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Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Gotta say, the Lady Gaga episode was miles above that other special guest episode, and I appreciated Lisa exploding at her that nothing Lady Gaga did in the episode was actually helpful in the slightest.

Undercut by the fact that she then apologized for making the special guest star feel bad
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Moonshine River

I'm not good at meeting people. I'm good at being friendly and making people like me well enough but a relationship like actual friendship is a little bit different. And romantic love is simply something I never experienced. Sometimes I wonder if there's something about myself I don't understand or maybe something about love. But I do worry I'll never find love and will have a pretty lonely life. I know I have people in my life who love me so I shouldn't be so concerned but I would like to find someone sometime.

In this episode, Bart and Lisa get in an argument that leaves Bart deciding that all the girls he loved left because there was something wrong with him. Bart decides to visit his exes to see if they care about him but none seem to. He decides to head to New York to see one girl who couldn't contact; Mary Spuckler. He finds her and they have a wonderful day together in New York and when she realizes her parents are looking for her, she runs off again. She reminds Bart he can be loved and when Cletus demands to know where his daughter is, Bart refuses to give her up.

This... this is a dull mess. It didn't make me angry, or upset, I just had a deeply hard time watching it out of disinterest. The episode is ostensibly and loosely a parody of Breakfast at Tiffany's and like a lot of the better parodies, it doesn't marry itself too hard to the material. But unlike the better parodies, it's worse. There are elements but it really doesn't feel like it is about anything, even though we are told it is about Bart finding he can be loved. Bart's refusal to give Mary up doesn't feel related to anything thematic in the narrative about Bart's personal crisis; the episode never brings up cowardice or selfishness or any of the other reasons that not giving her up is a brave or noble move on his behalf or is him changing in any way.

Frankly, I have no idea what this episode wanted to be. It's another very weird one that's treating Bart like a 20 year old and it's very weird for a 10 year old who has had 10 girlfriends to have some sort of mid-life crisis and the episode not playing with how fucking ridiculous this is. Really, it feels like they didn't want to do another future episode but decided to take the plot of one and slap it on now-times. Every inch of Bart's journey is confounding and even in the elastic reality of the Simpsons it was hard to by the OTHER times the Simpson family just went to another metropolis to help their 10 year old son win back a girl. I know the Simpsons is wacky but I feel like it showing how disconnected the writing has gotten from anything relatable or at least having a point.

And this is an episode with a lot of guest stars. Granted, a lot are small cameos from Bart's exes but there's Zooey Deschanel reprising a role from a pretty forgettable episode, And... Al Roker, Don Pardo and Ken Burns. It's funny to remember that even in this era when the show's cultural cache is now mostly relagated to episodes from at most 12 years prior, it feels like they still cast a wide guest star net. Not exactly heavy hitters (yeah, Meryl Streep ain't coming back) but a lot of consistent Bs. But the episode itself is a D, a complete snooze.
 

Purple

(She/Her)
A friend of mine often argues that they should have just aged the cast in real time, which would certainly let them do this sort of episode without it being all weird and creepy. Or less so anyway.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A friend of mine often argues that they should have just aged the cast in real time, which would certainly let them do this sort of episode without it being all weird and creepy. Or less so anyway.
I mean, that's a hard ask for an animated franchise, particularly one so big. But they could do it in "Marvel Time" where every decade is a year, more or less. Spidey used to be a teen and he's now in his 20s.
 
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Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Treehouse of Horror XXIII


In this episode, three, no make that four spooky tales. First in the opening gag, ancient Aztec Homer declining to get sacrificed causes the Aztec gods to destroy the Earth in 2012. Then, a mini-black hole is created by a mini-hadron collider and Lisa decides to keep it in the basement to prevent it from hurting anyone else. The Simpsons begin using it as a garbage can, increasing it's mass until it devours everyone in Springfield except Maggie. The Simpsons find themselves taken to an alternate universe where they are greeted as guests due to their many "gifts". In the second tale, a parody of Paranormal Activity, strange nocturnal activities are occurring in the Simpson house, where it eventually turns out to save her sisters Marge made a deal with a demon. Homer manages to settle up with a demon three-way (and might be a little much for the demons). In the last tale, a parody of Back to the Future, Bart borrows Frink's time machine to buy an old comic book and accidentally prevents Homer and Marge's relationship from happening. Travelling home, he now discovers he's rich, with his father as Artie Ziff. Young Homer, who stowed away in the time machine, meets old Homer and the two steal the time machine to create a Homer army from history to punish Ziff and Bart. The duo actually easily defeat them but Marge falls for the Homers and marries all of them.

So this one is... fine. It has some occasional laughs but it neither feels too ambitious (even with a time travel story) or lazy and it lands squarely in the middle. The opening bit isn't the show at its strongest but the black hole one was fun, once again a tale pointing out that the short-sighted Springfielders' carelessness has once again lead to ecological disaster. There are some cute gags involving the various ways the black hole sucks things in but overall, it's no more than cute (though I feel bad for Maggie separated from her family forever.) That said, I also think it is my favourite, but they are all kind of the same quality.

