• Welcome to Talking Time's third iteration! If you would like to register for an account, or have already registered but have not yet been confirmed, please read the following:

    1. The CAPTCHA key's answer is "Percy"
    2. Once you've completed the registration process please email us from the email you used for registration at percyreghelper@gmail.com and include the username you used for registration

    Once you have completed these steps, Moderation Staff will be able to get your account approved.

Johnny Unusual

The Cad and the Hat

Now that I'm at the point where I haven't seen the episodes, there is an excitement. Yes, there's going to be some weak and boring ones but I'm heading into an era of the show and even if it tries to stagnate, it sort of will change simply by the nature of reflecting a changing era. Perhaps it will get shallower and dumber but I feel like we are in an era of TV where with a few exceptions, the more successful comedies are featuring characters who are flawed yet supportive, rather than the wackily cruel antiheroes of the past decade. Oh, there's exceptions; maybe there's more going on emotionally in Rick and Morty but most of what I've gotten from cultural osmosis is one existentialist plea followed by being entirely about tropes. But even darker shows like Bojack Horseman are ultimately hopeful and it feels very far afield from jerk-ass Homer. Ironically, it feels both closer and further away from 90s Simpsons and I think that the way the show has travelled means threading the emotional/comedic loop won't look the same again. And that's OK. But will it be satisfying or simply a hollow echo of the past. Or maybe they can alternate.

In this episode, The Simpsons hit the beach and the kids each take home a prize; Bart a temporary tattoo and Lisa a hat. Bart loses the tattoo almost instantly while Lisa's hat is making her happy. During the ride home while Lisa is asleep, Bart tosses her hat out of jealousy but soon is haunted by his guilt. Eventually he confesses her guilt to Lisa but Lisa is hurt and refuses to forgive Bart. Bart works hard to retrieve the hat and Lisa initially refuses to forgive him, only to be haunted by her own guilt and immediately changes her mind. Meanwhile, Homer turns out to be a masterclass chess player due to playing with Abe but finds it's also tied to some personal demons which he decides to settle with a chess game.

This episode is written by Ron Zimmerman, a writer who I mostly know as "guy who was on Howard Stern, apparently" (never listened to it) and "guy who wrote comics, sometimes competently". I feel like one of his biggest projects was the misguided "Rawhide Kid" mini-series which retconned the Kid as gay and while I'm sure he intended it as gay positive, it was mostly a series of eyerolling stereotypes.


He also did a couple of issues of the Spider-Man anthology series Tangled Web, one which as a competent but derivative Spider-Man version of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im" and a sweeter story about Frog-Man and his dad. Zimmerman also wrote one of the weaker Justice League Unlimited stories. He's a bit on the nose but at least unlike some writers on the show, I think he is interested in these characters emotionally.

So we have a competently written and paced episode that suffers from not being very funny (it's not unwatchable at all or cringey, it's just not provoking a lot out of me) and kind of telling a version of a story that we've seen a lot; Bart paints himself as a bad boy, does something bad, feels guilt and tries to put things right. It's another Bart against Lisa story. It's a little bit weird to focus it on a hat, not because it's not a realistic flashpoint (hey, bigger things have happened over smaller things) but I don't think it sells it to me very well. I don't think we are getting much more insight on Bart. In fact, I kind of wish it focused equally on Lisa, who is taking the poison of spite over forgiving her brother. And we've seen Lisa can be spiteful in later years in a way I think makes her character more interesting. She's sometimes been wronged but then handles it badly and reaches a point where she continues on a sunk cost or can forgive. I think that can be taken further but this one stops pretty short. It isn't a bad episode and I feel like we are getting out of the show's worst instinct; to hit plot points regardless of how well it all connects, but it feels exceedingly inessential.

The b-plot isn't bad. I feel like one change in modern Homer is really digging into Homer's broken home and how Abe and Homer suffered from marital strife and Mona leaving. Grandpa is in many ways the cause of his own suffering and of Homer's but he's also often shown making sacrifices to his personal happiness to help Homer while Homer comes to realize how much toxicity he's ingested over the years. This is actually a great avenue to explore for those characters. Homer's shitty childhood had been explored before with Homer worrying he isn't a good enough dad or that he will be a bad dad like Abe but I feel in more recent years, they are giving us an extra layer of sadness about the trauma of fighting before Mona left and the fallout of after she did. It's no surprise that Glenn Close shows up every couple of years to reprise the role even if her character died 9 seasons ago. Her role in Homer's life remains quite large.

Other great jokes:

Rod and Todd were actually well used in this episode. I like the whole bit where Bart utilizes them to create a miracle to lift a car, but it's only a foot and a half off the ground and he's disappointed and pretty indifferent to evidence of the divine. Followed by the two having nosebleeds (are... they psychic). Then Flanders admonishing them for performing miracles until they clear it up that Jesus is performing miracles through them, which Ned is pretty cool with.

Other notes:
Didn't seem write to note this while being so critical of his output but Zimmerman died of cancer last year.

Patton Oswalt plays Bart's guilt in this one. He's good enough but I don't think the episode serves him well.

Johnny Unusual

Kamp Krustier

The Simpsons is a long running show that has slowly snowballed up a vast mythos, cast and internal language. And on occasion, rarely, they've done sequel episodes. Usually with the show, when something happens it remains in the rearview or becomes part of the mythos. Yes, there are classics that are referenced, usually off-handedly, but it's rare for an episode to have it's events directly related to a single episode. Even the Holidays of Future Passed sequel is more a new story in that world rather than dealing with the fall out. But you know, after years of near death experiences, its no surprise someone might want to deal with the ridiculous amount of events (and Christmases) that have happen in, based on the kids ages, happened in one year (or based on Homer's changing age, about 7).

In this episode, Bart and Lisa return from Kamp Krusty (following the events of the episode) and Bart feels fine but Lisa is distressed. Bart tries to milk the sympathy and stay home from school while Lisa returns to her regular life. However, one night Bart has a nightmare and realizes he's not just pretending to be traumatized, he IS. What's more, he vaguely remembers a canoeing incident where another child went overboard. Meanwhile, Bart's sleeping in Homer and Marge's bed more often and Homer is becoming sexually frustrated, which he channels into his work. Surprisingly he becomes an exemplary employee and decides to remain abstinent despite Marge's frustration. After meeting with sex therapists, they recommend helping Bart overcome his trauma first so they have space to work on their own issues. They take the kids to Kamp Krusty, now rebranded Klub Krusty, an adults-only destination for sex, romance and indulgence. The kids sneak away to investigate and eventually discover that the "child" who "died" with them was actually a little person investigating the Kamp undercover. Meanwhile, Marge and Homer rekindle their romance and Homer abandons efficiency for joy.

Kamp Krustier is not only a rare sequel episode, it's one that happens 24 seasons later from the same writer, David M. Stern, who hasn't written for the show since season 10. So how does a sequel to a classic episode with the original writer work? Um... just fine. I should point out that fine is an improvement. The show is crawling it's way back to a decent quality after years of Elon Musk and Kodos is real. I feel like the show knows the basics of storytelling again. You'd think that's obvious but the show kind of fell into a weird entropy where it became so joke-first (and not very good ones) that it felt like a series of scenes and by the time it seemed to be approaching a point, the episode is over. Now Kamp Krustier is a pretty straightforward episode that does stuff I feel like it's done a few times before.

For example, I feel like the show's dealt with super efficient Homer before and the implication that Marge's sexual needs might be stronger than Homers and the kids investigating a mystery based on loose memories only to learn that things aren't as bad as they thought. The main plot has interesting ideas but it comes to a pretty standard ending. We've seen the Simpsons deal with trauma before; most notably Marge in Fear of Flying and the great first couple acts of Large Arms of the Ma (man, I'm so frustrated by that last act in an otherwise not-bad episode. But I like the idea that a previous Simpsons adventure might have created more trauma than we initially assumed. For the audience, this is just an adventure of the week but for someone living it, it would be a huge life event.

My problem is the episode implies it's all OK just by discovering the truth when I can't imagine it's that easy. I feel like there's interesting stuff but while the episode isn't as disconnected as some more episodes (though getting the Simpsons to Kamp Krusty/Klub Krusty is a bit clunky. Wait, the therapists are telling the kids to visit the site of their trauma? When they've barely dealt with it?), it still doesn't expand on any of these points as much as would be interesting. Everything connects pretty well in terms of story but I wish more of the episode is about the kids dealing with trauma (Lisa desperately wants to stay in school), or about the Hitchcockian mystery the episode ends on (according to the wiki it's supposed to be inspired by one of my favourite thrillers, Don't Look Now, but I don't see it). And Homer and Marge dealing with their own sexual issues is kind of interesting but again, the solution is simplistic; sex makes Homer dumb but he'd rather do that than be good at work. I think you could do that in a way that works but as is, it's merely competent. I will say the BEST decision Stern makes is that despite a sequel episode, it doesn't feel like it's trying to do "Kamp Krusty" but again and is actually trying to use the old episode as a springboard for a new type of story. This is a flawed episode but not a bad one; a perfectly watchable half hour with a few good jokes and some interesting ideas. And I'll take that over Simpsorama any day.

Other great jokes

"Can you kids keep a secret?"
"Well, I can't but Lisa can't."

Other notes:
Man, the show is really utilizing Kevin Michael Richardson this season, in this episode ending with a Can't Get Enough of Your Love parody.

There's a gag on the cliche "Can't this wait till morning" that is cute on paper but really doesn't land for some reason. It's then followed by a sound effects gag that thuds pretty hard to. Like, in the internal logic of the show, there's no reason for Bart to be making them except for the existence of a joke that only plays for the audience at home rather than him,

Johnny Unusual

22 for 30

I'm not really a fan of watching real sports but I do love sports fiction. Sports manga/anime are among my favourite genres and I like a good sports movie. I think sports history is interesting but mostly I love the drama and not knowing the players, I'm rarely that interested in actual sports. I do like playing sports with the kids; I play a lot of soccer in the aftershool program I work at. I love a lot about sports but the only spectating I'm interested in is when it is heavily crafted, even if that includes a documentary.

In this episode, a parody of sports documentaries, Bart acquires amazing basketball skill in detention by shooting paper hoops in a wastepaper basket. Bart soon becomes a school basketball start after joining the team but he's so much better than the rest, it goes to his head. After his coach, Homer, decides to bench him for his conduct, Bart is convinced to get revenge by Fat Tony by lowering the points on the game as a punishment, unaware that he's shaving points for Fat Tony to bet on. When Bart realizes it, he feels ashamed and when the town learns, they shame him. Eventually, Tony comes calling after Bart choses not to completely throw a game but Lisa comes to the rescue by willing to keep mum on some dirt she dug up on Fat Tony.

One of my favourite episodes is Behind the Laughter and I was looking forward to another weird meta-Simpsons but with sports. And this one kind of goes there but mostly it's actually a fairly conventional Simpsons story with a specific format. Granted, to an extent you can levy that at Behind the Laughter but there's such high concept weirdness with the narrator's absurd metaphors and gags about how those shows are formatted while this is a much more bland outing and that's a shame. I feel you can take the tropes of sports docs to equally weird extremes and you can be about the tragedy of someone of talent just being the worst but the show keeps it simple.

I won't say it's a bad episode. I feel like the show really is crawling out of mediocrity to pleasantly competent, even if that often goes hand-in-hand with unambitious and forgettable. Despite it being a gimmick episode and I'm sure the creative team working hard to achieve a specific look for the episode, I don't think I'll bring this one to mind often if ever. You know, despite the meta weirdness of Behind the Laughter, I was kind of invested in the sense that we are seeing a funhouse mirror of our favourite family self-destruct and while they are less likeable versions, I got more there than I did with this episode, which I presume IS canonical (no reason why it can't be).

