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Johnny Unusual

Love is a Many Splintered Thing

Sometimes pop culture importance passes you by. Pop culture influences pop culture and I love finding what ingredients informed the stuff I liked. But the fact is, some of it doesn't always hit me the way it hit a lot of other people who went into making good art. By the time I was old enough for Woody Allen, his creepsterism was well known. To my memory, I've only seen three of his movies; Match Point around the time it came out (which I liked OK), Alice (I have no memory of it but I know I watched it) and Manhattan. The person who showed me Manhattan was really excited about it but I bounced completely off of it. I really couldn't separate the art from the artist and the movie actually works hard to connect those dots as it ends with his character in a relationship with a 19 year old. The guy who showed me the film with enthusiasm understood that I really couldn't see any merit in it because while it surely had them, the movie was so tightly bound to who Allen is as a person... yikes. He was warning us pretty early on.

In this episode of the Simpsons, Mary Spuckler returns to Springfield and she and Bart start a relationship again. Bart proves to be an inattentive boyfriend and things come to ahead when Mary enters a music contest. When Mary fails the contest, Bart has a hard time comforting her and Mary ends up with a recording deal. She soon dumps Bart and he is devastated. When Bart and Homer openly complain about not knowing what women want and their unthinking words end up causing Marge to kick them out of the house for the night. Homer and Bart try a big romantic gesture but while it works for Homer it fails for Bart and he accepts it's not going to work out... until it turns out Mary is single some time later.

JEEEEEEEEZ. This one sucked. I feel like for a while things were on the upswing and maybe this era isn't as bad as I remember. Then this episode came along to remind me "no, bad is normal here." It hits almost exclusively notes of episodes I hate. Do you want to know about the storied romantic life of a 10 year old who is treated like a growed up. Too bad, here it is anyway. Hey, remember "women be different then men" jokes? Here you go, a big pile of them. Are you a big fan of Woody Allen and want an episode that is sometimes an Annie Hall parody when it has time for it? Fuck you, it's happening. I really hated this one.

This one is written by Tim Long who... really wanted to make Mary Spuckler a thing on this show. And that thing was "Bart's longterm girlfriend". Between this and Lisa/Milhouse, why was this show SOOO interested in getting their children characters into relationships. Zooey Deschanel has talent but she is served poorly by her point being to make Bart anxious about relationships at age 10. This isn't like the fan art of Arnold and Helga from Hey Arnold as being sweet on each other in their late teens/early twenties. A 10 year old GETS MARRIED AND WIDOWED IN THIS EPISODE. There's something weird going on in the writer's room and I hate it.

The episode leans heavily on thinking Hank Azaria doing Woody Allen stuff is hilarious. I love you, Hank, but no. The messaging is also pretty bad. The episode ends with Mary single again and Bart's reaction implies "OK, we can try again in the future" and the romantic comedy message of "never give up on someone even if they say 'no'" is just damaging and gross. Didn't even Annie Hall end with the assumption that the relationship is done and they can go their separate ways (this is just from cultural osmosis, I could be way off). Meanwhile, Homer fixes his relationship issues with another grand gesture (his words) and, yeah, the episode has nothing to say on that, even as a damning commentary on itself. It just did it again. I think though I was squirming through the Gaga episode more, this one I objected to more on a moral level and it's inability to settle on one that made sense. It throws a few out but it isn't consistent with the plot, another episode that links plot points with red string like they were photos on a conspiracy theorist's wall. Through this one, I was just constantly thinking of other things I could be doing with my time.


Video games
I feel like a heel so I'm not going to carry on whinging. I think it's good that you are making notes on these shows rather than what I did which is watching it for no reason, but from the perspective of season 28 it is not going to get any better any time soon.

I think the only loose reason I catch up is so I can at least have some personal sense of sincerity when I say "don't watch The Simpsons, it's awful". But I'll keep reading if you keep writing/watching, so cool

Johnny Unusual

I think it's good that you are making notes on these shows rather than what I did which is watching it for no reason
Hey, I'm not going to judge. I got weird watch habits. I have this thing were even the shows I quit I feel the need to watch the anthology episodes, even though they are generally worse than regular ones.

Johnny Unusual

I just think that it's so weird that the show was so invested in trying to get Bart and Lisa in relationships. Simpsons writers be like



Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I realize how massive a workload it would've been with designs and voice acting and all but they really should've just permanently jumped the show like five years into the future. The writers clearly want to tell stories that would be a better fit for a teenage Bart and Lisa.

Johnny Unusual

Hardly Kirk-ing

Working with kids really opens your eyes between the gulf between kids and adults. Sometimes I worry how little I've matured as a person but seeing kids struggle with the essentials of being people with proper empathy and understanding makes me feel a little better. Makes work a bit difficult though. And I'm not trying to be cynical about kids but learning to properly care about others and work with them takes work. Meanwhile a lot of the kids I work with struggle with feelings that everyone is against them or trying to push hard against the rules and see what will be allowed.

In this episode, Bart's monkeyshines accidentally gives Milhouse a big bald spot, making him look like his dad. Bart sees the possibilities and gives him stacks of paint cans to act as legs while Milhouse finds he can make his voice like his dad's with a tight necktie. Bart and Milhouse run around town doing all the stuff that being an adult can afford them. They decide to help Lisa get to a jazz concert but the three end up in downtown Springfield without enough money. While they decide to use a condo pitch to get a free brunch. The saleslady starts coming onto a clueless Milhouse while the Simpson parents locate the kids. Milhouse tells his dad he actually has a good life and reconcile.

Hardly Kirk-ing is not as bad as the last episode but it is a weird, dumb mess, which is starting to ramp up into a streak with this show. I will say that structurally as an episode, it doesn't feel like it's going from plot point to plot point. It's still a dumb, weird plot but it's a dumb weird plot that flows easily enough. Characters aren't just haphazardly thrust into scenes and ironically the looseness and slightness to the episode means it doesn't feel like it's rigidly adhering to it's rough draft plot with emphasis on the rough. It's a smooth episode, if the tactile metaphors make sense. It feels like as weird as the plotting is, it feels natural to itself. I think it's because as stupid as it is, it feels consistent in character and tone and the connective tissue between plot points is there.

But it's still very dumb. And it has very little to say. Most episodes of kids shows where the plot is "child steps into adult world" is "the freedom of adulthood comes with burdens and trials of its own". But that isn't this. Instead, it's an episode about... I don't know. It's another episode that seems to want to tell us what it is about in the final scene but it doesn't track with the episode. The conclusion Milhouse comes to is that his sadsack father actually has a decent life, perhaps more than he realizes. That's an interesting and promising premise but it's weird to have that when Kirk isn't even in the episode until the end. When we start the episode, Milhouse expresses very few opinions on his dad and his dad isn't there for the audience or characters to change their opinion on him or his life.

Instead, we get to see a woman try to make out with a 10 year old. Seriously, what the fuck is going on with these writers. Last episode they had a 10 year old get married and this one it's characters unwittingly putting a child in a sexual situation. Not cool. Similarly, the kids get to downtown and this isn't like the classic Lost Our Lisa where the kids can get in over their heads. No, the only inconvenience is getting very little money on a DVD refund and getting stuck at a free brunch. Yes, in theory the stakes pick up when a child is being aggressively hit on but it really doesn't feel like it. Hardly Kirk-ing is as weird, poor episode with little to say. And this might be the norm for a while.


Staff member
I just think that it's so weird that the show was so invested in trying to get Bart and Lisa in relationships.

They shoulda kept Roy around so they'd have a character who's age these stories were appropriate for. Biggest mistake, getting ridda Roy.

Johnny Unusual

Gorgeous Grandpa

Villains and antiheroes can be fun. But it's interesting to go back to characters I thought were cool as a kid and realize not only are they bad people but that this was the point. The point is the character is on a journey of improvement or perhaps they represent an evil that is fun to watch. I feel in the 2000s, an era of TV antiheroes, there were a lot of shows about antiheroes like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and there would be people who think the protagonists are worth emulating. But the point is Don Draper is a hollow man of sorts and Walter White is a megalomaniac and a petulant man-child who when slighted in life decides that he can do whatever it takes to prove himself "great". This is a thing, however, that can be lost on children. It can be a lot of fun to root for a villain but kids also learn through mimicry, even if they don't understand the why.

In this episode, the Simpsons buy an old storage locker with men's fitness magazines, boas and gaudy clothing. At first they think he's gay but it turns out he was a wrestler in the 50s, Glamourous Godfrey, a heel with a theme of being vain. Grandpa revealed that he loved it at first but when the jeers he received spilled into the real world, it hurt his feelings and he retired. Mr. Burns, recognizing Grandpa, encourages him to return to his villainous persona and Grandpa learns to like being hated. The Simpsons feel ambivalent, except Bart, who now thinks Grandpa is cool and copies his vain and cheating ways in life. Grandpa has no problem with it at first but before a match sees Bart being cruel to another child and decides to become the good guy, taking out Mr. Burns in the ring.

