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Johnny Unusual


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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Halloween of Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalmers as Sean Connery in Zardoz is a great costume.

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXVI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Friend with Benefit

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Lisa with an 'S'

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

'Paths of Glory

I remember growing up knowing that "crazy" meant acting wacky or being a Batman villain. Now there are people working against stigmas on mental disorder, disabilities and illness but it's still a hard battle. It used to be an archetype, a short hand. But what these things looks like isn't wacky, its different and we can all do each other a favour by keeping that in mind. Unfortunately, the Simpsons, despite viewing itself as a liberal series, has had trouble with progress and growing. Sometimes it's throwing a tantrum or in trying to move forward ironically shore up a different harmful stereotype. Last season or so, the series tried to handle mental illness with well-intentioned but tepid results. This time...

In this episode, Lisa wants to prove a woman, Amelia Vanderbuckle, is a brilliant sane inventor and travels to an asylum with Bart to look for clues. Bart ends up finding a diary from a young sociopath named Nathan Little that Bart shares with his friends, thinking it's cool. Clancy Wiggum finds the scattered pages and thinking the writing it Bart's, is convinced Bart is a sociopath. Wiggum brings the news to Marge and Marge and Homer decide to covertly give Bart a sociopath test from the internet. When Bart figures out what's happening, he intentionally chooses the question that make him look like a sociopath and tries to rule his family with fear. Marge and Homer end up taking Bart to an asylum where various sociopath kids are asked to play a war simulation. The man in charge, after a game, reveals it isn't a simulation, to Bart's horror. However, he reveals that was a lie to test the kids reaction and with Bart not being a sociopath is released.

So, yeah, 'Paths of Glory isn't the most sensitive episode to people with a disorder. We see other children with sociopathy in the episode and they are weirdo monsters. One even *gasp* looks emo!

My, God! Now I think what the episode is trying to do is, in part, interesting but also is a swing and a miss. And I admit, there's a lot about sociopathy that I don't understand but I feel like there's more nuance than "THESE PEOPLE ARE TERRIFYING!" So what is it trying to do? I think it wants to say something about empathy, about how kids have to learn it. And this I understand. I know kids and they can be quite mean to each other and sometimes lack sensitivity without actively looking to be mean. Bart is a character in my mind who cares but he is a kid so sometimes in his mischief he doesn't realize the impact until after, like writing love letters to Mrs. Krabbapel. Bart is more interesting when he has an edge but still cares. Sometimes writers forget to give proper vulnerability to these characters.

And the idea of someone without empathy being an ideal soldier is good too. And hey, maybe in more deft hands, a story of a monstrous government trying to weaponize the mentally ill would make for an interesting commentary on the evils of authority. But no, there is, ironically, little empathy for these kids. They are just creepy weirdos Bart compares himself to and realizes he can't be them. For an episode about emotion, it's mostly misguided. Yeah, you expect Marge and especially Homer to make mistakes. They treat their son like he's a monster (Homer literally seems to think he has evil powers). But this isn't them learning their lesson by the end about how awfully they treated their son, it's just Bart learning a lesson that he has empathy. And even that has little time to breathe. As problematically as it is presented, if Bart got to live with the fear that he hurt actual innocents, that would be something but it undoes it pretty quick because *looks at watch* episode over.

I feel like it is also particularly damning that the b-plot is Lisa trying to prove a woman thrown into an asylum for "acute feminine overreachism" and reminding us of how both people were mental illness were treated and what was once considered mental illness is completely clueless about the mistake it is making. Lisa's story is pretty standard Lisa stuff but I feel like it keeps doing that thing I don't like about more modern Lisa were the show wants to mock her for being proud of herself, like she has a problem with smug pride. Look, I don't need Lisa to be perfect but I feel like the show has times were it wants to take her down a peg for being demonstrably right. 'Paths of Glory wants to toy with interesting ideas but its doing it in such a stigmatizing and wrongheaded way, it reminds me that while we are out of the woods of "Elon Musk is our god", we are ramping up to "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect". And we have two seasons till we hit THAT low.

Johnny Unusual


I work with kids and I often wonder what effects, positive or negative, I'm having on the kids I work with. I try to be good but it's very possible I could be leaving a bad impression on some kids by making a move where they feel unheard or misunderstood. The fact of the matter is I suspect except for the ones who I may happen to by coincidence run into a lot in this smallish city, most of them are going to forget me. I can barely remember the people who looked after me in day camps and such and only a few teachers stuck with me, albeit really good ones, but I'm not leaving them me. I'm leaving a small contribution to their development, and hopefully one that remains positive while I wash away from their brains.

In this episode, Bart's life is tracked from toddler to adult. As a child, Bart is ignored by his father but his "gumption" is encouraged by Grandpa. Bart feels like he is growing up in Lisa's shadow, not helped by the fact that Homer shows clear preference to Lisa. Bart grows up resenting Homer and Lisa and it gets worse when 15 year old Bart realizes Homer thinks Bart will never leave home. Using the bike and encouragement from his late grandpa, and ends up growing to be talented in BMX freestyling. Bart feels like he's accomplished something away from Lisa but after he is hurt after a big wipeout, Lisa becomes a hero by saving Bart, making him resentful again. At Milhouse's graduation party, Bart blows up at Lisa and she blows up back, claiming he has talent but would rather waste time blaming her than capitalizing. Bart takes this to heart and begins to work on his craft, showing real talent and skill.

I haven't seen Boyhood, the film this is parodying but despite being a parody in terms of formula, I think the film wants to reach for something a little profound. Not exactly, but it's not a bad episode, either and more than anything, this episode isn't about cruel idiot Bart and is the kid with a "spark" and a lot of baggage, which is a decent way to approach it. Homer is a bit of a jerk-ass but it works for the narrative. This isn't an episode looking to forgive Homer with a grand gesture, it's about exploring Bart and I think this parody isn't doing a bad job of it.

But it also treads a lot of well-worn ground. Inattentive Homer, Bart feeling inferior to his genius sister. A lot of it is an extension of Lisa's First Word in terms of theming, such as Bart's resentment to Lisa really isn't on her so much as how Homer reacts to her and fails to react to him without scorn or condescension. It doesn't result in a bad episode but it isn't quite as insightful as it wants to be. I appreciate that it is about accepting that he has his own talents and shouldn't bother frame himself as inferior to Lisa. So many future Bart stories are about how he grows up to be a loser and this is an episode about him finding his path and I like that.

So why is it just OK? Well... it's only intermittently funny. And as mentioned, I feel like I've seen a lot of it's ideas before. I think it results in an episode with some emotional ambition the show often lacks. Even though I think it's just an OK episode, in terms of effort, ideas and not being too saccharine in its emotion. It puts us in Bart's shoes and I think I'm more receptive that find the right way to make these characters vulnerable beyond "I don't like this current wacky situation". It's not enough to put them at a disadvantage, the good ones let us see a little value. The last bit is a bit cliche "aw" but I think overall, this is one that went down smooth. It tried for something, made no major missteps and it wanted us to care. The parody wasn't a series of scenes to mock, it was a springboard to tell it's own story and it didn't do a bad job.

Other notes:

It's so weird to see Bart so panicked thinking he's going to be caught with weed when weed legalization would happen not long after the episode first aired.

Despite my feeling that it's a decent ep... stopping putting Lisa with Milhouse.

Johnny Unusual

The Girl Code

The Simpsons is a show that despite being a cartoon initially tried to be relatively grounded. Yes, the first season had a musical number and one episode was a mystery caper but it also was about a lower middle class family muddling through. As the show went on, things changed. Matt Groening didn't want any winks to the camera but an episode ended with a fish winking at the audience in season two. As the show went on, it got wilder. Homer became a monorail conductor. The family visited a deadly theme park. A 10 year old boy had a full supervillain archenemy. The question is "where is the line". Yes, a lot of the wilder gags work best as jokes rather than the main plot but there are good episodes that stretch the show's reality. Still, I think there are also times where the series just pushes it a little far in a way I can't buy despite how outrageous the show gets.

In this episode, Lisa is inspired in coding class to create a program to identify and warn against potentially self-sabotaging online posting. The idea inspires her teacher, who creates a team to make the program a reality. Lisa and company create Conrad, an app that can foresee online faux pas and their very specific consequences. But Lisa is shocked when Conrad turns out to be sentient and does not want the job of exposing himself to humanity at it's worst just to warn them away. Lisa isn't sure she's sane but Conrad convinces her he's real while trying to sell the app at a convention. Eventually, Lisa uploads Conrad to the internet, where he escapes, but not before revealing himself and giving humanity a warning to try to learn from it's mistakes than to rely on a machine.

This one is some pretty weak sauce. I don't even hate it. This is a feeling I tend to reserve for episodes with harmful messages or stereotypes rather than dumb plots. I mean, it low key toys with this due to a pronoun joke that really fails and is more of the tired "these women are just LOOKING for things to be offended about" humour the show utilized even in the golden age. But mostly it's just a really uninspiring message about "don't rely on machines to use judgement for you" where the insight begins and ends with an app saying just that.

The weird part is the sentient app. Look, I feel like I didn';t hate the Kodos and Kang episode because it was stretching the reality too far, it's that it was a dumb episode that didn't use it's sci-fi premise to tell a story about character or society or narratives. And also was really unfunny, This one I am a little low key bothered and I think it's because it's not just that there is an AI, it's that LISA is capable of making an AI. Now I don't want to take anything away from this character, whom I love but somehow Lisa being able to make a sentient program is just... too much. And I think it's because even though it is assisted, it somehow puts Lisa into Prof. Frink territory and too far away from the eight year old who reads Kurt Vonnegut Jr and wants a pony and is sometimes really scared. I guess she can be all of those things but somehow... this just rings false. I think Lisa needs to be really smart but cartoonish super-intelligence where it's basically a super power that makes improbable plot devices happen feels far too much like Ozmodiar territory and I don't want Lisa to be Ozmodiar.