I guess in telling the tale, Bart is more awful than he's likable throughout and I don't care about his redemption. I feel like while Bart can still be a brat at the start, having him move into sports creep so early makes it so I just plain don't like him. We aren't talking jerkass Homer levels, Bart's been this obnoxious before but it's nice to have a comparison point. Bart's got to be someone who is mischievous but we still like him. Don't get me wrong, there's no problem just going for the laugh and let character development linger but you can only achieve that if you are THAT FUNNY and not just (has some moments). And this episode... just has some moments.

Some moments:
Some good chiron gags
Marge' Simpson PTA Alternate
Gary Chalmers; Founding Member, Steely Dan

"They called me quarterback because I never gave a quarter back. At the end of the war I had a buck sevety-five and no friends."

Other notes:
Enough with strangling Bart!

Johnny Unusual

A Father's Watch

Interestingly, I am seeing a new idea in child care; for teachers, there is a suggestion that traditional praise should be removed in favour of encouragement. I guess the idea is rather than looking for validation from authority and that authority qualifying their successes, it's about showing interesting in continuing work. Frankly, I'd have to go back and look it up but it's weird because they suggested this over praise late in my studies and it's really never come up again. I'm not super into it but it doesn't mean I think it's wrong (and in my description, I'm almost certainly not properly representing it because I'm tired, have a head ache and there are a lot of subtleties I'm forgetting. But frankly, I could see someone getting immediately upset by the idea of a potential change how we try to make kids feel good.

In this episode, Marge is looking for a new way to help Bart and after listening to a parenting expert, all of Springfield is handing out trophies. Lisa is upset while Bart is getting trophies and praise he doesn't care about. But when he hears Homer calling him a loser, he's deeply hurt. He goes to grandpa for help and grandpa tells him he's great and shows him by giving him a valuable pocket watch. Homer reveals he was hoping to get the watch and is jealous of Bart. Bart becomes better behaved based on the trust put in him but when he loses the watch on accident, he is crushed and convinced he's a loser. Homer finds the watch and is proud but ends up giving it to Bart when he sees how much it means to him. Meanwhile, Lisa Simpson creates her own parenting expert to take back the comments of a previous parenting expert, only to lose all her trophies.

A Father's Watch is an episode I think is aiming for big things. It really wants to do a deep dive on praise, self-esteem and the cycle of cruelty. The episode is written by Simon Rich, who has written the critically acclaimed comedies Man Seeking Woman and Miracle Workers (the last one being a sitcom starring Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi and is still airing and I suspect you are only learning about this now). I've never seen his work but I feel like in many ways he's a thoughtful writer and wants to approach this idea from big angles and point out absurd ideas by escalating them into even more bizarre territories. I think he might be thinking and creating in ways that this show needs. Also, I really didn't like this episode.

And it really stems from the premise of "man, this 'everyone gets a trophy' culture nonsense, a premise I cannot buy into. I'm not an empiricist but this doesn't reflect any world I'm familiar with and instead feels like old people assuming the youngs are soft and stupid because everyone is bothering to care about their feelings and some shit about bootstraps. The entire episode's starting argument is a big eyeroll from me. And to be clear, Simon Rich is two years younger than I. He has a character winning about millennials and it feels completely hackneyed and not in an ironic way. I think when we move beyond a lot of these things, Rich is interested in something I want to hear but it feels like a tainted well to me now and that's annoying.

So what does he want to get to? He wants to ask where we get our self-esteem. And Bart does get a gift from grandpa, like the trophies, he gets for nothing. But unlike the trophies. the watch is a responsibility. Bart treats it like a promise to himself to live up to it. I think this is an interesting idea and it does differentiate from shallow praise as it is not a show of joy or even simply pride but of trust, which is why Bart is hurt when he betrays that trust. This is interesting stuff to me and it helped a lot but I feel like the talking point of "everybody gets a trophy" comes from gross meritocracy stuff. So when the b-plot rolls around with Lisa complaining about Ralph getting trophies for being a loser, it completely looses me. It makes Lisa look petty and is more about making Marge look gullible and shitty rather than the fact that people are taking advantage of Marge's trust and desire to help. I think this episode shows that Rich is a talented writer but I also think it reminds us talent can be severely mishandled.

Other great jokes:
I love that Marge searches for ":I wonder if anyone talks about parenting online" online. It's a good, dumb visual.

I think Rich's humour works with weird high concept ideas like a son not being able to get the approval from his abusive father despite winning acclaim for his own abuses.

"This thing has been a Simpson heirloom since it was taken off of a body at Gettysburg... in 1982."

Other notes:
The episode is very flawed but the fact that its still a quality episode I don't like connects with my theory that good lesser known guest stars mean a better chance at a good episode. This one has Vanessa Buyer, Rob Riggle and Brian Posehn.

Johnny Unusual

The Caper Chase

Last fall I returned to college. OK, I was in University before, not a community college but all the same, I'm working on getting a diploma for Early Childhood Education online. I'm in the middle of my practicum and am nearly halfway done the entire process, which I should finish next year. It's expensive and I've lost money going more part time than full time but I'm hoping this will give me more opportunities in the future and I'll be better at it. But it really did remind me that despite my mostly good grades, I'm not super great at school, due to my having a hard time focusing. But I was just told by an educator who had to watch me for my practicum that my ability to engage with kids was really good. So at least I got people skills.

In this episode, Burns returns to Yale in order to look for fresh blood for the plant only to find the politics and academic direction is against his favours. While at a Skull and Bones meeting, another businessman named Verlander, Burns is convinced to open his own for profit university and to save money uses his own staff as teachers. Homer proves to be a terrible teacher and he feels bad about his ignorance and making a mockery of the kind of education L:isa values. Lisa decides if Homer can't be a smart teacher, at least he can emulate the great dynamic teachers from the movies and Homer becomes a dynamic, engaged teacher despite still knowing nothing. Homer catches Verlander's eye and buys Burns' school and Homer's contract so he can teach for him. It turns out Homer and some of America's greatest teachers are actually teaching an army of human-like robots in a convoluted plot to profit off the student loan system. Homer decides to stop them and offends them so much by pretending to be a robot, they self destruct.

Uggghhhhh. This is such a fucking eyeroll. OK, Jeff Westbrook isn't a perfect writer but I find he is one of this era's more consistent writers so it's a shame to see an episode that follows some of the shows more unpleasant habits. Oh, there's no transphobia or finding it hilarious when Bart is strangled by his father, thank God, but the episode starts at "these college kids are too politically correct. They are such pills and they don't even sound like people and they shrink at the slightest error." It's really a stupid, shitty take to have that THIS is the problem with college and the idea that robots with a social conscience would just explode at being offensive. It's really no surprise that Westbrook would also go onto write the "well now Apu is offensive but he didn't used to be" episode of the Simpsons.

But even beyond bookending the episodes with dumb, deeply 90s takes one the weakness of the next generation, it's also a completely haphazard story. Burns opening a for profit college feels ripe with potential for comedy. Clearly, a lot of episodes and jokes are Trump-inspired and the story from years prior of his scam university seems like the impetus but on both scam colleges and the scam that exists within legitimate places of education, there's nothing to say. I also think Lisa's involvement is ridiculous. Here being really upset that her dad who has nothing to offer is in education? Makes sense. Her solution of filling him with a hopeful voice but no real wisdom? Feels unlike Lisa. Lisa is the type where she would be glad her dad has the ability to connect with students but would still be very dismayed that any enrichment is unrelated to actual education and would probably feel weird that while Homer is making them happier, he's not making them effective or useful. If anything "Dead Poets Society" Homer feels like it should be a sister episode of Homer Goes to College, a parody of a genre that in no way reflects a reality. I think the episode would be funnier if Homer was acting like that and the students could see through him and just want an actual education. They might feel some empathy for him but not enough to not demand what they need. I know the characters in the Simpsons are often dull-eyed cattle but sometimes like when Homer emulates fiction thinking it will work and no one is buying.

Then we get into a wild third act which brings us back to "ugh, these kids and their microagressions. Boo!" with Homer putting on "botface" to explode offended robots. What is even happening here? Wait, if I read between the lines is Jeff Westbrook thinking that people are TOO offended by the "microagression" of blackface? If not, then what ARE you saying, dude? You know people who are offended by shit don't crumble and explode. And the fact that the villain is taking out student loans rather than it being that often predatory, inhibiting system is a weird take too. The show is once again moving from plot to plot without proper consistency and when it does try to dovetail it's ideas, it looks as completely hollow as a lesson from Homer Simpson, but not nearly as ingratiating.

Johnny Unusual

Looking for Mr. Goodbart

I remember being a kid and the joy of being spoiled by grandparents. I get it, when you are a parent you need to be very responsible but the rules are a bit different for grandparents. Often they are a little more permissive and it's more about playtime. And why not allow the kids to have a little bit of fun. One of my favourite memories was when an aging family friend took me to see a beaver dam and then we went to the arcade and she gave me enough quarters to finish Ninja Turtles. The latter half is a bit of a shallower memory about my enjoyment but I loved the fact that I could have it and it really meant a lot.

In this episode, Skinner punishes Bart by making him spend some time with Agnes but they actually hit it off and Bart realizes that older women are willing to spend money on him if he gives them her time and attention. Meanwhile, Homer becomes addicted to a monster collecting mobile game called *sigh* Peekimon Get. While Homer and Lisa bond over their new hobby, Bart is getting lots of perks from befriending grandmas. One old woman, Phoebe, offers Bart $100 if he refers to her as himself as her grandson and takes her to the curb from the retirement home. It turns out the security at the home won't let her out without a family member and she wants to go into the woods. Bart, a bit worried, follows her and it turns out she's a nature photographer. Bart bonds genuinely with Phoebe and suggests they hang out together more. Phoebe expresses her appreciation and tells Bart he's "bequeathing" her camera to him. When Bart looks up bequeath, he realizes she is implying she will be dead soon and Bart is worried that she might actually be planning suicide. After Bart realizes Phoebe's escaped from her nursing home, Bart, Lisa and Homer recruit Peekimon Get players to find her and it turns out that while she admitted to dark thoughts, being in nature helped her mentally and takes back her camera. Bart feels bad about manipulating others and vows not to do that to the elderly again.

Looking for Mr. Goodbart is just an OK episode but it's an OK episode with better instincts... in the a-plot at least. Carolyn Omine has written some really good episodes of the show and this is halfway to being a really good episode. And the good stuff is the emotional core; I think there's something real about the way Bart falls into his latest scheme. Bart's only 10 and if someone is going to spoil you, you are going to want to spend more time with them. It's manipulative but it's manipulative in a way kids often are. Compared to a lot of other Bart plots, it's less malicious and Bart realizing a flaw in the system and not really considering the emotional gravity of what he's doing. Bart's relationship with Phoebe is one of the better "person I now care about" of the week thanks a lot of comedian French Saunders giving the character weight. She isn't given a lot of laugh lines but she performs very well, both with her drama lines and a sense of slyness.

If there's a problem with the episode, the episode ends with Bart saying he "learned his lesson" not to manipulate old people and playing with women's heart but despite what the narration says that doesn't feel like the lesson. Phoebe's heart isn't played with and Bart is profiting off of her and then chooses not to but it doesn't seem to be about causing hurt. I guess maybe Bart might feel bad about being used by Phoebe but while in action that's arguable, Bart never gives that impression as he doesn't act like his issue is being used (even though she directly uses that word) or betrayed and Phoebe never apologizes for making Bart worried or how she used him in a plan for suicide. The lesson to me isn't about not learning to manipulate but Bart seeing the difference between the fun sweetness and joy of getting spoiled and having your eyes open to a more fulfilling experience. It's not a morality play, it's about enriching oneself and learning about a kind more mature deep relationship that isn't just about the joy of getting. The joy of getting is genuine joy and otherwise the show, while acknowledging what Bart is doing something questionable, doesn't seem like it wants to make Bart feel bad about it but wants to engage. I feel like Omine wrote a really interesting theme but then articulated what the audience takeaway was a bit wrong.

