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Johnny Unusual

Dad Behaviour

I love my dad but I do worry I could be spending more time with him. There's a very good chance I will in the future, as we all consider different living arrangements in the face of our financial situations and I do like the idea of having more time to help him. But I also feel like in many ways, despite seeing twice a week, I feel like I struggle a bit to talk with him sometimes. It's not like we don't get along and in most cases we agree politically but I also feel like... just the way we talk is a bit different. But the problem might be on my end, maybe I'm just not that great at really sharing.

In this episode, Homer gets an addiction to Chore Monkey, a gig economy app where people help them out with any odd job. This includes pawning his fatherly responsibilities and Bart really enjoys his replacement dad. Homer is feeling left out and Milhouse is similarly ignored by his own dad and Bart. Soon, Bart realizes his replacement dad's compliments are just part of the job and ends up realizing that Homer and Milhouse have grown closer. Bart feels rejected and ends up befriending Kirk. The four end up getting in a tiff while visiting Itchy and Scratchy Land but when it ends with Bart getting hurt Homer and Bart patch things up.

Dad Behaviour is a bit weird despite in many ways being a generic episode of the show. It's not that great but I feel like it has a lot of good smaller elements in a messy episode. The episode is the first written by Ryan Koh, who has general writing experience with Family Guy, Workaholics, the Office and... ugh... Kappa Mikey. If you haven't heard of it, you're fine. Anyway, I feel in terms of main plot, it's a pretty dull episode and it doesn't make me laugh a lot but I also feel like it lets some of it's comedy bit breathe, at least. This can be tricky because the show often feels like it is wasting it's time but somehow I don't mind it here. There are some good specifics that I kind of like, such as Homer's conversation with the boy he's hired to play catch with or a longer piece with a hostage negotiator. Maybe these are a little self-indulgent but it feels like more time to play some dialogue games for the cast.

But the problem is I feel like the main narrative is a story told before and this one adds very little to the formula. You are better off with the episode where Homer gets a big brother. I think the problem is pairing Milhouse and Homer or Bart and Kirk can actually be interesting with the right approach. But I feel like Koh doesn't experiment with it and search for what a makes these relationships unique. What does Kirk as Bart's surrogate look like compared to when Flanders filled that role in the movie. Kirk is so needy and obnoxious but he probably is the kind of pushover to give Bart what he wants to impress him, which is probably unhealthy for both. But we really don't get into any interesting possibilities.

The episode also has Abe thinking he might be a dad and a weirdly omnipresent gig empire. There are gags about it but I feel like it's neither interested really interrogating the gig economy and while it does explore Grandpa having been a bad father, it's mostly some gags and as a b-plot has little emotional resonance. I feel like this is an episode that bares the many flaws of other episodes (including a very abrupt, inorganic resolution). But there's something going on here, I think and I'll keep an eye on Ryan Koh as a writer. My instinct tells me he might have some good ones in him.

Other great jokes:

I love that Kirk is excited about Wendell, no one's favourite Simpson character, thinks and then his indifference bums him out. This is somehow the only perfect use of the character. Have him show up so rarely that it's jarring that someone name drops him.

Other notes:
The techno music with the low speed chase... is this supposed to be an Initial D reference? You'd think no but Koh wrote a Death Note parody last Halloween...

Johnny Unusual

The Last Traction Hero

Smithers is an interesting character. The Simpsons have, at best, a spotty history of LGBTQ+ representation in the show. The first major episode directly dealing with homosexuality as the main plot actually holds up better than I expected but since then we've had transphobia and pretty cheap jokes. Despite that, Smithers is a character that tends to rely less on stereotypes (certainly compared to the series other notable gay character Julio, who is basically Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop). He is also contradictory; sometimes he is a very thoughtful, kind guy but he's also often gleeful in supporting Burns' cruelty. I think a lot of the Simpsons characters are somewhat contradictory but I also feel like Smithers being eager to support someone so ridiculously evil makes trying to give him too sides a little weird when we see people every day stupid enough to support evil people and think the stink doesn't get on them. Still, despite this Smithers works as a character and I wish he would get better episodes.

