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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Moe Letter Blues

There are people in my life I worry I don't appreciate enough. I spend a lot of time with my family but at the same time, I feel like I keep to simply the usual meeting time rather than making extra time for them unless specifically asked. Most of the time, I prefer to relax at home after work but really, perhaps, I should take initiative to spend more time with them.

In this episode, Homer, Reverend Lovejoy and Apu take a trip to Weasel Island for Mother's Day to give their wives a full day break. As the ferry is taking off, they get a surprise message from Moe, who claims that he's leaving town and is taking one of their wives with him. The trio consider who would leave them; Homer remembers when his anger caused problem's at Marge's mother's birthday (where Moe is the bar caterer), Apu and Manjula have a fight after being rained out of a cricket game and Manjula spends a night at Moe's bar, playing video games with Moe and Lovejoy realizes remembers how the Parson made him realize the lack of communication in their marriage is giving Helen resentments and has a small but intimate moment with Moe. The three try to hurry home to learn who will lose their wife but all find that not only are they not being left but their wives are showing their own gratefulness. Moe even specifically convinces Manjula to stay with Apu. When the three press Moe on his letter, he explained he gave them a scare to make them appreciate their wives and even went out of his way to smooth things over with each one because as a lonely single guy who wishes he could have what they have.

Moe Better Blues is a Stephanie Gillis episode and so far, I don't think I've completely liked any of her episodes but I find something interesting in each one. This might be my least favourite but I do like the set up and structure of it. Not so much "Moe leaving town with a wife" because no one is buying that but drama of romance woes in flashback and the fear that your ungratefulness, things that seemed small at the time paint a picture of a problem with their marriage. The problem is for the characters, it is the same kind of thing we always see, especially for Homer. By the metric of what Homer usually does compared to what he does in this episode, who cares.

That's not to say Homer is blameless... which is weird because the situation his Homer makes a scene with Patty and Selma and the episode ends with Marge's mom smoothing things over because they provoked him but Homer still has agency to act mature and just walk away. It doesn't make him blameless. Apu's situation is much more damning, a sort of mutual frustration and sniping at each other. There's also the fact that this is after Apu had an affair and Manjula took him back but I kind of wish we got more insight. There's a lot there; the two are overworked (Apu by choice, Manjula out of necessity to watch 8 kids) and their relationship was arranged and Manjula had to come to another country so they could be together. Still, the re-affirmation of their marriage is kind of sweet.

Lovejoy's is the most interesting to me and stands out. They also do sniping but it is clear that it's a different problem because Timothy Lovejoy simply is not engaged with his marriage and isn't communicating. Should I be in a relationship, I fear that this would be me. I encourage others to communicate but I have a habit of shrinking at the first sign of conflict or even when it's simply "time to talk business" in any capacity. I can talk to and guide kids with no problem (well problems but manageable) and a lot of what I do is asking the kids to confront emotions and deal with them but I have a hard time myself. I think it's an interesting angle and I wish it got in a bit deeper with it. Overall, it isn't a terrible episode, it's just not as funny as I'd like and doesn't explore things in a way that is interesting to me.


Other great jokes:

"Think of it as a wake-up call from a man who ain't got nothin' but a blow up doll. And even she left me. Should not have used helium."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Bob Next Door

I had enough distance from the Simpsons' non-golden age episodes that I kind of put it into a general spectrum of downwards quality but I think it is more than that. There are times when the show begins correcting it's shittier aspects. Homer is less of a pointedly cruel person than he is in the early 2000s and and at this point they've eased off the jokes that everyone knows Homer is a raging alcoholic and no one cares. Though I don't think it's necessarily a conscience decision (because they are still common 12 years ago), there are fewer transphobic jokes. And the show seems to care a bit more about emotion again, to the point of having some a surprisingly saccharine ending or two. Though there are some bad and/or weaker episodes this season, this is the series getting a bit of an upswing. Still, occasionally, sometimes, the show just wants to be silly again. And sometimes, it still has it in it.

In this episode, the Springfield economy is collapsing and for cost cutting measures, school days are shortened, all low level criminals are released, and people leave town in droves. This results in the Simpsons getting another new neighbor. Walt Warren. His voice is identical to Sideshow Bob's, terrifying Bart who thinks it is Bob in disguise. Bart has a hard time convincing everyone else, as Walt looks and acts differently, winning the town over. Marge tries to ease Bart's fears by taking him to see Bob in prison, who apparently had gone mad and is babbling and scrawling "Bart Simpson Will Die" on the walls. Bart is still nervous but convinced and the next day Walt offers to take Bart to a ball game to smooth things over. Meanwhile, Bob seems to escape from prison... but when he gets to the Simpsons house, he reveals he is the real Walt. He and Bob switched places when Bob surgically switched their faces when it turned out Walt was being released for being a low level criminal. Bob reveals his plan to a now tied up Bart and he has a plan to kill Bart where the five states meet as part of a plan to kill Bart without technically having committed a crime. Walt comes to Bart's rescue but both are saved by the police when it is revealed Bart never completely trusted Bart and revealed to the police he was travelling with "Walt" and they should tail him.

I really enjoyed this episode. It's not a "great" episode but it is a very fun mid-tier episode. It was written by John Frink who I tend to think of as a mid-tier writer. Usually, I want episodes to go a little harder on themes, messaging and ideas but sometimes the episodes with very little deeper meaning simply have the strength of being fun. Yes, it toys with identity a bit but it isn't "about" identity so much as the ride and the silly complicated plans peppered with silly jokes. Frink is just making a fun "thriller" episode, which is the real fun of Bob episodes. Despite the premise being taken from Face/Off, it is primarily an homage to "suspicious neighbor" and Hitchcock's "wrong man" movies and even then, it's not focused on overt parody or pastiche, just a fun little adventure.

I remembered this one less favourably going in though, because mostly I remembered what I didn't like: the third act is kind of gross. It's the kind of grossness more appropriate for Halloween episodes with Bob cutting off his own face and both Bob and Walt's faces peeling off and Walt getting a bee under his face. It feels a bit more about my issues of the mid-2000s choices, like where Homer is almost disemboweled by a badger. The episode also has, *sigh* an implied prison rape gag. But really, most of the episode is silly and the kind of silly I like, with an ear for the characters and some cleverness (and fewer ON THE NOSE gags that feel like it is poking you in the ribs with lack-of-subtlety. Generally, a lot of the lines actually work pretty well. It's also well paced, a problem I have. Often episodes feel like they don't really get started until the middle of act two but here, all three acts work; act one is set up with some act one meandering but never too far from what the main plot will be, setting some stuff up. Act two is all the "suspicious neighbor" stuff and it starts with suspicion, ends with reveal and the middle is jokes and playing it out in different ways. And act three gets a full 8 minutes to play out. Everything has exactly the right amount to time that is needed, which is often not the case.

Bob episodes are generally fun, even the weaker ones and this is better than the weaker ones. Kelsey Grammer might be a real-life jerk but he's still killing it in the role, a perfect mix of theatricality and patheticness. The other notable character is Walt, played by Hank Azaria doing a low key Jimmy Stewart character. I'm curious if that choice was a given direction or a choice by Azaria given that it's easy to see Walt as a Stewart type since he played a Hitchcock "wrong man" more than once. I think though the cast isn't doing anything unique in this episode, everyone is doing good work. I guess they often are but it's always easier to say when the writing and performance line up just right. Like I said, I don't want to oversell the episode but it's nice to see an episode that is just a fun romp that's consistently funny. After all dying/drama is easy, comedy is hard.

Other great jokes:
"Well, at least it's better than my pistol."
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"Hey, that Ralphie's getting to be a pretty fine artist."
"I drew it."
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"A lot of people sound like Sideshow Bob. Like Frasier on Frasier."
"Or Frasier on Cheers."
"Or Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge in Down Periscope."

I like how Bob stopping Marge from almost driving away with the coffee cup on top of her car is what almost convinces Bart he's Walt.

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"Keys, cell phone, $143,000"
"Oh, ho"
"It was only $27,000 when you came in but we invested it well."
"Would you like a commission."
"Not allowed."

"So I just have to kill you and sell the house. Selling the house will be MURDER!"
"You could just rent it until the market recovers... WHICH WILL BE NEVER. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

"Walt, it's a nice face but I do not think it would drive a professional waitress to lie."

"It will be the single greatest murder since Snape killed Dumbledore."
"Oh, I haven't gotten to that part yet."
"It's a four year old book."
"I'm a slow reader."
"A fitting epitaph."
"...."
"It means last words."

Other notes:
I don't think Bob's final plan would actually work but I kind of love it just because it's part of a game and it gives Bart a simple solution to thwart it.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Judge Me Tender

When I got into university, I was a pretty big fan of Mike Nelson of MST3k, who, sadly and recently, turned out to be producing a podcast by noted awful person Doug TenNapel. Anyway, I enjoyed his articles mocking weird and bad movies and I aspired to do the same. I promised myself I would be honest if I liked it but I loved to find some goofy things to be snarky about. I won't say that's changed but I feel like I am particular; I want to comment on things that are not purely bad, but fascinating in the way they don't work, because I think bad media also has some insight, even if it is not what is intended. But I don't want to be a person looking for the worst and sometimes it's interesting to find the merits in failed or weird art. Hate watching is out. Bemusement and bewildering, however...

In this episode, Moe takes over for Krusty in mocking contestants in an ugly dog contest and his witty jabs make him a much requested judge. Eventually, he's contacted by an agent who finds him a job at American Idol as a new judge, While getting ready for his first day on the job, Simon Cowell warns Moe not to be the bad guy on TV or risk being hated by everyone. Moe gets on TV and eventually chooses to go soft on the contestants... but only to have Simon turn on him for his toothless remarks. It turns out Cowell simply wanted to get rid of a competitor for his role as the mean one.

Judge Me Tender isn't a very good episode in terms of jokes and the structure is a little lacking but I think it's got some interesting potential in exploring the ideas of sincere kindness vs. witty mockery. Moe needs to struggle with being liked as a wit but being seen as a villain. But most of the episode is shots at Fox while also promoting it's big show (I feel like even in 2010, American Idol was waning in popularity) and, ugh, puts Rupert Murdoch on again. It gestures toward the kind of episode I want, particularly with an isolated scene of Lisa doing the opposite of Moe, intimately helping someone feel good about themselves but it doesn't really enter into the plot much.

The b-plot similarly has potential that doesn't pan out; Homer is spending too much time at home and Marge is surprised how stressful it feels. This is a real thing that is kind of common with retirees so I do like the idea that Homer's career is "getting drunk at Moe's" and it's over for now. But it also doesn't quite work for me overall. A great idea that's right for these characters, but it's simply a lot of the jokes don't land.

Finishing this season, I feel like the show is in a better place than it's been for a while. I know this won't last; I strongly remember my deep disinterest when I finally gave up on watching it. This episode not withstanding, I feel like I'm laughing more again. They aren't specifically evolving the show into something exciting and new, sadly, but it's simply they've figured a few things out. I maintain one of the big problems is the showrunning and that I wish someone who wasn't Al Jean was doing it but maybe I can give him credit for what is going right and while I can roll my eyes at his blunt artless comments on pop culture, maybe he's showing he still cares to make us like these people again. After all, I'd much rather say nice things about the show when I can.

Other great jokes:

"Could you put on a song about LA or California"
"Eh, they all suck. But here's a good one about Alabama."

Other notes:

The animators did a good job with various levels of Lisa's humble face.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Elementary School Musical

After another vacation, I'm back in the trenches with season 22. Refreshed, I feel I can take anything the show has, at least until we get to the Elon Musk episode. Thankfully, that's not for a couple seasons. As for me, I'm also in for an interesting season... next month, I'm going back to (online) school to get my ECE (early childhood educator) degree. I'm looking forward to it but it also will be tighter on my budget and this year has already been pretty rough financially. Still, I'm not looking to change jobs and love the work but I can't deny sometimes the jobs we want are not the ones that pay the best.