The second one is a bit what you might expect from a parody of a then-popular film, having fun with some iconic scenes. Thankfully the first Paranormal Activity movie is simple enough that it doesn't feel like it has to cram in half a dozen touchstones like the far too busy and disjointed Stranger Things parody from a few years down the line. But for the most part, it's also a bit lacking in ambition. Most of the time lapse jokes are obvious, like Homer spending way too long peeing while the film fast forwards.

The last tale is the most disappointing to me. It does do some different things, like Bart intentionally keeping the relationship broken up and Homer being enamored of the decadence of the present. But I feel like there's more fun to be had with causality and the silliness that Homer's teenage years are now 38 years in the past when the episode was released, meaning Homer must be in his early 60s now. But mostly, like the rest of the episode, it's pleasant but kind of low ambition.

Other great jokes:
"Hey, uh, Marge, I'm setting my watch. Which baktun is it?"

"Lisa, do you have a stray dog down there?"
""Uh, it's a lot worse than a stray dog."
"Two stray dogs."
"It's a black hole!"
"That was going to be my next guess."
"Are you sure it wasn't going to be three stray dogs?"
"...Maybe"


Other notes:
I know the show isn't expecting me to think about this but does that mean Ziff has less busy hands in this universe or is Bart pretty OK with Ziff considering what he did in the original flashback episode referenced.

The fact that historical Homers didn't include Aztec Homer is... a surprising missed opportunity.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
This year's Halloween special is... genuinely really good. Like... watch it. The Death Note one is actually the weakest but it's still really good. The first one is the best, surprisingly scary (for the Simpsons) and sweet and based in character. The last one hits all the pleasure button, a fun episode about the show being IP more than art and being boiled down to memes and catchphrases. Seriously, it's pretty great I feel like two out of the three have some pretty thoughtful elements that I didn't think the show would do at this stage. And two of the three writers are, like, people who have been doing this for a long while.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Adventures in Baby-Getting

I'm a guy who kind of just... goes with the flow. I'm not particularly good at initiating my own changes in my life. And I can understand how people around me can be frustrated by that. In small ways, like how I'm just happy to eat wherever when going for food. And I guess I'm a little afraid if I were to be in a relationship, whoever I am with would be frustrated by this with a sense that maybe my emotional investment is lacking. And sometimes I worry about that, too.

In this episode, Marge gets a new car and finds it frustrating for reasons she can't put her finger on. When she realizes it wouldn't allow for a seat for another child, she understands its because she wants a fourth child. Homer doesn't but he doesn't want how to break it to Marge and is hesitant to say anything. He decides to go along with Marge's plan until he can find a way to resolve the issue without confrontation. It seems Homer has that when it turns out he's infertile. But there's a plan B; years ago Homer donated to a sperm bank. Homer and Marge head out to get it and Homer decides to stall by making it a romantic vacation. However, during the trip Homer lets slip his feelings and it makes Marge angry to know he was secretly undermining her. Eventually Homer comes around and finally the two are in step but when Marge realizes how many kids Homer's seed has fathered, Marge decides there might be enough Homer in the world.

Adventures in Baby-Getting is an episode that is actually not bad but I feel like it drops the ball in trying to find a way to emotionally resolve a reset to the status quo. I think Homer's desire not to have another kid is reasonable, but he handles it poorly because he thinks not wanting to have a conflict with his wife is better than dealing with a heavy topic that risks Marge being upset. And applying that inability to confront with a big life decision makes for interesting conflict. I think it's OK that Homer changes his mind but I also think it doesn't really deal with what I think the episode is grappling with; And I feel like the "too many Homers" ending gives us a Homer putdown gag instead of a resolution I think fits the themes and characters.

But despite the mildly botched landing, it's a pretty good episode. It's consistent, it feels like it is about something even if it doesn't deliver at the end and I feel like it does come from a real place. I myself am shy about conflict and I am afraid sometime I'll neglect to do it when I should and hope the problem will sort itself out, which is a pretty unhealthy thing to do. The show doesn't spend a lot of time on the issues of what a fourth kid would do with the family and it's not like we ever by that this will happen but the stuff that matters in storytelling is here and a lot of it works. It's also one of the better Bill Odenkirk scripts. He's done some great Futurama but I feel I've taken issue with a number of his episodes and I feel like this is one of his stronger ones.

The b-plot is definitely one of the weaker ones in a while, a little nugget of nothing, the kind that is only as good as the comedic output and it isn't very high. It's about Bart trying to figure out what Lisa does after school and it turns out she's learning cursive. That's about it. I don't think it says a lot about the characters and I guess you could say it's about how the mystery is always better than the answer but I've seen it done better.

Other great jokes:
Odenkirk is a solid joke man and there's some good stuff here.

"So just when Dad finishes his online degree in sinkhole engineering, they go and fill it in."
"Are the credits transferrable?"
"No."
"That guy has a bone to pick with the board of regents."

"Those websites are taking food out of my children's mouths."
"Your facebook page says you have no children."
"I have two yorkies and I'll be taking about you to them tonight."

"What do you do Tuesdays and Thursdays after school."
"Write stupid stuff on the chalkboard. And if you have ideas, I'm really running out. I think today's was 'mousetrap should not be used as slippers' or something."