In this episode, Homer ends up in traction from Burns' trap door. At home, Homer and Marge are spending more time but Homer has trouble with Marge's idea of fun, which bothers her and makes her feel unappreciated. Smithers goes to the Simpson house to try to get Homer to sign a liability waiver but when Homer remembers it's an option, he is dead set on suing. During the visits Smithers tries to trick and convince Homer to waive liability Smithers and Marge grow closer and Marge finds her emotional needs being met by Smithers. But with Smithers frequent failings, Burns is set to fire him, so when Homer sees Marge about to lose a true friend, Homer sacrifices his potentially enriching lawsuit to keep Smithers employed.

The Last Traction Hero is an episode by Bill Odenkirk and sadly I don't think he's done a Simpsons episode I've completely enjoyed. This is no exception, a mishmash of good ideas (Marge and Smithers bond over the emotionally unavailable men in their lives) and less (is Marge falling for Smithers?!). It's frustrating because there are some good gags that also become part of the plot (I like the idea that Burns isn't being sued for a trap door but for having a not-to-code trap door) and I think the well of putting together Marge and Waylon as friends is actually a really good idea. But I think it's an episode that might have worked a bit better as a gimmick episode, perhaps a bottle episode that's only in the kitchen and is mostly Kavner and Shearer. I feel like it really does a decent job when the two actually get together as characters until it teases Marge's attraction to Smithers. The show rarely does "Marge interested in another man" well and this one falls particularly flat. And kind of feels like a retread of an equally tepid episode with Flanders from about 10 years previous.

But I do think that Shearer and Kavner are not phoning this one in (which is funny because I think the reclusive Kavner is mostly doing remote recordings now). I feel like they believed in this script and tried really hard to lean into a quiet dignity of these figures while they both verge on admitting they may have made a mistake in life. I can see a lot of potential in parts of the script (such as the very thing that is bringing these two together, the waiver, will also bring things to a head) and the performance but it all leads to a rather dull episode, unfortunately. I feel like the episode is tuned in emotionally for a big scene (not perfectly, mind, but admirably) and then the rest feels a little checked out.

That goes double for the b-plot where Lisa becomes the bus monitor and starts to head down a fascist route. It's a whole lot of nothing but it also reminds me of things I don't like about how Lisa is treated in later seasons and this episode's lesson is "don't be a know-it-all." It's a pretty shitty lesson and I think there is the idea of "being 'right' isn't the same as being good" but that's not what it's about. For some reason, I feel like the show wants push Lisa off of a high horse they put her on. I'm cool with Lisa being flawed but this feels more like the "Lisa gets conceited" stories that I find really dull for the character.

Johnny Unusual

The Nightmare After Krustmas

I'm an atheist but Christmas still means a lot to me. I love the traditions and fun and I even take my mom to church for Christmas mass. It still means a lot to me, even the traditions based in something I have no literal belief in. But the fact is, yeah, the world of Christianity really holds little sway over me anymore as it did when I was a kid. The idea of not believing filled me with shame as a teenager (note, I kept quiet about it so this was no one's fault. If anything, if I said something, I might find me and my dad and sister have something in common), in addition to the fear of post-death oblivion. Now I've made peace with the former and don't feel the need to hide it.

In this episode, Reverend Lovejoy finds he's on thin ice at his church and that to make good, he needs a conversion. Meanwhile, Krusty realizes that his daughter Sophie was raised Christian and decides to grow closer to her by spending Christmas with her and the Simpsons, who offer their home to show what a traditional Christmas looks like. But Krusty brings an entire TV crew, irritating Sophie who actually has no interest in show business and wants time with her dad. Sophie eventually blows up at him and Krusty is hurt, deciding to drown his sorrows at Moe's. Similarly, Lovejoy is at Moe's and when he sees Krusty, he sees an opportunity to convert him, which he decides to do for his daughter. Krusty drops his act in favour of a more Christian flavour to his show and soon is baptized in Springfield's frozen river and he sees a vision of his father, Rabbi Krustofski, who advices him that it doesn't matter what religion he is as long as he's engages with his daughter.

The Nightmare After Krustmas is a Jeff Westbrook episode, a writer who has done both stronger and weaker episodes. He's done really strong episodes like Kill Gil Vol. I + II and weaker ones like Apocalypse Cow. This one lands squarely in the middle; it's pretty inoffensive and doesn't completely recycle an old idea but the moral is pretty basic. It's competently scripted and doesn't feel like so many disjointed episodes but it also feels like there's a bit more interesting stuff that starts the episode that isn't quite addressed the way I hope. The episode's first act is very much about how he views the world completely through the lens of his work and can't understand that his daughter's interest in the arts is expression rather than getting attention and I feel like there could be a good episode about someone who needs attention being failed by someone who craves it to a near manic degree.

