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Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
I finally did it.

I have finally watched every single episode, from Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire to Poorhouse Rock.

Took about 2 and a half years
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I finally did it.

I have finally watched every single episode, from Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire to Poorhouse Rock.

Took about 2 and a half years
Wow. I thought I was dedicated, for making it through Atlas Shrugged, but this is also quite a feat.

So, how is the quality of, uh, all the seasons beyond the first ten? Does it even out to "ok"? Are there great episodes sprinkled throughout?
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
On average, honestly, more good than bad. If you skip… just about everything between season 10 and 20 (except 15 and 17, they’re pretty solid) the average is much higher. Still got some duds, but plenty of excellent episodes too. even the mediocre ones have some solid gags.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Yeah, there's a real period of really making Homer a jerk and they start to back off of and depending on the writer is mostly a dopey joke machine with occasional everyman status. There are writers who name give you better odds of it being a good episode. Daniel Chun definitely cares about these characters and telling human stories with them. He later went onto write for the Office albeit in the latter seasons. But there are definitely some great episodes worth seeking out. I'm a few episodes into Season 21 and there's a surprising hit rate.
 

Tegan

𝑬𝑿▰▰▰▰▰▱▱▱
(She/Her)
Just noticed something I'd never put together before: the hypnotist from Homer at the Bat is the same guy who taught Santa classes in Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.

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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Pranks and Greens

As the Simpsons falls into old formulas and becomes more broad (yeah, MORE broad), it means some characters feel the hurt. Flanders is a jerk, now and it's hard to feel bad when Homer is shitty to him. Homer was REALLY shitty for a while and still is from time to time but it seemed like there was a period where he was too unpleasant to stand. And the writer's take on Bart is a bit more cynical, particularly when considering his future. I'm less bothered when Bart is shown having a bad future when the situation is informed by the systemic issues we should all be worried about, like our public schools failing our kids. That's not to say Bart doesn't have a say in his destiny but often future Bart is a pathetic wash out. At least in Lisa's wedding when Bart has a blue collar job, he's doing what he loves and even seems to have stuff going on. I wish I had the energy to hold local tough guy contests. But I feel with Lisa certain to have a better future, they seem to make Bart a yang to Lisa's ying, and therefore a loser rather than finding a different kind of success or happiness. I get the show being cynical about the future, our systems and human nature but I feel like it shouldn't be cynical about the Simpsons themselves.

In this episode, Bart pulls a series of pranks that gets him in hot water but while Skinner is chewing him out, Bart learns his pranks paled in comparison someone else from years prior. Bart does some detective work and learns Groundskeeper Willie knows the truth about who this mystery boy was. Willie tells Bart how the mystery boy pranks Skinner so hard he went from an optimistic easy-going go-getter to a stern disciplinarian. Willie also tells Bart the boy's name; Andy Hamilton. Bart tracks down Andy and spends the day with him but when Bart regales Lisa with exploits of Andy, Lisa points out he's a loser living in the past. Bart decides to help Andy by using his personal connection to Krusty to get him a personal assistant job. Andy immediately tries to quit and a betrayed Bart convinces Andy to keep with it. After a week, Bart goes to congratulate Andy when he sees something that convinces him he's going to prank Krusty the same way he pranked Skinner. Bart tries to stop him but learns the prank isn't a prank at all... it's a sketch, as Andy has quickly emerged as the head writer of the Krusty the Clown Show.

Pranks and Greens is an episode in that middle ground where it is neither that good or that bad. The worst part is probably the b-plot where Marge can't believe all these dietary concerns today which feels like low-key old man yells at cloud. I'm not saying there isn't comedy to that kind of adjustment or even that feeling that everything you do is unhealthy for kids. But I feel like since the concerns are basically coming from shrewish mothers, it feels less about the frustration of the modern age to "aren't these moms fucking unreasonable" and having helped my sister who had to raise her daughter with a PWS daughter without sugar, yeah, you have to readjust and re-align some views but it isn't all some impossible task.

More than that, I think if this story was excised, the show could have developed some real emotional investment. To Bart, Andy represents first an impossible ideal then a real friend and finally him in the future as a loser... except the middle one is SAID, not demonstrated. Andy never develops as a character very well which is a shame because his voice actor is Jonah Hill, who I think is a fantastic comedic actor. And he's doing good work here but it's limited to what we see. Bart talks about Andy as a real friend but he's only known him an afternoon before he's forced to concede he's a loser and that he's important friend needs to change. I do think more time needed to be on Bart really befriending Andy and him being developed before Bart wants to help his friend because I'm kind of checked out.

I will say, I do like this better than some of the "future Barts has no future" because the episode is partially about the fear rather than cementing it. Bart's future could be a guy living with his parents at... 19 (it's weird the arrested development angle is lobbed as someone who is not that old). Or he could be Krusty's head writer. And this is a take I don't mind more than some takes because it isn't "Bart is a dum dum who will peak really soon in life". and more "Bart has a future but he needs the drive to get it." That said, I wish again that Andy made an impact to make me care about his friendship with Bart because there are some good ideas and a good actor here.

Other great jokes:

"Willie. Bart."
"Monster."



Other notes:

Why is this slide so pixelated?
vYV2vX9.png


The writer really thinks Lisa calling Andy a loser funny and at a certain point she goes from making a point to being a jerk.