So the episode has a lot of strength but unfortunately, aside from a small disagreement I'm having with the writer about the meaning of her own episode I'm having, I also just think the b-plot, which takes up some valuable real estate, is really really lazy. It's a pretty tired parody of Pokémon even by the standards of the Simpsons. It touches on talking points on mobile games like spending money (can you even spend money on Pokémon Go? I assumed that was the one game they didn't do that with), secrets from family, being distracted and using the game to actually help, showing the energy used for the dumb game could have been helpful if utilized correctly. But it doesn't really land on one idea and instead seems like "here's a fad we can talk about" which always goes poorly for the show. Frankly, if it only stuck to the a-plot, I think my review would have been a lot higher.

Other great jokes:

"He'll know when his time has come. We all do."
"I can't believe I missed that... or this."
"Don't tell anyone but I'm planning to off myself."

Other notes:
Homer does a dance after catching a Peekimon and I know this must be based on a meme I don't know and I really don't like it. It feels like a weird, shoe-horned in reference.

For a show that is always about getting name guests, it would have seemed easy to get Steven Page to do a parody of the theme to the Big Bang Theory. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Page got in a legal battle over the percentage he was owed for that theme.

I think there's also something to be said about how the episode handles clinical depression. It's clearly not prepared to dig into it and it resolves a little easily for the episode but at least it doesn't imply it won't be a problem anymore.

Bart and Agnes really make for a great pair in their early seen.

The episode is basically comparing Bart to a gigolo (down to starting the episode with "Just a gigolo" and usually the sex/grown up relationship metaphors being applied to the kids in this show really irk me but I will say, this is one of the better handled ones. In part because they don't overplay this hand or make gross direct comparisons and also it is based in the kind of gaming the favour to get a prize kids do.


Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
(can you even spend money on Pokémon Go? I assumed that was the one game they didn't do that with)
Of course you can. Like any "good" get-rich-quick scheme Pokémon GO has its own currency to buy stuff with (Pokécoins) and the easiest way to acquire it is to spend real money.

Johnny Unusual

Of course you can. Like any "good" get-rich-quick scheme Pokémon GO has its own currency to buy stuff with (Pokécoins) and the easiest way to acquire it is to spend real money.
I guess I assumed Nintendo was content with looking more legitimate while selling everyone's data.

Johnny Unusual

Moho House

If there's a formula I'm tired of from the Simpsons, it's the "Simpsons Marriage in Trouble" story. Obviously, there's the fact that it's not going to happen but I also know Bart's not going to die but I can still enjoy a Sideshow Bob episode. I think my problem is the marriage episodes are often accidental arguments for why one of my favourite TV couples SHOULD break up. The answers are rarely satisfying and it comes down to a dumb gesture. And a lot of the time, the show isn't digging into new or interesting ideas in the marriage. It's mostly "Homer is shitty and Marge is tired of it then grand gesture" (another of my least favourite tropes from the show). I don't think the show just doesn't have any more angles but they tend to chose ones I don't find very interesting and feels like an accidental rebuttal to the relationship.

In this episode, Homer and Marge are having trouble at home. Meanwhile, at work an acquaintance of Burns named Nigel wagers with Burns that he can destroy the Simpson marriage. Nigel starts by keeping Homer late from work and upon learning Moe's attraction to Marge, decides to set him up as a trendy nightclub bigwig to impress Marge. With the marriage on the rocks it seems like Moe has the advantage but Moe realizes he cares about them both too much to hurt them and calls them both over to help patch things up.

Moho House is another of the bad "marriage in trouble" episodes but it didn't have to be. It takes two approaches that really showed promise. The first is a scene of Marge crying all night while Home sleeps peacefully that is much more interesting to show where the two are and that Marge is suffering slilently while Homer is painfully oblivious. This promises a possibly darker or more emotionally devastating episode that never materializes. The other is the fact that the conceit is more arch with someone looking to separate them. It's all a wacky plot so if the whole episode was more about something silly it could work. But as a fun ride and as an emotional journey, it completely thuds and just feels like it's falling into old habits.

And whenever it introduces a "someone might be tempted", I always tune out because it rarely feels real. It worked in the early seasons with Jacques, Lurleen and Mindy. But those episodes resolutions worked for me because of stronger, funnier writing and performances. We are reminded why for all their faults these characters love each other and when they are going to bang in the car for 10 minutes, it's genuinely sweet, even though it's just An Officer and A Gentleman parody, a film no one really talks about anyone. Most of the episode is Homer trying his best, fucking up due to incompetence and Marge checking out emotionally and by the end the charm doesn't really return.

The episode does bring up the more interesting idea that Homer and Marge married young and perhaps that meant they missed out on some things. I think that's a more interesting idea. I don't believe they regret who they are with but it's hard to help but wonder what could have been and maybe even explore the idea that there's no one true love. Again, though, this is an episode that really doesn't really follow up on it beyond it being a talking point that allows Homer to put his foot in his mouth. Look, there are plenty of plausible new angles to find strife in the Simpson marriage but it feels like they hit the same notes; Homer is inattentive or just dumb and thoughtless and Marge is tired of sucking it up. There have been great stories based on that but very few raise the emotional stakes. The last one was Marge's emotional plea in the Simpsons Movie (where the issue is based on a specific thing, Homer refusing to help others and finding himself alone) which is stellar. I feel like Julie Kavner's voice is noticeably different but her acting is actually as good as it ever was. The problem is she's not often given enough to really allow her to flex those beefy actorly muscles these days, though you can see her trying.

Johnny Unusual


Wow, Simpsons season 28 is over! And really, things have improved. There's still more weaker episodes than good but even then, they aren't as cringe-inducing as the last season, which might be the series lowest point. Storytelling is largely better in structure and there are some outright good episodes. There are still some problems, like relying on hoary old plots but even the episode that was a sequel to a classic, while not being real strong, at least failed on it's own virtues rather than pandering. The series has also finally come to accept Kevin Michael Richardson as one of it's biggest assets, with bigger, juicier roles than before. Valerie Harper and Michael York strangely become recurring players too. It's a weird year but not bad weird and hopefully transitioning into something better. But this is a J. Stewart Burns episode so this isn't in the better end of the spectrum.

In this episode, Homer finds himself in a situation where needs to choose if his car hits Santa's Little Helper or Gil and chooses Gil. It seems as though Gil has a slam dunk case in court but when the jury learns Homer wanted to protect his dog, the jury sides with him and praises him as a hero. The town goes dog crazy and a new ordinance by Mayor Quimby to curry political favour with his constituents means very few rules to enforce dog behaviour. Eventually, the dogs take over the city and though the town vows to return to the status quo, they still have a dog problem. It is eventually solved when Marge saves Bart and Lisa by punting the alpha dog, becoming the alpha. Marge sends the dogs home and peace is restored.

This is a weird one. I feel that as absurd as it is, Burns wanted to question our relationship with dogs and if we do prioritize our pets over other people. And I think there is something to explore in the idea that we might choose a dog over a human life. But really, if the intent is satire, I don't think it works on that level. This doesn't feel like as poor a choice of target as "everyone gets a trophy" but I don't think it really explores what that might mean as a bigger question about ourselves and instead is more "we're just too permissive with our dogs". I'm not saying that's untrue but in my life experience, the free range dog town doesn't reflect any issues with dogs. More interesting to me might be an idea that we humanize dogs but dogs aren't human and don't have our morality but really in this show dogs are just dumber humans.

Burns also wants to get some pathos from the town's biggest sad sack Gil. who is treated like garbage who dogs are treated like kings. This is supposed to be part of the satire but I think it might have worked if the episode was a Gil POV episode, maybe. As is, the message is "we value animals over humans" neither lands for me or feels based in any objective reality. Do we love our dogs? Yes. Is there something to enquire i about in there, maybe even something bad or naïve about humanity? I guess. But this really feels like some sort of "spare the rod" tale but with dogs.

But maybe I shouldn't be concerned about any satirical elements and focus more on the absurdism. After all, the Simpsons can work in that vein for an episode. The Monorail episode. The Hank Scorpio episode. Episodes that have satirical elements but really it's about creating an absurd situation. And Springfield as a dog-run nightmare scape can be fun. But in the end, there simply aren't enough laughs to justify the nonsense and it really just lays there, a weird little episode that doesn't quite work. I've been critical of Burns' scripts in the past and this is far from his worst. In fact, I love that he went for his weird ideas. I just wish it resulted in some laughs.

Johnny Unusual

The Serfsons

Season 29. Slowly I crawl my way to the present. And this is the season with THAT episode, the one where the show tries to contend with the fact that a major character is problematic and was certainly found wanting. But we ain't there yet. We are now into the era of the Trump presidency and remembering the show reacting to the Bush era and how out of touch the show often seems, I'm not looking forward to the kind of episodes this might inspire. Yes, the series often has a healthy distrust and disrespect for authority but in an era where people start decrying "woke cancel culture" or whatever the fuck and knowing the show does the same this season does not bode well. Still, at least sometimes it can take the time to hear the show wants to fuck up the system.

In this episode, the Serfsons are a family of peasants in a grim fantasy realm. When Marge's mother Jacqueline is bitten by a unearthly creature, Marge convinces the family to work to buy an amulet that can save her from being frozen. Homer can't find the money but Lisa reveals to him that she can cast a magic spell to turn lead into gold but wants to keep it a secret before being forced into servitude by King Quimby. Homer gets the amulet and though Jacqueline actually would rather die and move on, she's guilted into staying alive for her daughter. Lisa's secret is discovered and captured and Homer whips up a revolution against the king and the nobles. The citizens are winning until they break out a dragon To stop the dragon, Marge's mother sacrifices herself to extinguish the dragon and Lisa is saved. However, the dragon was the last source of magic, so Homer re-ignites it's flame to keep magic in the world.

The Serfsons is another non-canonical imaginary tale and it is pretty obvious that it was greenlit because Game of Thrones was popular so why not make a Game of Thrones episode... except in actuality, despite the drab fantasy setting and a few references, this episode really isn't about that. And even more shocking, it is about SOMETHING. Like some of the better episodes, rather than hopping from echoing favourite/famous plot points, it uses the general vibe as a jumping off point to tell a Simpsons story. There's a Wight Walker and a cameo from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau but really the episode wants to be a "fuck the system" episode.

The episode is very much about how feudalism sucks but clearly it also is about how capitalism and our own system sucks. It can ridiculously expensive to survive, the rich cause suffering for the purpose of useless decoration and Homer is trying to tell Lisa to trust the Simpson until he's directly affected and calls for a revolution. The episode isn't subtle or nuanced or too clever BUT it has a point of view and unlike a lot of imaginary episodes that is more focused on it's references (and there are a lot here), it does have a proper structure. It's a little shaggy in places, such as the more played-out religious parody (Hey, maybe there's no afterlife) being interjected at the end in a way that actually affects very little but at least it's going for something.

One other thing worth noting is a big change for the season; the exit of Alf Clausen, who was with the show since 1990. 27 years later he's kicked off the show largely as a money saving gesture (allegedly) and is replaced with Bleeding Fingers, a musician collective co-headed by Hans Zimmer. I'm kind of mixed on this; Clausen was never less than competent but I feel like I soured on him creatively largely because a lot of it sounded the same after a while and the musical numbers (which to be fair, he's working with other people on) in the show tended to be weaker later on. Every so often we'd get some magic again but seeing him exit didn't bother me. But I am bothered that it might be a business decision and that's the same kind of stuff that's making the writers strike and having streaming services burning down wide swaths of their own media. The music by Jim Downey here is fine and having it sound kind of like generic Hans Zimmer fantasy music works for this one but I'll be curious if it will fit in well with a regular episode.

Other great jokes:
Castellaneta sometimes feels like on comfortable and competent auto-pilot but somehow, despite decades of doing "Homer sounds especially gormless for a funny line read", Homer saying "MOSTLY I JUST PUSH IT" has a little extra oomph.