Gorgeous Grandpa isn't a very good episode. It hurts a lot that it really does feel like Matt Selman comes across as out-of-touch several times in the episode. I think there's potential satire in Marge wanting to *look* like an ally rather than actually being one but the gay jokes are pretty tired and the idea of Helen Lovejoy using her trans cousin as a prop of sorts feels less like satire and more like being trans is a punchline. Which didn't help that the character is named Stanlorina. Yikes. And it treats the Simpsons trying to be accepting of a gay family member as a trend. And this plot is also Marge trying to make a gay man happy by trying to force a romantic comedy meet cute rather than finding a way to talk to him. So going in, Selman trying to write a "virtue signaling" Marge hits wrong and deeply misguided. The other targets are less offensive but also feel poorly chosen like "if wrestling is fake, the fans are idiots." I'm not really a wrestling fan but I know there's a difference between "staged" and "fake" and kayfabe hasn't been a big thing since, like, 1989. Fans know it's planned out but so is Dragonball and Marvel movies and those are great. It feels like Selman is doing some awful work picking it's targets in this one.

What the episode wants to be about is the idea that while it can be fun to play the villain, kids have trouble between play bad and actual cruelty. I think this is an interesting ideas. Kids are pretty smart but they aren't about subtlety. So first act shittiness aside, there really is potential here in a story about the difference of playing a character to be hated and being a person worth hating. But it resolves in a rather dull way, quite frankly. Grandpa's face turn doesn't feel earned or like a personal sacrifice for him and again, the show has some problems with clarity of theme and motivation; Grandpa is doing this to be remembered in the second act, but it doesn't feel built too in the first act and not crucial to the climax in the second. I mean, thematically it is a bit consistent, which isn't bad, but I wish they tied in Grandpa's journey a bit better.

Frankly, I doesn't help that very few jokes land well and that I feel like I've seen Grandpa try to regain his self respect through the adulation of an audience but at an unexpected cost a few times now and this is definitely one of the lazier entries. Grandpa's secret wrestling past is a little too close to Grandpa becomes a bullfighter, which is an actual episode from 8 years prior. The message has potential but the vehicle for it feels like a copy of a copy, a hollow vessel they tried to fill with a message and yet still feels hollow. Even the musical number is played out, just a laundry list of classic villains rather than lyrically playful or clever. We've hit a pretty bad streak. I feel like I've had worst streaks in the mid-2000s but this is a rough one. Will it be broken with the episode where Lisa is bullied by a teacher? Probably not but I would love to be proven wrong.

Johnny Unusual

Black Eyed, Please

Why do people bully? I work with kids a lot and I find very little of the bullying I do see looks like that on TV. Sometimes the subject of the bullying are kids who have trouble with self-control and the others become frustrated and think that cruel teasing is some sort of karma. I can understand the frustration but obviously the reaction is pretty bad and kids are still dealing with the world outside themselves, even in grade school. Empathy and consideration have to be learned and even when they are, grown ups who should know better and perhaps believe they do can still twist there reasonings to hurt others. The most common complaint I hear is "they started it" and I constantly have to explain the meaning of retaliation and that we don't do that. And frankly, it's very tiring.

In this episode, Lisa gets a new teacher who inexplicable immediately bullies Lisa. Meanwhile, Homer ends up angering Flanders so much, Flanders punches Homer in the eye. Flanders is racked with guilt and figures if he allows Homer to hit him back, they'll be even. But Homer doesn't want to be even, relishing Flanders' frustration. However, Homer decides to call in the favour, getting Edna's help to get Lisa's bully teacher to quit.

OK, this is another bad one but if the other episodes are 1s, and 2s on a scale to 10, this is a 3. That's not good but it's been so much worse. Still, this is bad. The fact that the recap is short might belie the squandered potential. I think John Frink's script does want to explore the nature of cruelty in power dynamics with it's two parallel plots but unfortunately, the actual result feels like a brainstorming session of aspects of it's theme but not really working it into a funny or insightful plot. The ingredients are there but they were just thrown into the pot with water without cooking them into a proper soup.

Lisa's plot has a lot of potential. It's kind of obvious to give Lisa a bad mean teacher and having her voiced by Tina Fey is a logical but smart movie. Unfortunately it stops there. For an episode about Lisa, I think it forgets that what makes the character and this kind of plot work is her vulnerability. She technically is, as even her parents or authority figures can stop her but I feel it doesn't put us in her feet enough to feel the weight of Lisa's bullying and despite sharing A-Plot status with Homer's tale, it has real b-plot energy. It touches on good ideas, like maybe some people hate each other for no satisfying reason but, again, lacks emotional involvement for an episode about cruelty.

Homer's story is also interesting but again it doesn't have the weight to make it about something in a deeper sense. Even from the beginning it feels flimsy. Flanders punching Homer for getting high with his parents and gently razzing him seems really light considering pretty much EVERYTHING else Homer has done to Flanders. It doesn't bother to put us in Flanders' shoes, giving us understanding for making a bad decision. Plus, this is still the kind of Flanders we hate, the kind who is scared of the gays. They kept making episodes where we are supposed to sympathize with this guy. But beyond that, it has this idea that Flanders assumed a superiority to Homer and Homer does the better thing but with a suspect motivation. And Flanders says to Homer "If I'm not as good as you, I'm horrible" and I think that could be an interestingly damning take on the character that's far more interesting than "xeno and homophobic". I think on paper, there's a great idea about actions vs. motivation in morality.... but then it decides it's big act break is a fake out to make us think Homer is going to offer to fuck Krabappel, which no one buys for a second. I dunno, talking about this is making me angry. Maybe I'll knock this down to a 2. Just because Frink has some interesting ideas doesn't mean he did anything with them.

Johnny Unusual

Dark Knight Court

It's interesting to see the ways superhero comics are coming to terms with the unintended harmful messages of their own tropes. Sometimes it's simply "exotic peoples are mystics" or "white saviour" (man, unless they just make the Phantom black, I'm side-eying any attempt to make him relevant). But in more recent cases, its the idea of the police being a good guys and heroism in the hands of the rich billionaire industrialists who can afford to be heroic. In real life, we are dealing with billionaires who are not just evil but trying to position themselves as heroes in their own personal narrative while making money. Unfortunately, to be obscenely wealthy and moral is not possible when all of that money can be used to help others while still being able to take care of yourself. Or as Superman put it...

In this episode, a prank at the Easter day celebration is pinned on Bart. Lisa decides to defend Bart in a student court when he convinces her he's innocent. Meanwhile, when Burns ends up in a comic book shop, he remembers his youth as a superhero fan and decides to become a hero himself. To protect Burns from himself, Smithers pays pretty much everyone in town to pretend to be saved or be villains to make Burns feel good about himself. Lisa pushes her case in a winning direction but inadvertently moves the trial into character witness territory, making Bart look bad. Running out of ideas, Lisa asks for Burns' help but he pushes her away. Smithers reveals Burns' heroics were bought and Lisa is the only person who could help for real. Lisa cracks the case and Burns arrives and forces the real criminal, Groundskeeper Willie, to confess, winning Lisa the case.

Dark Knight Court is the second episode in a row where the writers decided to basically make two concurrent a-plots to fold into each other. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think in both cases they have some connected themes, in this case justice. But once again, all the potential is wasted. It's there but it's like a half-finished sentence that trails off. It looks like it wants to say something about the nature of someone like Burns seeing himself as a hero in a constructed bubble narrative and that's an idea that hits home harder than ever. But Billy Kimball and Ian Maxtone-Graham's script goes in the most basic, thoughtless, middle of the road direction. It's an episode with a perfect lay-up to say something about justice and wealth and delusion but doesn't.

And the funny thing is as a single sentence "Burns becomes a superhero" feels just like a scenario posited in the 138th Episode Spectacular or You'll Never Stop the Simpsons. Its seems like a stupid, tossed off idea. But right now, future Simpsons megastar Elon Musk is convinced he's the guy who is going to save the world by making it OK for bigotry and harassment on Twitter and that he's going to make Mars colonies for the wealthy and Earth-friendly death cars while treating his employees like trash. And this is great for a Burns story. The Old Man and the Lisa is a perfect take on capitalism and the rich perverting what should be a noble cause. This story could pull on that thread, instead dealing with a savior complex in the hands of people who don't actually GET morality but want to glom onto the good feelings of it.

Instead, it ends with Burns actually being a hero in a generic superhero way. I love superheroes but I'm fully aware that's not what real heroism looks like. And I think a good story should reveal what it does look like; maybe in a way that isn't glamourous or maybe helps one person with a kind word or a personal sacrifice rather than trying to tackle an irate Scotsman. Or go the other way, have a dark and damning end to the episode with a "heroic victory" that feels more like a loss with more lives hurt than helped. After all, when Burns is trying to be good, he's even more evil.

