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Johnny Unusual

Blazed and Confused

Being an educator can be trying at times and getting kids to listen and focus isn't easy. I sometimes let kids know I will have to talk to their parents if they don't put on their snowpants in minus 10 weather or if they are throwing stuff across the room but I don't like having to be the person who tells everyone what to do. It's about finding the balance of where you can be lenient and where, for the sake of safety or making sure the child is behaving responsibly that you need to show that you do need some respect. But I see how easy it can be to influence in a bad way or cause harm. I want them to know they do need to follow the rules but while I want them to realize I am serious, I don't want them to fear me. Mostly.

In this episode, Bart gets a new teacher who proves to be cruel and bullying to Bart. Bart wants to get revenge and in investigating him, learns that he is to ignite a giant effigy at an event called Blazing Guy for alternative types. Bart manages to reroute Homer's ill-fated family vacation there. Marge is initially turned off by the weird artsy stuff but comes around thanks to some drug-laced tea. Bart manages to get his revenge and his new teacher reacts so badly, he threatens Bart, causing him to get fired.

Caroline Omine is one of the Simpsons writers of this era I often like as much as I don't. I feel like for every bad episode, she has a good one and vice versa. LucaS wasn't very good but Dial N for Nerder was. Strong Arms of the Ma starts surprisingly real and then gets nasty in all the wrong ways in the second half. I think Omine has some good instinct and grasps on character stuff but can fall victim to problems a lot of these episodes face; lack of focus. And this is a doozy in that department. It doesn't feel as disjointed as some but I feel like it winds up saying nothing about Bart's teacher's abuse of power, the Burning Man event or the weird world of a student encountering a teacher in their off-hours.

I think a lot of the problem is that I don't think this show knows much about Burning Man, except from an outsider's perspective of "check out the weirdos". Keep in mind, I'm the same way. I have no idea if I would find it magical or obnoxious or maybe a bit of both. Heck, the Wikipedia page makes me think there's a lot of themes in there that didn't come out except "weird art stuff". Heck, in the introduction area, it also mentions that it used to be for Bohemian types but in the modern era it's a haven for influencers and the Silicon Valley elite. That seems like a really fascinating thing to comment on, something that might have started with good intentions being a playground for rich gloryhounds. But really, I came away with a tired gag of "what if Marge got fucked up?", like every drug makes you hallucinate magic frogs and 60s album colours.

It also doesn't help that the episode's villain is a complete cipher, just some two dimensional creep who, for reasons unknown, loves "Blazing Guy". He's a tightly wound guy and it seems like this is where he can be something else but he really doesn't seem different and we get little insight. The fact that the abuse of literally shocking Bart and shaving his hair seems absurd that he just gets away with it and if there was a commentary about how abuses by teachers are hard to uncover, I don't think it's doing a good job of it. And it's a real waste of Willem Dafoe, who is doing decent work. But as over the top as he can be, he tends to be able to craft his whacked out characters well, but here, there's just so little to glom onto. Blazed and Confused is an episode about a festival with lots going on behind it, seemingly good and bad but no interest beyond the surface level stuff.

Johnny Unusual


Somehow, I think as I get older I love music more and I get less cool about it. I hear just the right song and I want to strut or sometimes even dance fown the street. And a lot of the music I turned my nose up at, like Hall and Oates, I've actually turned around on. I think it helped me realize a lot of songs let me rethink them when they appear in the context of needle drops in movies. All the same, I remember cringing when my dad would be singing along to his favourite songs in the car. But familiarity counts for a lot. There's a child in the preschool I work at and some of the only English he says is singing along to "bear hunt", a children's hit (he sings both parts of the call and response). As much as I like finding cool new music, somehow familiarity only makes the songs I love better.

In this episode, Homer gets into the bass guitar, driving Marge crazy. It turns out she isn't the only wife in town annoyed by their husband's mid-life crisis need for music and Marge has the idea of getting them to form a band, so the venue of their practice can change each week to alleviate the noise. The band gets along really well and Apu proves to be an adept singer, particularly of covers of the band Sungazer. They form the band Covercraft and sing Sungazer songs until Apu's flawless impersonation of the lead singer gets him invited to join the band to live out his rock and roll dreams. Homer is envious and when he has the opportunity to sabotage Apu, he learns the band has been coercing him to work long hours. Homer helps Apu get revenge and the two reconcile in prison for their food poisoning based revenge.

Covercraft is a pretty middling episode. And like so many, the problem is a very standard sitcom script and a lack of curiosity about some of the more interesting ideas it approaches, then fails to engage with. I think one idea is the weird and seemingly hollow refrain by Lisa that "it's supposed to be about the music." But... what does that even mean? I mean, yes, the quality and joy of playing music over success, I guess, but it's a cliche to the point where I remember Milhouse echoing the line at a drunken Bart in his desolate nihilist rockstar fantasy. Here, Lisa says it like it has weight. I believe she believes in it but I guess while we see the characters happy, I think I might want something more about the depth or nature of this new happiness. What does this dumb little band really do for these dads. Is it about what it is like to seem cool. Or even be cool in a microcosm?

The other idea that's potentially interesting is Apu meeting his heroes only to find they are jerks. More and more beloved creatives are being outed as creeps everyday and it would be interesting to see Apu emotionally take in that while someone's work might have meant a lot, the people behind it are toxic. But this is a last minute addition to the plot and it comes back to "I'm making music for the joy of it." And, again, I feel like while that's there, that also just doesn't come out.

It's a shame an episode that has little to say about music also has a really talented musician working on it. Matthew Sweet helped work on the original song and it certainly seems like one a bunch of dads nearing 40 might respond to. I mostly know Sweet from his song Girlfriend, a true banger and basically the first anime music video. I do appreciate they are working with someone who is talented but not a household name and from the right era that might appeal to Homer (Who... I am now older than. That's sobering and I don't even drink.). Other guest voices include Sammy Hagar whom I really didn't need and the always welcome Will Forte as King Toot. I like how he's used as an incidental with a guest voice. Frankly, I think they are going for a mildly interesting character by having him be Moe-esque but it's a weird little one off that never amounts to much. Also this episode might already be disproving my "not-household name comedy guest star makes for a better episode" theory.


Matthew Sweet is also one of the members of Ming Tea, the fake retro-mod band from the Austin Powers closing credits. I didn't know he was ever on the Simpsons.

Johnny Unusual

I Won't Be Home For Christmas

I'm 40 years old and it occurs to me that I've only had one Christmas I didn't spend with my family. I was working in China and had to work on Christmas. I did a class or two but not many people came. And I was feeling very bad; a meal I made turned bad and I didn't realize it until it was too late so I felt awful for most of the day. But I think there is also something in the time to spend with yourself to have an unusual Christmas for me. And people spend their own Christmases differently. I don't think there's a wrong way to do it as long as it is emotionally healthy.

In this episode, Homer leaves work on Christmas eve and winds up at Moe's before heading home. Moe is really depressed so Homer spends some time with him and ends up home late. Marge is angry at Homer for being late at Moe's and kicks Homer out for the night. Some time after, Moe arrives to explain that Homer was just helping him through a hard time while Homer meets some other lonely people on Christmas. Homer winds up at a party for Santas, elves and other Christmas mascot types. Marge and the kids look for Homer at the old folks home and end up entertaining the whole retirement castle. Homer and Marge find each other and reconcile.

I Won't Be Home For Christmas is an episode that has an interesting idea that the show hasn't explored vis-a-vis Christmas for a family-centric show; what do the lonely people do on Christmas. I like the idea of Homer and Marge going around town and meeting the people who have a very different Christmas than they. I like the idea of them understanding people and having them feel better. Homer has a brief heart-to-heart with Flanders that is rather sweet and I like the bit with Homer spending time with Moe. It's the right kind of sentimental for the Holidays in these scenes and I really do like having Christmas stories that are tinged with a bit of melancholy.

The problem is I feel like the episode is kind of wrongheaded about how it wants to go about this. To be fair, some of my problem is... cosmetic, just some very silly tropes that keep appearing in Hallmark specials that make no sense. Why is Marge still decorating the house at 9 PM Christmas eve. The funny thing is I buy this when Homer leaves and Marge might be doing this as a coping mechanism but between that and people having Christmas parties, I feel like it's one of those things that don't really reflect reality. But this is minor nitpicking, even if it's something I kind of tire of.

The main problem is the messaging and when it ends it seems to be "On Christmas you need family." Some people don't have family and I think the episode should be about finding people's Christmases can look different and it's still their Christmas. Maybe it's a Christmas that is a little more blue for some but at the same time, it really does seem like it for an episode sympathetic to people who might not have family to be with. I also think it doesn't help that the episode is also the most eyerolling "Marge is mad at Homer again" plot to act as a foundation and its tiring. Worse is Lisa telling Marge if she doesn't get Homer back it will have a bad effect on her and I mean maybe but it feels weird for Lisa to take this tact rather than comforting a clearly worried Marge. I Won't Be Home for Christmas has some good meat on the bone but the bone is... like... a bad bone. Sorry, this analogy got away from me.

Johnny Unusual

The Man Who Came to Be Dinner

A cartoon like the Simpsons works best in a flexible reality. One that can vary from episode to episode. It's not like I dislike the more out-there episodes. Itchy and Scratchy Land is a fun sci-fi action romp in the climax that manages to work because it still feels like the show cares about presenting something fun and funny. As I grow older, as much as I enjoy the Halloween specials, my favourites do tend to be the ones steeped in an emotional truth but going full tilt with zany is something I can respect. Yes, the Simpsons works best I think in keeping the fantastical jokes in the periphery of the plot while zeroing in on something real but there's no reason a completely off-the-wall show swarming with magic robots can't also work. But when it doesn't, oh boy does it stink of flop sweat.

In this episode, the Simpsons visit an amusement park and find an exhibit with no lines. However, it turns out to be a trap set by Kodos and Kang, who aliens from the planet Rigel 7. They show the Simpsons around and then keep them in a zoo to spend the rest of their days. At least until it is revealed that the plan is too eat one of them. The family votes and Homer is unanimously chosen but is rescued at the last minute by a group of freedom fighters who go against the ways of their people. They allow Homer to escape but Homer returns to rescue his family, only to get caught. However, when the queen of the planet tastes Homer, she dies and it is revealed that human's unhealthy diets make them inedible to Rigellians. The Rigellians let them go and the Simpsons take a spaceship to return home.