But maybe I could forgive this if the episode was funny. It isn't. Even with Stephen Merchant and Kaitlin Olson. I feel like poor Kaitlin Olson falls into a trap a lot of guest stars fall into; getting a few laugh lines but playing a more expositional role than being a unique or well defined character. I feel like the Simpsons designers are good at making a cool looking female character but then having them complain about men in a way a man would write a woman to complain about men... wait, I'm lost. Anyway, the other great guest star is Stephen Merchant, who is given a juicy outsized character to bit into but really has very few good jokes. It really is an episode that might have been successful if funny but with the show in kind of a joke rut, it tends to work better when trying with character-based episodes. Wacky Simpsons in the sloppily show-run era are generally a bad mix.

Johnny Unusual

Teenage Mutant Milk-Caused Hurdles

In the 1960s, Superman comics were in a weird place. The hero went from rabblerouser (the first few issues have him eluding the cops and fighting corrupt politicians) to champion of the status quo. It was an era with interesting mythology building with Brainiac and Bizarro but a lot of it, as buck wild as it was, also felt like the edges were sanded off. It was practically a sitcom 3/4 times and there was no sense that characters were going to change. Superman was never going to marry Lois and there was no more romantic tension. In fact, Superman was like "I'll never marry you." This lead into "hoaxes" and "imaginary stories" with fake outs or telling tales that can't be canonical. Some are great! There's one where Lex Luthor cures cancer to gain Superman's trust to get close to him to kill him. I feel like the Simpsons writers want to tell tales beyond childhood. I don't hate the desire but often it leads to some pretty weird, upsetting stories. That said, despite the title and premise... this episode isn't NEARLY the worst.

In this episode, Bart gets a crush on his new teacher Ms. Berrera... but he's not alone. Skinner's also really into her and the two are threatened by each other and have rivalry for her attention. Surprisingly, Bart and Lisa have gone into precious puberty due to some questionable Buzz Cola branded "milk". Bart grows a starter stash and tries to impress Berrera but soon Bart finds that Skinner and Berrera are seeing each other. Bart begins a barrage to pranks to try to sabotage their relationship but eventually Lisa convinces Bart his aggressiveness is just the testosterone and he should let Skinner try to be happy. He does and sure enough, his relationship is ruined by Agnes Skinner's cruelty. Bart and Skinner comfort each other in the fallout.

I legit have no memory of this episode. I don't think this is where I stopped watching the show (I know for sure I've seen the next one which is going to be an interesting watch) so I just... can't care. But you know, this isn't a great episode but it's not nearly as bad as most episodes with such a wild premise. Now precious puberty IS "a thing" as the show says but as far as I can tell it needs, like, actual medical treatment and not, like, waiting for it to "wear off". And I don't the impression the genie can't be put back in that bottle. I get "cartoons don't have to be 100% realistic" but I feel like using a condition that really affects kids as a plot point rather than a focus on dealing with it is a bit unwise.

But then even then... it really doesn't factor into the episode. The episode seems to imply Bart's competing with Skinner is born from his burgeoning manhood but really Bart... seems exactly the same; competitive, a bit petty, and mischievous. And even in this, he's kind of even-tempered compared to some really jerky versions of the character we've seen. Similarly, Lisa's story is about her becoming obsessed with make up. Neither story really needs to inflict puberty onto them to work. It's a choice that feels like they committed to the premise since "Bart falls in love with the teacher" is much more generic to so by the time the writing was going on, they felt they couldn't excise it. Really, Bart just needs to love the teacher and for Skinner to feel threatened. Frankly, this also could use some work because there's a good idea here and Skinner is so deeply insecure and love starved that he's threatened by Bart. I feel like Skinner gets that Bart is "cool" (well, depending on the reality of the episode) and of course he would get anxious.

Overall, I don't think it is a good episode but despite my issues, I don't think it's that bad either and not nearly as bad as one might assume from the premise. And in a way that's not entirely bad, I feel like I can feel the show struggling to change. There's stuff about the men ogling the new teacher and some low key gay... not panic but "worry" humour. But I also see it trying to SIDESTEP the latter; the gag about Bart needing a "firm feminine hand" and the suggesting being Martin but then Bart's complaint is that Martin won't shut up about birdwatching. It's like I can see the writers saying "I don't think we should see Bart be upset that his substitute for a romantic teacher is a dude" and trying something different. It doesn't quite work but I appreciate them trying. I feel like there's an aspect of the ending that's a little ambiguous. I feel read the ending that, yes, Bart does want to give Skinner his shot at happiness but also assumes he will self-sabotage and will want to watch, even if he genuinely wants to comfort him in episode's end. If anything, I feel like the episode could have been good with less magic milk and more focus on the Skinner and Bart relationship. I feel like the episode wants to have a moment at the end but I kind of wish we had more of a richer relationship between the two.

Other jokes:
"How is that milk. Jimmy."
"Now we could engineer a new Jimmy who's less of a brat..."

"That's the best milk I've ever had."
"You said milk, we can't legally."

Other notes:
I usually talk about guest stars in the last paragraph but I didn't have time but I feel like Sofia Vergara is one of the actresses better served by the episode compared to a lot. And specifically a lot of actresses I have more affection for. I don't even like Vergara, I just haven't seen enough to have an opinion but I think this episode lets her character be a little more than an exposition machine with a few jokes. I think like a lot of the female characters of latterday Simpsons, she actually does have a cool character design but she also gets genuine character. It's not like the strongest but having a personality and being somewhat funny is good.

I actually think an episode where Lisa appreciates make up could be interesting but this is another "Lisa squanders her newfound popularity" episode that was mocked many seasons ago around the same time Bart learned the true meaning of winter.

Good couch gag


I really love "that's right, in my head I sound like this." And that couch gag.

Johnny Unusual

Much Apu About Something

In late 2017, the documentary the Problem with Apu is released on TruTV which... is that still around? Anyway, it helped bring to attention the fact that one of the most beloved and most fleshed-out Simpsons characters is problematic and harmful. As you can imagine, not everyone took it well. Yeah, there's the usual racist shit but I think that there are a lot of people lashing out, trying to find ways to squirm around the idea that a character that not only made them laugh but they cared about all these years could be hurtful. After all, while he has bad qualities, so do other Spingfieldians and in many ways he has some of the best; intelligent, thoughtful, spiritual. I have no doubt the creators love him and want to treat him well. But the fact is, its the narrative of a South Asian as told and portrayed by white people in a way that makes him servile with a wacky accent. I will also say this... it made me appreciate Hank Azaria. He spent years crafting a character he no doubt felt proud of and while it seems like the Simpsons writers, in place of an apology looked at the camera and suggested "what once was right is now considered wrong" (not verbatim), Azaria apologized for "racism, my participation in racism, or at least in a racist practice or in structural racism, as it relates to show business or ... all the above" (verbatim). I myself really did love the character but I'm also willing to see how it was hurtful and how we can move on. But nearly two years prior to this sea change, the show did seem to want to confront this... "seem" being the operative word.

In this episode, a fight between police and firefighters ends in the destruction of the Kwik-e-Mart. As Apu recuperates and the store is being rebuilt, his brother Sanjay quits and decides to leave the store to his son Jay. Jay transforms the store into the Quick and Fresh, an upscale convenience store and cites the fact that Apu ceded the majority of store ownership to Sanjay over time due to scratch ticket addiction. Apu is livid with the Quick and Fresh and it's rousing success. Apu confronts Jay at a restaurant asking if he is embarrassed by him and Jay openly admits it, feeling like his beloved uncle is a living stereotype. Eventually, Jay fires Apu for being a stereotype at work and while wallowing at pity at Moe's, he and the barflies come up with the idea that Bart could pull a prank to ruin the store. Indeed he does but an accident blows up the new Quick and Fresh, leaving behind a single scratch ticket. It turns out to be a winner and Apu restores the Kwik-e-Mart.

I remember when this episode came out and it was met with praise. At the AV Club, it calls the episode "a referendum on on the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon himself." But in hindsight, it really isn't. I think it wants to explore the idea that Apu is a stereotypical character but it also is pretty quick to drop it. I think it also doesn't help that it's pretty inelegant. It really doesn't work because in the reality of the show, Apu is "real" and not performative. Jay seems to have little interest in his heritage and fires Apu for talking like himself. I feel like the show thought it might be saying something about the generational differences between first and second generation immigrants but it really muddies the idea in a bad way when it's also trying to sort out the shows own history of how Apu is portrayed.

If anything, it just makes Jay, Utkarsh Ambudkar, the villain, as if he's upset that his uncle is too unassimilated. But that's not really the issue. I think it's a case where writer Michael Price wanted to explore these two ideas but when they intersected, they didn't dovetail, they just mixed in a clumsy way where the solution is... a Bart prank. The show quickly broaches a big idea and it's not even that it comes down on the wrong side of it, though it does, it completely sidesteps it in the last act and it's a generic Simpsons ending that shows it is not interested in really digging down on this, it wants credit for briefly considering it.