Other great jokes:
"They were all fake? Even the abominable Dr. Lenny?"
"No, he was a happy accident."

Other notes:
I don't have a lot to say about Janet Reno (and her sister Maggi, helping with the longer lines of dialogue due to Janet's Parkinson's) being in the episode because... I don't know enough to have an opinion. I have vague memories of the Elian Gonzales debacle, which is bad, but then I also have the memories of comedies being all "she's very mannish, isn't she" which also sucks.

It's not a funny joke but Hank Azaria is doing shockingly good acting as Moe on the witness stand. But it's also weird. It's a thinly veiled sexual assault allegory scene where Moe is the victim of Bart (...'s prank phone calls). It feels weird to praise the acting on a very poorly conceived idea.
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Johnny Unusual

What Animated Women Want

24 seasons in, the Simpsons is on a downswing but even more than that, the show is trying to reinvent itself. Gimmicky episodes are to be expected to shake things up for a show that has gone on so long. It makes sense to experiment with the form of a show going on so long. But other times, a change in format can be a cover for a much more generic story...

In this episode, a lunch date goes bad for Homer and Marge and Marge ends up frustrated with Homer. Homer decides to try a bunch of different things to win Marge back but nothing seems to work and seems to remind Homer of his own failings. Eventually, when one of Homer's attempts at wooing ends with getting him getting hurt, Marge realizes she loves Homer for not giving up. Meanwhile, Milhouse decides he can win over Lisa by being a jerk. It works but Milhouse feels he can't keep up his mean guy act and eventually abandons it, deciding he'd rather win over Lisa in a more humane way.

Oof. Another stinker. And in this case, one that has little respect for women or the audience. J. Stewart Burns has written some bad episodes (and that one good future Christmas episode) but this is... the third worst? But that's still pretty bad. It's an episode about what women want that is downright insulting. In the case of Homer, it's a story we've seen so many times before and have been done better. Homer tries to go on a journey on winning back Marge and she learns he loves him however so... he doesn't have to change. It's the lazy, cynical return to square one the show has been doing for years with little self-reflection or cleverness.

The concurrent plot with Milhouse is even worse. It's nice that Milhouse decides he wouldn't want to be a jerk to win over Lisa but it also pretty much comes to the conclusion that "women love jerks" and that even Lisa can be lead by the nose. Now everyone, no matter how smart, can be mislead and manipulated, it never really explores the idea of how ugly it is to see that someone we love be manipulated and degraded. Moreover, Milhouse's jerkiness is like a magic spell in the show and it's a pretty awful take on negging that implies that it works like it's a program and the women are computers. Even the school therapist seems turned on my Milhouse's brute nature and... ew. Not being a jerk is a good message but "being a jerk works", not so much. And even worse since it's mostly from Milhouse's POV and Lisa's is limited to "why am I acting this way" and no sense of how she feels about being manipulated.

I think it also bothers me that I think it decides the binary of the situation is "jerk Milhouse" and "pushover Milhouse". It seems to equate being a creep and a bully with having a spine and that's not what assertiveness is. I wish I could be surprised that a show from as little as 10 years ago can have such shitty messaging but I'm pretty sure even then I was pretty tired of "Men just don't get women". And it's happened twice this season. It's also an episode that wastes Maurice LaMarche as a heavily accented sushi chef (*sigh*) when George Takei is already in the episode as Akira (at least Shearer isn't playing him again this time). Wanda Sykes appears and her character doesn't even get a name. I can see the end of the season in the horizon. But is it leading me to better things or even bleaker waters....

Johnny Unusual

Pulpit Friction

I haven't been to church in a long time. Mom used to take us every Sunday but the fact is, I don't think it ever meant that much to my dad. Eventually, our family stopped going regularly and basically only went on Easter and Christmas. Then just Christmas. And then just me and my mom on Christmas... and since the pandemic, even less often. And mostly I'm going to make my mom happy. There is some sort of nostalgic comfort I suppose but I never really connected with the community that is church.

In this episode, Rev. Lovejoy fails to bring comfort to his church and the parson brings in Elijah Hooper to help. Hooper's charm and pop culture references make him connect with everyone... except Homer, who is still sleeping through church. Hooper sees this as an opportunity and decides to win over Homer by making him a deacon to send a message that anyone can befriend him. Lovejoy leaves the church, feeling it doesn't have a place for him while Flanders is becoming annoyed with Homer abusing his deacon powers and Hooper's flashy style. Meanwhile., Bart is feeling ignored and attempt a short lived team up (before Flanders fails to play ball and sells out Bart). Bart creates his own plague to humiliate Hooper and when Hooper can provide no answers, Lovejoy steps in to save the day and wins back his flock.

Pulpit Friction isn't a particularly good episode but it feels like the ship is righting itself a little. I appreciate the change in format through this season to have two smaller concurrent A-plots, even if it was for bad episodes. I don't think it's a bad idea, I just think the stories and jokes are bad. This is a bit of a return to a comfortable zone and there's even one or two jokes I enjoyed. And there's a good idea about the idea of what it means to be a religious authority and do something actionable to improve lives instead of simply reciting obscure tales with no context. In fact, it's so good, it was an episode called In Marge We Trust from season 8, where Marge is the Listen Lady.

So aside from good jokes, why does this one not work as well? As is become the case, this era of the Simpsons keeps making errors of being disjointed. It's not as bad as it can be but I feel like one major plot turn, Bart deciding he wants Homer's attention, comes out of left field and feels less like a nature turn and more like "the writer needs something to happen to resolve things." Similarly, Flanders' frustration really never factors into the resolution and I appreciate an attempt at comically aborting a Bart/Flanders team up because Flanders won't allow Bart's plot to happen, but it keeps having elements introduced that don't pay off comedically or in plot.

But in terms of messaging, In Marge We Trust is just better. Here, there's potential as Hooper can connect easily but like Lovejoy was in the first act, is useless in a crisis, But in the end Lovejoy bores the frogs into submission. It's not a great joke but more than that it's a joke where Lovejoy's arc doesn't really have him or anyone grow or realize something about himself. He pops in to save the day and he does and that's about it. It really has little to say about connecting with people the was In Marge We Trust does. That's one where Marge is genuinely better but can fail like anyone and Lovejoy finds it in himself to save the day. We spend a lot of time with Lovejoy and his sadness in that episode. This one just has two people who are useless and whose messages have no real weight but one is more about fun. But also has good ideas, like trying to reach out to Homer. Even if you think Hooper's style is hollow, that's a genuinely good idea. It just feels like whatever is going on in the Simpsons writing room in 2013 is burnt out and just trying to get 22 scripts out the door in a year.

Other great jokes
"Well, I'm not one to take jobs on a whim but as we say in the snowplow business, I'm your astronaut."

Other notes:
There's also a b-plot about Marge looking for a lost wedding dress and Lisa stating she doesn't want to get married and the episode treats it like a big deal for half a second but oops, no time, just got to move onto the next thing.

Johnny Unusual

Whiskey Business

I don't exactly have high self-esteem. My job helps. I work with people who despite wanting to test and push me from time to time, generally show genuine affection. But sometimes I think "Well, anyone half competent can do what I do. Kids like to care, so I don't think it's hard for them to like me." But all the same, I know people care about me despite my flaws. I'm not a perfect person, but I'm a good one and I made people happy and hopefully better.

In this episode, Moe attempts suicide and Marge decides that Lenny, Carl, Homer and she will take Moe on a trip to capital city. As part of the trip, they buy Moe a suit and it makes him feel confident. He ends up cleaning the bar and when some new customers come in, it turns out they want to try his homemade bourbon. It turns out the men are investors and decide to turn his bourbon into a sensation. It begins to succeed but on the night before Moe goes to an event designed to promote investment in his product going public, Moe loses his suit. Moe is devastated, feeling his confident destroyed but Marge encourages him and says the suit just gave him confidence but he has it within him. Instead, his company instantly crashes despite coming in with confidence. Still, Moe decides to choose to stay hopeful.

Whiskey Business is another weak episode but you know what? I didn't mind this one. And I think it is because writer Valentina L. Garza has love for these characters and lets them show love for the characters without becoming overly saccharine. It can be hard to walk the line between a balance of the irreverence that defines the show and having those great characters we are invested in. Despite the episodes weaknesses, I feel soft on this one because the A, B and C plot are trying to work on people caring about people. No jerkasses here. It doesn't all work but it also doesn't leave a gross, bitter taste in my mouth.