This one is pretty bad. Like, not offensively bad because that is LITERALLY a thing I'll have to deal with in a few episodes. Being poorly made doesn't hold a candle to non-ironically celebrating a piece of shit. But WHAT is going on here. I guess they just thought it would be fun to do a Kodos and Kang episode. But it is really weird to do this on the heels of the Futurama episode just a scant four episodes ago. And while that episode wasn't great, it was head and shoulders above this. And I think as a Kodos and Kang episode... there's actually not that much Kodos and Kang. It feels like if they really wanted to do that, why not literally put the Simpsons in the background and really make it about them. Kodos and Kang work best as bit players but it's not impossible to expand them into having more going on. I think it would be more fun to introduce it as episode 362 of Kodos and Kang, implying a long history of adventures together we never see.

Instead, he have an episode that takes some time to makes some statements but really isn't about anything. The first act is some pretty toothless jabs at Disney and Disneyworld/Land and the theme part experience. Yeah, long lines suck. Oh no, they made the Pirates of the Caribbean politically correct. So that's a big eyeroll from me as I squirm in my seat hoping for something amusing to happen. Things do not pick up. When the Simpsons get abducted, it's some pretty standard alien jokes and some commentary on the dietary habits of the modern society.

It all leads to a big "why". Why even make this episode. I get wanting to pull Kang and Kodos out of the toy box. They are fun toys. But if you don't have a game to play with them, I'm not even sure what you are doing. It's not like having them "in continuity" (especially when you announce you will ignore it Armin Tamzarian-style) adds anything or even MEANS anything. If you want to add them to canon, I don't mind at all. Yes, it bends the rules a little but frankly, I don't think it breaks what is established in the canon. But it is just a lazy episode of TV. It reminds me more of when the characters are acting as parodies of themselves in meta-episodes, like Behind the Laughter or the Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase without it actually being meta commentary. It's just poor writing and I feel like the actors aren't particularly excited about trying to save it.

Johnny Unusual

Bart's New Friend

The Simpsons haven't often done guest-written episodes but it has happened. First was Ricky Gervais', which I like despite the fact that he is just... just a shitty dude. Then there was Seth Rogan's, which felt like he was using to exorcise some of the rough feelings about making Green Hornet. Now is Judd Apatow. Apatow was a director I enjoyed two films of but suspect they don't hold up as well as I'd like. Then he made This is 40 which by all accounts kind of showed that he had grown out of touch with the story of two very wealthy 40 year olds. In fact, Apatow guest starred in an episode last season that mocked it. But here we have an episode he wrote based on a spec script he wrote from when he was a young writer early on in the show's existence. Is this a folly or is there a good story in here?

In this episode, Home realizes that all these years a co-worker was covering for him who is now retiring and Homer must really work a lot harder. He ends up becoming a workaholic, even when he and the family go to the circus. While there, Homer is hypnotized into thinking he's himself at age 10. When it turns out the hypnotist is also an outlaw fleeing the police, he leaves Homer in his youthful state. Marge is worried but he ends up developing a relationship with Bart that is stronger than before. Bart realizes Homer might be happier as a 10 year old and when the hypnotist is found, kidnaps him to extend the fun just as little longer. They are found and Homer is changed back but when Homer pays Bart a visit later that night, he has a vague memory of their friendship.

This one... is fine. In some ways it's better than you might expect, and it certainly doesn't help that it's sandwiched between two particularly infamous episodes, but it is a competent story with focused on consistent characters, And I feel like it does come from a place similar to the question that inspired Back to the Future; "If I met my dad when he was my age, would we be friends?" I think that is a great impetus for a story and one that can be told a variety of ways and it's a decent way for Bart to connect with Homer in a new way.

So on the plus side, it's an amusing episode, I think Apatow is good at making Bart sympathetic but still a trouble maker, one of the balancing acts the show itself often fails at, and I think it really wants to live in the moments of Homer and Bart just hanging out. I find the Simpsons is often not economical with its storytelling, particularly in the later seasons but there is an advantage to just hanging around with character and Apatow manages to do that in a way that builds up the bonding.

Unfortunately, though, there is a problem here. When Homer becomes a child, he kind of stops being a full character. I think Apatow starts well as writing him as annoying but I feel we don't get much of Homer reacting so much as Bart reacting to Homer. I don't think it's for a lack of trying but it feels like Homer is being dragged around by everyone and doesn't have a lot of agency. A real Milhouse. But really, even Milhouse gets fed up while this Homer, even though he opens up, feels like there's a disconnect, meaning his relationship with Bart is limited to us sharing Bart's feelings. I feel it's not a bad episode but one that feels like we are halfway to a much stronger one, if we were put in Homer's spot a bit more and was made less of a canvas for Bart's feelings.

Other great jokes:
It might be a sign that Apatow is too into a Hollywood headspace but I did find Homer disgusted by the fact that the Simpson family have not "optioned a property" pretty funny.

Other notes:

Tomorrow I'm watching THAT episode and I need to brace myself.

Johnny Unusual

The Musk Who Fell to Earth

So... this thing. I've been dreading it for a while. So Musk came on to my radar through talk show appearances, talking up the hyperloop and electric cars. I feel like he was being pushed as some antithetical billionaire who cares. I wasn't paying much attention so I was like "oh, yeah, OK." But there really are no good billionaires. Otherwise they wouldn't be billionaires. Still, in the main stream they tried to push him as a hero for quite some time and at some point it became clear, no, he's the villain. He sucks and he's abusive to people who work for him. Did I buy his shit for a while? Well, I was never a follower but I shrugged and said OK, because the TV people seemed to think so (note; I am extremely malleable and a Pollyanna). But now I feel like he just can't even remotely how deranged and awful he is.

In this episode, Elon Musk appears in Springfield and follows Homer around, turning his ramblings into ideas. He also meets with Mr. Burns and convinces him to work together on a new project to make Springfield a technological wonderland. However, it turns out the ideas also are destroying the town's economy. Musk becomes persona-non-grata in town and Homer decides to officially cut ties. Musk leaves town, missing Homer.

As I said, I was dreading this episode for a while and it is a bad episode... but I think I wasn't prepared for how fucking bizarre this episode is. Obviously, it's extremely weird when the Simpsons does a episode that is "fawning". It's a bad look even when the show isn't about Elon Musk. The show is hardly the groundbreaking series it once was but at least it needs to try to look like it has some satirical bite. Even before I knew how this dude sucked so fucking bad, it felt gross just to be so bizarrely celebratory over someone. Now the figure that Musk tried to position himself as in the public eye, rejecting profit in favour of helping the world with innovation seems he shares values with the show. But he doesn't. And it's fucking bizarre that the show is not at least a little questioning of this.

But beyond the fawning, there's the complete bizarreness of the plot that also mirrors his current fall from grace in a Bizarro world sort of way. He ruins Springfield's economy and makes life miserable for everyone...for some greater good we NEVER see any actual benefits from. And yet even if this was a weird secret backdoor criticism of him, it's bizarre mish mash nonsense. In the episode, even children can break into his self-driving cars but also... there's no consequence. Bart and Lisa just see the wonderworld he created before it turns into a dystopia because Elon Musk doesn't care about money. And he does. And also how he is seen. But he also wants to be seen as an aloof bad boy who is also very sad, I guess. It's very bizarre to see the show through his specific lens. Even though he didn't write it, it feels very much how he assumes he is.

But who did write it? This broke my heart; Neil Campbell, who was a writer producer on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the Comedy Bang Bang TV show. But whom I mostly know through the Comedy Bang Bang podcast, playing characters like Neil Gaiman's Morpheus and "The Time Keeper". I really like him and I had to double check to make sure it was the same guy. Sadly, yes. And I definitely could hear his comedic voice coming out of Musk's mouth in the car scene where Homer says dumb shit and Musk re-interprets it as "smart" stuff. Speaking of, the Simpsons has a long history of giving some speaking roles to non-actor celebrities who can't act but it's wild how much time we spend with someone who so completely not only can't act but drains any potential comedy out of a line delivery.

This episode is a crime and a very bizarre one. Like, putting the words "Elon Musk is this era's greatest inventor" in Lisa Simpsons mouth is a special kind of awful and knowing who did the crime hurts my soul. Neil Campbell is an actual funny person. Him being responsible for praising the gospel of Musk is a special kind of shitty. I can't think of a better metaphor for how inept the episode is when the idea that Musk giving Lisa hope for the future is turning a very nice birdhouse into an ugly monstrosity with a satellite dish and solar panels, robbing it of all charm and not actually thinking about it's function. I hesitate to call this the worst episode since they also had a gay marriage episode with the message that trans people are trying to "trick" gay people into marriage but... man, this reminds me of how a show I care so deeply for can just flat out suck in a myriad of ways.

Next time... it's an episode about fat pride so expect a lot of jokes making fun of body positivity. Just like the Family Guy did.


Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
you can really tell how much the writers thought of him given that there’s a bunch of consequent episodes talking about how much they hated having him in Springfield

Johnny Unusual

Walking Big & Tall

A few years ago, I managed to lose about 60 pounds. I didn't think I could but the major motivator was fear when I was told that I was pre-diabetic. But lately I gained some back. Before I was pretty spartan but over the years I've let things slide and I think I need to get back to working on myself again. More veggies and lots more things that wait until my cheat day. It's not easy but it makes me feel better about myself and how I look. But at the same time, people shouldn't be made to feel bad if their body type doesn't fit into a norm. So much of comedy is about mocking the absurd but often the "absurd" in some people's eyes is merely a difference and not necessarily a bad one. It's why often comedy ages poorly or a joke that was never good to begin with looks much worse in the rearview.