But the episode really turns it's focus to the idea that Krusty just needs to focus less on changing his religion to give them something in common and just learning from each other. Not a bad lesson, I guess, but I feel like it ends with a bit of a more shallower pool for characterization. This episode is a watchable one but I also feel like it has some vestigial properties of it's worse instincts. Now, there isn't a list of dumb parody names but there is a Frozen parody and the show tries to lampshade it but it has little to do with anything and feels more like they did it for the promotional image. There's also a Maggie b-plot that does tap into my intrinsic dislike of the Big Brother-like appeal of Elf on a Self (which comes with a dumb parody name. Not a list but it's still there). It's well-animated and I like the point it's getting at but at this stage, the show rarely has good things to do with Maggie.

This episode also replaces Drew Berrymore as Sophie with Natasha Lyonne. This is not an unwelcome change, not because I dislike Barrymore but because Lyonne is very funny and talented. But I'm actually surprised they didn't get Barrymore. She's not really a film star anymore (not a value judgment) and it seems like a TV get wouldn't be hard at this career stage. I see that Lyonne will actually be more recurring in the role so I hope they can do something with her. As good as Lyonne is, her character is largely non-comedic and is more about Krusty's failings and who he fails. Hopefully they can figure her out as a character a bit more. I will say, her apathy towards the entertainment industry is a good start, pairing her with someone who just can't stop.

Other great jokes:

I weirdly predicted the joke about room tone but I still liked it.

Other notes:
For a second I thought this episode was going to have a b-plot of Moe going Christian (I mean, outside of snake handling). That could have been fun.

It's pretty impressive Krusty got a Christian Itchy and Scratchy made. More realistically, it probably should have been a 70s series for niche affiliates, like those weird Christian Archie comics.

Johnny Unusual

Pork and Burns

Ah, that... pig. That one pig from the Simpsons Movie. It seemed like it was going to become a staple of the show, at least as much as Snowball II, just another pet in the background. But then it just sort of became a vagrant, popping up in Springfield but rarely in the Simpson home itself. Really, while Spider-Pig/Plopper is no Poochie by any stretch, it's tuft of hair makes it really seem like this animal was designed to be here to stay. But the fact is while the pig worked for the movie and was part of the plot, a third pet really added very little to the show. Heck, the cat is barely an entity and I can't remember the last Santa's Little Helper episode. Well, this episode is an attempt to have him matter again.

In this episode, Marge decides to clean the clutter in the Simpsons lives and that includes Plopper, who has in fact been living in the backyard all this time with Marge being the only one taking care of it. Homer has a hard time getting rid of him but when he learns that therapy animals can go anywhere, he decides to find a doctor to label Plopper as a therapy animal so he can take him to work to get him out of Marge's hair in the day. However, it turns out having Plopper around all the time IS therapy and Homer is actually far less irritable than usual. Homer takes Plopper everywhere, including to a company picnic where it is attacked by Burns' hounds. To avoid a lawsuit, Burns promises to take for the pig at his private clinic but ends up falling in love with him and deciding to keep it. Homer eventually figures out Burns isn't going to return the pig and with Smithers' help, manages to free it.

Pork and Burns is a merely so/so episode. It's merely watchable and I feel like it has it's good points but there's not a lot to make it stand out. One of the good points; I feel like there's some stronger acting in this episode for some reason. I never know what material is going to speak to these performers. It's rare they are doing a bad job but I feel like I notice when they are doing a more impassioned job. I feel like if there's a reason, maybe it's because Dan and Yeardley get to perform anxiety attacks, which feels like a challenge and while the scenes are mostly comical, they aren't playing it that way.