"Hey Homer, what if you got one of those samples you sold at the Shelbyville Sperm Bank."
"You never told me about that."
"It's how I made the money to buy your necklace."
"Oooh.... ew."

*After watching a dad play peekaboo with his kid*
"Oh, right, that dad was there all along. Phew."
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Gone Abie Gone

A lot of the characters on the Simpsons are allowed to be many things. Homer in particular can be the world's laziest man afraid to new things and an intrepid entrepreneur who can find success through surprising gumption. Abe Simpson is similar; he can be a far inferior and downright cruel dad who is also someone willing to sacrifice so much for Homer. It shades Homer's negligence to his father, alternating between tragedy of karmic justice to tragedy of grandpa doing so much being met with cruel indifference. Of course, both can be true; he could be a man who is cruel to his son, constantly belittling him and making him feel less but to protect him from outside problems or other insecurities can humbly do the right thing.

In this episode, Homer and Marge accidentally miss the day they were supposed to meet Grandpa. They go to apologize and find him missing from the retirement home. Finding a clue, they travel to a biker bar that was once a night club. It turns out grandpa worked there and eventually left with a singer named Rita Lafluer. They find Rita and learn that she and Grandpa are married... though she doesn't know where he is. They meet with her and they learn long ago they were a singer-songwriter team and they fell in love. They married and end up being offered a chance to travel to Europe but Abe believed accident-prone Homer would do poorly on such a trip. Rita still wants to sing and the two separated. Homer gets a newfound appreciation for his father's sacrifice and shame about forgetting to see him. Homer eventually finds grandpa and apologizes. Grandpa eventually accepts and when he returns to the Retirement Castle, he finds Rita, who plays a duet with him.

Gone Abie Gone is an episode that, no pun intended, hits a lot of familiar notes. It's another where the Simpsons find a need to dig into grandpa's past and find that he has a richer life than they realized and made some unexpected sacrifices for Homer. This is definitely among the more forgettable ventures. It's not actively unfunny and actually has a few good gags but grandpa as a song writer yields very little of interest, sadly. It's definitely trying to go for something a little more sentimental than Million Dollar Abie but while it isn't some sort of awful misfire, it's simply almost a non-entity.

I think the thing that might do damage is young Homer's plight. I think there's a lot of ways to handle the reason Abe doesn't want to take Homer with him to Europe. A lot of kids have needs that makes travelling hard but I think in an episode that is sentimental, having Homer be a pratfall magnet doesn't really act as a comedic compliment so much as it robs a lot of Abe's decision of some real emotional resonance. I think a lot of the pieces are there but while it isn't as structurally unsound as many episodes it's just... so very uninteresting. Really, the b-plot about Lisa's college fund on a poker sight is much more interesting, even though it's an incredibly predictable trajectory.

I think special guest star Anika Noni Rose does what she can with what she is given. For cartoon fans, she is best known as Tiana from Princess and the Frog which... I feel like is fine but a bit of a lesser of the animated Disney stuff despite great traditional looking animation and a Hell of a Keith David performance. A lot of the guest stars are given little to work with, mostly acting as relative straightmen to the wackiness of the Simpsons and explaining something for plot. They do give her a bit that she actually makes a meal with. When she is supposed to luxuriate on a word, in a breathy voice, she milks her sensuous moans and breathy "yeahs" punctuating every other sentence. I wish they trusted her to do more because they could afford to make the character a bit sillier and still have some emotion.

Other great jokes:

"When you give money to a bank, they lend it to other people. I saw a Sesame Street about it. Kermit was wearing his trenchcoat and everything."
"Wait, the frog in the trenchcoat is Kermit, too?!"

"Life isn't all major chords. Sometimes you got to hit the minor keys."
"What does that mean?"
"I got super addicted to heroinnnnnnmmmmmnnnneeeuullll... *snort* yeah."
This is a basic joke saved by a wonderfully odd line read.
 

Purple

(She/Her)
So yeah, I just watched that most recent Simpsons Halloween and it was... actually totally solid all the way through. They spoofed an honest to goodness horror movie, and 2 things that are at least horror adjacent. They were actual parodies, with jokes, not just wikipedia summaries of source material. Good jokes even, for both the subject matter and the show. And endings! For the Death Note bit a significantly better ending than I'm aware of any version of the source material ever getting (although if I'm honest I don't know that the art style really helped it? Mostly just made me nostalgic for The Boondocks).
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Penny-Wiseguys

After 24 years with the same cast of characters, it can be hard to tell a new story with them. That's not saying it's impossible; I don't think that there's necessarily a limited amount of stories to tell about a family. But it needs to be done while being true to the characters, so sometimes to mix things up you can throw in a new character and have the show be about them. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can be tricky, because you still want to use that to say something about the characters we know or the world they inhabit.

