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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.
 
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