Other notes:
It's weird to hear Kavner, who has a noticeably raspier voice, doing Jacqueline's voice for the first time in a while.

The Aslan as a Jehovah's Witness-type joke doesn't land but MAN the animators really worked on that lion's movements.

Johnny Unusual

Springfield Splendor

I'm a big fan of comics but I don't read as many as I used to. In fact, I still love buying comics so I have a ridiculously big pile to read when I do finally get the chance. And I love all types as well. Sure, I was weened on superhero stuff and I still love it but I experimented and got into avant garde stuff and autobiographies. A lot of them I buy but don't have a ton of motivation to read but find when I do it isn't just homework, it's enriching and just good stuff. I think part of me hoped I would be a comic writer but I never got around to the doing of the thing (I did spend while writing a script for a series idea but it didn't work as well as I wanted because I need to fail a few times and who has time for that). Hopefully, I'll make some more time for myself when my practicum is over.

In this episode, Lisa has recurring nightmares about school and is advised by a therapist to try art therapy in the form of a comic book. Lisa finds she can't draw, however, but Marge helps her out by doing the art. Lisa accidentally drops her therapy where it is found by Kumiko, who publishes it and sells it under the title Sad Girl. Lisa is initially upset but seeing it sell well and respond with readers causes Lisa to team up with Kumiko to sell it and eventually Kumiko asks Marge and Lisa to make more. Lisa and Marge start out as great collaborators but at a panel at the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, Marge's contributions are ignored, despite Lisa trying to be supportive. But when Marge decides she wants to write something and Lisa hums, haws and is being condescending, it becomes apparent that Lisa thinks little of Marge's contributions and the two decide to take a break. But just then, a "visionary director" Guthrie Fernel offers to make a play based on Sad Girl, which Lisa and Marge accept. In production, it becomes apparent to Lisa that the production is inspired more by Marge's art design than the actual narrative and tone and Lisa finds her own contributions marginalized. Lisa talks with her therapist, now a mother, who lets her know when you create something, you don't control what it becomes. Lisa tries to accept this truth but is still upset as something born of self-expression of her vulnerability has herself excised from it. When Marge recognizes this, she tries to add some Lisa to the show with some makeshift set design and Guthrie trying to stop her causes a huge disaster. The play is a critical flop and Lisa and Marge apologize to each other and reconcile.

It's funny, I feel like Tim Long is one of the writers I find one of the weaker in the modern era because of his weird shipping habits (as well as some of the more jerk-ass Homer episodes) but he has written his share of thoughtful episodes I genuinely like, such as Bull-E, and this is another one. It could be because it is co-written with Miranda Thompson and I see she has some upcoming credits on the show too, so hopefully they'll be able to bring out the best in each other. This is an episode with good construction and thoughtful themes. The only big drawback is that while it works very well as a character piece that explores, it's not really all that funny. It's not cringey (well, except one gag) or actively unfunny (except that one same gag), this one goes smoothly but there's only a couple of strong laugh lines.

And what I like about it is what I like about a lot of episode; exploring a relatable human idea from many angles. It's a case where many characters are both right and wrong in many ways and they try to navigate that. Lisa is too controlling of the collaborative project but it was something birthed as a form of expressing her specific feelings. Marge forgot herself in seeing her art realized (which works for me because it's established in previous episodes wanting artistic recognition) and even though she was overlooked before, she does need to support her eight year old daughter's journey. Lisa does realize that you can't control what happens in your art and wants to make peace with that but understandably can't; it's art directly as an extension of her experience and feelings which are basically removed. I think there's a lot going on and though it is summed up in a way that's simple, the journey of the episode itself is allowed to be complicated.

Lot of guest stars in this one including Alison Bechdel, Marjane Satrapi and Roz Chast as a panel of comic creators, Rachel Bloom as Lisa's therapist, Dan Harmon in a cameo and the one I... have mixed feelings about, Martin Short. Ironically, I think this is a Short performance that both works and doesn't work in equal measure. I really like Short and that love has grown with Only Murders in the Building which allows him to be his very silly self but also allows him some earned pathos. But I remember people complaining about Short in Arrested Development because as broad as that show can be, he goes so much bigger. I feel the same way here but it also makes sense for his character, an eccentric director who is far more interested in his eccentricities and handwaving complaints by yelling "storytelling" than being able to tell one. And yet, he's sort of both an accidental bully to Lisa and something karmic. Lisa doesn't deserve what he does entire but he represents Lisa following her muse but pushing aside other people in the collaborative process for his point of view. And like a lot of Short characters, he's so big, he feels like he comes from outside of the episode, which is a bit more grounded up to this point. He's event animated in a more exaggerated way than everyone else. It both makes sense for the episode for Sad Girl to be turned into a twee, overblown nightmare mocking Lisa's sincere writing and it also really takes me out of it because his energy is SO out there. This episode isn't an unqualified success but it is generally good and thoughtful and though I wish it had more big laughs, I'm glad when we get episodes like this.

Other great jokes:

"But I'm warning you, I'm not good at drawing turtle feet, so if there are going to be any turtles, they're going to be wearing sneakers."

Other notes:
Man, does that Kumiko stuff not land. I love Tress MacNeille but having her talk about how Japan is different than America is weird appropriation but then there's that confounding "furry cosplay" gag which requires your ears to squint hard enough to accent that is sounds kind of like hara kiri (guess what, it never does) and it's also pretty offensive.

Less offensive but weird and lazy is the Andy Griffith cutaway which feels like a weaker Family Guy cutaway. It just doesn't work.

Ghost from Spelunker

The Serfsons

Season 29....We are now into the era of the Trump presidency and remembering the show reacting to the Bush era and how out of touch the show often seems, I'm not looking forward to the kind of episodes this might inspire.

I stopped watching in 2003 or so. They didn't do many George Dubya Bush jokes did they?
Which is really weird for a show that's both anti-authoritarian and comedy. The Simpsons loved Bill Clinton jokes and George H Bush jokes and then...nothing.

I remember at the time comedians were joking about how they wanted George W to be elected/reelected so they would have job security.
One time David Letterman even did a bit where one of the writers was on the stage, sad music playing, begging us to elect Bush for the sake of his job. (And then his son says "they're going to elect him aren't they daddy?")

Johnny Unusual

I stopped watching in 2003 or so. They didn't do many George Dubya Bush jokes did they?
Which is really weird for a show that's both anti-authoritarian and comedy. The Simpsons loved Bill Clinton jokes and George H Bush jokes and then...nothing
They rarely mentioned Bush by name (though did dunk on him both named and unnamed time to timed) but later into the presidency they had quite a few episodes about patriotism run amuck. One was the Simpsons are arrested for not being patriotic enough and are locked up with liberal celebs.

I also feel the era really pushed the Flanderization of Ned, which is the worse crime. I also feel there are Obama Era eps still dealing with Bush Jr. fallout. Unfortunately, most social commentary in that era of the show was a bit hamfisted.

Johnny Unusual

Whistler's Father

When I was a kid, I wished I could whistle. I can kind of whistle now but really making it into a prolonged tune is really hard. Like, I can get some notes but when I try to do a longer piece, half the time it just sounds like air coming out. I love music but I don't have a lot of talent for it in general and I respect those who take the time to learn how to make music. Me, I just want to relax when I have the time.

In this episode, Homer discovers Maggie is an amazing whistler. At first he uses her to pretend he can whistle and when Grandpa discovers her gift, he encourages her to train it and get into showbiz. Homer is supportive at first but when he comes to see the toxicity of child stardom, he tries to get Maggie to quit but she refuses. Maggie is humiliated when her first tooth comes in, making her unable to whistle. She's booed at and Homer stands up for her, shaming the crowd. Meanwhile, Marge is humiliated by her friends for her lack of interior design aesthetic and decides to prove them wrong by designing the late pick up room at Springfield Elementary. It impresses everyone, including Fat Tony who insists she held redesign an old post office. Marge later discovers that the old post office is now a bordello and is humiliated to be part of it. Thankfully, she convinces Tony to tear it down as it includes his mother's PO Box with a letter from the Pope in it.

Though there are still bad episodes, I felt like the show had gotten beyond some of it's worse instincts with bizarre, thrown-together plots with haphazard pacing. Whistler's Father isn't QUITE that bad but it's very close. The title story with Maggie is the worse offender of the two plots. It's a pretty standard "child stardom is toxic" plot with little new to say and very little in terms of strong character work. It's completely hollow. Also "Maggie can whistle" sounds like the Simpsons version of TNG Season 8 and Seinfeld Now tweets. There's something about it that feels like a shitpost. The whole thing feels more like the throwaway quality of the Simpsons comic books, which themselves tended to feel like the Silver Age Superman stories but for the Simpsons.

The b-plot is a little better but still lacking. I found Marge's accidental solution to Fat Tony kind of clever but in both this and the other plot, there's no time for any real emotions to land. It's not particularly funny or insightful about Marge or society, it's just there. Note that despite my complaint, it's not like they are hard episodes to watch. It actually has a couple more laughs than the previous episode which is a much better episode. But it's just an episode lacking in anything really human or really clever.

I remember hearing about in the Golden Age there was a push and pull between the writers and producers on that, with Brooks and Simon pushing for more emotional stories and writers like Conan O'Brien being more gag focused. I feel like the series went more gag and outside of the Golden Age, that turned out to be to it's detriment, with characters becoming crueler or the internal logic crumbling for the sake of a joke. But you know, sometimes an episode that it purely joke fuel works but it needs to be very funny and clever. And this is only intermittently funny. That's better than nothing but unless you can keep an array of solid bits coming, an episode like this is going to falter and contribute nothing to the show's tapestry.

Other great jokes:
Warning: Zebra Very Well-Endowed.

"Idiota! You whack who you shouldn't and don't whack who you should!"
"Is this about your brother again?"

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXVIII

Another season another Halloween episode.

In this episode, three tales of terror. First, in a parody of the Exorcist, Maggie is possessed by a demon and need the help of an exorcists. Eventually the demon flees into Bart, but Bart's evil turns out to be a bit much for the demon. Then in a parody of Coraline, Lisa finds a secret world like her own but better. However, to stay there, she must have buttons sewn into her eyes. Considering the alternative she accepts but soon all the Simpsons want to make the sacrifice to enter a world where things are better. Eventually, the Simpsons and the Other Simpsons live together as an extended family. In the final tale, Homer accidentally cuts off and cooks his finger... and finds the look and aroma intoxicating. Soon he finds himself addicted to cooking and eating parts of himself, so much that Marge leaves him in horror. Eventually Homer meets Mario Batali and grants Homer his wish to be cooked... and Homer becomes the most beloved food in town.

The first story is probably the weakest. The whole episode is written by John Frink, who has surprised me by becoming the name I equate with weaker gag-heavy episodes. It's pretty generic Exorcist parody. I feel like the Exorcist is one of the parody ideas that it is surprising for them to get this long to get to and it seems like.. .maybe no one had a good idea for this. Bart being too evil for the devil is an older joke but I feel like it would have been a better starting point. I will say while it does feel like a cliff notes version of the movie, it doesn't feel completely haphazard. In fact, I'd say that while this is a weaker episode, it also has some good ideas and elements throughout.

The computer animation in the parody of Coraline is actually pretty decent at replicating certain elements of the film while having some good character design. And I think the segment does what a good Simpsons horror parody can do; what does this story gain from making it a Simpsons story. It makes sense that while in the movie becoming part of the Other Mother's family is a horrible fate, the entire family is happy to make the creepy sacrifice to have a better life... except around the time it gets there, it leads to a kind of thrown together ending that echoes a famous scene than cuts it short. I feel like the joke of them joining a creepy world or them making peace with their creepy dopplegangers can work but it lacks a proper comedic rationale, especially since the moment before the last scene is a character dying and another being upset about it.