In this episode, Homer gets stuck in a seat at a town meeting and humiliates himself and accidentally hurts people. Homer decides to lose weight and tries to find overeaters anonymous when he instead finds a meeting of people who believe big is beautiful, run by a man named Albert. Homer excitedly joins them but Marge is worried about him and can't stand his new cause. When Homer chooses them over Marge, Marge tries to convince Homer not to be lazy like Albert. Albert is offended and leaves his scooter, only to die of a heart attack. When Homer realizes how young Albert was, he's scared into trying again to lose weight.

Look, there's nowhere to go but up after an episode discussing how great Elon Musk is, the soulful genius who puts his cause before profit... and before people (it's a weird episode). But clearly the Simpsons this season is a dumping ground for some piss poor ideas, this time making an episode that's "let's make fun of the fatties." It's an episode that takes what I think is actually a complex, interesting issue and boils it down to "well, the tubbos just want to eat and not be made fun of for it, which is ridiculous". Keep in mind, this was also the EXACT plot of a Family Guy episode 10 years prior. THAT'S who you are throwing in with on that subject, The Simpsons.

And I actually do think there is a lot to say. Obesity is a real epidemic and it can be healthier to lose weight. But people also shouldn't be shamed for what they look like and should feel pride if their body doesn't adhere to a perceived norm. There's many reasons someone might be large and bodies are often built different and that's OK. There are also other factors to consider in terms of overeating in society; what is affordable, what is available, education, a culture that shames people for being fat but also constantly barrages them with images of food. There's a lot of tactics a show like the the Simpsons can take for discussing it.

But it really does show it's hand early on, where the fat people go to a meeting where they are actively cheering themselves on for weight gain. It's a "satire" that thinks the point is "it's ridiculous for people to be so thin-skinned that they don't want to be mocked for destroying their own bodies" and it's frankly pretty insulting and completely lacks any curiosity about the issue. Only thin Homer is healthy Homer in the show's eyes. Loosing weight can definitely be advantageous to health but it's boiling this down to a fallacy that "loose the weight and it's fine". The show even mocked that earlier in the episode where Homer suggests an extremely unhealthy method of weight loss but it's not an episode that has anything helpful to say. Frankly, a better episode dealing with this is Brush with Greatness from season two, where Homer and Marge work on their own personal projects; Marge painting and Homer his body, and the message is you can't let cruel people stand in your way. It's much more emotionally rich when Homer lost 20 pounds and after Burns insults him, Marge needs to tell him she's proud of his work. Yes, that episode starts with Homer mocked for being fat but it's a much smarter and far less insulting episode than this.,

Johnny Unusual

My Fare Lady

In the winter, I walk most everywhere. I means it takes 45 minutes to get to work but frankly buying a car is pretty expensive (though my mom keeps telling me too... even though I'm also committed to help her buy a house). I did drive around more when I was taking care of my niece, taking her to "new ones" (parks she has never been to before) and the YMCA. It can be really frustrating to shlep kids around, especially at the age when you need to take so much with you, like a big bag of diapers. But I could see myself enjoying driving people around for a living. There's something I do find meditative about it. Of course, I also don't tend to do it for huge periods of time.

In this episode, Moe takes a night out and leaves Homer, Lenny and Carl to take care of the bar. The guys come up with a idea to help Moe make some money but accidentally result in it getting destroyed. Feeling contrite, the guys offer Moe to help him get work in the Nuclear Plant as a janitor. Moe's ability to outwit the safety inspectors quickly gains him a supervisor promotion and takes his job seriously, being forced to demote Homer to Burns' plant waterer. He becomes persona non grata among his peers and doesn't want to do it anymore. Meanwhile, Marge joins the gig economy as part of a rideshare app but soon becomes burnt out. Both Marge and Moe decide to quit their jobs.

My Fare Lady is not as God-awful as the show has been lately and is, in fact, pretty watchable. But it is also emblematic of my general issue that I remember before quitting the show. The episode has a lot of ideas but zero focus and by drunkenly stumbling from plot point to plot point, decides to land on "the status quo was great, right?" It points towards a few ideas related to character and social commentary but never actually gets to making a cogent statement on any of them. I think the show has good writers but why is the structure so poor now? It is that in taking a proper script into the writers room, joke polishing gets in the way of storytelling or is it that usually these good writers need help in the writers room that they just aren't getting anymore?

The problem with Moe's story is it starts promising. Moe proving himself skilled at the underhanded methods for saving money Burns can use is a great starting point. Moe being at odds with Homer by being a good supervisor isn't bad, per se, though I think we've had at least nine episodes with that premise already featuring other characters. But then the solution is... Moe just suddenly has enough money to fix his bar? Isn't the point is he doesn't? And in Moe just doing that, it drops the other idea in mid-trajectory. It's like the show looked at its watch and said "Oh, the running time is over, bye everyone." What does it actually want to say about friends working together beyond "sometimes there are differences."

Marge's story is also one that just runs out of time before Marge says "nope". There is a lot to say about the gig economy and how we should be suspicious of it. Maybe at first it sounds enticing but over time more and more problems with it are being revealed; how it treats workers, the way it is circumventing rules that are in place for people's safety. A lot of it sounds good on paper but never trust capitalism. The episode does point toward the threat it poses to traditional cab driving but mostly "those guys are less popular because they are foreign slobs" (it doesn't actually imply being foreign is a part of it buy BOY are they foreign. Yep, we get another Indian accent. Or maybe Pakistani? I don't know all my accents). Marge is burnt out from work but that can be a lot of jobs. In 2015, I think the real problem with rideshares hadn't been properly mined and I feel like the Simpsons is not the show to unearth the problems with new forms of the evils of capitalism. This episode might mock Elon Musk in a line but it still feels like the same problem; these writers are prepare to acknowledge this new thing but doesn't have a lot to say beyond "look at this new thing!"

Other great jokes:
"How come on your security tag you have a mustache?"
"Well, I was Freddie Mercury in a Queen cover band but then I was demoted to Brian May."

Other notes:
Guest opening by Paul Robertson for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game fame. It's a good opening but it's just fine until that really good last bit. Though it's weird there's a moment he leans into "callbacks to times Homer, Bart and Lisa were morbidly obese."


Staff member
Wow I've never seen that Paul Robertson opening before. Seriously great.

It's sad and weird and kinda cool but also really sad that the only really worthwhile parts of the show in this era are the ones made by people who don't actually make the show.

Johnny Unusual

It's sad and weird and kinda cool but also really sad that the only really worthwhile parts of the show in this era are the ones made by people who don't actually make the show.
Yeah, I kind of wish they'd do anthology episodes with original animation teams the way that Adventure Time would have an annual guest animator/animation team.

Ghost from Spelunker

The funny thing is I never cared much about the couch gags. Some of them are funny, sure.
But I've never said "I missed the couch gag! How soon before they rerun it? You don't think they will change it in reruns will they?! Call a friend in another time, quick!"
Like Johnny Unusual was saying, I'd like to see the actual episodes have guest animators/writers.

Johnny Unusual

The Princess Guide

Of all the non-Simpsons Simpsons characters getting the most play in this era, #1 is Moe. I get it, he's allowed to be a little bit nastier than Homer. Jerk-Ass Homer is a turn off but we know that Moe is kind of the worst. But I also think we can see this lonely guy and discover he is capable of kindness, even if he thinks he isn't. There was briefly discussion of a Krusty series in the 90s but of all the characters, a Moe show feels the most plausible. But while he's a very versitile, I feel like the show needs to back off of him a bit. All of these Moe stories are starting to run together.

In this episode, Homer is put in charge of watching over a Nigerian Princess, Kemi. while her father and Mr. Burns hammer out a uranium deal. The Princess wants to see the city but Homer is extremely protective and limits her trip to Moe's. While there, she and Moe hit it off, though Moe also is suspicious that she might be connected to the Nigerian Prince scam he fell for. Kemi manages to shake Homer and asks Moe to show her around, which he does. Kemi is thankful and kisses Moe on the head, which is picked up by the media and angers her father. Homer manages to explain to her father to let her do her own thing.

The Princess Guide is the second pointless Moe episode in a row. This is far better than space aliens and Elon Musk, but it also results in supremely bland, flavourless comedy. The show doesn't seem like it knows what to do with it's characters anymore or with the art of storytelling. I get it, it's hard to come up with 22 stories in a year but sending Moe into standard sitcom plots shouldn't be it. That's the very thing the show mocked in The Love-Matic Grandpa. Moe is a great character but he works when you explore a vulnerable man under a nasty outer shell.

Instead, this episode is basically Roman Holiday, one of the great romantic movies but with Moe as the co-lead. That's actually a very fun premise but it only works when you remember that Moe is no Gregory Peck and that having him in such a romantic situation should take into account that any charm he has is unexpected. But instead, guest star Yaya DeCosta is just already down for whatever. And even though the reveal is that her interest is unromantic, I don't see any chemistry here. It doesn't have to be romantic. If anything, it should be Moe gets to be a vessel through which she enjoys the town. But at the same time, it feels like it could be any character, there's nothing specifically Moe about it. It could have been Homer!

And I think that's it. So many of these episodes are so slapdash in writing and you know that EVERYTHING ELSE about the series has to be hard work. Heck, I'm sure someone worked hard on the script but hard work doesn't mean BETTER work, it just means more effort for a pretty paltry result. The message is stale and trite and as I keep having to say, where they land feels barely related to what was coming before. I don't think every story needs some sort of grand thematic message but in a comedy, if you don't deliver the laughs, you are not earning a loose shaggy dog story. This is just another filled slot for the season order.

Other notes:

Yeah, they are making fun of Musk now but it's fucking soft balls where they complain is environmentalism and also Richard Branson shows up to talk about his earth challenge and there's no irony pointed out that he's also wasting a lot of energy spending his dogs on a rocket. Also, Richard Branson also sucks at acting. Billionaires can't act, The Simpsons. Just getting them to try.

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
As I said before; it’s fairly reliable to say that when there’s a Guest Animator handling the couch gag, it’s going to be a rough episode.