But the problem is everything is really slight. The c-plot really feels like it should have been it's own episode. In it, Lisa is shocked to discover a hologram of Bleeding Gums Murphy is being used as a tasteless money-making enterprise and Lisa is understandably disturbed to see someone she loves reduced to a shill. I think there's a lot to dig into here but not much comes from it beyond a Sonny Rollins cameo. The b-plot works better; it's basic sitcom stuff; Grandpa is injured and Bart, somewhat responsible, feels guilty and tends to him and Grandpa keeps pretending to be hurt to enjoy the attention. It's serviceable but and there's are moments that make it work but once it's done there's little there.

The main plot gets off on the right foot with Moe alternating between wanting to ask for help and feeling helpless. I don't think it's perfect but I feel like while I wouldn't call it a "sensitive portrayal", it's one of the better "Moe attempts suicide" stories because it has some emotional weight behind it. And when it starts, it seems like it is going to be about Moe working on his exteriors to fix his inner pain. The idea of looking good can help self-esteem a lot. This isn't about Moe going shallow but finding joy in small changes and self care. But then by the end it's more "the real magic was in you all along" and that's a much more generic tale. And it doesn't quite match his sentimental finale. There's such sadness to the character of Moe and I think Garza does a good job mining the emotion out of it, a problem a lot of longtime Simpsons writers shockingly have once the show went broader, but I just wish there was something more insightful or deep to push that towards.

Other great jokes:

I love that Dolph doesn't know Lisa is Bart's sister, thinking she's just that "nosy girl reporter" that's always hanging around.

Johnny Unusual

The Fabulous Faker Boy

So I have a pet theory from around this era. The chances of an episode being better than average increase when the guest voice isn't a big name but a comedian who, at the time, is not yet a household name. The kind of people who do lots of podcasts as characters. Doesn't mean it will be great but it is less likely to be terrible. Octo also noticed a connection; a long guest-animated intro means a terrible episode. And when both happen? Eh... sort of a nothing.

In this episode, Marge encourages Bart to learn an instrument as a healthy outlet. Bart isn't interested in offered instruments until he meets a piano teacher whom he finds attractive. Bart is enthusiastic to spend time with his teacher but isn't a strong student so to win her favour he uses his wits to fake expert playing. This gets Bart's teacher some attention but he finds it isn't reciprocated with love, just mild appreciation. Meanwhile, Bart feels bad for faking, especially since Marge is so proud of him. Eventually he is forced to come clean during a recital, which hurts Marge. Marge forgives him despite her frustration and tells him his uniqueness means he has a good future.

I feel like we have gotten through a really bad patch but we have not gotten to a good place, just a generic sitcom place. It isn't a cringe-inducing trainwreck, it's just a dull episode with little of note. As is an increasing problem, there are lots of elements that don't coalesce into a complete episode. I think the problem is whatever the message the episode ends on doesn't really match were we started. It's OK for an episode to seem to be about one thing and really be about another but if so, in retrospect it should show earlier in the episode but it doesn't. I think it's trying to be about Marge's concern for Bart's future but I don't think it all fits together. But also Marge complains about her putting pressure on Bart which kind of happens but these elements feel too tossed off rather than concisely embedded in it.

And it doesn't help that it is in favour of a pretty standard cartoon plot of "someone cheats and lies about being good at a thing and the truth comes out and someone is hurt". And there's a lot to do with that formula but there's so little about the episode that stands out in this regard. I will say that I was worried it was going to fall into the ickier "Bart falls in love" stories that feel so odd yet are so common. A kid falling for an older kid who won't reciprocate is something that happens and feels much more akin to representing an actual childhood experience than, say, 10 year old boy's ex returns to town after failing to make it in showbiz.

One weird thing is the guest voices. Bill Hader is doing well in a game performance as a Russian immigrant whom Marge must teach driving to (yeah, this is a big part of the episode that didn't come up in my description) and Jane Krakowski is similarly having fun as Bart's teacher. But these characters feel like they should be played by Simpsons regulars, so two good comedic actors don't really get a chance to stand out. Weirder still are Justin Bieber and Patrick Stewart's cameos. Stewart is there for a bit of silliness as a man trying to show Homer going completely bald isn't all bad. Stewart is always great but the writing just isn't there and even in a disposable b-plot, I'm not sure what the point is beyond those heavenly dulcet tones. Bieber has the standard celebrity one line cameo that allows them to have a notch in their belt. I don't really like Bieber but after his scene we are promised the rest of the episode will be Bieber free in some text and... this feels a little pointlessly nasty, especially considering some of the MUCH WORSE PEOPLE they've had on the show. Yeah, maybe his songs are a little hollow and he's turn out to kinda suck but you decided to put Tony Blair and Julian Assange in your show. This feels like a weird line to draw.

Johnny Unusual

The Saga of Carl

I love my friends. I don't have a lot of them in this world and I only see one of them on the regular. And do you know what we do when me and JBear get together? Mostly quietly watch shit. We do talk but there is a lot of time just sitting around and watching stuff. That's what we like to do. And that's OK. Do I tell him I love him? No. But do I? Sure. He's a good friend and I care about him. But we don't feel the need to constantly re-affirm this. After all, for different people we care about, we might express our care for each other differently and for us it's enjoying company and the shared experience of art. But I will admit, we often don't talk in specifics about our personal history. Is that some sort of weakness in our friendship or is it just fine?

In this episode, Homer, Lenny, Carl and Moe win the lottery but when Carl goes to get the money, he doesn't return. The three friends feel betrayed and only find a note that says "I've returned home". After investigating, the trio realize Carl's home is outside Reykjavik. where he was adopted. The three decide to track him down and once they do, Carl confesses that he's betrayed them because it is believed a thousand years ago, the Carlsons cowardly failed to protect the community from barbarians making them outcasts ever since. The tale was detailed in a saga with a missing page and Carl was convinced that page could prove the Carlsons family fought bravely and so he spent the money to buy the page from a dealer. When Lenny asks why he didn't just tell them, Carl reveals he doesn't consider them friends, as they never really asked about who he is and they just do "guy stuff" together. Feeling betrayed, the trio steals the page they feel they are owed but then decide to translate the page. When they do, it is revealed the ancient Carlsons weren't just traitors, they were even worse then believed. Feeling bad for Carl, they decide to stick up for Carl publicly and discuss all the things they love about Carl. Carl is moved and accepts their friendship and they return home to enjoy doing guy stuff again.

The Saga of Carl is an episode that doesn't have any big laughs but I actually think it is a decent episode in terms of messaging, structure, directing and unusually, soundtrack. Not to say Alf Clausen isn't a good composer for the show but like so many things, it's a bit stale. But I'll get to that. The episode seems like one of those weird ones that seems to introduce a bunch of bizarre retcons on characters that only matter for the episode but it really is exploring something I think is interesting; what does it mean to be a friend. On TV, it's often in the forms of grand gestures. Heck, this climaxes with a grand gesture. But at it's heart, it asks if you are really friends if you are just hanging out accomplishing nothing? And it comes down to, yeah.

It's not glamourous or romantic and maybe they can be better about understanding each other at times, but at the same time, they realize it is the little acts of kindness and love that define their friendship. It's clear Carl is hurt that his friends never really asked about who he is and he's not wrong to feel that. People want to be understood and show that the people they care about are interested in them. But the failing he finds in his friends is also his own. Instead of letting his feelings be known, he stabs them in the back and Lenny, Homer and Moe show that while just hanging out might have meant little to Carl, it meant a lot to him, willing to forgive the betrayal and express all the things they love about him. I wish the episode was funnier but it is a well-made, thoughtful and sweet episode. Moe says "I'd tell you I love you but I don't want to say it and you don't want to hear it." I certainly have friendships like that. There are true strong feelings that mostly don't need to be said. But if someone I love needs to hear it, I will.

The episode also looks and sounds pretty good. Particularly when the show decides to take the scenic route. The directing is competent and mostly not flashy but there are shots of driving through Iceland that looks pretty good. The music is the interesting part, with Sigur Ros providing an unusually moody soundtrack for the episode. It works hard to give a little more weight too some goofy scenes and exposition and it's rather refreshing in all honesty. While many famous musicians provided music for the show including re-arrangements of the main theme, I think this is the first time much of the episode's score was from guest musicians and I kind of like it. The Saga of Carl could be funnier but after the pain that much of this season has been, it's a damned delight.

Johnny Unusual

Dangers on a Train

Whew. Season 24 down. This... this was a rough one. If you want one takeaway, the show is in a pretty rough spot this season. The worst is a weird interesting in the romantic continuity of 8-10 year olds. And it isn't the first time but I feel like it's a real "Now more than ever" situation. It also flirted with a new regular structure of twin A stories. It's actually not a bad idea but the sheer crumminess of those episodes show they didn't crack it. The fact that this month I say 2 good episodes from nearly 10 years in the future makes this endeavor even more interesting to me. But for now... I'm here. Whew again.

