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madhair60

Video games
I’m on season 27 now and it is condensed ass. But I liked one joke in the three episodes I saw, but it wasn’t really good exactly it was just dumb
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Changing of the Guardian

I loved taking care of my niece and nephew for five years. In doing so, I felt a lot like a third parent. But in the end, I wasn't. I did some hard stuff but I never had to stay overnight dealing with nightmares or having to do all the planning involving my nieces condition. I played an important role that brought us very close but in the end, I wasn't a parent, I was just a caring uncle.

In this episode, Homer and Marge survive a dangerous situation and realize that they never chose a guardian for Bart, Lisa and Maggie in case the worse happened. Homer and Marge find that their familial choices have problem and their friends are not good options. Even worse, when word gets out, the Simpsons are avoided for fear of being asked. Eventually, they end up finding two strangers who the kids like and who seem perfect in every way. The two couples agree to allow the new couple to be guardians but Homer and Marge get worried that the new couple are taking their duties too far. Homer and Marge confront them and it turns out they do want to take the kids but the kids aren't interested and the status quo is preversed.

Boy is this yet another complete non-entity of an episode. Again, my complaint from this era is that episodes decided not to have a point any more. This episode is saying very little about parenting except reminding Homer and Marge they want to be parents... which really doesn't represent where the episode started. Again, the series is increasing not only divorced from point, it seems to be written as a stream of consciousness and then never properly restructured to laser focus on one idea nor finding a sensible way to connect its many different ideas.

The premise is actually potentially interesting, exploring the idea of who you would want raising your kids. But instead the weird "Homer and Marge get paranoid about someone trying to steal their kids and also they were". I'm much more interested in seeing tension in having to figure out what kind of parent you would trust with your kid. That said, the idea of these potential guardians overreaching in their responsibilities could be interesting but they aren't well-defined and the fact that they actually want to take Bart and Lisa way just doesn't track. I'm much more about it being focused on low key awkwardness from these well-meaning people intruding in Homer and Marge's parenting.

This kind of episode is the stuff I remember most from when I quit the show, a complete disinterest in the mechanics of storytelling and awkward, pained joke writing. There's a really tortured pun about "swinging" that just whiffs so hard, I'm angry sighing at the screen. The episode is written by Rob LaZebnik who at this point has a low hit ratio. When your best episode is the one where Homer is fucked by a panda, that's a bad sign. But at least I remembered that one. There were things I liked in it, despite a huge shit bomb that is the second act. I KNOW I've seen this episode before. I must have. But nothing is sticking. And it will likely be unstuck again.

Other notes:
Man, I remember this episode was promoted as the return of Herb Powell and it was for a quick two sentence joke. Rashida Jones is the real guest star but she's one of those stars... I never remember who she is. I try to bring her to mind and it's Zooey Deschenel. I guess she co-wrote Toy Story 4.
 

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Love is a Many Splintered Thing

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

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

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

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

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

madhair60

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

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

Johnny Unusual

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

Johnny Unusual

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

672771.jpg
 

MetManMas

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Hardly Kirk-ing

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

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

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

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

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

Lokii

Administrator
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
I just think that it's so weird that the show was so invested in trying to get Bart and Lisa in relationships.

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Gorgeous Grandpa

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Black Eyed, Please

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Dark Knight Court

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(He/Him)
What Animated Women Want

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Pulpit Friction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
Whiskey Business

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

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

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

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

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

Other great jokes:

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Fabulous Faker Boy

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

(He/Him)
The Saga of Carl

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

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

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

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

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