Doesn’t apply 100% of the time but often enough

Johnny Unusual

Sky Police

I'm not a religious person but I'm not one of those insufferable assholes who acts superior to people for believing. I'm talking about Bill Maher. And if anything, while I don't think I ever will believe, I feel like I have a more nuanced approach to faith and belief now that I'm older. When you are a kid, God seems like a parent doling out punishment and rewards. But if there is a God, maybe they are just waiting for you to figure yourself out. Maybe prayer isn't about asking for things, but a solitary communication between you and the universe.

In this episode, the church burns down and Marge, Rev. Lovejoy and several other churchgoers are desperately searching for ideas. Help comes in the form of Apu, who concocts a plan for the church to count cards, a practice not against the rules but is frowned upon by the casinos, to the point where they will try to stop it. Apu trains them both in counting and strategies for avoiding getting caught. They end up doing a good job and can get enough money after two jobs. But after the second job, Homer learns Marge is counting cards, tries to find her at the casino in the hopes of saving her from getting caught, only to be abducted himself. Marge and Lovejoy find they can't get the money back as it's already paid for the church. Out of ideas, Marge begins to pray in the casino and instead of asking for something, reflects on what prayer is. Eventually the casino tries to get her to stop and Marge convinces them to let Homer go so she stops distracting customers.

Sky Police is in many ways a much stronger episode than I expected. On the surface, the message seems a little trite. The church gambles and gets in trouble for it. But I really don't think it is about that, not entirely. Yes, the characters realize they've rationalized choices they usually wouldn't have made out of the convenient result. The crime isn't counting cards, the show goes to great lengths to argue it's completely fair and logical. The crime is making decisions that go against your beliefs, like Marge making her kids accomplices and lying to Homer, stuff that's somewhat forgivable but very much against what Marge believes in.

But beyond that, I think what the episode is about is the unseen of the mind. Counting cards, rationalization and prayer fit together thematically and the idea that the writer comes down to is God is not here to police our thoughts or manipulate us but perhaps rather than having prayer being us asking for stuff, it's the act of focus and meditation. I think after so many episodes with haphazard theming, this one is decently structured (and I feel writer Matt Selman feels a little smug for tying in the opening gag with Marge's understanding of what God isn't. I think this episode is not the show's strongest meditation on religion but it is trying without being smug about it.

It's also funny at times. I think a big thanks is owed to Nathan Fielder as the casino manager. Usually these characters would be played by Jack Napier or Stacy Keech, man's men but having Fielder play a humourless data nerd trying to get his data on track, a pathetic god of his casino, works in the theme and also how casinos really work, trying to get as much play in to maximize profits. They also give him a little bit I love where the premise is he just name drops (full names) people we don't know in his life as if we should and it's a character quirk that works for me. I do remember before I left this show, I tended to have more positive feelings of the guest if they were non-household name comedians and Fielder's appearance is helping with that theory.

Other notes:
There's some stuff that just is a bad look, like Apu saying "OK, I know why my religion sounds crazy" (not a great look for someone doing a brownface voice to be saying that) and a weird joke where Marge is sickened by Helen finding her voice attractive. It could be argued that Helen is Marge's Patty and Selma (the show spends a lot of the later seasons with them hating each other),. but whatever the intent, it just looks like stupid gay panic.

Johnny Unusual

Waiting For Duffman

The disconnect between what is sold and how it is consumed it pretty old news. Since forever, TV ads for beer make it seem like the perfect social lubricant, allowing us for fun and adventure. But it's a depressant. Frankly, I've never been into alcohol. I just never felt the need to acquire the taste for it and I only have it if it is very sweet like candy (and the alcohol taste is dulled) or small glass of fruity champagne on New Years. Frankly, it's probably for the best; I have a hard enough time with junk food to deal with another addictive substance.

In this episode, Duffman is injured in a parade and a call goes out for a new Duffman. Homer joins a reality show and manages to win it to become Duffman. However, it turns out to be Duffman, Homer can't actually drink alcohol anymore. Homer is resistant initially but is convinced this could make him a somebody. And Homer becomes a top class Duffman, with fans loving both his party attitude and his campaign is even more successful than the previous Duffman. But during a blimp tour, Homer realizes the macro-effect beer has on society and is disgusted. Homer tricks an audience during a stock car race into drinking non-alcoholic beer and riles the crowd into a riot while trying to explain the evils of beer. In order to escape the mob, the owner of Duff convinces Homer to drink again.

Waiting for Duffman is an episode that feels like it had the idea of Homer as Duffman but everything it has to say is cobbled together from other episodes. Homer being a mascot turning against his corporate masters is like Lisa turning against Laramie in Lisa the Beauty Queen. Homer seeing clearly without beer and being disgusted is pretty much Duffless. And the aspect where Homer wishes he could be "SOMEBODY": has been done so many times, it rings falser and falser every time. Especially since Homer has been to flippin' space! Waiting for Duffman isn't nearly as bad as this seasons worst and it's watchable but it's also fairly lazy and dull. I feel like even in 2015, a reality show parody is WAY overplayed.

Now, I will say, it's pretty flawed but I feel like it's not "disjointed" as I've complained some episodes are. I feel like with a lot, the thesis is inconsistent from scene to scene. There are two or three big ideas that sort of weave together; Homer getting to be seen, Homer being a hero but supporting an evil and the illusion of advertising, a sober man pretending to be a heavy drinking party animal. It's there throughout but the problem is I just don't feel like a lot rings true, especially Homer's desire to leave a legacy in light of 26 seasons of adventures. The latter two topics, as mentioned, has been explored before and I think the show is open to explore those ideas in interesting new ways. But I just think it largely lacks insight. This episode has a point of view but it's kind of an unimaginitive one and though it has a point, it's a point not explored to full comedic or emotional potential.

I feel like part of it is it's all pretty obvious stuff when I think it might be more fun to explore the more insidious elements of advertising on our psyche. None of us are immune to marketing, that basically it can get in everywhere it can. I like the idea that marketing oozes its way into Homer's life to the point where he can't drink with some irony that one evil can't make Homer take part in his favourite evil. And in the most surface sense, that is in there. It's just that the waters of this metaphor are very shallow and there's very little emotional stakes or a strong sense of satire, mostly just settling on points I feel everyone came to long long ago. You are free to re-tell a classic Simpsons story, just tell it well, show.

Other notes:
The joke that REALLY doesn't work in this context is Barney making up his own version of "First They Came" by Pastor Martin Niemöller.. It just doesn't make sense because... like, no one took Duffman away. I feel like it was a spontaneous writers room joke that got a laugh but no one really questioned it after that.

Johnny Unusual

Peeping Mom

Empathy is something that needs to be learned over time for kids. Kids love approval from their parents but they can also feel frustrated when the rules don't benefit them. I have to look after kids who will try to argue constantly with me about the tiniest stuff. And there are times where I get it wrong and I do feel bad about that. It must be frustrating not to be believed. But at the same time, a lot of them are also trying to find the wiggle room for what they can get away with.

In this episode, a bulldozer rampage occurred in Springfield and Bart is the prime suspect. Marge decides to watch Bart like a hawk and Bart resists, but its driving him crazy. Eventually the battle of wills ends with Marge calling it quits as Bart's mom. Bart uses this as an opportunity to pull his most audacious plan yet; tearing down most of the letters of the Springfield sign to read "fie". However, before the prank, Bart feels a tingling in his conscience and can't do it. He confesses to his mom he did do the bulldozer prank.

If there's any dynamic in the show with the most emotional potential for me, it's the Marge/Bart dynamic. Comedically it works too; Marge is often innocent and terminally out of step with not only being cool but exciting. She finds comfort in the status quo. Bart loves chaos and pranks and defies the status quo. Bart is often an enemy of many Springfielders but Marge sees his "spark" and while she doesn't always approve of what he does, she approves of him as a person. That's both a perfect mix for comedy and drama. There are a lot of great episodes about it and I think Marge Be Not Proud is the series best one.

This episode, unfortunately, feels like a complete re-hash of those previous episodes without any of the comedic or dramatic impact of the better episodes. Heck, it's already like that phone tracker episode from a few of seasons ago. Wait, six seasons. Time really flies. Anyway, Peeping Mom is an episode with little to say or do that hasn't been done before with greater impact and it's a shame because I love the character dynamic between these two characters. Even worse, the stakes aren't that interesting (I feel like it's just another Bart prank rather than something next level bad) and Bart suddenly changing his mind really feels unearned compared to Bart believing he's lost his mother's love in Marge Not Be Proud. It doesn't feel like "THIS IS THE LINE THAT MUST NOT BE CROSSED" for Bart. It's just another Sunday night.

The b-plot is no great shakes either but I do believe there's something in there; Flanders gets a new dog but it only wants to hang around with Homer. There's something real, if very low stakes, in that and the idea that Flanders realizes that he's no fun in the eyes of someone who loves him is interesting. If anything, I feel like there's been some low key de-Flanderization lately (mostly him not acting like a homophobe/xenophobe) and I almost wish this was an episode where Rod or Todd starts liking Homer more and deals with being the one who is "no fun". There's something there and maybe it could actually give Rod or Todd some growth or depth as characters as opposed to "wusses".

Johnny Unusual

The Kids are All Fight

Pop will eat itself and so will the Simpsons. I don't even mean the show is rehashing plots or jokes, though it does, but more than that, the series has existed for 26 years at the airing of this episode, which means that when the show looks back into it's own past, there's a... a weirdness there. Not a bad one or a good one, per se. The show is relatively continuity light and can play fast and loose with it's own mythos, so when it re-examine it, it might seem a bit weird to return to stuff we never expected to return to.

In this episode, Homer finds some old film that he never developed. After Moe develops it for him, they find pictures of Bart and Lisa fighting and remember a time when they were six years ago. Homer and Marge couldn't stop the kids from fighting and nothing seemed to work. While Homer and Marge go to have brunch with the Flanders, the kids are left with Flanders' grandmother. When she seemingly dies, the Simpson kids freak out, run away and end up getting lost in the city. Along the way, Bart and Lisa see each others strengths and by the time the kids are returned they have newfound respect for each other.