In this episode, Homer and Marge plan anniversary gifts for each other; while Homer is working on a train ride from early in their marriage while Marge orders a crate of snack cakes from what she assumes is Dolly Madison but is fact a similarly named dating site... one that caters to the married. Marge is aghast but ends up in contact with a man named Ben, whom Marge feels is nice. Despite herself, Marge keeps finding herself meeting him and continues to remain in touch. Homer hiding his surprise from Marge accidentally makes Marge think Homer is being thoughtless. Marge is pushed to her limit when Homer sends her to get pills while Homer sets up his surprise for her but Marge resists temptation. However, Ben and his wife arrive at the anniversary party, as Ben's wife wants to confront Marge, a "homewrecker" in her eyes. Marge takes her down and maker her see what she loves in her husband.

Dangers on a Train is an episode that features a lot of plot points we've seen before. An emotional affair. Some ridiculous farcical misunderstandings. Marge questioning her marriage by meeting a nicer person. I think there are some ideas in here that are potentially interesting. Like what kind of person would use a scummy site like Ashley Madison and how even a good, smart person might be manipulated to go against their best interests. Ben is a "nice guy". I think he wants to be that and Marge sees him as such but he's not a good person. He's not even "two-faced", he's just someone who is blind to how much of a creep he is. He isn't like Moe, an overt creep. He's not leering or making gross comments, He's a bit more subdued in a way that I buy.

But unfortunately, not a lot is done with that. I guess part of my problem is I have a hard time buying the unlikely farce needed to make the episode happen (did she not notice the site had no cakes already?) And I feel like Marge misunderstanding Homer is some pretty old-timey hack sitcom stuff. I don't mind threatening the audience with something we know isn't going to happen. Nothing is going to drive a permanent wedge between Homer and Marge but whatever, Sideshow Bob is never going to kill Bart either but it can be fun to watch him try. The problem is I think there is potential to show how Marge COULD fall into that and I feel like it is only halfway to doing it right. I also feel like the episode finale is too light and breezy for something that could be emotionally devastating. The Golden Age already had some sensational episodes dealing with infidelity but they usually found some pretty artful dodges but here it's like "yeah, whatevs" in a way that isn't satisfying.

I will say, it is a bit easy to dunk on Seth MacFarlane. I liked Family Guy long ago, then continued to watch out of habit then gave up around the same time I gave up on Simpsons. When I left American Dad, it had become a legit good show but TBS? I have that channel and I can't be bothered. But I think it was his bid to become a leading man with his Oscar hosting that made it clear this had sort of come to late for him. I feel like by the time he was prepped as a "star", people were kind of sick of the "transgressive" comedy that's mostly the ironic racism of the early 2000s where it's "it's funny because we *don't* think those horrible things" when really he's just letting people take what they want instead of making a cogent point. But I think sometimes as a comedic voice he can work when he's less about "look at how audacious I am" and focuses on odd specifics. I will also say his role here is perfect for him; a desperate creep who sees himself as a good guy. It's a kind of character he's played many times and he's good at it. I appreciate that it actually does feel like an episode written for the actor and mostly well done, save when it is TOO written for him. Frankly, I did not need more Seth MacFarlane trying to be an old timey crooner, which he very much wants to be. That's some weak sauce, I'm afraid.

Other great jokes:
...but following that up with him telling the Nelson Riddle Orchestra "You're dead again." is a Family Guy-style joke that actually lands here for me. Not a belly laugh but a brief "heh". I'll take it.

Johnny Unusual


And now onto season 25. Wow, I've been at this a while. A new season and a new set of possibilities. And I live in fear. I still have to wait for ONE MORE SEASON before getting to the Elon Musk episode, which is like knowing approximately when I'm going to get a nail through my toe. But now I'm getting to episodes that I know I've seen but my memory is getting hazier, even as I get closer towards the present. I'm peeking at the episode descriptions and I'm like "I KNOW I've watched this but... no bells." But I do vaguely remember this episode... unfortunately.

In this episode, Homer leaves for a work convention but disappears on the day he's supposed to return home. Homer appears some time later, only for him to be acting differently; refusing pork and beer, being a thoughtful lover and seemingly praying on a rug. Lisa gets rather worried about Homer's strange behaviour and becomes convinced Homer is a brainwashed terrorist planning to bomb the nuclear plant. Lisa tries to stop him only to discover he hasn't been radicalized, merely had his mind open to empathy when spending a trip home with some hippie activists; they convinced him pork is murder, that he can do better without beer and that he can help himself with an affirmation rug. Also, they made him realize the plant is hurting the planet and his bomb is actually a stink bomb to clear out the plant. Homer's plan fails but Burns ends up in jail after thoughtlessly blurts out why Homer's stink bomb plan failed.

It's weird for an episode that kicks off with a reminder it's a big season opening is just a pretty tepid parody episode. This time it is from an acclaimed espionage drama from the creator of 24 that people kind of stop and said "no, wait, this is problematic" and then society kind of moved on. But it was a big deal for a while and people were watching it. But it doesn't feel like it's right for this milestone moment of the show refusing to die for a 25th year. It also doesn't help that it's once again full of hacky wacky TV misunderstandings including Lisa shocked that Homer kneeling toward Mecca. *gasp* LIKE A TERRORIST DOES! Ugh. Jeez, I think five seasons ago we had this with Homer being afraid his Muslim neighbors were bombers and while that episode a poorly conceived attempt to mock islamophobia, this is closer to... just that, as a narrative shorthand (which I assume is similar to what actual Homeland did).

It's a pretty crummy episode overall. I actually do think there's a kernel of something in here, even something right for the 25th episode. Homer acts differently and Lisa is afraid. I think there could be a fun meta-episode about how we feel when our characters don't act like we expect them to. It could be that maybe these characters have more going on than wackiness. Instead, it's the most generic "someone jumps to conclusions but the stakes are actually quite low" comedy plot. Again, it's weird for a 25th anniversary to be so low-ambition and glomming onto something with less cultural cache. Yeah, it's popular and liked but it's just another show and you... you are the Simpsons.

I think it also hurts itself with some jokes that are very much based on knowing what Homeland is and I kind of do but I feel like trying to push in the Mad Magazine-style commentary doesn't really work with this show. And it's a real waste of really good comedic actress Kristen Wiig, by this point a big star following her success with Bridemaids a few years earlier. Man, Bridesmaids is 11 years old now? Wild. Anyway, I would have loved to see her talents on a much better kind of figure than a broad parody character. Frankly, I find these characters work better when they are parodies of more obscure styles, like Dave Thomas as Rex Banner. I think if they provided her with the right one she could have knocked it out of the park but she was stuck with a pretty weak part. Oh well, hopefully things will be better next episode.

Johnny Unusual

Christmas is coming so you know what that means!

Treehouse of Horror XXIV

Wait, you didn't know that? About Christmas?

In this episode, three more comical Halloween tales. First, in a parody of the Cat in the Hat, the kids have the mumps and are visited by the Fat in the Hat who promises to give them a fun Halloween out that devolves into mayhem, forcing the kids to try to escape. Eventually the Fat in the Hat proclaims itself their new dad but ends up being killed by Maggie. Then, in a parody of The Thing With Two Heads and the Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (the 70s was a banner decade for two-head movies), Bart is decapitated and to save him, his head is surgically attached to Lisa. The kids hate the situation but eventually learn how to get along. However, when it turns out Bart can control Lisa's body, he decides to remove Lisa's head. Lisa outsmarts Bart and removes his head but accidentally loses her head and Bart and Lisa are placed atop Selma and Krusty, respectively. In the final tale, a parody of Freaks, Moe is a sideshow attraction who has a priceless emerald. This catches the eye of Homer the strong man who convinces his fiancée, Marge, to marry Moe, so that when he kills Moe, she will inherit the emerald and Homer can marry Marge to get it. The complicated plot is discovered by Barney who turns the rest of the circus against Homer and punishes him by turning him into a freak.

I feel like a lot of the Treehouse of Horrors in this era are generally weaker, more interested in touching on famous plot points than telling a story. And that would be forgivable if I found it funny. This episode, luckily, is actually decent. Not top tier but competent, funny and it does interesting stuff with story. I think it helps that Jeff Westbrook is a pretty decent writer on the show, despite not liking the cruelty of On a Clear Day, I Can't See My Sister. Westbrook gets writing both gags and characters in ways I appreciate. The first segment is my least favourite but it is very well done. The Dr. Suess look works pretty well for it and I feel like aside from the references and rhyme schemes and rhythms, it's also got other elements that make me think Westbrook was absorbing a lot of Suess at the time (particularly the getaway scene).

