generally her actions in the fight are heroic and never threaten to make us hope she stops. Or with Marge getting training, she could learn to respect the skill of a sport while still being against it ethically. It's an idea we should all take into account considering all the football concussions that Will Smith warned us about.

It really is frustrating because I feel like maybe writer Caroline Omine came in with a lot of ideas. The show has managed to wring great episodes out of checking out and exploring every angle it can in an issue but there's two key problems here; I feel like we are missing an element that ties the episode together. I still feel like if the show really let Marge, a character we love for being sweet, find herself relishing some violence, that's interesting because that thrill can get to anyone. Or maybe explore simple the cultural obsession or how violent imagery kind of invades areas of our life we want safe. Which brings me to my other problem; I know that Marge doesn't like violence and sees the imitate able aspect but while I know intellectually why she goes on the crusade, emotionally, I'm not taken along through Marge's perspective of horror and mostly it seems like the stake of clucking housewives... and Edna Krabappel. Unfortunately, I feel like soon I'll be making more of these complaints but after the first two episodes I found surprisingly strong, I hope I'm wrong and there are few more good ones this season.

Other great jokes:

"She knew my one weakness... that I'm weak."

"Yeah, I thought a noisy public place would be the best spot to tell you I'm dating your wife."
"What?"
"And can you tell her that I'm dumping her? After 11 years, the thrill is gone."



Other notes:

Yet another character I feel like they strongly considered getting a guest star for.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XX

Often when I learn someone is actually either a piece of shit or did something horrible, it is relatively easy for me to drop them no matter how much I loved their work. I was a BIG Joss Whedon fan but upon learning of his shitty behaviour it was easy for me to drop everything, even if some of the jokes and insights he created WILL stay with me. After all, even awful people can be great creators. It's not like the works are bad now (though it is easy to re-assess a lot of elements in storytelling) but it's more that the good work is tainted. But I'll admit some figures who were revealed to have done bad things are still big in my life. David Bowie is maybe my favourite musician and I still listen even after hearing that story of him sleeping with underage fans shortly after his death. Alfred Hitchcock attempted to force himself onto one of his starlets and it sounds like he's been cruel on set to female actresses. But I am also obsessed with his work. This is a case were, at least for now, I can compartmentalize but at the same time it becomes harder when the creator has a strong voice and it becomes harder to separate the art from the artist when there's so much artist in the art.

In this episode, three more tales of Halloween. First, in a parody of Strangers on a Train, Lisa and Bart decide to get revenge on their teachers by each doing the others "prank". However, Lisa learns Bart really meant murder and wants Lisa to kill Mrs. Krabappel. Lisa eventually turns on Bart but attempts to refuse killing him only to kill him by accident. In the second tale, a parody of 28 Days Later, tainted Krustyburgers creates a pandemic of raging cannibals across the town. When it is learned Bart is immune to the virus, they rush him to the safe zone to use him to create a vaccine. They manage to evade the monsters and get Bart to the safe zone, where he saves society by bathing in a communal soup. In the last tale, a parody of Sweeney Todd, Homer accidentally falls on Moe's microbrewery, impaled on the piping. Moe can't tell Marge and learns that Homer's blood, which has leaked into the pipes, makes the beer irresistibly good. Moe tries to use it to romance Marge but Homer frees himself and beats up Moe and gets back his wife, despite having the microbrewery permanently stuck to him.

After a pretty lack luster opening with a "angry wives with rolling pins" cliché bit, we get what I think is actually a pretty good episode. It helps this is a Daniel Chun episode, possibly my favourite writer of this era of the show. But I also don't want to discount the entire crew, particularly the directors Mike B. Anderson and Matthew Schofield. The first one is probably best, a loving tribute to one of the most talented film directors of all time. Like I said, my feelings are complicated but generally I find his films mesmerizing and this episode isn't QUITE a perfect parody but the episode is definitely going for style in a way I appreciate. I certainly wouldn't call it legitimately suspenseful, it does mock suspense fairly well. It eventually becomes a catch-all parody of the Hitchcock catalogue but I do appreciate that it's such a stylish episode. I also like that it isn't beholden too much to the film it is mocking and not trying to hit all the plot points which some parodies do.

This is actually a runner through the episode. The parodies aren't 1 to 1, rather using the tone and some plot points to make it's own story. That happens OFTEN but I appreciate it more when it is good. The second story isn't AS strong but is still fun. Interestingly, the big choice it makes is no music. 28 Days Later definitely DID have music but at the same time, I understand how this gives the feel of emulating that movie and similar ones in giving a sense of little filter between you and the "reality" of the scenario, a silent world with no more sound media and it's slightly washed out look (something I got tired of in horror films or... most films) gives a sense of a dismal, flavourless life. It's good but it's also my least favourite because I feel like Chun's strength is character and it definitely has some smaller character moments but it is more about "one scenario after another" for the characters.