Man, last time I had a Rob LaZebnik episode, the War of Art, I was impressed by a surprisingly thoughtful episode. This, on the other hand, feels like the show I've been complaining about more often, one that has a hard time selling its themes and ideas. In this case, I feel the episode is contrived and I have no idea why it has to be little Bart and Lisa. The episode implies the premise that Bart and Lisa used to be worse at getting along but it barely seems by much and the episode seems to be about them finding respect for each other but... Bart doesn't actually do anything to engender respect. I think it is trying to subvert the idea of characters finding mutual respect but to what end if it remains on this track.

The episode is also weird in it's MANY callbacks to Lisa's First Word. I think it's supposed to try to feel like you can watch that one and then this but not only is it not the same tonally, Lisa's First Word ends with them being great together. It's NOW that's the problem. And bringing back the creepy clown bed and Grandma Flanders adds little, especially since we aren't really getting new material out of those old bits. They weren't meant to be these big recurring elements and their inclusion, like the episode entire, feels off. This isn't even an AWFUL episode, it's just a poorly planned one.

The idea of "two characters who are opposites learn to respect each other" is a basic as Hell formula but it can work. The problem is it's also one of those episodes that decides Bart's depth doesn't go much beyond evil and stupid. Frankly, acting like their relationship was worse then is weird because I can't remember the last time the two actually teamed up. Heck, it's a reminder that while it's easy to think of some of the Golden Age plots as slightly more grounded, there were a lot of "Bart and Lisa save the day", so much so that they did a weird meta-ending where Bart and Lisa knock offs save the day*. I kind of miss when they teamed up to come up with a solution. I feel like the show has gotten away from jerk-ass Homer but the writers still seem to have a problem threading the needle with Bart, finding when to make him a Hellraiser and when to make him sympathetic. I think part of the problem is one @Tegan has pointed out; making Bart not only mischievous but stupid. As if Bart and Lisa need to be THAT opposite. I'm not saying Bart can't be delightfully wicked and sometimes having him be a certain level of dumb is funny but having him just be a sucky idiot isn't as fun or meaningful as him being a boy with a "spark".

* I'm also going to point out how stupid I am; I missed the point of that ending was Bart and Lisa were dealing with plagiarism and the episode with them threatened with replacement and all these years I missed the subtext. I just thought it was a very funny non-sequitur swerve and commentary on how ridiculous it is only Bart and Lisa save everyone in town)

Johnny Unusual

Let's Go Fly A Coot

I like to think I have an idea of who my father and father are, but I don't really take enough time to ask about who he was growing up. I'm a little hesitant to just straight up ask about it, but he is getting older and I feel like I should. Perhaps it could be a family project, something for me, my sister and their family to take part in. Having my parents life laid out might give me more insight into what made these people who they are. There are areas of their lives I could probably be more knowledgeable about.

In this episode, the Simpsons attend a birthday at an airfield where some old air force buddies of Grandpa are showing off their bomber. When the pilots see their colleague being treated poorly by Homer, they decide to force him to treat his father better. Meanwhile, Bart falls for Milhouse's cousin, Annika, who happily uses Bart to do errands for her. Grandpa tells Bart about how he met Mona, impressing her with a grand gesture but admitting their marriage fell apart because he wasn't honest about who he was. Bart seems to take the wrong lesson and goes to perform the grand gesture but the gesture is to tell her off for treating him poorly.

This is another episode that has scraps of good themes and ideas but as a whole feels like a sloppy mess. Where to begin. I think grandpa's story has promise but it would make more sense if Homer was put into Grandpa's shoes. There's a hint of it with spoiled kids' way too elaborate birthdays but no, Homer's bullied into admitting he likes Grandpa without any actual bonding or poetic justice behind it. It's not very clever and it basically ends in act two. It's an interesting structure because his story ends so Bart's can suddenly can more into the A-plot slot and tries to dove tail it but despite the fact that all of it is about Grandpa in the air force, act three doesn't really discuss the issue of the first two; the indignity Homer put on his son. I guess there's the idea that we should be heeding the words of our elders but I dunno, all the grandpa's stories feel fairly shallow in execution.

The Bart storyline isn't much better. Once again, Bart falls for an older girl and this time she's manipulating Bart but I feel so much time is made with commentary about e-cigarettes, there's actually very little to get into Bart's emotional headspace. The big final scene makes a deal out of it too, with Bart rejecting Annika AND her e-cigarettes. So is she a metaphor for e-cigarettes? Because the show is going heavy on commenting on them. If anything, this was an idea that could have been a full episode but grandpa's story (or stories) are front-in-center and they pay off poorly.

And because of that, the ideas that COULD tie together don't seem to. It's frustrating; I think a lot of these stories could have better flow with a bit more massaging and rewroting, another crack at a draft. I want a good, emotional grandpa story because I feel like there's a lot of potential. In fact, though not always successful, it feels like the show had been hitting that in the last few years, with an Abe who, as a single father, sacrificed a lot for Homer. Showing Homer as ungratefully treating his father as a burden adds to that tragedy but this episode is much more clumsier at handling it, unfortunately.

Other notes:

Milhouse's cousin, I feel, was solely chosen because she is Dutch and is actually named Van Houten and the writers were like "Oh, perfect." This is Carise Van Houten, best known as Melisandre the Red Woman from Game of Thrones.

Johnny Unusual


I always get a little apprehensive when the Simpsons get into areas that are topical. And the funny thing is sometimes the problems or issues the show deals with is something that's evergreen. But sometimes we look at evergreen problems in a new way and then the writers sometimes... don't get it. Sometimes the left-leaning show suddenly get all "whatever happened to the OLD days" with some lips service to "OK, the old days aren't always good" but still more focused on ideas where "everyone is too sensitive nowadays" BS. So when I saw the episode description where anti-bullying laws end up getting half the town arrested, I got a bit worried.

In this episode, after Bart is bullied by Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney, Marge works to pass anti-bullying laws. The laws pass instantly but soon the police use it as an excuse to arrest people on flimsy pretenses. The Flanders children get Homer arrested for bullying Ned and he's sent to group sessions to overcome their habits. Homer comes to realize he's been bullying Flanders because he sees Flanders as his superior in every way and vows to be better. Everyone leaves the group being promoted as redeemed heroes and finally Flanders is upset. Flanders confronts Homer and Homer realizes the depth of how he hurt Flanders and asks for forgiveness. Homer prays in front of Flanders house for days and Flanders accepts Homer's act of penance.

OK, so I was apprehensive and this is a flawed episode but this episode by Tim Long, a writer who I often get fed up with, is actually more thoughtful than I expected. It flirts early on with the take I was afraid the episode was going to have but instead ends up sidestepping it with something more. I still have issues but it's a decent episode. Not "great" but I'm really grateful for what it is attempting and a lot of what it is saying. So let me get the bad stuff out of the way first. It gets really close to the "anti-bulliers are the real bullies" early on, mixing that with the more interesting idea that maybe we as a society are stuck in a bullying and revenge mindset. It's also weird that Lisa says "what has Mom wrought" when the problem is clearly the police. I also think the climax lacks a certain punch at the end, especially when we know things will return to normal the next week. I'm glad the show isn't all "yay status quo" but if this even was to be the last time Homer bullies Flanders (or he at least is kinder), it's kind of a limp statement of intent.

What does work is the idea that bullying happens everywhere, which is covered well-enough, especially the idea of police tactics being bullying (Chief Wiggum whining that everyone is a bully after locking people up for the tiniest infraction.) And I think Homer had to confront the fact that he's faced before but I think the show wants to really consider it. Homer has better understand and comes out "redeemed" except Flanders is angry because Homer actually didn't actually work to redeem himself. He just thought "OK, I won't be bad" but that doesn't undo the damage or make things right. I think that's an emotionally interesting aspect, especially after people who are "cancelled" (Note, they are not cancelled) lay low a little bit until they act like "OK, time to come back". I actually think this is a really thoughtful script by long. There were a few minor quibbles I initially had about it trying a few too many things but the more I think about it, the more they work well together.

One sign that an episode will be better than it should is the appearance of Albert Brooks. He's killing it in terms of line delivery. It's not one of his top tier appearances but he is doing really good work as a therapist who is fed up with Homer's idiocy but won't give up him. It makes me a little sad Brooks didn't stay on as a recurring more often. He clearly doesn't want to do repeat characters (even when Cowboy Bob reappeared, it was a different voice actor). As for the episode, I really liked this. And the more I think about it, the more I like it. I just wish the episode ended stronger. Homer choosing to suffer for redemption is another grand gesture but it works a little better but somehow I feel like it lacks some sort of poetic catharsis. I can't put my finger on it but something is off. Message wise it does make sense; Flanders choses to forgive when it is earned; he's assertive but he's not bullying back despite being 'owed' justice. Homer gives Flanders suffering and time and that's a lot. But I wish he did something that was more directly connected to his sins. His sin often involves taking and mocking so maybe it should involve giving and building him up. I guess he gives time and suffering as mentioned but I dunno, it just doesn't land for me. Still, one of the seasons strongest episodes by a wide margin.

Other great jokes:

"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
"That's from that ribbon book."

Johnny Unusual

Mathlete's Feat

Whew. Man, this October, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Not the end of the series but renewed hope that it's actually fun. But season 26 was actually a reminder that there are reasons that even after all the subpar-ness, a show I was watching purely on momentum can finally convince me to stop. Note that I didn't stop here or even the next season, which starts with an episode that got me pretty mad at the time for just being bad. But season 26 is among the worst seasons the series has had, with very few bright spots. Hopefully next season won't be so tough to muscle through.

This episode, after flopping at the math tournament, former Springfield Elementary students and now rich tech dudes Gary, Doug and Benjamin decide to donate the school the money they need to update. In Skinner and Chalmers' hubris, they destroy the previous educational material and go digital but accidentally cause a massive electrical explosion, causing all their digital devices to be destroyed. The school is flummoxed, with their materials destroyed but when Lisa finds Willie gardening using clever math tricks, it inspires her to turn Springfield Elementary into a Waldorf school, focused on hands on education. Agreeing with Lisa and seeing little recourse, Chalmers and Skinner immediately agree and it proves to be shockingly successful. Everyone loves learning by gardening, cooking and asking the teachers to focus on their curiosity. With Willie's surprising math acumen, he's asked to lead the Mathletics club in their next tournament. Willie forces Bart to join, noting his natural math capabilities. Though Bart spends most of the tournament lost, he wins the day figuring out a solution to a geometry puzzle.