The second story has the best character work. I always appreciate when the story doesn't feel the need for big set pieces and just uses the premise to tell a story. not just a list of fun re-imagined characters designs of the cast. That said, despite the high concept, it's pretty boilerplate "Bart and Lisa don't get along" stuff that just happens to have some good gags but it is a fun little story. The last one is probably the best but like the source material is kinda problematic. If you haven't seen Freaks, it is both a great movie worth watching and a film that, while it definitely humanizes the "freaks" and invites you to care about them and looking past their deformities to see their humanity while the "normal" humans are monstrous and gets what's coming. But it is also a movie that is about the horror of them and in the last act, even though they are exacting justice against a villain, are presented like horror movie monsters. It's a great scene but is also making these characters horrifying to us. Similarly, this episode also points out the cruelty of the nature of the freakshow was doing lots of jokes about their deformities. It's decent but also gives one pause.

The real draw of this one, though, is the opening sequence guest directed by Guillermo del Toro. Describing it, its a laundry list of of all the pop culture del Toro loves and all his own films, basically making Bleak House (the place, not the book) a Simpsons opening. This might seem self-indulgent but it is also del Toro so... it looks amazing. The whole sequence is a delightful blast, a love letter to horror and monsters and probably the second best guest opening of a Simpsons after Don Hertzfeldt's. And I think it speaks to the episode working considering usually a long opening eats up enough time that there usually isn't space for the episodes but it is pretty well paced overall.

Other great jokes:

"Sorry, this was the only way to lengthen Bart's life by a year by shortening yours by thirty."
"I thought I was donating blood."
"You are."
The punch continues a bit from there but frankly it would work better if it stopped there.



Other notes:
There's a joke about a freak with big ears and a freak with a big mouth that's basically the same as the Futurama joke from a decade previous. While Westbrook didn't write that episode he was a Futurama writer so I wonder if he wrote that bit the first time.

Johnny Unusual

Four Regrettings and a Funeral

We all have regrets. Better choices we could have made, being better to people, being aware of things (I've told and laughed at my share of shitty jokes). I don't think I've cause irreparable harm but I wish I understood how to be kinder sooner. And I probably could have gotten closer to my dream if I realized that I didn't need to wait for myself to get the right skills but to work on it from the beginning. But I still have a good life. I have people who love me, a good (if tiring) job and I feel like writing about 25 seasons of the Simpsons let me... uhh... Hmmm...

In this episode, the most beloved man in town, Chip Davis, has died and Rev. Lovejoy's eulogy about Chip's regrets lets Springfieldians reflect on their own. Marge suspects listening to Kiss while Bart was pregnant is what caused him to be a hellion, Kent Brockman regrets being stuck in Springfield for his career, Homer regrets selling his Apple stock to buy a bowling ball and Burns regrets losing the woman he loved. Through the day Homer is reminded of Apple's ubiquitous success and Bart keeps causing trouble. Brockman attempts to go to the big city to find success but finds Fox News even too immoral for him and returns to Springfield to be a big fish in a small pond. Burns reconnects with the woman he loves who left him when she asked him to set aside a little time each day to think of others. Burns is ready to make love to her only for her to die while he was preparing himself but decides to honour her wish for 5 minutes of altruism. Bart's trouble making gets him stuck in a laundry basket lifted by balloons and Homer saves him with his bowling ball while Marge realizes her concerns over Bart aren't based non the music she listened to.

Four Regrettings and a Funeral is the most middle of the road episode in a while. Not actively bad but also not good and for a "many story threads" episode, it feels pretty unambitious. Not a lot going on. It's talking about regrets, which is a pretty rich, if well mined, topic but it hasn't really said anything better episodes haven't said before. Homer's and Marge's stories are pretty bog standard "is it so bad if it brought you here". Burns' is something about losing your chance and finding that as a motivator or something (this episode is a real "or something"). Brockman's is potentially the most interesting in maybe it's OK to be happy with something you feel lacks cultural value if you really enjoy it but frankly like all of them, if feels a little hollow and not well thought out.

Marge's story is the least interesting. She's barely in it, focusing more on Bart antics and while a parent worrying they fucked up their child is dramatically interesting, this is relegated to some pretty insipid gags. I'm actually willing to buy Marge as maybe a fan of something you wouldn't expect, like KISS, but the episode doesn't really make it click on any level and it's less "here's an aspect of Marge we might not consider" and more "writer Marc Wilmore thought it would be funny if Marge liked KISS" and it ended there. Burns story is some standard Burns stuff but there is a laugh or two. Brockman's tale feels like it is about integrity but I guess despite all the groundwork Wilmore lays, it never lands. It's a pretty standard "sacrificing success for integrity" but then it ends on him reporting on Bart and it doesn't jibe with the previous messaging, even as an ironic counterpoint.

Homer's is the most generic but also the weirdest. First of all, it's finally not Mapple, but Apple, And the episode is supposed to be about it's success but then it's clear so many jokes were fawning, they put this in, which feels like it happened in the editing room rather the script or writing room.


What is even happening at this point? Despite this, it isn't an awful episode, just, in the words of Lisa, a rather lifeless outing.

Other great jokes:

I've seen this gag before but I still like it.

Johnny Unusual


I feel like I'm due for a midlife crisis. I feel like I'm the kind of person who thinks about what they could have done or been, even if I don't dislike my life. And I've had opportunities a lot of people haven't. I've travelled the world at a young age and got to teach overseas. I have great friends and family and I have work I find fulfilling. But I know things could have been different and I could have applied myself and pushed myself more. So... I'm sure this is going to happen in a little bit.

In this episode, Homer has a midlife crisis and Marge worries about him. So she ends up contacting his childhood penpal in the hopes he can cheer him up. The pen pal, Eduardo, comes to town and inspires Homer to follow his childhood dreams. Eventually, Homer ends up risking his life while using a wingsuit and nearly dies. However, Homer feels that it was worth the adventure.

That was a pretty slight recap, huh? Well, that's because this is a slight episode.. I feel like we've had midlife crisis episodes already and this one is even less about anything. This is the problem I remember the show having when I left, a disjointed quality. This episode isn't even awful from scene to scene but there's a sense of continuity between the scenes are looser. Oh, it's not hard to follow events but character and theme is another story. I genuinely don't know what the episode wants to say.

Marge seems to have an issue with Eduardo but I'm not sure what it is. In one scene it seems like maybe the problem is Homer's leaving his responsibilities behind, then that she's being left out but near the end she's just worried Homer is being put in danger. It can be all of those things in theory but the show never properly transitions for us. Meanwhile, Homer's journey is "I'm glad I did those things" but Homer's arc seems to have a middle that's doing stuff but without emotional weight. He gets to be happy but there's not a lot of insight here. Is Homer perusing happiness at the expense of his safety? Does he learn not to be afraid? The episode can't seem to decide.

Meanwhile, Lisa's b-plot has a similar problem. I like the set up, Lisa creates an honor system to prevent kids from cheating but Bart ruins it by cheating. Again, this is something with potential. I like the idea that Bart might abuse the system... just because. Bart is someone who challenges systems so if Lisa tries to make Bart part of the system, he's willing to make a mockery out of it. But it basically ends with a solution unrelated to character and little to say about the pros and cons of the honor system. YOLO is an episode that has depressingly little to say about the big ideas it has and if my memory is right, it's only going to get worse.

Johnny Unusual

Labor Pains

Ugh I accidentally deleted this and have to rewrite it so now I'm doing the quick recap. This episode hasn't earned more than that.

Homer helps deliver a baby, gets too attached and then decides to prioritize his family. Lisa helps some cheerleaders unionize.

So this is really the era where we are not only getting plots that have basically been done before and done better but more than that, are pretty inert. I feel like the bad episodes like these don't anger or frustrate me. At least there, I'd have more to say. Really they just bore me. Homer hasn't helped give birth in an elevator before but we have seen him grow close to other kids who are not his own, like in Children of a Lesser Clod. But here, there's very little going on to make it stand out. No great gags or emotional component to the relationship.

Meanwhile, Lisa's b-plot feels very much like many of the other "in the news" stories. For a while, better pay for cheerleaders was a topic of discussion and lets face it, since that news disappeared, it means it should probably be again because as a society, we are terrible at solving capitalism. Again, this isn't actively bad but... I'm kind of at a loss of things to say. It's pretty generic "guys like to ogle cheerleader" jokes. It doesn't leave much of a footprint in my mind.

I will say the plotting in this episode doesn't feel disjointed. Everything feels very consistent. It's just that it's a standard, boilerplate sitcom plot and the show doesn't take any emotional advantage to invest me. And this is a story that I can, in theory, relate to a lot. I looked after my niece for five years, was very close to her and sometimes I worried about overstepping my bounds as a non-parent figure in her life. There's talk of it being weird and creepy but I feel like the show is doing more talk than impressing feelings upon us.

Johnny Unusual

The Girl is All Right

I work with a kids that come from different value backgrounds, though I am rarely party to the specifics. And generally speaking, politics don't come into this world. But they are around us, particularly knowing that with an extreme political divide, there are people who believe in things that could be contrary to the values of early childhood education. Thankfully, I have yet to have to deal with that and people are smart enough to understand this and their world can remain a world of acceptance and love. And bickering over semantics and arbitrary rules. Some things will never change.