In this episode, Lisa goes to performing arts camp and finds herself in heaven. There, her counselors Curt and Ethan, paint a picture of the enriching life of the artist, breaking Lisa's heart when she returns to Springfield. Finding very little artistic appreciations, she ends up running away from home to live with Curt and Ethan. However, when she finds him, she finds that art doesn't put food on the table and in seeking their art, they live in squalor. Lisa happily returns home but does promise to return one day to become an artist. Meanwhile, Krusty is to be given the Nobel Peace Prize... or so he thinks until he finds he hasn't arrived in Oslo but The Hague, where he will be tried for many international crimes and can only be freed if Homer and Bart can prove he did something lasting cultural worth. Bart finds Krusty refused to play Sun City, albeit for petty reasons.

This is another Tim Long episode, a writer who I feel is sort of middle of the road in quality. This episode is no different, not bad but not great. The problem is that it's another episode that feels like it has something to say but doesn't come to any real conclusion. And hey, not every episode needs to have a specific message (I maintain Blood Feud is a great episode because it explores questions without actually coming to a specific conclusion). The problem is the ending has the characters acting like they've come to a conclusion they are happy with but they don't. And it is an interesting question; is art worth the fact that you might not be living some cool glamourous life where the quality of life isn't great. But I feel like the episode doesn't really get into Lisa's feelings beyond disappointment and I guess happiness she's appreciated. It's a little flakey and I feel like it could use another pass where Lisa accepts that she wants to be an artist despite the artist life or that there's no shame if she chooses only to follow that dream in a non-career capacity. I don't think there's a wrong answer but the ambiguity of this episode doesn't feel chosen but simply because time is up on the script.

I do appreciate the b-plot is tied in thematically, about Krusty having the unenviable position of the ultimate sell-out and hack having to find any artistic merit. I think there are a lot of interesting potential directions for this one; a Kafka-esque trial where art MUST have merit rather than being for it's own sake or maybe Bart having to accept Krusty might make art he likes but also kind of sucks. But it's another softball and even the ironic "it was based on selfishness" of Krusty's "merit" seems half-assed. If anything, I kind of would have preferred the Sun City thing be the same but Bart not realizing Krusty didn't play out of selfishness until after and Bart wondering if there IS a line his hero won't cross and exploring that. But that might be a bit much to ask for a b-plot.

This is an episode with a lot of guest stars, like three Glee cast members (including the late Cory Montieth) and the late Stephen Hawking. But while I'm sure Fox promoted the Glee connection, the big deal was rising stars Jemaine Clement and Brett MacKenzie of the comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. The next summer, Brett would write the soundtrack to The Muppets, which rocks, while Jemaine, who I feel is the more instantly recognizable of the duo, would be a pretty ubiquitous comedic actor. Tim Long writes their songs and while it doesn't have the same level of quality as the duo itself, they are pretty decent and the band definitely makes them work, particularly the song about artists. I feel like they are doing the real heavy lifting of the episode, and I feel Tim is really writing to them in a good way that works within both their style and the Simpson style.

Other great jokes:

"I'm looking forward to traveling to the Arctic Circle, or as I call it, my wife's side of the bed. For the purposes of this joke, I'm married."
This is a legit great Krusty line that I feel like is what his character is all about.

"One of the most important skills a performer can learn is dealing with hecklers."
"And action."
"Top of the evening, Officer Krupke."
"YOUR DOG'S DEAD."
"That's not really a heckle."
"Oh, right. I've seen more life in the Wellington Botanical Gardens."
"That is a heckle, but if you're not from New Zealand then it loses some of it's sting."
"How much."
"Most of it."
"Do you think they won't know the reference."
"If they did know, then they would know it's teeming with life."

"Well, philosophically we're happening, in that we exist."
"Not if we don't drop more sandwiches."

Other notes:
I feel like the song Moe is going to sing we never see is very Leonard Cohen. But not as cheerful.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Loan-a Lisa

I value a lot of what I did in university but if I'm honest, I'm not sure how much it helped in my professional life beyond looking good to be a uni grad on my CV. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot, largely about philosophy, story telling, the arts. But it's generally not stuff I've used beyond giving advice on how to write essays better for students for whom English isn't the first language. I feel like it has helped me open my mind to different ways of viewing art but I feel like a lot of my friends who haven't taken classes like that generally were able to get to that kind of critical analysis their own way. I suppose I didn't need it. But I did love it.

In this episode, Lisa gets $50 from Grandpa and decides to use the money to provide a micro-loan to a person in need. The person turns out to be Nelson Muntz, who is desperately trying to start a small business to get himself out of poverty. With that loan, Nelson gets his business started and soon becomes a growing business. Business goes so well, in fact, that he decides to leave school to devote himself to work full time, much to Lisa's horror. Lisa tries to convince Nelson to stay but finds many of the most powerful entrepreneurs were drop-outs. Lisa resigns herself that Nelson has made up his mind but when Nelson realizes that a major business error could have been avoided with a little more science education to shore up his engineering abilities, he decides to return to school.

Loan-a Lisa is the second episode written by Valentina L. Garza, the first being the rather middling anthology episode Four Women and a Manicure. This one is better but like the last one, it's just a fairly middle of the road episode that I feel like is a little too simple with how things wrap up. There is an interesting question in here, I guess, about the nature of presumptions on education and going in a different path. But there is a difference between grown men from upper middle to upper class backgrounds dropping university and a 10 year old living in squalor leaving elementary school.

And I think that's a problem I often have with the Simpsons using the kids having stories beyond their age. Beyond a lack of plausibility even in the wacky Simpson-verse (I mean, it's no Admiral Baby...), I think the analogies kind of break down for our kid entrepenuers. I get it to an extent. You want to tell a story about something and you don't want to stop to jump through another hoop rationalizing a premise about why a kid would be doing this adult thing again. But it also causes the analogies to break down; the flimsy comparison to Nelson's situation and Mark Zuckerberg's is very different. If anything, it COULD be used to add more rationalizing to Nelson's story; he is a kid in deep poverty and he NEEDS cash. But despite some pointing to his problems, I feel like the episode isn't saying he's desperate, just foolhardy and filled with the hubris of youth. The parts are there but they aren't quite put together to make a nice bike.

A lot of guest stars in this one again. A wild grouping, too; Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, pedophile surpriser Chris Hanson and bad businessman Mark Zuckerberg. While I feel this era is a step up from the 2000s (for now), the series is consistent in having a bad habit of very bad look guest stars. This isn't the nadir of an entire episode about how we should feel sad for Elon Musk (ho-ho-holy shit is that ever an episode), but this is with Jeff Bezos and Rupert Murdoch where it feel less like some sort of "fans want to hear them" and more "this is a flex" from casting and it's a flex for absolutely no one, especially since they are always the softest of balls. It's not like the show is some sort of "take no prisoners" art war on the American psyche, but for a show that values mocking and questioning authority, it sure likes to cozy up to strong business types to the delight of no one. If anything, the only skilled guest star in this one is Terry W. Greene, a writer on the show who works as a fake out; his voice is different than the usual cast so you expect a guest star but instead it's a sad old janitor. Weird how the show also seems to have janitor as "pathetic fate" on this show.

Other notes:

The Itchy and Scratchy is yet another "parody a recent thing" (in this case up) and it almost works in that it's basically a mostly straight recreation of the opening of that film and then Itchy just mows Scratchy down with a machine gun. But then it keeps going and kind of ruins the antihumour of that end for me.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
MoneyBART

Sports is a thing that I never got into but as I get older, I see the appeal. I don't think I'll be a viewer but I love the idea of combining strategy and physicality. While we consider genius as a certain kind of mental acuity, there have been ideas floated that athletes are also a form of genius, not only in strategy but in remaking their bodies and acquiring precision far beyond what a normal person can accomplish. But there's so many KINDS of strategizing; taking things into account beyond players capabilities and rules; the location, chemistry between players, psychology... It's all kind of beautiful, particularly when all that comes together for amazing plays.

In this episode, Lisa learns she's expected to take part in more extracurriculars if she wants to go to Yale someday. Meanwhile, Bart's baseball team needs a new manager/coach after Flanders leaves. Lisa sees an opportunity and fills the role, only to find her ignorance is causing problems. After getting advice from Frink, she takes up sabrmetrics and uses statistics to lead the team to victory. However, Bart starts to rankle under Lisa's leadership and feels constrained from playing the way he wants. When he hits a home run against Lisa's advice, he wins the game but she kicks him off the team. Bart tries to move on and his team moves closer to victory thanks to Lisa's brilliant but tyrannical leadership. But Lisa pleads with Bart to return for an important play after Ralph can't play. Bart reluctantly agrees but when he gets on the field, he starts to recklessly steal bases. Bart pushes his luck too far and loses the game but moves Lisa with his passionate play and opens her eyes to another dimension of the game.

MoneyBART is another Tim Long and this might be among his stronger episodes. Not because it's brilliant but it is quite good. There are a lot of episodes where the series both sides an issue weird and I feel like it would have been easy to say Lisa was wrong but it's more Lisa was missing something; she has a passion for the strategy and victory but she learns risk, passion, bravery and spontaneity is what makes the game fun. It doesn't eliminate the good stuff about Lisa's coaching but it moves he to see beyond using her fellow kids as an extension of herself. I feel like it does well in selling it's message.

There are potshots at the dehumanizing nature of statistics but it doesn't discount their usefulness at winning the game and hey, they want to win. But Lisa gets to break free of purely seeing in those terms. I love sports manga and one thing I like is that it's not uncommon for our protagonists to lose games. In fact, it's tradition that they need to lose one important game so they can reflect on their weaknesses and improve. We want our heroes to lose a bit, as long as they don't loose pitifully and Bart's lose is both inevitable and glorious as he tries to break past the limit of the impossible.

The episode does have a bit of flab to it. Homer and Marge also get caught up in the argument but its not that funny and never properly folds into the plot. But it is also well-paced, which is something that becomes rarer and rarer for this series where it feels like both its story-telling and joke-telling priorities are out of whack. The episode has a view guest voices, including Bill James and Mike Scioscia, who basically plays the cliché advice giving role that the series would mock in it's first golden age (I'm thinking particularly of Joe "vapour lock" Naimath). It also has a pretty bleak opening sequence by Banksy. I like the point about the dark side of the entertainment we love but it's kind of tainted by some orientalism (apparently it was originally worse with all of the sweatshop workers wearing conical rice paddy hats). It's a decent half-hour of TV, overall and I hope this season gets to keep on this track... at least until the weirdly fawning season finale with Lady Gaga.

Other great jokes:
"She can do the kind of math that has letters. Watch! What's X Lisa?"
"Well, that depends."
"Sorry. She did it yesterday."

"Speaking of homer, Bart's father's name is, you guessed it, not on my fact sheet."

I feel like I've gotten tired of Ralphisms but "Do alligators alligate?" is a good one.

"Mike Scioscia! Didn't you get radiation poisoning working at the Springfield Nuclear Plant?"
"Yes, and it gave me super managing powers. I also de-magnetize credit cards."

"The Isotots lose. Now to begin my other summer job... follow-home robberies. I'll see you in the parking lot, but you won't see me until it's too late."

Other notes:
One weird small touch is a needle drop suddenly ends with the click of a tape player but it's not an actual joke. Just an odd foley decision.

Mike Scioscia's hat changes colour halfway through his cameo and at first I thought is was a reference to him managing other teams but... no, his hat just turned from red to white.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XXI

I love horror. But often I try to, somewhat, relegate my horror watching to October. But, whoopsie, I just paid for a year's subscription to Shudder. Oh, well.