So... this is a strange one. So on the plus side, it's an episode that is sporadically funny with a few good lines. But more than that, it has a take on something that isn't bad. I feel like the show could go in the direction "I know this seems nice but" to get us to the status quo again. Even when the episode is the characters going all in on digital, it's presented in a way that doesn't feel like old man yelling at cloud, even though the point of it is that it failed us. It's actually smarter about it; we feel good the school is doing better in the montage but there are signs of a bigger problem in the clever line "This school has spent the last 50 years mired in the 1960s. Let's spend the next 50 mired in now." It's not laugh out loud funny but it's an apt observation about the folly of SIMPLY updating. I don't think the point is "technology is bad" so much as the characters put all their eggs in one basket, in a way I actually completely understand. If my preschool suddenly had a big upgrade, I too would probably be so wowed I wouldn't be thinking about the drawbacks (unless it was more screentime).

So what's the problem? As a narrative, this feels more like a prescription than an actual story. This is OK for a lot of the episode. It's OK for the narrative to show us the folly of the previous approach and the new advantages but when we get to act three there's neither a natural conflict nor a character analysis. And I guess these things aren't actually necessary for a story but the Simpsons isn't the kind of show that tends to flow outside of conventional narrative formula except in stumbling. The problem here is the last act it seems to be scrambling for a proper conflict and says "Uh, Bart joins the math club" without a chance for that to actually breathe. The implication that Bart actually has non-conventional math strengths. OK, this is a great idea for an idea where the writer is clearly trying to show off the advantages of Waldorf schools and how some kids have strengths hands on education can uncover. The point is in the mathletics club, Bart is out of his element but proves himself worthy. But he isn't IN most of the narrative and I feel like it only has two examples of Bart's skills and it does a bad job explaining what I think this is trying to get across; Bart's math strengths aren't in equations but geometry and physical ability like estimating distances. I like an episode where the conclusion is "Bart is an evil moron" but I want it to be earned. The last act feels very haphazard and it feels like writer Michael Price kind of had a LOT to say but ran out of time to say it.

But yeah, it's weird for an episode noted for satire to spend SO much time just saying "_____ is great". I mean the last time they did that was Elon Musk and even that was felt like it was making weird ways to say "bad actually" while also saying "I was saying Boourns". I've been reading about Waldorf schools in my own education recently and I do think it sounds good. Given the Simpsons habits of commenting on something without proper context, I did an admittedly brief check on them and mostly they do seem great. The only main controversies are certain ones have vaccine exemptions and therefore have a high rate of people getting sick and the guy who started it had some... he.... racial hierarchies. He was all like "racism is bad. And also blond hair and blue eyes are a sign of intelligence." Yeah. Luckily, his name ISN'T Waldorf and a lot of school are trying to leave Rudolf Steiner's name out of their materials. Still, while I appreciate Price wants to show why he is passionate about these schools but it feels more like a really fun presentation at a conference than a proper story.

Other great jokes:

"I have to take orders from a machine?"
"Oh, it can't speak but should it ever learn, yes."

"I feel like Beethoven... when Charles Grodin finally accepted him as his dog."
I feel like they let Neil Campbell into the writer's room for this one.

Other notes:

The Rick and Morty guest intro makes for a good reminder that I'm glad I never got into Rick and Morty. I'd hate to be in on the ground floor and enjoy and then find fellow fans the fucking worse and finding out the guy whose name is plastered all over it is fucking awful. I've already been through that too many times in this life.

The Michael Bay gag is weird because it is clear that it was intended to be a guest appearance by Bay and it's just Azaria doing a voice.

The teacher's typing class using marshmallows is actually a really good idea.

Johnny Unusual

Every Man's Dream

And now onto season 27. This is the last full season of the series I watched and I remember strongly this is were I really considered just quitting. I was working in China at the time and was watching a lot more TV and movies. I was pretty lonely and not great at getting out for things that aren't shopping or going for walks. I needed things to watch. So I was still on the show. But I also remember that this is the episode that almost broke me, where it made me convinced they just don't fucking care, despite having to make 22 episodes of not caring a year.

In this episode, Marge is at her wits end when he starts using his narcolepsy as an excuse to get out of any responsibility. While seeing a therapist, she suggests a separation. Homer moves out and it seems less and less likely he and Marge will get back together. He begins seeing Candace, a pharmacist who think Homer is interesting. She and Homer have a free-spirited night together and wake up together, making Homer feel ashamed and he hasn't given up on Marge. But eventually he does and he and Candace go steady. Homer is shocked when Homer meets Candace's father, who is seeing Marge. It is revealed to be a dream within a dream within Marge's dream and also something else I don't fucking know.

Look, there are worse episodes of this show. There are episodes with less potential. But this stands out as a particularly weak episode in that I felt when I saw this I could better articulate the fact that most of the episodes now just feel like first drafts. They feel like "we'll tie things together in the writers room" and don't. I know what the facts of the episode are but what is this episode trying to explore? No fucking clue. I think there is potential for an imaginary episode that explores Homer as a single man but despite having a respected actress/creator play Homer's hip girlfriend, there's no chemistry. This is often a problem with later episodes where someone loves Homer. They need to love him and they give stupid flimsy excuses. I'd believe Mindy would love Homer because of shared passions or that Lurleen Lumpkin sees Homer as a selfless hero in their episodes. And I think it must be actually fun to craft a character who has a plausible love of Homer despite or in part because of his flaws and idiosyncracies. Nope, writer J Stewart Burns is like "remember the Girl from the TV show Girls? She dates Homer now."

The not caring continues. Obviously, at this point Homer and Marge would never split, even if they should. But if they did... I would want to know what is going on with Marge. This episode sure doesn't care until the climax. I'd rather see that. After all, Homer's story isn't that interesting. And what is it trying to say about love? Or specially the characters of Homer and Marge? No clue. Mostly the episode has references to Girls instead of questioning would these people have found happiness elsewhere and is "true love" and illusion and that people can find love again. Lots of different tacts but even as "Homer's Nightmare" (not for the SNES or Genesis), it's not that scary to Homer. The redemptive part of Homer works best when he realizes he values something outside of himself but not only does he not get a revelation, the show just... doesn't have an ending. It's a bunch of "it was all a dream" gags and we get very little out of it.

I will say the episode is bad but the actors seem to pretend they believe in it. Homer and Marge have a few lines with actual weight, not in the words but in the delivery (Julie Kavner's rougher voice is not well-suited to sadness and frustration, which makes me bummed that it's used to cynical exercises like this). Lena Dunham is doing OK but the rest of the Girls cast is clearly there because it's a popular now thing to reference. More confounding is special guest star.. Laura Ingraham? Jesus fucking Christ, what even is this any more? I swear, I was surprised that I wasn't nearly as upset with the episode in the first act, even knowing the dumb twist, but I just kept getting angrier and angrier. I know for a fact that there's at least one good episode this season. I just need to keep holding out for it.

Johnny Unusual

'Cue Detective

I love a good whodunnit. The Simpsons actually had a few good ones. The first two Sideshow Bob episodes have some fun ones and Who Shot Mr. Burns, despite the show razzing itself about it, is pretty good. But trying again, this isn't the show's forte. I don't think the writers are lazy but I remember Dana Gould mentioning that if you bring in a script, it WILL get changed in the writers room so don't get married to your creation. And it's already really hard to create a satisfying mystery. It's got to feel like a magic trick, the illusion that all the clues are there and that anyone could get it. And the Simpsons can do a lot of things but twists isn't the show's strong point.

In this episode, Homer buys an amazing barbecue grill nicknamed the Hive, due to it's honeycomb grill pattern, from a roadside vendor and everyone agrees, it's resulting in amazing meals. It's so popular in the neighborhood that it gets him a challenge from TV chef Scotty Boom. However, on the day of the contest, Homer awakes to find it stolen, causing him to fall into despair. Bart and Lisa decide to track down the smoker which leads them to Nelson, clearly hired by someone else. However, when they finally get the smoker, they lose track of it and the kids lose hope to. On the day of the contest, Marge decides to keep trying but loses the contest to an embarrassing degree. As judge Alton Brown notes the honeycomb shaped scorch marks on his meat, the Simpsons point out Boom must have stolen grill to cook with. Boom is shamed and loses credibility but Bart and Lisa recognize the real thief's ring tone and follow him, only to learn it's Scotty Boom's son, trying to discredit his dad by framing him for barbecue theft so he'd quit showbiz and spending more time with his son. Homer gets back his grill and his hope.

So 'Cue Detective is not a particularly strong episode but it is actually doing some things I like. It doesn't hurt that the last episode was quite bad but that never stopped this show before from having a bad run. Still, after the weird fanficciness of the last episode (that somehow WASN'T written by the shipping obsessed Tim Long), there's something refreshingly silly and fun in the episode's tone. I was just lamenting the last of a "Bart and Lisa are on the case" episode and here we go. It's also interesting to have a reminder that everyone still seems invested in this long-in-the-tooth series with some good acting (I'll get to the guest actors in a bit) and a light poppy atmosphere that also gave me some BBQ craving. I even think the opening is a clever variation on The Christmas That Almost Wasn't But Then Was by having the boring movie be a REAL movie and using the real footage (with one scene either edited to look excruciatingly long or it's just a well-chosen clip).

But the problem is it's TOO slight. The message of the episode is "never give up" and frankly it feels like a trite platitude. And that's really ALL it has to say. The most basic-ass message of Shonen Jump in the most unthoughtful was possible. And again, I don't hate this. It's just so deeply shallow and that's not the WORST thing for a comedy sometimes but when the comedy itself is mostly "fine" than it kind of becomes a burden rather than a vehicle for yuks.