In this episode, Lisa makes a new friend, Isabel at school but during a school presentation, Lisa learns she is a republican. The two have an initial clash but decide to accept they are 8 and maybe too young to bicker about this and just be friends. But when they two decide to run for class representative, they cannot escape these differences, compounded when Isabel has backing by the Republican party in hopes of grooming her into a strong candidate when she grows up. Lisa doesn't think she can win but campaigns hard. Bart's help goes a long way but also ends up running counter to her values and ends up dropping him as an advisor. In the end, the two support their friendship on stage in a rejection of electioneering. Lisa looses but it turns out they dislike Lisa but like what she stands for, which makes her feel hopeful.

As you might expect, The Girl is All Right is an episode that aged bad. It's not problematic, it's more than the episode was probably looking like unconvincing quasi-centrism at the time and looks completely divorced from what politics is today. Keep in mind, it looked weak 9 years ago, now it just doesn't resemble anything. I think it is also hurt by trying to say a lot but rather than dovetailing or concisely landing it's ideas, it feels like a bit of a mishmash. There IS some interesting stuff in here but as a whole, its weak. I think the idea of the age of being political is interesting and when to think about that and when two 8 year olds should just put it aside to play.

I think the part that lands the most poorly was the "we can still be friends even if we disagree" political angle. It kind of sucked at the time considering that the Republicans of the Bush era were awful but it looks even worse now. I feel like during early in the Trump era there was talk on the left of "look, I know these people on the right, they aren't that bad one-on-one, I've worked with them" but while now that seems completely out the window with the rise of a spectacularly weird extremism, the attitude that "we can be friends" seems confounding considering the horrible policies supported and people being dehumanized, I know the episode might want to say that even these people are human but doesn't that make it worse and is a damning indictment of humanity?

There are aspects that have the potential to paint this in a more nuanced light. Isabel is nice one-on-one but while she denounces electioneering with sincerity, she still profits from it. Part of the episode points that out but in the end after another public denouncement... it feels like it is meant to be a sincere repudiation but it still gets her the win. She does nothing actionable and I don't think the episode wants us to question that. Which does reflect the Republicans who did "reject Trump" but still either lick his boots later or enjoy both credit for "rejecting" him and still enjoy the advantages that he gave them. The Girl is All Right isn't godawful but considering how it takes a mentality I never really cared for in politics in an era were "can we just be friends despite everything" is beyond laughable, it's deeply poorly considered by that one Simpsons writer who is really invested in that one girlfriend he made for Bart.

Other great jokes:

"One brief announcement: the tainted Greek salad has given several children nighmares about Michael Dukakis. It may recur tonight so if possible, have your parent's strap you to the bed."

Other notes:

The Mr. Bergstrom joke is very dumb.

Lisa making presumptions based on Isabel's ethnicity could have been an interesting angle, similar to a very poorly considered comment Biden made about race during his run, but mostly like the rest of the episode little is done with it. And frankly, I feel like the Simpsons is rarely good at approaching race and ethnicity properly.

There's a weird moment near the end where there was clearly some sort of joke in the PA announcements that is impossible to hear over the dialogue. It wouldn't be a big deal but it's punctuated with Skinner shouting "SIMPSON", which catches attention and nothing happening with it in the plot, it stands out.

Johnny Unusual

Yellow Subterfuge

Taking care of kids means being flexible yet consistent in the rules. Kids are very sensitive to what the rules are and if those rules aren't followed they lose trust. But at the same time, it is important to understand kids make mistakes and that trying and making an effort should really count for a lot. It isn't always easy to make the balance and being rigid for the sake of being rigid can also result in a feeling of betrayal. And with the loss of trust can break that sense of authority.

In this episode, Skinner announces a school field trip a limited number of seats that only the best behaved students can attend. Bart works very hard to follow Skinner's rules, who is using this as an opportunity to lord his power over kids. Unfortunately, in an effort not to be late, Bart breaks a small rule and loses his chance. Skinner allows Bart to try to make it up to him but denies his request anyway. Homer sees how unfair Skinner has been to Bart and the two take part in a major prank; faking Agnes Skinner's death to make it look like Skinner is being framed with Agnes' help. Homer, Bart and Agnes convince Skinner to flee to Juarez under the pseudonym Dick Fiddler but Skinner surprises the Simpsons by arriving back at their house, wanting to turn himself in. During this time Skinner let slip he did want his mother to die, which Agnes overhears and promises to be even crueler to Skinner.

The only thing I remembered about this episode was the opening Skinner as a cowboy dream that becomes a runner through the episode. The episode is actually surprisingly strong and is about something; the abuse of authority over kids, about it being generational and passed down and how it disintegrates respect and therefore authority. Skinner wants to be in complete control but in his opportunity to help Bart rehabilitate, he has a great starting point but takes no care for the human factor. Yet Skinner misses the fact that he's under constant bombardment and judgment from his own mother and this is him continuing an ugly cycle in his life and his failure to do so ends with him in a far worse place.

Obviously, Bart's prank is far worse than Skinner's injustice, making a person think he's a murderer, but at the same time somehow, I don't mind. The episode goes down smooth and is so silly, the prank doesn't feel too cruel. It helps that Skinner really sucks this episode but in a way I can kind of understand. He's blind to how much he sucks, thinking good behaviour justifies the means but in being so unjust to Bart, we are on his side. Yet the episode feels like a fun farce. I don't think the episode sees Bart getting in trouble all the time means he's bad, it's just his issue. But Skinner doesn't care, even when trying to rehabilitate himself and show self-control, which can be really hard for kids.

Joel H. Cohen is actually a Simpsons writer in the latter era whose episodes are generally at least half-good. I think he really cares about the characters, can create smooth, structured scripts and cares about theme. All of these things matter a lot. It also helps that this has some funny bits in it. And episodes almost fully about a Bart prank are often not my favourite but this one works. It doesn't end with "this prank has gone to far" even when it has from the jump because it's not about what Bart learns but what Skinner either fails to learn or learns too late. I do think there was a little more room to dig into it (and Bart's sympathy/empathy towards Bart's plight) but the episode still did a decent job exploring it without being too on the nose or getting too haphazard, both of which the show could be. I also think it is a well-produced episode; the "SKINNER!" cowboy runner is very well done and even the sound mixing is smart as Homer knocking on the door when Skinner is panicked about his mother's death becomes impossibly loud which is cheeky but also reminiscent of great choices made by Hitchcock. If anything, the big weakpoint is the b-plot of Krusty licensing his show to international markets but even that has some pretty decent bits.

Other great jokes:

Irish Krusty is great.

"You'll be on the run, hunted, searching for the man who killed your mother. Which is you, so avoid mirrors."

Other notes:
JEEEEEEZ that Rastafarian Krusty and "Itchem and Scratchem" bit is uncomfortable and goes on too long.

Johnny Unusual

White Christmas Blues

I love giving gifts, with some caveats. I love thinking about giving cool gifts but it also takes work and frankly, I'm an old person now and having to do a thing is exhausting. Moreso it's a problem now what with doing school and me about to pitch in to buy a house next year means this things should be lean. It's not easy, though, because I just want people to be happy and do cool stuff for them and since I'm not a creative type, cool things cost money. Which I'm not super great with.

In this episode, Springfield is the ONLY city in America with Christmas snow due to global warming and the effect is both good for the economy but terrible for middle class families like the Simpsons who are priced out of their own Christmas. Marge decides to turn the house into a bed and breakfast and the Simpsons go all-in. Marge soon finds herself bothered by her guest requests for rustic traditional Christmas stuff, causing friction between her and the guests. Meanwhile, Lisa decides to get well-thought out but inexpensive gifts and gets Lisa a copy of Treasure Island. Bart is not impressed and thinks the gift is more about making Lisa feel special than getting Bart something he wants. Lisa agrees and gets Bart a tablet. The guests leave happy despite everything.

This is yet another episode that feels like there's a good starting point that ties the two plots together; the financial strain of Christmas. Yes, it's been a part of the series before but this is very much from a societal perspective and I like that. Unfortunately, as is often the case, it doesn't dig too deeply into this idea. And it doesn't get there naturally. Yes, I would completely buy the often gracious Marge be irritated to distraction by failing to live up to some weird standard but I feel by the time we get to the second scene, Marge is already irate. There's not much journey here and I feel like we aren't put into Marge's situation in a way that invites emotional investment and it mostly becomes a series of jokes about Marge's hosting being wanting. Yeah, I think her guests are a bit unreasonable but when she's going around demanding people not sing the second verse's of Christmas carols feels more like it's there for a joke than organic to the situation. I would believe Marge doesn't like them but demanding her guests not sing them feels like it's there for the joke.