The last tale is flawed (and it certainly doesn't help to have a cameo from a certain sex-creep chef) but it is by far the best and most original tale of the three. The writers are clearly expecting this one to be the most upsetting but after a decade and a half of Willie popping Homer's eye out, this is not nearly as gross to me (though I'm sure self-cannibalism is more upsetting to others). I feel the reason this one works better is because it has the most consistent and engaging tone. The Coraline spoof comes close but this one really comes alive and has interesting visuals. XXVIII isn't a top tier Halloween outing but I do feel like Frink, a writer who is inconsistent in telling longer stories seems to work better in the smaller format where he gets to focus on being silly. Though while I won't call the last tale an emotional tale, it's the one I feel is steeped in character in a good, dark way.

Other notes:
Neil Gaiman is definitely one of the better non-actor performers on the show. Not on the same level but William Friedkin at least doesn't sound super awkward, either.

Johnny Unusual

Grampy, Can You Hear Me?

I love sound. Silence has a beauty but it's a discomforting beauty to me. And I'm addicted to sticking in my ear buds in as I do pretty much everything outside my apartment. And then at night, I turn on my fan and let the white noise take me away. The ear bud thing might be costly in the future, costing me my precious hearing but such is my love of listening to stuff. I'm curious about what I will miss in the future when it starts to go.

In this episode, Grandpa gets a hearing aid. It begins improving his disposition until he realizes the family is talking about him behind his back... as is everyone else. Grandpa wanders the city while the Simpsons worry about him. Eventually they convince him to come back by tricking him into overhearing a staged conversation about how much they love him. Meanwhile, Skinner leaves home after learning as a teenager he was accepted to Ohio State where he could follow his dream but his mother lied to him and told him he was rejected. He seethes with frustration and eventually
confronts her and eventually learns she did it to keep him close. Skinner sees that she seems genuinely contrite and forgives her.

This is another "two A-story" episode where neither really have time to blossom into a proper full form. It's a Bill Odenkirk episode and I have often complained about his episodes that can be a little more gag forward and lacking in emotion and the quality of the gags don't properly support that direction a lot of the time. But I'm actually pretty forgiving of this episode. It's not a great episode and it very much has the same flaws the usual two a-plot" episodes have but it... straight up made me laugh a few times and that doesn't often happen any more. I will also say that there are small character elements that show a lot of potential but unfortunately both end on the same problem; a very simplistic wrap up.

The title story is the weaker of the two by a healthy margin. As is, it is a straight up b-plot almost expanded too much but the potential is there. It's a story about grandpa being angry and ashamed that he failed to notice how people treat him and what they think about him and that's interesting. I feel it could be easy to fall into a trap of taking someone for granted if they don't notice but I feel it lacks a few things. I think if grandpa were to notice that a lot of the things that made people frustrated with him are born from his lack of hearing could be interesting and more emotionally tricky (I know it can be hard when a lack of ability creates a power dynamic that can be frustrating for both parties) and I would have liked grandpa to have a little more time to enjoy his hearing before the other shoe drops, to make it a little harder. And as said, the ending is far too easy; let's just trick grandpa. That doesn't get to the heart of the issue and doesn't even really work as cynical subversion; it's just an easy out.

The Skinner arc is much better and a lot of it does get some time to be explored, at least from Skinner's side. He is full of betrayal and when investigating further, he becomes truly enraged by this feelings. Skinner's mom is a character who constantly belittles him and tries to make him feel small in a truly toxic way but this is her actively stabbing him in the back. The reason is understandable but not easy to forgive; her fear of losing her son. And I feel like the emotion is in there but this is an episode that would have benefitted from an expanded length; to take some time to see things from Agnes perspective (not to forgive her but to see the fear/loneliness that motivated her) and to come up with a conclusion that is more satisfying than "A SINGLE TEAR!? I FORGIVE YOU!" This is just another episode of a comedy show where someone forgives their abuser for the sole purpose of resetting to the much loved status quo. I often complain about Odenkirk episodes but this episode he imbues with a lot of good qualities and I feel like if the show runner returned this script to him and said "can you make this two episodes", he might have two better episodes.

Other great jokes:
"Guess who's got pumpkin stickers?"
"Bart, those are for Halloween. And Thanksgiving if there are some left over."

"I scored the teacher's nicotine gum."
"She does that so she doesn't smell like cigarettes, you know."
"Yeah, she should also get some booze gum."

"What's that?"
"Maybe it's the ghost of that boy who had to climb that rope in gym class until his heart exploded."
"You're making that up."
"Am *I* that creative?"

"May I see the letter?"
"I must say, you're sympathy is a pleasant surprise."
"No, this is the only college acceptance letter I'll ever hold."

Other notes:
This is a Bart/Lisa dynamic I like more than is often shown in later episodes. Too many they just treat each other like trash. This one, they are mocking each other a bit but also are willing to help each other. There's a cute character moment where Lisa asks if Bart can help her break into the school to make a small homework correction and offers to do his homework for a month. "It sounds like you can't even do your own homework." "Ouch" "Yeah, you think about that while I'm breaking into the school."

"Next President Kenny Hitler" doesn't feel that far off and I imagine it didn't when the episode aired in 2017.

Johnny Unusual

The Old Blue Mayor She Ain't What She Used to Be

If there's one thing to be cynical about, it's politics. I believe there are people trying to do good within a messed up system but it's pretty easy to stymie them and make them lose their perspective. There's still good stuff happening out there, don't get me wrong; sometimes good laws get passed that make people a little safer. But we also have very visible monsters who somehow aren't immediately dismissed. This era of the Simpsons is during the presidency of Donald Trump, a situation that was both mind boggling and eye-opening to the sheer volume of open racism that remains in the world. I mean, it was obviously there but the scope of it. The show takes a long time from the written page and the finished project but between then and now the show does find time to inject it's own content. This episode, however, is a broader look at the subject of how hard it is to be a good person in politics.

In this episode, Marge is insulted by Quimby's mysoginy at a town hall meeting and Lisa suggests she run for mayor. Marge slowly works her way up with niche voters and at the debate gets more people on her side with the issue of eliminating the Springfield Tire Fire. However, a novelty vendor with Tire Fire merch refuses to move and Marge finds her one big promise thwarted, as the man is completely intractable. Marge finds herself very unpopular and a remote unscripted town meeting doesn't help... until Homer wanders into frame and embarrasses Marge. As Marge expresses her frustration, the town laughs at Homer's buffoonery and Marge's advisor Lindsey Nagel insists she run with it. Marge is uncomfortable with treating her husband as a joke but with it being the only way to get things done, she goes along with it. Homer is bothered by it and Marge can see his hurt feelings and asks for advice but he simply recommends that politics and healthy family relationships don't mix. During a parade with a giant inflatable Homer. Marge forgoes mocking Homer and instead asks them to think about their own "Homer". Marge loses the crowd but regains her husband. Despite this, a flashforward implies a somewhat successful mayoral career... followed by an impeachment.

This episode is written by Tom Gammil and Max Pross and frankly I haven't really liked their episodes until now. This, however, is a marked improvement, although it is a flawed episode. And while I like to end positive, I need to go through the positives first to get to the negatives. The Simpsons has done political and election episodes before. Heck, HOMER was almost mayor (while dressed like a Salamander) at least 10 years prior. But this episode has some interesting approaches that the other episode didn't take. In this episode, Marge must choose between her popularity and her family. And in politics, popularity counts for a LOT (though clearly not in all circles, since it seems there are a lot of people in power NO ONE seems to like) so basically she's choosing between fuel for a political campaign and someone's self respect.

The episode is also very much about the difference between making a promise, especially a big political promise, and keeping it. It's actually interesting in light of the Trump era where huge promises were made and just handwaved away or Trump or someone in the cabinet says they did happen when they didn't. Of course, Marge is a person who cares about that and while I won't say she's incorruptible (we've seen her make some morally questionable choices before when pushed too far), she's not easily corrupted and works to be steadfast. She remains so in the episode legally and integrity-wise but the cost is the self-respect of someone she loves. But I'm diverting from my point; it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone; the guy running the stand. It's an interesting idea because it really shows one person can make a difference but sometimes that difference is awful and selfish. I don't even think this guy is meant to be greedy, he's just built his entire business on something awful, takes pride in it and it's memory but to him that's more important than the health of everyone in the city.

I think these are all interesting ideas but my one problem, aside from the episode lacking any big laughs, is that it never quite coalesces and reaches it's full potential. It's a decent episode, well-structured and not disjointed but I can see an even stronger episode below the surface about the individual and the many in politics and trying to please everyone. I think this is in there but I don't see all the connections and I wish it went down a few more rabbit holes (there's also Homer and Bart positive they are above the law which kinda goes nowhere). As is, I've seen this story before but it's just a short trip off to being a better one. Still, the Simpsons is now in a much better mode and mood; storytelling feels stronger again, the care for the characters is well-balanced in that they aren't complete assholes but it isn't super saccharine and generally even when the episode is imperfect, I'm still enjoying spending time here in this world with these characters.

Other notes:

Turning the old monorail into a walkway is actually kind of a cool idea.

I really don't mind the show handwaving Marge loosing her position, because that's not really what it's all about. I feel like the writers know better now what to spend time on and so many reset the status quo where a character chooses to go back to something toxic and we treat it like a happy ending.

Johnny Unusual

Singin' in the Lane

You know, bowling is pretty fun. You throw a ball, shoes are worn. It's good. Me and my friends used to go bowling occasionally. That's about all I got here. And it still has more of a point than this episode.

In this episode, Moe feels unaccepted by his friends when they go to a basketball game without him. Moe decides to work to be a better friend and his patrons decide to reform the Pin Pals bowling club to cheer him up. Moe can't bowl anymore due to an injury but he acts as the teams coach and leads them to victory in the local tournament. This ends up putting them in a best 2/3 competition with a team of hedge fund douches, the Fund Bunch. After the Pin Pals crush them in the first round, the Fund Bunch makes bet with Moe with the stakes being his bar. Soon it becomes apparent that they've been hustles and easily win the second round. In a tight third round, the Pin Pals win by a narrow margin but Moe's own weird fantasies strike at him and the Pin Pals have a hard time sympathizing. However, the next day Moe uses his winnings to give his patrons a once in a lifetime experience.

Singin' in the Lane is a mess but in many ways it's a well-produced mess. It's entirely watchable, there are a few actual funny lines and even though Bart is a jerk in this episode he's so in a way that works rather than simply being wholly shitty which the writers sometimes make him. But I cannot tell you thematically what the show is trying to say, a problem that the show seemed to have been moving beyond. Moe's journey is inconsistent. First his issue is true friends, then it's making a bet where he loses everything, then he flips out over a fantasy and tries to ruin the game in what feels like completely manufactured drama (yes, fiction is all made up but at least have it be something that ties into what's happening instead of a Family Guy-style cutaway gag leading to a change in motivation) and then it tries to act like this was all about friends which it really stopped being for a while.

Structurally it is weird in that it also in the last two acts feels kind of like particular kind of Bob's Burgers episode, the kind where the whole family is going on different adventures in the same locale through a short period of time. Lisa taking down the world's douchiest bros is kind of fun but the Bart's arc ending is unearned. Bart's arc where he looks up to these awful people makes sense; Bart sees people who live in a world with no rules and of all the characters, that appeals to Bart the most and all their shitty behaviour feels like freedom to him. But having him turn because he loves Lisa doesn't quite land for me. The situation doesn't work and I think it would be more interesting if Bart realizes that by emulating them Bart isn't free, he's just another plaything to them.

There are starts to interesting ideas but it's a truly unfocused episode and I have no idea what it wants to get at about Moe, who is ostensibly the focus of the episode. I think the bet might be supposed to show Moe is being a better friend by risking his bar to make his friends happy except Moe is only accepting the bet because he think he has it in the bag and it never really dwells on the relationship until he freaks out. His betrayal is based on an unrelated fantasy and doesn't feel like a sign that Moe is bad at friending. The middle part might be getting at the idea that Moe might have some self-destructive impulses or could show that while he's a good coach to others, he has trouble managing himself (which I relate to). But no, it's... just a bunch of stuff that happened. And sadly, it wasn't a memorable few days. Really, I feel like the script it dotted with stuff about friendship and it feels like a bunch of particles in the ether and none of it properly connects. I think it's another script that could be quite strong with another draft. But you do 22 shows a year, time runs short to perfect things, I guess.