I will say, if this era is starting to do something right, it's choosing guest stars who can voice act. OK, and Laura Ingraham for some fucking reason. What even WAS that? Anyway, this episode has THREE great guest voice actors, though weirdly two play unnamed characters. First, the biggest name is Edward James Olmos as the Pit Master who sells Homer the smoker. His gravelly yet soothing voice is perfect for the role as a sort of BBQ spirit. Then it's future Sonic the Hedgehog and one of the three color ducks as Store Clerk. It's kind of this small ancillary bit part but Shwartz, as he does with everything, makes a real meal out of it, probably certain this is the ONLY time he'll be on the Simpsons. A similarly good performance (with some better lines to read) is Bobby Moynihan as a character WITH A NAME Tyler Boom. He's clearly having fun doing a dumb New York accent and making New York references with Hank Azaria (literally, there's a moment they just say New York stuff at each other as a form of bonding). My continued take; if a Comedy Bang Bang frequenter is in the episode, there's a good chance it's not a total loss.

Other great jokes:
I think the editing of the Horse Eye Exam scene from Dr. Doolittle is pretty good.

Johnny Unusual


I don't have a lot of the conventional vices. I don't smoke, I don't drink, the only time I've tried drugs is some marijuana that at best made me a little queasy (what's a good way to get giddy, guys?) and I don't fuck (maybe someday. Just shy about meeting people and online dating has not gone well). I am an overeater but even that is... somewhat under control (I gained some of my weight back but I'm still 40 pounds lighter than where I was). Oh, and I guess I have a screen addiction. And I should try to treat those but I feel like those are more accepted vices. I feel like if I did get into smoking or drinking it would get bad. I never feel like I have strong self-control and while I never had a real interest in alcohol, if I did, I could see it being a bad scene. And I'd be worried that maybe I would use it to push away the few friends I have.

In this episode, the Simpsons visit Marge's mother's house for her 80th birthday only to learn what really killed her father; lung cancer. Patty and Selma take it as a wake up call to finally quit smoking but it turns out Patty is taking it much more seriously than Selma. Patty moves out and each of the twins feels lonely. Eventually, Selma promises to do better but soon neither can resist smoking again. Meanwhile, Maggie has an adventure with animals.

As you can see, there's very little meat on this bone. A few years back, it seemed like the show tried to experiment with two interconnected a-plots with mixed success (or rather little but the issues with those episodes weren't the new formula, they were just mostly poorly written). This episode feels more like the a-plot is religated to the b-plot and the b-plot kind of overwhelms the whole endeavor. The whole episode isn't "bad" per se, it's just very incomplete. It hints at getting to some emotional matters and the episode is primed for that; addiction is not easy to break and that can put a rift in a relationship. And a long-lived relationship like this means not seeking other avenues might put some regrets in there. When Patty opens up and admits to Homer that she's envious that Marge has someone like Homer in her life is interesting. Patty came out a while back but unlike Selma, we rarely see her in a relationship but there is a yearning for love she put on the backburner. As someone who also feels lonely but is simply too shy to put himself out there, I can relate. And I also appreciate that after years of "hag" jokes or the twins just trying to break up Homer and Marge, they get to have some depth again.

The problem is, like many episodes of this era, is it just kind of ends. I actually don't mind that they go back to smoking in the end on paper. It could be a fun subversion of expectations when looking at their relationship. But it really feels more about a hand-wavy "OK, let's set the clock back to zero" It's pretty witless and not clever and after a very brief moment of genuine emotion, we need Selma to quit, Patty to say "OK", for them to both quit quitting and there's very little time for this to register for the characters or the audience as a journey beyond
a bunch of stuff that happens". They make a play at "one last temptation for Selma" but I think it has very little to say on these characters who only had each other for most of their lives. And thinking about their mortality is interesting; they only have each other so what if one dies and the other doesn't. That's an interesting angle for them to consider before they decide to break themselves up. Also, Ling is referenced but I feel like only grudgingly, as Selma's goddamned baby just barely enters into the episode in any capacity.

The b-plot that overwhelms the episode isn't very good but it's not for a lack of trying. It's interesting because it's a cutesy Maggie story that feels like a response to the Disney acquisition but that's a few years away. So I guess it's just the show doing it's own take on a family film. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this was originally planned as one of the theatrical Maggie shorts they've done. I think it's not bad looking or directed, it's just not very funny. I also think since it clearly had talent involved, I would have preferred they just made this the whole episode. I don't think I would have liked it more but I would have respected it since it really has it's own feel and making something like this with no b-plots or distractions would feel more like an experiment.

Johnny Unusual

Halloween of Horror

As a kid, I never really liked horror stuff. I remember specifically hiding whenever a commercial for Child's Play appeared and even spooked me into my teenage years. But I did always like monsters, strangely enough. Dinosaurs, mythological beasts, aliens, all great. I think what eased me in was the Canadian kids horror anthology Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which got me into the Goosebumps books and over time I was just... someone who loved horror. But I'm rarely actually scared anymore. I usually can appreciate the craft or messaging and actually being scared is rare. There are a few movies that did it when I was much older; Black Christmas and the first 20 minutes of When a Stranger Calls (fun fact; it was originally a short film, which is why that first 20 minutes is perfect and the rest of the movie is a weird, shambling narrative that feels like two more imperfect, if interesting, films). They are films that remind me of my real fear... the vulnerability of being alone.

In this episode, Homer accidentally gets three pop-up store employees fired, causing them to vow revenge. Lisa goes to a Krustyland horror night, only to get truly scared to a surprising degree. Lisa even digs up her old comfort object; the remaining tail of Taily, her stuffed raccoon from her preschool years. Homer takes down the family's massive decoration set-up, Everscream Terrors, with reluctance and stays home with Lisa on Halloween night to have a restful night in while Marge takes Bart to a rich kids neighborhood to make it up to him. But Marge is turned away and ends up scrambling for a new way for Bart to have a fun Halloween. Meanwhile, the three former employees start stalking Homer in Halloween masks and Homer tries to keep it from Lisa but when they get in the house, Homer gets straight with her as they hide in the attic. Homer encourages Lisa to not let her fear cloud her judgement and Lisa comes up with a plan to use all the holiday decorations to draw attention to their home. However, to light the fuse on the July 4th fireworks, they need to light Taily on fire. The plan works and the employees are sent to jail and Lisa overcomes her Halloween fear.

I would love to come up with a list of the truly great episodes of the show's worst years (I'm going to say seasons 17-28, maybe?) Maybe I will when I catch up with the show and it's summer so I can't do these for a while. And I feel confident in saying Halloween of Horror would rank really high for me. Like, if you aren't watching in this era but need a good episode cherry picked out, I might choose this one. I think it's the kind of show modern Simpsons should evolve to. Yes, Homer isn't as wackily incompetent and awful as a Dad and the Simpsons seem a little more functional but the story is strongly character-based, relatable and even when it retroactively adds something, it feels really natural to the show. The Carolyn Omine script is top notch, the acting has surprising range, and after years of hearing some repetitive Alf Clausen scores, this sounds really fresh (though, sadly, it's possible this was happening when Clausen was being ushered out the door).

But let's back up; why does this work? The Simpsons is a show that after a certain point really struggled juggling sentiment with yuks. Weirdly, in the old days, Conan O'Brien frames it like a struggle from the yuks seeking writers and James L Brooks and Sam Simon injecting some incsive emotion. To me, it seems like the writers won, to our detriment, and we got stuck with jerk-ass Homer and then even when they tried to fix it, something happened to the secret sauce. Simpsons can't be the same again. But also, it shouldn't The best episodes of this era manage to change but still keeping things in the right perspective; Homer and Marge are loving but imperfect parents but even Homer has some surprisingly decent parenting skills. He's not quite as overtly a bad dad. This actually isn't as big a deviation from the older days but the struggles feel not far removed from Bob's Burgers in tone. I'm not sure I can articulate it quite right but the Simpsons seem to be more aware of their parenting methods, kind of a logical extension of "bloody spearheads for Bart" but sometimes a little more guidance based. This could in theory result in a more lecturing show but it keeps characters in mind. Our protagonists are more sensitive and sensitive to others and while that could risk humour (though jerk-ass Homer is the other direction), I think it enriches the character and is more of a positive than a negative. And I guess sensitivity is the key. Because often when the show goes the opposite direction of being mean-spirited, it can get painfully shmaltzy (Apocalypse Cow). But Marge being like "yeah, you were going to be 'selfish' about this Bart, but that's OK because I know this means a lot to you and those feelings are valid so let's go have a fun Halloween together."

Jeez, I haven't even gotten to the themes yet but I'll fold that into what I think works with modern Simpsons; putting us in a particular position with the characters. So much of the series has at a comedic remove and that's OK but some great moments and even something I liked in unsuccessful episode is when they decide to put us in a similar headspace as a character, even if it means risking throwing out a few jokes to do it. In this episode, the composition, noise and lighting let us live in Lisa's world of fear for a bit, like when the episode goes quiet for a second while Lisa hides in a locker until Mom comes by. The revelation of Taily is perfectly scripted and sometimes when some "this episode only" backstory comes into play, it feels off for reasons I'm not certain about. Taily works very well thematically as Homer and Marge worry Lisa is going backwards in development and really worry. It's an episode that is really exploring when do we be honest with our kids vs. when do we lie a little to comfort, when do we sacrifice a little fun to be sensitive, how we deal with fear as a kid.

It's a thoughtful episode but it's also, like, a genuinely fun ride. Because even though it's an emotional (the fear of emotion more than weepy tearjerking), canonical Halloween, it's still a spooky parody; this time of home invasion horror films, like the Strangers and the Purge. And guess what, we have not-household name comedy guest stars like Workaholics Blake Anderson (who is very good at heightened cartoon voices, apparently) and Nick Kroll (I already new he was but while he's great, he's actually downplaying it a little bit as his scuzzy villain). All the acting is strong and I'll also say I am usually pretty critical of the parody musical numbers that aren't Dr. Zaius, the Time Warp parody about "grown up Halloween" is not bad at all. This is the kind of episode I like and based on some episodes I've seen this season, what it might be turning into. I'm glad to be over the hump of the Musk season and while I know we have struggles ahead, like two episodes dealing with Apu (one trying to be even-handed and considerate, one saying "fuck you, Apu-haters, now we don't know what to do"), I'm hopeful we might be turning a corner. But also there's an episode were the Simpsons pretend to go to Mars or something? Idunno, it might be a bit of a wait.