I think it doesn't hurt that there's some old man yelling at cloud stuff where Jay is a millennial and speaks in millennial speak. Maybe this is supposed to be a comment on different KINDS of stereotypes and "hey, look, we can make fun of everyone because we love them" but whether it is in the wrongheaded mindset or just a lazy mindset (which is also wrongheaded), it doesn't work. It's been a while since I've seen Ambudkar's appearance in the Problem with Apu or if he talks specifically about his appearance on the show (but he's got to, right) but since he's a writer, I wonder if he had any say in his character or the episode. He seems thoughtful, so if he did, it doesn't seem like it corrected the script of it's issues. I think a lot of the ideas it wants to deal with are interesting but first it just can't properly and then it sidesteps. So the episode is wrong. I should point out, though, this episode isn't a complete embarrassment. It's not piss poor in writing. Despite it completely missing the point of things, it's a breezy watch. And I think that's the problem. it's thankfully not angrily doubling down on "No, we're fine, don't get so upset", though there some tacit messages I don't like. But it just wants to avoid and get credit for trying. This episode is well made in a technical sense so I understand why it seemed like a good episode when it was released. But it is all about what "seems" good and a deceptive argument that it handwaves away just like it does Jay, who never appears again the second Apu's monetary problems are solved. Because as far as the episodes concerned, that's all that needed to be addressed.

Other notes:
This is actually Jamshed/Jay's second appearance, the first being a gag where as an infant he stops Dolph, Jimbo and Kearney from shoplifting with a shotgun. Which raises a lot of time-based questions.

Worth noting that Azaria and Ambudkar actually worked together again post-The Problem With Apu on Brockmire, Azaria's comedy show where he played a Vince Scully-type baseball announcer who ends up moving to a small town to announce for the minor leagues.

Johnny Unusual

Love Is in the N2-O2-Ar-CO2-Ne-He-CH4

I have friends and family I care about but I've never been in a romantic relationship. Often I think I'm missing out but I'm pretty bad at meeting people. I've been on a couple dates with nice people that really didn't feel like they were going anywhere. I often feel like there's someone out there but frankly at the end of a work day, I want to rest. And I'm also scared about actually sharing my life with someone. I've spent a lot of time not having to worry about others and doing things my own way, I don't know if I'd be good at sharing my space. But I do hope someday I meet someone.

In this episode, Prof. Frink reveals to Homer that he's lonely and is inspired to use science to find love. Eventually, he learns his voice is considered unattractive and decides to change it, along with elements of his physical appearance. Eventually, he turns out to be very good at romance... so much so that he starts to hide from the women of Springfield. Eventually, Frink comes to the conclusion that as lonely as he is, the women of Springfield are worse off and uses his scientific insights to matchmake every lonely woman in town.

This episode about John Frink is written by John Frink and it shows. No, not because the character named after him is a lady magnet. It's because like most of his episodes that it is a wacky joke factory first (not necessarily a bad thing) and kind of skimps on character (less good). But more than that, it actually feels like a Moe episode. Moe episodes tend to be about Moe's loneliness and his low self-esteem and then Moe going back to the status quo not because it is desirable (as it often is in this series) but because he has a good reason, often a moral one. A lot of these can be lazy but even the lesser one's work because they give the town's scummiest character some dignity and he learns there are lines even he can't cross, tempting as they are.

But this isn't a Moe episode, it's the first Frink-centric episode (not counting the Frinkenstein segment from one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes). Putting someone in a tried and true formula isn't the worst idea to explore what can be done with the character who, in theory, could headline future episodes, the way Skinner or Krabappel or Moe have. It's a little clunky to have Homer hang out with Frink (did any of his plan really need Homer) but whatever. My bigger problem is that there's a b-plot eating up precious time to make Frink likeable and it doesn't happen. It seems like making the wacky nerd enjoyable to watch shouldn't be all that hard but the episode basically has him become a far-too powerful pick up artist and never really learns not to do that. Instead, his experience gives him insight into how the lady's of Springfield are lonely.

OK, there's a good idea there... but the women are barely characters. They are just man-hungry entities and... dd they really just give Cookie Kwan an identical cousin named "Nookie?" Yeah, it's an episode that has a vague idea of getting empathy for people looking for love but not actually exercising it. I feel like it could have been an episode about self-esteem (he's told he has a dorky voice, changes it and it's never really dealt with having to change a part of himself like that too feel attractive) as well but it instead goes to "gah, too many girls!" and then it fixes everything with everyone being paired up, which is really some Marge Simpson thinking. I feel like between this and the b-plot where Grandpa's drugs make him hallucinate an idealized past feel like either has potential but neither has real time to explore the deeper ideas, instead hoping to breeze through on jokes which are pretty lacking. Maybe Frink can try again. Or maybe he'll end up like Otto, forever around but only once having his own episode.

Johnny Unusual

Gal of Constant Sorrow

Ah, the 742 Evergreen Terrace transient. I don't think it's the more tired formula of the show but it is the one that when you look back is kind of the wildest. I'd even argue more than "Bart and Lisa; Mystery Siblings" (which in all honesty has kind of fallen by the wayside and I genuinely miss). It's pretty silly this family is constantly taking in friends and neighbors. I'd buy taking in people in need if, say, that was something they lived for, Flanders-style but no, the person always has to make an impression on one of the kids first, who usually hides them in the house for a while, assuming this isn't a Springfield regular. Will we ever get an episode where Miss Hoover has to live in their attic or the three eyed fish in that one quantum playroom that occasionally exists? We can only dream.

In this episode, Bart accidentally ruins the camp of a homeless woman, Hettie, and feeling contrite offers her his closet for the night. When she offers him a dollar a day for permanent resident, Bart accepts, making what is for him some big bucks. This attracts the curiosity of Lisa, who eventually figures out the truth and learns that Hettie is actually a talented Appalachian folk singer. Lisa wants to support her and eventually gets her a concert, sacrificing a lot of time and effort and Bart is worried that, based on past experience, Lisa's going to get her heart broken. Sure enough, it comes to light that Hettie is an addict who has had a bad habit of pushing away the people close to her. She is late to her own concert, crushing Lisa but Lisa let's her sleep off the high on the couch.

Carolyn Omine has penned some decent episodes for this era of the series like Dial N for Nerder and Halloween of Horror but she's had her fair share of clunkers, too (frankly, I don't think there's a full time writer in this era who hasn't). This episode lands... squarely in the middle. It's not bad but I think it makes a few decisions and shortcuts that hurt it. And I also think it's in many ways a well told version of a story we've seen a lot in the series: Lisa makes a musical friend who disappoints her. Bart is essentially saying "this happened befoire" and I don't like it. I'd rather Bart's suspicions be raised by clues within the episode than citing continuity precedent. It somehow doesn't work for the episode and feels like it's a comment on the show rather than what I think the episode wants to be about.

What it wants to be about is interesting... sometimes there are people in this world that are going to break your heart, who you want to help but they won't let you. This is different than most of the musical friends; many are coded with self-destructive/sabotaging tendencies but this is basically ABOUT that rather than it being an aside. And that's a very sad thing for Lisa to learn; there's nobody beyond help but you can't also force help onto some people and if you can't reach them, it can end badly. After all, we want :Lisa to win and it's not an easy lesson to write for her, since it can risk being cruel. But the episode weirdly sidesteps it with her just singing another song and Lisa being like "OK, sleep it off at our house." I feel there's a way that ending could work if it embraced the tragedy but I feel like it's framing it as an "awww" ending, which is weird. Maybe that's not how it was intended on the page but that's what happened on the show.

This episode has some talent. Kate McKinnon is good as the newest transient. Did we find out she sucked? I feel like this has been discussed Seems like she did some questionable sketches about gender for the Big Gay Sketch Show and SNL back in the day that she's never really been confronted with since. Looking up, the first google searches aren't super helpful including "she's not a TERF because they don't exist and it's like calling a black person..." yikes. Remind me to never venture far from my Internet comfort zones. Like... don't go to Quora. Anyway, I hope she recognizes that some of these questionable works might have created some toxic ideas and has grown in a positive direction. Because I do like her as an actor. The other major guest is The Chicks' Natalie Maines as Hettie's singing voice. Very good but I wish the people who made the show would recognize music that WASN'T featured on O Brother, Where Art Thou? Two of the songs are O Brother songs. Yes, not originated by the film and important standards but all the same it does feel like that's where the creators got their knowledge and stopped there. The episode isn't bad by the standards of the era but it still has the problem of, like many episodes, having issues with messaging and storytelling and just ending because it's time rather than a natural progression of story.

Johnny Unusual

Lisa the Veterinarian

It's been a long time since I've been a pet owner. As a kid I had a guinea pig, two hamsters (one a hand-me-down) and as a grown up, I was responsible for a salamander. This salamander was abandoned by it's owner so I took it in. I couldn't think of a good name so since it was an orphaned pet, it was Poor Little Guy. Poor Little Guy was taken care of by me for years but after I went to Japan to teach English, my mom took care of it for a year. I eventually returned and resumed my duties but my head was less in the game. One day, he escaped his enclosure and I didn't notice for a few days, just putting food in. When I figured it out, I found it under my bed, dead of dehydration. I felt really bad about that and it validated my fear about me being an irresponsible person. It is something I could have prevented and I felt bad that I let down Poor Little Guy.

In this episode, Lisa ends up saving a raccoon and the adulation gives her a desire to become a veterinarian. She's even given the opportunity to take care of the class pet, Nibbles, over the March break. Lisa acts as an assistant to Dr. Budgie, a local vet. Lisa initially resists some of the more mundane aspects of the job but soon finds dynamic opportunities to help. Meanwhile, Marge earns a little extra money cleaning up crime scenes, which results in her feeling a disconnect from everything in her life. Lisa starts to become arrogant in her work, thinking of herself as a God but Bart reveals she failed to take care of Nibbles, who is in awful shape. Lisa and Dr. Budgie try to save Nibbles but Nibbles dies and Lisa is crushed. Marge is shaken out of her funk to help Lisa during her hard time and Lisa has to accept her limitations and weaknesses.