Probably one of my least favourite hokey gags is "someone says 'the precious' like Gollum". I've never seen that reference be funny.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Rednecks and Broomsticks

While I am an atheist, I am fascinated by concepts like faith and magic, particularly elements with iconography. I'm not an expert but often when reading about it, I can look into a differing philosophy that lies within. But while I have an interest, it's a passing one and I can guess usually that often portrayals on TV differ than real life. I mean, we can only wish the wicca from Buffy with super-powers and what not was anything like nature worshipping.

In this episode, the Simpsons are rescued from a car accident by Cletus and Homer gets interested in Cletus's moonshine parties. Meanwhile, Lisa meets some wiccan and while lightly mocking them while wishing she wouldn't have to complete her project, the witches suggest that her request might be heard and granted. The next day, Miss Hoover is sick and Lisa becomes interested and wants to join their group after hearing they worship nature. But the girls are arrested when Flanders, assuming the worst, calls the cops on Lisa. When the wiccans pray to their goddess to show their accusers "they are blind", a rash of blindness strikes Springfield. The case is thrown out in court but the town begins to hold an illegal witch trial. Lisa saves the day revealing that when the girls were arrested, Homer, Cletus and the other moonshiners tossed their hooch into the river which fed into the reservoir and blinded people.

This is a pretty middling episode. I don't really know what it is trying to say about a pretty dull reminder that witch trials suck. But the fact is, I feel like there's not a lot going on. Lisa is mildly out of character, dreading having to finish a project and also pretty quickly opening her mind to the possibilty of magic. I would be more interested if Lisa were drawn in to the philosophy rather than magic. I think it's what the show mostly wants to get at except that there really is a "hey, maybe magic made my teacher sick" and it really rings hollow.

In fact, the episode is largely devoid of substance. Again, with things getting broader and less screen time for characters, the show is more a joke machine that doesn't have a hand at concisely making new characters engaging. I've often said the show doesn't give itself enough time but maybe the problem is finesse. I'm reminded of some of the cartoon network series like Adventure Time and Steven Universe which are great at creating full, satisfying stories in 11 minutes while the Simpsons has trouble in 22 (and it often feels like the writers are trying to FILL space).

Oh, and Neve Campbell is in the episode as one of the witch girls but weirdly NOT the one who gets all the good lines. So really it's more of a cameo than a full character. But I will say, I do appreciate when the guest star isn't some big superstar with something coming down the pipeline. It's weird that she has this role so far after her major hits and a couple years away from the next Scream movie. I'm always glad when it isn't a flavour of the month.

Other great jokes:

"Oh, why do my actions have consequences?"

"Shut up and dig your own grave."
"And what if I don't?"
"Then I guess I'll have to dig it for you."
"With your bad back? Forget about it."

Other notes: The car crash is nice and dynamic and the bop-it parody does feel like a "this happened to me" moment from the writer.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Oh Brother, Where Bart Thou

I love my sister. We generally got along rather well and were really connected, though she understandably wanted to spend less time in her teenage years. All the same, we've always got on well and when she moved away, I always found that we seemed to be in many ways on a similar wavelength even after years of separation. That said, I see her often and while we get along, I don't think I'd call our connection in some way profound or deeper than anything. I feel like this is a thing on TV where some siblings have ridiculously strong bonds that matter more than anything but in my experience, I've just had a very good bond with someone who is in many ways my opposite (except in values and political alignment).

In this episode, Bart starts to yearn for a younger brother. After trying to trick his parents into having another child, Bart tries to adopt. At the orphanage, he tries to adopt and attracts the attention of Charlie, a boy who escapes to be Bart's brother. Soon, both are wanted by the police and while hiding are confronted by Lisa who urges them to turn themselves in. After he, Lisa and Charlie escape a near death experience, Bart and Charlie go their separate ways.

This is a pretty middling episode. It didn't bother me but it bored me quite a bit. Simply put, most of the episode just isn't funny, though there are some good lines. I do appreciate the sense of season the show doesn't always have. And as I often do, I do appreciate the premise; Bart yearning for something he doesn't have, a brother. But I also feel like a lot of the episode is focuses on gender differences that feel less observant and more reinforcing dull, tired norms about "guy stuff" and "girl stuff."

I also feel like the episode is doing something the show often tries to do but falls short of in this era; selling it's premise from an emotional perspective. It gives reasons for Bart's new want to tries to explore it but I'm simply not sold on the profundity of Bart's yearning. And beyond that... I'm not sure what Bart's takeaway is. I guess it's "I can always bond with dad." and there's something about his connection with Lisa but I feel like it's time for the episode to end so the problem's over. It says little about his connection to Lisa or any other Simpson in an interesting way and I would like an exploration of how different connections can have different meanings and it can be OK that we don't have one standard form of connection if we can have a nice multitude and create more, even if it's not to our perfect specifications. It does kind of touches on responsibility but it's pretty facile, which is a shame because that would have been another good road.

Lotta guest stars here. The Manning brothers are here but I'm not a sports guy who I don't care that much. Loveable wholesome oddball Huell Howser is in the episode parodying is own image of rube-ish goofball. There's also Jordan Nagai and if you are like "who", he only has one major role; Russell, the goofy boy scout from Up. It's an odd pick but he does fine in the role for what is needed in the episode. The real winners are the Smothers Brothers. I've only heard of them and watched little of their material but I always got the feeling they were tonal forebearers to Steve Martin and the Muppet Show and here they do what either is good improv or script reading that feels like improv (there's also an end credits but that definitely is improv. There is so much charm there, I wish they got to be a bigger part of the episode somehow.