But I really like the ideas; Homer and Burns fighting over a therapy animal that can help both of their mental health situations. I like the idea that Lisa suddenly finds for reasons she doesn't understand simply finds herself. I don't think these are poorly handled ideas, this isn't a dropping of the ball like so many but it also feels like they didn't take it as far as I would like, particularly in its conclusion. By the end of the episode, I'm not sure what the message for Homer's story is. I guess it wants to say something about how animals can do so much good for us. Instead, it's a pretty standard "character tries to rescue the animal story". The audience gets some great insight about how maybe Homer actually needed a form of therapy for a long time. I'm sure there are a lot of people who do but don't realize it. But I feel like it says everything by the middle of the story and where it needs to go is standard and leaves the interesting ideas that it definitively stated behind.

The b-plot is actually more interesting; the idea of losing passion but not for any particular reason. The de-cluttering is a trigger, it would seem but I don't feel like it explains it. Sometimes things we were once passionate about can lose some meaning and for Lisa, that's kind of scary. Plus there can be the idea of being skilled but with no desire. It ends with a pretty superficial solution that I guess implies maybe Lisa needed jazz to represent some form of rebellion against normalcy or that it needs to intrude in a magical way but... I dunno, it doesn't feel like they were quite setting us up properly for that. It's an episode I mostly didn't mind watching (I'll talk about the opener in a bit) but I wish it went harder with the interesting ideas it puts forth.

Other great jokes:

I like that Burns makes an old-timey reference so obscure, even he doesn't get it.

Other notes:

Man, this episode makes a few shitty choices. The whole orientalist opening is pretty gross and feels like it's from the 1980s. Then the implication that gender non-conformist Malibu Stacy was enjoyed by no-one. I know it's trying to do commentary on how things that represent better still might not sell but why the fuck is Lisa punching down and why did they think "non-gender conforming objectively doesn't sell" would make for good optics. BUT I will say I like the design of non-conforming Stacy because she looks like she's wearing the outfit from the Prisoner, but in pink.


Another thing I don't like is I feel like lately we are inching our way to jerk-ass Marge. I'm overstating it but it's purely in the context of Homer. I feel like Marge only directly insults his intelligence when she is really pissed but I feel like this and the one where she taunts him for not being a "handy *man*" felt a little unnecessarily mean on her part and not the Marge I like, who is gentle and thoughtful about shortcomings and while she might get frustrated or even angry, I don't see her as someone who picks on others for them, particularly not in the family.

In all honesty, I though Plopper's attack would lead the pig to get a smaller therapy animal for itself.

The resulotion with Bart's pirate radio makes me wish there was a Lisa and Bart episode where they make a pirate radio station, a project that's a perfect culmination of Lisa's love of art and Bart's love of rebellion.

I like that Michael York's vet character is recurring.

Johnny Unusual

The Great Phatsby

In 1995, the Simpsons did something it wouldn't do again for over 20 years; a two-part episode. The Simpsons finished it's Bart-mania phase where it went from huge fad to respected and beloved institution. The show would have some big moments but by and large that's not what the Simpsons is, it's just, at least in the Golden Age, a beautiful mix of brilliant absurdist humour and characters and often grounded stories and biting satire. The quality is more important than big moments. But when they have a big moment, they can be great. The return of Homer's mom, for example, created an important and surprisingly meaningful element to the mythos. The film was an event at the edge of the show's relevance (sorry, the contemporaneous show's relevance). And despite being a parody of season ending cliffhangers (in particular Who Shot JR), it became oner of the BIGGEST season closing cliffhangers on TV with a big contest that not only got more involvement but kept it everyone's mind all summer.
Then it turned out it was the baby.
So what does a latter day two parter look like?

In this episode, an errand for Smithers leaves him indisposed while Burns is planning a party at his Summer place and asks Homer to bring the guests. However, Burns cheapskatism makes the party a dud and Burns laments he's not the kind of guy who parties and enjoys his wealth. Across the river from him is another party and curious Burns investigates with Homer in tow. It turns out the party is hosted by Jay G, a rap mogul who credits Burns with his rise to power based on a business book he wrote promoting ruthlessness. Burns admires Jay's ability to express his excessive wealth and follows suit, using an obsidian card, begins spending ridiculous amounts even for him to enjoy life. However, Burns eventually discovers the obsidian card has bankrupted him... and that it was all part of Jay G's plan, as he owns the company that produced the obsidian card, giving him his wealth.