In this episode, three more scary tales! In the first tale, a parody of Jumanji, Bart and Milhouse play a cursed board game that turns Springfield into a dangerous playland of tabletop games and must complete the game to turn things back to normal. Then, in a parody of Dead Calm, Homer and Marge's vacation is interrupted by a mysterious man who has been lost at sea for days. He spins a tale of escaping a murderous businessman on a boat who has murdered everyone else but Homer is suspicious. Fearing for their lives, Homer and Marge kill the man when they are certain he is the killer... only to stumble across the boat he told of that confirms his story. The man is revealed to be alive and Homer kills him again as well as the other passengers, who faked their deaths, to avoid the repercussions of attempted murder but Marge, unable to live with the guilt, commits suicide. In the last tale, a parody of Twilight, Lisa meets a boy at school who turns out to be a vampire. They fall in love but during a family dinner, Homer and the vampire's father embarrasses them both so they sneak out. The father's try to prevent the kids from doing something regrettable but both father and son are overcome with bloodlust and attack Lisa. Homer gets in the way and allows himself to be eaten, but his unhealthy blood ends up killing them both.

This one is a perfectly OK special. None of the jokes are going to live forever and there's some eyerolling stuff but there are a fair number of good jokes and the pacing is pretty good for an anthology. The first one is ostensibly a Jumanji parody but mostly its making fun of classic board games. There are some fun jokes and visuals but man am I tired of the lame parody names for board games like Yahtsu and Tiddlywonks. That shit don't mean anything. There's also one really fun gag with Marge and I wish the rest of the segment was that strong.

The second segment is the strongest, even if there's a dumb left field ending that parodies A Clockwork Orange for no reason and has some very stupid innuendo-based hero. All the same, it is fun and restrained by the metrics of a Halloween short, where it often feels like they are trying to take a kitchen sink approach. This one is more Hitchcockian (which I assume Dead Calm also tried to be) and saves it's wacky kills and puns for the end, which are also enjoyable. It also has Hugh Laurie, who is mostly a straightman but plays the role well.

I expected the last one to be the weakest. After all, it's a parody of a fad megahit (who talks about Twilight anymore?) that feels like it was primarily for marketing the episode. It also has a big star in Daniel Radcliffe, around the time the last of the Potter films were coming out. But it's mostly pretty strong and only one major reference to the franchise feels forced, even though the first third is more direct parody. Instead, it becomes a mix of general vampire gags and using it as a springboard for it's own gags rather than making fun of a popular-yet-widely-derided film/book series. It's not the best one but it works a lot better than I expected.

Other great jokes:

"Game, set and match."
"I think you mean 'check and mate'."
"I just got crushed by a giant horse, Lou. Maybe cut me a little slack?"

"Col. Ketchup, I saw it was you who killed him in the parlor with the letter opener."
"He was going to leave me! And I'm too old to find anyone else."

"Unfortunately, he had the strength of ten businessmen."

"We'd better due it quick... BECAUSE HE'S MAKING SCONES!"
Great use of imagery and sound with scary music to a man cheerily making scones.

"Bankers away" is a good murder quip.

"You have beautiful eyes."
"Thank you. They're just dots and circles."

"What, me again?"

"I know, I know. Don't serve garlic, don't stab him in the heart with a stake, don't ask him if he knows Frankenstein, it's *racist* somehow."

"She can't get neckholes, it's picture day tomorrow."

"I can't spend eternity using kid scissors, they barely cut anything."

"How ironic, a cross being used to kill someone."

Other notes:
Wait, why were those businessmen playing dead FOR DAYS!?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Lisa Simpson, This Isn't Your Life

In families, there are things that can go unsaid, things that if expressed can lead to hurt. Recently my mother recounted a few things my sister said in her teenage years that hurt her. She knew my sister didn't say it out of malice but rather wasn't thinking of the result and didn't understand the weight of what she said. And I know I've thoughtlessly said some hurtful things I've regretted. It's hard to take those things back and knowing that they weren't intended as lashing out but simply offhanded comments that unwittingly cause pain is somehow rougher.

In this episode, Lisa learns Marge was a very good student but ended up leaving academia behind for her current life. Lisa, afraid of ending up like Marge, begins looking for solutions while Marge is extremely hurt to find Lisa doesn't want to be like her. Lisa tries to backpedal but the hurt of the comments creates a gap between the two. When Lisa wants to go to a prestigious school for the gifted, Marge manages to talk the school into letting Lisa attend. Lisa loves the school but she later learns Marge made a deal to do all of the laundry of the school in exchange for free tuition. Lisa decides to not go to the school and tells Marge she'd be honoured to be like her.

It's funny, this episode in the parts that make it up feel like an extremely generic Simpsons episode. While Bart has a problem with Nelson, Lisa wants to go to a fancy smart school, worries about her future, worries about being like Marge, all the pieces we've seen dozens of times. But there are two things to the episodes advantage. One is simply it actually has a lot of laugh lines. There's very little "hey, look at what is going on in culture now" or very on the nose pop culture parodies. Just some good joke writing overall. The other thing is the episode in wrapping things up nicely also kind of... doesn't.

Often I complain about the show not digging into it's ideas enough but there is something to be said for vagueness and things left unsaid. Lisa tells Marge she respects her and I think she means it when she says it but... does she. I think to Marge it's not just that Lisa wants to be a different person, which parents should respect, but that she seems to be looking at her mother as a cautionary tale. And the episode doesn't go deep into that, focusing a lot of screen time into her trying to make certain her future is what she wants but the shadow is there; it's what started the episode and it's what causes her rift. I'm OK this time without too much digging because it permeates the episode while not being said.

But that ending is what gets me. No, not the resolution of the b and c plots. The episode ends on a ambiguous note, one the show doesn't always do. Lisa apologizes and says she'd be honoured to be like her. I think she's telling the truth but the look on Lisa's face when she hugs Marge is also a lie of omission. Honoured is not the same as happy. I think that's a bold little touch to put in the end and it really colours the episode. Lisa loves her mom and wants to respect her ability to sacrifice and put others first but Lisa knows there are other things she can't say. To her, anyway. Maybe to anyone (Homer proves to have loose lips) at least until she can get therapy. Lisa sees living like Marge as not for her but it goes beyond that and she can't let her mother know how she feels. She can't hurt her like that again. It's a sadder, weirder note for that story and it's almost a shame that it gets swept aside for wackiness. I was hoping the show could do more with this (the actual feelings or this kind of storytelling decision) but too my memory, the next few years will be a bit more of a further decline with a few bright spots.

Other great jokes:
"Catsy and Mousy, aren't they great?"
I love any time Krusty can't be bothered to know Itchy and Scratchy's name,

Bart and Homer imagining the future is a fun exchange.

"You yell at me for everything."
"Well, I can't yell at anyone else. Teachers have their unions, kids have parents."
"What about Willie."
"I LIKE WILLIE."

After Bart accidentally beats up Nelson.
"Well, I guess his parking spot is yours now."

The initial 7 of Clubs joke isn't great but it gets a good pay-off.

My favourite bit is Bart saying he has a bully problem and Marge POSITIVE it's Milhouse.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Fool Monty

It's easy to say "revenge is toxic" but there are people in the world who are so thoroughly repellent and destructive to all that we value that we can only wait for the day that they get some well-deserved comeuppance. And in particular we've had that for the last decade. And it's rare that we can savour it, especially since even when some of these awful people do suffer. Alex Jones was humiliated in court in a moment so delicious it felt completely scripted but it's too soon to say if this will rob him of real power to do ill in the world, perhaps simply finding other avenues of awfulness.

In this episode, Mr. Burns learns he is dying and announces it to the town, only to be taken aback when the news is greeted with cheers. Burns unsuccessfully attempts suicide and ends up being found by Bart. Bart is shocked that Burns has amnesia and is a barely functioning simpleton and decides to take him home. When the town learns of Burns' condition and creates a campaign of abuse by allowing everyone in town to "borrow" him for a half hour. Lisa, disgusted at the town's behaviour, decides to treat Burns with gentility and takes him to his old home, reassuring him he's a better man. But Burns' memory is restored and vowing revenge, Burns confronts the town, only to learn that he isn't dying anymore, fueled by his own hate.

I think I found something about this episode that seemed distasteful that doesn't bother me as much now. I think there can be something to object to regarding "simpleton Burns" but I actually think it's better than when Ralph isn't just a dumb weirdo but is implied to be intellectually disabled. This time I was accepting this a bit more as intended as sitcom contrivance and I still have problems but it is an episode that has some interesting ideas that are a little scattered. In a ship of Theseus situation, is the Burns with no memory deserving of the revenge of the previous Burns? There's also the idea that a lot of the town given the opportunity to torment Burns merely "use" him as a slave or tool or a forced friend. I think there's an interesting idea if they made the town grow to love him as a blank slate/doormat and that there is something wrong with that, too.

Overall, though, the episode doesn't quite completely explore the ideas I found most interesting in the episode. But I will say it has a complete idea, one we've kind of seen before. There's already been an episode where Burns doesn't want to be hated but finds he is happy to live with it. This is similar; he is dying, becomes a sponge for abuse and everyone's selfish desires and is restored by his own hate... and the hate of others. I appreciate that it follows this through but I don't think I'm entirely satisfied as this saying something about the nature of hate. It's thought out by writer Michael Price, I think, that maybe the town and Burns have a weird symbiotic hatred but I feel while the concept is well thought out, it lacks nuance and depth and I'm not convinced by it's point.

It does come close to more interesting ideas, though, like the idea that Burns' misanthropy and evil is reinforced seeing Springfield's. I would have liked to see the episode through the eyes of the innocent Burns as he is used and an innocent Burns is nurtured back into evil by the cruelty of others. And the idea that hate, even deserved and justified, can be dangerous to the soul when overindulged. OR Burns could discover he actually LIKES Springfield because he sees the depths of their evil is something he can relate too and as a fool gets to see the private evil of Springfield. The episode is trying for stuff and somewhat succeeding in it's goals but it's a little sad that there are more interesting goals not too far off.

Other great jokes:
"Oatmeal accept premise."

Other notes:
It's weird for Bart to be put into the somewhat sympathetic role then putting that into Lisa and Bart's just revenging with everyone else.

It's a short moment but Lisa "ghost of future present" style telling "Oatmeal" that Burns didn't have many friends works for me, even if not revolutionary.

Man, I really need to see "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
How Munched Is that Birdie in the Window?

I love animals. We all do. They are cute. Sometimes we can get them to wear silly hats. It's great. We like when animals act like people. But they aren't. They don't think the same way we do. They love (well, many of them). They want. There's a lot of us in there. And we like to project our own humanity onto them. But they have their own sense of the world and expecting them to share all our values and understand certain nuances is ridiculous. But it does hurt us sometimes when that fact comes to the forefront.

In this episode, Bart rescues a pigeon named Raymond Bird and nurses it back to health. Eventually, it becomes a beloved family pet and Bart is particularly close to it. Then one day, Santa's Little Helper suddenly attacks and eats Ray, to Bart's horror. Bart is suddenly full of ire for his dog, compounded when it's clear the dog shows no remorse and is oblivious to Bart being upset. Eventually, these feelings grow so strong that the family decides to give Santa's Little Helper to a ostrich farm. Bart tells Santa's Little Helper he should never hurt a bird while saying goodbye and ironically the message sinks in when Bart is attacked by an ostrich. Bart forgives his dog and they go home together.

How Munched is that Birdie in the Window? is an episode that I'd put in the upper tier of later Simpsons, much to my surprise. It's not that I'm super ecstatic but I found myself liking it a lot overall and is generally strong in most areas. It's not a deeply emotional episode but it is consistently pretty darn funny and also has something interesting to explore; the morality we might project onto animals. It's an episode about how love can be difficult when there is a sense that someone you love can't understand you. We actually get episodes with this involving Homer more than once and those tend to be frustrating because Homer is human and it just makes him look like an asshole and not in the loveable way (re: Make Room for Lisa). But animals should not be expected to have human morals.

Still, at the same time, if an animal has a behavioural problem that is unknowingly hurtful, it gets more emotionally complicated. Bart can't bring himself to forgive his dog, especially since his dumb dog is unaware that there's anything he should be cluing into. I mean, he IS a dumb dog even by dog standards but even a smart dog can behave themselves but not understand the why beyond "those are the rules." They don't think like we do but they do need love and care and Bart finds himself having difficulty with that under the circumstances and learning to accept his dog and that he can learn if not morality, than respecting his rules (with hard work). I do feel the last bit is a little messy and unclear but I'll accept it, it works more than it doesn't.