Other great jokes:

"I promise I'll help take care of him."
"Remember those hamsters you were going to take care of?"
"Oh my god, THE HAMSTERS!"

Other notes:
I only know Huell Howser through James Adomian's impression of him.

The South Park bit is fairly eyeball roll inducing.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
Imagine my utter shock that the Smothers Brothers were real, and still alive.

I thought they were like the Marx Brothers...
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Thursdays with Abie

I do feel bad for not sitting down with my dad more often and collecting stories. He's lead a pretty interesting life and frankly a lot of the interesting stuff in my early life was because of him, such as travelling to other countries. He gets out less because of both covid and his MS and spends a lot of time on social media. I don't think it's unhealthy but I feel like I wish I could be a better son and learn about his life because while I have a few stories and a general overview, everyone is full of stories and I would like to know as many as I can before he passes someday.

In this episode, Grandpa is left behind at a waterpark because of his incessant storytelling but a man sits and listens. He turns out to be a human interest columnist named Marshal Goldman and realizes his stories are quite entertaining and asks Grandpa to contribute. Grandpa becomes very popular and Homer, who has been neglecting his dad for years, finds the tables have turned by a bitter Grandpa. Homer tries to turn the table with his own ill-conceived article but when he goes to the paper to try to sell it, he looks in Marshall's office and looking at his upcoming work learns he's planning to kill grandpa to create a Pulitzer prize winning ending to his work. Homer catches up with the two as Grandpa takes a ride on a train he's always wanted to travel on and tries to save him but it's Grandpa who ends up saving the day and the two reconcile.

This is a Don Payne co-written episode and I feel like I've complained a lot about Payne's writing but this is a decent one. I know little of the co-writer Mitchell H. Glazer save that he co-wrote another that I don't remember seeing (but suspect I have). It's clear that the pitch is for Simpsons nerds: an episode all about Grandpa rambling. It's not some anthology, though I bet that would be a fun idea, but instead is about parental neglect. While the show has done this theme MANY times and better, this is an episode that gets by mostly on solid jokes and an overall sense of fun. Most of it is silliness and it ends in adventure. Sometimes the adventure-based endings of the later episodes feel like a cheeseball wrap up but I really don't mind it here.

I do think there is another message here about the exploitative nature of the media even if it is just some fluffy human interest piece. I don't think it goes DEEP on this or anything. I appreciate that it has a bit of a point of view to string its gags on and for them to be good enough that the lightness of the themes isn't an issue like it often is for me. Instead, it feels like the show is joke and plot centered and the other stuff knows when to get out of the way. A show doesn't always have to be about themes, it can just be fun and the themes can just be a seasoning. And in story telling, sometimes things can be "just a bunch of stuff that happened" and if the storytellers after good enough magicians, we won't care.

I will also say that while the b-plot isn't particularly strong (though not bad either), it also doesn't get in the way. Sometimes the show doesn't feel like it has enough time but I think it's well paced and Lisa and Bart looking for the class "pet" has some fun to it as the two search for it. The one guest star is also Mitch Albom, who lightly plays with his own image and like Marshal seems to be hunting for a heartwarming soft news source. Overall, I don't think this is one of my favourite episodes even of this era but I feel with the stronger joke-hit ratio, if this becomes the norm, season 21 is actually looking to be a pretty decent season.


Other great jokes:
This is an old gag but I love the aesthetic of the forgery.
rFqTM2y.png



"Clark Gable!"
"Looks like someone has seen my work as an extra in Du Barry, Woman of Passion."

"His big blue eyes could melt the butter you kept in your pocket for lunch, Lunch butter, we called it."

"Well he's more of a father to me than you've ever been."
"I don't think that's true."
"Shut up, dad."
"Yeah.. well, OK."

The entire scene with Mr. Burns is great.

"...And that's how you win an opium war."
"Oh-ho great stuff. And the life lesson to learn from this is."
"The Yangtze River swallows all secret."
"I'm going to write 'haste makes waste'."
"At my age I can neither make haste nor waste. You know, Simpson, this has been a lovely afternoon. Release a hound."
"Aw, isn't that cute? He thinks he's a pack."

"Chief , my brother fell in the storm drain."
"Well, I'm strictly an above the ground policeman. What you need are the sewer cops."
"OK, what's their number."
"Lisa, you're old enough now that I can tell you the truth; there's no such thing as the sewer cops."


7A5PY17.png


Other notes:
It's weird to see a happy ending USS Indianapolis story.

Hank Azaria clearly loves doing Clark Gable.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Once Upon a Time in Springfield

I remember as a kid more or less watching my back when at home watching "girl stuff". Granted, there was stuff I watched my back about because I knew it was cheesy and this was probably about the same quality as the "girl stuff" but I definitely know that there was a lot informed of me about gender norms. I don't think it happened when I was really young, though. I never remember being bothered about watching Jem, who is, as I must remind you, outrageous. But it's clear I was expected to think I was above certain things and being a not yet mature person, there was some stuff I felt that way about but I definitely am down to watch anything I think is good and speaks to my values and what I look for in quality regardless of expected demographics.