In this episode, Homer's new neighbor, Dan Gillick, is secretly a numbers guy for the mob. When Fat Tony leaves for jury, he puts Dan in charge. Dan doesn't want the responsibility nor the attention from other tough guys but eventually is inspired to start putting his foot down. Dan ends up doing good work and wants to have some lay-offs but for Fat Tony, lay offs are unacceptable as death is the only way out of the business.. Dan asks Homer for help, as Dan feels like he actually wants to kill and with a blank check, he needs Homer to stop him. Homer manages to stop him and Dan leaves crime for a menial kiosk job at the mall.

Penny-Wiseguys is not a great episode. There are a couple good jokes and it's not unwatchable but it's big weakness is building an entire episode around the character of Dan Gillick. And though Homer is the Simpson who gets the most play, it's about this character specifically. That's not inherently a bad thing but my problem is Dan is a character who by the second/third act feels inconsistent with himself. He's not bad at first when his arc is going from unassuming accountant to crime boss but "guy who wants to kill and needs someone to stop him" doesn't land in a place that is recognizable or consistent. Often my complaint is plotting structure but here it feels like character structure.

That's not to say the episode isn't trying to make a point. The episode is making a clear parallel to being a gangster and being a bottom-line capitalist type. There's a good idea in there of this guy going from normie business guy to kill hungry but frankly while that sounds good on paper, I don't even get an emotional connection why Dan both does and doesn't want to kill or why we should care that this character wants to hold on to his humanity when the show doesn't sell his humanity very well. And why does he rope Homer into it? I guess he knows him but Homer's involvement doesn't really say much about either character.

I will say it's no fault of special guest star Steve Carrell. I feel like the actor was a pretty big deal for a decade and while he's still starring in some well-received stuff (like tv thriller The Patient), I feel like he had this rise to a-territory that plateaued with his Oscar nomination. No one dreads the idea of watching a Steve Carrell vehicle but no one seems thrilled to see a new Carrell thing. But he really is doing some great voice acting here and really the heavy lifting for his character. At least the episode gets to allow him to do a lot of different types from unhinged madman to average guy in over his head. He really does have a presence that feels just right for the show. I just wish this episode served him as well as he served them.

Other great jokes:
Homer throwing Bart at Dan is a cute visual gag/callback.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A Tree Grows in Springfield

I am of the opinion life only has the meaning we put into it. Existence is a miracle but it purely miraculous happenstance. Biologically we are alive to live and with the knowledge that this ends, sometimes we have to suffer through a sense of banality. Life can be tough and sometimes it feels a little hollow when there's no direction or if you feel you aren't living for anything. But sometimes living can be improved by the astonishing, the distracting or something deeper.

In this episode, a depressed Homer becomes happier when he gets a tablet as a door prize at the school. Homer is obsessed with it and it becomes his world, making him happier. Then the tablet breaks, leaving Homer despondent again. The next morning, Homer finds that the tree outside itself is oozing the word "hope" in sap. Eventually, Kent Brockman reveals this isn't a miracle but someone at night has been hoaxing the tree. But Homer decides to keep the message of hope alive, unaware that he was responsible for his own hoax, while sleepwalking.

A Tree Grows in Springfield is basically the template for the kind of messy storytelling that I feel takes over the show in the 2010s. I remember midway through the decade I was watching purely out of habit and just stopped when I came back to Canada in 2016. The episode doesn't get to it's titular issue until the last act pretty much and Homer with a "MyPad" (extreme eye roll) mostly is very played out "our electronics are distracting us" narrative. That's not to say there isn't comment to be made about our unhealthy phone attachment but this is neither a subtle nor insightful take.

I will say as messy as this is in the journey, I think this mess barely held together with jokes and scotch tape is a theme-first episode. That theme; "what gets us through the day?" For Homer, it's first the tablet, which distracts from life rather than enhances it but at the same time, allows Homer some relief. Yes, the episode is mainly "people and their devices" and the device is an addiction but I think that it treats it as something that does give Homer his needed joy, at a cost. But then Homer gets hope from a mysterious message. It's a hoax but the feeling that gets Homer through the day is real and he's the one capable of creating his own happiness.

I think there are interesting ideas in here but also... I think it fails in it's last act. It feels like the hope tree is something Homer is interested in than allowing us to share in Homer's actual hope. The last act is all about hope but like on the tree, it doesn't feel like much more than a word and a vague concept than something palpable to move Homer. And it doesn't spend enough time to really treat this as something more substantial in the spiritual sense than his tablet. It anything, it just feels like it's "Homer sad-Homer happy-Homer sad-Homer happy". I think writer Stephanie Gillis does want to broach something profound but never actually accomplishes her noble goal. It can be hard to try to say new things about the human condition or look at well-worn philosophy through a fresh lens and while I appreciate that she tried, it doesn't really succeed.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Day the Earth Stood Cool

I gotta be honest, between when it was in vogue to mock hipsters to when everyone basically forgot that was a thing, I... don't really know what defines hipsterism. Based on mockery, it's a person who is more about affectation and irony than anything genuine. But I never really met a hipster and have really only seen it through the lens of satire, I feel like if I can't understand it beyond that, I can't say I really understand it. The only real world hipster I remember being as offensive as on TV was one also on TV, some guy part of gentrifying a British neighborhood completely missing that his cool wacky cereal bar was contributing to a social injustice. But I get the feeling what people really object to is a belief in the lack of genuineness in the things they enjoy. Yet I wonder in how many cases that is true because can't the joy of discovery of novelty, newness and strangeness also be genuine?