Weirdly, all this stuff is relegated almost entirely to the 2nd act cliffhanger and final act. The first two is actually mostly fun nonsense about Bart and his bird. It does work to the story not only in being fun but selling "Ray" as being a pet Bart loves and that love can open up doors of opportunities for fun and new life experiences. It's a very easy and fun watch. I will say the guest voices are a little awkward. I'm sure Danica Patrick is a cool person but she adds little to the episode and Rachel Weisz is stuck with a role that's mechanical rather than particularly funny except one really strong joke (not as awkward as some but just... functional).

Other great jokes:
I really liked a lot of the gags here.

""The bloody hangman set to his gory work. Bodies stacked up like those foldable plastic chairs."
"Like the ones in the music room?"
"POSSIBLY!"

The World War II dvd commercial is pretty funny. "With directors commentary from Hitler and Mussolini."

"Is he good at tic tac toe like that chicken I played, lost to and ate at the state fair?"
"No, I was thinking we could use him to send messages back and forth."
"Way ahead of you."

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"Hey Homer, ever think of racing that bird?"
"You can race pigeons?"
"Hey, if it moves, you can bet on it."
"What about the Detroit Lions?"
"Hey, lay off Detroit, them peoples is living in Mad Max times."

"What they don't suspect is that I'm into this."

I like the entire scene with Skinner hoping Homer and Marge can make Bart sadder.

"So, Marge, what I understand from our phone conversation is that you have a very bad service provider."

"Well, boy, I guess this is it. We've had a lot of good memories. Like when we got our picture in the paper with the caption 'who's walking who'?"
"I sent in the answer but the paper never printed it."

Other notes:

I like Moe happily admitting an entire introduced plot point was a scam. Kind of want to see that episode.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Fight Before Christmas

Another Christmas episode. Hey, another Christmas anthology.

In this one, the Simpson family are all irritable (except Homer) on Christmas Eve and each have dreams relating to their woes. In the first story, Bart imagines himself on the Polar Express, only to find that Santa and the North Pole are squalor. Bart no longer has the heart to ask for a dirtbike, only to feel pity for Santa, unaware that Santa played him and is rich. Then Lisa imagines her on the home front waiting for Marge to return home from World War II. Then Marge imagines Martha Stewart fixing her home to give her a perfect Christmas, only for Marge to find it inhumane when her family is shoed out of the way. Then Maggie imagines her family as puppets in a Christmas special.

This is a pretty middling Christmas special. There is a recurring theme, which I appreciate; the ideal of Christmas and excepting the joy of the imperfect reality. Unfortunately, they just aren't that funny. The first one is definitely going for a parody of the depressing business size of Christmas that powers the dreams of children but I really can't tell if it's about big business or about accepting your parents can't get you everything you want. It doesn't dovetail very well within the plot by conflating gift givers with big business.

The second one tries to be a little emotional amongst the silliness but it's only the best one because it's kind of funny. It's a weird homage to heartwarming Christmas during the War nostalgia stories with the idea that Lisa should appreciate that she lives in a time where she can afford to object to things. But frankly, I feel like this is another story predicated (at least for the framing device) on Lisa being less about having a sense of justice and more about being a Debbie Downer and frankly, I don't like it. It feels like it feeds into the Fox News war on Christmas bullcrap where people shouldn't complain because things are better now.

The last two stories are heavy with the guest stars. The Martha Stewart segment is my least favourite. I don't really like her and while the episode has her as kind of a villain (she's even drawn with sinister eyes), I don't really want her in here anyway. I almost would have preferred Marcia Wallace as a Martha Stewart-esque figure (mostly because they have similar voices). The Muppets parody has Katy Perry and it's a pretty weak one, though it's less because of her but what she has to work with, which like a lot of big name new hotness guest stars, isn't a lot (it's really weird to have Mr. Burns excited by Katy Perry and not assuming it's Lilian Gish or something). I have no doubt that Perry in a very title plastic Simpsons dress probably caused some very weird feelings in some younger viewers. Despite some of the weaker jokes around her, it does feel like a labour of love with recurrent Simpsons collaborators the Chiodo Brothers, best known for creating movie monsters and writing/directing Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The puppets look decent although Mr. Burns is the one that looks best in 3D. Clearly its a loving parody but the Perry stuff (particularly Burns says "I kissed a girl and I liked it" is very eyeball roll inducing.

Other great jokes:

"Hitler doesn't take a Holiday."
"Well, he does but he doesn't tell people till the last minute, so they can't make plans."
"Bastard."

Other notes:
Well, if you were going to tell me that the show would end with Katy Perry receiving cunnilingus from puppet Moe... I'd believe you but I'd throw up my hands in defeat.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Donnie Fatso

The Simpsons haven't always been great about picking it's targets. Sometimes it's picking on Lisa for being "too" concerned with her liberal ideals. But for it's faults, the show definitely has been consistent on it's mistrust of authority and in particular, the police. It's an attitude that's aged well as systemic problems become even MORE visible, and it wasn't exactly hidden before. Cops are the baddies now and even the episodes where Wiggum is the hero generally presents him as a corrupt one who takes bribes and uses excessive force and says as such.

In this episode, Homer ends up raking in ridiculous fines from outrageous new laws and gets in even more trouble when trying to bribe his way out of it. With Homer looking at 10 years of jail time, Homer has only one way out; become an undercover FBI informant. Disguised as Nicky Blue Pants, Homer manages to ingratiate himself into Fat Tony's gang and even becomes a made man in record time. During this time, he develops a kinship with Tony and becomes torn when finally having to betray him. Even worse, Fat Tony dies while upset and confused by the betrayal, leaving Homer feeling awful. Homer is freed but later is kidnapped by Fat Tony's cousin Fit Tony. Fit Tony plans to kill Homer but after Homer proves to be genuinely contrite and caring, Fit Tony lets him go and becomes the new Fat Tony.

Donnie Fatso isn't a bad episode but it is an episode that also feels like yet another retread of similar plot points. I know it can be the specifics that can really colour it and there's no problem with revisiting themes but I've seen Homer undercover, I've seen Homer as a snitch and I've seen him come to the conclusion that even when betraying a villain, living as a liar and traitor can hurt the soul. It pretty clearly spells out it's theme, too, with Homer literally pointing out the people who are there to protect him used him and the mafia showed mercy and love. I mean, it's still the mafia but they were nice to HOMER at least, but that's almost beside the point; the real villains are the cops throughout.

The episode was the only one written by Night Court veteran Chris Cluess and thinking on it, there are definitely gags and moments that feel very much of that show, even if the episode is unmistakably Simpsons. I feel like the show loving to bring out weirdos for the characters to bounce off of is notable when Moe is playing around with the cast of Wicked. He writes a competant episode but again, it is unfortunate that I feel like it's in some heavily mined territory, making for a script largely unremarkable, save pulling a gag where a main character dies and is replaced by their own double.

The special guest star is Jon Hamm, a wonderful actor who can do drama but clearly loves to remind people he started in comedy. And as the sleazy FBI agent, he does a pretty good job and unlike some guest stars gets in a few good jokes. Granted, he's mostly working at one level, a level similar to his breakthrough role (I find more recently he likes to de-glamourize himself, like as the scummy criminal in Baby Driver) but he does it well. It's also a reminder how far I've gotten. Though Homer has a flip phone, most of the characters have smart phones now and the guest stars are of shows I think of as recent. I mean, Mad Men's been off the air for 7 years now. It's spooky.

Other great jokes:

"You will be known as Nicky Blue Pants Altosaxophony."
"Can I keep the name when I'm done."
"No. It belongs to the government,"

The camera gag isn't great but the final punchline is.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Moms I'd Like to Forget

Looking after kids, it is not uncommon to find kids with behavioural issues. I've yet to meet a bad kid, though I've certainly had ones that are hard to deal with (particularly one whom had a father that ENCOURAGED retaliation which... that's terrible, dude). But there are definitely kids who have difficulty reining themselves in for whatever reason. be it lack of discipline at home or simply struggling with issues like ADHD. But notably, some kids are more likely to have more problems when in presence of other kids. There are some kids who are pretty well-behaved overall but are so energetic they wind up some of the other kids. So a lot of time, there is trying to figure out how to organize classes to mediate issues and it isn't always easy.

In this episode, Bart and a kid he is feuding with discover they have identical scars, which leads Bart to learn they were actually childhood playmates with two other kids. This inspired Marge to get in contact with the kids' moms to start up a friendship. Marge and her old friends are close again and Bart is hanging out with his old playmates but soon finds their rough style of play rough even for him. Eventually, Bart realizes he needs to break up his moms' friendship. After learning the circumstances of Marge's initial falling out with her friends, Bart comes up with a plan but when Marge confronts him, he can't go through with it. Marge tells the family and her friends paint Bart as a bad seed and Marge breaks it off with them.

I really didn't like this one. At all. Like, I feel like I've seen a few bad episodes this last season but I feel like this is an episode with kind of a shitty resolution for Marge. This one clearly paints Marge as deeply needing this friend group for her mental health and she suddenly quits over a comment and her sticking with her family is a happy ending. And my problem is not that the episode is saying "having friends is important but it's important to have the right friends", because it doesn't. It doesn't give Marge the promise of looking for friends again outside the house. That seems very sad for Marge. The show has more than once given us a look at how she needs a life outside the house and the happy ending feels like "no." It's not even ambiguous or bitter sweet, it's just turning the knob on the reset button.

It doesn't help that the "Cool Moms" are COMPLETELY non-descript in personality. There's nothing there to these characters except they are other moms and in a twist, they are all gay for each other, which I feel this is the second time that's treated like a punchline and I don't get it. I mean, good for bland cartoon moms, I guess, but.... why? I can't connect with Marge's feelings because weirdly, the episode doesn't give a shit and treat Marge having friends as Bart's problem. Lisa even says "you need to stop Mom from hanging out with those moms" as if THAT'S the problem. No agency for Marge, no talking to her about his feelings. Both of them unilaterally plan to end Marge's friendship, which is pretty shitty. And the episode kind of lands there but it also doesn't seem to really give a shit about her. It gives her the agency to set that reset button, I guess, but that feels like a loss.

This is an episode about Bart but dealing with Marge but neither story pans out into anything interesting. It's a snooze and unfunny and it bothers me how it treats Marge having friends as an inconvenience for Bart and to a lesser extent Homer. Neither character talks to Marge and it's not even clear the writer considers that as a possibility, giving the weird faulty choice of "betray a loved one" or "suffer in silence". This is the kind of episode I remember lamenting about latterday Simpsons, a series where it lurches from plot point to plot point, devoid of thought or real emotion and pretty much sucking in dealing with gay representation. At least no one is worrying another character will "turn" gay again. Which I'm pretty sure also happens in some later episodes.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Flaming Moe

The Simpsons has a weird (and extremely spotty) relationship with LGBTQ+ representation. The first major character to be gay was Karl (not Karl), Homer's ultra-professional assistant in Simpson and Delilah. It's an episode that really isn't beyond that but it is clear he is gay and has an attraction and love for Homer. Then it was John in the classic Homer's Phobia. Those two episodes do traffic in some stereotyping (the former relatively low-key) but are generally strong episodes and the latter holds up a LOT better than I expected. But subsequent episodes, even ones with intent to be very much on the side of the gay community would make extremely questionable choices with characters worrying about "turning" gay (I think that's as recent as a season or two back where "what if Marge turns gay to a lumberjacking competition) and some very bad transgender jokes and even plot points. The show might have some good intentions but that's the road to Hell.