In this episode, Krusty is suffering in the ratings with young girls so a new "princess" co-host is added. Soon her popularity blasts Krusty out of the water by "Princess Penelope", much to Bart and Milhouse's horror, due to her "girly" appeal. Bart inspires Krusty to try to take his show back and Krusty confronts Penelope only to find that Penelope confesses to him, that she's always had a crush on him. Krusty is smitten right back and Bart and Milhouse find the show turns into a lovey-dovey affair. Bart and Milhouse try to ruin the wedding by exposing Penelope to Krusty's bitter ex-wives. Penelope is unaffected but Krusty is, fearing he's going to hurt Penelope with yet another bad marriage. Krusty dumps her for her own good. A heart-broken Penelope decides to leave for France but Krusty tracks her down and patches things up.

Ugh, this is another episode with a lot of emotional and thematic potential that turns out to be about nothing. What is this episode trying to be about, thematically? I guess maybe it's about the idea of happy comedians losing their funny or demographics but it never actually comes across. Most of the episode is Bart and Milhouse gnashing and wailing as their favourite show becomes "girly". If anything, I feel like it reflects the "girls ruin everything" mentality of shitty dudes on the internet without the awareness of that. Heck, with the writer being a woman, I would have assumed it would come with more insight but I don't think they are supposed to read that shitty and it doesn't seem like ANYONE learns ANYTHING.

And like I said, there are a lot of great themes floating around. The episode could have been about gendered demographics and the breaking down the barriers as these entertainers come together. Or more personally, it could be about Krusty loving someone so much, he's afraid of hurting them because he has a history so selfish and toxic he's afraid of it. But this episode ends with him nobly giving her up, which I'm not sure works as well as he thinks, then... not. And there's no real pay off or point, it's just some things that happen. It could also be an exploration of Krusty feeling weird about having a girl who loved him from a young age and exploring those feelings. But most of the time seems to be build up and Bart whining about girly stuff.

None of the characters play well but Princess Penelope comes closest. This is Natalie Portman's second time on the show, the first being Little Big Girl, the weird one with Bart on a road trip with a pregnant teen he's trying to marry (show got weird, man), but this is a much better all around character that's failed only by the narrative. Obviously this episode is to exploit her musical chops but I love her Long Island accent, which brings a lot to her and Portman is killing a role that could have been written better.. But aside from being head over heels for Krusty, I don't feel like we get a lot of who she is as a person. Instead of so much boy-whines, I'd much prefer to see her as someone similar to Krusty, a shrewd business person whose a little gruffer behind the scenes but hasn't fallen to his level of depravity and still takes joy in entertaining and that her wall of artifice and wish fulfillment is not completely a cynical ploy. I feel like there's a touch of that in there but this isn't simply economic in the show, it's simply limp and lacking. It's a character who has potential to be fleshed out and it's a shame they wasted another one.


Other notes:
This is actually the 20th anniversary episode, but if that means its saying something about the show and it's connection to it's audience, I'm kind of insulted.

Man, I love Eartha Kitt. So was so great.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Million Dollar Maybe

I must admit, I'm not great with money. That's not to say I've been living paycheck to paycheck, I've been doing well over the years but I've been bad at planning for my future and the infrequent hours at work cost me some money this year. Luckily most of my weeks are now around 40 hours ish but my big money cushion has been going down to be sure. I'm not spending hand-over-fist but a lot of my little purchases are getting away from me I think and perhaps I better start budgeting again.

In this episode, Homer believes himself lucky and decides to buy a lottery ticket, missing an elaborate wedding toast with Marge and leaving her embarrassed. But on the way, Homer gets in an accident, letting him off the hook. However, when Homer learns he's won the lottery and a million dollars, he's ecstatic... until he realizes he can't tell Marge without revealing the reason Marge ended up embarrassed was Homer was buying a lottery ticket. Homer decides to buy things and let the family think they've "found" them by chance. Homer goes on a spending spree to give his family necessities and gifts covertly but when Bart learns the truth he encourages him to splurge on himself. Homer and Bart enjoy it until Homer decides to ease off the gas and Bart threatens to tell Marge if he does. Homer complies but after tiring of degradation, he decides to face the music and tells Marge (and also reveals he's used up the last of the money on a lovely surprise for Marge).

Million Dollar Maybe is a middling episode overall but does make up for it with a number of fairly good jokes. It's one of those episodes where the premise feels like a TGIF sitcom long after it's jumped the shark and while it isn't quite as bad as that, it really does contrived. Maybe it's trying to say something about the cost of humiliation but frankly that was better done in Homer Vs. Dignity, an episode that would be great if it wasn't so tainted with that panda section. Oof. I think there could be more to say about personal cost to the soul against actual money cost but this feels like it is more about the wackiness and happenstance.

Still, it does help that the episode does have some good jokes. It's a Bill Odenkirk script and I think he is a great writer but I feel like his tone is more appropriate for when he was writing Futurama. It's easy to say Futurama is Simpsons in space but really the tone is different, allowing for bigger stuff not only in scale (since it's sci-fi) but also in what kind of nonsense we are able to buy without seeming trite. For whatever reason, I find Odenkirk's scripts on Simpsons lacking in the emotional area, often characters are a bit meaner and while they can yield solid bits, the totality is often something I meet with indifference. But humour is a great salve and solid bits go a long way in helping the episode.