Other great jokes:
"Are you going up to the treehouse to tell three horrifying tales?"
"No, we're going to do that next week. It's going to be Psycho with Skinner and his mom, Muppet Wizard of Oz (I'm Scarecrow Fozzie) and then um one where furniture gets smart and takes over the world or something,"
This is a perfect take on later Halloweens, especially "Idunno, shit comes to life"

The "scaredy pants" shut down scene is great, I love the way it humiliates Lisa in a way that feels outsized but emotionally real; that feeling like your own fear is a fucking bummer to everyone else and they have to roll their eyes and reluctantly help.

"A tabby and a calico? I wouldn't want to be that ribbon!"
I love when Lisa is kinda cheesy about fluff.

Other notes:
There are also little bits of dialogue that aren't jokes that I like and in general this isn't really funny "I just think they're neat" Marge but she is "really awesome mom" with phrases like "she has a tummyache in her courage" and promising Bart "yes, the animatronic will say your name and if your name happens to be a swear..."

Chalmers as Sean Connery in Zardoz is a great costume.

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXVI

After a really good Halloween we have...this.

In this episode, three more scary tales. In the first, Sideshow Bob finally kills Bart but feeling disappointed with life afterward, creates a resurrection machine to constantly bring him back to kill him again. The Simpsons intervene and give him a taste of his own medicine. In the second tale, a parody of Godzilla, Grandpa spends every morning sending a donut into the sea to placate a monster. When he doesn't one day, the monster, Homerzilla, rises to attack Japan. This turns out to be a film within a film that Hollywood decides to remake with disastrous results. In the final segment, a parody of Chronicle (remember Chronicle?), Milhouse and Lisa get psychic powers and Milhouse goes mad with power.

All of these episodes have premises with potential but the execution in all is completely lacking. The first one presents a problem similar to the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" where Elmer Fudd finally kills Bugs and, in a surprisingly beautiful finale, is actually really bummed about it. Despondent even. This is actually a really good non-canonical way to explore the fact that Bob's life ended up revolving around killing a 10 year old. Like, even if you succeed... is that even a win. And I think the ressurection machine idea can explore some fun ideas but I feel like Bob just rekilling Bart isn't interesting enough. I think it would be more fun if he was literally acting out scenarios where he didn't win the first time. OR we see that WITHOUT a resurrection machine. Which is grosser but I think there's kind of a fun game is Bob being in denial about the hollowness of his pursuit. It toys with some stuff, similar to the end of the Great Louse Detective but really, it's pretty simplistic.

The second one is the most ambitious, a parody of Godzilla that really wants to parody Hollywood regurgitating old ideas. The problem is I think it has the wrong take. Yes, make fun of taking something once simple and even meaningful and turn into a crass media empire. But it doesn't really seem to GET Godzilla because I think the mutation of that franchise is much more interesting than it's boring simplistic take. We see Hollywood execs acting like it's a MST3k-level cheapy that could be remade as a grotesque example of overspending and marketing but Godzilla began as a really stark film before, being edited for US audiences as just another monster film that leaves out the Hiroshima subtext. Then it mutated into a goofy superhero series. Then America happened. It's a much more interesting journey and frankly the segments comments on commercialism seem trite. There's a lot to say about how IP is used in Hollywood but frankly this particular commentary seems to harken back to the late 90s.

The final tale just can't even bother. I really enjoyed Chronicle when I saw it but I never had a desire to return and Max Landis' shittiness certainly is doing it no favours. But even then, it seemed like a weird choice for a flash-in-the-pan parody. And it doesn't really earn it. Sure, giving constant beta power is a decent idea but it feels pretty played out and not only is there not a new take on it, things are offhandedly resolved before it's begun by giving Maggie powers and OK, we ran out of time, goodbye everyone! It really doesn't feel like it cares and after a killer last episode, it's a disappointment.

Other notes: Speaking of shitty people, guest animator John K. again for the opening bit.

Johnny Unusual

Friend with Benefit

When I was a kid, I kind of new a couple "friendships" I had were me focused on a cool thing they had, like a Sega Genesis (different times). But even at age 12, when "gay" was a pejorative, I decided to extricate myself from one when I realized the kid's dad was homophobic. But prior to that, I did try to convince myself "hey, maybe this kid I don't quite jibe with who has a cool toy... maybe we can work it out." And though I might have been a bit mature for that kind of trap (even then I was kind of embarrassed with myself), I went for it. I probably could have handled that better but I do think that is a thing kids can do, try a relationship that is purely because of a base want. And sometimes grown ups, too.

In this episode, Lisa gets a new friend, Harper, who, like she, is into magic. She invites Lisa to a concert that turns out to be in ridiculously luxurious seating because her dad is wealthy. Homer immediately falls for the lifestyle but Lisa starts seeing red flags in the friendship. Homer tries to convince Lisa to not worry about it, especially considering all the perks. Soon, Harper and Harper's dad invite the Simpsons to a week-long getaway at an opulent private island. Lisa and Harper have a falling out at school when L:isa feels Harper's gift shows her as being condesending to her. Harper's dad reasons it's kids being kids and convinces Homer to come aboard, figuring they'll work it out. Things seem to go great but eventually there's another falling out and Harper's dad asks Homer to let Harper win their argument. Homer can't do it and they leave the island, with Lisa proud of her dad.

This one is so weird to me because I think it is doing almost everything right and yet I'm still kinds of ambivalent towards it. I think it is structurally pretty smart, decent messaging and it's a decent Lisa/Homer dynamic. It even feels a little old school in making Homer really selfish but not to the point where we hate him and that's always tricky. It's nice for Homer to have a nasty edge of being irresponsible and childish but never to the point where he's cruel. In this one, Homer is pushing Lisa into something she is uncomfortable with thinking it will work out but when he finally sees her discomfort, he backs her. Yes, with a weary sigh but he still does it and with sincerity and earnestness.

I also think the nature of Harper, voiced by Kristen Bell, is deftly played. The show mostly doesn't overplay her brattishness, she's a little more subtly possessive by giving big presents people should be grateful for. She's not full on evil but she's a subtly toxic friend in that she sees herself as the main character of her life. The interesting thing is I feel like a lot of children might have a friend that they want because of the benefits but this is about Homer benefitting from his kids' friendship. I think it's an episode where Homer tries to keep Lisa in an awkward position because he's thinking "well, this is great and, you know, kids fight and are friends again the next day". Homer is being selfish but I think he's deluding himself in a believable way and while that's bad, I find it easier to forgive the Homer who makes a mistake and tries to turn around than the accidentally cruel, oblivious Homer of Make Room for Lisa who means no harm but is absolutely awful to Lisa.

But why do I think this episode that I think is well thought out is just OK? A few things. The big one is while it isn't actively unfunny "not a lot of jokes that really hurt", it didn't really make me laugh a lot either. I also would have wanted in Lisa's shoes a bit more. Lisa mentions not being treated well but I would have liked to see those small offences play out in a way where individually they don't seem so bad but Lisa starts to clue into something about Harper's nature. She isn't an overt kid villain like Jessica Lovejoy. She isn't antagonist to Lisa like some snotty kid characters. She genuinely wants to be friends but what that means to Harper is something that makes Lisa feel "less than". I think it's something the show does do well but I would have liked to see it directly from Lisa's perspective. But mostly, it's the tepid humour. Seriously, I think the Bart bits all feel like they were made up by a marketing guy. Bart proves he's cool by balancing on a shark nose? "So long, suckers"? It's pretty generic Bart stuff.

Johnny Unusual

Lisa with an 'S'

Ah, the theatre. Have not experienced a lot of it. I vaguely remember a locale performance of Dracula our Jr. High class got to see but there haven't been many shows I've really wanted to see. When I was in London, though, I saw two great performances; the Mousetrap and a show at the Globe theatre (I think it was about Anne Boleyn) and it made me realize I should see more theatre. But you know what? I didn't. Except one performance of Matilda. It was fine.

In this episode, Homer loses a lot in a poker game, so he invites the woman he owes, Broadway legend Laney Fontaine, to dinner in hopes of some financial forgiveness. During that time, Fontaine and Lisa hit it off and seeing Lisa's talent. promises to forgive the debt is Lisa joins her on tour. She does but while Lisa's the greenhorn, Fontaine is the one struggling, forgetting key lines. Lisa and Moe help Lady Fontaine get through the show and Marge, initially nervous, sees Lisa doing well on stage and is happy. Marge is willing to let Lisa continue but Lady Fontaine, feeling she's stealing Lisa from Marge, sends Lisa home.

Lisa with an 'S' seems like its intended to be a loving tribute to the theatre and in particular Stephen Sondheim but it a messy bore. Again, the show seems like it is juggling a half-dozen ideas and cannot commit or service any of them. There's no journey with emotional resonance that it seems to be reaching for because by the time it settles on an idea, it moves on. Is this Laney's story or Marge's or Lisa's? It could be all but instead it feels like no one's story, things moving so poorly, I don't care about any of the arcs.

So the arcs are; Marge is nervous about Lisa going into showbiz. Why? The show doesn't seem sure. At first it seems like it is because Marge doesn't want someone taking her daughter away. Then because it seems like she's hanging around unsavory types. But in the end, Marge is relieved because Lisa has... chops. At no point prior to this is Marge worried that Lisa is lacking in talent and the show can't seem to decide. As for Lisa, she seems to be a side character in her own episode. There's no tension whether she'll do OK. One line implies the issue of children in the entertainment industry but it's a few casual tossed out lines. As for Laney's story, it feels like the one with most potential, an old pro realizing she's losing her talent and getting help from the people in her life. But while Lisa throws out support, we never see the two bonding so there's no resonance. Similarly, Moe is mostly around for gags but in the end it turns out he's her rock. I like the idea but then why is Lisa even here.

Lisa with an S isn't actively awful but it's not terribly funny or engaging so I'd just rather be doing something else while it plays. It's weird to have a Laney episode since she's only appeared briefly once before. It feels more like they wanted to give Tress MacNeille more of a role, which I appreciate, but I wish she got a better one.