In this episode, Smithers feels betrayed to learn he isn't in Burns' will and Burns explains he can see Smithers as an equal until he is a self-made man. After being rejected by a trendy gay club, he goes to Moe's and sees an opportunity to turn it into a gay bar for everyone. Moe agrees and the business actually goes very well, making everyone happy. However, Smithers' realizes that Moe is pretending to be gay fearing otherwise will cost him business. Smithers disapproves but lets Moe keep his secret. However, things come to ahead when the gay community decides they need a gay voice on the town council and encourage Moe to run. Moe jumps at the chance but during a speech Smithers reveals to the community that Moe is straight and he is forced to come clean, losing everyone's trust.

Flaming Moe is an episode where as I was watching it, I was like "this is better than I remember with some bad elements" but even writing this review with the episode rolling around in my head, I was just getting more and more upset with it.. Aside from a problem in the climax, which the show kind of cops to, there are lots of little problems that hurt it. As for the positive, it is largely about something good happening for the gay community and uses Moe's very bad habit of lying for acceptance. It's his recurring tragic flaw where he definitely would be as loved if he didn't pretend to be someone else and accepts he can be loved but he's so scared of losing it, he just keeps doing it. I mean, maybe he needs to stop learning that one specific lesson but it works on that level. And there are some genuine laugh lines. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of "ugh".

Less well thought out is a climax that could be described as "gay chicken" where Moe is told to kiss Smithers to prove he is gay. The show calls itself out on this but, it, like, still does it. But that's a pretty bog standard shitty take. Worse takes, as often happens with the show is in smaller gay stereotypes and worse, it's very bad trans takes. It started bad enough with "super hairy Wonder Woman" who I think is mean to be seen as a cross-dresser but the character's line is "thank you for humouring me", which isn't great and it's clear it's supposed to look weird and off (with a noticeably ill-fitting wig. Worse is when we get three overtly trans characters, one a fat and slovenly individual (another ill-fitting wig) and two who are pointedly muscular. And hey, muscles on any women is cool, as is being both masculine and feminine, it completely reeks of trying to present them as a weird other. And they berate Marge for a silly "wig" and her voice and it's really all pretty bad, this moment. Wait, she called someone Selma "Steve", confusing her with someone so... deadnaming? And also "drops the voice". I swear, the more I deconstruct this 20 second "bit" the worse it gets. This is an episode I would like to enjoy more but these elements hurt an episode with a potentially interesting kernel.

The b-plot is actually the part with some big names, as Kristen Wiig and Alyson Hannigan appear as the new music teacher and her daughter, respectively. Wiig is basically a manic pixie dream girl for Skinner and she has some fun with it. Hannigan, sadly, has less to do and it's funny because I tend to think of a lot of the actresses in that position getting a lot in that regard. It's a fun little b-plot that has a couple visual gags I like and while it doesn't pull the best out of both performers, Wiig gets to do more as the stereotypical free spirit type.

Other great jokes:
"True admiration"
"Self made man."
"Kill the other two heads."

"That's was my grandmother's wedding urinal!"

"B-E. Four points!"
"I CHALLENGE!"

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"Skinner! You're a regular Casanova, or, in English, new house."

Other notes:

Seriously, this is a review I kept re-writing because I was like "It's heavily flawed but not bad" but when I write these, I have the episode going on in the background and the more I thought about it and stewed in it, the angrier I got. Plus, I missed the big transphobic gag the first time when I went to get my oats off the stove.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer the Father

The Simpsons is definitely one of the shows that changed TV. It wasn't the first prime time sitcom but it was the one that more than Flintstones was appealing to older viewers. It also put in a new era of irony and it's dysfunctional family dynamic was preceded by series like Married... With Children, the Simpsons popularity allowed for sitcom protagonists to be not just wacky but overtly mocking conventional TV morality. It eventually went head to head with the Cosby Show, TV's most critically beloved and highest rated sitcom and eventually won against the more heartwarming show (which was also a showcase for an absolute monster). Interestingly, while there's plenty of room for sitcoms with unlikable characters, the pendulum is swinging back to more positive characters in the wake of a world where we need more love and acceptance.

In this episode, Homer becomes hooked on a wholesome 80s sitcom and takes it's message to heart when raising Bart. He inadvertently lets Bart believe if he gets good grades, he'll get the "Street Assassin" mini-bike. When Bart aces the test, Homer tells him that his success is it's own reward, leaving Bart feeling betrayed. When Bart realizes Homer's access to the plant means he can get access to America's nuclear secrets, he tries to offer them to America's enemies. Bart ends up making a deal with Chinese intelligence to steal the plant's secrets for a Street Assassin and to do that, gets close to Homer and goes to the plant with him. Bart gets the secrets and leaves them in the zoo where he gets his new bike. But the next morning, Bart is shocked to learn Homer has bought him a Street Assassin, leaving Bart racked with guilt. Bart tries to hurry to return the bike and get back the secrets but is confronted with the Chinese agents. Homer defends his son, saying he'll go to China and give them all his secrets in exchange for Bart's safety. He does and his faulty knowledge ends up destroying their own plant and Homer returns home.

Homer the Father is a nice palette cleanser after the last episode. Thematically, it's a little weird because I think there is some good messaging but it's also so on the backburner to the gags, that it really is an after-thought. That's OK though, but I wouldn't mind if they could return to these ideas, particularly the idea of comparing yourself or modelling yourself after a crafted ideal. After all, Homer is a bad dad who loves his kids and while he gets good lessons from his show, they are lessons he doesn't actually think about when putting into practice and it keeps Bart at a distance. Being a good parent isn't just good rules and even more than talking, it's engagement. Homer just gives some vague advice and sends Bart on his way.

It's interesting but it is an episode more concerned with the artifice of TV. The show itself invites Homer into a comforting world but Bart gets into a mess with terrorists. Its fun and all, but it occurs to me to really explore the artifice angle, Bart should be dealing with something stickier while this episode DOES come with a quick fix (either that, or Homer should win the day using cheesy TV artifice, because it is clearly something that speaks to people). As it is, it's enjoyable but despite terrorists, it feels like a standard sitcom structure, at least in the abstract, and is far less subversive than both when the show first aired and some of it's more challenging plots.

I don't want to seem down on this one because purely as a joke machine and with a plot, both work fine. But I can see the show tackling a subgenre of comedy it basically helped kill (or at least shunt off to Disney Channel and Nickelodeon) and not really comment on it's relationship beyond the reminder a lot of these wholesome shows were Hell behind the scenes. I mean, I guess one could argue that the reality is a betrayal of the hopeful fiction we want to believe in but that requires a bit of digging. Instead, it's more indulging in the cosmetic aspects, which makes for some fun but... I won't even say it feels hollow but it feels sadly unmined.

Other great jokes:

"Tonight on Kent's Korrections, it has been brought to our attention that the word 'corrections' is actually spelled with a C. Please forgive any confusion this may have caused."

"Filmed before a live studio audience."
"Everyone in that studio audience are dead now."

"Kids don't deliver newspapers anymore, it's just creeps in trucks."

"Does Dad give *you* money for good grades?"
"I've been doing the family's books for years. I take what I need."

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"I got summer squash!"
This isn't really so much a joke as an entrance line but I love Marge being jazzed over fruits and veggies.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't listen to a 30 year old TV show that only got on the air because the creator had evidence the network president ran over a guy."

"Why would a child go to the zoo?"

"Yes, I get the flashdrive back AND the manilla envelope!"

Other notes:

Homer says he won't strangle Bart anymore and it would be nice if that was the show saying it to us. Maybe I'll do a no strangle streak count to see if this lasts at all.

Tiananmen Square joke is well animated for.... a Tiananmen Square joke.

I feel like they should have got Michael Gross to guest star as the sitcom dad. Yes, he's modelled after Alan Thicke but I like Michael Gross more.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Blue and the Gray

With my worst fear being death, I often worry about aging. And specifically about a life not well lived and not finding someone to share my life with. But at least I've been complimented more than once I look young. And to an extent, I feel young... but also because I worry I'm immature for my age. It's not just lacking certain life experiences but feeling like I'm still childish as a person, particularly when I see other people my age on dating apps who seem like they have their lives much more together. But I will say, more than once, people have complimented me on looking younger, being genuinely surprised I'm 40. It's a good feeling that if I'm not young, at least I look it.

In this episode, Marge discovers a gray hair and is shocked to learn that she's been gray for a while and has kept forgetting due to the powerful fumes of her hair dye. After seeing a confident woman with gray hair, Marge decides to let herself go gray. Homer tries to be supportive but is weirded out and throws himself into his next wacky b-plot; being Moe's wingman as he throws himself into the dating scene. Marge is still proud of her decision but everyone else keeps backhand complimenting her or commenting on her age. She becomes even more upset when she realize Homer is enjoying the club scene with young people. When Marge confronts him he cops to just being a wingman and the two reconcile and Marge goes back to her usual dye job.

This is a fairly forgettable one, never actively "bad" but simply pretty forgettable. With a lot of these weaker ones, there is a lot of unexplored potential. And the episode actually does well in this regard at first. It's playing for smaller stakes and the idea of dealing with age and wanting to put yourself out there are you are is one that is interesting. Marge made a good decision but is confronted not only with societal mockery. It would make a person mad. But this story ends on a low note with Marge turning into a stereotypical witch and while I don't like the visual gag so much, her confronting Homer is pretty generic "angry wife" cartoonery and then ends without really getting a resolution.

See, I don't even mind Marge changes back but my problem is that it never addresses Marge's issues so it basically seems like she gave up because society is a jerk. And even then, as bleak as it is, there could be a good if sad ending in this, it doesn't seem like the show just needs to do a reset. I don't really feel the weight of Marge making a decision about how she wants to present her beauty. I guess she goes back because Homer wants it and I don't think if she wants to do that for someone else it's not a terrible decision but I feel like I want this episode to be about what she wants for herself.

I'd like to see a better episode explore beauty, especially since Homer is generally thought of as ugly to people who aren't Marge and I feel like Marge finding herself similarly rejected could be interesting. As would the idea that to be ugly as a man might be held to different standards than an older woman. But it's more some boring "true beauty is on the inside", which is a simplified weak-ass platitude. There are lots of directions to take an episode about age, beauty and prejudice and one that isn't a complete snooze.

Other great jokes:

"If you're watching this alone, your love life is like Sister Act III; no Whoopi!"
"I knew my love life was like that movie somehow."

"Daahh! A MONSTER! SAVE ME! I apologize, that was unprofessional. Go on."

I love the Simpsons kids having body horror issues of having hair the same colour as their skin.
"WHAT ARE WE?!?"

"Granma had hair like that when she went to sleep in her forever box."

"Don't judge them to harshly. They just learned they were two thirds of conjoined triplets and the other one's out for revenge."

"Give me a double espresso to go."
"Ma'am, are you sure that's wise with what I presume is your heart condition?"

Other notes:

The next episode is Angry Dad: The Movie and I could have sworn I'd already seen it this time. Time is a blur now.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Angry Dad: The Movie

I love cartoons. Obviously as with most animation fans it began at a young age and I simply didn't grow out of it. It seems like for my generation, it isn't seem to be considered a thing you do grow out of anymore. Obviously, animation for adults has been around since time immemorium but I feel in particular is something I hear people of all ages talking about and enjoying. Pretty much every preschool and daycare's workers watch the cartoon music they play for the kids. But there's no cartoon I love more than the Simpsons.... ' first 10 seasons.

In this episode, Bart is approached by a company that has the rights to Bart's Angry Dad web cartoon hoping to help them turn it into a film. The film tanks at test screenings but Lisa inspires Bart to re-edit it into a short film. It's so well-received that it gets awards buzz and begins winning awards. However, with every accolade, Homer, who voiced the character, is there to steal the glory. When Bart is Oscar-nominated, he decides to distract Homer with sight seeing and not invite him. When Homer learns of this, he arrives to see Bart get the award... and is thankful to Homer and so many people, which moves Homer.