Other great jokes:
"Wow, I finally found my path in life. Socio."

"Did somebody say 'wait'?"
"Well I wouldn't come back if you begged me."
*stops* "Yes?"
"Nothing. Just proving a point."

Other notes:
Keith David is on Burns' list of people to invite to a basketball game. I know the joke is the next name is David Keith but I would go to ANY event with Keith David.

Really not getting the joke why all the nerds names are preceded by Quant. Any smart-type nerd able to explain?

Bleeding Fingers... is interesting for the shows music. Clearly very talented people but I almost thing it's a bit much at time. It's like when Murray Gold is doing those big epic versions of the Dr. Who theme but I find it more effective when it is low key and eerie.

Johnny Unusual

Mr. Lisa's Opus

I loved university far more than schools elementary through high. Now, I probably should have made more of a life plan but I never really knew what I wanted. I had ideas of being a writer but I never really wrote outside of school and didn't realize you just had to keep writing all the time. It's easy to say "I'm a writer" but you got to do the work. But all the same, I loved univerity. I wrote for the paper and contributed to the radio station and I loved studying literature and film. I felt more comfortable there than other places of education. Yes, I had good teachers before but now I was studying what I wanted. Maybe I didn't do enough with what I gained but I treasure it all the same.

In this episode, Lisa writes an essay about herself as part of her application to Harvard. She reflects on how at age 7 everyone forgot her birthday and how she persevered with her loving but flawed family who made up for it. Then she reflects on how she saved Homer and Marge's relationship and got him to quit drinking. She's eventually accepted but the reality of college is demoralizing when she meets a student who is simply like a superior version of herself. Bart tells her she's built for this place and she will succeed. Eventually, she meets another disheartened student and the two become fast friends and maybe something more.

Mr. Lisa's Opus is an Al Jean episode. I have issues with Jean as show runner and he doesn't pen scripts as much any more and the ones he does I'm not the biggest fans of. Mr. Lisa's Opus... doesn't quire work but I like a lot of it. Mostly the third part. But let's start with the first. For some reason, we start at age 7 but really there's nothing in this episode that couldn't take place in the show's present. Everyone forgets your birthday is a pretty old trope and this episode doesn't do a lot with it. It almost seems like it is going for a gentle intimate moment between Homer and Lisa but really it's just "no, I'll fix this. Sorry." It's not that interesting. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman opining on weaker children's literature where the crisis is "someone forgot my birthday" and the end is "no they didn't." Granted, people DID forget and that hurts but I feel like there should be something more clever or sweeter than "OK, we'll celebrate it now." Not saying they shouldn't but it doesn't toy with a hoary old story trope enough for me.

The second story is just as weak but the ending inspired me to think of a better way to approach this episode. Lisa finds out Marge is going to leave Homer and to win her back Lisa asks Homer to stop drinking. And he does for good, we are told. It's not that interesting and it really becomes more about Homer. I guess I just never really by "Marge is going to up and leave Homer." She... should. 100%. Especially in the jerk-ass years but just in general. But in terms of a narrative, I find it tiring. I think you can sell it and make it work but whatever juice is left on that idea, I feel like the Simpsons Movie had the last great moment where it felt like it had weight.

The third part is the best. It ends how I kind of wish some of the other stories ended; on a quiet human note (no pun intended since instruments are involved). Lisa goes to school and meets people like her. It hurts her at first because one is just better at being her and she feels not special. But the second person is more fun and she sees her quirks and humanity in her. Lisa gets a girlfriend in all senses of the word. It's stronger than the first two acts and the sweetness pays off better (I feel like in the future Bart's still often portrayed as a bitter loser but I like how here he's just completely supportive while still being a rapscallion). My one wish is to make THIS the whole episode. Lisa's spent most of her life dealing with a loving but flawed family but now she's dealing with a world she idealized but maybe in reality might make her feel less special. This struggle is interesting and I would have liked to see it all expanded upon and probably more of Kat Denning's character. It's not a perfect episode but it ends well and I just with the end was expanded to a full length episode.

Other notes:
The Stark Raving Dad callback is interminable. Yes, they lampshade this with Lisa checking her watch but that doesn't help.

Man, the "we don't have to visit Grandpa anymore" followed by a shot of him in an inert state on a breathing machine is very dark.

Johnny Unusual

Gone Boy

Good storytelling, particularly with character, is often about compare and contrast. Where do these characters differ? How are they the same? And it can also be about the fun of playing characters off of each other who haven't had time together. Yes, putting, say, Disco Stu and the Sea Captain sounds zany but it could also yield a lot. Yeah, they are different but they are also men out of time, they are also often portrayed as lonely. One represents himself through his passions (though some episodes imply its more appearance than genuine) while the other is more about his work. Teaming people up is a great way to explore who they are in fresh ways. This episode... doesn't really do this. Which is a shame, because the potential is there.

In this episode, Bart takes a rest stop to pee near the side of the road when he falls into an tunnel. It turns out to be a small, abandoned missile launch site with a functioning missile still inside. The Simpsons can't find Bart and begin a search. Eventually Bart is declared dead but not before Milhouse finds him. Milhouse goes to tell the Simpsons but soon realizes it gets him attention from Lisa who needs comfort. Meanwhile, Sideshow Bob hears that Bart is dead but refuses to believe it and escapes to find and kill Bart once and for all. Bob finds Milhouse and he caves easily, leading Bart to the missile base. Bob straps Bart and Milhouse to a missile and intend to launch them but when Bart enquires why he's spending so much effort to kill a child, Bob takes it to heart and decides to let Bart free and try to escape his obsession.

Gone Boy is another Bob episode and it's a pretty watchable one. Again, I feel like the show is on the upswing in most ways and even a lot of lesser episodes are pretty watchable. It's enjoyable enough, another adventure episode with Grammer bringing in a very enjoyable performance as usual. There are some genuinely good gags here and I think writer John Frink knows how to write the characters. So this isn't a negative review. But I also can't help but notice all the wasted potential. Frink sets up a lot of points of exploration but doesn't explore and this is always frustrating to me.

One is setting up the idea, the one that gets the most explanation, that Bob might discover that he's spent so much time trying to do something, he's not even thinking about why any more and when he does he realizes "why am I even doing this". But that's mostly the end of the episode. I think this one wants to be an all around thriller as the Simpson family looks for Bart but I think it might have been more interesting if the point of view was almost exclusively Bob (or maybe Milhouse) and it was more of a psychological thriller where everyone is telling Bob Bart's dead and he can't accept it. I won't say the episode is scatterbrained but I think that it never quite works as a more sprawling tale with multiple characters.

My other issue was paired Milhouse and Bob and did little with it and I can see so much. Both are the "sidekicks" in someone else's life. Bob broke free of that but is also defined by his bitterness about it while Milhouse tries to be a steadfast friend but also proves to be kind of shitty, instantly caving to Bob and lying to Lisa to get some more hugs. And both really need Bart in their lives. This could have made for a great two-hander thriller and it could easily have also been Bart-lite despite being about him. But they are mostly... just next to each other. Gone Boy isn't a bad episode but Frink is so good at ideas that set things up that it's a shame the pay-off is more generic.

Other great jokes:

"OK, this is the hardest news in the world for a mother to hear. Just ease her into it."
"Marge, remember you wanted a sewing room but we couldn't decide where?"

"Ma'am, can you describe you son's skeleton?"

*Bart's room is a candlelight vigil*
"I lit these for our son."
"Marge, honey, he's never going to come back if he thinks it's a church."

"Dad, look! It's either Sideshow Bob or Shaq."
"It's not me, I'm going that way. Boy am I lost."
"Can you help us Shaq?"
"I'm not Superman."
"You have a Superman tattoo on your arm."
"How do you know so much about me? You're scaring me. I don't have any money."

Other notes:
Bleeding Fingers' cinematic sounding scores are fine but it is often weird to hear them on this show. Noticeably more generic cinema than the Clausen sound which also seemed to have unifying elements.

Johnny Unusual

Haw-Haw Land

The Simpsons is over 30 years old now and catching up with the show, I'm always taken aback by it's recent references. I mean, I shouldn't be but sometimes it just creates a weird affect on my brain. And I don't think the show should avoid them per se, but the Simpsons had a pretty rough run where it seemed to focus so much on parodying what is popular in the moment. It's hard to say what pop culture will stick around and in what capacity; Avatar's sequel is a ridiculous success but now that it's out of theatres, it's referenced more as "pretty decent" and not really a touchstone for people. Frankly, when the Simpsons does it, it usually works better if it takes a parody idea as a seed and goes somewhere else with it. Having not seen the movie referenced in this episode, I have no idea if it tried to do that. But it wasn't very good.

In this episode, Lisa is at a STEM convention when she meets a haughty but talented musician named Brendan whom Lisa develops a crush on. Lisa recognizes his rude habit of trying to get her to turn her frustration of his own recognized condescension into art. Meanwhile, Nelson gets jealous and decides to win Lisa back by also becoming a musician. Lisa recognizes Nelson's passion and sweetness and feels torn between the two. Things come to ahead at the talent show and there she tells Nelson she cares about Nelson but he's not a singer. When Lisa discovers that Brendon is leaving, she realizes she's alone and is happy with it.

This episode is a Tim Long and while I said something nice last time, this is the kind of Tim Long episode (co-written with Miranda Thompson) I don't like; his weird obsession with romantic continuity of elementary school children. Tim clearly wants to write older Simpsons but also I think he's one of those writers who thinks that kids having (not inappropriate) grown up relationships and experiences with metaphors for certain elements reflected in kids stuff is amusing. I generally find unless it's really clever, it often isn't. Certainly not on the Simpsons. I guess I can admire Tim for wanting to write the kind of Simpsons stories that he's clearly passionate about but for me, I find the Bart and Lisa romance stories (to be clear, not with each other) takes away from their kid-ness.

And hey, there's already stuff that does that like the kids often being pretty world weary or comments on society that feel like 40 year old writers using mouthpieces but often those come in bits rather than being the subject of an entire episode. Long's other thing is these romantic episodes are often parodies of other popular romantic films. So I guess Long like romantic features and wants them to appear on the show but unlike Futurama, you really can't have stories where a lot of the older main characters are finding new love and the show doesn't really have a lot of prominent teen and twenty something characters (most of the grown ups read 30-40 to me).

The big guest star is Ed Sheeren, whose music is pretty dull to me. As a performer on the show, though, he does alright. I haven't seen La-La Land but I suspect the way he condescends to Lisa and then turns it into a compliment or motivation feels like it is mocking the dialogue of the film and he plays that well. The episode overall, though, is pretty boring. I love a good romance but these aren't character's I'm invested with in that context. The ending seems to be about Lisa ending up with no one and learning that's OK but I don't feel like it earns it. I don't think Lisa needs necessarily to break it off with both herself to discover that but considering Brendan's talent doesn't hide his weaker features, it might feel better. Lisa is pretty much along for the ride and when she gets off, she finds she didn't need it. She's never hurt but she's also not enriched to be in this situation and I'm not sure what she got out of it. There's a good lesson in there but it wasn't reflected in the actual events of the episode beyond the most facile aspects and that's a shame.

Johnny Unusual

Frink Gets Testy

How do we judge a person's worth and should we? It's a big philosophical question and I feel like the question most of us ask is "are we good people". Of course, that's also broad. Some people might think of that as simply being good at getting what you want or winning or being right. But the enormous complexity of what makes a human "good" and how we can judge can be hard. Obviously, there are some ways but I don't think any complete ways. Which is good because as humanity evolves, for all it's mistakes and problems, including new ones, I think by and large it is getting... better. More understanding. I think we are getting better at making a loving more, even if a vocal minority is dead set against it and making it a lot harder.