It's weird to realize that even though this is a 12 year old episode, a lot of it's touchstones are getting more modern. The couch gag involves a smartphone and now seems surprisingly evergreen (if not actually funny) but the b-plot is inspired by news stories of the popularity of the Wii in old folks homes, particularly Wii Sports. The themes and points here are more interesting and kind of bleak, albeit in an interesting honest way. As the old folks get healthier , the careworkers find themselves overwhelmed and sabotage the game in the hopes a lack of stimulation means they will be easier to control. The careworkers frustration is understandable with low pay for a very heartbreaking job but their actions are monstrous. I almost wish this was the a-plot because I think there could be more to dig into on this and the idea of having an elderly population made into something more "convenient" and de-humanizing.

Other great jokes:

"Can I just ask who the hell says po-tah-to."
"Song writers who are stuck."

"Wait, I'm shooting AT Nazi's? That's not how I remember it."

"Mine says 'something you lost will soon turn up'. My faith in the lord! IT CAME BACK!"

"Now what should I buy first? Hitler's baseball? A mirror that gives me advice?"
"My advice is to buy Hitler's baseball."

"Not so fast! Don't forget my cut."
"Uh, cut of what!"
"Oh, nothing. I just go around saying that and hope it will be applicable."

Other notes:
The fake Wii sounds are very accurate. It could be using some of the original but I doubt it. I feel like even sounds lend themselves to lawsuits.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Boy Meets Curl

I've done curling exactly once. Seems fun. Yes, it's one of those odd sports that gets a lot of mockery but I also feel like it's one of those sports that is far more fun to play than watch. Of course, to an extent, I've felt that about many sports. I remember playing some touch football in phys ed in Jr. High (that's how old I am, they used to call Middle School that). and loving the role of runningback. And for a year, I studied Hap Ki Do, though for me it was about learning than any competitive game (though I was good at squirming out of holds when we did grappling spars). But watching sports never interested me without the veneer of fiction. I get it a little more now but even then, I still just can't get into spectating.

In this episode, after Homer and Marge's date night turns into a disappointment, they wander and end up stumbling into a curling night at the ice rink. The two find their relationship greatly improved by it and make a team with Agnes and Seymour Skinner. Marge is a natural, so much so that the team gets to go to the Winter Olympics as a demonstration event. They hit a winning streak but Agnes, as the coach, points out Homer is holding the team back. Homer is upset but Marge thinks nothing of it until a bad throw by Homer forces Marge to work so hard she hurts her arm. It seems the team will have to forfeit until Homer learns Marge was using her off-hand and that she has been for years. Homer encourages Marge to keep playing one handed and the team pulls off a win.

This is another episode where there's a point that gets completely lost along the way. The episode is written by Rob Lazenik, who certainly made some mistakes in his previous two episodes (the panda!) but I feel this is the most pointless episode he's done so far. It's not very funny but beyond that, it merely starts to say something and then gets distracted and forgets about it. The conceit is Homer and Marge having an activity for fun and bonding and then having frustration when there is a talent gap when they want to take it seriously and navigating those feelings. OK. Good start. But then they really don't. The climax isn't about Homer proving his value or Marge wanting Homer even with his weaknesses. But instead, it's about Marge having another perfectly fine arm. They bring up an idea and have no interest in diving into the emotional core of it.

This episode isn't funny enough to make me forget about it's shortcomings and the episode's plot flow isn't very strong or natural. There's a subplot about Agnes being awful to Skinner that comes to a resolution that feels completely unnatural and unearned, both emotionally and comedically. There's a subplot about Lisa getting addicted to collecting pins that eats up time and frankly this is one time I don't think this would effect the quality of the main plot.

The episode doesn't really have bad takes or strongly cringeworthy moments, save for the return of the Inuit medicine woman from the Simpsons Movie, it's all just completely and utterly mediocre. I will say that because Agnes Skinner gets a fair bit of play, Tress MacNeille is giving a really great performance in a limp, lifeless episode and seeing how badly her plot was botched, I really would have wanted to see a good Agnes episode where there is a real regret over how she treated the son she constantly verbally, emotionally and psychologically abuses. Bob Costas is also doing good work and I think he's delivering the lines well and a few of them are pretty good. So good for him.

Other great jokes:
"Tonight I will be continuing my courtship of Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia. Tonight I'll pop the question; 'Where's the Kaiser's gold?'"

The meta-commentary on dream sequences has been done but it's still not bad at all.

"I traded away my pearls. Without them, I'm just a big Maggie!"

Other notes:
Hmm... choosing Springfield's only notable black couple as the two people obnoxiously talking during the movie...
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Color Yellow

The Simpsons has had a few writers of colour but the majority of the writing crew is white, which can lead to some unfortunate stereotypes and tropes at times. There was a plan by Greg Daniels to make an episode called "Homer Vs. Dr. Hibbert on the Issue of Race". The episode would have involved, as the title says, Homer and Hibbert clashing over the issue of race but was nixed for being "too incendiary" and as Bill Oakley stated, the Simpsons may not be the best forum for discussing race. I don't agree in theory but in practice, it's not really the show's strong suit. And when they did, as in this episode, it's a little surprising Marc Wilmore or Daniel Chun weren't the ones to handle something like this. So an episode dealing with slavery by two white writers could be a major misstep. But was it.