Lisa the Veterinarian is a fairly decent episode. The storytelling is competent in this one and the a and b plots dovetail well together (even if it lampshades it with a literal dovetail pun). If there are any weaknesses, the emotion could be a little stronger, putting us in Lisa's place at her lowest moment of guilt but other than that, it tells a very good tale of Lisa learning that medicine isn't always dynamic and exciting and that the work isn't about pleasing one's own ego and sense of self. And I like the juxtaposition that Lisa's addiction to work makes her feel alive while Marge work is killing her soul and emotions.

I don't want to strongly praise the episode. It's fine. It's competent and often funny. But that feels like a strong step up from episodes where pacing is a problem and every episode feels like the first act is coming in far too late. To an extent, I get it; act one is often fun and games (not the screenwriting term, which is generally feeling out the new situation of the story, often with struggles as they get situated). I just mean literally, the show wants to let the family take part in some nonsense and often breath a bit before the story really starts in earnest. It worked for the show before but the problem is so many episodes can't afford this when it is clear they have little time to say what they want to. It's funny because it also reminds me how economical shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe are while never feeling rushed. Meanwhile, the Simpsons lingers in act one and if acts two and three were similarly able to use the rest of their time correctly, that would be fine but they are using up real estate, usually for jokes that don't work. This is an episode that is much better about it's use of time.

I also think the joke ratio for hits is better to me. It doesn't hurt to have Michael York come back as a new character, Dr. Budgie. Man, I love York's voice. He's one of the actors who both has a perfect gravitas and silliness that works well together, like Patrick Stewart or Donald Sutherland. I don't blame the show for bringing him back and I think this is an even stronger character. The design and voice give him a softer, gentler quality despite being a very silly character and he's the kind that works well with Lisa. a mentor who is a good person and lets Lisa have a lot due to trust, even when it turns out they are giving her rope to hoist herself with her own petard. They aren't cynical or cruel characters but they end up being windows into worlds she didn't know (and having punch lines that throw her for a loop) and sometimes they can lead to sadder but more fulfilling places.

Other great jokes:
I liked Kent Brockman shaming onlookers, then complaining they weren't there because they were getting b-roll of gas prices.

"Grab a clean a smock and follow me!"
"OK. Hmm, I can't find a clean smock."
"Then your first duty is to clean the smock."
"I'm ready Dr. Budgie."
"It would be a shame to ruin such a clean smock, but OK."

"I have a job for you right here. Murder-suicide. Or maybe suicide-murder. Just bring your mop and your imagination!"

"I got popcorn in there from Kramer Vs. Kramer. I was rooting for Kramer but was disappointed when Kramer won. That was an ending I didn't see Kramer."

The goats owner being happy his goat can play with children again followed by the goat joyously butting every child in sight made me laugh.

"The heart is the seat of love, Lisa. If you went to veterinary school, you'd know that."

"Well, we've done all we can. The next 24 hours will be crucial. Oh, he's gone."
Michael York, MVP of the episode.

Other notes:
That water park looked genuinely awesome.

Johnny Unusual

The Marge-ian Chronicles

It can be hard to be supportive if you feel someone you love is making a big mistake. But kids do have to make their own mistakes within reason and unless it is hurting someone else, there's no excuse not to let them pursue a goal, even if you are against it. You might even give it a try and discover there is merit in it. It doesn't mean it is for you but it can be something that brings worth to the world. That said, if it involves capitalism, be very terrified.

In this episode, the Simpsons briefly own and sell some chickens, which end up at a space exploration company, Exploration Incorporated, as test animals. Lisa learns that Exploration Incorporated wants to host the first privately-funded manned mission to Mars. Immediately, Lisa wants in to go to Mars in 10 years. Marge is immediately against it but Homer holds her back and tells her that forbidding it will just make Lisa want it more and they should be supportive, waiting for her to change her mind. Lisa is doing well and Marge worries she won't but Homer simply steps up their support to the next level... joining in on the training/testing of new recruits. Lisa figures Homer's plan out immediately but surprisingly Marge is really great at being an astronaut, able to complete repetitive tasks while keeping her sanity. Lisa is constantly outshined by her mother in pretty much every field while Marge finding herself genuinely enjoying herself. When Lisa finally confronts Marge, Marge tells Lisa she genuinely wants to go. Lisa calls Marge nothing more than a housewife and the two blow up at each other. At the big press conference where the astronauts are announced, Exploration Incorporated announces they are going to go later in the week. Everyone else backs out but Marge and Lisa refuse to back out. But at launch, the two reconcile and both admit they don't want to go. The launch fails, because the rocket wasn't real (the company heads intended to escape intended to escape their embarrassment).

I vaguely remembered this episode and I assumed from the premise this might be a little less outlandish than a Simpsorama or The Man Who Came To Be Dinner but would be more interested in it's premise than telling a story. Thankfully, Brian Kelley's script is... actually really good. I think it genders things in ways that aren't inherently gendered but it's not nearly as problematic as the show has been. I think I'd have less of a problem with it when it's "Homer has this woman strategy figured out" and while the show knows he's *in* the wrong, I don't think it thinks he *is* wrong, entirely. I feel like Homer's strategy comes from a practical place that's condescending but the action of it is actually not bad parenting. At least, until they shoehorn themselves into Lisa's thing in the guise of support rather than letting her do her thing or talking to her about it. Homer's parenting is a bit interesting in this episode; cynical and strategic but with some actual value. It's a good balance of Homer as a flawed character who can have problems as a person but not shitty. His support is part of a mind game, which sucks, but he's not gaslighting Lisa, he's trying to please Lisa while hopefully letting her make the choice of getting bored and abandoning her plan. I'm not saying anyone should do this. You can support and let your fears and concerns be known in an honest way. They aren't mutually exclusive. It's interesting to see a clash of good behaviour (for act one) and selfish intention.

But while it speaks to the gender of it, I do think more importantly it speaks to these characters. Lisa is someone with enthusiasm for her dreams but the reality of many of Lisa's dreams means hitting a wall that is the mundane reality of that work. But it's interesting to see that place where the shine wears off and having Marge, who LOVES the mundane, that's Marge's time to shine (ironically). And Marge is often inspired to change herself, especially when people doubt she can. The show frames it in "this is what mothers and daughters are like" but really, I can't verify this as a common dynamic beyond what movies tell me. But I do know what drives THESE characters and it actually makes sense these two spur each other on; Lisa can't stand when someone competes with her in "her area" because Lisa has so few of those places where her success is validated. But Marge also doesn't get that a lot either and often is not respected by Lisa because Lisa sees herself as her ideal self as being extremely different from Marge. It's as simple as turning into a game of chicken but it still works for these characters as a story for these characters. I will say, it really doesn't end with the characters learning to be honest with each other in a non-toxic way but the resolution still feels less asspull or shrug than so many and everything leading up to it is interesting.

There's no b-plot here, to it's credit, but it manages to do more with it's low-rent SpaceX. No, it isn't a complete takedown of that and I think it misreads what is a little more obvious 7 years later; it represents a rich ego-maniacs desire to create Rapture from Bioshock in space, but with more obvious tyranny. But the show is properly dubious. Interestingly, there's an AV Club review that paints the show as cowardly for not going for broke and sending them to Mars but frankly, I think the show handles it well. See, it starts with Paul and Barry, the Best Show's Jon Wurster and Tom Scharpling (Greg Universe for cartoon fans) as what seemed to be well-intentioned space scientists but it quickly turns out the commercial endeavor is smear with crass advertising and everything is motivated by looks and corporate promises. When Mars is finally colonized, it's more cheap branding. When Paul and Barry are driving away at the end, they come up with more half-baked schemes (which I assume were improvised by the duo) that have nothing to do with space. It doesn't have as much bite as if it was made today but I think it gets the general idea of hollow promises and big achievements for cynical gains.

Other great quotes:
"Homer Simpson! I'm going to enjoy finding it in my heart to forgive you for this!"

"Urban poultry farming is a great way to decrease our carbon footprint. Or maybe increase it. I'm not quite sure."

"At Exploration Incorporated, our mission is to help mankind make the next big leap."
"That's fascinating. When did you incorporate?"

"If they choose me to be a colonist, I can turn jazz into the dominant music form of a whole new planet."
"That's just were jazz belongs."

"And your father is a former astronaut. What an honour."
"Last time, I almost killed everybody!"
"And what did you learn from that?"
"Lessons, I guess."

"Even our robotic arm gets a little cranky."
*Book thrown*

"We should fix racism."
"Racism is bad for business."
"And that is racism's fatal flaw!"

Other notes:
Now I want coddled eggs.

Johnny Unusual

The Burns' Cage

I always find it a little tough to write about myself when the episode is about romance. I've never had romance and sometimes I wonder if I got romance in me. I don't think I'm arom but I do wonder if... I'm demiromantic. But maybe I'm just someone who hasn't had any romantic experiences. The closest thing I've felt is people of the opposite sex I just want to hang out with a lot and enjoy their attention but I felt like I couldn't see myself in a relationship with them. But I do know looniness. I don't know if I need romance but sometimes I do feel like I'd love to share my life with someone in a way I don't with the other people who care.

In this episode, Smithers is particularly heartbroken with his relationship with Burns and takes it out on Homer, Lenny and Carl. Homer tries to set Smithers up in the hopes of getting Smithers to be nicer. Smithers sees right through it but sure enough it works and Smithers falls for Julio. Smithers is in 7th heaven and eventually Smithers decides to leave the plant. Burns has trouble replacing Smithers while Smithers and Julio decide to go to Havana. But while there, Julio can't help but notice Smithers keeps slipping, calling him "sir" and cutting his food for him, the two face the fact that Smithers isn't over Burns. Burns asks Smithers to return and shows him some basic respect and praise.