In this episode, Mr. Burns has a phobia about the apocalypse and wants the Springfield chapter of Mensa to select people worthy of joining Burns. Frink, meanwhile, has just developed a special test that goes past the problematic IQ test and includes elements like emotional intelligence and special abilities like socialization and working with others. Everyone in Springfield takes the test. Lisa discovers hers very high but is shocked to find Ralph scored an iota higher, causing her to become confused. Meanwhile, the family is horrified to find Bart has scored a 1 out of 500. Marge is pissed off and confronts Frink, only for them to discover that due to a mix up, Bart scored pretty well but it was Homer who scored a zero. Homer now has his intelligence insulted by everyone but Marge teaches him he can learn and puts all his mental energy into calligraphy and eventually excels at it.

This is a weird one. I think it actually starts off with a REALLY interesting idea but by the episode's end... I'm not sure what the point was. So basically, I like the idea that Frink creates this holistic test to determine beyond mere intelligence and tries to understand a totality of a human's ability and capabilties but ironically dehumanizes them by putting it to a number. Lisa finds that she's valuable but not as valuable as Ralph. Bart discovers he's without a future. Than Homer does. This is a great start to deal with a big subject like our own potential, what limits it and finding aspects of ourselves might be lacking or we might have strength we aren't aware of...

But then despite the explanation, it's more about "if you failed the test, you are a dumb dumb." Which is... pretty boring. I'm not saying there aren't and can't be more good episodes dealing with Homer being cognizant of his stupidity but the song at the beginning seems to be about implying other elements. Shouldn't the real takeaway be more horrifying: Homer is sucky at even emotional stuff. Like, I don't entirely believe it because we know he is capable of kindness but he can also be shitty and insensitive when the consequences of his behaviour aren't brought to his attention or when he's so pigheaded he tries hard to avoid it. And it's funny because the show ends on Homer's secret super power; he literally can do anything when properly motivated. Successful business man, hero cop, muscle man, astronaut (yes, he was supposed to be an everyman astronaut but he still had to pass an incredible battery of tests. Sure, mostly for a comedic montage but it still counts). And it would fit to this idea that even though Frink's created something better than an IQ test, reducing a person to numbers won't tell you the whole story. But instead, Homer is a dumb-dumb and he does calligraphy to feel better and it's weird, maybe if the episode was about how Homer focused all his energy on one skill he can be amazing but it's really only at the end and I think it's a weird, superfictial turn.

I will say, exploring the idea that Bart might have no "worth" is also interesting. That's an insane thing to do to a child but also I both know the character has worth. But I am willing to believe in the context of Frink's test, it fails to grasp what makes Bart a good kid and that he's simply hurting him. I do like it admits Bart's good but in doing so, it also robs a potentially powerful episode. There are a lot of episodes that do dump on Bart and say he's a no-future dummy (including the future episodes) but I see him as someone who sees himself as a criminal because it's cool but he's really anti-establishment and anti-authority, which can be healthy. Lisa can be but she also wants to impress so much, this is an area she can fail in. Speaking of, Lisa tries to figure Ralph out and I assumed it might have something to do with bombing regular intelligence but having such a high degree in emotional intelligence that he expresses poorly that-- oh, no, Frink just did a bad on his test and Ralph's a fucking dumb-dumb. And I do like the idea that Frink learns of weaknesses in his own test but it's basically limited to... Ralph. Because... comedy. Seriously, I feel like writer Dan Vebber, who had done two decent episodes previously, had a great starting point with well considered themes and then really didn't know how to finish it. I should point out, I'm complaining a lot but it's not that bad an episode, it's just one that starts out so strong such a generic and meandering ending is a real letdown, especially when it could have been a meaningful examination of the worth of the characters I so dearly love.

Johnny Unusual

Many, finding this episode in the thread is a trip down memory lane when this thread was active beyond me... because I was talking about the episodes people know about. Anyway, I feel like though both episode is about potential, I feel that one is about Lisa believing she is doomed but Frink Gets Testy promises a bunch of cool directions that don't pan out. As I said, it's about OVERALL worth beyond intelligence based on Frink's introduction but then reduces it to just general smarts. The former idea is far more interesting because it also includes moral, emotional and... other capacities. The totality of a person. But no, it's all about the poor idiots.

Johnny Unusual

Homer is Where the Art Isn't

When I was growing up, my mother and grandmother watched detective shows. Me, I didn't dislike them but there was something about them that felt stale and uncool. Granted their favourite was Murder She Wrote about a pleasant old lady who solved crimes and sometimes explored virtual reality. But recently, I've been getting into the internet's favourite mystery series Columbo. Columbo is actually part of a series within a series called the NBC Mystery Movie, where a bunch of movie length episodes of different series alternate. It really is a lot of fun thanks to a fantastic premise and performance by Peter Falk. It's amazing that this series had such longevity in the public consciousness. The other series were often fondly remembered but not nearly the same as Columbo. One of those shows was something called Banacek.

In this episode, a famous painting, the Poetess by Joan Miró is stolen after an auction and the prime suspects include tech mogul Megan Matheson, Mr. Burns and Homer Simpson. To solve the mystery is a private investigator named Manacek. Manacek investigates all three and Homer especially as he is an unusual suspect. The Simpsons explain Homer's surprising love for the painting where Homer discovered it in a museum and became obsessed. Homer and Lisa bond over the shared love of the painting but soon the city cuts funding and sells all the paintings in the museum, including the Poetess. Homer desperately tried to bid on it but to no avail. Ironically, the story makes Manacek more suspicious until he becomes convinced Homer is too stupid to pull of the heist. Instead it turns out the culprits were Megan, Burns and, surprisingly, Lisa. Burns and Megan plotted to steal the painting but in fact the painting they were chasing was a fake and Lisa had hidden the real painting, wanting to save it for her dad. Lisa's crime is forgiven and the city keeps the painting on display at their newest boondoggle, a sports arena.

OK, @Octopus Prime was trying to tell me about this episode some time before but I didn't give it much thought. I considered an episode spoofing a lesser known detective show with an unforeseen new character would be an amusing lark. But in fact... I think I loved this episode. I really really liked it. It's the last script written by Kevin Curran before his death in 2016 and it feels like the most niche labour of love episode I've ever seen. Like, I think he REALLY was obsessed with Banacek, down to the character's embarrassingly outdated womanizing (which is actually the weakest part of the episode, even if the point is to take it to task). You know, it's not always easy to spoof a thing not everyone is familiar with but I remember as a kid getting the point of many Simpsons spoofs without ever seeing the thing. I feel like this episode teaches you the Banacek tropes so you get it and it's funny even without seeing it. This includes long pauses for establishing shots, characters acting extremely hostile before suddenly laughing and saying they like Banacek and pauses for dramatic/comedic affect. It's like the cliche about Super Mario Bros World 1-1 how to play. It starts introducing the cliches with humour, then toys with them when we become familiar with them.

It's also the highest straight up laugh ratio I've had in a LONG TIME. It certainly doesn't hurt very funny person Bill Hader plays Manacek. Cecily Strong is also in the episode but she doesn't get a lot of the big laugh lines, instead playing a somewhat funny and kind of cool villainess. But I have often complained that I'd be more forgiving of the less-emotional or character-based episodes if they were funnier. This is the kind of episode that other episodes need to be. There's a gimmick but the actual funny doesn't stop there. There's some seriously great lines and dialogue. I was smiling and laughing through the whole episode in a way I haven't done in a long while.

But not only is it very funny, it's more than just an exercise in format, it has a message. Basically it takes the format of an art theft story to tell a story about art. Who is art for? Those who can afford it? The elite? The show presents that even an artless lout like Homer can be moved by art. People can put art into camps like high and low brow but really art should be for everyone. Maybe knowledge and experience can help you appreciate art more but at the same time, ANYONE can love art and it's better to share it than hoard it like a dragon. I don't think it's a revolutionary message but it's a true one, that there can be a piece, even ONE piece, that speaks to you like no one else. Heck, I've seen movies at the time I wasn't into but then AFTER the film, it stuck with me in a way I couldn't shake. Sometimes art stays with you in a way that truly takes hold. Homer probably won't like any other painting that much but it's not unusual to find such exceptions in the world. There's something out there for all of us.

Other great jokes:
This is my longest list of these in a long time.

"According to my sources, Lenny, you're obsessed with that painting. I myself was once obsessed with a suede sports jacket with leather pockets. I would have done anything to have it... even steal a painting."

"Mr. Simpson, there's more to your story than you're letting on. And I'm going to find out what."
"Please don't."

Inviting Marge to discuss the case over dinner has a good payoff.

"Did you know we had to lay off a third of the police force? That's right; EDDIE!"

"Your story had everything; a field trip, a dream sequence, Sideshow Mel..."

"You can't bring me in! You're not a cop! You're not even a regular insurance investigator. You're freelance! You don't get paid unless you submit an invoice!"
"Which let's me control when me corporate year ends!"
"Damn, you're always one step ahead!"

"It was a simple matter of finding the guards' identical twins and hiring them to rob their own brothers."

"Who would have suspected it was the person we've never met before."

"It was a simple matter of Burns building an identical building next to the auction house."

Other notes:
I love the line about "facts observed only by me" which is a great mockery of weaker detective stories when the audience doesn't have the info to be able to guess the mystery. After all, it's more fun to have all the info but then have the writer show you how it fits and gives you the chance to try (I have this issues with Scooby-Doo, too).

One subtle joke I like is slow, plotless shots that only exist to show ALL the credits before the show begins. And this is extra interest to me because I also have a habit of clocking WHEN the Simpsons decides to show credits and how it often stops them from what seem like big laugh moments or is visually interesting and then when it is smaller jokes or exposition the credits show up. The show seems particularly careful about how those credits are placed. Similarly, there's lots of parking scenes that last 11 seconds or so, including one where he's already parked and just staring at his watch.

I like that Marge HATES that Homer likes non-representational art and in the end is clearly trying to give him a lesson on how great representational art is.

Johnny Unusual

3 Scenes Plus a Tag from a Marriage

My sister an her partner together for well over ten years before they decided to have kids. I didn't think she was even interested but eventually she did and she was a great mother. I got to be the nanny for their kids and loved it but it doesn't hurt that while it wasn't always easy, there was a lot of the hard stuff I didn't have to do. I'd love to have kids but I'm getting older and if I find someone who wants to have a child with me, I imagine we wouldn't have ten years to ourselves.

In this episode, Homer and Marge drive through their own neighborhood and decide to stop by their old apartment. While meeting the new residents, a young couple, they discuss their early life before Bart, Lisa and Maggie and how much joy they had. However, having Bart meant having to put away a lot of the things they liked to do and he's such a handful, Homer and Marge find they can't keep their careers that are rewarding and they are liked. They finally get to the part of the story where they have Lisa. However, this "satisfying ending" doesn't satisfy half of the couple who is planning on leaving fearing a similarly dysfunctional family. The Simpsons put on a big display of happiness to calm her down and get her to change her mind.

The show is on an upswing but this is still the kind of episode we really don't need. I'm not saying there can't be good young Marge/Homer flashbacks and they don't even need to have to be the origin of something. Frankly, I can't even think of an origin of a thing in the show left I would care about. The problem is I feel this doesn't have a lot to say about their relationship. I think part of it is I always feel the story is more interesting if Marge and Homer didn't have a LOT of time to themselves before having Bart. Later narratives probably DO reflect reality more, that people are waiting a bit longer before having kids but I feel it is very them that their romantic life was brief and they are HARD tossed into the world of parenting with few resources. Yes, that too comes with suspension of disbelief (they have a pretty great house for a family that supposedly has financial struggles... though that hasn't been an element in a while) but that's what made the episode about them having Bart more interesting to me.