In this episode, Lisa is given an assignment for her family tree but finds they are all villains and ne'er-do-wells. Lisa keeps trying and finds a book in which she finds an ancestor's diary, a little girl named Eliza Simpson. Lisa reads how Eliza tried to free a slave, Virgil, but were almost caught. Unfortunately the book ends up destroyed but Lisa and Marge find a cookbook written by Eliza's mother Mabel that details how she made it to safety and the family hid him. Lisa proudly reports this only for Milhouse to reveal his ancestor learned that Eliza's father betrayed Virgil and Eliza was convinced to do nothing. Milhouse's story is confirmed via a film reel of Eliza on her 100th birthday and Lisa is crushed. As Lisa is explaining to her family, Grandpa let's slip he knows the rest of the story; though Eliza failed Virgil, Mabel helped get Virgil to Canada, the two ended up falling in love while on the run and became husband and wife in Canada and in fact Virgil is actually a Simpson ancestor.

OK, so does an episode with so much potential to be fraught as a "Simpsons slavery episode" work? Ehhhh... more than you might expect but it definitely falls into some traps and cliches that fiction should be outgrowing. It's largely telling the story from a white (yellow) perspective and I will say to it's benefit it does deal a bit with the idea of having to face the horrible truth that we could have family complicit in some heinous stuff in history, whether it be a direct betrayal of the betrayal of silence. I will also say that it never gets *really* cringy, which was my big fear. And it is actually pretty funny in sections and tries to balance itself in a way of taking the problem seriously and the show's format.

But it's also got a lot of the problem that black stories told by white people often have. good intentions aside. Character actor Wren T. Brown does a decent job but there's not a lot to his character, who basically gives one harsh joke and is mostly a friendly person who needs help. There is little depth and mostly he's someone to be saved rather than a full character. He is there to be a yardstick to measure how Eliza tries to succeed and fails her own values due to her weakness. It's tough because they are trying to be respectful to the character but instead he's a noble soul with nothing beyond that. Granted, the Simpsons often don't get a lot of deep characters in general in this era but it's particularly notable considering who the focus is her.

So it's kind of a mixed bag. Ian Maxtone-Graham and Billy Kimball's script is trying to go for some real emotion, not just of the treacly type but of the devastating. Lisa watching a video of her hero having a lifetime of regret over a betrayal is strong, as is the scene in which Col. Burns convinces her to hold her tongue is well-written (on the nose? Sure. But sometimes that works) and performed (that's the key to the first part working) stuff with Shearer putting a little extra stank of evil simply by making him speak calmly and sweetly the evil Eliza must do. Having the Simpsons say what being 1/64th black explains about them feels both like a light commentary but also in a light way where it does seem ill-considered rather than being a commentary on cultural appropriation (and also weird when Marge compares it to being part French, NOT as a joke). This episode isn't a car wreck but there are the few usual dings you'd expect. But at least Viggo Mortenson doesn't teach someone to eat fried chicken.

Other great jokes:

I won't say it made me laugh, but I think Bart's business before gently tugging on Lisa's foot is fun,.

"Then they should have called it the above ground normal road."
*everyone murmurs in agreement and are proud of Bart*

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I want an actual one.

"It's like how your father and I left the movie Carrie right after she became prom queen. Sure, she had a lot of problems but they were all behind her."

Other notes:
...Why didn't Lisa just look on the Bouvier side of the family for half-decent family members.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Postcards from the Wedge

I work with kids and it can be tough. They are never bad but certainly they are constantly trying to find ways to bend, change, negotiate and hector the rules. Yet, rules and structures are very important to them and they can often be sensitive to any changes to the rules. And sometimes, I'm willing to acquiesce to the change if I think I can make it work. But the nature of my position is that I'm in someone else's ballcourt and I'm often a little afraid to allow things if I'm not fully confident that whoever usually works there is cool with it. Luckily, I haven't come face to face with a situation where I feel I need to put my foot down, largely because I trust my more experienced co-workers.

In this episode, Bart gets in trouble for failing to finish his homework but when Marge sees Principal Skinner about it, she believes the work Bart is asked to do is unreasonable. Homer, however, wants Bart to keep working hard and not only catch up but have more work. This becomes a point of contention between the two and when Bart realizes this, he decides to use this to his advantage. Lisa is disgusted with Bart's behaviour but Bart sees no downside. Homer and Marge eventually can't keep the anger going and instead allow Bart to find his own way. When Bart and Milhouse discover the remnants of the old Springfield subway system, the duo create mini-quakes all through the town by driving the train. However, when Bart realizes that his parents don't even care, Bart finds he isn't feeling the joy of his pranks. Bart plans to use the subway train to destroy the shotty construction of Springfield elementary but he is stopped by Homer after he and Marge find a letter they believe is from Lisa. Bart gets in trouble while Lisa reveals that Bart wrote the note in the hopes of getting caught.

Postcards from the Wedge takes a risk that a lot of later Simpsons episodes cavalierly run toward; making the lead of the story simply awful and amoral to the point of disgust. Though we are past Jerk-Ass Homer mostly, the show can still fumble this balance with Bart. You don't want to soft peddle Bart too much but you still want to make him human. This episode has Bart doing something awful to his parents in manipulating them with little care for the effects until it happens to them. But the episode is also very much about that Bart often makes trouble for the attention and he really understands this and that free reign trouble isn't what he wants. Bart's kind of a jerk, yeah, but we can still care about him.