Angry Dad: The Movie is a pretty damned slight episode. There is a main plot with a theme and ideas about making movies. In the first act it's about the pain of making a movie, particularly bad reactions and having to start over. The second and third acts are really about the ridiculousness of a single person accepting an award when no matter how brilliant the auteur, film and animation in particular is the work of huge numbers of people each lending not only their energy but their skill and creativity. Bart realizing everyone involved during his speech is pointing out why Homer's actions REALLY rankle. Then the episode comes out and says the theme VERY explicitly because who trusts the audience anymore? I wish the episode was better and I feel rather than it being about Homer being a glory hog, I almost wish it was about Bart wanting to use his platform for mischief and then realizing what he was scoffing at actually has meaning. Yeah, awards ceremonies are mockable for being self-conrotatory pats on the back but it certainly means something to be recognized if you did the ridiculously hard work of filmmaking.

But mostly it's just an unfunny episode. There's a LOT of time dedicated to lovingly crafted animation parodies that ALSO must have taken a lot of work. But like the tragedy of Hollywood, lovingly crafted work, no matter how much passion involved. it can't guarantee good quality. This is an episode with guest stars galore and different animation styles but it's all pretty weak. The worst is the Mixar short (*SIIIIIIIGH*) Condiments. It's not as bad as the Pixar parody short about playing cards they did (that really felt much more like a Dreamworks piss-take) but it's basically just Sausage Party so... there ya go. The Aardman animation parody is the one that feels like they just wanted to do a Wallace and Gromit for themselves, which, hey, why not. But it's neither subverting the source material nor a great pastiche beyond simply looking pretty good (thanks again Chiodo Bros.)

It's an episode that is about the love of animation and that's cool but it simply lacks a properly good script and while TV and film are collaborative mediums where one person shouldn't get all the credit, I wish there was a better script to tie it all together. Instead, we have some lazy retread jokes. Heck, the Randy Newman song parody feels like a retread of the Family Guy one. And that was from 11 years prior. AND FROM FAMILY GUY! That's a damning statement. It's not really funny, it feels more like an episode created to announce at Comicon because of all the guest stars. I don't like being cynical about the intentions of pop culture creators but it's easier not to be when the final product is good, which this isn't.


Other notes:

You can't make Pixar "Mixar" and has everything slightly different but then say they made Cars. What the fuck? You can't play it that way! That's not fair. It'd be like "Oh, it's Mack Firby! You created the Mantastic Mour, The Pilver Purfer and Iron Man." You know what, it's not even that because I did a rule of threes, sucky as it was, and they didn't even do that. It was plain inconsistent rather than knowing.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Scorpion's Tale

The search for happiness isn't easy. It requires inward searching but aside from working towards it, there are also outside sources like diet and lifestyle and not all of those are easy to fix. For my dad who can no longer walk, he was having a very hard time but while he still struggles with things, having grandkids has been extremely helpful to his emotional well-being. But as someone who likely won't have kids at this stage in life, I do worry for my own mental health when I may not have people in my life to help me out when I am older.

In this episode, during a school trip to the desert, Lisa discovers a plant, the Springfield Silvertongue, that causes aggressive scorpion's to become docile. Meanwhile, Grandpa is kicked out of the retirement home for being "too cranky" and his attitude makes the Simpsons' lives a nightmare. But when Homer discovers Lisa's been turning the silvertongue into a chemical spray, Homer decides to see if it can calm down grandpa. Homer sneaks it into Abe's coffee and Abe is happy. When Lisa susses out what happens, she explains to Abe who wants to keep taking the drug anyway. Lisa flushes the drug away, but when Homer and Abe are at Moe's they meet a pharmaceutical magnate named Hotenhoffer who manages to use grandpa to synthesize the drug. While testing occurs, Grandpa is given the untested drug and Bart steals some to sell for profit. When Lisa learns of this, she has a change of heart but then the drug reveals a strange side effect; the user's eyes keep popping out of their sockets from overmoistening. The old people would rather live with the side effects if it means being happy but Homer creates a ruse by seeming even dumber than usual to make Grandpa see that some anger can be good.

The Scorpion's Tale is a VERY odd episode for a number of reasons. The obvious one is the plot I just wrote about above. That's some wild shit. A ride, for better or worse. Mostly worse, but I do appreciate some big swings and for sure, that's what this episode is. Beyond the third act gross out, the episode wants to explore the nature of happiness and what it is worth. Is happiness that is chemically induced through artificial means "true" happiness and if it is, what does it mean when we can keep pressing that button over and over, particularly when otherwise we might be having trouble in our life. These aren't easy questions but the ways it asks it are full of missteps.

After all, the show makes it about a drug that makes "old people tolerable". Wouldn't a happiness drug be good for clinical depression? I mean, keep in mind there's not a lot I know about how anti-depressants work but I feel like this is something for the show to consider but instead it's about those who are grumpy and inconvenient rather than suffering. The episode also ends with Homer convincing grandpa that the current generation needs the anger of the younger. But it looks different now because the elderly generation now isn't "The Greatest Generation" complaining about Boomers, it's Boomers complaining about the young people and it looks pretty wrongheaded. Are there problems with this generation? Sure, like any. But I'm so used to the complaints being about wokeness and cancel culture and it looks dumb. Even before those being specific talking points, I feel like 10 years ago, it's still a weird take for Billy Kimball and Ian-Maxtone Graham's script to take.

The episode kind of has a message but Lisa's final exchange with Skinner feels like the episode, like Blood Feud, doesn't want an answer and just wants to explore a question. But in that respect, it does a much poorer job and feels less universal. I see what it wants to do but I feel like the way the questions are explored ends with accidental messaging and it isn't good. Heck, to show how weird-headed it is, Hotenhoffer, voiced by legendary film director Werner Herzog (who is doing good work) is a pharma-magnate and while he is partially the cause of the problem in a loose sense, he is constantly a good guy who follows his conscience even if his salesladies are terrifyingly robotic and is never as blameless as the Simpsons. It is weird that immediately every choice is not based on profit and it's not really played for irony. It's an odd choice and I think it points to an episode that doesn't know how to handle it's big questions.

Other great jokes:

"My name is Walter Hotenhoffer and I'm in the pharmaceutical business."
"I was wondering when that guy was going to state his name and occupation."

"Now that's what I call a fishing trip."
"That's what I was going to call it!"

Other notes:

The show seems really convince dit's gross eyeball popping is very funny.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A Midsummer's Nice Dream

Some comedy ages well and some does not. I'm not talking about the problematic stuff, though that is a factor, but more how the language of comedy changes over time. There are comedy acts I love but I feel like when I return, my familiarity means I will never laugh as hard. And similarly there are bits I love that I imagine if I introduce it to a younger person would be met with stony silence. It's understandable because it's pretty hard to sit through "bad" comedy and if you don't enjoy it, it's hard to be turned around on it. Comedy evolves in sensibility and though there is definitely comedy that's aged well, it doesn't mean the comedy that didn't is without merit, it means though they might have paved the way, it isn't built to last and that's OK.

In this episode, the Simpsons attend a Cheech and Chong show but the two have a fight onstage; Chong wants to grow as an artist and Cheech wants to satisfy his audience with the classics. Homer steps in for Chong after he storms off and his encyclopedic knowledge of the bits gets them through the show. Cheech asks Homer to join him as his new partner while Chong ends up getting Principal Skinner, as his proudful and sincere lack of comedy know how could help him push the envelope. Meanwhile, Homer is disappointed that Cheech is less wacky and more professional than his persona. Homer eventually decides to convince the duo to patch things up again.

This is a script from Dan Castellaneta and Deb Lacusta and to me that's usually a bad sign. I've disliked all of their episodes except the one were Barney gets sober so I went in with low expectations. But I will say... it's watchable and it's got a couple jokes. It got some pretty bad notices when it aired and I get why; it's weird for the episode to make an episode all about how beloved Cheech and Chong. They are beloved but I feel like people nowadays now them more as a reference than as an actual comedy act. But I guess I'm kind of forgiving because I think it is about fan's relationship with comedy, like the idea of getting enmity to your own bit when it's regurgitated at you again by fans until it looses all meaning. After all, when something becomes a meme, it is necessarily reductive to the source because that's how shorthand works.

The episode has an A, B and C plot. The A plot isn't strongly funny but it works the best; of course Homer would constantly be surprised that Cheech on stage is a persona and doesn't expect comedy is a lot of hard work and to be that big means having a professional attitude. It doesn't work as well as the similar premise of Homer Goes to College but I get the idea of seeing the sausage getting made gives new appreciation but also might rob the magic a little. Chong's side has a good idea and choosing to make the squarest person the world to create experimental comedy is a fun idea but the journey is it should work but Skinner has mixed feelings about being appreciated for reasons beyond or counter what he intended. Instead, it's a very generic "THIS IS WHAT EXPERIMENTAL ART LOOKS LIKE!" gag.

The C plot has potential to explore hoarding, which had gotten a lot of attention with the popularity of hoarders. But first of all, the cat lady is a pretty insensitive take on mental illness. The show managed to do some more sensitive takes before, ironically in the Strong Arms of the Ma, which starts with a great first and second act and then gets pretty offensive in the third. But this is pretty much what you'd expect from a hoarders parody; finding funny weird things to hoard rather than getting into the sadness of what it entails mixed with comedy, a thing the aforementioned Simpsons episode proves can be done (until it throws it's good will out the window). Overall, it isn't very good and it's weird when the show makes the episode about a celebrity but this is a far cry from the Lady Gaga episode or far worse the Elon Musk episode (oof, I still have that too look forward to, huh.)

Other great jokes:

"Who the Hell are Cheech and Chong?"
"Bart, Cheech and Chong were the Beavis and Butthead of their day."
"Who are Beavis and Butthead?"

"A lot of our fans have been through rehab so they're a lot more critical."

"A lot of people have cell phones but I like to eat healthy so I invented the celery phone!"
"Mother how did you get this number, it's a prop phone. Yes, I have your celery. I took the limpest stalk there was!"

Other notes:

I'm going to say I like that they made the Clampitheatre based on a pun.

Ugh, Simpsons, stop making lists of dumb parodies where have of them are just a consonant sound off.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Love is a Many Strangled Thing

Oh, the stranglings. The Simpsons have a lot of recurring gags to demonstrate how dysfunctional the Simpson family is but none have aged more poorly than "Homer strangles Bart." It was never that funny to begin with and yet the show seems to keep with it surprisingly often even into the 2010s. Even weirder, as far as the early 2000s, the show has pointed how one of the shows recurring running gags is an act of extremely violent child abuse. Why not just drop the damned thing. And if the show is going to address it, maybe there are better ways to do it than "ah, the status quo."

In this episode, Homer embarrasses Bart in a very public way and ends up going through an adult education course to improve his fathering skills. While there, he casually lets it slip he strangles Bart and is met with shock and horror. The next week, Homer is confronted by his professor, Dr. Xander, who takes an extreme measures to cure Homer of his abusive tendencies. It works but Bart immediately takes advantage of it and starts abusing Homer. Marge calls on Dr. Xander to repair Bart and Homer's relationship but Bart refuses to help his father to the point that Xander starts to strangle Bart. Homer saves Bart and the two get along suing Dr. Xander.

Wow. WOW. Just from the title and vague memories, I knew this was going to be deeply wrongheaded but holy shit, this episode is just... terrible. There are some good gags but overall it's uncomfortable that writer Bill Odenkirk is happy to guide the episode through the ideas that Bart is just some unstoppable monster without the stranglings and that the two are happy with the status quo. And it's very very WEIRD, too, because in the first act, characters react with cold horror to give weight to what Homer's been doing for 22 seasons. There's handling child abuse badly and making light of it and then there's implying that "well, this relationship needs it." And to punctuate how bad it considers things, there's a dream sequence where Homer abuses Bart in parodies of Precious (and doing far jokes), The Great Santini and... Michael Jackson being abused in the Jackson 5. Jesus.