In this episode, Homer meets Terrence, an Oregon hipster who has decided to travel America selling his hip donuts. Homer immediately takes a liking to Terrance and wishes to be like him. He lets him know that the house next to his is pretty cheap and soon enough Homer and Terrance become next door neighbors. Homer and Lisa get along with the family but Bart can't stand Terrance's son T-Rex's "over it" attitude and Marge feel uncomfortable with Terrance's wife Emily's expectation that Marge breastfeed Maggie. Still, the family's get along until T-Rex's birthday where T-Rex insults Homer's gift, causing Bart to attack him, and Emily tries to shame Marge for feeding Maggie with a bottle. Soon Homer and Terrence become enemies and when Flanders tries to broker a peace, Terrence responds to Homer's threats by summoning more "cool people" to Springfield, turning it into hipster central. Homer and Marge soon find themselves outsiders in their own town but Homer and Terrance manage to work together when a fire breaks out in his backyard and the two become friends again. However, that's also when Springfield is declared the coolest city... meaning it's mainstream cool, not "real" cool and the hipsters leave town.

I remember liking this episode a lot on the first airing and coming back... I have mixed feelings. I think it's over-the-top depiction of liberal hipster towns like Portland mostly actually work because I feel like writer Matt Selman has a proper kind of specificity that makes it work in most cases and I feel like Selman is also trying to find elements he finds genuinely cool like Korean gangster films. At the same time, I feel like it's an episode the writer put a lot of care into but it also feels like there's almost too much going on and as a whole it's... a little wonky. It's still a good episode overall and I appreciate the themes it explores; parents who have different approaches having a hard time accepting each other's approach or one family trying to absorb a parenting style that works for another family but not for them. Terrance's family has problems, like
them turning a blind eye to T-Rex's condescending attitude but they are also right when Bart, in standing up for his father, uses violence rather than talking (which is pretty big with me considering how much child retaliation I deal with on a daily basis).

But I think by the end of the episode, it doesn't quite land on anything interesting. I'm not saying "despite our differences, we can all get along" isn't a good message but it's a bit trite and feels more like the episode needed to bring things to a head for a classic "save the day" ending. It has little to actually say about cool or lifestyles apart from the mainstream. I feel like the part that rubs me the wrong way is the way they portray Emily looking down on Marge for not breastfeeding. It's not that I object to that as a plot point but I think the way it is presented is her and all of the moms being breastfeeding bullies rather than the more realistic parent having anxiety about another's parenting. Especially when the episode does land on "don't judge, though breastfeeding's pretty good actually." It's the part that could be interesting but, again, in presentation rings a little hallow.

It's an episode where I think the piece are there and there are good jokes and clearly a lot of care put into the episode but with another pass, there could have been something even better. Again, good episode with potential for a better one. It certainly didn't lack for guest stars. I was never a Fred Armisen fan, though. I never watched Portlandia but I found Fred's stand up special rather dire. But Patton Oswalt is always a plus and I think he does a good job with the bratty snob T-Rex. I think he and Bart have the most interesting dynamic but in an episode trying to do a lot in 22 minutes, it has to do a lot in a short amount of time. It also sells Bart being really defensive of his dad (Nancy Cartwright really leans into the emotion, with Bart really growling at T-Rex and his casual cruelty). Similarly, there's a fun idea that T-Rex's disaffected attitude is actually an existential problem for himself that he doesn't understand and is relieved to be a modern kid... overstimulated, addled, hyper and tugged around by cheap materialist desires. The Day the Earth Stood Cool is a fun watch but I feel like the targeting of hipsters feels pretty old hat and quaint in a world with actual nazis just straight up wandering around.

Other great jokes:
"Mexico Chuy, not Star Wars Chewie."
"Star Wars Chewie is just a man in a costume so he's not scary."

"Now who wants to hear songs about press gangs and infanticide?!"

Other notes:
Terrance compares Flanders to "the dad in a Wes Anderson movie" which doesn't wash; Flanders can be a questionable father but I feel like Wes Anderson dads are more troubled and selfish than Flanders, even at his worse.

The Burns "artisanal nuclear power" bit at the end isn't super funny but it does feel like solid satire on trying to use the veneer of the old-fashioned and loveable to sell Burns' evil.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
To Cur With Love

Dogs. Everyone loves them. I never had a dog. Instead a had a guinea pig. a series of hamsters and an orphaned salamander. I really did care about my pets a lot and it did hurt when they died. I remember my guinea pig died while I was in Thailand (there were differing accounts on how that happened), and one of my hamsters died over the course of a week, shivering. That one I have particularly strong memories of because I felt so bad for it and it's suffering. I'm not sure I'll ever have a pet again but the ones I had did mean a lot.