On the other side, the first two acts are interesting because while Homer and Marge fought before, I think it's rare it's specifically about a key difference in parenting policy. And as is rarely, both are correct... to an extent. I agree with Marge far more than Homer, who doesn't care how crushed Bart is but at the same time he does recognize Bart needs the discipline or he won't do it. Marge, meanwhile, is actually reasonable in wanting her son to get some rest but she's a pushover for her special little guy. It's rare to see them both be... relatively reasonable (again, though, I agree with Marge far more than Homer) and I think it mostly handles it well.

I think their journey is interesting with real character, and they become a united front of indifference. Getting there makes sense to an extent, as being angry is exhausted and toxic and they realize "this isn't worth it and take a break" but then overcorrect and never get back to the issue. And this section is a reminder that these two actually have a really sweet relationship when they are on the same page instead of Marge growling and Homer yelling (though there actually is a good Homer yelling joke with him redrecting his bellowing to expressing his love to a sleeping Lisa). I won't put Postcards from the Wedge as top tier later Simpsons but I would love it if the series remained at this level on a regular basis.

Other great jokes:


"These are Bart's uncompleted homework assignments from the last month. Worksheets, problem sets, book reports, math jumbles, dioramas, topic sentences, conclusions, bibliographies, synonyms, mean-the-sames, define-alikes, word twins..."

"You would mess up Mom and Dad's marriage just to get out of doing some homework?"
"Hey, I would end all life on this planet to get out of doing fractions."
"Fractions aren't that hard, you just need to find a common denominator. For example one half plus one third equa--"
"END. ALL. LIFE. ON. THIS, PLANET! BOOOOOOM!"
"You need to know fractions to know how to make that explosion!"

I need to use "prayer blocks" more often.

I also love the level of loathing Homer has for breakfast in a chair. As someone who eats breakfast on his couch, I get it.

"It's like a Thomas the Tank Engine we can go inside."
"With no Sir Toppem Hat to tell us what we can and can't do."
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
"You would mess up Mom and Dad's marriage just to get out of doing some homework?"
"Hey, I would end all life on this planet to get out of doing fractions."
"Fractions aren't that hard, you just need to find a common denominator. For example one half plus one third equa--"
"END. ALL. LIFE. ON. THIS, PLANET! BOOOOOOM!"
"You need to know fractions to know how to make that explosion!

honestly one of my favorite exchanges in the show.

Bart just shouting back “I don’t care!” From off camera is just the cherry on top
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Stealing First Base

Kids are tactile. When they are young, everything is about touch, they often are not particularly interested in people's personal space (well, OTHER people's) and in my experience, they want to get close without asking. I've had many kids just sit on my lap or, if they are being polite, say "can I sit on your lap" as they have already begun sitting. One thing I need to teach preschoolers is consent. Ask before you hug. I might not sound like a big deal but I've definitely had some kids running to escape the hugs of others who won't take no for an answer. And understanding the nature of consent can be hard when there are certain expressions of comfort and love they want to give freely but can't understand that the other party might not be interested. That said, they definitely learn and can express verbally and non-verbally (holding those big arms open, waiting for reciprocation).

In this episode, Bart's class needs to temporarily merge with another class and meets a new girl, Nikki. The two soon become close friends and Bart falls in love. Grandpa advises him to steal a kiss and Nikki takes it very badly. Nikki's parents threaten to sue the school, inspiring the school to take a hard line against displays of affection. For this, Bart is persona non grata but secretly, Nikki is into Bart and they start hanging out. During an argument with Nikki, Bart falls off the roof and Nikki gives him mouth to mouth, violating the school's new code of conduct and setting the school back to normal, though Bart has trouble understanding the mercurial Nikki.

Stealing First Base is... odd for several reasons. One is it feels like some old man yelling at cloud messaging about consent. I get the feeling writer John Frink is like "yeah, it can be good to ask first but man, isn't everyone just WAY too obsessed with asking about consent." And sure, there can be subtleties, nuances and intricacies but at the end of the day it's pretty simple; both parties need to clearly agree. But this representation shows a lack of understanding about the point of it all, tying it in with "legal action-happy parents" and "wacko school rules", it feels far more like Fox News-style griping about what's going on in schools with these kids.

The set up is actually good in some ways; Bart kisses without consent because he is seeing signs and feeling vibes but then he realizes that she didn't want that interaction. Bart wasn't trying to hurt anyone but he did something that made someone feel uncomfortable and he feels shame. This is a good start and the rest of the episode is him having to understand some rules a bit better that are important that he simply hasn't been taught yet and coming to term with his feelings. Instead, Nikki is so out-there fickle, it feels like "oh, she overreacted and she liked it and women are crazy, right" which is, like, not a good look for the show. It's another episode that's like "these new rules are outta control!" and not really considering or caring the why of a cultural change.

Some great guest stars in this one but this is where it gets a little weird. Well, not Sarah Silverman. She does good for her chaotic character but again, she seems like it's mostly for "I JUST DON'T GET GIRLS" and there isn't much beyond that and a cool look. The weird one to me is Michelle Obama. It's not actually her, it's Angela Bassett, who is an amazing actor and I kind of wish she had more starring roles. I watched Strange Days, a movie I largely didn't like, and she easily was the best part and it made me realize she should have been getting big action roles. It's not unusual for public figures to show up in the Simpsons but this really feels like they actually they thought they could get Michelle because it's almost exclusively praise and a speech about how awesome it is to be smart. It's a very well-intentioned piece but really quite trite (Lisa being popular because she gets an F makes even less sense in the context of the show than usual) and I feel like it's a message in Lisa stories we've seen far too often to have meaning or an impact.