I'm not saying that it would be impossible to do a comedy dealing with a heavy topic and confronting how they've presented themselves for years but this goes beyond reckless story-telling. Even worse, this is Homer and Bart at their most unlikable. I'm talking jerkass Homer and Bart here. Yeah, Bart is completely in the right to not be willing to forgive Homer for years of abuse and even willing to make him suffer but the show treats Bart like he's just a little asshole who has it coming. It's a thoroughly unpleasant experience and only gets worse and worse as it goes on. I feel when the episode starts there's some sympathy for Bart and instead of exploring the effect the abuse has, Bart gets broader making caring about any character impossible.

The episode has some good casting at least. Kareem-Abdul Jabaar is definitely one of the better actor athletes the show has had but the big star is Paul Rudd, America's sexiest 53 year old. He delivers his lines pretty well and he's given a lot to do but unfortunately he's being put to work the stuff in this episode I hated the most. I feel like this is a theme for a very specific problem this decade; the show doesn't know how to properly deal with genuine criticism. We have two more times dealing with Apu with both being ill-considered but the latter being an impotent whine about it. It's a shame that a show I love so much simply can not take criticism.

Other great jokes:
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"I once hosted Saturday Night Live. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, Matchbox Twenty."
"Who dat?"

"Taking pity on the body, the operators of Springfield stadium opened the stadium's retractable roof in an attempt to dry his pants. Unfortunately, the stain was picked up by a Russian spy satellites and President Dmitry Medvedev has taken the pants-wetting as a sign of American weakness. A Russian flotilla has just entered New York Harb--"
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Great Simpsina

Magic is a puzzle and puzzles are fun. But unlike a lot of puzzles, they are generally designed to remain unsolved. After all, sometimes the fun of the mystery is the mystery and when it's solved it's not as fun. Of course, that doesn't have to be the case; Penn and Teller have often made revealing the secrets of magic a fun game. Slight of hand and illusion making seems like it's a lot of fun. Who wouldn't want to learn the skills to surprise friends and loved ones.

In this episode, Lisa wanders into downtown Springfield and gets lost, winding up inside a strange house. There she meets the Great Raymondo, a former stage magician of notable renown. Lisa convinces him to make her his protégé and soon takes to magic quickly and proves to be skilled. Eventually, Raymondo feels he can trust Lisa with his greatest trick; the Milkcan trick. Lisa proudly performs it bur is eventually tricked into revealing it by Cregg Demon. an "edgy" modern magician. Raymondo feeling betrayed kicks Lisa out of his life but is convinced to change his mind by Homerr. He convinces Lisa to try to stop Cregg Demon from performing the trick but fail... only to learn that America's most famous magicians have sabotaged the trick to a lethal degree. Lisa stands up to the magicians but while Raymondo is disinterested in saving Cregg Demon, he defeats the magicians and saves Cregg for Lisa. Lisa continues as Raymondo's successor.

The Great Simpsina is a merely passable episode but it actually does have a lot going for it. Despite a Simpsons episode about a character taking up a specific vocation, hobby or skill. which is one of the most common formulas, I feel like this one is trying for a somewhat sweeter episode with a lot of care put into details such as Raymondo's apartment. The episode is saccharine and mawkish, I'll admit but after the last episode's cavalier attitude to child abuse, I'm happy for an episode that cares about it's characters, even if it comes across as facile. Still, there's a good look to the episode overall that I do like.

But in the end, it isn't particularly funny or clever and it's a shame, because I feel like an episode about trickery and the game of fooling the audience should be leading to a cleverness forward episode with surprises and mechanics. In broad strokes, though, it follows an extremely well-worn path where it isn't too hard to see where the relationship between Lisa and Raymondo will go. And heck, some of the episode's guest stars could have developed some cool magic tricks for the show. I think that is part of the issue with stage magic in fiction and in animation in particular; thanks to editing, special effects and the wholly constructed world of animation, replicating magic is hard because the magic is in a different place in those mediums. You can do it but it requires being a better story telling magician but Lisa can just fly around and turn Bart into Milhouse in the end because magic. I don't need every gag-trick explained but this is an episode where a bit of consistency and living within the rules might add something.

This episode does have one think in it's favour; a murderer's row of guests. There's Penn and Teller, Ricky Jay and (less interesting to me), David Copperfield, most of whom are built for comedy. (It's Copperfield. He's not built for it). Then there's a small cameo by the loveable Jack McBrayer singing a goofy yet interminable song about peaches. But the real star is film legend Martin Landau as Raymondo. Raymondo is given some laugh lines for sure but there isn't a lot of nuance to the character, dramatically or comedically. All the same, I feel there are great actors whom you just can feel comfortable playing those parts and by then Landau is sort of in that mode in the eyes of a lot of viewers. It does make me want to watch Ed Wood again, my favourite Tim Burton movie.

Other great jokes:

Lisa clearing the cobwebs off a book called the History of Cobwebs is cute.

"Oh, he is great. In 1957, I saw him turn the secretary of agriculture into the secretary of the interior. It was Hell on their wives but it brought down corn prices. Made a house out of corn. Worst house I ever lived in. When it got hot it smelled like Fritos."

"Because he--"
"Quiet! You talk on stage, I talk off stage. That was the curse the witch put on us!"

"My ponytail is burnt! TELLER! THE WITCH'S CURSE IS BROKEN."
"There never was a curse."
"You're a jerk, you know that?"


Other notes:
Weirdly, there's no opening title sequence for this. I assume this was shown back to back with another episode one week but it's still very weird.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Real Housewives of Fat Tony

Looking at this era well, the show certainly doesn't have a "timeless" quality but aside from some problematic choices, I think myself not instantly carbon dating it as much as I expected. However, every so often, it decides to ride on the popularity of a current trend that just makes it look clunky. This isn't when characters start carrying smartphones, but I do find it jarring when it comes to the fore that I've come so long. But more awkward is when it decides to toy with concurrent pop culture, because a lot of it is stuff that I feel 10 years later is in the rearview mirror of society.

In this episode, Fat Tony and Selma run afoul each other at the DMV and Selma's rude attitude makes a mockery of Tony. Tony has Selma kidnapped and tries to intimidate her by letting her choose which body part she wants cut off. She says her body fat via liposuction and dares Tony to go back on his word as a man. Tony immediately falls in love with her brazenness, a feeling reciprocated and keeps his promise. The two begin dating and Tony proposes to her. At the ceremony, Marge finds herself slighted by Selma, causing resentment between the two. Tony offers them a week at Tony's beach house to patch things up and it actually works... until Marge overhears Tony talking about his goomar. Selma confronts Tony but learns that SHE is the goomar and that's what the ceremony was about.

The Real Housewives of Fat Tony is not quite as bad as the episode title might make you think but it is completely middling. It didn't need to be this way because like many of the episodes, there's a better episode ready to be molded out of the episode. The start is actually promising. There's some fun friction for Selma and Tony and Selma tricking Tony into an advantageous agreement starts things off on the right foot. I also think the second act has a more grounded conflict; lingering resentment where Selma gets to use her ceremony to needle her sister. That's a potentially emotional and relatable thing; Marge loves her sisters but they are often cruel to her so to actually give them a conflict for an episode is surprisingly rare, particularly one with a relatable feeling like resentment.

But that's barely what this episode is about. In fact, it's barely about anything. The episode ends with a "baby, you're the greatest" moment between Homer and Marge but it's weird because there hasn't been ANY conflict between the two all episode and it's been more about Marge and Selma. Selma doesn't even get a last moment and we don't deal with the fallout of what happens to her in the episode. And leaving her doing some kind of fight with Tony's wife doesn't feel satisfying or a proper place to leave off her story. It doesn't say much about her, she doesn't get any catharsis, we don't see her process the sadness. The reconciliation between Marge and Selma happens earlier but it doesn't feel like that story is complete either. It's like they had a good place to stop to reset things to the status quo so... good enough.

The episode is often a series of classic mobster riffs, only a few of which are funny. But then it gets more awkward when it shoves in a Jersey Shore parody. Man, I can't remember the last time I even thought about that show, a series I never watched and only know by parody. And being unfamiliar with the show, reality TV and Jersey culture, I never really cared for them. It's a weird distraction and I feel like the episode included it in order for a fun image for comic-con or for Fox marketing. I don't trust that this episode would have been much better without it but it and the "real housewives" riff do feel completely unnecessary and aren't funny. There are a few good jokes but it results in a completely forgettable episode.

Other great jokes:

"Call our doctor friend who us a favour."
"Actually, we owe him a favour."
"Then do him two favours and then remind him he owes us a favour."

"The world's a different place when you have a waist. The clerk in the electronics store asked if I needed help."
"Ooo"

Of all the mob jokes, Tony shooting some lobsters and planting the gun on one of them to make it look like a shoot out gone wrong is the best. But it's not a strong competition.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer Scissorhands

There are no shortage of beloved side characters in the Simpsons. There are weirdos, goofy villains and loveable losers. And when we like these losers, we often do like to see nice things happen to them, even when we know that the comedy often comes from their misfortune. I get it, dunking on the same character over and over can get exhausting and at some points it just seems mean if they don't get some sort of win or joy in life. It's nice when Moe can find he can find love, or when a Springfield educator can reach a child or find love or maybe Ralph has a secret talent or even when Milhouse can show that as low as he is on the totem pole, he's valued by Bart. But just because a "good" thing happens to a character, it doesn't mean it's "good".

In this episode, Homer discovers a secret talent for hairdressing and soon becomes a sought-after stylist in town. However, he soon finds that the money and fame come with a price; having to absorb hours of complaining from women who need a vent for their simmering resentments. Homer finds it having an effect on his psyche and finds quitting surprisingly hard. Eventually, he and Marge come up with a plan to make him less popular and directing them to a hairdresser more suited to the job. Meanwhile, Milhouse confesses to Lisa who rejects him. But when Milhouse finds someone else, Lisa starts to follow them and comes to realize she might like Milhouse.

Ugggghhhhhh. This one is bad. Quite bad. This one is written by cartoon journeymen Peter Gaffney and Steve Viksen and considering both were active in the 90s, this does feel like a poorly aged 90s cartoon episode. The main plot is bad enough, an episode about Homer being driven to madness by naggy, gossipy housewives who can only complain about their incompetent husbands. It's extremely hacky stuff and while I think there might be something in there, the stress of being a conduit to frustrations, it's just boring, sexist drivel. It turns out the main body of the episode was expanded from an aborted season 4 b-plot and it really does show.

But it's the b-plot that's the bigger deal. I hate this SOOOOO much. I love Lisa. I love Milhouse. But I never ever shipped these two. If anything, I feel like the series has established that this is a relationship that can only be bad for both. On Lisa's end, Milhouse represents a step down, accepting someone who she can't really respect and goes out of his way to be a doormat for her. On Milhouse's, it's a terrible lesson that love CAN happen if you never give up on someone who has VERY CLEARLY rejected you. The whole thing is completely misguided and while I'm sure there are some fans who wanted to see these 8 and 10 year olds get together, they are wrong. I don't usually like to say fans are wrong for wanting a things. One of my favourite fictional relationships is one that is deeply unhealthy because one started out as a stalker. But that show is also weird and silly and while that could be said of the Simpsons, I feel like it takes it's core relationships and messaging more seriously... or at least it should.

I think the set up has potential. Lisa gives Milhouse a definite and final rejection but then misses the attention a little. Hey, that's OK. I do admit, it might also be a bad "she'll miss me if I'm not around" narrative to enable stalkers but I do understand the feeling of losing attention I've taken for granted. But the ending shouldn't be "give me that attention", it should be Lisa learning something about herself and then they can both move on understanding each other a bit better. This relationship is very bad messaging, a story of a creeper who made good. If someone makes it clear they are not interested, respect that and don't just hope things are going to turn around. Have these kids wrestle with feelings that perhaps aren't easily resolved but also can't be fixed by forcing some sort of relationship. Instead we have a few seasons of Milhouse and Lisa as a couple, which the show only occasionally remembers, and it's just the worst. Lisa's future used to have her being president. Then down the line, it was futures with Milhouse. Why would you make that sad fate for both a moment of victory.