Burns loses everything, even Homer (who has been spending all this time with him) who "betrays" him to keep his job. Jay G ensures his loyalty by giving him ridiculous amounts of homemade cobbler but Homer feels guilty. He eventually teams with Mr. Burns to help him get revenge on Jay G and with some advise from Bart, learns as a man in the rap industry, his rep must be attacked. Bart discovers a former singer who used to work with Jay G who is willing to put out a diss track and soon Jay's ex wife and a super group of rappers all work to help Burns get his revenge. But Burns' revenge is thwarted when Jay G outsmarts and outspends him, buying the loyalty of all the rappers and his ex and prevents the track from being released. Burns has one more plan; Jay G has a omnipresent pet goose and company mascot beloved by Jay G; Goocius. Burns kidnaps it with plans to cook it but Homer can't bring himself to do it. This leads to a chase for the goose that puts them both in danger. During this time, Burns asks why Jay G betrayed him and Jay G explains it's the advice from Burns' book; destroy your mentor. Burns is pleased with this answer, happy he passed his evil onto Jay and makes peace with him.

So... a Simpsons two-parter about rap that's trying to connect to the then-popular tv series Empire and the Baz Luhrman Great Gatsby, also recent to the release of the episode. That feels like a recipe for disaster. The last time Simpsons went into rap, Pranksta Rap, it had some fun idea but the rap stuff was kinda crappy (Nancy Cartwright clearly was trying, it was the lyrics that were cringey). And Simpsons trying to connect to a "recent thing" rarely works. But... this is a pretty decent episode. It's not top tier but there are some real laughs here and overall it's is genuinely enjoyable. One of my biggest complaints is the show is poor at being economical with it's time and a lot of the weaker episode might have worked with more time. This is what this is. It's just a longer episode. It's not a big event and the premise doesn't feel like it necessitates that much time. But I feel like if it did try to do it in 20 minutes, it couldn't pull it off.

I think it also helps that it's an episode that only uses the Empire and Gatsby parodies as jumping off points, not adhering strictly to them. Doing the latter has lead to some weak episodes and it weaves it's flavour of... well, one year prior into something that works for itself. I don't think it's saying anything new about Mr. Burns but it says it well and it is fun seeing Burns fighting an uphill battle. It also lets the rap be... legitimately good. The silly raps in here are fun and not making me feel how Bart and Lisa feel about Homer rapping Mr. Plow. The other thing that helps is the cast. Yes, Shearer is doing good stuff but this is the BIGGEST use of Kevin Michael Richardson. He's played a lot of smaller characters and on occasions, ones that are actually in the plot (like when he did a parody of Michael Clark Duncan from The Green Mile) but this really feels like a true showcase for an actor who has been on the show for years but in thankless smaller roles for when they need to introduce an incidental black character. Richardson here is great as Jay G, giving him a real presence and also showing how he can play really silly. He even gets to have a pretty great rap. Kegan Michael Keye is also great as someone Jay backstabbed (and is part of the best joke of the episode. He also gets to rap. And even the RZA, Snoop and Common all get to do some great raps with funny lyrics. Taraji P Henson also kills it, though she gets the weakest jokes but makes up for it by just killing the line reads. It's a killer use of a cast.

So it's a decent quality episode that makes good use of being a two-parter. Does it have any weaknesses? Yeah, the b-plots aren't very good. I get why they are there; giving Julie Kavner and Yeardley Smith something to do. Plus I suspect the plot was too much for one episode and not enough for two without some filler. The first episode has Lisa playing the role of Daisy Buchanan, except less shallow until she must choose between her principles and ponies... well, pony hair needs braiding. Ironically, that ending is more interesting than the rest of the plot. The second episodes b-plot is Marge buying an adorable story in a gentrified neighborhood and it really feels like padding but I will say I really like the Twilight Zone tag they add at the end. If I'm asked a list of latter stage episodes that represent the show at it's best but if someone asks just for a long list of good episodes of the last 10 years, this will be on it. It feels like it works much better than it should be.

Other great joke:
"That's right, I bought a suit, xeroxed it, returned it to the store and wore the copy!"





"I would never hate my own brother
We came from the same celestial mother
Wait I remember when he crashed my jet-ski
I hope you get food poisoning from nachos.

"Then what did I eat?"
"Roast goose from the gas station."

Other notes:
Hey, Phil Lamarr has some small roles in this episode. I hope he gets more going forward.