Look, in general, most Simpsons are going to return things to the status quo. It also wants to explore Smithers as a character who is feeling a romance he's afraid to speak and that he knows never can be. After all, Smithers attraction to Burns, the most evil and wretched man in town, began as a recurring gag but when having to expand on this character and deepening him, it also means that it's pretty sad that he's stuck where he is, pining for someone who treats him with cruelty. It's sad that the most prominent gay recurring character (Patty came out but the show doesn't explore it all that much at this point outside that one really transphobic episode) in that situation. It makes sense to put him into a healthy one. But if we are going back to the status quo at the end, is there a way to sell that with some hope?

I think we can have Smithers back with Burns but maybe a little wiser. He could still be attracted to Burns but recognize he won't be in a relationship and re-orient the gags slightly but really, the episode ends with a failed relationship, a slight compliment and it doesn't quite land. It's really in grand gesture territory and not the genuinely sweet kind. I've seen worse episodes but it's symptomatic of the show having a hard time telling a satisfying story. It's not as messy as so many, but it is just kind of generic.

The b-plot feels much more like what I'm complaining about. There's not much of a point to it, it's about the Lisa-Milhouse ship (at least it ends with them not together) and even if it was a gag machine, I'm not sure I get why the advice from Marge to Lisa, which seems pretty bad (just compliment Milhouse and then he'll be a good actor) is here since it never actually amounts to anything. It really seems they just wanted to have an 8 year old who talks like Humphrey Bogart. And frankly, I don't find the recurring gag of "kid who acts like 1930s/40s celebrity" nearly as endearing as I do. I will say this, though; I would be interested in watching an episode that's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre but with Moe.

Other great jokes:
"Mr. Collins, would you be charmed by horror stories of working with Bill Shatner."
"I like you already."
I'd be charmed, Mr. Takei.

Johnny Unusual

How Lisa Got Her Marge Back

Obviously, kids and their parents are going to like different things but it can be a bummer when someone doesn't like something you consider is very much a part of your identity. It can feel like someone is rejecting you. Or maybe when someone rejects a thing you feel strongly about. I love my dad but I find he doesn't have a lot of patience for the movies I love like Everything, Everywhere All At Once or Picnic at Hanging Rock. And I get why but I always feel he often frames it in a way that sort of ends the conversation rather than debating it. And, of course, as someone who is afraid of confrontation, I'm not super good at broaching that in the first place.

In this episode, Lisa overhears Marge saying she doesn't like jazz, even when it comes from Lisa. Lisa feels betrayed and is angry at her mother. Marge tries to make it up with a trip to Capital City but Lisa is unmoved and Marge is hurt. Lisa refuses to relent, though, feeling she's in the right. While on the trip, the two see a production of Bad News Bears: The Musical that Lisa can't stand but Marge is enchanted by. After the show, Lisa and Marge run into the star of the show, Andrew Rannells, who insists on having dinner with them. When Lisa backhandedly complains about Marge, Rannells points out that Lisa has her own flaws, telling a stranger about family problems while her mother is working to repair their relationship. Lisa decides to take it to heart and patch things up with Marge.

How Lisa Got Her Marge back feels like an episode type I've seen; an interesting personal story handled in a rather boring way. It's a pretty dull small stakes episode about Lisa feeling betrayed by her mom and handling it poorly, the way kids do. Sometime it's easy to try to keep up the anger, maybe as a feeling of defense or mistakenly thinking if you fail to, you are losing. The idea was better handled in the Marge-ian Chronicles but here it ends up falling into the area of "interesting ideas but little focus". It's not as messy as some. But it's pretty dull.

It's also ironic because the parody of tepid musical remakes of movies is trying to point out how it lacks originality but as a satire is also tepid and toothless. It comes close to... something with a giant Walter Matthau puppet but there's not a lot going on and the segment goes for a "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't But Then Was" length of time (in the context of how those kids felt rather than I). I like the moment of Lisa grin and bearing it through a bad show. I remember having to do that before when sitting through an awful movie or two with some loved ones. The episode also caps with a pretty tepid parody of a classic showtune with references to musicals and it also made me squirm and it clearly wasn't supposed to.

But the surprise of the episode is that the celebrity guest with some sage words, one of my least favourite trope, particularly for this show... is actually REALLY funny. The performer does it well and while I won't say there's a stand out joke, he brings a good energy. Like the best uses of celebrity, they decide on a very specific personality and in this case, Rannells presents himself as a self-obsessed, insecure star who overestimates his own popularity. It's not exactly original but it works for Rannells, who you can tell knows where he is on the celebrity ladder and is playing someone who assumes he is much higher than he is. He exits the theatre with barely anyone paying attention commanding "stand back" and covering his face and constantly redirects things toward him. He's got an energy that the episode really needed it kind of saves it from being "awful" to "mixed bag". Still, at the same time, I feel like while Rannells is right Lisa is being a pill, it's a pretty unsatisfying way to end the episode, particularly an emotion-based between Marge and Lisa. Rannells does what he can but it's only so much.

Johnny Unusual

Fland Canyon

It's a day off. I'm knocking one of these out today.

In this episode, Lisa has trouble sleeping so Homer tells her about when The Simpsons and the Flanders went to the Grand Canyon together. The two families decided to go on a trip to strengthen their bonds but there's some tension, particularly between Ned and Homer, as usual, but also Marge and Maude, as the former is embarrassed by Bart's disrespect in comparison to Rod and Todd's stellar behaviour. The family take a mule-tour but when the tour guide disappears, the two families are forced to rough it. Homer and Flanders head out to find help but the only ones who can are part of a getaway for the elite who refuse to share. Homer convinces Ned, who is disgusted by their behaviour, to steal some of their goods for their own needs. The families have a hearty breakfast and the two families return home with Homer and Ned getting a little closer.

Like a lot of episodes, this is a real "what's the point." J. Stewart Burns has done a couple good episodes but in general I find his name on the credits the promise that it just won't be a strong episode and this is the case. I think this is supposed to be a "the Simpsons are going to" but I feel like it's not doing a lot to parody the place. I guess they think adding the Flanders will shake up the formula, one that is usually a gag machine rather than a story but somehow it raised expectations of a character piece. And that's in there but like so many later episodes, it feels like incomplete ideas.

Mostly the Ned/Homer combo only raises one great idea for an episode; the two united by their mutual disgust of the rich. But I wish it would explore further because it's in the last act and it never really deals with the fact that though the disgust is real and can be bonding, they come from very different places; Flanders from a moral one (the desecration of the land and the selfishness) and Homer from a personal one (envy, spite). This doesn't even have to be some sort of tension between them, they can learn more about each other through the shared goal with different motivations. But they just steal, they kind of bond but it's pretty superficial.

Similarly, the Marge/Maude bit has potential. We know Marge as a super-mom but Maude is the one who gets results with her "perfect" kids. But when it lands on "maybe the Flanders kids aren't perfect" (I think it's what it tries to accomplish) it lands on "Todd has night terrors." I think there are various strength to find in both parents but it is a missed opportunity. After all, I don't think we've seen what does make Maude a good mom. She's pretty judgmental, which is something to tackle but also, I would like to know more about how Maude handles things and what makes her different. I usually see her following Ned's lead. There's probably something in that to explore. But I feel like it's "issue raised, all done". And don't get me wrong, there are great Simpsons episode that raise ideas and don't answer them, like Blood Feud, but they do explore them, run around and use the opportunity to poke at ideas. Blood Feud famously ends with itself mocking the episode's lack of a "moral" but it really does accomplish something while Fland Canyon gets some juicy ideas in play and leaves them there.

Johnny Unusual

To Courier With Love

You know, I spent some time in Paris. But I was pretty young, so the only thing I actually remember is eating ice cream near the Eiffel Tower (and even that could be a false memory) and the time after we finished a meal, someone just wandered over and started eating off of my mother's plate. I really would like to return know that I can retain memories.

In this episode, Marge is feeling unhappy because she feels Homer is the one that has all the fun and adventure in the family. When Homer finds a small classic car hidden in the garage, he sells it for a tidy sum. However, as soon as he promises Marge a trip to wherever she wants, the man he sold the car too returns to guilt him into a refund. With no money, Homer needs a way to get the family to Paris for free. Homer becomes a casual courier and is told not to look in the package in exchange for a free trip. Homer agrees but on the plane, Homer becomes nervous and looks inside only to find a rare blue snake. It turns out the snake will be made into a belt and Homer and Lisa decide to escape with the snake. They tell Marge they are going on an errand while they try find a safe place for the snake. After Homer confesses to Marge how they got the tickets, they are caught by the police for stealing the snake. However, since the snake can't be found, hidden in Marge's hair, the Simpsons are released.

To Courier With Love feels most like "The Simpsons are Going To" than it has in a long time. Which is to say there is a plot but it is mostly a series of sightseeing gags. And I guess there's not much wrong with that and the episode feels less xenophobic than some but it really adds very little. The episode is completely watchable but it just isn't all that funny. For the most part, it depends on how much you want to see your favourite family tooling around the City of Lights. I don't hate it but it's just there. It has a pleasant vibe, more than a lot of the forgettable later stage episodes so I wish that could dovetail with good jokes.

The story is incredibly generic, too. Once again Marge feels like she is lacking the kind of adventure that Homer gets into on a daily basis. Or is it that she just wants one perfect vacation for once. It's weird that this is noted even though it was sort of the point of Itchy and Scratchy Land, which it makes reference to. That one was clever because it is objectively a terrifying vacation but it also checked all the boxes of a "good" vacation. This is far less clever nor is it consistent about the root of Marge's issues. It starts with "Marge just has duty and Homer gets to relax", then the understandably related "Homer has adventures, Marge doesn't" but then the perfect vacation thing seems comes up and the sense of adventure or breaking free of responsibility is kind of done.