But I still feel the crux of this episode has things that work; the showing how focus changes as a parent and sometimes reality means there's opportunities that become closed off and being a parent is a hard road. But the narrative also has another abruptish ending that's "and then Lisa". I think the episode wants to kind of say it's not entirely satisfying and the problems aren't all solved as Lisa has to force a smile to save a relationship but it's played more for a laugh rather than an interesting examination that the family loves each other but they still have a LOT of problems born simply by being... born. It's a start that could seem cynical but lead to a deeper look into the decision to parent and what it means to close the doors of opportunities for yourself for something that is enriching but often stressful, frustrating and can push you to your limits.

The episode isn't bad, per se, just unremarkable. There are a couple solid laughs but overall, if there's a strength, it's in the margins. One is a really good couch gag by Bill Plympton in his sixth couch gag. If you aren't familiar with Plympton, he's an animator known for his of kilter sense of humour and elements that mix of light-hearted body horror and more traditional splat and squish animation. This is actually a recreation of Your Face, also by Plympton and this version despite being almost identical is actually a bit sweeter because we know who Homer is singing about and instead of ending with a Monty Python, instead it ends with Homer sitting with his loved family. The other aspect is guest star Kevin Pollak. He's a character actor who at the time probably got on due to a resurgence of popularity playing the title character's former father in law in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a show that is pretty great. Pollak is also a stand up and is probably best known for his Shatner impression which is basically the one EVERYONE channels when doing a Shatner impression (much in the way everyone's Christopher Walken is Jay Mohr's Christopher Walken). Here he actually gets three voices and I feel like more guest stars should get that opportunity, which is better than some of the more expository roles some comedians get on the show.

Other great jokes:

"When I was young movies ended when they ended and you only stayed to see who wrote the Power of Love, which was usually Huey Lewis."

"Kids, do you want to check out our old apartment? Eh? Eh?"
"Mom, I can tell from your tone, we're going up anyway."
"I have ONE tone."

"Marge, this photo is dynamite!"
"Thank you!"
I love the Simpsons let JK Simmons play J Jonah Jameson while waiting to play J Jonah Jameson again.

*on an anthropomorphic Homer sperm with glasses and a saxophone*
"Hey, where did he get those glasses?"
"The saxophone makes sense but the glasses don't?"

Other notes:
The animators clearly had fun making up a bunch of weird nameless superhero teams but my favourite touch is the second one over from the top is just The Champions, originally one of Marvel's most "why, though" superhero teams where they through together the most random assemblage of heroes with little point.


According to original writer Tony Isabella the original pitch was a more comedic version of the road adventure TV series Route 66 but with Iceman and Angel before... just having five unrelated heroes and no clear theme or throughline. There are a lot of series now that love putting together teams with disparate members but usually there's a point to it. The Champions kept having such creative turn over it seems they didn't have one to start and no one could get the momentum to make it happen.

The original Your Face and the recreation...


Johnny Unusual

Fears of a Clown

I look after an afterschool program and often the kids, particularly the older kids, bristle against some of the rules. And at that age, it is completely understandable. I often want to balance validating these feelings that the often cheeky humour of the kids while making sure it is appropriate and safe. If I got to be Mr. No-Fun fine but I also don't want to simply have them follow rules. Pushing and asking about them is important and I want them to have a bit of anti-authoritarian views... just, not, you know, to me.

In this episode, Bart pulls a prank that rises coulrophobia levels in the town, which results in Krusty being extremely unpopular. Bart is sent to a rehab clinic for pranksters while Krusty tries to transition to dramatic acting. Krusty stars in Death of a Salesman as Willie Loman and after a few hurtles, actually begins to do well. But then he is plagued by self-doubt in the form of his own voice in his head. Eventually, he's doing well in the play but ironically while hitting himself to get rid of the voices in his head, he accidentally gets laughs and the play is rewritten as a comedy. Meanwhile, Bart's recovery works when the doctor realizes he won't prank Marge. Bart makes it through but after a day pranking with Willie, Bart is back at pranking but has last thoughts when Marge gets caught in the crossfire. Bart tries to stop it but when it goes off, Marge is pranked too and Bart can't help but laugh, much to Marge's anger.

Eh... things were better for a while but the Simpsons has clearly been falling back into some of it's worse habits. There's two A-Plots again and neither have time to breathe. In theory, it could work but again, the Simpsons strength isn't telling a story in an economical way and it's clear this should have been two episodes. Both have promising starting points, albeit variations on ones I think we've seen a LOT. I feel like we've seen a few "will Bart try to be good?" and "does Bart have empathy?" episodes that have more to say on the character and specifically in his relationship with Marge. Though he's often embarrassed by her, Bart clearly loves his mommy and that's lead to some great episodes but not only does this have nothing new to say, it doesn't really have an ending or a point. Except maybe now Bart doesn't care who he pranks? If anything, the ending feels more like a beginning.

The Krusty story of him transitioning to new stuff has happened a lot, like Krusty going into politics, becoming a stand-up and... I dunno, lots of stuff. Serious actor Krusty makes sense but it's a story I couldn't feel much connection to. I think it wanted to get into self-doubt but his self-doubt is... kind of proven right, I guess. And there is something to say for an actor trying drama but discovering comedy means more to him but if anything, this almost feels like a failure for the character rather than a well-rounded journey of self-discovery. A good Krusty episode needs a certain level of cynicism and healthy mistrust of showbiz but I still need to care about what's happening and it neither works as a subversion/rug pull nor a character journey. Just a "time's up".

To it's credit, there are a few funny lines in this episode. It isn't a disaster (see next episode. Yeah, it's the one about Apu.) or even a slog but it is a bit of a lifeless outing gooses but a solid gag or two. Visually, it's less imaginative than the show has tried to be lately and I'm still finding Bleeding Fingers a weird fit for the show's new soundtrack. I feel like Alf Clausen's sound wasn't suited to a lot of the song parodies but the incidental music felt more appropriate; sometimes bouncy, sometimes lilting, a good mix of traditional sitcom and a bit cinematic while generally keeping one foot in the theme music established by Danny Elfman. Bleeding Fingers is just... too cinematic? And I get it, because that's were TV is going but it simply doesn't have the identity of the Simpsons anymore, just generic incidental music.

Other great jokes:
"Marge, for once let us get rich people justice."

"Oh, the snakes ate all the peanut brittle"

"I know he can't see me but can he still feel my love."
"I'm afraid the glass blocks that, too."

Other notes:
Man, what a crime to waste Andy Daly in such a small part as a judge who gets very few laugh lines. I think they should have done like Kevin Pollak and given him more characters to play. He's so good at it.

Not "haha" funny but I appreciate it doesn't strongly draw your attention to the fact that Bart spells revenge with a j.

Johnny Unusual

No Good Read Goes Unpunished

Sometimes, you go back to things you love and you have to deal with the fact that it is a relic of a time of different values. And often, you don't even need to go that far. Arrested Development was one of my favourites but despite some amazing joke and plot construction, it's also a show with unfortunate qualities you expect from the 2000s; "ironic" racism, transphobic humour and the fact that one of the leads turned out to be a creep hurts. Sometimes it can be what's in the text and sometimes it can be what is behind it, such as problematic creators. Sometimes I can compartmentalize and there is nothing wrong with that in engaging in older media with questionable content but if it stands in the way of my enjoyment, it hurts. And some stuff ends up grandfathered in, meaning a program like the Simpsons might need to confront itself. But maybe this isn't the show that can do it.

In this episode, Marge finds her favourite book from childhood so she can share it with Lisa. As Marge begins to read, it becomes very apparent that the story is full of racial stereotypes and colonialist supremacist values. Marge loves the book and still wants to share so she tries re-editing it but that proves simply to transform it into a lifeless text. Marge looks for answers from literature professors who come up with some revisionist views on it that Marge has a hard time accepting. Meanwhile, Bart gets revenge on Homer by reading and taking to heart Sun Tzu's the Art of War. Homer figures it out and retaliates in kind, ironically bringing them together over the love of the book.

So, this episode is basically the last episode people talked about this show and for all the wrong reasons. Mostly because the episode is about dealing with itself to an extent and the fallout of The Problem With Apu, the TV documentary special in which comedian Hari Kondabolu discusses the character with other South Asian performers. It's clear that something had to change but, for those who haven't seen it, the episode stops midway (I always assumed this happened at the end of the episode. I also suspect I'll forget this fact and assume it again) for Lisa and Marge look directly into the camera to make an allusion to this. And it's pretty fucking stupid. Lisa proclaims that something once seen as "applauded and inoffensive" is now "politically incorrect", impotently asks "what can you do?" and then suggests the Apu thing will be taken care of "At a later date/if at all."

There's a lot to complain about in the episode but this is understandably what everyone latched onto. It's an editorial in the middle of the episode that suggests "it used to be good and now it's not", which is different than "we assumed it was OK, but clearly we were wrong." And hey, I didn't have a problem with Apu... until it was brought to my attention and, yeah, it is fucked up. And it is weird that a lot of roles for non-white characters go to white people. Bojack Horseman also used it's time to interrogate itself over the character of Diane Nguyen being voiced by a white woman. They never did change the actor but it also felt like it was trying to reach for something and was willing to be more damning of itself (though I don't know how it would feel on rewatch). But the Problem with Apu is deeper than that and this episode is more "well, it's not politically correct anymore, even though people used to like it." It's a very tone deaf argument that is really reductive to the problem, particularly ideas like having representation on TV in a capacity controlled and decided by people who aren't that.

I guess I could go on forever and there are no shortage of think pieces but the episode sucks beyond that because it's an episode that's neither interested in an answer nor is thoughtful about it. It acknowledges the problems but wouldn't it be more interesting if we knew WHY Marge liked the book. She didn't remember the problematic stuff so there must have been something beyond that. What about leaving the text itself behind and thinking about what she found enriching about it. Marge is upset about what she reads but we don't get into her headspace, that feeling of dread in seeing something you love also be something hurtful. Because I've felt that a lot.

I don't necessarily need an answer, interrogating and questioning can be done to but the episode just has Marge confronting the spurious claims of some professors, saying she doesn't buy it, they get drunk END OF STORY! That's where the a-plot ends. It doesn't deal with the impact of the art, good and bad, and reflects the impotent worldview of Jeff Westbrook's script. The episode instead of exploring any feelings beyond "I don't know what to do with this thing I love", a lot of time is devoted to Bart following the art of war and that is actually most of the episode. But it's also weak b-plot material that's acting as a co-a-plot and one I have very little to even acknowledge about it.

The logline is actually potentially really interesting with Marge and Lisa dealing with a generational gap and Marge wanting to reach out with art only to find it a poisoned well. But Lisa spends a lot of the episode, even outside the "big scene" as more of a mouthpiece. She rolls her eyes at the racism and acts like we lost another great book. But isn't it more interesting in dealing with the fact that Lisa knows it means a lot to Marge but can't engage with it in the same way? It's an episode that even outside it's statement wants to be about our art but ends up being about nothing. I'm not surprised. Westbrook actually had a decent run of episodes for a while, then tipped his hand with his previous script where evil robots are destroyed by microaggressions because college students, even robot ones, are snowflakes. If you want to know "what can you do?", my suggestion is to take the time to think about it. Do you know who did that? Hank Azaria. The voice of Apu didn't double down, he took stock, came to the conclusion that his work caused pain, which made him sad and he apologized. This is better than Harry Shearer, who was like "No, I'm pretty sure I can play any race" or some such. The Simpsons is a very long running show and the impact it has in more recent years is much more muted than in the past. But making a statement still has an effect and either you can say "I dunno" or you can really work on yourself. There's lots of shitty jokes I've made or ideas I've had that I cringe at but while sometimes I do want to beat myself up over it, it's more important to do the work to be better and help anyone I've hurt if I can.

Other notes:
I feel like I'm over a hump. I don't know if the show is going to get better but I'm hoping I won't get any more takes this bad.