Similarly, Lisa's b-plot feels like the good starting point for an episode. There's a real joy in giving and it can hurt when the gift turns out to be poorly considered. I've made poor gift choices before thinking "OK, this isn't their usual thing but I think they might like it." Sometimes it works and sometimes it really doesn't. And it can feel like a rejection. I quote the episode "Blood Feud"'s ending with "just a bunch of stuff that happened" but it really does examine it's topic, even if it doesn't come to a conclusion. But this episode brings up some talking points and I feel like it might have been originally written with more substance but then was cut for time.

I like a lot of what it wants to say, but not all of it. I feel like sometimes the writers want to dunk on Lisa a bit much and position her do-goodery as somehow making it about heself. Either that or... she's just right. The best Lisa episode is usually about her having the vulnerabilities of a child but also some real wisdom, even if maybe her journey finds her having to learn more. And there's a good idea in here where perhaps Lisa's gift is about who she thinks Bart should be rather than who he is. Then both are hurt; Lisa is hurt because her well-intended and thought-out present is rejected and Bart is annoyed because the thought she gave meant she didn't recognize who he is. And I think if they dug in, there could have been more; Bart might like Treasure Island if he gave it a chance. Yes, that's the generic solution but also Lisa could still see value in giving a gift Bart does want... but doesn't know that he does. Just giving Bart a tablet feels a bit lazy, narratively speaking. But frankly, this should have been the episode and the B and B been the b-plot.

Other notes:
Disney Plus original content for the Simpsons is weird, yo.


Also, this is the perfect time for me to take a little break from this. Maybe I'll start in the New Year. I usually don't do these while on vacation.


Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
Clearly this is a Homer who's realized he's now the property of the House of Mouse his show made fun of for so long.

Johnny Unusual

Steal This Episode

It's 2023. And... I'm already feeling kind of bummed. I'm having a hard time getting back into my studies and my work week is going to be a bit packed. Bleh. I could use this time to get in a few extra winks, I suppose. But instead, I'm going to write about the Simpsons some more. And also internet media piracy. Man, back in the Napster days, I was all over that. Then I kinda reduced it to TV. Then I got back in it hard for movies (usually older movies) when I was living in China. Then dropped out. I did download two hard to get ones recently: I watched the original cut of Empire a couple months back, and also The Oogieloves, a famously awful movie that was an attempt to make a Rocky Horror interactive theatre experience for the preschool set out of curiosity. Now I've limited myself to manga scanlations, which are kinda the same, I guess. But I never had any objection to taking the jolly roger up.

In this episode, Homer has trouble seeing a movie that everyone's talking about so he decides to pirate it. Soon Homer becomes a fan, even creating a backyard theatre for friends. Marge doesn't approve of Homer's decision but instead of arguing with him, decides to send the studio the money she would have spent, with a note accidentally dropping the dime on Homer. Soon he is arrested by the FBI and Homer realizes he's been betrayed by someone who attended the showing. Eventually, Homer escapes and Lisa suggests finding sanctuary with the Swedish Consulate, as they don't have anti-movie piracy laws. When Homer realizes he's been betrayed by Marge, he turns himself in, feeling really hurt. On trial, Marge convinces Homer to tell his side of the story, which wins over the Hollywood bigshots who immediately drop his case in order to buy the story of being an internet piracy. He then objects to internet piracy, as it takes money away from him.

I remember when they started making TV episodes about internet piracy. It's kinda weird how people freaked about it. The only one that was actually kinda pro-piracy (or rather anti-celebrity complaining about it) was an episode of South Park. The others I remember were a Futurama with an argument about copying Lucy Liu which... doesn't work well as an argument. Not that I was a regular viewer but there was also an anti-piracy Proud family where the lead character rejects piracy and becomes Neo from the Matrix which is, like, the opposite journey of Neo. It's a bit weird to see an episode from an era where it became a bit more of a norm.

So it's interesting to see one where it isn't taking an easy side. This isn't like a "people suck on both sides" that you might expect from a South Park, but rather it's less about the morality of piracy and more about the reaction by the law and Hollywood and the ridiculousness of bringing financial and legal weight on small people. It's not a fantastic episode but it's a consistently enjoyable one and it's take on the subject isn't eyeroll inducing. And that's despite it being a J. Stewart Burns episode who has written some pretty week episodes. It's also an episode that's more about it's commentary than an emotional truth and frankly, that's OK. It actually does the former better.

That's not to say there isn't a bit of the latter but it is the weaker part of the episode, frankly, I think there's partially something to the idea of what is going on with Marge; she just wanted to be honest and follow the letter of the law but it turns out following the law isn't the same as doing a moral thing. It's on the page but I feel like it isn't nearly as interesting to me in practice, at least not compared to its commentary. And I think that's because it's commentary is based in a pretzel logic that is also a truth in Hollywood; the idea that the entertainment industry peddles stories of little guys standing up to big corporations while being a big corporation that will crush the little guy. And when Homer joins the industry, he immediately turns against piracy, the thing he is celebrated for that gave him his opportunity. I think that is the best part of the episode; being cynical about art becoming a business.

Other great jokes:

"We Swedes love death metal. It reminds us of death."
This joke is very much a standard Simpsons joke but for some reason, the line read works for me.

Other notes:
The parody of This is 40 actually starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd does a good job pointing out how fucking out of touch Apatow is in that film.

Homer's idea for a film where Taken features the Hangover Guys get taken and the Fast and Furious gangs saves them seems good to me.

Hey. Will Arnett is in this. That's pretty good.

What... what is happening with that one Latino character who just says "That's negative, man." It's very odd as a gag.

Johnny Unusual

Married to the Blob

The lonely nerd trope is a pretty tired old cliché but it's one I feel like I am living sometime. Of course, it's not because I'm nerdy so much as I'm not really good at meeting people and you don't need to be a nerd to feel that way. Part of it is that while I don't want to be alone, I also am also not certain how comfortable of the change of sharing my life. Am I the kind of person who can actually share myself and learn how to be thoughtful to a living companion than just doing things at my own pace? Or maybe I'll find that these things will be worth it if the opportunity arrives.

In this episode, Comic Book Guy is feeling lonely when a young woman named Kumiko enters his store and reveals she's interested in him, having scene him around town while writing her autobiographical manga. Comic Book Guy gets help from Homer and Marge and they go on a double date but despite Marge's advice to act like a different person, Kumiko loves CBG for who he is, even his snark. The two end up living together but when Homer ends up revealing to Kumiko's father her living situation, he insists she leave him. Homer tries to convince her father to reconsider and the two end up drinking heavily. In a sake-induced hallucination, Kumiko's father comes to realize he can't control who her daughter loves and tells Comic Book Guy he is worthy the way he is and in the end Kumiko and Comic Book Guy are married.

This is simultaneously a worse and better episode than I remembered. I'll start with the good, I guess. The show often has a dabbled with making episodes about the beloved side characters. There are many who are great at carrying an episode, like Moe or Principal Skinner, and many who are not. Even though the Otto Show is a pretty good episode, I think it actually shows there's not a lot going on with Otto. I feel like the writers like to occassionally have a Comic Book Guy-heavily episode because it allows them to reference nerdy things but making him the focus feels unwise. Still, the episode is not awful from a character standpoint and while I won't recommend it, I think it does a better job selling him as an episode lead than I remember.

But the episode is also pretty offensive. It's not just that Tress MacNeille and Maurice LaMarche are playing Asian characters. That's pretty common for animation at the time. It's that I feel like the heavy accents they use, pretty stereotypical and it's kind of a weird look, especially when the characters are making references like "well, in my country" followed by a big generalization. It's really awkward in the same way that Apu looks bad in retrospect, even while trying to make that character rich and complex. But there's even less for Kumiko and her father. They just aren't very strong characters in their own right.

It's also a generally poorly structured script from Tim "We haven't had a wedding for the cat and the dog" Long, that guy who is really interested in shipping his original characters to the classic ones. I can't lay this all at Long's feet because I feel like there might be something going on in the writing room that keeps resulting in disjointed-feeling stories. The first two thirds are about Comic Book Guy falling in love and that's fine but then the character who learns a lesson from the episode is introduced in the third act. It kind of ties into an idea about self-worth and that Comic Book Guy is like most people worthy of love but for the most part it feels like he's pushed out of his own story for yet another new character. And it's one where it feels like this should have been two episodes (which I'm pretty sure Tim Long would have been happy to do. I think this guy just likes making love interests). Overall, it's a weak episode and Kumiko is an underwritten addition to the series sprawling cast of recurring characters, despite a little more potential than I would have suspected. The dude loves love and he is trying with this one but it's voice acting choices is bad.

Other notes:
Man, the episode was 2012 so I forgot that the last volume of Scott Pilgrim was as long ago as 2010 and seeing a visual reference to it in this episode was weird.

It's really clear they wanted Jack Black to reprise his role as that one character he did and Maurice LaMarche sounding so NOT like that is weird, especially since he's talented at things like that.