In this episode, the family dog goes missing and the Simpsons panic... except Homer. The dog is safe and sound but the rest of the Simpsons question Homer's indifference to the dog and Homer says he's just not a dog person. Grandpa brings up Homer's childhood dog Bongo and Homer freaks out. Grandpa tells the story of Homer and Bongo, who were as close as a boy and a dog could be. However, when Bongo bit Mr. Burns at a PR event, Burns plans to have Homer's dog dead. To save Bongo, Abe took Bongo away to a former neighbors animal ranch to give it a good home and to placate a bloodthirsty Burns, spent a year of his life serving Burns' vicious hounds. Homer's feeling of betrayal after his dog was given away caused a schism between him and Abe. After Grandpa's story, Homer reveals as a boy he visited the farm in secret and saw Bongo moved on. It hurt Homer and gave him a sense that Bongo was disloyal. However, Grandpa reveals a Christmas card that proved Bongo loved and remembered Homer. Homer and Grandpa reconcile and Homer is closer to Santa's Little Helper.

To Cur With Love is yet another recent episode that is almost doing the opposite of the Flanderization of Grandpa. Yeah, Grandpa has always been a figure with some sympathy, particularly to how poorly treated he is in the now but the show also shows he could be a pretty awful father. But in this era, we are also getting more stories that paints him as a poor broken man who was always willing to take on one more burden for his clueless son that he would not be able to appreciate until years later. I do actually like the idea to an extent because many of us can look back and realize what our parents went through as adults. Of course, these revelations may not always be positive if we've had bad parents and I think the one problem I have with these episodes is that it also feels like it ignores some of grandpa's worse aspects.

To be fair, I think that is a thing the show does for other characters depending on what the episode is about. And that's kind of OK. The Simpsons has a continuity and I think it is OK for the show to have it be somewhat elastic. And besides, people can have many facets, good and bad and we can explore one or both on different weeks. I think the problem is so many similar grandpa episodes so close together feels like it is sort of rebuilding grandpa a bit so Homer is just an ungrateful son who doesn't understand what his father did. And I'm not opposed to that as a part but now I feel like the tragedy of passed-down bad fatherhood is lessened, which I think is interesting. I think it's interesting that it's sad Grandpa is ignored and doesn't entirely deserve it but that he did plant those seeds.

Anyway, on it's own terms, not thinking of the other episodes, this is a decent, sweet episode. It's a classic "boy and his dog" episode and I like Homer here a bit more than the last Grandpa episode where he's slightly more of a character than some accident magnet whose job was to stand in the way of Grandpa's dream. It's not the strongest of the sentimental episodes but it also doesn't feel like it overdoes it on the sap, hitting a decent enough middle ground. It's simply a decent way to pass the time and sometimes, that's OK. It's an OK episode.

Other great jokes:

"For the love of God, step on the brakes!"
"The brakes are powered by silence!"

"Santa's Little Helper! Santa's Little Helper!"
"I love that dog but that is one long stupid name."

Other notes:
This one has one of the short political cartoons with Mr. Burns discussing the fiscal cliff. It's cute but with no music and Harry Shearer's performance, it has a weirdly sober tone, even if it is a bunch of jokes about how Republicans suck.
 

madhair60

Video games
You say “other great jokes” but then the jokes you list are rarely funny at all. You encourage people to watch episodes of The Simpsons produced after 2000. I posit that you are a monster.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I definitely get not liking the later seasons but when you watch that many episodes of the show it's all about looking for whatever flowers grew in that pot of dirt. Even if they're wilted.

I'm just impressed that Johnny's kept up this episode analysis stuff for so long.
 

madhair60

Video games
I have no memory of making that post and I apologise to Johnny but not to the universe

the irony is that I am actually on and off trying to get through all of it too, and am almost through season 26, and I’m not even writing about it to make it worthwhile
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
I'm just impressed that Johnny's kept up this episode analysis stuff for so long.

I have no memory of making that post and I apologise to Johnny but not to the universe

the irony is that I am actually on and off trying to get through all of it too, and am almost through season 26, and I’m not even writing about it to make it worthwhile
Apology accepted.
The fact is, I really did want to get through all of it because I remember when the AV Club did reviews of the classic era, they stopped at season 10 and a few years ago, they also stopped reviewing new episodes, probably because everything was consistently a C with only a couple deviations in both directions per season. I don't blame them in both cases but I also remember that there is some stuff that is good beyond that and I hate the idea of dismissing it out of hand. How does a show that made such a big impact evolve/devolve. Does it find new pockets of creativity within itself. I gave up around season 26 but even that season had an episode I liked quite a bit and remembered that when the show applied itself, it could be good. I am also interested in why the show so often doesn't work now. Unfortunately, I'll admit, a lot of what I write is "they should have done ___" which I'm told really isn't a great consistent habit as a reviewer (though even Ebert's done that from time to time. My favourite aspect of his review on Godzilla is "what, you make characters designed to mock us because you hated our bad reviews of Independence Day and we don't even get smooshed by Godzilla? WTF?"), but it's also interesting to see things like pulling the reins back on jerkass Homer and trying to figure itself emotionally, sometimes resulting in episodes more interesting dramatically than comedically.