The last tale is probably the most ambitious, and though it's just OK, I love what it is doing. It's a parody as a musical but it's designed not that it is happening in regular Springfield but it is happening as a play in the theatre. It's a lot of fun with crappy special effects (my favourite visual is Homer dashing a limp dummy and what should have been a cathartic beating feels amusingly impotent with the lightest of foley as it hits the floor. Homer's quick change isn't fast enough and Moe has to vamp. Its those kinds of touches that really make me like this, even if the songs (which weirdly, isn't a parody of Sondhiem in any overt way despite the fact that the writers seem to love Mad Magazine-style song covers). It's a fun little story and the conceit is much more fun than hitting plot points. This is one of the best Halloween outings in a while and it's nice to see some experimentation and playfulness.

Other great jokes:

"Lisa, don't take it personally, I barely spent any time on this decision."

"Lisa in detention? My horoscope said something interesting would happen today but I assumed it meant the horoscope itself."

"I've been waiting for you... and been trying to figure out how girls pee."

"Sorry Bart. I couldn't do it. There's got to be another way. I could help you with your homework. I won't give you the answers but I'll give you the help to find the answers yourself."

"If you see my wife, tell her I love her."
"You mean tell her I love her or I meaning you?"
"ARGH!"
"Eh, I'll just high five her."

"I can't shoot her! She's Lisa's godmother."
"You can apologize in Hell!"
"I guess I could!"

"Just relax."
*slides deeper into pipes*

"It's a letter from Homer on my stationary, with my handwriting, using my speech patterns and idioms."

"Bart, Linda and the other one there need a dad."
"That DOES sound like Homer."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Devil Wears Nada

OK, now we are really getting into it. And by it, I mean that the show's attempts to try to make us think that maybe the Homer/Marge relationship is in trouble. Obviously the fact that it is a weekly show with minimal continuity, they wouldn't split but even then we've seen so MANY iterations of how their marriage could be in trouble that so few of them have an impact. Work and homelife imbalance, temptation from the fruit of another, differences that drive each other up the wall. It's not that I think it's impossible to do new stories with such drama but jeez, I feel like though the writers didn't stop trying, the trying is in vain when they keep going to a dry well.

In this episode, Marge ends up becoming a sex symbol in a charity calendar and after some initial embarrassment embraces it. Meanwhile, at work, Carl becomes a supervisor (wait, wasn't he already?) and takes his job seriously, turning Homer into his personal assistant. Marge wants to make love but Homer is too overworked and overtired from his new position to satisfy her. This causes a fight when Homer needs to take a trip to Paris. Marge has a dinner with Flanders that accidentally feels romantic while Homer manages to get leverage over Carl to get him some time at home. Marge never goes through with her romantic feelings and Homer and Marge finally make love.

First of all, considering it's right after the Halloween episode... how is this not the Valentine's episode? Just saying. I mean, the actual Valentine's is about curling. Anyway, I'm going to say that this episode is tired but it's not without merit. Most of it is in the middle because the beginning kind of amounts to little and the end is tiresome. So I guess I'll just break it down into the three acts. I actually like the idea of the first act, Marge becoming a sex symbol and rather than Marge being a pariah, she is accepted. A conflict idea is introduced, Bart upset with this and it making him feel uncomfortable with his friends ogling his mom. But then it... just appears. And Marge's situation also does and only serves to reminds us Marge is sexy. Only Homer's side matters in act one, setting up him being overworked. A lot of potential for an actual story or stories with little pay out.

Act two is better. It IS something we've seen before, difficulty in the Homer and Marge sex life, but I feel it's the part that feels the most real with both parties having both good reasons for their situation. Homer isn't a workaholic, he's someone who is trapped in a rough work situation (and I imagine plant HR sucks) and it's spelled out Homer will have a hard time getting another job if he loses this one. But Marge wanting some love and attention is an absolutely reasonable desire, as is her frustration that her husband can't make time for her. I don't think either of them are the bad guy, even when "it's Homer's fault" tends to be the default. If anything, Homer is working hard to try to help with the marriage but there are too many obsticles. If anything, him seeing Paris as an escape makes sense too, because not because he wants to do work but because it's an escape from the frustration of figuring out his marriage.

So act two is a very human story. Then act three is contrived as Marge briefly entertains an affair with Flanders. I feel like sexy Marge and this development feel like they were developed for the promotional material because it barely matters. To me, if they wanted to do this, I would much rather see this as an affair of the mind with Marge feeling guilty about her thoughts, which is a little more cerebral than "Oh, are we attracted to each other"? Instead, it derails a competent episode and it never feels like it could happen. It's not good but more than that, I feel like it's symptomatic of what is happening and gets worse later on (including "Homer dreams an episode where he leaves Marge for Lena Dunham).

Other great jokes:
The racing fantasy ending with Carl and Homer dead and Lenny saying "I WIN!" is fun.

"I trust that your wife is..."
*whisper*
"Still dead?"

"I love..."
*whisper*
"The Louvre. Everything about it is so..."
*whisper*
"Closed on Mondays."

"Oh, they're grounded. I found out Todd watch a commercial for Grey's Anatomy and Rod took a full day to tell me."

"Nuclear secrets! Pictures of Lenny! Everything I need for my plan."

Other notes:
Please stop making Flanders monstrously homophobic? It's not funny to hear him say he'd rather his kids commit suicide than be raised by a gay relative.

As much as I don't like act three, at least the actors made the "almost kissing" noises as awkward as possible.
 
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