Other great jokes:

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Other notes:
Hey. was that Gavin's mom at Homer's salon?

Kristen Schaal is great and she deserves better. They didn't even spell her name right when the episode first aired, apparently.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
500 Keys

I'm a real pack rat. I can throw things out but I am very hesitant to do it. I love having comics in the hopes of lending them out but I don't know many people who actually want to borrow them. I rarely watch DVDs but I still have them, only watching when the internet is out (thanks for saving my evening Suspiria DVD). And I get it, there was once a moment associated even with a hunk of junk. But the fact is, it's OK for moments to be ephemeral and lost and for junk to get thrown out.

In this episode, the Simpsons find they have a ridiculous amount of keys and decide to play with them. Bart uses several keys to cause mischief only to accidentally do good deeds. Homer finds the key to the Duff brewery and ends up taking the Duff Blimp for a joy ride. Marge ends up winding up a silly farting toy and follows it around town. Lisa uses the school skeleton key and inadvertently discovers a secret classroom. She asks Skinner about it but soon the room is hidden and Lisa senses a conspiracy. Lisa, Bart and Homer help Lisa investigate and discover the truth; Skinner inadvertently destroyed the money for a government grant and to avoid getting in trouble mocked up a fake classroom with fake students for photos.

I don't think 500 Keys is a "great" episode but after the last episode, it is a bit refreshing. It's occassionally rather funny and there aren't a lot of deep themes. Not to say, there isn't a theme; there's the story potential of a simple object like a key, which can open opportunities for fun and adventure. But really, it's four stories of silliness. OK, one story and three half-baked little vignettes. And I don't mean just because Lisa's story is the biggest but when they all come together by the end, Lisa's the only one that's a satisfying conclusion.

The Marge story is possibly the weakest. I do like the idea of hers being following a little toy to gags but it also felt the most strained for comedy as she tries to stop the Pooter-Toot Expresses gentle flatulence from offending. Homer's almost as weak and it feels more to set up the last act than having strong, memorable gags. Bart's story is a bit better. There's a more interesting hook to it as he tries to make trouble, only to find himself accidentally do-gooding, which is a formula I often like when done well and this one... it's not awful.

Lisa's story is by far the best, an actually engaging mystery thriller. Granted, it's not the type of mystery where you could figure it out because the writer gave you most of the clues but it's interesting and fun. I feel like we've seen elements of this kind of mystery on the show before but I feel like it plays out well with Lisa discovering a cool classroom but were all the stuff she likes is phony and hollow. It also helps that there's a lot of Skinner and Chalmers in this one and their antics are completely on point through-out. If anything, they are the main reason I'm coming away from this one more positive than negative.

Other great jokes:

After a one minute flashblack explaining where Homer got the keys to the Duff brewery
"Or maybe I just found them on the ground."

"Mother, I have work to do. It's work if they pay you. They say they're going to!"

"Lisa Simpson may be onto us."
"I oversee 14 schools, Seymour, and somehow I always end up talking to you about one of the Simpsons kids."

Chalmers' exhaustion at Skinner being slow to figure out Bart has his keys is amusing.

Homer gasping at the most mundane aspects of the story also amuses me.

"Well, there's two things I didn't count on; my dad buying a wedding cake and my baby sister getting locked in the car."
"We planned for the wedding cake but we just didn't see the baby thing coming."

Other notes:
The episode looks and sound the best in the sequence where Homer is brining home the cake as a parody of the film Sorcerer, complete with synthy soundtrack.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Ned-Liest Catch

Season 22 down and it has been a step down again. I suspect this will be the trend going forward but at least this is another milestone for me. I'll be doing more studying but I still think I can keep up my schedule while studying early childhood education. And because of that, this episode both speaks to and against me.

In this episode, Edna Krabappel lays hands on Bart after a particularly bad episode and put into an educational limbo where she is paid but must spend her days in a desiccated building with other teachers awaiting judgment for misdeeds. When Bart encourages Edna to sneak out for a day, she ends up meeting Ned Flanders and the two end up falling in love. Eventually, Edna's case is dropped and she and Flanders start seeing each other regularly much to Bart's horror. When Edna encourages Ned to be more assertive, Homer has a similar feeling and the two conspire to break them up. Homer is convinced to drop it seeing how happy Homer is but unfortunately people let slip that Krabappel's been with a lot of men. Flanders is uneasy about it but Homer encourages him to let it go. Unfortunately, he tells Edna "I forgive you" and she is offended to his prudish attitude and thinking less of her because she's been with a lot of people. The two consider their future and if they'll stay together.

The Ned-Liest Catch is a weird, awkward beast. There's a lot I don't like and there's a lot I do. The biggest problem as someone who works with kids is how it handles Krabappel hits Bart. The show tries to make it clear that no one should raise a hand to a child, it almost puts it as at least partially Bart's fault. I can definitely understand the stress kids can cause when they are acting up, the fact that they haven't worked on their empathy muscles yet makes it all the more infuriating but there is never an excuse for that kind of force. Edna deals with her own consequences (until it's time for the episode to move on) but not so much the why and coming to understand the problem and her capability. This isn't as bad as the recent child abuse episode with Homer but it similarly starts by taking it with both seriousness and then trying to goof about it in a misguided way. It doesn't work but it helps a lot I think Krabappel is one of the series most dramatically interesting characters.

The other problem is that the episode feels like four serviceable episodes shoved into one. It shoves the Nedna relationship through a lot of phases and I think I know why. I think the writers saw the possibility in this for the two characters; Edna is a great character and it's a good way to have her around more and I think it's safe to say that giving Ned a real partner again might help him be rehabilitated as a character after his Flanderization. So it makes it an episode about them meeting while Edna's at her lowest point in life and he helps her esteem, an episode about Edna helping Flanders finding his gumption and Flanders dealing with the fact that Edna has had many partners. All of these are great seeds for episodes and I think two of these plots would work as an introductory episode to the relationship but it just feels overstuffed.

So what part works the best. Ironically, the part that's the most truncated. Edna stands up for herself when Ned thoughtlessly "forgives" her for being with many partners. It's a reminder why I like this character and why while many character's have been Flanderized, she's gone from "it's funny Bart's teacher is promiscuous" to "yes, outside of school she's a proudly sexual woman". But that's for a brief moment of the episode and when that happens, Flanders doesn't get much time to digest and think about how he approached this and how to re-think it. But for my problems with the episode, I actually think this is a good character pairing. They are quite different in their outlooks on life and attitudes but they are both lonely people with some pain in their past (one betrayed, one dealing with loss). I also think the episode is a showcase on both the tensions but also what they give each other; Edna is someone who stands up for herself and inspires Flanders to do the same. For the last 10 seasons since his loss, Flanders has been... worse, as a person, and a connection can help him realize that his religion isn't about some sort of ridiculous adherence to rules to the point of denying reality, it's about guiding one to be better and I feel like a healthier headspace and relationships would guide him to being likeable again. The show put it in the audiences court if they should get together and it's a weird season cliffhanger. Apparently it's because the writers were just tired of contriving ways to break up couples and decided to try to keep a couple. This makes sense and it's nice Al Jean wanted to have fans have a say but maybe just have faith. It makes for a clunky season ender, with even the show pointing out it's weird that the internet gets to have a say whether "a teacher dates a neighbour."

Other great jokes:

"Also if you want to find out the real shooter of Mr. Burns, go back and look for more clues, they're all there."
"Homey, it was Maggie."
"Yeah, right, a baby shot a guy."
 

yama

the room is full of ghosts
And it never really amounted to much because we lost Marcia Wallace just two years later.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Falcon and the D'Ohman

OK, season 23. Here we are. Getting ever closer to catching up. I suspect that with my online university courses, I might be doing this less frequently. I'm sure some to all of your are like "dude, it's OK if you stop now, the show is pretty bad now and it's probably smart to get off the bus before Elon Musk shows up" but doing this means a lot to me. I believe that despite the shows growing obvious flaws, I believe there is still real talent working in the show, even if it is being mismanaged, and sometimes there are still some pleasant surprises. Sadly, this episode is not one of them.

In this episode, Homer meets the new plant security guard, Wayne, who gives them the cold shoulder. Homer, not being not liked, tries to ingratiate himself to him and eventually gets to invite him for a beer. During the outing at Moe's, the tavern is robbed by Snake, but Wayne thwarts the criminal, as he was in fact a former government secret agent. Homer, wanting to show his thanks lets the media know about his heroism and is ambushed at work by Kent Brockman. When Burns tries to give him adulation, he inadvertently triggers Wayne's PTSD and he attacks Burns, losing his job. The Simpsons, give Wayne a place to stay and though his night terrors prove disruptive, he gives the Simpsons some skills and is accepted. When a former enemy of Wayne's learns he's in Springfield, he kidnaps Homer to lead Wayne into a trap. Wayne defeats the enemies and saves Homer and the Simpsons find him a job where his prickly nature has a home: the DMV.

The Falcon and the D'Ohman isn't awful but it's very clear how off the rails this show tends to get recently. It's a weird one because it is a showcase for and completely about a character who hasn't appeared in the series before, likely won't again in a meaningful capacity. And I think a show that's more experimental can do that in a way that feels refreshing but instead it's a weirdness that somehow feels par for this modern course and the show is kind of barely about itself anymore. And I don't mean in a meta-way, I just mean as wide as the Simpsons can stretch itself, I think the show still tends to take its format and perhaps stretch too much. I'm not talking about it no longer being grounded. Weirdly, the spy thriller still seems more grounded than some of the recent episodes somehow. But it's too much magic robots and not enough "everyday situations" or at least everyday feelings. I guess it's about PTSD, loosely, but that's really a quirk rather than something to interrogate, something that sets us up for silly sight gags. And there are funny gags but in this weirdly arced episode.

Wayne is played by Keifer Sutherland and for the episodes flaws, he's doing everything right. Granted, he doesn't have to play a lot of levels but I find a lot of guests are there to set the other characters up for a gag but Sutherland can relate the jokes himself properly. But with it being a showcase for the character and a pastiche of espionage thrillers and A History of Violence (but, you know, without the themes), it feels like a backdoor pilot, even though it isn't. with Homer as the damsels in distress. And if this were a show I'd say "I don't think there's a lot here but it's still kind of funny, at least". But as an episode of the Simpsons, its a weird way to start the season.

The surprising part is the episode is actually written by an Academy Award winner. Writer Justin Hurwitz is a comedy writer (having done several episodes of the League), and he's also a frequent collaborator with writer/director Damien Chazelle as a composer, most notably for Moonlight La La Land. The plot is weird but as said there are some fun jokes and it really does feel like a case of fresh blood goosing it a little. Not necessarily in terms of story telling but it does feel like it's trying it's darnedest to be funny and while sometimes it's a little too wacky, there are more than a few gags that I liked.

Other great jokes:

"He's acting all aloof. By the way, that's my word of the day; 'he's'."

"Stand back, Homer, I know what I'm doing."
"Well, we all know what we're doing but the question is 'is it an appropriate reaction to the situation."

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"That robot took our jobs."

"And when there was a mapmakers convention in town, they all got Lou Gehrig's disease."
"Not the one you're thinking of, there's another one."

"Hold up today's newspaper."
"Perhaps we'll be living in a world where there is no need to kidnap."
"Well, way to make me feel obsolete."

"Homer is implanted with several powerful tracking chips."
"How did that happen?"
"I left them out in a bowl and he ate them."

"Pardon me, sir, can you tell me were palace is?"
"What business do you have at the palace?"
"Why, some day I'm going to be dear leader."
"You? You're too benevolent to be dear leader!"

Other notes:
The episode still is trying to convince us Nedna is a big deal. Like, I like them as a couple but I don't need an announcement. But I do like the idea if people voted against it we'd cut to sad Flanders alone in bed after that weird orange juice exchange."

Remember when Taiwan animation re-enactments were the funniest thing to people? Only vaguely, for me.

I don't know if Justin or Alf Clausen did this (I'd guess the former) but it's actually a bop.
 
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