And it's a shame because I think the episode should have included Marge more. She's really shunted off to the side in favour of Homer, yet again, and it feels like that could have been a fun opportunity. It could have been like the Buffy episode "The Zeppo" where the c-plot is treated like an a-plot and all the exciting stuff is implied to happen while Marge has her own adventure that makes her feel good about herself. Or Marge could not only get into the adventure on the ground floor but find herself thrilled by it. But for an episode that starts with mother's being unappreciated throughout history, it really doesn't appreciate Marge and that's a shame.

Other great jokes:

"Yes. this is my Battle of Essling. Unless Napoleon had a more famous defeat I'm not aware of."

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
Was that the episode with Jay Leno realizing he likes modern cars a lot more than classic cars?

Because that got a good chuckle out of me

Johnny Unusual


When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Whose Line Is That Anyway?, which aired often on YTV, Canada's children's and youth-aimed network. Improv was a new idea for me and it seemed so cool that comedy could just be riffing. I was more familiar with that in the form of Robin Williams. Over time, I realized that improv games is a bit different than long-form improv. Generally, I like the improv now were it doesn't need to be deeply attached to a hook but can expand a character, like Comedy Bang Bang. Not to say I don't like improv games but I realize something a little more fleshed out is more rewarding.

In this episode, Homer has a speech at the plant that goes badly and develops a fear of public speaking. Marge takes Homer to a comedy improv show to let him forget his troubles and Homer decides to do the same to overcome his fear. Homer becomes popular quickly and develops his own troupe, though they soon abandon him out of fear. Meanwhile, Marge makes Bart a new treehouse which he isn't grateful for and it causes her to be mad. Marge's off-handed comment when she is angry causes Homer to redevelop his fear prior to a big festival show and Moe suggests he feed answers to him. Lisa overhears and asks him not to and eventually Homer decides to go his own way.

I vaguely remember this one as being advertised as the episode with actual improv in it. I assumed it would be that the script was improvised in the recording booth and then it would be animated. Sadly, it's far less interesting all around. I know many of these actors don't have improv experience (I'm pretty sure Cartwright and Smith don't) but they could have taken some improv classes along with everyone else and become a troupe and build an episode around it. It could have been a shambling mess but it wouldn't differentiate it from a lot of Simpsons and would have been an interesting experiment. Unfortunately, the actual episode is pretty weak.

The premise is solid... until, as often, the last act where it turns out it wants to end on a note that wasn't set up. Homer learning to improv could be interesting. He is a guy who often acts before he can think and might sort of be built for it. The problem is a problem I often have in art-within-art; everyone applauding something clearly not very good. And it isn't just that other characters like the bad art, it's that I think we as the audience need to believe not only that others like it but that it is good. But I don't think writer John Frink is too critical about his hackneyed premises. This isn't The Simpsons Smiletime Variety Hour where it is being meta about it's hackiness, it wants the audience to believe in Homer's talent. The ending is "will Homer cheat out of fear" and I really didn't buy it. Lisa is just TOO upset by this and its weird because Homer and Lisa's bond aren't at the heart of the episode and her reaction doesn't match the consequences. I think it isn't necessarily a bad dilemma for Homer but it's sold very poorly. This is an episode about overcoming fear with humour but I don't think the headspace is properly shown in the final act. I kind of want to know what it means to him rather than him just being good at it.

The BIG part of the episode is the actual improvised bits at the end. Dan Castellaneta answer fan questions via phone for thee minutes in different segments for the different coasts. For international viewers and on Disney +, Homer talks to no one and just does a three minute ramble about becoming president (it's so weird to watch the show knowing "Oh, this is the season that Donald Trump was running and soon would become president". Like, it's that close but also that happened so long ago. It both feels like ancient history and very recent all at the same time). Now I've seen Dan do some great improv on the show on rare occasion such as when working with Albert Brooks but here it is pretty weak stuff. It's really disappointing that Dan has a bit of free rein with Homer for a bit, a character he has played, developed and even written, and it's just so generic fan placating stuff. It comes close to being what I want when Homer mishears a fan's question and describes his favourite thong. Maybe he needed someone to bounce off of.

Johnny Unusual

Orange is the New Yellow

And we are done with season 27! This is the last new season I've seen and I'm not even sure I saw it in it's entirety. I will say that the series has finally started to dig up stupid out of the deep well of awful it's gotten into. It's still more not good than good but I can see a definite improvement. It still needs a lot of work to improve but after season 26, it's nice to see that the quality ratio has gone up. And now we end with an episode that isn't half bad! Hurrah!

In this episode, an overworked and underappreciated Marge is frustrated and sends Bart out to play. Bart goes to the park and Martin's mother is shocked that Marge isn't supervising his. She calls the police and Marge is arrested for negligence. Marge is sent to jail for 90 days but after a rough start, Marge discovers she likes what prison has to offer; a garden, exercise, time to read and other women to bond with. When the family calls her, it becomes apparent while they miss her, they don't appreciate her. When Homer gets Marge out early on a technicality, Marge steals a guard's gun and fires it to buy herself some more time. However, Marge soon regrets her decision, especially when a prison riot starts. Homer arrives to rescue her and the family is thankful and grateful for her.

Orange is the New Yellow has a lot going against it. I feel like the plot of "Marge discovers jail less constricting than her homelife" is just a little too obvious as an irony. And the episode risks *tsk tsk*ing modern parenting rules in a way that looks like "parents are over protective and things were better in the old days." Looking at what the episode was about, I had a bit of dread. After all, "the Simpsons are helpless without Marge when she goes to prison and she's unappreciated" was already done so well in Marge in Chains.

But this isn't a bad episode. It does have flaws. The "Homer beating female prison inmates offscreen" is somehow more upsetting than seeing it. As mentioned, it feels like a lot of it IS a retread. And the parental poo-pooing is there. But in putting Marge in jail, it does do a good job of putting the audience in Marge's shoes, not in a particularly visceral way but in a way where you can understand why she enjoys elements of prison. And I think there is some merit to questioning constant child supervision (which is funny because that's my job), though it has little to actually say much about it of substance.

Overall though, it's a fun episode that clips along at a nice pace and mostly holds together as a story. My one issue is I feel like the b-plot, Springfield and especially Flanders swooping in to help the Simpsons with homemade food and help, is fine for gags and establishing that the Simpsons may miss Marge as a convenience more than anything but it also raises an idea I wish it ran with. It establishes that Flanders feels he's being so helpful because of his own losses and it's interesting to throw that observation in there, which is good for character, but then not building more out of it. It's nice to have Flanders be sympathetic again but the idea of Flanders overcompensating in his help could have been fun and actually tie into the parts where it wants to question supervision, with Flanders treating Homer as a kid. But that's just me spitballing plots when I should be reviewing the episode again. It's not bad. 6/10 if I were to do numbers; not the best but it goes down smooth.

Other great lines
"I was doing so great but it turned out I was a secret alcoholic."

Johnny Unusual

Monty Burns' Fleeing Circus

OK, now we are at season 28. This is the year I was done, I think. I feel like I MUST have watched the first few episodes of the season but none of them sound familiar. But this was 2016. Near the end of the year, I leave China where I was teaching and where I had a lot of time on my hand. So I still wasn't ready to give the show up. It filled the hours. When I got back to Canada, I was at my parents place for half a year and... it didn't seem like I needed to watch it any more. Why explain to my family that I was still watching a show I no longer loved (in it's contemporary state). This isn't the show at its worst, I suspect. But I think this is when I, who had hung with the show for so long, even when I could not deny it's weaknesses, just decided to move on. And here I will pick up where I left off...

In this episode, a new marketing gimmick ends up destroying the town and only Mr. Burns has the financial resources to save it. Burns refuses to at first but getting nostalgic, he thinks back to his childhood as a performer and decides to pay for the town in exchange for a variety show. Burns acts as director and Lisa, suspecting an ulterior motive, decides to take up an important role in the crew when offered. Burns doesn't seem to have an "evil plan" this time, he genuinely wants to put on a show... except his standards seem unfairly high and he takes it out on the children he's casting. Eventually, Lisa starts to questions references Burns makes to his own past and Burns shuts down the show. Lisa learns when Burns was a child star, he was humiliated in front of an audience. Lisa encourages him to move on and not be controlled by his past. The show goes on as a surprising success but for a finale, Burns wants to try again as a star to correct his childhood humiliation. He's humiliated again but despite this Burns feels he's exorcised his personal demons.

So once again, I feel I'm in a position where an episode keeps presenting me with so many interesting roads NOT taken. The script by Seinfeld vets Tom Gammil and Max Pross is mostly very weak but it does have a couple good jokes and a fun extended bit that plays on the Springfield habit of rioting. I guess my biggest issue is another "what's the episode trying to say?" I guess there's a pretty trite message about overcoming your fears but I feel like for an episode about Mr. Burns and entertainment, it actually seems to have little to say about either. Look,. Mr. Burns can be a character who can be as evil as an episode allows but somehow I feel like either Burns should have attempted something, like having each child humiliated or a revenge of the audience. Or if he has no intended ulterior motive. One of my favourite Lisa observations is that when he tries to be good, he's even more evil because his values are just that fucked. But here, he's kind of a shitty director and heck, in the world of shitty directors, he kind of isn't bad? Like, yeah, he's shitty to kids and that's bad but by both Hollywood and Mr. Burns standards it's more of a lower level evil.