I'll also say that I've been hearing people, particularly @Tegan mention that the show has actually been... good, in the last couple seasons. Since it's my habit to watch the anthology episodes anyway (I still keep up with them) when I am aware of them, I watched the two Halloween episodes and both are actually quite good. They actually represent what I wanted the show to evolve into for so long; they remind me of Gravity Falls because they do stuff even the awesome classics Simpsons Halloweens didn't do much (not that they needed to); give us emotional investments, in the story (with the exception of the Death Note parody, though I still enjoyed that) and made the threats actually... threatening (in particular, the Babadook parody feels a little scarier since its about Marge trying to kill Maggie and really putting us in Maggie's place. And while she has more wherewithal than an actual baby, it does make her more vulnerable than the guntoting Burns-shooting superbaby of the last 20 years). They are situations where when the Simpsons pull through, it feels genuinely triumphant. And the West World parody is a very interesting look into the idea of turning art into a series of memes and IPs where such shorthand robs the original work of it's power.

The fact is, I do to an extent want to defend the last 20 years of Simpsons. Oh, not in totality because there is SO much terrible or dull Simpsons in there. Trust me, I know. I examined it. I guess I could say part of it is people work hard on this show, even still but generally, people work hard on almost shows regardless of quality. It takes a lot to make even a terrible. But I can HEAR the actors when they aren't phoning in lines and putting extra oomph in. I can FEEL when the writers are reaching for something, even if often times it is beyond their grasp and/or devolves into old man yelling at cloud. I can tell when someone came into the writers room with a strong script or at least a halfway interesting one, but sadly when they finish it isn't cracked and ends up being an incomplete hodgepodge of coles notes on what an episode could look like, except they made into a full episode. Some of the stuff that makes me angriest is still to come (jeez, I still have two more seasons until Elon Musk? I can't keep living with that dread). But I can't completely dismiss it because I think there really is value and sometimes it pays off with a great episode.

And sometimes the writers decide Lisa should marry Milhouse.

Yuck.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Homer Goes to Prep School

I blame no one for worrying about the future. There's hope that things are getting better but American democracy is battling to avoid being dismantled by radicals, we have a reversal of a law that protected bodily autonomy, there's still a pandemic that people are actively trying to ignore. There are also people whose fears are mixed with a perverse joy, a hope that society will break down to prove their disturbed worldview correct. It's something I can't get behind because instead of fighting for a better world, its a desire to watch the world burn so only the strong can survive and these people believe THEY are the only strong ones because they are the main characters of reality. But while I think there are reasons to be cynical about human nature, generally people come together during a crisis because we care about each other. Mostly.

In this episode, Homer has a traumatic experience during a riot. Soon, he falls under the sway of a doomsday prepper named Lloyd that convinces him that the world is headed for catastrophe. He takes Homer to meet other preppers and they convince them to join while keeping it from his family. Homer does but eventually lets Marge know, who is worried about him. When at work, Homer's carelessness causes a citywide EMP, Homer and the other preppers are convinced it's the apocalypse and Homer takes the family to Lloyd's doomsday compound. While there, Marge becomes worried about the people of Springfield and convinces Homer to bring supplies to the town from the compound. Homer and the Simpsons escape Lloyd and his preppers but when everyone gets to town, they find everything is fine; the blackout only lasted a few days and everyone came together to care about each other.

I think the only Homer I hate worse than jerkass Homer is Fox News Homer. I think the writers think this is less worse because they want to think of Homer not so much as actively evil but as a victim and a sucker manipulated by a greater evil. But he's still a character who recites xeno- and homophobic talking points and it just makes him far too ugly compared to the clueless oaf we love. I'm fine with Homer being a certain level of jerk but taking him that far, even when making a point about how the average American can be radicalized by TV. But despite my expectations, this isn't that, when it so easily could have been.

Instead, Homer is swayed because he's shaken and afraid and he is able to turn back because this version of Homer, while extremely flawed, is not nearly as selfish and egomaniacal as the people who took him in. He needs a reminder from Marge but he has empathy and when he really thinks about his fellow man, he can't turn his back. He doesn't see the problematic worldview underlying the prepper life until later. The show puts too fine a point on it by the end, perhaps, but I think this episode really wants us to think that while we might be afraid of the future, that's no excuse to lose your humanity. Meanwhile, Homer's prepper friends are literally thrilled with the end; they get to live out their fantasy of being awesome survivors, oblivious to their own monstrosity.

Homer Goes to Prep School is a decent script from Brian Kelley (a big improvement over his last episode, Moms I'd Like to Forget) and it's someone who clearly understands the disgusting, faulty thinking of preppers based entirely around a delusion that only THEY are strong enough to survive in the cleansing fire of the new world. It's an episode about fear vs. empathy, has a good structure as we see Homer descend into a cynical place and find his way out through love. The episode also has special guest star Tom Waits as Lloyd. I'm actually surprised how well he does. Don't get me wrong, Waits can act and he's smart but I always think of him being on his own weird wavelength. So it surprised me to see how he actually got on the show's wavelength perfectly in his performance, particularly when he gets "jazzed" about the end of the world with girlish glee. It's a good performance from a good episode.

Other great jokes:

The doomsday prep video is both good and captures the mentality of the prepper pretty well.

"Well, Homer's gone. Let's all go into our suspended state until he gets back."