Other great jokes:

"Damn, this caterpillar can eat. Damn! DAAAMN!"

The Koyaanisqatsi parody is cute but the best joke is after all that build up Itchy just gun murdering Scratchy.



Other notes:
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It's really weird to see a real product next to a Simpsons lazy-style parody. I guess reanimated flavour corpses are more litigious.

Doing research, I found the music from the skateboarding scene is a soundalike of this.

 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Greatest Story Ever D'Ohed

The balance of the Simpsons characters positive and negative points is always tricky. You don't always need the good be stronger than the bad, particularly if you want a damning or pointed satire about society or the human condition but generally you want to be invested in them and even to a certain point see yourself in them. In season 21, the series has really backed off "jerk-ass" phase and becomes better balanced, particularly when an episode is about him. He's a jerk to an extent but the key is that he's no longer overtly cruel save for the recurring strangling Bart joke that... why are they so committed to that? Meanwhile, Flanders has been "Flanderized" and him being a neo-con Christian kind of taints him. It's OK for the character to evolve; he began as fortunate yuppie to Christian believer to Christian bully. It not only hurts the character but the Flanders/Homer dynamic and evolves it in a way where he is far less sympathetic. They've also back off a bit but jokes about the darker elements of the character remain and the taint lingers on him.

In this episode, Flanders is fed up with Homer but Lovejoy encourages him to try to bring out the good in him. To this end, he invites the Simpsons on a trip to Jerusalem to see the holyland. The Simpsons accept but Homer proves to be an obnoxious tourist who constantly causes scenes and annoyances at sites of spiritual importance to Flanders. Eventually, he frustrates Flanders so much, he makes a scene and is kicked out of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and in his frustration he tells Homer is isn't worth saving. In his anger, he walks off and Homer mistakenly believes he's wandered into the desert and follows him to save his life. Homer himself is lost and near death and after he recovers, he is stricken with Jerusalem syndrome and believes himself to be the messiah. He escapes the hospital and the Simpsons find him at the Dome of the Rock. His speech to his "followers" is well-received and Flanders finds the meaning of it powerful and is proud of his neighbor.

The Greatest Story Ever D'Ohed is an episode that has a potentially uphill battle; a later Homer/Flanders episode mixed with "The Simpsons are Going To _______". But while I won't put this in top tier latter Simpsons, it's actually pretty decent and, this is key, manages to sidestep most of the major pitfalls I might expect from these types of episodes; Homer is obnoxious but mostly it's properly annoying to cause Flanders understandable frustration. There are some minor references to the less savory elements of Flanders beliefs but he retains the values of Christianity rather than hurtful dogma.

The other potential problem is the representation of the country visited. It is an episode is largely respectful to Jerusalem and there's some very silly broad jokes but it all feels like gentle pokes and has a far less ugly take than some of the other episodes of this formula. Homer's role is ugly American but it's more about being generally irritating rather than being hurtful or offensive. And it's sort of what the episode is about; Homer simply not having a reverent bone in his body. If anything, I do wish it leaned into this because I think it's very close to the idea of Homer still sharing a lot of Flanders values despite his behaviour but Homer never really learns on his end to respect Flanders' reverence. He definitely wants to (he tells a disrespectful Bart at one point "we are supposed to be acting religiousy".) but he doesn't know how and is clueless about it. I feel like the crux of the episode is interesting but the final message is a little more trite. I also guess I had a hard time getting behind Flanders saying specifically you are not worth saving and yet I do think it makes some sense, given he said it in a fit of frustration. To me it makes more sense that Flanders feels *he* can't do it rather than Homer being beyond redemption.

Still, it's a decent episode with quite a few good jokes. Sacha Baron Cohen has a pretty big role in the episode and it's clear a few lines are ad libbed and he sells it as an overbearing and talkative tour guide. He's doing good stuff here and is the most memorable part of the episode, probably getting the most volume of jokes in a small amount of time. A little odder is singer Yael Niam as Dorit, the tour guides niece and she does good acting, her bits aren't particularly funny and it's unclear that her character added anything except a fight scene with Bart. Still, Kevin Curran's script is pretty funny and while it isn't perfect, it's another solid season 21 entry.

Other great jokes:

"This country's so historic. For all we know, Jesus could have given a talk in conference room C."

"Shalom is the 'aloha' of this place."
Marge as clueless tourist is always adorable.

"Thank you again for the challenge of Homer Simpson. We all have our crosses to bare. Me, Homer Simpson. You... the cross."

"It's so nice and cool in the Tomb of the Unknown Savior."
"Unknown!? THIS IS THE TOMB OF THE MOST FAMOUS MAN WHO EVER LIVED!"
"Porky Pig?"
"PORKY PIG IS NOT EVEN A MAN HE'S A PIG AND HE'S NOT EVEN A REAL PIG!"
"But he is buried here, right?"

Other notes:
Did Flanders forget he had two kids?

Harry Shearer also has some good Flanders moments, particularly with some gentle candor and outrage.
 
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