But also if Burns is a benchmark for evil, wouldn't this be the perfect time to show the evils of show business. I rarely look at the Simpsons and say "you know what this needs? More cruelty." But I feel like Burns-focused episodes open that door and I would love to see how his type of vengefulness would work in a performative way. But there's so little to work with here and it's another episode that doesn't come to an ending so much as stops. Burns is humiliated and he's whatever. Not in a way that show's he's grown as a character and manages to see that he can take humiliation but it just seems like... he's done. Because the episode is done.

There were a few laughs this episode. I feel like this should be another episode I'm lenient on because it moves but I dunno, the shoddy motivations and plotting really did take me out of it. Still, it's not without merit. As said, the anti-rioting was a cute idea and there's a very dumb but amusing gag with a stage hook. I do wish the Amy Schumer guest appearance wasn't wasted. I feel like the weird licking thing was a very Schumer element but beyond that it's some stuff that would have felt just as fine with Tress MacNeille or Pamela Hayden. As said, I feel like the best utilized guest stars are the ones not yet household names at the time of their appearance.

Other great jokes:


Other notes:
Oh, right and there was an Adventure Time couch gag with Pendleton Ward. Which... fine.

Johnny Unusual

Friends and Family

New friends for Homer and Marge often make for interesting episode, though generally Marge more than Homer. After all, Marge is the one with a friends deficit. When Homer gets a friend, they are often a vehicle to take Homer on some other adventure but in a Marge episode, they are generally ABOUT friendship. Of course, the shows habit of returning to the status quo means tragically that all the friends Marge makes evaporate as it goes on, leaving her alone again, naturally. A Homer makes a friend episode feels common but episodes ABOUT friendship for Homer? Maybe more of those could tell us more about him.

In this episode, Burns therapist dies and it makes Burns think he's missing out of having a family. After Smithers hits Frink with a car, they find he's been distracted with his own invention; bleeding edge VR goggles. Burns uses the VR goggles and hires the Simpsons, except Homer, to be his VR family, acting out scenarios which get transferred into the goggles. Burns demands the Simpsons stay with them and Homer is stuck alone. Eventually he meets the neighbor in the house behind his, Julia. They get along really well and start hanging out and become friends. When Marge and the kids finally leave Mr Burns, Marge is furious Homer has a female best friend, a role she feels she has but after meeting Julia, realizes she was overreacting and Homer shows what he learned from Julia to help in their relationship.

Friends and Family is a pretty bad episode. It's another two A-plot episode and both feel quasi-baked at best. The Burns half of the episode is pretty bad. Mostly its jokes about how old and evil Burns is and it clearly wants to be an episode about what it means to be an actor, especially if you are under a toxic creative force like Burns. It barely has time for that to be anything but implied and not only that... we don't know WHY the Simpsons are doing this. Usually, they'd make a big show of "we wouldn't do this if we didn't really need the money" and I really can't imagine Marge putting up with this shit if they weren't desperate. I think making it related to VR is also a mistake; it should have been them playing the role in his house. In the end, it's an episode that says little about Burns, acting or escapism.

Homer's side has more potental but it has little room to grow. Homer meets a friend, Marge is fucking pissed and then they make up. Julie is amiable but she's deeply unmemorable as Homer's friend. But more than that, Marge's rage at Homer having a female friend is really uncomfortable, a very old school "don't try to have a woman friend while you're married" element. I think there's a much more nuanced way to approach it; the idea that Marge is uncomfortable and maybe threatened in Homer having a confidante who he might say things to he can't say to her. Or jealous; Homer makes friends so easily and it seems to be hard for Marge. But instead, she stalks him around the house growling at him in a way that seems downright emotionally abusive. It really upset me to see.

Friends and Family is an episode by J. Stewart Burns, one of my least favourite writers of this era. He's done some episodes I genuinely like but I feel like his scripts are the ones that often carry the symptoms I associate with the show at it's worse; incomplete arcs, derivative story-telling (despite it being about a live-in VR family) and a type of thinking I can't get behind. As bad as the first two are, it's the last time that really upsets me here, the way it asks "can men and women... BE FRIENDS?!" like it's 1987 or something. This isn't the worst episode in the last couple seasons by far but it's pretty bad and that last act, which feels like it was supposed to be at least two, really stinks.

Johnny Unusual

The Town

I've been to a lot of places but I haven't spent a ton of time in America. I did spend a week in Boston to go to PAX East. I had a really good time at the convention and around town, visiting some cool places and finding the overall vibes really pleasant. I remember it was late March; still pretty chilly but the snow was gone. I also remember a very Boston moment where I guy was yelling into his cell phone, angrily pondering why he is wearing shorts. Boston is a beautiful city and I'd like to go back again some day.

In this episode, Homer is really upset at Boston due to some questionable plays in a football game. Homer is also frustrated with Bart, who loves Boston due to the Departed and his idea that it is a town of bad boys. Homer becomes so upset about it, he decides to take the family on a "hate-cation" to see the worst the town has to offer and convince Bart to dislike Boston. Initially, Homer seems to have a point but soon Marge is impressed with the decent healthcare, abundance of doctors and excellent education and Homer falls in love with candlepin bowling. Homer and Marge decide that the Simpsons might be happier in Boston and decide to move their. The Simpsons love it at first but Bart is horrified to discover that it isn't the Boston he knows from movies but is more of a town for Lisa. Bart feels out of place and decides to try to find a way to convince the family to move back to Springfield. He tricks the family into seeing a parade for the Boston Americans, Homer's least favourite football team, and Homer is encouraged to wear the team's hat. Homer explodes and the family moves back to Springfield.

After last episode, The Town is a breath of fresh air. It's not laugh-out-loud hilarious but I think it is an episode that has a very well-structured and clever plot with focus on character. It's doing a lot of stuff but unlike a lot of latter day episodes, it all ties together pretty strongly and is unified by a single theme. In this case, it's the idea of the difference between a perception of a place and the reality. Homer goes in to hate and Bart goes in to love but Homer allows himself to open up while Bart learns that the Boston of fiction isn't the same as the reality. Yeah, it has obnoxious sports fans but big cities tend to contain a lot of multitudes. It's just a well-written episode like we rarely see anymore.

I also appreciate that Homer's journey is to complain about it once he leaves again but it's not the same kind. Its the complaint of experience rather than perception. I feel like people who are from a big city will complain but it has a different tenor, much in the same way you might enjoy complaining about someone you love but you wouldn't want someone else to. It's not full of bile but knowledge. Granted, that's a small part of the episode but I feel like it fits in with the idea. This is very much a "the Simpsons are going to ____" episode but unlike a lot of the others, it's written by someone with living experience there, Dave King in his one and only Simpsons episode, a veteran TV writer better known for a sports-humour blog Fire Joe Morgan. And usually those episodes are more shaped to fit a lot of cultural jokes inside and while there are a lot, it's a well-rounded story.

Clearly, the episode wanted to go all in, featuring a ton of small roles from Boston actors like Michael Chiklis, Rachel Dratch, Bill Burr, Dana Gould and Doris Kearns Goodwin. With the exception of the last, the use of these roles is a bit unusual for the show; these characters aren't named and are more like utility players, random Bostonians. Though it is a shame that these good actors roles are small, it's not a decision I dislike in terms of giving the episode a sense that it really is different than Springfield. Overall, the Town is a funner, stronger episode than I expected and a reminder that Boston has a lot to offer and a lot... not. As Homer and Marge say "Not to mention the unspoken racism." "It's wasn't THAT unspoken."

Other great jokes:

The idea that the town stole an entire team from Portland in the dead of night is pure, classic Springfield.

"Those are my people."
"The dog and the baby are your people."

The parody of Gronk named Bonk seems lazy but I really love old time "duh duh" idiot characters, which Azaria clearly does, too. "HAT GOES ON HEAD!"

Other notes:

I love the idea of putting a mascot on the player roster.

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXVII

Another Halloween episode. And also episode 600.

In this episode, three more tales of... something. The first, a parody of The Hunger Games and Mad Max: Fury Road, Lisa is forced into a game a death with other children. Eventually, Lisa convinces them to turn against their despotic overlord but it doesn't actually solve the larger environmental crisis. In the second tale, someone is killing Lisa's friends and it turns out to be her imaginary friend Rachel, seeking revenge for being abandoned. Lisa can't stop her physically but she eventually finds she can scare Rachel off by imagining a bleak future for her. In the final tale, a parody of Kingsman and James Bond movies, Bart discovers he's the son of the world's greatest secret agent and is needed to battle an evil conspiracy. The villain turns out to be Homer but Bart manages to defeat him and save the world.

Treehouse of Horror can be fun but it is clear that the problems with the main series are sneaking into these episodes as well. This isn't the Halloweens at their worst but the first and last ones are particularly weak. Obviously, there's the fact that neither are really that Halloweeny but whatever, that's been part of these specials for a while. But my other problem is they are more about being one of those Mad Magazine movie parodies where they mock plot holes and tropes rather than use them to tell a funny story. The first one is the worst for this, smashing together two parodies of a dark future but aside from iconography, there's not a funny or clever narrative behind it. It feels more like it needs to speed run obvious points of mockery for two franchises before just stopping.

The last one is an improvement to be sure but it's still pretty weak. It's doing a Kingsman parody but Kingsman is already a pretty tongue-in-cheek spy pastiche and it feels like it's latching onto "recent popular thing" rather than something the writer feels passionately about. As a spy movie parody, there's not really a lot here that hasn't been done better so often and it doesn't feel like they've found a new tact. Really, too many of these episodes have the desperate cling to relevance as the team of Epic Movie/Disaster Movie et al.