Other notes:
I love it when the writers give the animators something fun to do. Here, it's nothing stylish, its just making off model Bart and Lisas.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Simpsons seems to break into four distinct eras;
Golden Age is everything up to season 10 or thereabouts.
Then there’s the Tattered Animal Hides and Mud Age
Then the Pyrite Age (where Johnny is now)
And ever since the Disney buyout, it’s been Silver Age
 

Purple

(She/Her)
Roughly anyway. Might be a 5th or 6th stuck in there?
People seem pretty clear on where it was undeniably great. (10-ish seasons)
Then there's a rocky period where you had a few really good ones mixed in with like, weird gore and bigotry? (5-10ish seasons?)
Then I want to say there was actually a pretty solid stretch around when the movie came out (somewhere in the vicinity of season 20?)
Then things got BAD bad, really guest-heavy, Elon Musk, Lady Gaga, Sideshow Bob has superpowers now (around season 25?)
Then we have a few seasons of weird like comfort fic writing? Trying to resolve all rivalries and marry off all the lonely characters? (Around 30?)
And then either this year or maybe last year (my curiousity viewing of season 32 would have extended through 33 but that Halloween special forced me to tap out hard) we seem to have a new good period getting off the ground?
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
A Test Before Trying

School was hard for me. I have attention deficit disorder so studying was tough and for the first few years of taking it, ritalin put me in a weird emotional zone. Things got easier in university; I tended to be really interested in the subjects I studied and found it more engaging. But I'm back at university and even though ECE classes are not exactly the most challenging, just balancing work and the mental energy to study is pretty tough. Not only that, I'm working online and am in a constant state of anxiousness that I missed something or missed a deadline I spaced on. I'm still working hard but I'd be lying if, despite my decent grades, I have a weird sense of dread at all times that I'm going to fuck this up and waste my $2000 some dollars.

In this episode, Springfield is in dire financial straights and finds that if the Springfield Elementary is the worst testing school, it's going to be shut down. The test goes on and Springfield Elementary fails... except Lisa discovers Bart didn't take the test. She concludes if Bart raises the average, the school might be saved. Bart nonchalantly goes to take the test, not caring one way or the other the fate of the school... that is, until he feels the pressure from the faculty and students. He ends up convincing Skinner to pull the fire alarm to give him one more day but Bart finds he can't study. Lisa instead gives him advice on how to take tests through the statistical likelihood b is the answer. Bart manages to pass the test just barely and the school is saved.

The show has done Bart having to take a test before but what separates this one from classics like Bart Gets An F? Well, Bart gets an F knows what it wants to say. This episode seems like maybe it started with a point and it gestures towards several ideas but doesn't stick with any of them. Is the episode about the folly of teaching to the test? Is it about the cynical nature of how we treat our public schools? Is it about how a test might not actually properly reflect education and growth? Is it about Bart dealing with his own struggle with ADHD? The episode can't really seem to decide.

Even the character of Bart isn't very consistent this episode. Bart oscillates between wanting to pass and not caring and I can see that working in theory but in practice it feels less like events have changed Bart's outlook and more like "it's time for Bart to feel _____." It's a shame because Bart getting cornered academically has lead to some great episodes, putting him out of his element and making him vulnerable. I think there's already been a lot of good episodes about this but I think using Bart to discuss education in general and the kind of nightmare it can be for kids has so many facets to explore. But in giving us little bits of everything, we are left with nothing and even by the standards of this era, a complete non-entity of an episode.

Drawing attention further is another Homer-get-rich-quick scheme that is a complete nothingburger. It feels pretty much the same as something like the time he had the sugar, except not really funny. It's not properly silly nor does it say anything interesting about parking... and I actually think it could. Shitty parking laws and overeager meter maids seem to be out there to make money more than enforcing law and that would have been a more fun thing to take to task than another random Homer plot. The guest this episode is Valerie Harper, better known as Rhoda Morgenstern from the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda and through no fault of her own, also has a nothing character. She seems to be trying to breathe life into it and I feel like the writer came with an idea for her but it's an idea linked to one of the many themes not properly explored and similarly neither is she.

Other notes:
So Lunchlady Dora made a pie out of a person. There are some characters who I feel it's weird to make them casual murderers. Really, that's more of a Willy thing if it's got to be someone at the school.

The spinach farm element of Bart's dream... why? I'm not saying Bart likes spinach but there's something about it that rings so hollow even as a "funny" final straw for him.
 

Octopus Prime

Jingle Engine
(He/Him)
Okay, so... Lunch Lady Dora making a pie out of a guy is... maybe my single least favorite joke in the series. Not using the criteria of being a troubling joke, that bar is FAR lower, just... badly constructed to the point that something that DID make me chuckle was immediately destroyed. It's an Unjoke.

"The Lunchlady killed a man" is a funny reveal
"Accused NOT Convicted" is a good button on the joke, should have stopped there.
"Lunch lady out of nowhere asks 'who wants "Roast Pete'", joke is now beaten to death
"Chalmers acknowledges she said a mans name and she says "His friends called him pete"", this... isn't a joke any more, what are you doing, and why did you do it to me?
 
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