Johnny Unusual


The Simpsons is a series that's no stranger to poorly aged tropes. Though certainly not the worst kind, the show has leaned heavily on mocking Homer for being fat. It's pretty lazy humour and while there are some genuinely good bits when it gets weird ("Yes. It's like a lava lamp.") it's usually down to "boy fat people love to eat." The Simpsons hasn't changed that much but on rare occasion, it does ask why Homer eats so much and Homer's compulsive eating is attributed to a feeling of longing for a mother who exited his life. Though it's a little overly simplistic, it is an interesting and potentially tragic take on a character who represents unbridled id in it's relatively more acceptable forms (and also... child abuse for some reason).

In this episode, Homer flees an award ceremony and finds he is unsatisfied with the options in town. It eventually leads him to find an old greasy chili dog stand that satisfies his appetites. Homer returns to praise it and Grandpa reveals Homer used to go their often when Abe and Mona tried to work out their differences in therapy while Homer drowned his stress in chili dogs. Suddenly, every time Homer gets anxious, he now returns to the chili dog stand. Homer also grows close to the owner who claims he doesn't remember Homer from his youth. When Homer arrives one day, he's shocked to find the stand is closed and will be claimed by Krusty's company and in desperation, Homer steals the entire restaurant on a freewat chase. Homer is aided by other obese food fans but when his misadventure leads him to danger, he's rescued by the stands owner who admits he does remember him and feels shame for not being able to find a better way to help him in his hard time than his fatty foods. The two reconcile.

Fatzcarraldo is a weird episode. By Simpsons standards, it's a weird little low-stakes episode (despite a police chase ending). And when I say weird, I don't mean the content. It's... weirdly really well animated. I feel like they felt like this was an episode that was going to be one of the better modern episodes and put a lot of passion into making it look good. Such flourishes are used on an old guy singing about hot dogs with Homer. It's not even a fantastical sequence (apart from a brief appearance of an anthropomorphic hot dog), instead the mannerisms of Homer and Deuce are what get a lot of attention.

And it might be worth it if it was a better episode. And it does want to be. The episode is trying to be about someone who was important to Homer when he was vulnerable and who fills an emotional void in a way that is unhealthy. I think there's something of potential in here between Homer and Deuce but maybe this weird little nothing should have removed it's b-plot. It's all about Lisa, girl reporter and it fizzles out and tries to re-enter the last act but does so awkwardly. The who episode clearly wants to be a silly emotional tale between Homer and a person who feeds him but it's doesn't land it's emotion and isn't super clear about what it wants to say. And it also spends a chunk with Homer being rescued by fat people who believe in his plight to save a hot dog stand. It's kind of a mess.

I will say this, though; the Simpsons is clearly trying to find showcases for Kevin Michael Richardson. He's been given a lot of smaller gigs but now he's showing up with more fleshed out characters with arcs. Yes, messy, not-very-good ones in this episode but nonetheless, it is clear the show wants to let him flex his muscles. More jokes, more singing, more pathos, Richardson isn't being served so well by the lackluster script but it's not for a lack of trying. The shows stars are aging and while they will never be replaced (I feel like if any of the main cast passes away, I can't imagine it keeps going), fresh blood in the cast certainly doesn't hurt and cartoon veteran KMR is a great fit for the show. I hope he gets some good episodes again like Phatsby rather than this weird flop.

Johnny Unusual

The Cad and the Hat

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

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

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


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

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

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

Other great jokes:

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Kamp Krustier

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

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

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

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

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

Other great jokes

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

22 for 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notes:
Enough with strangling Bart!

Johnny Unusual

A Father's Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

The Caper Chase

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Looking for Mr. Goodbart

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

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

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

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

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

Other great jokes:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Johnny Unusual

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

Johnny Unusual

Moho House

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual


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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

The Serfsons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Springfield Splendor

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

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

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

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

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

Other great jokes:

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

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

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

Ghost from Spelunker

The Serfsons

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Whistler's Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Treehouse of Horror XXVIII

Another season another Halloween episode.

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Grampy, Can You Hear Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other notes:

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Singin' in the Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Mr. Lisa's Opus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Gone Boy

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

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

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

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

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

Other great jokes:

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Haw-Haw Land

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny Unusual

Frink Gets Testy

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

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

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

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

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