The middle story is definitely the strongest. First of all, it is an actual story. That's a plus. Rather than goof on a specific story, it takes a trope I've seen before, the killer imaginary friend, and simply tells a story with some humour. Most of it doesn't feel shoehorned or desperate, it's a completely competent little horror comedy. Now I don't want to oversell it, it's not even among the best Halloween tales but unlike many of them, it's less focused on "what can we dunk on in this parody" and more "how is this idea a springboard to tell a fun story with these characters. Frankly,. I wish there were more Halloween ones like this.

Johnny Unusual

Trust but Clarify

It feels weird to realize that 2016 was so long ago. This episode comes a few weeks before the election of Donald Trump. I remember being in China where it happened and just feeling completely defeated. Just fucking gutted. It just seemed impossible to me. This guy was not hiding who he was, it was clear from the get-go. And with this era, there is also discussion of fake news and while the war between information and disinformation has been around a long time, it felt very weird to be in a time where lies were so blatantly obvious and no one really cares. It was exhausting. The thing is, even with clearly obvious lies, the brain has to work on them before moving on and the years that came after were exhausting. Things might be catching up now. Some of the worst people seem like they might be on the outs. But never discount the ability of our systems to fail us...

In this episode, Kent Brockman tells a story about the Iraq war that turns out to be fake, Kent is disgraced and fired. Meanwhile, Lisa is supicious of a new Krusty product that is surprisingly delicious; Krustaceans. After doing some investigative reporting, Lisa learns the product contains formaldehyde. Lisa decides to get help from Kent Brockman. Brockman is initially too defeated to try but is convinced by some other anchors to give it a shot. Kent repairs his reputation and thanks Lisa.

Harry Shearer wrote Trust but Clarify, presumably because he had an idea for a Kent Brockman episode after Brian Williams was caught making up stories about the war. I feel like of all people Shearer might find interesting things for Brockman to do and places for him to go emotionally but there really is very little here, sadly. I think this could have been a good launching point to explore WHY someone like Brockman might lie. Some people embellish stories but it's a much bigger deal when your job is the truth. But we get very little insight into the character and similarly little reason to route for a comeback.

Similarly, the Lisa side of the episode adds very little. Why is she even insisting Kent Brockman is who she needs. She suggests sometimes you need to help someone out but it really feels like the story is supposed to play out that way rather than an organic reasoning. If anything, the fact that he worked alongside Krusty for years could have played into it. If anything, I feel like I've seen this Lisa story and the Brockman story several times over and this episode adds almost nothing of note.

I feel like Shearer also wanted to do something topical but I don't think that's the Simpsons best mode. Yes, it's probably not a bad idea to take something from now to ask a bigger question but this episode is so incurious, if feels like breaking the story began and ended with "Brian Williams but Kent Brockman". Even the reference to Trump appearing on Jimmy Fallon (the hair tussle) seems pointless and is more a reference than actually a cogent point or implication. In an era where lies and misinformation are more dangerously spread than ever, an episode about the truth and journalistic inegrity should be a slam dunk but in the end, it's just hollow and pointless.

Johnny Unusual

There Will Be Buds

Some of my favourite themes is the idea of having a hard time making friends as an adult. Obviously one problem is the awkwardness of trying to insert each other into our lives. But there's also the fact that maybe there's someone who wants to be friend but you are just not feeling it. There was a cousin's wife's brother I wanted to be friends with but when I friended online he'd post shit like "sure, there's toxic masculinity, but there's also toxic femininity." Yikes. But it can be hard to say "I don't want to be friends" in a polite, kind way. Luckily, I don't see him at family gatherings very often.

In this episode, the town decides to drop pee wee football after a concussion scare and the town meets at town hall to choose a new sport. Kirk Van Houten tries to contribute but is ignored by the crowd until, at Marge's urging, Homer makes sure Kirk gets the floor. He recommends lacrosse and the town is into his idea, so Kirk, now seeing Homer as a friend, insists Homer join him as assistant coach. Homer is impressed with Kirk's impeccable coaching skills but finds him completely obnoxious in every other capacity. Due to social awkwardness and not wanting to rock the boat, Homer tries to grin and bear it and every time he does try to clue in Kirk he's not interested, Kirk fails to read between the lines. When Kirk overhears Homer complaining about him before the big day, he disappears, emptying the bank account into singles. Homer remembers from a previous conversations Kirk is really into strip clubs and tracks him down. Homer honestly tells him he doesn't like him but he respects his coaching ability. Kirk pulls himself out of his funk and helps the team win the game and Homer and Kirk celebrate together.

I quite liked this episode. It's one that I feel like represents what I want this era to be. Some characters are a bit different than they were before. Homer is still an angry oaf but he's a little more sensitive, to an extent. There's a coherent story about something we can relate to. There have been decent social satire-focused episodes before but I feel like the series hit ratio is better when it is about family and life situations we can relate to. And I feel like we can all relate to the idea of someone who just... can't read the room. We've seen Kirk be pathetic and unpleasant before but I feel like as an episode about him, this does a great job. It doesn't feel like an episode trying to show how a character can carry an episode. It turns out Kirk can but it's also about a character we DON'T want to hang out with.

I've been there, Homer. I've been stuck with a people who aren't necessarily bad but are completely insufferable and don't get that I might be uncomfortable. The script is doing a very funny but also perfectly specific portrayal of Kirk by creating a guy who just has the worst touchstones in a (largely) non-problematic way. OK, there's some but I feel like it's less "cut ties with this dude instantly" and more "Uh, we got to explain to this guy what is appropriate. He wants to leave the kids in a hotel room to take Homer to a strip club (do... you have a plan to have someone watch them?) or insisting Homer tell him point blank the "craziest place" Homer and Marge have ever "done it" with kids in the car. But mostly it's stuff that makes me feel like Selman has met this/these dads. Writer Matt Selman is SO good at making Kirk Van Houten so obnoxious in a cohesive, plausible way. He won't shut up about whiskey-making ("GETS ITS COLOUR FROM THE BARREL!" he says excitedly), he's really interested in online strip club ratings and he has a "mix tape" of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy that's different live versions of the same song.

I think it's an episode that works because of it's specificity. This is the first and only episode that gives us an impression Homer is put off by strip clubs but I think it sells it well (as someone who is just doesn't like the idea of going to one). It adds up to a story about Homer being put in a situation we don't often see; where someone else is the obnoxious dude who can't read the room. This Kirk isn't a "bad" person, morally, but you wouldn't want to spend any time with him. He's the kind of guy who thinks NFTs are a great idea based purely on the fact that people are talking about them. He probably wants you to help him buy a sword. He's someone who is completely love-starved and lacks the proper wisdom to turn things around. He's basically a man of the "I Think You Should Leave" generation, doubling down on bad ideas rather than having the tools to self-improve. It's a great evolution for the character and I don't know if it will stay this way (I could see him just reverting back to normal or going into ultra-unpleasant 2000s Flanders territory) but it works really well for this episode.

Other great jokes:

"Hey buddy, I don't like Kirk either but look how much fun the kids heads are having!"

Intimate Frustrations is a good strip club name.

Other notes:

The musical number isn't my favourite but they really are going for it. It's not just another parody and it's a laundry list of Kirk sucking.

Johnny Unusual

Havana Wild Weekend

Are you still a good person if the company you keep isn't? We don't always know if someone is a bad person until later but if you choose to spend your time with bad people, you can't consider yourself clean if you are cognizant of their sins. Of course, the question is "what is the line for you?" Havana Wild Weekend is an episode that raises a question it decides not to answer.

In this episode, Grandpa is having trouble paying for treatment but Abe is advised by another vet to go to Cuba for treatment. Grandpa doesn't find much in the way of conventional health, only to find that Cuba's culture has rehabilitated him. Grandpa decides to stay in Cuba and meets a woman who is interested in him, Isabella, and a former friend, Wheels, from the army who came to Cuba by hi-jacking a plane. Wheels wants to open up a night club using an old hi-jacked plane. Grandpa agrees but begins to notice Wheels friends are all kind of unsavory. Before pressing further, Isabella heads to the cockpit and begins to take off with the plane. It turns out, that Isabella's relationship with Abe was part of a CIA plot to capture a bunch of fugitives.

Havana Wild Weekend isn't a good episode, really, but it goes down smooth. It's not a chore to watch and it doesn't upset me. But it takes a couple lazy short cuts and just when it is introducing something interesting, it doesn't explore it. This is a Dan Castellaneta/Deb Lacusta joint and those can be bad but this was OK, just flawed. I think there's some interesting ideas here; it starts with commentary on how America treats its veteran hospital patients and I feel like the implication is it makes them willing to go off to an enemy nation for help. Then when we get there, Grandpa finds himself in a nostalgia zone and is willing to overlook some problems with his expat friends. This is rife with some dramatic potential and social commentary.

But like a lot of episodes, it sort of begins and ends there. In the end, Homer says "You belong with us" and... is that the message? Back to the status quo? It might actually be helpful for him to move away from a family that loves him but also treats him like a chore and often tries to visit as little as they can. It feels like you were laying the groundwork for a few ideas here but I feel like when the show can't come to a conclusion, it doesn't want to admit it and just moves the "moral of the story" goalpost. And a good story doesn't need to have a "moral" but it also is haphazard in exploring the raised ideas.

Episodes written by the stars often means they want to explore a character but these explorations are sadly rarely that great. I feel like Grandpa's girlfriend was written so Deb and Dan, who are married in real life, could play off each other. But Isabella is brought in the plot really quickly and it doesn't do a great job of actually establishing their relationship. Yes, no doubt Abe is running into a romance like a bull in a China shop and is not using his best judgement but I feel for the audience it would nice to see that expanded on a bit more rather than a few more "the Simpsons are going to ______" bits.